By Rachael Ritchie
Co-Living, cohousing, communes or intentional communities are terms loosely used to describe people who live together in shared housing. It’s not a new concept but co-living is constantly evolving. It’s growing more socially acceptable and is attracting big investors. There is already much written about co-living as a disrupter in the real estate industry, a potential cure to the loneliness epidemic, and as a viable option for areas with limited housing, but what does all of this mean if you are thinking about choosing this way of living for yourself?
How we individually decide to live is deeply personal. Community living - while not for everyone - is an increasingly viable option for those who may not have considered it in the past.
Co-living works best when you find the right fit for your lifestyle. Co-living projects affiliated with large companies and investors tend to have a mass-market appeal in their missions and décor. These are excellent for those seeking a broader sense of community, but with a little digging, you can find lesser-known co-living options catering to more specific values, budgets and interests.
Regardless of the type of co-living options available, if you are curious about co-living, here are three important things to consider beforehand:
1. What do you value?
Values are at the core of successful co-living. Be honest about what is important to you and seek alignment in the community you choose. Many co-living situations will have either an implicit or explicit mission stating their values. For example, Hacker Houses will orient their living communities around the values of many young people seeking employment in the tech sector: convenience, short-term stays, proximity to work, and an emphasis on collaboration on code or other entrepreneurial endeavors. It’s not likely that a Hacker House would host something like a late-night salsa dancing party, though a Hack-a-Thon would not be an unexpected activity as this supports the values of the people who choose to live there.
You may not know your own values, especially if you never asked yourself this question before. Sometimes we equate our own wants with the desires of our parents or peers - though this might not bring us true fulfillment. If you aren’t sure about your values, online quizzes are a good place to begin exploring what you ultimately wish to prioritize in your life.
A large disparity between your personal values over those of the community you live with will inevitably bring about friction. If you identify as a nudist and the associated body-positive nudist values are deeply important to you, better that you find a house full of nudists and love your fully realized naked self than to feel as though your individual rights are being entrenched upon because house rules ask that you wear pants.
Of course, we cannot expect people who live together to be in total harmony all of the time. People are multifaceted and complex beings, which brings us to our next important aspect of co-living to consider…
2. How comfortable are you with communication?
When you live with other people, some level of conflict will be inevitable. Before moving into the community where I currently reside, I recall a conversation with a friend who first introduced me to the concept of co-living. In the middle of extolling the virtues of his community, he received a few angry texts from his housemates regarding the status of a project that left the common area untidy. At the time, I was cocooned in a studio apartment where I could luxuriate in my own mess with nary a whimper from anyone else.
Being conflict-averse, as many people are, the idea of engaging in difficult conversations made me uncomfortable, but co-living helped change my relationship with conflict. Instead of it being something I actively avoided and would address in a passive-aggressive manner, I sought skills to help me effectively express my concerns when they arose. Most co-living spaces will have some guidance to facilitate communication. One of my contributions to the Lightning Loft was to give a workshop I taught at Parsons School of Design to practice concepts such as active listening and interpersonal communication skills via Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
It was once a thing to teach these skills in the context of a classroom and quite another to actively use the skill because a roommate didn’t take out the garbage on their day. Learning how to flex your communication skills and manage conflict with people who are invested in your wellbeing, however uncomfortable, will prove to be invaluable both in co-living and for other areas of your life, such as at work, or with family, friends, and partners.
3. How much do you want to contribute in acts of sharing, communal labor, and rent?
Different communities have different expectations for the contributions tenants will make in either labor or rent. Understanding where you fall on the spectrum of having daily maid-service to taking shifts in turning the communal compost pile will help you find what you want. While we are on the topic of thinking about what you want, it is equally important to consider what you are planning to give...and not just in economic terms. Again, individual levels of commitment to a collective will vary. Prioritize finding a situation in which you are both sharing and receiving in somewhat equal measure.
For me, I like to cook and share food. I tend to also like a clean house, but I am not handy, so while I regularly cook family-style meals and contribute to the general tidiness of the loft, I am frequently on the receiving end of handy person's help. Just a few of the many gifts I have received while living at the Lightning Loft include: professional headshots, yoga, and meditation classes, help with putting up my artwork, mock interviews, rooftop parties with classical music, camping trips to the Catskills and someone to take me to the hospital when I needed it. These collective contributions make my co-living community a great place to live.
One of the best things about co-living is benefitting from the rich talents of the people I live with. Ultimately, it was this desire for a more beneficial community experience that led me to the Lightning Society Loft three years ago, at a time when co-living wasn’t very common. My choice to move in, and to continue living at the loft is because of my trust in the community space built by the founders, Joe and Timothy, and their powerful vision of just how beneficial co-living can be.
Rachael Ritchie currently lives at Lightning Society with her 19 roommates, 3 of which are canine.