Exploring Cohousing

Due to a sort of amazing convergence of events, Hubs and I were recently introduced to the concept of cohousing.  First, we talked about how great it would be to have a community that would support us and our [future] children and be some sort of intentional living type situation.  The day after that, I googled this type of concept and found tons of websites describing the benefits of this type of living and calling it cohousing.  The day after that, we went for happy hour with some couple friends and they told us about an awesome opportunity to hear Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett speak and my mom brought up cohousing to me on the phone that same day.  (Sounds like it was meant to be!)

We went to the cohousing presentation by Chuck and Katie, who coined the term “cohousing” from the Danish bofœllesskaber (literally living communities) and are the authors of several books on cohousing, the most recent of which, Creating Cohousing:  Building Sustainable Communities, I am reading right now from the library.  I could go on and on about what really feels right to me about cohousing, and I have to numerous people with whom I’ve interacted over the past couple of weeks, but I think a quick sum up is better.  Among all the amazing things I feel can be enjoyed by living in cohousing, these are my top three:

Smaller houses, fewer possessions, less stuff.  Cohousing communities are generally built around shared pedestrian/outdoor areas and include a community house that can contain among other things:  several guest rooms for visitors to the community, a shared workshop with tools, a sewing/craft room with supplies, a children’s playroom, and a tv room.  Imagine not needing to buy a lawnmower because the community already owns one for mowing the common area, skipping buying tools for home renovations because they are already in the community workshop or not having to buy all the stuff and clutter up a room in your house to do crafts or beer brewing!  Or being able to afford to have solar panels put in because your mortgage for your reasonably sized house isn’t sky high and all your neighbors are getting them too, so the contractor is giving you a discount.  Or best of all, the ability to choose a smaller house in the first place because you didn’t need to have room for your in-laws to stay in your house when visiting, because you had access to a workshop and craft room, and because your children won’t need a playroom at home because they have the whole common house, especially the playroom, and the entire outdoors of the community, which is car free, in which to do frolicky kid stuff!

The car free part and what it means for social interaction is my next favorite bit.  Cohousing communities are designed so that you park on the perimeter of the community and then walk to your home on a path that passes by the common house, as well as by your neighbors’ homes, so you are automatically set up for spontaneous social interaction, which is completely lost if you drive into your garage and go straight into your house in a typical neighborhood.  Spontaneous social interaction is one of the very best parts of college that we really miss out on as adults. People eating together in a cafeteria, throwing a disc together on the lawn, or sitting outside on a nice day and just talking doesn’t happen in typical adult life unless you plan it.  And who has time to plan all of that?  We’re busy important people with busy important lives and we don’t always make time for these things that really enrich our lives, so we grow to rely on ourselves or on our partner for all of our social needs, which can leave us feeling depressed and lonely.  I didn’t realize it until I was knee deep in learning about cohousing that what made me so sad about our neighbors moving this spring was that, in their move, we lost our main opportunity for spontaneous social interaction.  Everyone else we have to plan to see, no matter how close to us they live.  There’s nothing quite like knocking on the door to see what the neighbors are up to or spying through their window that they’re watching the football game and inviting yourself in.  It’s simple and therefore feels inherently more possible than calling up the friend who lives a 20 minute walk away and having to make a plan.  In cohousing, it’s all built into the design of the community and in that most cohousing communities offer 2-7 common meals a week.  And you don’t have to worry about who’s going to drive home after you’ve had a bottle of wine at dinner either because YOU JUST WALK.

My final favorite thing has to do with my desire to have four children.  I have loooooooong struggled with the environmental impact of bringing four children into the world, but I often feel like having more than one sib is better for growing up.  Enter cohousing and an extremely elegant solution:  raise your kid[s] in a community of children and adults.  Get the benefits of having grown up together and having a common home, but nix the environmental impact!  Beautiful.

How does cohousing sound to you?

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