At its core, communal living is “a situation where a group of people lives together, sharing space, land, and other amenities.” Of course, it’s so much more than that. For those who don’t know me, I’ve lived in the same co-living house for almost 6 years. It’s been an incredible experience that introduced me to dozens of amazing humans, made me more compassionate, and even helped me deal with my anxiety around change. That being said, when the subject of my housing situation inevitably comes up in conversation, I find that people have a lot of misconceptions about communal living. I’d like to dispel some of those misconceptions so you can see if this lifestyle is for you.
As we begin, I want to acknowledge that there are many different models of communal living that vary in structure and intention. If you’re looking for a communal living situation, like all things, you’ll want to meet the people and see if you gel.
1. With that many people, it must always be loud.
When I post about communal living on my TikTok, I’m always surprised to see comments about noise. If your only exposure to communal living was a dorm room at 18, it makes sense that you’d worry that living with ten or more people would be a constant din. In the Bond House, though, things remain at a respectful level. We are aware that folks work from home or work nights and that a dull roar is appreciated. None of us are interested in making our housemates suffer, so we mind the volume.
Don’t get me wrong; it can get loud. One of my housemates is three. Toddlers are loud. There are some nights when she doesn’t feel well, and she cries. A lot. Living out in the carriage house with my husband, I’m not subjected to that, but I know that the rest of the house hears it. From what they’ve told me, it’s annoying but also sad because we all care about our small friend. It’s temporary discomfort and not at all usual. The only person who gets more than their share of toddler noises is the person who lives in the small room next to her. More often than not, what’s overheard is pretty funny.
On nights when everyone is home, or we are hosting a party, the volume is understandably up. There might be a request in the group chat to keep our voices down in the kitchen after the toddler has been put to bed (she doesn’t like to miss a party), but life in communal living can have a quiet decibel level. Having trouble with the noise? All you have to do is speak up.
2. Only extroverts can live communally.
This is the most common misconception people seem to have about communal living. “Living with that many people is my nightmare. Let the extroverts keep that.” I’m not sure why people seem to think this about me, but I am not an extrovert (ambivert as a label always felt right). I do not like to be around people all the time. In fact, the idea of being unable to leave a social situation makes me sick.
Extroverts need to be around others to get a hit of sweet, sweet dopamine. Introverts need to be alone for that same feeling, Both are valid types, and both types can be found in communal living. Over the years, I’ve found that all kinds of people are drawn to this lifestyle. The Bond House has certainly had its share. To be honest, the house doesn’t work without both. If there are too many extroverts, the house feels adrift because the extroverts are always doing something, which doesn’t always mean they’re home. If there are too many introverts, no one comes out of their room.
When there’s that perfect blend, though, it’s magic. Extroverts milling about in the kitchen hosting a dinner or having a game night; introverts engaging as much as they want. Everyone is intentional about their time, which is why it works.
3. You’re never alone.
Tying into the previous point, people seem to think communal living means you are with people 24/7. That’s not the case. Everyone has their own room or shares it with their partner. If your door is closed, no one is going to bother you. Before my partner moved in, I lived in the big house on the first floor, next to the kitchen. I had my own bathroom, a view of the garden, and a lock on my door. The only time someone bothered me was to tell me dinner was ready.
I think everyone in this house understands the necessity of respite and privacy. Members of this community are as in your business as you allow them to be. Are we nosy? Of course, but that nosiness comes out of care. If you don’t want folks to know, don’t tell them. Though, that won’t stop us from looking out the window to see who’s picking someone up for a date but not coming to the door.
Your life is your own. If you want to be alone, be alone!
4. The house is always messy.
I try not to take this misconception personally. What about me looks like I’d be messy? I digress. The question is typically phrased like this: “Living with that many people, who cleans?” The answer is: Everyone. We try (emphasis on try) to live by Emerson’s quote about leaving the world better than you found it. We don’t always succeed, to the horror of housemates with higher cleanliness standards, and that brings on a cleaning correction that lasts two weeks until we have to talk about it again. After six years, we finally agreed to take our shoes off in the house to cut down on the dirt. It’s helped a lot!
Life, of course, can be busy, and you don’t always have the time to unload the dishwasher. Last year when I was in school, I found that I couldn’t give the community the same amount of time and care as usual. Now that I’ve graduated, I consciously sweep and put away dishes as often as possible. My motto is, “Sometimes, it’s your turn to do the dishes.”
There is the matter of deeper cleaning, the dusting and mopping of it all. Everyone in the house has a full-time job, and the issue of “Who’s going to clean behind the stove” was one we had to get in front of early. So, once a month, a fabulous team of cleaners comes to the house and does a deep clean on the bathrooms and common areas. If that seems like a luxury, consider that the fee would be split by however many people you live with. Manageable, right? Peace is worth the price.
5. You share “everything.”
Okay, so this one has only come up once. Someone who read my book asked me where everyone in the house slept. Before I could answer, they said, “One big bed? How does the sex work?” At first, I thought it was a joke. Thirty seconds went by, and I realized that they were serious.
No, communal living doesn’t automatically mean you’re sharing an Alaskan King and a carton of post-coital cigarettes (if it is, more power to you). Again, everyone in this has their own room. No, we don’t share everything. Hell, you don’t even have to share your ice cream if you don’t want to. Just put a label on it before putting it in the freezer.
It feels like this jump that communal living must be tied to free love is just a response to many older Americans’ deep distrust of sharing resources. It feels like Communism, am I right? “Only Communists share resources, and that includes your partner.” What a joke.
My response was, “You know, we talked about installing an orgy pit, but there just wasn’t any room after we renovated the dining room.”
In this house, we share meals, conversations, concerns, and joys. I am my own person. I choose to live here because it makes me feel joyful. I’m getting older and thinking about equity. Buying a house makes sense, but leaving the Bond House doesn’t. I don’t know what will happen to me or my husband in terms of the next steps. Will we try to buy a house with friends? Will we go the traditional route and buy a 2 bedroom? Who’s to say? I know that I have a wealth of knowledge around us to help make the best choice.
After writing this post, I realize the success of our model comes from respect. Communal living can’t happen without it. When I hear people tell me they could never live this way, I usually think it’s because they’ve had a bad living situation where there was no respect. What happens in houses when there’s no respect? One person is usually left with the burden of tending to the home, or no one takes care of anything. Relationships sour; feelings are hurt.
With communal living, there is a mental shift that must happen for you to be happy. And honestly? It’s not that hard, and it’ll probably make you a better/more empathetic person overall. Your awareness of others has to expand. That’s it. You must consider how using the last bit of dish soap impacts the person who comes after. Do you leave the empty container on the counter, or do you fill it up with more soap? If you fill-up the soap, you make someone’s day easier without them even realizing it. That creates a chain reaction that keeps the kitchen swept, the dish towels clean, and a container of food with your name on it in the fridge.
I know, I know, communal living isn’t for everyone. Living in proximity just really might not suit you. That’s okay (even though plenty of models include you living in your own house and people sharing common space and resources). However, at least now you know that living with others isn’t quite the bogeyman you thought.
How’d I do? Do you have other questions about communal living that weren’t answered here? I’d love to answer your questions.