When you hear the word “commune” or the term “communal living,” you might immediately think of 1960s counter-culture radicals living on a farm somewhere, or of a cult that ended in dramatically violent fashion back in the 1970s. But the concept is getting a fresh look in the modern age.
Communal living is a group of people choosing to pool resources and live in close proximity, sharing the costs and labor involved in daily life. Traditionally, communal living was based on shared ideologies or lifestyles, but increasingly communal living is being redefined as “intentional communities.” The focus is more on co-housing, with members of the community enjoying private living spaces while sharing in the amenities, upkeep, and administration of the community as a whole. Intentional communities can still be large-scale rural sites, but increasingly, they’re also located in urban areas, and can be quite small—in fact, the term “householding” describes groups of people co-housing in a single house, typically a home with enough space and infrastructure to support a large group of people but nowhere near as large as the old-school farm-based commune.
Most of us still see owning our own private home as the goal, but as many of us struggle to deal with a challenging economy, a growing sense of loneliness, and a housing market that seems impossible to break into, it’s time to reconsider the communal life.
Financial benefits of communal living
If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re probably frighteningly aware how fragile your financial life is. A communal lifestyle might offer a solution because of two simple factors:Shared costs. In a communal setting, all the costs are borne by everyone in the community. Utilities, groceries, maintenance costs—it’s all divided up, greatly reducing each individual share and making housing more affordable overall. One study found that people living in a co-housing arrangement saved between $200 and $2,000 per month. Shared services. Aside from direct cost-savings, intentional communities also offer a lot of shared community-based services. Things like childcare and senior care are often part of the communal living experience. Considering that the average weekly cost of daycare is approaching $300, this represents a significant financial benefit.
For this reason, a commune-style community is often a short-term solution for those who are struggling financially. Sharing the costs of living and reducing your expenditures in exchange for shared responsibility for a property and a community can leave more money to reduce debt and give you breathing room to recover financially. Some communal living spaces will consider accepting barter in lieu of rent or other financial contributions, making them even more financially advantageous for those who can’t afford a more traditional living arrangement.
To be fair, there are often significant up-front costs involved with intentional communities. You have to buy into many established communes, for example, and the up-front costs of a house or apartment in an intentional community can be as much—or more—as a similar home in a traditional community. Over the long-term, however, these up-front costs will be recouped through the lower cost of living these communities offer. And banding together with other families or individuals to form an intentional community can also enable you to live on and own a property that offers more amenities than you could get on your own—people have formed these communities in order to purchase luxury properties that would be far beyond their financial reach individually, for example.
Emotional benefits of communal living
Just as important as the potential financial benefits of an intentional community are the potential emotional and psychological benefits. In a world where remote work and an increasingly online lifestyle can make people feel isolated, studies have demonstrated that a communal living arrangement can offer a sense of companionship and community while reducing anxiety.
Writer and urban policy expert Diana Lind has noted that in the recent past, homes were much larger because they were designed for inter-generational living, while modern homes are more geared toward living apart from family. That has led to a more isolated lifestyle, exacerbated by our car-based modern world where homes are far away from other communities and resources, making our lives lonelier and lonelier. Lind argues that a more communal approach to housing would reduce these negatives.
It’s not just psychological, either. Stronger social ties have been shown to reduce health risks, shorten recovery times, and extend lifespans—and there’s no easier way to instantly have a stronger sense of community than by joining a co-housing or commune arrangement.
Not everyone finds the idea of communal living attractive, and for some, the greatest benefit of private property is the isolation and the fact that you don’t have to share any of it with anyone. But if you’re struggling financially or spiritually in the modern world, consider whether your life might be better if you shared at least some aspects of your living arrangements with others.