© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions
As more of us witness the loneliness and isolation of widowed elderly loved ones, one can’t help but think about how we would like to live out our senior years.
Research coming out of the 2021 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety tells us that as Australians age, we wish to remain independent and living in our own home. As to how we can make that happen – well most of us simply avoid the topic.
Three couples plan shared living for their senior years
Three Sydney couples, then in their late 50s and early 60s, tackled the issue front and centre in 2002. For years they had been holidaying together at Christmas and as their own parents aged they shared their concerns around loneliness and a belief that it made you age quicker.
To avoid the same experience, they set upon a plan to share a house as they aged. They trialled living together by renting a large home in Longueville Sydney. On giving it the tick of approval, they started searching for land on the NSW Central Coast.
After an 18 month search, a plot was found and purchased near Taree. A large shed was built for accommodation while they oversaw the drawing of architectural plans by a local architect and then the building.
After seven years in the planning, the three couples moved into their new home in 2009.
While they are all under the same roof, each couple has their own private space comprising a bedroom, ensuite, study and private deck. They share the kitchen, dining room and loungeroom.
This form of living appears to be a sustainable solution in all senses.
The design of the home reduces the use of energy. With wide hallways and ramps, it is ready for any future loss of mobility. There’s an expansive vegetable garden. All rates and utility bills are shared with each couple depositing a monthly amount in the shared bank account.
There is no meal plan or rostering of any household duties. Generally, one meal is shared each day – the evening meal, with someone pitching in to take their turn to cook. Of course, not everyone is there all of the time as some take off to go on holiday or visit family.
There’s no sense of being in each other’s hip pocket. Each individual is absorbed in their own activities, be it as a yoga instructor giving classes in the local community, membership of the local garden club, participating in the local community choir, volunteering as palliative carers, or helping a neighbour overcome some recent natural disaster.
The basis of collaborative senior living
Heather Bolstler, author of “The Shedders”, the book that diarises their journey, explains that the solid base of trust between every individual has made the living arrangement possible and led to its ongoing success.
As she explains in the book, the journey has involved some personal shedding. “We had to SHED to get there: hard-wired habits, unrealised yearnings, judgements, misunderstandings and superfluous belongings.”
In a podcast she shares their mutual understanding that at some stage “someone is going to lose a spouse and when that happens, we’ll be there to support them”.
As a group, they had a lawyer draft carefully-worded exit agreements to cover any scenario where the situation could fall apart. The agreements obviously remain in a drawer. A documentary film crew followed the venture and gave up filming for lack of a plot!
To learn more about collaborative housing, visit the Collaborative Housing website, created by UTS and funded by the NSW Government.
If you need guidance on ageing in place and future planning, please call me Danielle Robertson for an initial, no cost conversation.
DR Care Solutions offers expertise on how to set up the right care, support and assistance for your loved one, at the right time and in the right place.