Monday, January 26, 2009

More on Communal Living

I wanted to type out the direct quote that I mentioned in my last post. The author of Little House on a Small Planet is Shay Salomon. She says in the introduction, "How is it that we have a housing crisis? Maybe a homing crisis, or a sharing crisis, but this isn't a housing crisis."

It seems to me that some very understandable things happened to precipitate this sharing crisis, and now we're a nation of lonely people needing to find a way back to communing with other human beings. Salomon suggests, from her research, that Americans first began building large houses and spreading out into the sprawl of the suburbs as a symbol of having achieved money and freedom. People thought this is what they always be middle class, free, and independent...because they had previously been crowded, poor, and squelched. Large, single-family homes symbolize, in many ways, the "American Dream." They are all about being a self-made human, having accomplished something from nothing. It's still true in many places in the world that the only people with large houses have inherited wealth. In America, it's possible to start out your life with nothing and end your life with a mansion.

The trouble is that having more stuff and more space doesn't really make people happy. Not having to worry constantly about money does make a difference, but once ends are meeting, it seems that having more doesn't really make people happier. In fact, having more seems to create a desire for even more. I can't help but think of people who reminisce fondly of their poor college days, and, although they have more (materially & monetarily) now, they are less happy. It seems, at least in part, that people miss the freedom they had when they had less money. Once you're tied to a hefty mortgage, you have less freedom, more responsibility.

Salomon says, "Many of us know someone who has suffered the consequences of an inflated mortgage, an overwhelming construction project, or a house simply too large to keep clean. Will our dream home always be a celebration of excess, and a drain on our lives?"

I'm not trying to decry the abominations of home ownership. We own a home, too. I'm just trying to think it through. And I'm thinking of what might be different in our culture if people felt like they could share houses, rather than everyone buying their own.

In her book, Salomon discusses how the people who have very small houses often owe less or nothing on their homes, which frees them to work less, spend more time at home, and spend more time with family, friends, and community. This looks a lot more like the American dream of my generation. We're a generation of people trying to work from home, be the primary caregivers for our own children, and have more time to spend socializing with friends.

Salomon interviewed hundreds of people with small houses and found that most had better family relationships in their small space, though this seems contrary to popular American psychology. And people talked about "finding space in their head" and in the outdoors, rather than needing literal household space. I'm running out of time to write today, but I want to come back to this idea...the idea that relationships can be better and people can find other ways to "make" space.

I'm going to stop here today, though. I could keep going, but I'm out of time, and I want to keep putting thoughts out there as I think through them.

Please, please, if you're up for a discussion, post your comments, and let's talk!


  1. i think it's absolutely possible to live communally. i think it takes the right dynamic before that can happen, though. chances are that y'all might have that dynamic working for ya. *smiles*

    it's possible to have that "space" that you need and that time that we all seem to need to ourselves while being in a house with many else would families function? or people in dorms for that matter? i mean, usually, until we move out of living with our parents we're many people in a house and it can work effectively.

    this conversation and thought process is intriguing to me...i'm definitely interested in your other thoughts. *hugs*

  2. Jenn, I was hoping you would comment. You're in a pretty unique situation yourself, and I've always thought there were some definite positives to what you're doing, though it's totally counter-cultural. I'd be interested in really talking this one over with you sometime...maybe over coffee (or tea or ice cream)...

  3. sounds like a plan to me...let's talk about it more when y'all get back. *hugs*


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