Collective Living
April 10, 2015 3:35 AM   Subscribe

I’m here, at the home of seven adults not related by blood and two children, to find out why one would choose to live somewhere that requires such an extreme shoe-storage situation. What does it look like, in an age of post-recession scarcity, for a group of people to successfully weather their late twenties and early thirties together, to embark on the great child-rearing mission in a shared home?
posted by ellieBOA (74 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
We've had house guests on and off for a few weeks, and I'm definitely seeing the appeal of the tag-team approach to parenting.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:14 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know if I agree with the tag-line of this article. It doesn't seem like these people gave up on a middle-class dream at all, but rather that most of them were raised with the idea of communal living. The article touches on the concepts that I actually do think are related to our current economic climate - co-housing of childless people well into their 20's and 30's, and treating children like a luxury good. I actually think that co-housing as adults is a really interesting trend, especially since many of the homes and apartments where it happens are not legally set up for it, and you can end up in a horrible situation if your Craigslist roommate is awful. However, I wasn't really convinced that families with children are joining co-housing communities at a rate any higher than they did in the 80's, 90's, or 00's.
posted by fermezporte at 4:17 AM on April 10, 2015


This Gen-X'er noted with a wry snort that the article states that it's Millennials that are "the first generation that will be worse off than their parents."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 AM on April 10, 2015 [45 favorites]


The other common model for collective living is of course the old not-moving-away-from-your-parents trick. Convert the garage and attic and basement into living spaces if you need to, and Bob's your uncle living in the room down the hall. Get three or more generations of a family, with maybe ten or twelve people -- mom and dad, their two adult children, the adult children's two spouses, and two or three kids from each second-generation couple -- all in one house. That's entirely reasonable in a lot of oversized American homes, and it leaves you six potential earners who also find time to watch the kids when they aren't at school.
posted by pracowity at 4:48 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


People act like having a large group living in the same house is something new, when it's as old as humanity --- my own mother grew up in a three bedroom/one bath Philadelphia rowhouse: ten kids, two parents, a grandfather and an uncle, all under the same roof. Nothing special, all their neighbors did the same.
posted by easily confused at 4:56 AM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


This Gen-X'er noted with a wry snort that the article states that it's Millennials that are "the first generation that will be worse off than their parents."

The article links to a Pew Center report that makes that assertion directly (and itself links to more detailed analysis), so it's not just something they are pulling out of their butts.

Personally I'm glad to no longer be sharing a house with a bunch of people, but it's a model that obviously works for some people (and for others is the only way to make things work economically). The trick in terms of zoning would be recognizing the difference between an intentional community and a slumlord packing as many tenants as possible into a structure -- assuming that there is a practical difference from the neighbors' perspective, though.

The anecdote about all the shoes in the entry brings up how you might design houses differently if you were expecting them to be occupied by this many adults in a variety of family arrangements -- more storage and more bathrooms at a minimum, and better noise separation as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:01 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


This article is certainly charming, but also very weird, because in my world that's just how people live. I'm a bit odd because I am buying my house (extreme fixer-upper with holes in the walls, etc) and have only two housemates and one spare room when this house could hold at least one and probably two other people. (OTOH, only one bathroom.)
posted by Frowner at 5:02 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm glad it works for them. I'd go completely insane living in that arrangement but I could never handle having roommates. I'm glad that I live in the cheaper half of the state from this story.
posted by octothorpe at 5:24 AM on April 10, 2015


Surely, this model is more enticing than what I imagine to be its polar: a perpetually exhausted set of parents finally getting Junior to bed, having given her their exclusive focus all evening, and sitting slaw-jawed in front of another episode of How I Met Your Mother before they tuck in for the night.

Groan.
posted by 41swans at 5:44 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


A friend lives in a similar situation, and is currently going through a zoning battle with the city of Hartford because of some retrograde law about how many unrelated people can live in their giant house. It should be noted that they're allowed to have an unlimited number of live-in servants.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 5:50 AM on April 10, 2015 [20 favorites]


It should be noted that they're allowed to have an unlimited number of live-in servants.

Maybe they could all become employees of the collective?

I've lived next to group rental houses in the past and also currently, and they have mostly been fine and easy to work with when there is an issue. The landlords who rent to them, though, have been uniformly total pieces of shit, unresponsive and simply extracting as much money as possible while doing zero maintenance. I can see how those kinds of zoning rules come about, given the rental practices I've seen that appear to be purpose-built to create dilapidated and out of control rental houses.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


And while the parents are quick to note that they’ve leaned on each other in times of crisis, they’re careful not to burden their housemates too much. Now that the kids are a little older the parents may leave them at home while they run an errand or two, but they still hire babysitters when they’re out for an evening. Much of the benefit here, I imagine, comes from having other adults around who like socializing with your children when everyone’s home, a relief that’s more psychic than logistical.
Appreciate the article can't be all things to all people, but I wish it had gone into a bit more detail on exactly how this works, and whether the adults involved would also frame the benefits in that way, rather than "well I imagine the benefits of this are such-and-such" and "I imagine the alternative is sitting on the couch in exhaustion watching How I Met Your Mother."

I can imagine raising children in a communal environment being wonderful: newborn screaming for hours in the evening? Pass it to someone else for a break! Toddler bent on destruction every waking minute? Other people there to distract, redirect, and stop the kid climbing in the oven! Older kid wants to talk for three hours about lizards? Well, maybe 15 minutes of that can be with Bob over there while I have a shower! On the other hand, I can also imagine it being total hell: trying to calm a screaming newborn all by yourself still, except now with the added burden of worrying that the noise is bothering your housemates; having your toddler constantly pissing off your housemates by playing with their stuff and making a mess; housemates getting annoyed that they are being followed around by a tiny lizard-fanatic with undeveloped social skills.

Obviously it works for these people, but I would have loved to hear more about exactly how it works for these people (and why it didn't work for the couple who moved out), rather than how the author's imagining it works.
posted by Catseye at 6:06 AM on April 10, 2015 [18 favorites]


So... living as a clan? A bit like almost everyone in the history of people?

Who knows? it might just work...
posted by pompomtom at 6:12 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Maybe they could all become employees of the collective?

They actually own the house, and from what I understand they're not interested in finding loopholes to the zoning law, since they intend to be there for a long time.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:21 AM on April 10, 2015


Interesting article. I could definitely see myself living in such an arrangement were the Missus not so opposed to it. I've never lived on my own, and love having people around even if we aren't actively engaged in some sort of activity with each other. I wish this sort of thing was more of the culturally accepted norm. It's certainly something our great-great grandparents wouldn't think much about.
posted by triage_lazarus at 6:21 AM on April 10, 2015


Here in New Orleans there is a practice of taking huge houses and renovating them into apartment buildings. I sometimes think about buying one that's been run-down by lack of landlord maintenance (a real problem here). I could fix it up and invite my friends to live with me. But it would take a lot of money, and bringing financial and residential conflict into friendships tends to ruin them. This is probably going to remain an arrangement of necessity rather than people choosing to live cooperatively.
posted by domo at 6:29 AM on April 10, 2015


People act like having a large group living in the same house is something new, when it's as old as humanity...

To be fair, the tendency for young people to act as if everything they do is new and novel is also as old as humanity.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on April 10, 2015 [25 favorites]


To my mind, the tricky thing is getting people who are committed to the arrangement. When it's family, that's relatively easy, but it can be trickier when it's a bunch of young-ish people at different career stages. And you don't want the kids getting used to an adult over a year or two and then having that person just vanish off to wherever - I've seen that be rather difficult for some kids in our social circle, even though all of them have had at least one very caring and stable parent around as well.

Plus, if you have a large group, it can be really exhausting to always be looking for a new housemate - if there's, say, six adults and three of them are really committed to the house but three are in flux, you can easily basically always be hunting for a new housemate. That's one reason we're trying to make it work with just the three of us - we're all extremely introverted and would prefer not to move. We'd consider a fourth if they were the right person and wanted to stay long-term, but it got tiring having, like, three different housemates in two years.
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


So... living as a clan?

Except for the part about raiding Clan McTavish and driving off their cattle. I presume.
posted by Segundus at 6:50 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Maybe they could all become employees of the collective?
They actually own the house, and from what I understand they're not interested in finding loopholes to the zoning law, since they intend to be there for a long time.


I work in Hartford and have been following this--I think only two of the people have their name on the deed to the house. I've wondered if they could go the "servant" route also. (I've been really ticked at the city about this.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:59 AM on April 10, 2015


I've always wanted to do this, but the people in my group who weren't already paired up in living in their own homes were people with lots of the kinds of problems that keep you from holding down jobs or being a good roommate. And also people who neither had nor liked children.

Ham Snadwich, I hope your friend wins their battle, I love what they've set up and was very envious when I read the article. That's exactly what I wanted to do but couldn't manage.

I would still be open to communal living under the right circumstances, honestly. I'm an introvert but I come from a big family. Just three of us in a house feels lonely sometimes. And it would be nice to share expenses and car trips and groceries.

We looked into actual communal living, but most intentional communities want a pretty substantial cash investment up front, while also being in parts of the state/country where I was not sure I could find a job.
posted by emjaybee at 7:01 AM on April 10, 2015


I think this is a great idea and would love to do it; in fact, there are two friends I've been telling for years (I think they think I'm joking, but I'm not) that we should form a commune. I don't actually have children, but would totally pitch in with child care. We all have to look out for each other.
posted by holborne at 7:01 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


They actually own the house, and from what I understand they're not interested in finding loopholes to the zoning law, since they intend to be there for a long time.

Digs and marriage, digs and marriage.
Go together like a horse and carriage.

With same sex marriage legalized, the options are getting more versatile.
posted by ocschwar at 7:02 AM on April 10, 2015


I've been reading articles for 20 years about how Generation X has it worse. Or even the worst.
posted by Melismata at 7:05 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


This Gen-X'er noted with a wry snort that the article states that it's Millennials that are "the first generation that will be worse off than their parents."

I think the article actually said than their two previous generations, I guess as a hedge against someone saying "Um, what about the Great Depression," but it's nonetheless a silly statement in any broader historical and economic context (particularly that looks at more than middle-class 20th-c. America as mattering).
posted by aught at 7:13 AM on April 10, 2015


My wife and I met in a co-op almost 40 years ago. About 100 of us but no little ones running about as I recall. We are certainly amenable to this idea...
posted by jim in austin at 7:13 AM on April 10, 2015


The media has completely forgotten Generation X exists. All the charts are "Boomers" and "Millennials". Boomers because the writers are Boomers, and Millennials because they are the current group of 20-30 year olds.

Of course, there's a whole lot of bullshit in the whole idea of generational categories, so whatever.
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


A friend lives in a similar situation, and is currently going through a zoning battle with the city of Hartford because of some retrograde law about how many unrelated people can live in their giant house. It should be noted that they're allowed to have an unlimited number of live-in servants.

this is actually mentioned in the article, including the domestic servants line...

it kind of illustrates how basically reactionary "anarchism in one house" becomes. buying a house *is* political, you aren't actually retreated to your own autonomous zone but participating in a system of property and laws. so the anarchist finds themselves on the side of people who say society shouldn't be able to tell you what you do with your property...
posted by ennui.bz at 7:15 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine how much my neighbors would freak out about an arrangement like this. They seem to want to fight any increase in density usually with the cry of "what about parking?" Some of them seem to think that every 5000 square foot Victorian mansion in the neighborhood should have a max of one atomic family with two cars and a dog.
posted by octothorpe at 7:19 AM on April 10, 2015


I highly recommend reading the "grotesque Brooklyn clubhouse" link from the beginning of the article in the OP. It is positively science fictional - the scenario is sort of like if someone rewrote James Tiptree's "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" and crossed it with the opening scenes of John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" and added a little dab of Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower". It's...it's very clever, actually; it's some investors who have essentially managed to put some young arts people into total-life indenture in exchange for constant media exposure, the whole thing in a sort of fake/fantasy group house. It's like if you made "Big Brother" except the goal was to marketize people's success. It's amazing. It's....it's merging people's entire lives and beings with marketing; it's like you had one of those Japanese computerized pop stars only it was a real person. It is truly next level.
posted by Frowner at 8:00 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


The tone of that writing. The casual dismissal. That author is really very pleased with herself.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:06 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


One mention the author made of this group living arrangement is that the members of the home are all activists - in other words people who are aware of and positively directed towards a greater community. I am guessing that this means they are also more likely to make pro-social decisions and be swayed by pro-social arguments. It could be why their arrangement works.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:33 AM on April 10, 2015


There's a co-housing movement in my community, and I believe they're currently in the process of shopping for some land to build on. I think they're thinking less about a house and more about a neighborhood: there will be individual units, but with a shared kitchen and other amenities and shared responsibilities. I sort of like the idea, but I don't like the thought of being quite so tied to random people with whom I may not be personally compatible.

For what it's worth, the average age in the co-housing collective here seems to be 50s or so, although there are some younger people. I think these are mostly people who are concerned about aging, rather than Millennials who are participating in the sharing economy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:41 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> The article links to a Pew Center report that makes that assertion directly (and itself links to more detailed analysis), so it's not just something they are pulling out of their butts.

Okay, but it's a trope that was repeated ad nauseum about GenXers.

Also, speaking of age and generational assumptions, I note that most of the people whose ages are given in this article are actually older than (or at the upper limit of) the "Millennials" anyway.
posted by desuetude at 8:41 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


This Gen-X'er noted with a wry snort that the article states that it's Millennials that are "the first generation that will be worse off than their parents."

This Gen-X'er, being possessed of the irritating snark that so well characterizes my age cohort, feels compelled to note that the article doesn't state that at all.

It actually says (boldface mine):

"My generation, people between the ages of 18 and 31, is the first to do worse financially than the two generations before it"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:42 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's ok, guys! There's plenty of fucked to go around. We don't have to hoard the fucked: there's enough for all of us.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:44 AM on April 10, 2015 [28 favorites]


Although this does not really address the issues that most commenters find relevant, I am attracted to the economic benefits associated with a system like this. Namely, that high quality, more expensive goods could be purchased which, when the purchase price is divided up six or seven ways, end up being less expensive to the individual.
Instead of buying a cheap blender at Walmart that, even though used for a total of five hours, still needs to be replaced every five years, one could be purchased that works better, and lasts for ten years. The difficult thing, I think, would be in finding quality people who have similar ideals. I think these types of situations would always be somewhat of a rarity. As far as legality is concerned, why not? I think the era of the McMansion dwelling, nuclear family is becoming untenable. If people want to live the McMansion life, they should be allowed to, but I believe we need to get past the mind-set of that being the gold standard of having "made it". In our increasing shortage of resources, all varieties of arrangements should be allowed to live side by side. I have been attending college, and am four classes short of a degree in History but have had to take a break due to some financial obligations that had been getting out of hand. I currently live in a rooming house for which I pay $250 per month, utilities included. I take public transportation and ride bike. We need to stop comparing ourselves among ourselves, it is not wise. A truly educated person will know what they need to do without reference to what others do. In conclusion, I am all for the types of living arrangements discussed in the article.
posted by rankfreudlite at 8:51 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.
posted by emjaybee at 9:06 AM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ironic that the effects of unrestricted capitalism have led people to need the communal living situations that were held up as examples of "How Horrible Communism Is" during the Cold War.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:08 AM on April 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.

oh my god imagine the house meetings.
posted by Catseye at 9:08 AM on April 10, 2015 [27 favorites]


I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.

And take turns cooking the plates of beans!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


oh my god imagine the house meetings.

oh my god imagine me killing a whole bunch of people.
posted by Melismata at 9:10 AM on April 10, 2015 [16 favorites]


To my mind, the tricky thing is getting people who are committed to the arrangement. When it's family, that's relatively easy, but it can be trickier when it's a bunch of young-ish people at different career stages. And you don't want the kids getting used to an adult over a year or two and then having that person just vanish off to wherever - I've seen that be rather difficult for some kids in our social circle, even though all of them have had at least one very caring and stable parent around as well.

Yeah, this. I have a very, very long-term plan to manage something like this with two other specific people in mind, and frankly the lines between "committed poly triad" and "would like to live in communal three-person house and raise kids together" are very, very, very blurred for us. (We're all three asexual, which blurs those lines further.) I think this is the sort of thing that takes specific groups of people to pull off, and you have to ensure compatibility between pretty much everyone, which gets exponentially more difficult the more people you have involved in one living space. To me, the situation they're discussing in the OP sounds awesome--but also, really really akin to a poly marriage with sex taken out of the equation some. And as with poly it sounds like the sort of thing that is really, really not for everyone.
posted by sciatrix at 9:13 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.

oh my god imagine the people doing anything for favorites:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:23 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


How would a mefi commune even work? Would there be a little whiteboard on everyone's doors for favorites? How would the mods handle derails? Would the mods have to, like, totally bulk up in order to be able to "delete" people from a conversation?

I keep envisioning basically a really, really long corridor with doors on either side and every mefite having one room.
posted by Frowner at 9:30 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is kind of analogous to polyamory (on preview, jinx sciatrix) where it works really great for some people and they're very excited to tell you about it. But this is a logistical and emotional nightmare for me. I have scoured the earth for one human and one cat I don't mind sharing living space with, and even then, we still constantly reassess/argue chores and money and needing our own personal space. I am way too uptight/introverted to have those fights with 2-10 other people and their children. I have so many questions. Do they pay for a cleaning service or something? Are they all super laid back? Can anyone come out of a 10-person-house-meeting about loud sex or vacuuming or monopolizing the TV with their dignity and sanity intact? Are you constantly weighing the cheap rent against the day-to-day irritations?
posted by almostmanda at 9:32 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also - and importantly! - would we use real names?

There are a number of people I know only by their activist noms de guerre from, like, an environmental campaign years and years ago, and a guy I see around town in a respectable capacity but know only as "Spork" from an old, old pirate radio project. And another friend's ex, who has long moved to the suburbs and gone respectable, but whose real name I cannot remember at all and who is forever Wise Dolphin (well, really, an activist equivalent, not literally "Wise Dolphin" although that would be awesome) to me.
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, when I was in my twenties, I was so into the idea of cohousing/intentional communities/communal living.

I'm still into it, in theory, but in reality I've found that most people suck most of the time, and building a community of people that don't suck and are also into communal living is kind of impossible.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:39 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


buying a house is one of those things like going to grad school, which is so deeply programmed into the children of middle class parents that they will pursue it regardless of whether it is counter their stated politics or even self destructive.

If people want to live the McMansion life, they should be allowed to, but I believe we need to get past the mind-set of that being the gold standard of having "made it". In our increasing shortage of resources, all varieties of arrangements should be allowed to live side by side.

but the problem is that buying a McMans ion isn't some alienated consumer desire but buying into a social and political order. if you want to change that order do you want to do that from the basis of being a property owner? that's what groups like the LCA, in this article, are trying to do and is entirely misguided (and almost always built on capital loaned by rich parents.)
posted by ennui.bz at 9:41 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm of a whole bunch of minds about this. I lived in a place like this for about a year: a college friend inherited a place out in the country, and all at once, me, a mutual friend from college, another friend and his new wife and her two kids (and one on the way, we found out) all wound up there for various reasons. It was fun if frustrating at times (especially around the kids) but, if a few of the rough spots were buffed smooth, I'd probably be down to do it again. You really do get something, socially, out of five-to-seven friendly adults in a group, leavened with a few kids and pets running around.

On the other hand, this positively reeks of turning a necessity into a virtue. The question of 'intentionality' in the 'intentional community' is a serious one: I understand that everyone may be OK with it, but how many would do it if housing wasn't as dilapidated and broken a system as education, finance, elections, infrastructure and etc... A good job and reasonably priced housing market as a given, would the will still be there for this living arrangement? This goes double for rural versions (and the market's just as messed up there - see the recent post on the Clayton Homes debacle) where the social and spatial isolation really become damaging if the community isn't as healthy as it otherwise should be.

Which brings me to a final point - that 'community' sounds like an awesome thing to people who are yearning for that close relationship, and it can be a wonderful social construction, but there are lots of people who have gone through terrible trials in such living arrangements, and when economic necessity is mixed with high-voltage drama and interpersonal political struggle, it can make an otherwise tough life into an absolute living hell. Now, imagine being a young child, going through it, and watching your Mom go through it.

I know it seems like I'm coming down against it, but I'm not. I think that a communal situation with 'the family that you choose' would make a wonderful place to raise kids/work your art/heal a wound/grow old/whatever. But as I get older I see more and more ways it could go really really wrong, and some of those ways would be absolutely toxic to kids. I'd like to be optimistic in this case, but those are some really high stakes.
posted by eclectist at 9:46 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also - and importantly! - would we use real names?

Can I go by Dickerman Cade Sadler III? That can't be a real name...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:47 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


oh my god imagine the house meetings.

metatalk irl. i'd rather be devoured alive by fire ants.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:57 AM on April 10, 2015 [13 favorites]


I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.

Would we paint the house blue or a more professional white?
posted by octothorpe at 10:07 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]




but the problem is that buying a McMans ion isn't some alienated consumer desire but buying into a social and political order. if you want to change that order do you want to do that from the basis of being a property owner? that's what groups like the LCA, in this article, are trying to do and is entirely misguided (and almost always built on capital loaned by rich parents.)


I also sensed that there was something different about the type of living that the article described. I think their idea is to make communal living "respectable". They are not proposing the cliched hippy-dippy flower-power life that we are used to, but taking the good points and leaving out the bad points. As far as property owning goes, We are faced with two extremes: no body owns it, which creates the tragedy of the commons, and having the state own all property.
I see nothing wrong with individuals owning property; they need to do it, however, in the right way.
Lastly, I don't think the idea proposed is "buying into the political order" necessarily, but evolving political orders. Politics, according to Rousseau, is merely the will of the people. Not that democracy does not have its flaws, it just has less flaws than other political systems. After all, in a democracy consisting of two wolves and a sheep, the wolves decide what's for dinner. I apologize for introducing so many semi-contradictory ideas, it's just that these matters are rather complicated. Some times one must ignore the complications and become pragmatic: resources are limited, so I am for the living arrangements described in the article, regardless of which social and political order is bought into.
posted by rankfreudlite at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2015


As I've commented before, this kind of cohousing setup is so common among my burner-techie-artist Seattle community that we basically take it for granted. Sure, a fair number of people live alone in apartments or wherever, but the big shared, named group houses are the connecting nodes of the social network. The houses tend to be stable, even as people come and go, and it's quite normal for a house to have a mixture of parents, couples, and single people, with the parents tending to be least mobile.

My house is not a particularly large one but I can't imagine living here by myself. Three bedrooms and just one me, how boring would that be? Much more fun to share the place with a couple of friends.

Also: if everyone lives in separate houses, then only a very few very rich people can afford enough space to have a big party. Six adults pooling incomes, on the other hand, can afford a great big mansion, and then they can invite 100-200 people over for New Year's. Enough people doing enough of this, and you end up with a network of social venues hosted by people who all know each other at a remove or two, and it becomes much easier to extend and reinforce your social network.

in other words people who are aware of and positively directed towards a greater community. I am guessing that this means they are also more likely to make pro-social decisions and be swayed by pro-social arguments.

I think that's part of the reason this aligns well with the Burning Man community; the whole survival-in-the-desert thing tends to select for people who are resourceful and interested in collective effort.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:14 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


My communal space back in the 80s had the same colour kitchen! WHY?!!!


...though it was pretty great only having to cook and clean up one night a week.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:38 AM on April 10, 2015


This topic is interesting to consider in light of the fact that, as has already been noted, these types of living situations were the norm throughout most of human history. It must be considered, however, that in these tribal societies, there was not much political discourse or tolerance for other life-styles. There was, of NECESSITY, only the tribal way. Any other behavior was usually banished from the tribe. This also explains why in these societies, villages only a few miles away spoke unintelligible languages, and why competition over resources led to frequent skirmishes with neighbors. It was during the Neolithic that large nation-states began to emerge, and people such as Hammurabi needed to encode tribal laws.
I think that, in these communal living situations, there must be, of necessity, a "chief" perhaps the mortgage holder.
Regarding a different comment posted, why shouldn't these types of situations be entered into out of necessity? Seeking that which is not necessary, leads to the McMansion phenomenon that I mentioned earlier. I don't think these people who have decided to live this way are doing it to be "cool".
posted by rankfreudlite at 10:38 AM on April 10, 2015


Oh, one of the details I forgot about the Hartford case is that a local university owns an equally large house across the street and uses it almost exclusively for hosting large fundraising events, and that is somehow ok.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 10:54 AM on April 10, 2015


I also sensed that there was something different about the type of living that the article described. I think their idea is to make communal living "respectable". They are not proposing the cliched hippy-dippy flower-power life that we are used to, but taking the good points and leaving out the bad points. As far as property owning goes, We are faced with two extremes: no body owns it, which creates the tragedy of the commons, and having the state own all property.

in the article, the house is owned by the Life Center Association, which is essentially a property management company founded by a bunch of radical activists in the 60s, with somewhat radical political goals. there was a lot of this sort of small 'a' anarchism during this era and the groups that have survived are those that have managed to operate their communal ownership most like a property management corporation... which is more or less my point.

all of these houses have an owner or owners and you can't square the circle of building a political grouping of owners and non-owners. I'm not necessarily running up the red flag and saying no one should have private property, but it's a terrible basis for left radical political organizing.

you can see with the Hartford house that there is little difference between buying a big old house to live in with your friends/comrades and buying a big house and renting it out to a couple of puerto rican families (which is one of the things that their neighbors are afraid of.) You end up trying ot make up arguments for why the rules don't apply to you, which is especially fun if you are a political radical. But, "you" in this case is really just a property owner, and those same exceptions apply to the other property owners...
posted by ennui.bz at 11:04 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Underpants Monster: "I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.

And take turns cooking the plates of beans!
"

Anyone touches my plums, I will HURT them.
posted by Samizdata at 11:05 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


A friend lives in a similar situation, and is currently going through a zoning battle with the city of Hartford because of some retrograde law about how many unrelated people can live in their giant house. It should be noted that they're allowed to have an unlimited number of live-in servants.

The HOAs down here in Florida are also putting in rules to prevent this sort of cohabitation sharing as well. No more than two unrelated adults at the same address.
posted by tilde at 11:48 AM on April 10, 2015


Yeah I feel like people who are all "tribes and villages woo!" never read any Hardy or myriad other works where people's dreams are sacrificed on the altar of communal conformity. I'm pretty happy I don't have that problem nearly as badly — even if I'm sometimes lonely.
posted by dame at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've often wished we could live in a Mefi commune.

oh my god imagine the house meetings.


If it were in Chicago it would just be non-stop Karaoke.
posted by srboisvert at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2015


I wonder if there's a Venn diagram of extroverts/introverts/people who love the idea of communal living/people who think communal living sounds like a certain level of hell, where the extroverts and people who love the idea of communal living are in the same circle entirely while the introverts and people who think communal living sounds like a certain level of hell have locked themselves in their houses and are quickly turning off all the lights so no one knows they're home.
posted by cooker girl at 2:49 PM on April 10, 2015


I do not think so, because I live with two other extreme introverts. "Communal" does not have to mean "noisy and in everyone else's business", but the key feature is that everyone must have their own room; also, a group house works much better in this respect than a group apartment. All our bedrooms are upstairs; if people want to be all social and stuff, they use the downstairs.
posted by Frowner at 2:55 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


See, to me, on certain days, "all social and stuff" means simply existing. Like, walking downstairs to get breakfast and having to deal with anyone other than my spouse and the children I gave birth to would be too much. And some days I want everyone to leave the house and let me be completely and totally alone.

I'm all for people who want to live communally to do so. I just honestly cannot see the appeal.
posted by cooker girl at 3:37 PM on April 10, 2015


sounds like you already do live communally, cooker girl!
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:44 PM on April 10, 2015


I live nuclearly!
posted by cooker girl at 4:57 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meh, I know enough hippies/poly people/whatever that this is not all that out of the ordinary. But I am from NorCal.

I wouldn't want to live in a commune/co-op community myself because I need alone time for detoxing (especially after work), but I have just come back from an incredibly amusing hippie Passover at a co-op-y place here and those people do seem to be having an incredibly good time hanging out spontaneously.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:50 PM on April 10, 2015


In 10-20 years, expect to see articles about near-retirement-age Xers doing this, because they have to.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


In 10-20 years, expect to see articles about near-retirement-age Xers doing this, because they have to.

If they're "near retirement age," then they're still working. But you don't see large numbers of people doing this now, and in 10-20 years, the oldest cohort of Gen X will likely be in the best financial shape of their lives. So I don't think this will be the case.

After retirement is a different deal. But then Gen X might finally get what was promised to them -- because it is less numerous than the Boomer generation, Gen X might finally get to take advantage of that. There will be a glut of retirement communities constructed for Boomers that will be seeking new tenants.

Still, though, Gen X will be in overall worse shape, because of low retirement savings (no, thank *you,* 2008 financial crisis) and question marks about the viability of Social Security.

It'll be a nice retirement community you'll live in. But you won't be taking any 3-day vacation cruises like your parents did, because Mom and Dad stole your future.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:13 PM on April 11, 2015


In 10-20 years, expect to see articles about near-retirement-age Xers doing this, because they have to.

A few years ago there was a spate of articles about alternative retirement communities and arrangements for boomers. It might have been the 2008 financial crisis or that when push comes to shove most people aren't actually interested in those options, but I feel like I don't see those articles nearly as often anymore.

I have wondered what the alternatives will be when I am of that age. With no children and no family wealth, some kind of intentional community might be the only option on the table.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:57 PM on April 11, 2015


My housemate and I have a longstanding In Case of Lottery Win plan to buy up a few blocks of cheap real estate somewhere in the Rust Belt and form the Old Fangirls Retirement Community. Shared housing or single-occupant apartments as preferred, with a little strip of nerd-owned businesses (yarn store, comic book shop, vintage clothing, cat cafe etc) and some sort of community center-ish space for events. Every once in a while I look at real estate listings for Pittsburgh or Cleveland on Craigslist and sigh wistfully in the direction of this idea. Someday!
posted by nonasuch at 9:36 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


If they're "near retirement age," then they're still working. [...] Still, though, Gen X will be in overall worse shape, because of low retirement savings (no, thank *you,* 2008 financial crisis) and question marks about the viability of Social Security.

Right, and people nearing retirement are going to start doing that math, especially if their health is also not as robust as they had imagined and/or they are suffering from ageism in trying to stay fully employed. I think that you will see a lot of people get to 50 or 55 and realize that they need to make their more or less terminal housing decisions ASAP, rather than waiting until 60 or 65, and they may not be able to do that by themselves.

And I think a lot of boomers had been homeowners since their 20s or 30s and were likely to be paid off well before retirement (and maybe even sold off to downsize for a nice profit around retirement), and not as many X'ers have done that (or did it, but not in a lucky kind of way).
posted by Lyn Never at 12:36 PM on April 12, 2015


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