Living Outside the Box
I’ve lived communally most of my adult life. Living situations have ranged from casual situations like roommates to more formal configurations of intentional living and collectives. Most of these were good experiences, and while challenging at times, the benefits far outweighed the difficulties. Five years ago, when my husband and I made the decision to buy a home, I wondered how we could live in a communal situation in a sane and sustainable way, as I liked the idea of continuing to live in community as a couple and potentially raising our future kids this way. Some friends of ours were having similar questions, as well as doubts after one of then had experienced a number of challenging communal living situations. Before long I convinced them that buying a duplex together would be the perfect compromise; we could have communal space and an open door policy while each couple still had a private living space. After many conversations, we agreed that the benefits far outweighed the risks. By pooling our resources, we were able to afford a larger down-payment for a home, and splitting a mortgage payment has made home ownership affordable and less stressful.
I met many skeptics along the way, most voicing concerns about entering a financial commitment with our friends. However, I didn’t bat an eye, I trust my friends and had no reservations about this factor. I am glad to say I have proven the skeptics wrong; our situation seems to be working quite nicely. In fact, I can’t imagine living any other way. Our families have grown since we bought the house, both families having happened to give birth to children in the summer of 2012, and so now so our 3 1/2 year olds have a resident playmate just a staircase away. We share a meal most nights, with a meal rotation where each adult is assigned 1 night each week; the other nights we potluck or maybe grab a pizza. We pay into a house account each month to save money for house repairs or related purchases, which grows much faster with 4 people contributing. And I never have to go far to borrow a cup of sugar, or the hotter commodity in a household with toddlers, whole milk.
Some ask if we have enough space as our expanding families are each navigating our duplex apartment. Compared to the house I grew up in or the homes that some of my friends are buying, it feels tight. However, it is all a matter of perspective. I have seen people live in much tighter quarters and I have seen excess when it comes to what people think they need. Living simply has afforded me other things that are more important than a large house or material things, like the time I get with my son because I can get by working 26-30 hours/week instead of being financially forced to work full time or more. And when I look around instead of comparing my situation to others, I see that we actually have the perfect amount of space for our family. Having a smaller living space has forced us to de-clutter and downsize, getting rid of the unnecessary things I tend to hold onto. There are no rooms sitting empty or unused, and we have plenty of space for a nice gathering of friends or family. It is actually quite perfect. I love that at the end of the day I never come home to a dark and empty house or eat dinner alone. If my husband is at a late meeting and I need to cook dinner while entertaining my 3 year old, I can count on his buddy downstairs to keep him busy. And the best thing is that we have ample amounts of the important things: good conversations, friendship, support, and community.