Home, shared home With new book, Annamarie Pluhar aims to take the stress out of shared housing
By JON POTTER
BRATTLEBORO -- If Annamarie Pluhar’s new book had been around a couple of decades ago, her life would have been a lot easier.
Thankfully, she wrote "Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Keeping and Finding Good Housemates" to spare the rest of us some of what she went through.
"It probably would have saved me from a fair amount of trouble," said the Dummerston-based consultant in group dynamics, interpersonal relations and instructional design.
A committed advocate of shared housing, Pluhar has, nonetheless, had her share of housemates who didn’t work out. Her book, which was published June 1 by Peterborough, N.H.,-based Bauhan Publishing, applies the lessons she learned the hard way so you won’t have to.
"I think it would have spared me from the depressed roommate whose idea of how to cook was to throw things in a soup pot and leave it on the back of the stove. It would have saved me from the con artist. It would have saved me some conflict," said Pluhar.
Pluhar will share her stories, discuss and sign copies of her book at Everyone’s Books, 25 Elliot St., on Friday at 6 p.m. The event is free.
Despite these mismatches over the years, Pluhar remains passionate about shared housing, for many reasons. Expedience is one, especially in the aftermath of the economic downturn.
Sharing housing, she points out, is also green, reducing each individual’s carbon footprint by dividing electricity, heating and other utility needs. Housemates also require less stuff -- you don’t need two big couches, two refrigerators, two microwaves, and where would you put them anyway?
The importance of the environmental benefits of shared housing is demonstrated by the publisher’s decision to put a plug for the book by Bill McKibben on the cover.
"For the past sixty years, Americans have concentrated on building bigger houses farther apart from each other. It’s been environmentally ruinous, and it’s made us kind of lonely. Here’s a good practical antidote!" McKibben wrote.
That word "lonely" is one that resonates strongly with Pluhar. While financial necessity or earth-friendliness may be the initial motivations, shared housing is, deep down, good for the soul.
"This is a basic how-to book to deal with the reality that there are many people in our society who are lonely, who are depressed, who are alienated. I think that people need to live with other people. We’re tribal," said Pluhar. "Humans need humans. Isolated, we shrivel up. We live in a culture that makes it very hard to connect."
Pluhar’s book is filled with testimonials and real-life anecdotes about satisfying house sharing experiences -- not only about how people were able to save money to start a business or pay off college loans but also how pleasant it is to have, even unobtrusively, a little company in a big house.
Beyond that, "Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Keeping and Finding Good Housemates" outlines processes -- everything from pricing, to what to put in an ad and where to advertise, how to divy up chores, how to handle children and pets and how to resolve conflicts. It is aimed at both the houseowner looking for a housemate and the person looking for housing, and it contains simple, easy-to-use checklists and worksheets for various steps in the process. All that, plus drawings by Jefferson Thomas to lighten the mood without diminishing the message.
"I’ve always had an interest in helping people. I’ve always been interested in what makes things work," she said. "I think of myself not as an author but as a teacher."
People are skittish about sharing housing, in part because they think only of the worst case scenarios. Pluhar told of one friend of hers who hesitated to take the plunge because she liked it quiet and didn’t want a noisy housemate. Pluhar’s book shows you how to make sure the housemate you find is quiet ... or loud ... or loves cats ... or is willing to shovel the driveway ... or anything else.
Doing the due dilligence up front is a big part of a satisfying house-sharing experience and one that people don’t do enough of, Pluhar said. Her book guides people through questions they should ask themselves about what they’re looking for, what they can tolerate and what they can’t stand. So much of finding a good housemate is about knowing yourself as much as knowing the other person.
Pluhar said she’s had great reactions to the book, and it’s certainly garnered a fair share of attention. Washington Post "Color of Money" columnist Michelle Singletary selected "Sharing Housing" as her Book of the Month for June, and a story about the book was on the front page of the Washington Post Business section on June 12.
"It’s thrilling," said Pluhar.
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