Betty White taught us all so much over the course of her 99- year life. But for me, it was her role in the hilarious 1980s’ sitcom, “The Golden Girls,” that has stuck with me all these years.
It wasn’t just the comical adventures and zany plots that made me love Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and Sophia. It was the subtle thread that tied the show together – the idea that roommates are a blessing and that there is a better way to live if we’re open to it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the “Golden Girls Effect.” Like any good sitcom that has premiered since the dawn of television, there’s a treasure trove of life lessons and kernels of wisdom sprinkled throughout the show – far too many to list in a short bi-monthly column — but since this was inspired by Betty White and her character Rose, here are three housing lessons learned from the Golden Girls.
1. Redefining Family (and who lives with you)
Season 7, Episode 4: That’s For Me to Know
Midway through the seventh season, Blanche decides she wants to install a hot tub, and like many other DIY homeowners out there, she decides to skip the permitting process and avoid all those extra costs (not recommended). Rose the rule follower goes behind Blanche’s back and calls a city inspector to the house, where she later lets slip that there are three renters living under one roof.
The permit officer has an issue and says that this is illegal under the current zoning rules and the have two choices: pay $10,000 in renovation fees or one person needs to move out within 48 hours. In the end, Blanche allows Dorothy, Sophia and Rose to buy equal shares of the home, allowing everyone to remain.
Roommates and the idea of cohabitation come up time and time again in cities and counties across the United States. In the vast majority of communities, the local zoning laws define “family” as blood relatives, but as our society has evolved so has our understanding of what true family is. Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia weren’t family in the conventional sense, by something as accidental as blood, but because of something much stronger -–– choice.
The instance of having roommates comes up often throughout the United States. The definition of “family” and who is allowed to live with you has been disputed in many Home Owner Associations as well as cities across the metro area. Rethinking what “family” means and who lives with you could allow more housing options to open up to create great roommate opportunities across the metro city and perhaps inspire the next hit sitcom!
2. Subsidizing Income
Throughout much of The Golden Girls, Blanche owns the house and all the other women pay rent to live there, and there are countless instances where this gives Blanche the cushion she needs to pay for other things, like a Mercedes, a face lift, or to put in that aforementioned hot tub. The point is not what she chooses to spend her money on, it’s that she has the ability to do so without fear of missing her mortgage payment or not being able to pay her property taxes.
Across the country, thousands of longtime homeowners and legacy residents are being priced out of their homes because of rapidly rising home values and development pressures. Cohabitation, whether by allowing someone to rent a room, or by allowing more homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in their backyard, is a simple and effective way to allow homeowners the income flexibility they need to adapt and stay in their homes.
3. Combating Loneliness
Time and time again at the end of almost every episode there was a moment that the Golden Girls recommit to their friendship and that they are so happy they have found each other to share their lives with.
I would like to think many of us have those friends we could get along with and live together — not necessarily to take care of each other physically, but mentally. It is amazing what loneliness does to a person. The Loneliness Epidemic is reducing the lifespan of the average American. The effects of loneliness have even been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
We are mistaking isolation for privacy and it is killing us. Even though we’re meant to laugh with every episode of “The Golden Girls,” we are reminded how important and wonderful friends and human interaction are good for the soul.
What would it be like if you lived with one or maybe two individuals that allowed you to laugh and go through life together while thanking each other for being friends? I invite you to reimagine the possibilities of what having roommates can look like, and how you can foster your own Golden Girl memories in your life.
Note: I did my darnedest to remember the plot of the episodes mentioned. If you feel you need to correct me or even add your own Golden Girl moment please email me at email@example.com
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Editor’s Note: Will Johnston, executive director of the MicroLife Institute in Atlanta, writes about downsizing as you age. His column, “Rightsizing,” appears every other month in Atlanta Senior Life. This column appears in the February 2022 issue.