Enjoying the beauty of a foot of fresh snow outside the window, we lounged unconcerned in the warmth of our shared fireplace. No one was in a hurry to shovel; no worries, no pressure. After all, this 3-shovel/3-shoveler snow removal job would be fast and fun. Later. But now, we were reflecting on our first decade at “Shadowlawn,” our 3-woman cooperative household. Almost 10 years? Can’t believe it! It flew by so fast…It still feels so new…I just love living here…this way…with you.
We are three friends from Pittsburgh, Jean, Karen and Louise who launched a shared housing adventure in 2004. On barely a moment’s notice, we fell in love with a big old house and pooled our resources to buy it. Making it up as we went along, we dubbed our shared home a Cooperative Household. (Def.: Two or more unrelated people co-owning and sharing a residence – homesharing – to gain financial, social, lifestyle and environmental benefits). It’s a great way to live independently, together. Our combined living room décor illustrates unity in diversity. As Jean’s daughter noted, “Nothing matches”. But it coexists nicely, and so do we.
In a nutshell, here’s the story of how we three independent women, and one very independent black and white cat, came to share a home. We were in our 50’s, all divorced and happily living alone. We had the fanciful notion that it might be fun and functional to share a home when we retired, in “15 years or so.” But then the situation changed. Karen was our thought leader.
Karen: “I knew, as I planned ahead for retirement, that I needed to change how I was living. Household responsibilities would become greater and, at some point, more than I wanted or could manage. So I invited two trusted friends, Jean and Louise, to start monthly planning sessions to envision a shared future”.
I laugh at our first planning session. It was just like being at work: brainstorming ideas and writing it all down on flipcharts. By the end of our first meeting, we realized that we had astonishingly similar lifestyle goals. And then, suddenly, the obvious question stared us in the face:
If this makes so much sense for retirement, why not now?
We forged ahead, moving into our co-owned house barely three months after asking that fateful question. What’s it like to share a house with friends? We’ll start with Louise’s reflections by the fire on that snowy morning.
Louise: “For me, the biggest surprise about cooperative householding is how much easier it is than I had expected. Any living situation has tradeoffs, pros and cons. But the benefits of co-householding vastly overshadow the tradeoffs. In this special house, the spirit of shared adventure makes every day feel new and fresh. My life is richer and my experiences have been broadened. Because our work is shared, there are more flowers in the garden, better and more varied food, and many more social events at the house. There is also warmth, love and laughter”.
By combining resources, we were able to choose a house with lots of space – so we have private space (bedrooms, offices, bathrooms). We can afford household services (cleaning, grass cutting). We keep mindful of, and deal with, the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in healthy ways. Keeping good boundaries is essential—for example, maintaining emotional stability, individual responsibility, and respect for privacy.