I recently counted that I’ve shared a home with 20 people in total over the course of my life, excluding my parents who put up with me before I moved away for college. The number consists of several roommates with a few boyfriends thrown into the mix. That’s 20 people whose lives have been intertwined with mine in various capacities, for various amounts of time. Either way, we’ve all shared moments and glimpses in time — some people are distant memories, while others will forever hold a place in my heart.
During the time of me working on this story, my situation in life has changed from living with someone to finding myself on my own and adjusting. Instead of sharing my own experience of living with someone at this particular time, I’ll say this: living with others, not necessarily living in one shared space, but sharing your life with the people you love — family, friends, roommates, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, partners and anything in between — is something we should all remember to embrace.
I had the privilege of asking some wonderful couples, families, and roommates to share with us their ways of living together, how they make it work, and of course — how they decorate! Thanks to Jonathan and Blake, Dominique and her family, as well as Susanna and Annika for sharing your stories with us in Living with Others, Part 1! Stay tuned for the second part of this series next month. —Sofia
Jonathan & Blake
“We have lived together for almost five years. We started out in a cabin with a leaky roof, and we have now upgraded to some taller ceilings that do not leak. We live in a two-bedroom apartment in one of the old buildings on the Main Street of the small town. We both grew up in small towns and did not see LGBTQ people in our communities. We wanted to make a difference and try to be visible in a place where LGBTQ people are afraid to be themselves.”
Image above: Blake and Jonathan at home in Water Valley, MS. Photo by Erin Austen Abbott
D*S: What has been the biggest learning experience since moving in together?
Jonathan: I have learned that I am not always right. I have always enjoyed transforming spaces. I remember being a little boy and decorating my plastic house outdoors with flowers and pictures I drew. Something about decorating with objects that you love makes the space sacred to me. When we moved in together, I was confronted with Blake’s stuff that he loved. He would place things in certain ways, and I would quickly rearrange them. Somewhere along the way, I realized that he was right sometimes. Now, we decorate together until we are both happy or settle on a compromise.
Blake: I am entirely independent and often very selfish with how I spend my time, but living with him has taught me the value of losing my solitude. I find myself appreciating subtle projects he works on. He likes to garden, and I find three-inch vases with his grown flowers in them sometimes. I can’t help but smile.
I have learned that I am not always right.
How has your relationship changed since moving in together?
Jonathan: It is stronger. I love seeing the way we adjust to each other over time. I am usually the one doing most of the cleaning and cooking, but Blake steps in and does that when I have art shows. He cleans and does stuff the rest of the time, too, but he really steps up when I have a show coming up.
What’s the best part about living together?
Blake: Living together is a healthy exercise for any partnership. We enjoy our time experimenting, rearranging, and imagining how we can transform a space into an environment we love living in. Energy is important. We both are very receptive to each other’s moods and play to the needs of the other.
Jonathan: We laugh a lot, and we are very intentional about making time for one another. We sit down and have tea, coffee, or [a] meal and discuss our lives. I think when you live with someone you forget to ask questions because you are around them a lot. It’s important to remember that the person that you are living with is still growing into who they are — so we try not to assume we have each other figured out.
How have you adjusted your home to meet both of your practical needs and personal styles?
Blake: My old style was too rich and heavy. Nate has a playful and buoyant charm, and suddenly we created a confusing collaboration that was well balanced. We both love nature so we spend time cleaning fish tanks and rotating houseplants, but it is well worth the effort. I am more practical-minded. I don’t hide yoga mats, soccer balls, or remotes. I use these objects often, and I don’t like having to fetch them from obscure places. I want to live in a house and not around a house.
Jonathan: I always have this dream of everything being white, especially in our bedroom. However, Blake always brings me back to reality. He reminds me that I get oil paint on everything. Nothing in our place is safe from oil paint. So — I have adjusted my dream, and we have lighter blue and cream bedding. There is already paint on the sheets.
Living with him has taught me the value of losing my solitude.
Has living together changed the way you decorate?
Jonathan: Yes. We both have different styles. Blake prefers rich and earth tone colors, and I prefer muted grays and bright pops of colors. We both have objects and art that we have collected over time, so we each want certain things to be seen. Whenever we decorate, it is always a process of each of us critiquing each other and forming a compromise. I think it makes our home unique.
Blake: I would never have rugs slanted in diagonals before, but it adds movement to the room. It can give your eye direction. I also stack pillows differently now.
It’s important to remember that the person that you are living with is still growing into who they are — so we try not to assume we have each other figured out.
What would be your advice to couples moving in together?
Jonathan: You must learn to communicate with one another. Do not assume that you fully know the person you are living with. You may get annoyed with small details about ways your partner does certain things, but always remember that no matter who you live with that will happen. Everyone is raised different and established patterns that you have to adjust to or discuss. Save a little money here and there and collect art that you both enjoy. Respect each other’s space.
Blake: Respect and mindfulness go a long way, and you can’t expect a person to read minds. Voice concerns and find solutions as a team.
Dominique, Syeed & family
Entrepreneurs Dominique and Syeed Harris and their four children live together in Chattanooga, TN
“Two groovy souls from the late 70s, homeschool parents to four kiddos for the past seven years, business owners who are enjoying our busy, quirky and lively lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
Image above: Syeed and Dominique with their four children.
A Bohemian Family Home Focused on Holistic Living
D*S: What do you appreciate most about your home and lifestyle as a family?
Dominique: There’s so much to appreciate, but what I do appreciate most is the comfort, consistency and the ability to work and live at our own pace. We love having the ability to control our days and if need be, do absolutely nothing all day. Being business owners and parents who homeschool, we have the freedom to wear PJs all day some days, take a day trip, weekend trip or week trip at the spur of the moment. We can allow the kids to enjoy a midday movie on the projector in our downstairs media room while we enjoy an hour of alone time or self-care time. There is just so much to appreciate and be grateful for.
The best part about living together is honestly experiencing and seeing the growth and maturity that we experience as individuals, as husband and wife and definitely as parents.
What is the best part about living together as a family?
Dominique: The best part about living together is honestly experiencing and seeing the growth and maturity that we experience as individuals, as husband and wife and definitely as parents. I have learned so much about myself being a wife and mother and we learn so much about ourselves being parents. We learn so much from our children. It’s a huge level of accountability as kids learn by what they see, so they are our biggest accountability partners and that’s an honorable responsibility, but also a very serious responsibility. We love eating family dinner together and chatting about the ins and outs of our day. Most people assume that because we operate our business in our home as well as homeschool our kids who are with us throughout the day we would grow tired of seeing each other — that’s not the case at all because the atmosphere at dinner is way more relaxed. And, when we need moments of “self-time” or “mommy/daddy time” we give the kids the freedom to enjoy their gadgets or watch a movie and we also tell them, “hey, guys, we need a moment so if you guys can enjoy a movie or enjoy some art time, we’d love it.” We find that speaking very straight to them works and they respect our time just as we respect theirs. It’s all about living in harmony, because, you know, there are six of us in this home.
Are there any changes that you have made to your home to make it work for your family’s daily needs?
Dominique: Yes! For two years, we opened a boutique in an office complex, however, once we purchased our home, we converted one of the bedrooms into our studio where we handcraft products and do all of our business related duties. This is great because, one, I didn’t really favor having a lifestyle where I would be locked down at a retail store for 8 hours and, two, since moving the studio into our home, it opens up more time with the kids and more time to truly focus on their homeschool activities as well as allowing them to build their knowledge of operating a business.
We are huge supporters of speaking clearly and honestly with our children.
What’s your best advice to parents who are preparing their home for a child, or parents with children in general?
Dominique: We are huge supporters of speaking clearly and honestly with our children. We allow them to express themselves, but always in a respectful manner. We understand kids are going to have lots of questions — lots and lots and lots of them, so we encourage them and answer them to the best of our ability. A huge thing that we are big supporters of is apologizing not only in the presence of but also to them when we make mistakes. When we make mistakes as adults, sometimes, we don’t think about the impact that it can have on our children and because my husband and I are huge thinkers and always questioning the “why” of things, we think about, “how will this impact them and why?” “How did this impact me when I was a child?”
We strive to teach life lessons at early ages, selflessness, humility, gratitude, respect (we are big on “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and “yes sir” and “no sir” when addressing or answering adults), but we also encourage making mistakes and learning from them. Mistakes are a part of life and we will continue to make them throughout life — in fact, they can be some of the biggest teachers, so make them and learn from them.
In the mornings, after we enjoy about five minutes of meditation; I help them understand that their power of choice is an amazing power to have. They can choose to have a great day or a not-so-great day, but they hold the power of how they choose to respond or react to it… Responsibility is taught and learned early in life and we are huge advocates of owning responsibility for your actions. Do what you say you will do because your character is one of the most important things. Also, helping them to refrain from blaming others for something that was their responsibility (something I think many adults could respectfully learn). When our children make a mistake, we ask the questions and then if they are at fault, we encourage them to take responsibility and think about how they can make different decisions the next time, always keeping in mind that we — as adults, as parents — must be the example of this first and foremost. Lastly, healthy communication, teaching them to respect others regardless of differences and lots of love, which I believe, and this is just my belief, recognizing that we are accountable to our children and hold a huge level of responsibility for the beginnings of how they will not only see the world but how they will respond or react to it.
Susanna and Annika
Susanna Carlson is a Greenwich, CT based psychotherapist and AASECT certified sex therapist who lives with her daughter Annika in New York.
“The core to our household (since less than a year ago) is a divorced, single mom, Susanna, with a daughter, Annika, a junior in high school. With my second son taking off to college last summer, my daughter and I decided to move to a smaller home. We found a cozy, warm, gatehouse cottage to find solace in. My two teenage sons love returning home to the encouraging close social interactions by necessity.” — Susanna
Image above: Susanna and her daughter Annika at home in their cozy gatehouse cottage.
D*S: What have you learned about living together, just the two of you?
Susanna: Annika and I are closer than ever before; a mom/daughter duo loving life together! We have found it easy to enjoy each moment in the new house, yet also easy to express our disagreements in the moment when they come up. We have hosted multiple mom/daughter dinners in small groups.
How has home life changed for you since living together?
Susanna: The impending departure to college for Annika has created a sense of urgency to Carpe Diem — grasp the moment! Just the two females full-time in the home means also a menu of just our liking. Much less of ‘meat and potatoes’!
What will you most appreciate during your remaining time of living together?
Susanna: We will appreciate every moment, every breath, every late night conversation spilling much too far into the night, but so much enjoyed! We both have a wanderlust that is waiting to be fulfilled; life will happen as it may and we will stumble upon another place in time that will bring us close together physically as mother/daughter yet again in the future.
We will appreciate every moment, every breath, every late night conversation spilling much too far into the night, but so much enjoyed!
How are you preparing for big changes in the way you live?
Susanna: While taking in every little detail of today, we both are happily inviting planning for the future, including separate home addresses. We now plan for an appropriate place of comfort for each of us immediately following Annika’s departure to college. Both of us capable of laying anchor anywhere in the world, the excitement of allowing life events guide us to the well-fitting surroundings, brings a sense of warmth and thrill!
What’s the best part about living together?
Susanna: We have built-in best friends! Having a cup of tea to close up the day over good conversation. The best.
We live with more intent than ever before!
How have you made your home work for your needs?
Susanna: Great question! In order to make this home work for us, we had to store a large part of our belongings for the short term we live here. We moved in with only the most important items for us; emotional or practical reasons considered and anything in between. We have enjoyed paring it down to the essentials. Interestingly enough, a lot of the conversations in the house have to do with the same theme carried over to the emotional world; we live with more intent than ever before!
Has living together changed the way you decorate?
Susanna: This is the first house where Annika actually has expressed her wishes about how her surroundings look. She has always made decisions about her own room, but this time she cherished the entire process with me! Living together has not changed the way I decorate, but has made it more meaningful to share the result of it with my daughter, who appreciates the result as much as I do.
What do you appreciate most about your home?
Susanna: The beautiful vignettes! The home is one of the smallest ones I have ever had, yet the most meaningful. Sharing it with all children over their school breaks is the best! We are forced to be in close quarters and love it!