How to Be Easy to Live With
After being called a grouch by her family one too many times, this writer figured out how to be easier to live with.
I often think about my sister-in-law's large house in Texas -- it has wings. It's an easy house to get lost in when you've had it up to your eyeballs with family shenanigans. Back on the East Coast, my family and I don't have any wings in which to hide. We use every square inch of our house, which makes it easy for our pet peeves to come to a head. Sometimes we feel collectively cranky when the volume is too loud on the stereo or when we're crowding each other on the couch.
Although my husband and kids can be difficult to live with at times, I'm the one who has been called a grouch way too many times than I care to count.
I'm particularly tough in the kitchen. It's a tiny galley kitchen, not the kind that easily fits four people. The kitchen is the hub of any house, but after the third time bumping backsides, I tend to get cranky and throw everyone out; that's when I typically hear the mutters about what a grouch I am. I get cranky when my husband drapes the kitchen towels in random places and puts the dish detergent bottle on the left side of the sink, when I like it on the right. My daughter loves to dance around the kitchen, my son brings his hamster in for a visit, all while I'm trying to cook. Is there any wonder why I can get cranky?
I asked my sister-in-law, Laurie, the lucky one with the big house, if it's easier to live with her husband and three grown kids since she has more square footage. (She used to live in a small house in California.) "Yes!" she replied. No hesitation with that response! She says that she finds places in her home where she doesn't have to "hear or answer to anyone's calls."
Though a bigger house may make things more bearable at times, there are more tactics and tools I've learned about how to live in more harmony than havoc, no matter what the size of your home.
1. Accept Murphy's Law of Karma.
I've learned that if you complain about something someone did in the house -- such as forgetting to turn the oven on when making dinner -- you will inevitably end up making the same mistake. Last week, I, too, forgot to turn on the oven to bake lasagna -- a few weeks after I was irritated with my husband for doing the same with ribs. I was able to laugh it off, but years ago I would have been defensive or weepy over the same event.
Remember, everyone has irritating habits. I have accepted my own large set of flaws, which helps me to be an easier -- and less defensive -- person to live with. I leave empty jars on the kitchen counter, spill raw rice everywhere and don't always tighten the cap on the orange juice container, which I hear about when my husband shakes and splatters the O.J. Still, these are not deliberate acts of aggression, just human foibles. In addition, I can share with my husband a list of his kitchen flubs, which aren't always fun to live with. If you think about it, you're probably just as guilty of bad habits as others around you.
2. Establish boundaries with each member of your household.
My sister-in-law admits that she did not set immediate boundaries once her husband began working from home more and that set up a tense situation -- and neither one of them was easy to live with at that point. Though it's easier said than done, she managed to turn the former upstairs game room into a she-cave/office.
Everyone's happier out of each other's way during the day, she reports. My friend, Lisa, who has worked at home for years, has lots of tips on how to carve out your own territory in her book about home-based businesses, Working Naked. One example: Regardless of how accommodating and comfortable your kitchen is, never set up shop in your kitchen. You'll be in constant contact with your family or end up being the family Grinch.
And if you think your kids are the only wild ones, you're not alone. I often repeat to myself a random comment I once heard an acquaintance with grown kids say: "Kids break things, they are loud, and they sneak candy." That one comment has continuously helped me to remember that I'm not the only one in the world who has unruly kids at times. It especially helped me to keep my cool when my son accidentally broke the garage window with a basketball -- the second time this year.
3. Designate a place to be alone in your house.
Melissa, a neighbor, mom and work-at-home graphic designer with DesignSite, says that it has taken a few years, but she finally has a system down that makes her easy to live with. Since Melissa is always home at work and at play, she's managed to find ways to carve out time for herself, which makes her happy. She spends solo time in the evenings with books and watching movies on her laptop.
If your house is small, you can still find quiet spots. Make use of doors with working locks. My family knows I like to hide out in our master bathroom -- another tiny space good for only one person, but it has a durable lock and an overhead fan that drowns outside noise. Paradise! When I'm tough to be around, my kids head to the family room and close the door. Two of my friends hide out in their lockable bedrooms when talking on the phone. If I can't find my husband, I know he's crawled into the boat docked on the side of our house to "make sure it's okay." We can all have our hideaways, regardless of house size.
4. Don't hoard.
A cluttered home makes everyone miserable, as you'll all be tripping over each other and each others' stuff.
Since Melissa lives in a compact Cape Cod-style home, she's learned to edit the stuff in her house as a way to live better together as a family. In addition, cleaning house and keeping the clutter out shows your housemates that you respect them and their needs. That, in itself, gives people the perception that you're easy to live with, she adds.
5. It's okay to tune people out.
Keep a pair of headphones in every room to shut out the world, or to shut out someone else's world. I realized this was a gift of sanity one night when my daughter was camping out in our bedroom watching a loud rock show, so we plugged her in and we went to sleep. Now my son uses headphones when he's playing a turbo-charged racing car game on the computer. (I pick and choose when I plug him in because I do need to hear what he's doing on the computer.) Here's my newest trick: I wear headphones -- just to cover my ears -- so I don't have to hear my son bouncing around in his bedroom before he falls asleep while I'm trying to work at night. Since I don't hear him, I don't have to go into his room ten times an hour to tell him to settle down. Suddenly, I'm easier to live with!
6. Let it go.
Do you remember Dr. Phil's famous advice: "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" Hmm...there's truth in those words. After all, putting up with a husband who uses up a roll of over-sized toilet paper every other day, or listening to kids loudly whoop it up for two hours straight is so much better than not having them in my life at all.
Most people mellow out as they get older. A number of friends I spoke with, who were once labeled as difficult to live with, noted that they've magically relaxed over the years. Family foibles don't rile them up so often, they say. Lisa admitted that she has naturally mellowed over time. She simply stopped asking her two teen sons so many darn questions, and her new label is "easygoing." Translated: Mellowing out means you've probably become desensitized to someone else's irritating habits. And that's something to celebrate.