Every morning, when I foggily head from my bedroom to the kitchen for my first cup of coffee, I see, lying in a tidy heap at the foot of the stairs, her black backpack and navy-striped gym bag.
My heart warms every time.
Seeing her things gathered there as she’s ready to launch into her day takes me back to the thousands of bygone days when my daughters left their backpacks by the door, ready to grab for school. Only this backpack owner is not my child.
I first met Jessica, who is 24, the same age as my youngest, six weeks ago when she came to live with us while she completed her last internship on the way to getting her doctorate in physical therapy.
Several months earlier, I’d received this Facebook message from a friend who lived in Seattle near Jessica’s family: “A good friend has a daughter who will be doing her final PT rotation at a clinic near you. They are looking for somewhere for her to live while she does this. I don’t know if you have any space available, or if you can think of anyone who would like to rent a room for a few months? She would be a clean-cut, no-issue type of kid.”
I read this a few times. I ran it by my husband. I mulled the ramifications. What if she’s a drug dealer? Plays loud music at all hours? Has strange men over? Cooks stinky cabbage? Leaves the gate open, the lights on, the stove burning, the milk out, takes stuff, breaks stuff? And then, what if this were our daughter? Suddenly, all those years of Sunday school kicked in: Do for other’s kids as you would have them do for yours.
“Of course we will help,” I wrote back.
When she comes home after work, the dogs rush to greet her. She’s happy to see them, too. She joins us for dinner if she’s around. She helps out. She’s a light, pleasant presence, almost like having a daughter home. She makes my nest feel a little less empty, hence the unexpected joy at the sight of her bags.
For her part, she says, “Our school places us in internships all over the country, and leaves it to us to figure out where to live. You’re going alone, to a place you’ve never been, as a young woman, and don’t know where to begin to look. When I got here, I just felt a sigh of relief.”
I’m glad. Which brings me to my point. Yes, there is one. Finding decent housing when you’re a student is tough, but finding decent temporary housing is even tougher. Most rentals require you to sign a year lease, which you can’t commit to. This isn’t just a problem for student interns. I’ve been there, too.
When I moved to Florida nine years ago, I wasn’t in a position to sign a year lease or buy a house. My marriage, job and daughter’s school situation were all in flux. I fatefully stumbled into an opportunity to live in and stage other people’s homes to help them sell, a perfect temporary housing set up for me at that time.
Now, if I can offer a port in a storm, or a temporary haven, for folks in transition, I open my door. Here’s what else I’ve taken away from this experience:
Be a bridge. Not to tell you how to live, though I sort of do every week, I’ll just say, if you have the room to spare, share. If you can help someone as they transition between jobs, homes or school programs, you, too, might find an unexpected upside.
Forget the money. (Unless you need it.) When I talked the situation over with my husband, we agreed that while we didn’t want to profit from the situation, we didn’t want it to cost us either. As he said, “We have to charge something.” So, we came up with a nominal charge (under $15 a day) to defray additional utility and housekeeping costs.
Head off issues with clear communication. Write out house rules to answer inevitable questions and head off awkward moments. Before she arrived, I emailed Jessica photos of the house and her room, along with a list of house guidelines that covered the following:
Parking. Clarify what’s permitted and restricted.
Wi-Fi. Provide access instructions and password.
Privacy. Define what areas of the house are for the boarder, which are private (other bedrooms), and which are shared spaces.
Kitchen. Designate a shelf in the refrigerator and pantry for the boarder.
Housekeeping. Outline your expectations, if you have any. My letter said, “We like a tidy home, and ask that you pick up after yourself in the spaces that we share.”
Laundry. Determine whether and when the boarder may use the washer and dryer, and whether you expect them to launder their own sheets and towels, if they belong to the house.
Visitors. Clarify your policy. We said friends are welcome, but no overnight guests and no parties.
Smoking. State whether it’s permitted (in our case it is not) and, if so, where.
Security. If you have a security system, share the code. If you have cameras, disclose that. If you have gates and doors that need to be kept closed or locked, to keep pets safe for instance, say so.
Rent. If you are charging rent or an expense offset, clarify how much is due and when.
Something tells me, Jessica will do the same for someone else someday.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.