Tips for Staying Sane in a Multigenerational Household


The idea of many generations under one roof might seem rather old-fashioned to many Americans, but it’s actually becoming a modern day trend, often with three generations (or more) under the same roof. Today it’s no longer unusual to find senior parents living with their adult children, while those children have kids of their own also living at home.

Part of that change was driven by the pandemic, when the Pew Research Center found that 52% of young adult children were living at home. That’s the first time a majority of that population has lived at home since the Great Depression[1]. At the same time, pandemic restrictions meant that it was tough to see an elderly parent or relative – unless, of course, they lived right there in the home with you. That arrangement often came with the added bonus of a built-in babysitter to watch over the younger kids while the parents handled work from home[2].

Multigenerational households have more than doubled in the US over the past 50 years and that number keeps rising. In 2019, there were 58.4 million households that had more than one generation living under one roof; by 2021, that number had jumped to 59.7 million, according to an analysis of information from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that nearly 20% of American households have several generations living together[3]. That’s one in every six Americans![4] If you don’t live in a multigenerational household, it’s safe to say you know someone who does.

With so many people living in the same space, it’s no surprise that compromises will need to occur. There will be differences in living styles, design tastes, parenting approaches, and even a like or dislike of certain foods and activities. Maintaining a cohesive family unit is important.

How to Keep a Happy Household

Part of keeping a multigenerational household running smoothly is knowing how to manage personalities, go with the flow, and keep a sense of humor. A few good aging in place solutions can help too. Here are a few tips on how to stay sane and happy in a bustling home.

Practice the Art of Compromise

In many cases, someone is going to be not entirely happy in a given situation. Someone will likely have to downsize their possessions, such as by getting rid of the furniture they loved or giving up collections that take up a great deal of space. However, there is a way to meet a family member halfway. Make sure everyone in the house has at least one piece of their favorite furniture to help the space truly feel like home to them.

Talk about what to keep and what must go. Family heirlooms are vitally important to keep, so make space for those. Certain things that matter deeply to one person might not matter at all to another; that’s why each person’s bedroom should have the theme they want. That space becomes their refuge, and can be entirely separate from the aesthetic of the rest of the house.

Create Separate Spaces for Activities

Let’s be honest: teenagers can sometimes be difficult to live with. But so can grandparents! Creating a space where each family member can be themselves is vital to ensuring harmony.

This might mean that a sunroom on the side of the house is where you can always find grandma knitting her famous cardigans, a mother-in-law suite gives your parents an opportunity to retreat, or a garage converted into a den is where the teenagers play video games with their friends. Making this happen could mean building onto the home or even choosing to move into a new home altogether that has the space for everyone’s interests.

This issue can extend to noise. Some like to listen to their television with the volume turned up; others want peace and quiet. Establishing “quiet hours” can help alleviate the problem of noise too late into the night. You could also try soundproofing a room. One easy trick is to hang a lovely quilt on the wall as a backdrop to the rest of the room, especially a bedroom – the layer of fabric against the wall offers a surprising deadening of sound.

Make Small Adjustments to Common Rooms

Aging in place home modifications are vital to a multigenerational household. These can range from the inexpensive, such as adding grab bars in the bathroom or railings along stairs, to full renovations, such as adding in a walk-in tub or reconfiguring the kitchen to accommodate those in a wheelchair. The good news is that changes with safety and fall prevention strategies in mind can be great for younger generations too. For instance, the use of a handheld wand installed in the shower for a grandparent with mobility issues can also be a wonderful tool for those who are bathing small children.

Here are a few other ideas:

·         Add a heat lamp to the bathroom. It will keep the elderly warm anytime, but will be appreciated by the whole household during the winter months.

·         Remove the cabinets that impede a wheelchair. The cabinets under the bathroom sink might need to go, as might some of the kitchen cabinets so that someone in a wheelchair can reach the countertops with ease.

·         Invest in pull out shelving. It can be tough for even the most able-bodied to reach the back of a kitchen cabinet. Alleviate the problem with a pull-out shelving system that brings that can of sauce closer to you in a flash.

·         Create a communication hub. Often located in the kitchen, this hub can take the form of anything from a dry-erase board on the wall to a simple corkboard station where family members can write down important information for everyone else to see. Digital message boards might also be an option for the tech-savvy household.

·         Consider the lighting. According to the Lighting Research Center, older adults need 70% more light than younger generations in order to see clearly. Use nightlights to create a clear path to the bathroom at night. Add in a variety of lighting options, from bright task lighting above the kitchen countertops to lamps next to comfortable chairs for ease of reading. And don’t forget the automatic lights at the top of a staircase that come on when they sense motion.

Remember that Safety is Paramount

It can be easy to develop a false sense of security when so many people live under the same roof. You might begin to think that someone will always be home when the elderly parents are, and that they can get the assistance they need from any family member. But the truth is that there will be sometimes when a person is alone in the house. There might also be times when someone is alone in their own space and suffers some sort of accident or emergency.

Though having family around is a great way to ensure that many problems are caught in time, it’s no guarantee. That’s why it’s so important to invest in medical alert technology, no matter the composition of the household. These emergency alarms for seniors can help ensure that if they fall in the shower, trip down the stairs, or suffer an emergency in bed at 3am, they can access help immediately. Alert1 Medical Alert Systems has services that start at less than $1 a day.

Opt for Better Storage

With more people in a home, there will certainly be more stuff. That means you need a place to put it. Many of us completely forget that we have a wealth of space in our homes; all you have to do is look up. Vertical space can be utilized with custom cabinets that reach all the way to the ceiling (put seasonal items, like holiday decorations, on those uppermost shelves). Modular closets can add in shelving and drawers with little effort. The space underneath beds can accommodate drawers that hold linens, clothing, and much more.

Get Everyone on the Same Financial Page

One of the advantages of a multigenerational household is the fact that you have to maintain only one home. That means one mortgage. But who will pay for that – and who will pay for the home modifications for the elderly that might be necessary to make the home suitable for everyone? Getting a firm idea of the financial situation for everyone is a must.

Know the money coming into the household, including money from retirement funds, pensions, social security, and income. Talk with your loved one about who will cover what bills in the household. For instance, maybe someone pays the mortgage, but someone else pays the utilities. Or perhaps a certain amount of money goes into a shared account, and all bills are paid from that. Though it might feel invasive to talk about personal finances, it’s an essential step to ensuring harmony in the household.

Distribute the Chores Evenly

Household chores not only continue when you have multiple people under one roof, but they might actually increase. Assuming that you are not hiring a live-in housekeeper, you’re going to need to delegate chores and other household responsibilities. If you don’t, you’ll wind up with one person doing most of the work, and that isn’t fair to anyone.

Consider what each individual can reasonably do when it comes to chores. For instance, a parent with mobility issues might not be able to vacuum the floors, but they can probably help the kids with their homework. An able-bodied teenager can make quick work of taking out the trash or even handle the laundry. Though it might sound rather elementary, a chore chart on the wall can work wonders to keep everyone on the same page and the house as clean and neat as possible.

But there is one chore everyone should share, and that is keeping the home free of trip hazards. Fall risk goes up as we age, and as we get older, falls become much more serious[5]. Everyone in the household should take the time to pick items up off the floors and make sure the passageways are clear. Even a small child can understand that it’s time to pick up their toys so that nobody trips over them.

Make sure your elderly household members wear a medical alert watch or pendant with fall detection, just in case a fall happens regardless of your best efforts at picking up those hazards.

Consider an Additional Home on the Property

Those who simply don’t have enough space in their existing homes might have a solution in an “additional dwelling unit” or ADU. These units are sometimes known as guest houses, in-law suites, or even “granny flats.” They’ve become much more popular in recent years; a study from Freddie Mac found that in 2000, about 8,000 homes with ADUs were sold, but that number jumped to nearly 70,000 in 2019.

In most cases, these dwelling units have everything a person might need, only in a much smaller version than the typical house. They have one floor, so fall prevention for older adults becomes easier. They provide a space away from the larger home that can mean better privacy, but they can be close enough that family members can still spend time together with ease. Costs vary widely depending upon how fancy you want to get, but typically range from $50,000 to $150,000[6].

Keep in mind that zoning rules apply to these dwellings. Some communities are adjusting their zoning laws to accommodate ADUs, while others are fighting against it. Check with your local zoning laws before you choose to go this route. If you do choose an ADU for your elderly loved one, encourage them to wear their medical alert pendant at all times.

Remember Why You’re Doing This

When things get rough, remember why you’re living in a multigenerational household. For most people, there are very good reasons why: it’s financially necessary; it’s easier to care for elderly loved ones, it provides an opportunity for the whole family to become closer, it offers the advantages of working from home or keeping elderly parents and young children safe, and so much more.