The lights in the living room were dim, and all of my housemates plus a few guests were sprawled across couches facing a giant projector screen. Bingo cards covered with phrases like “Ronald Reagan” and “e-mail scandal” littered the tables along with a bottle of whiskey acquired during a brief run to the liquor store earlier that evening. My housemate Liam fiddled with the projector itself, bringing the Cleveland Ohio stage into sharp focus.
Moments later our group shushed one another as the candidates began to file onstage. We didn’t have to wait long for the action to begin.
“Is there anyone onstage tonight who is unwilling to pledge their support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party?”
Donald Trump raised his hand and offered a patronizing grin.
We spent the remainder of the evening talking back to the television screen, complaining about the absurdity that is the current election season, and trying to best each other in Republican Debate Bingo. This event had come together in the last 24 hours; an easy feat when many friends live under the same roof. By the time it was over I felt a little more relaxed and a little less concerned about the fact that the American electoral process is essentially a giant dumpster fire. It was a good night.
I’ve lived in the same community house, with many of the same roommates, for close to two and a half years now. Currently, six adults (plus one half time 6 year old) live here, but in the past we’ve had as many as nine people calling this place “home.”
We’re a self-described “activist house,” so many of the inhabitants are doing social justice work of some kind. Right now, one housemate is deeply involved with the local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, while another is running a free school for self-directed teenagers and a third works with anti-mountaintop removal organizations.
The house itself is humble, but perfect for group living: it was originally built as a triplex and then converted into a single family home. It boasts seven bedrooms, a large kitchen with lots of storage space, a gas stove, a composting system, and lots of natural light. (There are some undesirable elements as well, like a lack of central heating and A/C that leaves us sweating in the summer and taking hot bricks to bed at night in the winter to stay warm. Overall though, it’s a great space.)
I think many people are intimidated by the idea of large scale group living like this, usually because they had bad experiences cohabitating with irresponsible, dirty, or loud housemates when they were young. And it’s true that many examples of group living not only don’t work out, but fail spectacularly; as a matter of fact, I’ve seen it happen first hand more than once.
However, I think our house is a testament that truly functional group living is not only possible but even preferable to living solo, assuming you carefully select house members (we have both a written and in-person interview process for new “housies”) and work to create a strong house culture from the beginning (we all participate in regular house meetings and use processes like a community mastery board to deal with issues that come up).
Still not convinced? The perks of living with others go far beyond simply having friends around to watch the Republican debates with. By choosing to live communally, you’ll enjoy the following advantages:
Advantage #1: Save Money by Utilizing Economies of Scale
By dividing a rent payment by 6 (or even by 3) you can pocket a much larger percentage of your income every month. The members of our group house all pay about $200 a month in rent (the bedrooms are different sizes; those in smaller rooms pay slightly less). The low cost means we’re able to spend fewer hours doing paid work, leaving us with enough free time for unpaid activist work or other projects.
Advantage #2: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
By living with other people you use significantly fewer resources than if you were living alone; the $35 a month we each pay for water, electricity and internet is a testament to that. Just think: If all six of us rented our own apartments we’d be running six refrigerators, heating six spaces instead of one in the winter, lighting six living rooms, paying six times over for internet…you get the picture.
Advantage #3: Work Less Through Specialization
Many hands make for light work, especially if those hands can do the tasks that they’re best at. In addition to spending less money on rent and utilities, living together actually enables us to be more efficient and do less work. Again, imagine if we were all living alone: we would have six (or twelve!) bathrooms that regularly needed cleaning, and possibly six lawns that required maintenance, and six stoves to scrub and six floors to sweep and six trash cans to remember to take to the road on Tuesday nights. Instead, we’re able to divide and conquer many day-to-day responsibilities, doing significantly less work in the process.
Advantage #4: Share Resources
I don’t need a vitamix all to myself, and I wouldn’t choose to allocate resources toward one if I lived alone. But we have one here, along with a large repository of other useful tools that various housemates have left behind, from an excellent set of knives to a Cuisinart to a table saw to a number of quality cast iron pans to a toaster oven to a crockpot. Because they’re shared amongst six people, they’re used much more often than they would be if they were located in a single person’s apartment.
Advantage #5: Enjoy a Built-In Community
Republican debate bingo is not the only activity the members of our house collectively take part in. We also prepare weekly house dinners together and take trips to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. Two former housemates also recently bought houses on the block, so occasionally we all team up for brunch or a large group dinner. The Star Wars obsessed housemates participate in what they refer to as “Star Wars Club,” in which they spend hours discussing lightsaber mechanics or picking apart the latest reddit fan theory.
I’ve found that I spend a lot more time hanging out with friends if they just happen to share my living room, which makes sense: I’m not going to text a friend to meet up and catch the latest episode of The Walking Dead, but if I’m watching it and my friend Liam is home, I can knock on his door and invite him to join me without a lot of effort.
To me, this is the most important part. I’ve found that when living with others, what you sacrifice in privacy and control you gain back in spades in friendship, camaraderie, and social support, whether that’s a Star Wars buddy, a Republican debate bingo partner, or simply someone to sit down to dinner with at the kitchen table after a long day.