My husband and I had always been interested in co-housing. The concept made a lot of sense to us and what a great way to simplify, share resources, and form community. Some friends of ours had always liked the idea of co-housing as well and this past summer while visiting we joked around about it. It wasn’t long before the joking became more serious talk. We had been hoping to move soon anyway and they had a home (and property) large enough to accommodate both families. We listed our home for sale just to see what happened. About a month after we listed it we got a cash offer for more than we had thought we would get for the home. However, we only had a week to move!! That was this past October (2012) and we moved into our friend’s house to start co-housing.
Our friends (for privacy purposes let’s call them the Smith Family) had seven children still living at home and a grown daughter who was married. Their children living at home ranged in ages from 6 all the way up to 17. We only have two children, so we just made a couple modifications to the house. We packed, painted, remodeled, loaded, unloaded, unpacked, and reorganized two households nto one. It was a crazy couple of weeks, but we made it through.
There were many good experiences we had together like building a shooting range on the property, butchering and preserving deer together, cooking together, playing board games, and much more. However, there were a lot of bumps in the road too. Some of them we expected and others we didn’t. This is probably the part of the post that most people are interested in reading. I got a lot of questions during the time we were co-housing from curious people. Our families are very different and it was difficult to blend them. Here are a few of my biggest challenges:
1. Feeling displaced or almost a “homeless” feeling: Since we had moved into someone else’s existing home where they already had a schedule and routine of their own it was really hard to just jump in. I felt like I was a guest and it never felt like home. This may not be a problem if two families both moved into a new residence together, but there still would definitely be a good adjustment period. The other family had lived in this home for nine years and it was their home. The husband had designed the home and they had it built. During the 2.5 months we co-housed this feeling never went away. In fact, it felt less and less like home over time. This is something I didn’t really expect, atleast not to the extreme that I felt it.
2. Limited storage: With 13 people living in one house, no matter the size, storage can be a problem. We had a small shed put on the property for my husband’s tools, our camping gear, and a few boxes of Christmas decor. We had to get rid of most of our belongings due to lack of space. We had a large cabinet to store our pantry items, two bedrooms with closets, and 4 kitchen cupboards for storages inside. It was a very difficult transition, to say the least. The house was very large (6 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, large kitchen, dining room, sunroom, mudroom, entryway, laundry room, living room, family room, an office area, and a playroom) and was definitely enough space for us all to live comfortably, but it still felt like we were on top of each other. It was definitely a big transition for me to have so many people around and also to have our bedroom on the opposite end of the house as our kid’s. Side note: If we were to go back and do it over again we probably wouldn’t do it, but if we were to do it we would insist to have our bedroom next to our children’s.
3. Lack of sleep: Our bedroom was right off the kitchen and every single noise that went on in the kitchen or dining area echos and magnifies up into our room. It made sleeping difficult at times. Our bedroom was also directly above the garage where two of the dogs spent the night. It wasn’t uncommon for the dogs to whimper and sometimes bark at night, which kept us up. There was also a mouse that lived in the wall that would wake us up 2-3 times per week as well. Ironically enough, I had just convinced my husband prior to the move to get rid of his sound spa because I couldn’t stand it. Jokes on me because at that point in time I wish we still had it!
4. Lack of control: I didn’t have control over the cleanliness, clutter, or organization of the home which really drove me crazy. There were times when I would come home and furniture or cabinets had been rearranged and we had to relearn where everything was.
Ok, I figured since I shared some of my biggest challenges I should detail out a list of positives about our experience as well. So, here is my list in no particular order:
1. Community: I’m a very social person and enjoy having people around. I really enjoyed having friends around and also the joy of the children and teenagers. It was wonderful to have all 13 of us gathered at the table.
2. Sharing household responsibilities: It has been nice to share that burden with the other family. I have learned that cooking and cleaning for 13 people is MUCH more time consuming than just my family of 4. Even trying to split the work with the other family I did spend much more time cooking and cleaning each day on average than I did prior to co-housing.
3. Cost savings: When two families come together under one roof it definitely saves money!
About 2.5 months after we started our co-housing journey my husband and I made a decision that it was not something we could continue doing. Having two women sharing a kitchen can be very stressful. I was really struggling with not feeling like I could make decision for my own family and felt like I was “throwing in the towel” and surrendering to a lifestyle that just did not suit me. It was best for our family for us to part ways. We moved out in January into a lovely little rental house overlooking a lake on two acres. This, by far, is a much better fit for our family. We hope to buy a house again later this year, but in the meantime we are enjoying this beautiful rental home.