I live in a cohousing community, and have for 12 years. My husband and I, along with five other families, bought the property, developed it, and built homes on it for the express purpose of living together. We each have our own fully functional units, but we also share laundry and bike and tool storage spaces, and there’s a common dining room where we meet as a group twice a week for dinner. Everyone takes turns cooking.
Our community had a rocky start. It was difficult to find available land, and to get it zoned for the density we wanted. We acted as our own developer, so we hired the architect and found the contractor and, when the contractor bailed, found another one to finish the job. At one point all of us were responsible for a multi-million dollar construction loan; we spent hours putting in “sweat equity” — scraping lead paint off the existing farmhouse, breaking up the concrete driveway, tearing down a freestanding garage.
The first number of years after we moved in were pretty stressful. We were exhausted and traumatized by the develop-build process, and on top of that, many of us were in the thick of parenting young children. As a group we had lots of ideas about how our community should be. Some of them came to fruition and some did not, and we had to deal with the disappointment of that. Add the challenge of actually living together day-in, day-out, and it’s surprising that we all haven’t been diagnosed with PTSD.
It’s only lately, more than a decade into it, that I’ve realized that community life has developmental stages, just like other relationships do. The youngest kid is now 10, and just like often happens in a nuclear family, there’s more energy to look up and around and fix some stuff. For instance, this summer we had the property repainted. I can’t tell you how good it feels to take care of our space together like that — to get the broken stair railing fixed and the dry rot replaced and fresh colors on each of the houses.
To be honest, I’ve wanted to move a number of times (I think most, if not all of my fellow cohousers would admit the same), but thus far have always come to the conclusion that for now, it’s not the right thing to do. Sure, it’s financially difficult to afford a new house in the Bay Area. But I sense there’s also more for me to learn in this particular place, among these particular people. As I mentioned yesterday (“On becoming a grownup“) the process of reconciling one’s ideals and expectations with what’s actually true is a great way to practice being an adult. And isn’t it interesting that we often pick the same kind of experiences, over and over, to help us do that?