During two college summers, and then for two years directly following graduation, I lived with two gracious families who I got to know well through mutual volunteering at church.
The memories formed with the characters of these two households are some of the dearest treasures forged in my early adulthood.
As a young adult — whether you’re on a budget, in a new state, or left with no roommate options because all your friends got married or moved away — many of us find ourselves embracing living situations we didn’t plan to face. For me, age 22 brought all of the above.
In addition to the obvious savings on rent, living in someone else’s house (for a period of time — not as a stereotypical millennial living in our parents’ basement for 15 years 😊) offers many other benefits. I found the following opportunities during my stints of room-renting and couch-hopping, and am so grateful for the chance to have done so.
1. Exposure to Family Systems Different Than Your Own Family of Origin
Whether you pick up ideas to implement in your own household or things you definitely do not want to repeat, it’s great learning! What I appreciated was observing how conflicts, celebrations, and chores are handled by people other than my own parents and siblings. We grow when we see that the way we grew up doing things isn’t the only way to do things. It keeps us thinking and progressing. It helps us make decisions on how we want to live — rather than just “falling” into a default way of living.
2. Learn How to Cook
I went straight from my mom’s cooking to four years of dorms and cafeterias. Having hardly ever had an opportunity or space to cook, living with a legit Italian family opened my eyes to a variety of new flavors and techniques. Whenever I could, I watched and helped in the kitchen (sometimes, that just included eating dinner 😊). I learned the rule to always have olive oil, nuts and seeds, and half-and-half in stock. (They go with — and in — basically everything!)
3. Decorations Included!
It’s hard to meet the desire for a comfortable and nice home when you’re in what I call the “nomad season.” On one hand, you don’t know where you’ll permanently live, so you don’t want to invest in decorations that aren’t guaranteed to work at your next place. On the other hand, you want your living environment to feel like a safe and hospitable place — not like a temporary dorm.
Living with an established family balances the dilemma that both hands are holding. Your host family already has decorations and furniture, whether you live there or not. You get to enjoy that without spending any extra money! (Added bonus: Get decorating ideas for your own future house!)
4. Built-In Siblings
One of my favorite parts of my time in both host houses was getting to know the kids. I have younger siblings, who I missed dreadfully when I lived away from them. Built-in to the living situation with both families was their children. One home included a bunch of boys (and I don’t have brothers, so it was a fun and fascinating experience to be surrounded with new brothers). The other had one girl and one boy, and I loved watching their banter, as well as joining in. 😊
5. Debrief with People at the End of the Day
There’s something about coming home from work and sharing about your day with someone, then listening to their stories, as well. It just feels right.
During the school year, living in dorms, my roommates and I exchanged this way — to an extent. We discussed assignments and classes, but dinner table conversations with families are different. Families meet a need that peers cannot. Hearing about offices and projects from parents … and high school homework and lunch breaks from teenagers just feels more meaningful than day in and day out college conversations. It can expand your interests and balance your knowledge base.
There were some lunch breaks that I went home to cry and talk to the moms of my host families. There were evenings I stayed late working on an exciting project, and couldn’t wait to share about it when I walked in the door at home. Still there were other nights when I came home and got to be the comforter or listener when one of the kids or parents had a hard day. I can’t imagine walking those seasons of transition without these people by my side.
6. Get to Know the Area from Real Locals
You only get to know an area to a certain extent when you’re living there through the eyes of a tourist. That’s how it was for me when I moved to Southern California — the place I dreamed of living my entire life.
Though I’d lived there five years, I found myself thinking like a tourist. My host families introduced me to local sandwich shops and frozen yogurt places, and gave me tips about budget-friendly grocery stores and time-saving traffic routes and the best biking and hiking paths.
My favorite thing was when they invited me to join them on outings to their favorite local places. For Mother’s Day one year, we got sub sandwiches and fruit salad, and drove to a hidden and fairly private cliff area to eat our dinner while overlooking the ocean’s waves on the shore. For Halloween that year, we took their youngest child for his last Trick-or-Treat excavation to one of the fanciest neighborhoods in the area — where they give full-size candy bars to kids and hand out bottles of water, and everyone was smiling and playing music.
I enjoyed taking my friends to the “locals only” places I learned about from this family who’s lived here for several decades.
7. “I’m an Adult, but Not like a Real Adult.”
A lot of people move back in with their parents after graduation. I didn’t want to do that because I so valued independence and being “my own person.” (Full disclosure: Five years after graduation, I actually did move in with my parents for five months when I relocated back to my home state.)
But sometimes, while you could make it on your own, there are seasons where it’s good — even healthy — to have an established family around you. When my car needed a jump start, my heart needed a mom, and my emotions needed a pet … my host family jumped my car, they gave me a hug, and their cat let me cuddle him.
Regardless of how “adult” you are or aren’t, humans are made to need one another. I overvalued independence before living with these families, and what I learned through time with them is that interdependence is not only good, but necessary. And I got opportunities to return the favor.
8. There’s a System
When you live with three, four, or five peers — especially directly after college — you have a handful of young adults trying to figure out their lives, simultaneously, in a small, shared space. Schedules are inconsistent, habits are varied, and essentially, chaos easily finds its way in.
When you live with a family — in my case, four other people — although there are several individual humans living their lives, processing their responsibilities, and doing their thing, they also move as one cohesive unit. They know the same people, eat on the same schedule, and go to the same places. For me, that provided a level of comfort as I knew what to expect each week. In a season where everything else was up in the air, that consistency was imperative to my sanity.
9. Learn to be Flexible and Humble
It’s not your house. Which means the final say is not yours. As a young adult, that can be hard, but it’s also beautiful. Whether I agreed with something or not, it wasn’t my place to dictate what should be done. I just got to observe. As a single young adult, no one depends on me for their food, income, or clothing.
I don’t have kids waiting for me to meet their needs or elderly parents who need care. Aside from volunteer activities I choose to do and responsibilities I perform at work, my life could easily be only about ME. It can be easy to become selfish during this season of life.
In someone else’s house, I got to practice flexibility and humility because I had to consider others. That’s how I grew up (in a big family), and it was refreshing to have that opportunity to care for others’ needs on a daily basis.
10. You Can Help Them
Nanny, house sit, walk dogs, make dinner, whatever that family needs! I learned little things like what kind of milk they buy, and when it got low, I surprised them and picked a gallon up. (That backfired a couple times when I got home and they had just returned from the store with a couple gallons, too! 😂)
If someone has opened their home to you, whether you’re paying rent or not, there are always ways to show kindness and make their day a little sweeter.
Have you lived with someone else’s family? What’d you learn? What tips would you share? Comment below!