It's a movement away from looking for one person to be your everything.
September 1, 2015 10:53 AM   Subscribe

"Co-housing, and the many other informal variations of it I found, offer a measure of both autonomy and independence. In co-housing, there are separate houses like you would find anywhere else, but what's different is that they also have a shared common house where they get together sometimes, for meals or meetings or hobbies. They really want a genuine community, so they go ahead and create it." // Jessica Gross interviews Bella DePaulo about co-housing, being single by choice, and her new book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, for Longreads: Breaking the Mold.

Bella DePaulo previously, co-housing previously.
posted by divined by radio (29 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd like to link to the CBC radio piece about the Baba Yaga house in Paris. This was the first time I'd hear of all-female co-op living once you reach your golden years. I'm in!
posted by Kitteh at 11:01 AM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh boy, I would LOVE to do this, but it would not suit my hubby at all.
posted by harrietthespy at 11:03 AM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


At one point in my draft-paper-doodling past, I worked out with some friends a building that was basically 4 one-bedroom full apartments each with separate entrances that also connected to a large central space that had a giant shared kitchen and living room / craft room area and media den with its own front door... The idea was that we could all live together without having to live together. It felt ideal at the time.

I think in a lot of ways it still feels ideal. I'm just a bit more schooled as to exactly who that kind of situation would work with. #samedream #morerealistichopes
posted by hippybear at 11:20 AM on September 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


There's a community like this near me, but it's hella expensive and I could never dream of affording to live there.

But I loved my time on the Underpants family compound, so I can definitely see the appeal. My grandparents bought a huge tract of land really cheap a few years after the war, and "sold" bits of it off to various family members over the years. I lived in the little place my great-uncle built in the middle of the woods (very badly as it turns out, but that's another story) for 10 years. Grandma lived in the big farmhouse on the creek, and she kept a completely open house. If you showed up at dinner time you ate dinner there, if something was wrong with your plumbing you could shower there, if you had too many guests, they were welcome to stay in her spare rooms, etc. It's all gone now as various family members have passed on or moved away, but it was great while it lasted. Bonus? Everybody's family! The bad part? Everybody's family!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:30 AM on September 1, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'd love this. My dream arrangement would be some kind of an attic space with bedroom, bathroom and maybe a living room--like 400 sq ft maybe?-- that I could share with my partner and dog, but then with a floor or two of social roommates and a communal kitchen/living room/porch/yard below. In a city full of tons of huge old houses, I feel like this isn't an impossible dream, but I'd probably have to be a little more organized to make it happen. Just re-started a lease today, though, maybe a project for next September...
posted by geegollygosh at 11:55 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Underpants, that sounds awfully like the sort of farm I'm familiar with in Sweden, where members of the family sort of spread out across the land building new bits (or moving into old buildings) as they go. It has exactly the same eat-where-you-end-up and shared resources mentality, plus a lot of co-operation as to who's growing the hay this year, what's happening to the cows. I think the heyday of that was prior to the 70s, as far as I can tell, when (in the case I'm most familiar with) the Big City (small town, really) called some away, various family units broke up in the usual Swedish way (too much drinking, very amicably despite arseholery) and fantasy got in the way of reality (or vice-versa, not always easy to tell.)

But sometimes, family members come back as bits that were sold off come back onto the market. The net trajectory is pretty clear, though: society and agriculture have changed.
posted by Devonian at 11:56 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've always wanted a "compound" for all my family and friends. Like, if we could buy out a whole block in a town that was inexpensive but had enough of the amenities (internet, grocery store nearby, etc.) to make living there not "roughing it."
posted by xingcat at 12:07 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who lives in a co-housing community and it works great for their family. It's similar to a normal housing development except most of the parking is one area so the rest is car-free and their kids can run around. They share childcare with other families there, they've got a community garden, etc. It's basically just like a tight-knit neighborhood, except it's out in the country.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:11 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I stayed here once. It was interesting, to say the least.
posted by keli at 12:13 PM on September 1, 2015


"Hugh was born and brought up in a working class home that his parents had specially built, in the grounds of their Gloucestershire estate."
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 12:29 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I looked into co-housing in the 80's and decided it wasn't for me, for two reasons: I want my own kitchen so I can eat what/when/how I want; and I'd like to choose my "community" members - if I want to hang out and eat dinner with people, I'll host (or attend) a party with my friends, not some self-selected demographic that I may or may not get along with.

Actually, 3 reasons: it wasn't any cheaper than having my own space.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:31 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Although, as LobsterMitten points out, there could be advantages for families.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:32 PM on September 1, 2015


Lots of cohousing in the Bay Area includes separate units (with kitchens, etc) plus a common room/house with a big kitchen and common area. I want something like this with people I already know and like when I'm older. When I lived in Sweden I spent many weekends in a friggebod (1-room cabin) at my in-laws and we'd eat together when we wanted to and didn't when we didn't. I'm not interested in a commune. But more community and chosen-family stuff would be great.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:36 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are advantages for old people too, especially if there are a mix of ages and you like children. It's easier to be social, harder to become isolated, less likely you'll fall off a chair changing a lightbulb because there are plenty of younger folks to ask for help. The problem for me is the expense. It's not affordable for lower-income folks. But then, what is?
posted by Bella Donna at 12:40 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


the Underpants family compound . . .

"It's not an 'estate', Bobbi, it's a compound!"
 
posted by Herodios at 12:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the community my friends are in is separate freestanding units for each family. They do have a community building, but I think community meals are only once a week.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:53 PM on September 1, 2015


There are some really interesting developments happening in Melbourne (check out The Commons - both a development model and a very successful initial project) showing that there is some serious appetite for a more communal way of living, be that cohousing or something else that is less labeled.

I have lived in shared houses most of my adult life - the more communal the better, have worked in construction and project management and am just about finished my building design qualification. I'll build something for my partner and I at some point - we are increasingly wondering if it should be for more than just us.
posted by deadwax at 1:02 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was obsessed with cohousing in my early twenties. Now, at 40, yeah-- most people suck, so it'd be hard to find good housingmates. And existing cohousing communities are suuper-spendy. But I still think it would be awesome to have the type of community around me that cohousing is trying to create. I just think it's way hard to actually create community. Some people luck into it, but most don't.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:43 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love the idea, but I'm wary of the actual other people with whom I would be living. I've had some really great roommate experiences, but I've had enough bad roommate experiences to be a little nervous. Plus, I have a possibly-illegitimate sense that people who are drawn to co-housing may be disproportionately insufferable.

I do think it could simultaneously solve some problems for single people worried about aging and young families who would benefit from a strong community.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:59 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have also had bad roommate experiences, but I think you could set something up that would allow you enough privacy (freestanding separate family spaces) that it's less of a roommate situation and more of a mini-neighborhood.

I do think for the very old and the very young it could be a great thing. Old people go downhill (especially once a spouse dies) when they are alone, and even a regular nurse visit/friend visits leaves lots of hours of loneliness for people who can't easily get themselves up and out. And if you have an older relative, it's easier to keep tabs on them when they don't live an hour drive away from you.

Kids, of course, need other kids and safe places to run and play, things that are harder to get in car-centric neighborhoods anymore. We are planning on moving soon for this reason; my kid never rides his bike (and neither do I) because there's no sidewalks and the roads are not safe here. We are looking at a place that is not as safe as we'd like, but better than this one in that way, so we can all get out more.
posted by emjaybee at 2:19 PM on September 1, 2015


I think it's a boon to older folks and families with kids. Our local cohousing has a wonderful field in the center and the kids all camp out and have games and movies there thoughout the summer. Big kids teach little kids how to play baseball and ride bikes. It's safe and friendly.

That said, my friend who live there sends me entertaining weekly updates on their internal skirmishes. This week, a woman in their community is refusing to pay a $5/mo fee to cover expenses from their community kitchen/laundry/entertainment center (which she uses daily) and has sent the entire community a screed about how paying the fee is a violation of constitutional rights.

I don't have much in the way of family, so I think a small village would be ideal for me, especially as I get older. Something like Cabot Cove, but without the murders.
posted by mochapickle at 2:37 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


That said, my friend who live there sends me entertaining weekly updates on their internal skirmishes. This week, a woman in their community is refusing to pay a $5/mo fee to cover expenses from their community kitchen/laundry/entertainment center (which she uses daily) and has sent the entire community a screed about how paying the fee is a violation of constitutional rights.

To be fair, that sounds a lot like neighborhood association politics too, so it's not a problem particular to cohousing.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:51 PM on September 1, 2015


I almost bought a place in cohousing, but I'm too much of a motorhead to get by with such a tiny garage. Plus I want my garage situated such that I can holler at the people in the garage while I'm in the kitchen rustling up dinner.

Instead I got a place near the center of a small town. There is tons of pedestrian action here, and people constantly stop by. I am very accessible to the passersby, because I'm ten feet from the sidewalk. While doing things in my garage all day I get to meet all the neighbors. I'm trying to intentionally create my own community the old fashioned way - by befriending the people who happen to live nearby, and getting on excellent terms with them.
posted by elizilla at 3:07 PM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I lived in co-housing during grad school in Ann Arbor.

PROS: It was great for our daughter, who was free to run around and play with all the other little monkeys and we never needed to worry about cars. It was a ready-built community, and folks did keep an eye out for each other.

CONS: Our community required service hours, and somehow (despite a system to ensure fairness) it felt like we always got stuck with the most labor-intensive & least desirable jobs (child watch and cooking meals). Also, there is no busybody like a co-housing busybody; there was a cohort of older retired ladies that were a real pain in the neck during our stay. Imagine an HOA board on steroids. Also, some less involved parents basically let their kids run feral, with toys strewn everywhere, to the perpetual annoyance of the rest of the community.

Interesting experiment. Would not do again.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:44 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: like Cabot Cove, but without the murders.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:50 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love the idea, but I'm wary of the actual other people with whom I would be living.

Ah, yes, the Tragedy of the Communes.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:31 PM on September 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


From Breaking the Mold:

With little cultural celebration or even recognition, friendships have emerged as the essential twenty-first-century relationship.
posted by storybored at 5:55 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's a boon to older folks and families with kids. Our local cohousing has a wonderful field in the center and the kids all camp out and have games and movies there thoughout the summer. Big kids teach little kids how to play baseball and ride bikes. It's safe and friendly.

I like the idea of cohousing right up until I think about it coming with other people's kids.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:25 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been living in a cohousing community since 2000. Happy to answer any questions.

Oh boy, I would LOVE to do this, but it would not suit my hubby at all.

it's pretty common for couples to feel differently about living in cohousing. It seems to be good for couples where one has more need for social interaction than they other. They can get it from the community and the other one can choose to engage less.

I want my own kitchen so I can eat what/when/how I want

most cohousings that I know about have homes with kitchens. There's also a large kitchen in the common house for community meals but everyone still mostly eats in their own home.

I'd like to choose my "community" members - if I want to hang out and eat dinner with people, I'll host (or attend) a party with my friends, not some self-selected demographic that I may or may not get along with.

There's nothing about living in cohousing that says you can't do this. We do it all the time, in fact every week. Many communities may have a few members who think that every activity should involve everyone but that's one thing about communities: there are almost as many opinions as people.

The problem for me is the expense.

sadly true. We have some homeowners who've rented to low income families but the lack of economic diversity is a problem.

Our community required service hours

ours has an expectation of work but as with many cohousings there's basically no enforcement of any agreements. as a result, some people don't work much, as I think will be the case regardless of the work system. some people work a lot, some people feel resentment, some people are taking advantage, etc. It's far from perfect but a lot of work gets done and it's a nice place to live. I actually feel that the people who avoid work are missing out. Working together is very bonding and an important part of living together. Living together makes many things much more convenient, including opportunities to help others which is very rewarding.

it's true that some people suck. it's not easy learning how to get along with others. that's one of things that cohousing is good for, giving your opportunities to learn the skill of getting along that you might not otherwise have.
posted by sineater at 8:39 PM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


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