Cohousing Manifesto

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I spoke at the Cohousing conference last weekend, and it was a great experience. My big takeaway, unfortunately, is that it is currently structurally out of reach for most that would really benefit from it. My informal survey at the conference had many more people trying to make, or find, cohousing than those actually living in it Furthermore the age range of the participants skewed decidedly white and older. I do think cohousing communities are a wonderful idea for retired folks, but I feel our society is profoundly missing out by not figuring out how to make it a real possibility earlier in more peoples lives. Cohousing isn’t for everyone, but it is for most people (although most don’t know it).

It makes establishing and maintaining real friendships so much easier for middle aged Gen Xers, like me. Obviously, that can be done outside of cohousing but there is just so much more effort. You need tireless people that are frequently constantly organizing BBQs, book clubs, and gatherings to build the longstanding relationships that humans are designed for. And those can suddenly, or slowly, drift away for an array of reasons, but particularly when the proactive organizers just get tired. Organizing a handful of big parties for your ‘people’ is a wonderful thing and a lot of work, but only seeing someone annually at a party can make a very good acquaintance but will never make a friend. This way of structuring a society makes it so the only real complex relationships we might have is with family. That is good, as far as it goes, but it misses so much and puts a difficult pressure on what is left. But when everyone else around you is in the same situation, it is hard to see that everyone might be missing something that most of humanity took for granted since the dawn of time. There are regularly newspaper articles about endemic loneliness, spouses needing more than their partner can provide, and relationships crumbling from claustrophobia. Its not the cohousing is a magic solution to all of that, nor the only solution, but it is a very powerful one.

Although most millennials don’t know what it is, cohousing is made for your generation to reap the rewards of your particular perspectives. You don’t need to ‘own’ stuff that you can share and prize a more democratic fluidity in your communities. Capitalism has figured out how to squeeze profits out of your compromising without giving you the benefit. Instead of reaping the huge financial savings you could get from a car sharing agreement between friends, you have Uber which siphons away the profits while decimating a an entire industry of formerly middle class careers. Millennials appreciate living with friends- so capitalism has figured out a way for you to pay a similar amount to rent much less space and give you none of the home equity that other generations have had. Cohousing is a very real, and very effective, way for you to OWN your personal sharing economy.

And finally, think of the children! Boomers and lucky Gen Xers grew up in a world where kids were pushed outside all day, every day, all summer. They didn’t have a organized classes and play dates, they just got unstructured and never ending outdoor play. Today it it feels like if an American parent wants to reduce screen time they have no reasonable choice but organize, chauffeur and pay for a constant flow of classes/playdates/day care. Individually, I’m sure, every one of these things is great. But when I think of my magical childhood summers I mostly remember getting filthy in the creek with neighborhood buddies and no adult in sight. Kids have rest of their lives to live by a productive calendar and I, for one, don’t think it needs to start at birth. Cohousing easily and safely opens up that option, in addition to another whole series of benefits associated with intentional communities. As good as Cohousing has been for Erin and I, we moved in for our daughter. And it’s better for her than we’d even hoped (and we’d hoped for a lot.)

Obviously, cohousing isn’t the only good option for our all people. And some will chime in saying ‘We live on a cul-de-sac, love our neighbors, and its perfect for us’ and they may even be right. But you might also be wrong.

A New Beginning

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I first registered LiveDeliberately.org when I was in college.  I had just read Walden by Thoreau and was inspired by his philosophy.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to do what he did, but I was deeply intrigued with the idea of deliberately choosing one’s life.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” ~H.D. Thoreau

I don’t want to live alone in a small shed for the rest of my life.  As it turns out, neither did Thoreau.  He only lived on Walden pond for a couple years before he returned to New England society. But he came back with a clarity of what he did, and did not, want out of his life.

At the time, the insight altered the course of my life.  I lived simply and was the only mechanical engineering student in my class without a car.  Instead, I took everything I saved and poured it into travel.  I lived and traveled overseas to dozens of countries on a shoestring budget and lived for the adventure. My  college experience was not everyone’s ideal.  I didn’t graduate in record time, join a fraternity, or go a single football game. Others chose a different path.  And not only is that ok, it’s the whole point.

Today, decades later, my life is much different.  Can one Live Deliberately into middle age with a mortgage, a daughter, and an unexceptional office job?  Watch this space, and we’ll find out together.