Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Co-Housing?

The author of Little House on a Small Planet, Shay Salomen, writes,

"How is it that we have a housing crisis? Maybe a homing crisis, or a sharing crisis, but this isn't a housing crisis."

This was written in a time when the U.S. was considered to be having a housing crisis. Now I think we have, perhaps, a different type of housing crisis, one in which there are too many large expensive homes, and everyone is trying to downsize when downsized houses barely exist. I love how she refers to this as a sharing crisis, though, because it exactly fits how I feel about co-housing/multi-generational housing/intentional community, or whatever else you want to call it. For the purpose of simplicity, it means sharing your house with other adults. Our co-housing adventure begins next week when Vespera & Novio get married (or, perhaps, 2 weeks from now, when they're home from their honeymoon). They'll be living with us.

Why share? Well, to be honest, it makes sense to me as a family therapist, as an environmentalist, and as a Christian. Maybe I'll take those points in backwards order. As Christians we are called to be the church. I spent some time in graduate school really working out what that means and came to the conclusion that my professor, LeRon Schultz, says it best. He spoke of how the church of the Bible was a group of people who were called to live together in community, loving and serving each other, in a way that calls or draws other people to God. In other words, the early church was supposed to share.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
They didn't stop having houses or possessions entirely, as evidenced by the fact that they went to each other's houses and ate, but they gladly shared all they had with each other. And, frankly, people were drawn in by that kind of community, by that kind of selflessness and sharing. People became Christians because of the example the early church set. They wanted what that little group of people had. This is our calling...to live in this beautiful relationship with each other in a way that attracts others, that draws them. I have often thought of our house as one of peace and one of healing. It is the deep desire of Mango & I to offer grace and rest to all who enter here. Who better to begin with than our children?

So, secondly, as an environmentalist, shared housing makes so much sense. Why use more natural resources to build more houses when the houses we have are big enough to house more people? Why burn the fuel to heat two houses when we all fit in one? Why use the electricity to light two kitchens and two living rooms? Why buy more dishes and appliances when we can share? It's a matter of environmental stewardship to leave a smaller footprint.

And, finally, as a family therapist, a mother, and a human being, shared housing means we have access to the community we so desperately need. We were not created to spend long hours without the company of others or to take care of all the tasks of daily life alone. Post partum depression is so common for new mothers because they're so isolated. Spending all day with only the company of a small child is exhausting, lonely, and (let's admit it) boring work. I know that I was delighted to learn when Vespera came to us that I was gaining, not simply another daughter, but some thoughtful company and interesting conversation. More people in a house means more opportunities to learn and to grow, to share thoughts, to gather ideas, to be challenged and to challenge others, to be sharpened, to develop into better, more whole and holy people (to throw in some more theology). Not to mention, that shared housing also means dividing responsibilities and multiplying our celebrations!

I cannot say all this without mentioning that I am also an introvert, partial to time alone and a little space to think. I imagine that other introverts reading here are feeling a bit horrified at the suggestion of co-housing. This is why sharing a house requires some healthy people with good boundaries. It can't be done thoughtlessly or without the necessary communication skills. This is, perhaps, another blog post altogether. So, I think I'll leave it at that.

As always, I invite your thoughts, comments, questions, and prayer. Thanks!


  1. i love this post, amy. and i, for one, would be VERY interested in a follow-up post in which you elaborate a bit on the healthy boundaries and communication skills you find necessary for this sort of arrangement. as an introvert who has a lot of folks around me (family in particular) with boundary and mental health issues, this has never seemed a possiblity for us. which leaves me a little melancholy. (and if i'm honest, often times a little relieved...)

  2. Sharon Astyk has a great blog post about multigenerational living at her blog as well. It has made me want to find a place big enough to house my parents. http://sharonastyk.com/2006/11/26/husbanding-resources/

    I think it's great. :)

  3. Oh, thanks for the link!!

    Lauren, I'm working on a follow-up post. Stay tuned!


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