Just like macrame plant hangers and The Village People, the idea of commune or co-op living feels pretty 1970’s. But with rising rent prices and a yearning for real connection, some millennials are embracing that style of living.
After-school teacher Eric Jones, 28, plays the accordion during a spring cleaning party at Bob the House, a big, old University District house with a big wooden staircase and stained glass windows here and there. The co-op houses nine people, who share three bathrooms, and has seen plenty of people come and go in its 35-year existence.
“I can’t imagine living by myself,” said housemate Lizzy Fay, who has lived at Bob for two-and-a-half years. “It does seem a little bit old time-y sometimes. There are really lovely moments when everyone’s here working on a puzzle together or just sitting and chatting. I feel like that sort of visiting with each other doesn’t really happen anymore. Being present with each other.”
The nine housemates share food that they take turns shopping for.
“That means that we all put money in every month to a communal bank account that we buy groceries from so we can get the nice, bulk organic groceries and cook together from that,” said 26-year-old Samantha, who has only lived in co-ops since she graduated from college a few years ago.
Samantha says all housemates are required to attend a weekly meeting every Sunday night at 9 p.m.
“At every house meeting we always just check in about how our week was, how we’re feeling, anything we need support with or anything we’re celebrating,” said Samantha.
Bob the House is filled with 20 and 30-somethings who say living together is financially helpful and they enjoy the community aspect. Thirty-year-old Kevin Richardson says it just makes sense for the world.
“Mainly, I think it’s about sharing resources. I think that we don’t live in a word or a society where everybody should have their own house, their own car. These are things people should share more and more.”
It’s not just food and laundry detergent they’re sharing.
“I guess it sort of relates to dating as well,” Lizz said. “I would say several people in the house identify as polyamorous. I think those ideas are sort of related. You don’t need everything just to yourself. You know, you don’t your own set of kitchenware and you don’t need just one boyfriend!”
Having lived alone for 14 years, the idea of living with even one roommate has me worrying about lack of privacy and bickering about who left their cereal bowl in the sink. But at Bob, they have a system that ensures people do their part of the chores and weekly meetings to resolve conflicts. If someone wants a change in the house, it must be met with a unanimous yes vote.
Sitting at the kitchen table at Bob, as the housemates mopped and laughed and nibbled homemade sour cream raspberry pastries, I thought about how our society labels people who live alone as grown-ups, and might consider someone with eight roommates to be young, a partier or immature.
“It seems there are very specific steps: you’re a grown-up and now you need to live on your own and now you need to live with your partner and now you need to be married and have your own house,” Lizz said. “I don’t think there’s any reason why you should have to live, or need to live, by yourself as an adult. I think we’re lucky. We have plenty of our own personal space. All of the rooms are really big.”
It almost seems worth it for the sour cream raspberry pastries alone.