Re: Cohousing vs. communal
From: Alex Kent (
Date: Mon, 15 Feb 2010 05:55:02 -0800 (PST)
Hello Brian,

Many thanks for your thoughtful reflections on communal living.  A few
thoughts in return:

I'm sure you're right: It can't be easy to live in a commune.  My partner
and I already share our home with housemate renters, students at
UMass/Amherst, for the most part.  Felicia went to a kind of boarding school
in Vermont as a child, living under the direction of house parents (clear
authority figures), and I lived in college dormitories many years ago
(authority figure less clear, but not a whole lot more maturity than
children).  Neither of us has lived in a commune, and certainly never in a
place with 65 other people (other than a hotel).

We have no desire to create a large commune.  We're looking for a living
arrangement in which we can maintain a large measure of autonomy while
sharing the joys and costs of living with other people.  Many would argue --
persuasively -- that cohousing offers the best solution.

No doubt the social dynamic would be completely different from what we have
now if we were to share a home with coequals, co-owners who are not just
housemates.  The "vision" (as opposed to whatever the reality might turn out
to be), of sharing our living spaces with other people is, in fact,
appealing, but only with the right people.  The sticking point, of course,
is that proviso, "the right people."  Frankly, I don't know how to find
those people.  Rob Sandelin of Snohomish Cohousing wrote to warn that,
having assembled a small group of communards we should rent any real estate
before considering a joint purchase.  That makes sense.  It would not be
wise to sign a contract on something as durable as real estate before
finding out if we can all live together.

Truth to tell, we run hot and cold on this issue: Autonomy vs. community.
Cohousing vs. communal home.  

We'd like to read any further thoughts you have on these questions.


Alex Kent

-----Original Message-----
From: Brian Tremback [mailto:brian.tremback [at]] 
Sent: Sunday, February 14, 2010 10:13 PM
To: cohousing-l [at]
Subject: [C-L]_ Cohousing vs. communal

"We would like to have more direct engagement with the people we live with.
 We would like to live in a more communal arrangement than most cohousing
communities seem to afford.

"We're looking to create a larger extended family.

"Our vision involves the joint purchase of a larger house in our area,
possibly a farm or existing multifamily house. Common kitchen/dining, common
living room, a general opening up of the house, while preserving private
bedrooms and other personal spaces."


I'm sure you know that during the 70's such experiments in intentional
communities were fairly common. If you haven't already, you might want to
read some books about those days, like Kat Kinkade's "A Walden Two
Experiment" or "Is It Utopia Yet?" about her experiences at Twin Oaks, an
egalitarian community she helped found in 1967, and still exists.

As someone who currently lives in cohousing, and in the late 70's in a
different sort of intentional community (one of the Federation of
Egalitarian Communities), I will admit that, for me, cohousing offers a much
better mix between sociality and autonomy. At the intentional community
where I lived, each member only had a small private bedroom in a dormitory
style building. Every other space was shared with the other 65 members of
the community. So this was not too dissimilar from the communal arrangement
you're describing, but on a larger scale.

I don't know if you've had experience in this sort of living arrangement. If
not, you should be prepared for a completely different social dynamic from
what you're used to. To expect a communal house to function as an extended
family is overlooking the roles played by family members - specifically
authority figures who provide for their dependents - and the biological and
cultural adaptations to those roles. Those roles aren't relevant for a group
of unrelated adults. A communal living arrangement will probably affect many
aspects of your social life - your relationship with your partner, your
children, your friends outside your household. If you can imagine sharing
most of your living space with other people outside your own family, and
that vision is appealing, then you might be all set. The bottom line is
that, to have a sustainable living situation, it will have to be more
rewarding than it is taxing.

Brian Tremback
Burlington Cohousing
Burlington, VT
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