Living in Community: Part 1

I really have so many thoughts swirling, so I'll do my best to keep this concise. Actually, this is just going to be "Part 1" of a multiple part series, so that I can kind of cover it all, not only to share but for my own future reference.

The big news is, we had our close friends (and farming partners) move in with us over the weekend. Two adults, Bri and Brett, and their two young kids, Lilly (3) and Jude (3 months). They have their own house, pets, and garden. They are not in financial trouble. They are not particularly far away from us, either. They live just on the other side of downtown, less than 10 minutes from us in traffic. We recognize that this may seem a strange decision to the people in our lives. My house is not very large. It's an average sized cape cod style house, about 1400 square feet. We also have our friend Lindsay and her son Eli (5) living in the basement apartment. The main floor of our house has a kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. The upstairs is a long open space where we recently put up a dividing wall, so it's two large rooms now (one of which is a bedroom for Jeff and I and Asa).

Bri, me, and Lilly swimming in Lake Huron.

Perhaps I'm just a little preemptively defensive. When we mull over the reasons that we've done this it all seems so wonderfully practical. Why is it that the decision to co-house seems controversial? I'm certain that many people won't care and will see the sense in it all. I think others may not understand but will choose to be open minded about it. And then others will speculate about our personal lives (for the record, this is a platonic partnership between two families).

So here's a little list to explain the "whys" of it all:

  • We really love them. These friends are special. I love many people in my life, but these are the friends that really understood and shared our passions. We have lots of differences, but the parallels are striking. These are people who we want to carve out a way of life with- farming, raising our kids, activism, and just being a witness to each other.

  • I don't want to do this alone. I know I'm not technically alone- I have an amazing support system. A beautiful family, lots of friends, an incredible partner. But many days still leave me weary and overwhelmed. Who will do that mountain of dishes? Who will plant the garden? How can I do everything I want and still hold it all together? It occurs to me daily (especially as the mother of young children) that human beings are not meant to live in isolation. We are meant to live together- meaning, it's no wonder certain areas of my life suffer when I endeavor to do more than just the basics… there simply aren't enough hands!

Lindsay and Asa napping on the couch together.

  • I need a tribe. I can already tell that I greatly benefit from seeing people that I love and who love me on a daily basis. Not just the kids and Jeff at dinnertime after a long day of work. But I mean being with others for a lot of the day. Not just anybody, but people who feel like my people. Always someone to call on, to ask for a hand, to be open with, to confide in. And I benefit from serving them in the same way. I need to get outside of my head on a regular basis. Sometimes just seeing that someone else needs your help, that you can be of value and service to them… it's very gratifying.

A friend's son, Eli, and Vera playing one afternoon.

  • I get a bigger family, and I get to love more kids. If the world were not in the trouble it's in, Jeff and I would have had a gaggle of children. I would have loved to have 5 or 6, honestly. Things being as they are, we made a solemn decision to stop at two kids, with the option of adoption and/or foster care if we felt able in the future. Considering everything that we've taken on, our financial situation as it is and will be, and all the things that are up in the air… well, adoption seems a bit far fetched for us. Living in such a tight knit community means that I get the benefits of the larger family I long for. I get more playmates for my children, more snuggles, less boredom/laziness/entitlement from everyone because we have to think more about each other. 

Brett and baby Jude napping.

  • It's practical. This is true on a number of levels. I'm already really seeing the benefits.
    • Let me paint a picture for you: Jeff and I left for the weekend to visit some family on the other side of the state. Bri and Brett and their kids and Lindsay and her son were home for the weekend. In our absence, the chickens and dogs were taken care of, and the microgreens were watered and a new batch was planted. I even left a big pot of stock bubbling away on the stove. When Bri needed to get some stuff done around the house, Lindsay took the kids out around town. Then later that night, after the kids were put in bed, Lindsay went out with friends assured that her son would be taken care of if he woke up. When I came home, there was freshly canned stock and jars of fermenting pepper and tomato relish on the counter. The next day was a hard day for me. I think Asa and I were a little under the weather, just enough so that we were tired and cranky. I also dealt with some anxiety about all the mess around me with everything being moved around. I spent some time upstairs trying to fix a problem and came down a little frustrated. But while I was upstairs, there were people downstairs to occupy the kids. In the same time I was dealing with that, Brett had cleaned the kitchen. Later that night when Jeff came home, Bri and I decided to take ourselves out to sushi. Then yesterday, Jeff and Brett went out to get loads of compost and deal with some things in the morning. So Bri and I stayed back and made breakfast and took care of kids. I harvested our microgreens and some kale for market, and then we sent Jeff to man the tent for the afternoon. Brett went to work, while Bri and I made mozzarella and ricotta cheese, and then made a potato leek soup for dinner with the leftover whey… I mean, I could go on and on. I woke up this morning to find that they had already started the diaper laundry. This afternoon Bri took a nap with the baby. Need I say more?
    •  There are financial benefits, too. We can split the utilities at this house while reducing our use at the other house. We can plan and utilize both gardens for one household, and combine our efforts for food storage and menu planning. The other house is now going to be a very multi-purpose space- more space to grow microgreens, a space for Bri to have her massage practice, a guest house and a get-away space for either family, and we're talking about using it as an office/meeting space for our doula business.

Homemade raw milk mozzarella cheese.

So, hopefully that gives an initial look into why this feels like a really good move for us right now. I think next time I'll talk a bit about the challenges we face.


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Comments (15)

  1. gingerrose

    I think you are doing a great thing! I feel like the first 2 years that I lived in my current town were trying to keep my head above water, and now I feel like I’m becoming more in community with those around me and want my life to be more outward-focused while still maintaining the inner reflection I’ve developed. Some people are more introverted than others, but I am someone who particularly thrives on contact with others and who loves people and everything about human connection.

  2. missbittercup


    I think that this a wonderful move.

    I hope you don’t feel obligated that you need to explain your reasons,for your lifestyle. This is what simply fits you, and your family, and the English’s.

    I’ve always felt that I needed space and privacy. I think I would have a sense of being overwhelmed, even in a house filled with loving people. However, thinking about it… I get overwhelmed in general anyway. Recently… I also have been tossing around the ideas for that when Josh and I move… to have a bigger home so that another family could live with us.Our kids could play… bills could be shared. I want to garden, can, and start leading a more open and free life where i make my choices. And why not do it with others where results would be equally beneficial?

    Kudo’s to you and your “families,” and more to you for living the life you want to live.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Re: Beautiful!

      Thanks always for your love and kind words. <3

      I actually have always felt the same way, honestly. I get overwhelmed around a lot of people, but like you say, I get overwhelmed in general anyway. So this arrangement has really pleased me in a number of ways. I’m trading out some overwhelmed feelings (mainly having to do with tasks and kids and things when I felt like it all landed on me), with a much more pleasant and purposeful feeling of overwhelming energy (kids being noisy, too much activity in a space, etc.). I’m also learning a lot more about myself and what I need, too. I set up a somewhat private “me” area in my big bedroom, and I’m finding more time to do things that feed that need for space and privacy in all the new time I have for things like exercising or working or going out with a friend or writing. I mean, I’m just finding that it’s all balancing out and that I much prefer this kind of chaos to the other kind I felt.

      Once we buy our land (and the surrounding property, in our dream), you and Josh should just come live in our happy little ecovillage. We’d love it!

  3. littleloveflame

    I think it is a wonderful idea and people DO need each other. *nods* Most people are all too isolated and value independence to a point where it’s not healthy.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I agree! For a while now I’ve been referring to “the myth of independence”. I do believe that people should spend time exploring their independent qualities, but the amount of independence valued by this culture is completely unnatural, IMO. We need each other, for sure. <3

  4. poppleshatesyou

    Sounds amazing Grace!!!

  5. purerandomness

    Part of the lack of inter-generational living has changed many peoples’ outlook on what is considered a ‘home’. Just 100-150 years ago, it was commonplace to have grandparents, parents, children, in-laws, etc all living together. It was accepted and rational: just think of all the expenses that could be combined and shared!

    Part of the new ‘American dream’ or ‘American ideal’ as it is supposes a certain amount of ‘independence’ from family other other support systems to assure a person “they’re on the right track” or “they’re successful”. I think this means the individual might be actually MORE reliant on technology or unsustainable practices than they would be if living in a tight-knit community where people relied on each other and worked together as you’ve described.

    I think what you’re building with your family and your friends is brilliant. Stunning. Amazing, in fact! I am so happy that this scenario is starting to come together for you and can result in less stress and more peace of mind. I can see how it would give exponential benefits in child raising because there are many days when I get home and I’m just so… done that I can’t even think of caring for two small children!
    (I’m not sure that I could do your type of living situation, but that’s because as an individual I crave privacy and alone time that I carefully carve out for myself.)

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      It is funny, thinking about how natural this arrangement is historically. Kind of reminds me of homebirth, actually. Something once so normal is a bit of a controversy in just a generation or two.

      Like I’ve been saying in the comments above, I wonder if you might be surprised by how useful the arrangement is. You would likely be willing to trade a bit of personal space for say, not having to cook dinner or do dishes when you got home. I dunno, I’m finding that I have MORE time for personal things and activities, less reliance on just me to take care of little things, with a minor increase in general noise and activity levels. Plus we all have personal spaces and it’s just… pretty great so far. 🙂

  6. muirichinnahali

    I LOVE this idea and dream about similar scenarios often. I can’t wait to hear of your new adventures. 🙂

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Yay! I hope you can write about such things soon too!

  7. eatsoylentgreen

    I like everything in this post. Although the world needs more kids of yours, more than two.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks! You tempt me… 🙂

  8. Gracie (Post author)

    I love that, I didn’t realize you’d wanted to live communally. I guess for all of my reading you’ve lived on your own! I hope you get to do it. For what it’s worth, a year ago Jeff and I were stretching our limbs and reveling in how nice it was to have our house to ourselves… and here we are, with 6 more people living with us. Ha!

  9. thepeppershaker

    Thank you for sharing this post and the “whys.” I admit I would be one of those people that would start speculating about the causes– bad habit. 🙂 I can definitely understand now why this is such a great situation for both of your families. It has gotten my gears turning a bit!

  10. Pingback: Living in Community: Part 3 – Polliwog Farm

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