I have about 15 minutes to write my thoughts as fast I can tonight while Mango is on his way home. I've been reading a book (see my sidebar) called Little House on a Small Planet. My reading frenzy on the subject of communal living began with a conversation I had with Vespera a few weeks back about continuing to live communally even after she gets married someday. We've experienced plenty of culture exchange since Vespera became our daughter and a few small cultural challenges. This is the first one that really threw me. And then I had to ask myself why? Why does this throw me? Haven't I been talking for years about how people were meant to live communally? Haven't I been speaking on the loneliness of mothers, the challenges we face in a society where we are isolated as parents on a daily basis because we all live in our separate little homes? Haven't I complained plenty about the suburbs and suburban sprawl and talked about the virtues of high density housing? Yep, that was me. I've talked about all those things. What is it that makes us think we cannot begin those things with our own families? Why does communal living typically imply a group of friends rather than families?
So, I've taken it upon myself to begin some reading. I want to really explore the cultural assumption in America that adult children must leave home to be grown-up, that in order for healthy differentiation to happen, people must have their own house. And I want to think about why we Americans seem to think we need so much space. Why do we have to have so much privacy and so many belongings?
Little House on a Small Planet begins by addressing some of these issues, first, from an environmental standpoint. Did you know that houses these days are no less energy efficient now than they were in the 1950's? Obviously, there's plenty of new energy-saving technologies, but the increase in the size of houses negates the improvements in energy efficiency. Did you also know that if we Americans went back to homes that provided about 350 square feet per person, we currently have enough housing in America for our entire population DOUBLED? Did you know that in 2000 there were 45 vacant housing units per every person sleeping in homeless shelters? The author points out that we don't have a housing problem. We have a sharing problem.
So, we have totally welcomed the possibility of communal living/multigenerational housing with Vespera and her future family. (Yes, we really plan ahead!) Now, I'm off to read about why people don't typically do this any more.