Innovative Boomers Create a Cooperative Householding Adventure
by Jean, Karen & Louise (JKL)
(Pittsburgh, PA, USA)
Greetings from our house to your house
Amazon Book Link: My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household
New Year’s Day 2014
Basking in the warmth of our shared fireplace, we started the New Year reflecting on the first decade of “Shadowlawn,” our 3-woman cooperative household: Almost 10 years? Can’t believe it! It flew by so fast…It still feels so new…I just love living here...this way…with you.
We are three friends from Pittsburgh, Jean, Karen and Louise, who launched a shared housing adventure in 2004. On what seemed like barely a moment’s notice, we fell in love with a big old house and pooled our resources to buy it. Making it up as we went along, we dubbed our shared home a Cooperative Household: (def.) Two or more unrelated people co-owning and sharing a residence to gain financial, social, lifestyle and environmental benefits. It’s a great way to live independently, together. Our combined living room décor illustrates unity in diversity; as Jean’s daughter noted, Nothing matches. But it coexists nicely, and so do we.
In a nutshell, here’s the story of how we three independent women, and one very independent black and white cat, came to share a home. We were in our 50’s, all divorced and happily living alone. We had the fanciful notion that it might be fun and functional to share a home when we retired, in 15 years or so. But then the situation changed. Karen was our thought leader.
Karen: I knew, as I planned ahead for retirement, that I needed to change how I was living. Household responsibilities would become greater and, at some point, more than I wanted or could manage. So I invited two trusted friends, Jean and Louise, to start monthly planning sessions to envision a shared future.
I laugh at our first planning session. It was just like being at work: brainstorming ideas and writing it all down on flipcharts. By the end of our first meeting, we realized that we had astonishingly similar lifestyle goals. And then, suddenly, the obvious question stared us in the face:
If this makes so much sense for retirement, why not now?
We forged ahead, moving into our co-owned house barely three months after asking that fateful question. What’s it like to share a house with friends? Let’s start with Louise’s New Year’s Day reflections.
Louise: For me, the biggest surprise about cooperative householding is how much easier it is than I had expected. Any living situation has tradeoffs, pros and cons. But the benefits of cohouseholding vastly overshadow the tradeoffs. In this special house, the spirit of shared adventure makes every day feel new and fresh. My life is richer and my experiences have been broadened. Because our work is shared, there are more flowers in the garden, better and more varied food, and many more social events at the house than I could ever attempt alone. There is also warmth, love and laughter.
Several factors make things work for us. First, by combining resources, we were able to choose a house with lots of space – so we have private space (bedrooms, offices, bathrooms) and pay for household services (cleaning, grass cutting). Second, we work hard to recognize and deal with the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in healthy ways. Keeping good boundaries is essential—for example, maintaining emotional stability, individual responsibility, and respect for privacy.
We all get a huge energy charge out of being independent together, taking care of business in smart ways, learning and doing. Mundane tasks can feel more like adventures. At first daunted, I’ve grown to enjoy changing the old-fashioned gaslight mantles, balancing on a high stepladder, because Jean and Karen are always there, supporting the ladder. Didn’t think I could do it the first time, but now it’s a piece of cake. Together, there is a zest for tackling new things; for stretching.
I believe we work extra hard at good self-control. Unlike the expectations within a family, we knew from the start that this partnership would not be permanent. I for one don’t take anything or anyone for granted. This situation is too good to risk messing up. Annoying stuff happens in any household, as it did when I lived alone. The biggest disappointments: occasional minor oversights or human foibles. We all have them, so accept it, deal with it and move on, and don’t blame. We’ve lived far better for far less. All for one and one for all. Wouldn’t change a thing. No regrets. Life is good.
Yes, life is good in our cohousehold. Lets illustrate with a real life example, excerpted from our blog: Cohouseholding Means Never Having to Scoop the Litter Box.
Sunday night at Shadowlawn, Louise on the porch, feet up, drink at hand, deep into a novel. Karen cooking dinner. Jean scooping out Kali’s litter box in the basement. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing’s wrong; everything’s right. Louise will clean up the kitchen—again. And put out the trash for collection. And already did the daily Tweeting.
We used to share the scooping, taking turns on a whoever-thinks-of-it-first basis. Imagine Louise and Karen’s relief when Jean decided to take it over. Every week! And also to keep a steady supply of toilet paper on the basement storage shelves. So Jean “owns” a specialty job category in our shared home: toileting hygiene. She has a system, a schedule, and the tasks always get done.
We’ve each adopted certain job specialties based on interest, skill or availability, but we share most tasks without assigning them. We’ve found that we don’t need “rules,” because everyone carries a fair share of the load, balanced out over time. Among us, we have the skills, determination or stupidity to tackle just about anything.. Nobody nags—but we might occasionally remind. Keys to success with chores: 1. Own responsibility, 2. Always do what you say you are going to do. Motto: I will do my fair share better than anyone else can do my fair share.
Before sharing a living situation with anyone, be sure that they have similar lifestyle expectations. How neat? How clean? Who will do what? It’s the little things that count, day-to-day. Consider: could an always-overflowing litter box sink your cooperative household?
Our book, My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household (St. Lynn’s Press 2013) invites readers to step through our door and learn what makes our cooperative household work, including our General Partnership Agreement and ways to set healthy boundaries. Find additional resources about shared housing models on our website, www.myhouseourhouse.com.
Wendy: I think this is a FABULOUS idea! Independance, affordable, and yet not alone or lonely!
I've read about this before, but you gals have gone a step further and documented the Living Together idea in a book. Kudos to you for helping boomers find a way to retire and live a fuller lifestyle!
Wishing you the best with your book!