I am so happy. There is now a book out there that shows exactly what it is like to live in cohousing. Diane Rothbard Margolis published We Built a Village: Cohouising and the Commons. She lays it all out there – the conflict between market values individualism vs. the collective nature of the commons shared in cohousing. She shares her own experience finding cohousing after her husband died, the ups and downs of forming a cohousing group, the development of the houses and the various timeline for all to move in. Of course, then she shares life living in the cohousing. Don’t just take her word for it – she shares the group’s emails over decisions about the HVAC, trash collection, and other things that came up for their community.
If you are interested in living in cohousing, you should read this book. I tried to collect all the discussions our group had and it bored me to pieces. Reading her book, at first, was triggering – all the back and forth of too many opinions. Then I re-read it more closely and was relaxed. I don’t have to share what our group did because it is the exact same for her. And I’m sure it’s repeated all over. For her community, they have at least 41 households so that’s a lot to manage. In every cohousing, every gets an opinion so decisions take forever. She shows that and it’ll be great for everyone to see how it pans out. She mentions sometimes things do happen if there is a burning soul who leads. So the book shows what you are in for – lots of patience. And, unlike how my blog turned out, she loves living there and has been for at least 30 years. She tells the story I wanted to and I”m so thankful for it – and that she is still there. Maybe I would’ve stayed too if we didn’t have such a bizarre and horrible incident and this gives me hope – that others will be fine especially without huge bumps in the road.
She shares her happiness before moving in and feeling connected to others. “It was an episode to remember. I felt warmed by having that whole group of people who knew one another and clouds share the silly mix-up, with everybody helping me….” (p 126). That is something for sure – you know everyone’s name. I don’t know why I’m having a hard time remember my neighbor’s names. Probably because I don’t get emails from them often nor have meetings – and I never remember names (it took awhile even in cohousing for me).
I like her honesty too. She will point out how some of the ideals of cohousing do not always pan out. “The hope, of course, is that people who choose to live in a cohousing community are the kind of people who don’t want to be freeloaders and will be self-policing. But that has not proved to be the case. For example, from the start there were some members of the community who could not be bothered to cut up their packing boxes, giving rise to the following angry email from S. whose town house overlooked the garbage.” (P 148)
She also mentions the cohousing experience is not the same for everyone. It’s different for parents and singles vs. seniors and married couples. I’ve noticed that too. “Not that cohousing can take the place of a spouse. Sometimes it’s even harder when you’re single in cohousing. For instance, there are things couples do where they don’t invite singles. Like the good-bye dinner F. and R. staged for the L family a few years ago. There they are all were having a fine old time, laughing and eating right under my window, with the smoke and aroma wafting through my open slider, so I couldn’t have missed it if I tried.” Another member mentioned feeling lonely and a married person didn’t understand it but Diane did. I also saw that when there is a major conflict, it seems easier for couples who can rely on others vs. singles who can just be them facing it against the whole community (my experience and a single mom pal who also ended up leaving cohousing after feeling targeted even).
She turns every rock in cohousing so it’s a realistic account – not just about developing the structures or surveying other communities, but of all the things that can and usually do happen. She knows herself well too and muses over how another member can be more direct in conflicts. “ I thought about how different things must seem to J than they do me. She has no difficulty reprimanding others and telling them how they should behave. She could march off to P’s door and tell him to pick up the mess his dog left, without a shadow of a doubt that she was doing what she should be doing.”
Anyone truly interested in forming a cohousing community or moving into one should read this book!