Karen and Tom live with his fifteen year old daughter and their two-year old child in a large house in the Boston area. They share this house with Dan, Selma and their four-year-old daughter. Together they have discovered the benefits of shared housing.
Karen says. “I’ve always preferred living cooperatively. What I’ve always liked is that it both makes life easier and more fun. It matches my personality I like having more people around. I like having group discussions.
“When Tom and I got together he knew that I’d want to live in cooperative household. We explored several different options, such as co-housing. We looked at old churches until we realized that it would be too hard to get the financing. So we decided to buy a house that would be appropriate to share with another young family with children. The financing was pretty straightforward and it came through just in time while I was working. Now that I’ve left that job there is no way we could afford the house without sharing it.
Karen says, “Dan and I lived together in a co-op house for several years about 15 years ago. I knew he was a fun person to live with.” So when Dan and his family were looking to move to the area where Karen and Tom live, it was a natural fit.
The house has a great layout for two families. There are four floors. The prior owners had built the basement as a separate unit. There is a small kitchenette with a sink and fridge, a bathroom, a bedroom and a common room. Dan and Selma are happy to be in that space. That bedroom works well for them because they prefer a dark and quiet environment for sleeping, away from the rest of the house. The first floor is entirely common area with kitchen, living room, play room, and shared office space (mostly used by Dan and Selma). On the second floor are all the children’s bedrooms and a guest room. In the attic is another master bedroom and a space for an office. Every floor has a bathroom.
Perks of Cooperative Living
“There are so many perks! For instance we have multiple people cooking dinners. We eat a good dinner, it’s fun and there are people to talk to and share what’s going on. Dan loves to garden, so we now we have a garden. I would never have gotten that done on my own.
“With multiple adults in the house it’s easy to do evening activities outside the house. The fact that we can put our toddler to bed and there are other adults at home means we can do things. This is a really huge benefit for us.
“Because we are sharing expenses we have a cleaning lady who comes weekly. Every week she does the kitchen and then on alternating weeks she has a different task. Having a cleaning person really, really, really helps in managing the house. We are lucky –though in fact this is really a core requirement – that we all have a similar desire to keep the kitchen consistently clean, and so far this has worked out very well organically.
“We figure there are seven people in the house and seven nights a week, so the family with four people cooks four nights and the family with three cooks three nights. The teenager is in charge of cooking one dinner and cleaning for one dinner. In addition her job is always setting the table for dinner.
“To manage the costs of food we got a house credit card (one person of each couple is a holder of the account) so all the shopping goes on this house credit card. All the adults have a card. At the end of the month we figure out the charges. The other family pays three/sevenths of the cost.
“We have very occasional house meetings. Maybe every month or so. Sometimes I think we should do it more often. Some issues languish for a while and it would be nice to resolve them more quickly. Everyone agrees we’d like to have house meetings more often – it’s fun to sit around and chat without the kids – but it’s just that coordinating four schedules and finding a babysitter is hard to manage
Why It Works
“Our cooperative living arrangement works because we are mature adults and have enough overlap in our lifestyles and values. We agree on enough that it’s easy to accommodate what’s different. And we are happy to make the accommodations. We generally eat the same type of food, natural products, and very little processed foods. We shop at Whole Foods. Dan doesn’t eat wheat and sugar, so we accommodate that in our meals but we have wheat and sugar around. He also prefers not to use a microwave for him and his daughter so we don’t use it for cooking house dinners. We don’t impose on others but we accommodate each other’s needs.”
Says Tom, “The positives outweigh the negatives. We respect one another and can typically maintain flexibility about things. There are so many interactions it is actually a quadratic equation. There are some small things that can push my buttons, such as dirty dishes in the kitchen, but everyone knows that and is good about that. Mostly it’s a really great.”
What Do You Think About This Example?
What do you like about this cooperative living arrangement? What do you want to know more about? What ideas are you taking away from reading this?