Homeowner Stresses and Social Support


August 20, 2017 by Jean

imageOwning a home can be a source of great pleasure, but maintaining a house can be very stressful. The stress of home maintenance and repairs can be especially great for single homeowners, because they don’t have a partner to share the responsibility. In May, as my friends Sharon and Rhoda sat together in the audience waiting for my choral music concert to begin, they talked about the stresses of single homeownership and especially about the projects they were feeling overwhelmed by. By the end of intermission, they had hatched a plan to tour one another’s projects and provide mutual support. Over an after-concert dinner, they got me involved.

When single homeowners are faced with a problem that they don’t know how to solve or that requires an amount of work daunting for one person, it is all too tempting to retreat into the anxiety-avoidance cycle and focus on something more manageable. But while the homeowner is ignoring the medium-sized home maintenance problem that is creating the anxiety, it turns into a much bigger problem that engenders even more anxiety. Finding a way to get help with these projects is critical to getting out of the anxiety-avoidance cycle; so the idea of providing one another with support was brilliant.

In early June, about two weeks after the concert, the three of us met for lunch at a restaurant near Sharon’s house. She brought her list of homeowner projects and worries, with notes. We discussed them over lunch and then went to her house for a tour of the projects and issues. Two weeks later, in late June, we met at Rhoda’s house. We toured the condo she inherited from her parents, considered her list of projects and concerns, and then toured a nearby property (also inherited from her parents) with a storage building that she dreams of converting into accessible shared housing for 2-3 friends. In July, it was my turn, and we gathered at my house for lunch and a tour of my undone homeowner projects.

As we gathered at each person’s house, we asked questions about the list of projects, helping to clarify the issues involved; and we sometimes offered suggestions. I think we all found that just preparing a list of what needed to be done was helpful. I organized my list by category (house infrastructure/ maintenance, home interior/remodeling, garden/outdoors); and in a spreadsheet format, with columns for describing each project, giving a time frame for completing it, identifying the problems associated with a particular project, and miscellaneous notes. I discovered that in the process of identifying the problems that I was having completing a project, I often thought of some possible solutions (which went in the “notes” column). Trying to give a time frame for each project helped me to realize when I was taking on more than I could possibly chew all at once. And this, in turn, helped me to prioritize projects by urgency (rather than doing the easy ones now and continuing to avoid the complicated, anxiety-producing ones).

Admitting our homeowner stresses and deferred projects to supportive friends left each of us feeling like a weight had been lifted and the projects were more manageable. With that support, we have all made progress on our projects this summer. Sharon has tackled some big anxiety-producing deferred maintenance problems, getting extensive electrical work done and scheduling much-needed roof repairs. I have made more modest progress, getting my failing hot water heater replaced, completing one major garden project, and scheduling septic system maintenance. But I also have a better sense of how to proceed with projects that previously had me stymied.

Many older Americans, especially older women, live alone – sometimes by choice and sometimes as a result of death or divorce. Even for those like me who love living alone, solo aging presents extra challenges. As I have gotten older, so has my house – which means that it needs more repair just as I feel less able to do those repairs on my own. (For example, I am no longer willing to take on any project that requires being up on a ladder outside.) Finding and hiring reliable people to do repairs has been my biggest source of anxiety as a single homeowner, and having suggestions and support from friends is a big help. Thank you, Sharon and Rhoda, for including me in your mutual support scheme!

14 thoughts on “Homeowner Stresses and Social Support

  1. JeanR says:

    An interesting way to approach home maintenance projects. Sometimes I think all we need is a sounding board to help get our fears and hesitations out in the open where we can use the ‘one bite at a time’ problem solving techique. Most of my friends all have sons and grandsons that help them and I seriously don’t think they appreciate what an asset that is.

  2. Dawn says:

    Such a wise group of friends, Jean! I just love the ways you are supporting one another. Over the years, I have felt the same stresses. My home is getting older, just like I am. A few years ago, I also stopped climbing ladders to clean my gutters and trim the trees. Now a very reliable handyman comes to do those jobs. Networking with your friends will help you find reliable contractors or handymen that you feel comfortable having work in your homes. All the best…

    • Jean says:

      Dawn, I envy you your reliable handyman. My single friends and I have all been looking for handymen, but they seem to be very scarce here. (Maine has the oldest median age of all the United States, so maybe all the handymen have been retiring, too!)

  3. Sue McPhee says:

    So glad you have good friends to bounce these daunting problems off of and reduce (somewhat) the anxiety about homeownership during the “golden years.” It is an issue for all of us, but, as you indicate, more so for the single homeowner. (If we lived closer, we would come over and help you whenever we could.) 🙂

    • Jean says:

      Sue, If you lived closer, I would take you up on your offer! Several years ago, when I discovered that my newly purchased screened gazebo for the back deck was too heavy for me to put up alone (unlike its predecessors), I put out a call to friends for help and a married couple who live a few miles away came over one weekend day and helped me out. Their help was worth more than gold! (I had tried — and failed — to hire someone to put it up for me.)

  4. Dr Sock says:

    I feel fortunate that my husband is so handy and capable of fixing things around the house. He is almost 68, though, and for bigger issues, we rely on hiring tradespeople. For much of my adult life, I was without a partner, and had to deal with all of the house maintenance problems by myself. I did find it anxiety producing, and I like your solution of discussing the problems with friends. It is a good way to summarize and think through the challenges, and also to benefit from the advantage of other perspectives.


    • Jean says:

      Jude, I agree that this is a great solution to the anxieties of homeownership (particularly as we age). I can’t take credit for the idea — but I am grateful to my clever friends for including me once they thought of it.

  5. I love this, and wish there had been something when I decided to sell (although I dont do yard work at all these days, so that would probably have been too big, and downsizing was have my purpose anyway. We do have a “garden gang” in my neighborhood whose sole purpose is to help with planting and deadheading and weeding and such for those who are unable and who need help.

    I happily see you have me on your sidebar/. If you get a few minutes, could you possibly change that URL to richlyretired.blogspot.com? It is a VERY long story.

  6. dawnwairimu says:

    I love this perspective, it’s nice to see real support in this way. I hope to have the same!

  7. Thanks for your thoughts on a situation that is becoming more common, as you mentioned.
    I couldn’t help but notice some emotional keywords that are buried in this post that my business coaching program covered recently: stress, anxiety, overwhelm and fear (in a comment). The only word missing in this post from the five he covered was “frustration”.

    According to my coach, the antidote to anxiety is ACTION. You have demonstrated action by teaming up with your friends, forming a support group and creating a plan. The second point he mentioned is that anxiety is always “future-focused” since it anticipates something negative in the future. (As opposed to regret which is focused on the past.) Also, anxiety is usually related to a missing skill. (Eg. In this case, practical skills such as how to fix a leaky faucet.) We can solve the anxiety problem by including someone who has the skill we are missing. Of course, finding the right person is another opportunity for anxiety. That’s where your friends come in.

    Keep writing.

    (By the way, I just started the WordPress course on Commenting Basics as part of my training in launching a blog. This comment on your blog is helping me get started.)

  8. Joanna says:

    Oh my goodness! Reading this is like a breath of fresh air. I have been struggling with the stress of a house that has been historically badly maintained but when I bought it I had no idea. I live on my own and I thought I was the only one that felt like this. Thank you!

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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