From Neolithic to Native Americans, tribes around the world were organized into communities in order to get food, shelter, childcare, education and entertainment. The invention of agriculture transformed the nomadic lifestyle of the hunter-gatherers. The tribes started to settle down. They began domesticating plants ; saving the best seeds for the next season ; improving their techniques to pass them on to future generations.
In the Middle Ages, households usually include a mix of friends, visiting foreigners, and extended family members: « poor married couples, other people’s children, widows, orphans, unrelated elderly people, servants, boarders, long-term visitors, friends, and assorted relatives. » People lived together and depended on each other. At that time people would move very often and change houses constantly.
«Home was the place that sheltered you at the moment, not the one special place associated with childhood or family of origin» – John Gillis, A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values
If it is easy to imagine community living during the Middle Ages, it is more surprising to realize that it was a common way of life until the Industrial Revolution. After World War II, community living disappeared in developed countries. It was replaced by the dream of the suburban house, centered on the family unit. In less than a century, the ratio of people living under the same roof has dropped dramatically. Today, 1/3 of households in the United States counts only one person.
We hear « inequalities are getting worse ». It is clear that our current situation is very imbalanced. Some people have way too much, others have way too little. Yet resources exist. It is a question of better producing them, and better distributing them.
2. To be richer
It feels stupid that some people live all alone, pay the bills and buy unnecessary things. Just as it feels very sad that others feel isolated or abandoned, when they could feel loved and supported. I think capitalism is responsible for this new type of emotional poverty encountered in rich countries.
Living in a community is about pooling: space, time, resources. It is a way to save money on electricity, internet and groceries. People can share tools and appliances, as well as sharing household and cooking. After Wwoofing and Worktrading in different places, my dream now is be part of a farming community. I want to be able to grow my own food, play with art, plants and animals. But I also want to be able to travel away and leave the farm to the community that will take care of it. And of course, give the service back to other people in exchange for their help.
When you manage a farm yourself, you are tied to the land and the animals, and often lack manpower. Organizing a farm around a community could really improve the gruelling living conditions of today’s farmers.
« Communal living is hardly a departure from tradition—it’s a return to how humans have been making their homes for thousands of years. » (article)
Sisterhood communities : Middle Age painting / single moms living together thanks to the CoAbode platform
Centering the home around a couple and its children is an idea that caught on among Europe’s new urban middle class during the 16th century, at least as something to strive for. It wasn’t until the 19th century that people began drawing a sharp distinction between family and friends when it came to who they lived with. Households shrank down to nuclear families, much more closed-off from relatives and neighbors than ever before.
Industrialization has dismantled community living… It made extended communities less vital for earning a living. Barter and sharing, which were part of rural life, soon became obsolete. When societies were mostly agricultural, production was centered near the home. Families worked on site and collaborated between farms. But as industrialization took hold and created new jobs, people left their home commuting to factories and later offices, leaving the farms empty.
Something communal was lost along the way.
« Living in smaller numbers can be a drain on money, time, and feelings of community, and the rise of the two-parent dual-earning household only compounds the problems of being time-poor. » (article)
In my experience, living in a community is a way to tend towards a more balanced life. The balance being both on the biological level and on the economical level: work less, live more, share, grow, exchange, build, repair, help one another.
Imagine: cooking with your neighbors in a large communal kitchen, playing with a group of kids in the living room, and tinkering in the barn with elders and enthusiasts. Everyone can choose the moments to go back to their private space, and the moments to share and interact with other community members.
This opens exciting perspectives for architects, designers and town planners. Neighborhoods could become mini-villages where everyone has a private space (apartment, tiny house, geodesic dome…) and shares the common areas, from the most basic (kitchen, living room, bathrooms, outdoor space) to the most exotic (yoga room, makerspace, orchard, artists studio, swimming pool, skate park, sauna …)
- Cook less often & eat better. Instead of cooking every single night, people usually cook one evening a week with the help of others. Of course, cooking for 15 or 40 persons is not the same as for two! It takes at least two hours of intense work, but it’s an opportunity to test recipes and learn new tricks from your neighbors. All the other nights of the week, it is restaurant at home. You just show up to a cooked diner when the bell rings, hurray!
- More spaces. The domestic sphere is no longer confined to a small home or apartment. It extends to all common areas. One can temporarily inhabit different spaces in the community: an outside bench and table, a shaded place under a tree, or a miraculously empty living room.
- Shared expenses. When you are numerous, you can buy large quantities of food, and thus pay better quality products cheaper. For example, in one of the communities we visited they pay $200 a month/person for food (breakfasts, lunches and dinners). Water, electricity, gas and internet bills are also shared among all members.
- Have more / waste less. Communal fridges can store large quantities, and everyone can dig into. It also reduces food waste, because more people are likely to eat the leftovers. Among sweet surprises people may share with others are fruits, fresh flowers or baked cakes on the common table 🙂
- Shared and augmented custody. The proverb says « it takes a village to raise a child« . The presence of several children in a community helps reducing each parents’ responsibilities. They know they can rely on a large group of adults for help, as well as other parents who share the same issues as theirs. A single babysitter can watch a group of children, knowing that they are even more independent and easy to keep when they’re part of a group.
- A network you can trust. Living with people and sharing the same spaces on a daily basis (sometimes even in pajamas) helps building deep connections based on solidarity and kindness. People help each other or exchange services without using money. Moreover, if someone is ill or goes through a bad time, there will always be someone to show up with fresh news from the community or a meal.
- Loss of privacy. When living in community, we necessarily have less space to ourselves. It can seem difficult to protect your privacy. It’s hard not to argue in front of everybody else in the kitchen… That’s why it is important to have a small living room and kitchen in each private space for the moments we just want to be at home.
- Flow of constant and multiple energies. It is a way of life of constantly interacting with other people energies, their emotions, their personalities, the main events of their lives… We end up developing a relationship and a past with each one of them. One can feel energetically drained or exhausted sometimes. That’s when you need to listen to yourself and know when to withdraw at times.
- Self-organization challenges. Beware of the « honeymoon » community dream. A successful intentional community is structured around a clear vision and common goals. It is vital to establish rules and decision-making processes. Clear agreements need to be written, so they don’t get forgotten in the future and generate bitterness. People have to attend a bunch of meetings, even if they don’t like that. Keeping a good balance of roles and talents within the group of inhabitants is a daily challenge. Everyone must feel involved and supported for the synergy to work. Nonviolent Communication (NVC is a specific method also called « Compassionate Communication » or « Collaborative Communication ») as well as regular collective events are key to sustain a healthy community.
There are many other ways to live than the mainstream nuclear cell (… it is definitely time to abolish nuclear). Consumerism makes people have the same crazy amount of things and hardly make use of them, like those gardens or second homes only rarely used. Others have to pay a fortune to go to a retirement home and try to age with dignity. Our epoch is characterized by this massive and organized waste of resources.
Community living is part of the sharing economy. It is a model of mutual aid and cooperation. It’s a way to fight back the capitalist system which divides everything into smaller market shares to maximize profits. Being part of a group makes us richer, stronger and more resilient.
On the other hand, it is not always quiet and peaceful! Rules clash with personalities. Moods fluctuate within group dynamics in perpetual motion. It’s a lifestyle to choose mindfully. It involves a serious introspection of one’s relationship to oneself and others. This is the subject of this trilogy’s last article.
❤ I really would like to read your feedback. Is this lifestyle appealing to you? Why? Do you know people who live in communities? What are they saying about it?
Thank you so much in advance for being part of this anthropological inquiry ❤
-First episode: Why live in a community? 1/3
-Last episode: Why live in a community? 3/3
-« Dorms for Grownups: A Solution for Lonely Millennials?« , The Atlantic,
-« The future of aging just might be in Margaritaville », The New York Times Magazine, Kim Tingley
-Video: « Practical tools to grow intentional communities » (… a little boring but there are a few interesting tips)
–Creating Community Wherever You Are: Deepening Our Connections and Feelings of Belonging in a Fast-Paced World, Deanna Jaya Nakosteen, 2018