“The Familiarity Factor And Aging In Place”

A couple being totally at ease and comfortable in familiar surroundings as they are aging in place with an old friend (their home)

Familiarity is a powerful motivator. We do things because they are comfortable and because we have done them so often we don’t have to put a lot of thought into them. A route that we take to the office, a place we stop for a cup of coffee or a paper, our favorite place to buy gas, where we like to go for lunch (at least once a week if not more often), our favorite park or trail, a golf course we play all the time, our favorite sports (or movie) channel, and of course our favorite outfits to wear (casual as well as business).

Our car is quite familiar to us – so much so that we can tell (or least we think we can) when one tire is a little low on air, when the wheels pull to the left or to the right, when the engine sounds a little different, when someone else has driven it because the controls (radio, temperature, lights, or vents) have been adjusted or the mirrors have been moved. When we get in our car, we settle right in because we have sat in it so often it’s a little like sitting in our favorite chair.

Of course, the same can be said about our homes. In fact, one of the chief reasons for people deciding to remain in their homes long-term (even at a relatively young age) and not look for a replacement is because they know their homes so well. The longer we are committed to remaining in our homes because they are so familiar to us, the harder it is to leave them. We find that we have begun aging in place even when it wasn’t a conscious or deliberate decision just because our homes are so familiar to us.

We have developed such a routine in our current home – even when it is not perfect or there might be other homes that would meet our needs better than tour current one – that we can live there without devoting a lot of mental or physical energy into locating stored items (unless we have misplaced them), knowing where the light and water controls are and where to set them for our purpose, and how to find our way through the home even in the dark. Why would we want to start over at a new address with a brand new learning curve – or deal with the stress that comes with adapting to this change?

When we wake up in the middle of the night – to visit the bathroom, get a glass of water, check on a noise we thought we heard, or tend to the dog or cat, for instance – or if the power should go out (and we haven’t installed a backup generator yet), it’s nice to know that we don’t have to figure out where we are or how to navigate our space. We just walk the familiar route we have been taking for years. We can even do it in low light or no light – provided we haven’t laced our path with obstacles. In fact, we can navigate our home, should we ever need to do so, in complete darkness.

We generally know where things are in our homes – we don’t even have to think about it. We can go to the kitchen and open any drawer or cabinet and know what’s inside – unless we recently rearranged the items we keep in them. We can look out any window and know what to expect. This is a good thing because we can immediately spot if anything is different or out-of-the-ordinary that might raise some concern.

We have a favorite place to sit to read, watch TV, or use our phone or tablet. We know which lights to turn on at various times of the day, and we may have many of them set to turn on for us with a timer because we know what lights we need and when we want them to be on. We know what to set our thermostats to for heating or cooling. We know where our favorite snacks are kept, including our coffee and other beverages.

If it turns cool or begins to rain, we know where to find the items we need to put on to be comfortable – inside or out. We know where the tools are to tighten a screw, hammer a nail, trim the hedge, or cut the grass.

If we decide to go for a walk in the neighborhood – whether up the street and back, or around the block – we feel safe. We know if there are any dogs that might bark at us, if any could be loose, and if there are any children playing or the presence of their toys in areas where we might walk, drive, rollerblade, or bike.

Familiarity is a very strong reason and motivator for people remaining in their homes and aging in place.

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