“This is what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.”
When I tell people that I live in a cooperative house, I imagine that this is what they think of: lots of partying, fighting, and sex. Or they think that I live in a halfway house and I just got out of jail or rehab. Because really, who would voluntarily choose to live with 14 other people? Well I would, and for me, it's one of the best decisions that I have made for myself.
Yes, there are parties, some disagreements, and even sex — but my living situation is far from the dramatics of Real World. Last year, I made the decision to move into a shared living community so that I could spend less money on housing, stop isolating myself, and meet some amazing (and a few not-so-amazing) people.
My home, or what I affectionately call “the Hippie House,” is a cooperative house on the South Side of Chicago. The house has three floors and 15 bedrooms. It has communal spaces such as the kitchen, bathrooms, living room, and a big ol’ dining room table, where we talk, laugh, disagree, play games, learn from each other, and most importantly break bread together. We also have a huge backyard, two cats, and a few chickens (you see why I call it the Hippie House?).
I want my son to experience not only different types of people, but also different types of living. I want to teach him that happiness doesn’t come from the size of your home, but from the love that is inside.
We buy groceries and prepare communal dinners that accommodate everyone’s dietary needs, and all community meals and groceries are vegetarian (which works great for me!). My housemates and I participate in the wellbeing of the house by sharing chores, participating in the cook cycle (this generally means cooking dinner for the house about once every two weeks), and attending weekly house meetings where we collectively and democratically make decisions about the operations of the house.
What surprised me most (and what I was worried most about) is how my son feels about my new housing situation. His mommy went from living in her own space to now having several housemates. I didn’t have anything to worry about, though, because after his first visit to the house, he loved it! He has never said it was “weird” or complained about this house being smaller than his dad's. Our house has great space, good food, and one of my housemates has 2 children his age, so he now has 2 new friends. It works well for us because they can have fun with each other and I know that they are safe in the house. This is also important for me as a parent because I want my son to experience not only different types of people, but also different types of living. I want to teach him that happiness doesn’t come from the size of your home, but from the love that is inside.
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It is not all roses living here, though. If you have ever lived with one roommate you can imagine how it might be living with 14. Noise levels, different views on what is considered clean, and differing personalities can sometimes cause issues in the house.
And to be honest, sometimes I just want to walk around naked or at least walk to the bathroom al natural without having to think about someone seeing me. “Walks of shame” also take on a whole new meaning as well! What makes this work for the most part though are setting expectations at the beginning. When I lived with a roommate in college, we never discussed what we expected from each other. We didn’t have a guest policy, no quiet hours, and didn’t talk about who was going to cook dinner or clean up the common areas. Every cause of conflict during that time was due to lack of communication.
In contrast, in our house we talk about and have policies on almost everything, and these are expressed to possible housemates during the application and interview stage. They are listed around the house and are discussed during house meetings if needed.
So, let’s talk about the price. The medium cost of a one bedroom apartment in Chicago is around $1100. I pay about half of that for my room, all utilities, and shared toiletries such as hand/dish soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and food. What I save in price I do make up for with time by completing my house chores, cooking meals, and attending house meetings, but to me that is worth the exchange.
Outside of the money, living with roommates allows me the connection with other people that I was longing for. Isolating myself to deal with emotional struggles has been my default status since my divorce, and working from home didn’t help me form the connections with others that I felt like I needed. Living with other people who are not my family and weren’t my friends has given me a safe space to reclaim my identity.
Cooperative living isn’t for everyone, but with increasing costs of living and decreasing connection with other people, it can definitely be a great alternative for more people.
Each co-op has different policies and cultures, but they are the same in that they give you an opportunity to possibly save money, learn new skills, and create meaningful relationships with the people you live with. All with less drama and no cameras!