Communal living

4 minute read

For most of my 20s and early 30s, I've experienced a community-shaped hole in my life. It's difficult not to look towards religion when one feels the need for community. Religious communities, especially those I've seen in America, are well organized and offer substantive benefits to their members. I just wasn't able to sincerely join such a group. The beliefs required upfront are just too difficult for me to subscribe to.

During the pandemic, my partner and I decided that we wanted to join or form a group house, in an attempt to fill that community-shaped hole. In January of 2021, we moved into a house named RGB. Joining RGB has been the second most pivotal event of my adult life, after coming to the US.

I want to convince any readers of why communal living might be something worth trying for them, but I also don't want to gloss over the tradeoffs that are inevitably made when shifting to a communal lifestyle. I'll start with the difficulties upfront.

You will lose some degree of control over your living environment, especially in shared areas like the kitchen, living rooms, or bathrooms. Devising a common standard, and deciding how to distribute the work of adhering to that standard is a conversation had with varying degrees of intensity throughout the life of a group house. Hopefully most of the time it will be in the background, and sometimes it will need to be grappled with more actively.

Whatever the case, it will come with its share of friction. Expressing our needs, setting boundaries, or accepting someone else's preferences can be complicated. Everyone strives to express these needs in the smoothest way possible, but it's difficult to work around our own emotions and those of other community members. Some conversations are bound be emotionally loaded, and challenging to navigate.

But there's a very powerful silver lining to these challenges. In learning to resolve them, we learn a lifelong skill, and a skill that I believe would benefit society immensely if scaled up: the skill of living together. Society feels ever more polarized and splintered. Learning how to listen to someone else's point of view in earnest, learning how to compromise, and remembering to see the humanity in everyone are skills that we sorely need right now. They also happen to be the exact skills that community living fosters.

Society isn't only splintered along ideological or political lines. We're also splintered by living far away from our families, or by shrinking friend groups. We're more and more alone. This has devastating effects on health and mental wellbeing, but it also makes us less resilient to the random difficulties life throws at us, such as falling ill, losing a job, or losing a loved one. Having a community to help us out in those moments is crucial.

Let's not forget about money. The savings that living together provides cannot be overstated. You think living with 3 roommates helps you save? Well, you'd be right, and you should do that, but try living with 10. An entire other class of savings kicks in at that scale too. Need that specific kitchen utensil? The community probably has it. Need that workout equipment? The community probably has it. Need a car? Someone in the community might have a car (and you can get and manage one together if not). You get the point, the list goes on and on. This amounts to a massive amount of convenience and savings, and represents an important bulwark against consumerism.

It's rare to experience a dull night when living in a community. Someone is bound to have a plan and is likely to make you a part of it if you're willing. The result is being irrigated with a cross-pollination of everyone else's social networks. This can occasionally apply to professional networks, which ads another way that communal houses bolster their residents.

All in all, while I don't advocate that every single person live communally, I strongly suspect we're staring at a massive missed opportunity. I think many people would benefit from, and enjoying living in communities such as RGB. Not only would the individuals benefit, but I think the values instilled by communal living could result in beneficial cultural changes.

My hope is that more people become aware that it's possible to do this. Sadly, it's not as easy to become a part of a communal house as it should be. Starting a house is a monumental endeavor requiring self-starters that are able to find a space, coalesce a group, and seed a functional culture. This is no small feat. The alternative is finding a house that already exists and becoming integrated to that group. Sites like the Haight St Commons are a good place to start, but it can still be difficult to find a spot for oneself.

As is probably apparent by now, I'm very passionate about communal living, and have done a few things over the past months to try and make it easier for people to start or join communal houses. A short list:

  • is a site I created to help people start communal living houses in the bay area. It's difficult to find places with more than 4/5 bedrooms on most real estate websites. This is an attempt to solve that problem.
  • I've contributed some code to Modernomad (in this branch, which is almost ready to merge!).
  • I've also made a point of visiting new communal houses whenever the opportunity presents itself, and trying to learn as much as I can about how they run themselves.

If you're also passionate about communal living, and would like to discuss these topics in more depth, please feel free to contact me using the contact tab above!