• Thu, Aug 30 2012

This Family Commune Idea Isn’t As Easy As It Looked

family communeI’m building a community. It’s a somewhat half-baked, hair-brained idea at this point, involving large pieces of real estate, a potential web of legal concerns, the very real need for serious budget talks and myriad other logistical issues. But at its core, it’s about people; good people who want to live among other good people with a great deal of trust and healthy co-dependence floating around. It is for this reason that the “people” part of this complicated equation is by far the most important.

Regardless of your relative interest in communal living, when you really stop to consider it, what’s more important in your life than people? Be it family, friends, neighbors or even co-workers, other humans enrich and challenge you in ways that nothing else does. They make your life what it is. And like it or not, you need them.

We all discover this true need at various points in our lives, over and over again. Just when you think you can do “it” (whatever the “it” may be) on your own, you find yourself curled up in the fetal position, puking your guts out, while your kids do the same and your husband is out of town for the next six days. In (thankfully) rare moments such as these, you better hope that there’s someone in your mental Rolodex with limitless compassion and a strong stomach. In my case, it was my neighbor and friend, Shannon.

I met Shannon, her husband and their daughter less than two years ago, but I knew after just a few months that I wanted them in my community. As people go, they are of such a high caliber that I could easily see my family almost blending with theirs – meaning that we can spend a lot of time together without needing to entertain one another, our children play well together, and I sincerely value the skills and knowledge they bring into my life.

I guess what I’m saying is: they make my life better. Put this way, it sounds kind of ugly and selfish, but it’s the truth at the heart of my oh-so-unscientific approach to gathering a tribe. I don’t know how it was done when we started out, but I’d assume that proximity and biology played a large role. There weren’t a ton of humans to choose from and you were likely related to most of them, so why not hang out with the ones closest to you? Nowadays we meet new people daily and the ones we share DNA with may live in a different time zone, so I’ve got to find another set of criteria.

Which brings me back to my constructive selfishness. It’s not like I’m asking people to fill out an application or anything, I’ve just been moving through my life and social circles with a specific radar for the past year or so. Making my/my family’s life better is just one proviso, but it’s a very broad one that has as much to do with energy as it does with gardening skills. I’ve held a belief for some time now that we travel through this life (and perhaps others?) all tangled up in a circle of souls. I seem to meet people who I just know I’ve encountered before or those with whom I feel an almost instant ease and connection. I want to populate my modern-day tribe with as many of these humans as I can.

Of course, there are far less new-agey characteristics that matter, too. Dependability is huge. Small groups such as this one begin to break apart when one or two members give the rest reason to believe that they might not hold up their end of any bargain. Back in the day, the tribe needed to know for certain that you would literally fight on the group’s behalf, even at the expense of your own welfare. I don’t need anyone to go that far in this instance, but if you tell me that you can hang out with my kids and then repeatedly blow me off, I will ask you to leave.

As my husband is eager to point out, leaving is not that easy when there’s money and real estate involved, so a deep sense of responsibility to the group and commitment to the ideal is supremely important. Communal living is more than just a good idea to me – it is a lifestyle choice; one that involves some unique obligations and lots of tangible rewards that are pretty obvious to you if it’s right for you.

Perhaps the self-selecting nature of this endeavor is an ally that I’ve overlooked. While several people have expressed an interest in this adventure, few have taken any practical steps towards creating the community they claim to want to be a part of. Whether that’s because I’m the only one who’s borderline obsessed with making this happen or because my fellow tribes-people have yet to come forward remains to be seen. Either way, I’m marching on, and I’m excited to find out who will end up joining me.

(photo: Andrei Shumskiy/ Shutterstock)

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  • bl

    I guess every group needs a leader, but is this totally based around your family? As people join, do they get veto power in shaping the group? Also, when it comes to buying real estate, I’d definitely want to know exactly who I’m living with before I buy. What about some trial group weeks/weekends at a rented space? You’ll get sense of living together, and it might make this more real for people hesitant to get a mortgage and join you.

    Bear in mind that this advice is coming from someone who has never and knows she could never do this. :)

  • Edwina

    Funny, we’re in the process of looking into something similar at the moment. We’re in Australia, where real estate is generally cripplingly expensive (around major cities) so it makes sense financially – we certainly couldn’t afford a decent piece of land alone. The communal living idea has always appealed to me – seems like a return to a different time. Other appealing ideas include sharing equipment, child care, facilities, the care of animals and so on. So yes, I completely get where you’re coming from. THe biggest hurdle will be the legal side of things and getting that all watertight. Good luck!