“You have to be creative about space,” says Lindsay Veros, a 23-year-old master’s student in college counseling and student development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In March, when Veros’s classes went online, she moved back home with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Within a week, they received word that Veros’s 25-year-old brother had lost his job at a ski resort in Colorado and was headed home, too, which meant four people, two dogs and two cats in a two-bedroom home. A generous, adaptable mind-set is beneficial when it comes to divvying up space. “Who gets the couch? Who gets the bed?” says Veros, who eventually moved into her mother’s 28-foot travel trailer parked in the driveway, where she had Wi-Fi and electricity but no running water. “I was brushing my teeth with bottled water in the yard,” she says.
Communicate early and often. “I waited too long,” Veros says. During the first few weeks, when she stayed in the guest bedroom before her brother arrived, Veros grew increasingly claustrophobic as her mother collected her laundry, raised the shades when she was still sleeping and generally expected her to be free to chat or do chores, even though she was a full-time graduate student with a campus job. Prevent your familial dynamic from reverting back to whatever it was when you last lived together by talking openly about your feelings and how you intend to contribute to the collective. Remember that sometimes what feels like a violation of privacy is just someone trying to love you.
Things got better after Veros and her family started rotating dinner duties, sharing calendars and talking about finances. “Be open with the money conversation,” says Veros, who started paying for the family’s Disney+ account and chipping in for food. Veros thought she would stay a few weeks but ended up staying more than three months. Now she’s back in Raleigh, living with a roommate, finishing her degree online and working as a career counselor to undergraduates. Many of them are suddenly back home after coronavirus clusters broke out just weeks into the fall semester. Some still haven’t unpacked their boxes. “I tell them, ‘You can’t stress out about everything all at once,’” Veros says. “You have to take it day by day.”