Livin’ La Vida Local

As I’ve noted (I think!) in earlier entries, my wife and I facilitated an experiment in communal living during our three years in St. Louis.  We moved from Phoenix to St. Louis, purchased a converted two-family home, and invited two couples from our church in Phoenix to join us. One couple (and their baby daughter) lived with us for two of the three years.  The other couple lived with us for one of the three years.  We rented room to a third couple for about seven months our first year there, until they were able to locate a suitable living situation for themselves.

Our goals were several – and ultimately, confused, which is why the experiment wasn’t successful (at least in my estimations of it).  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn a ton in the process, it just means that what happened didn’t really go as we had all planned and prayed for it to go.  Relationships were damaged to varying degrees.  
But when things were going well, it was an amazing experience.  To sit down at a dinner table with usually about eight people (including three children under four years old) could be a beautiful thing.  Sharing the preparation for the meal (alternating days of the week when each couple would purchase and prepare the dinner), sharing the clean-up after the meal – those were some good times.  And the experience reinforced in me that, despite other problems and issues that brought the experiment prematurely to an end, the idea of sharing a living environment with people not part of your nuclear or immediate family has a lot to commend itself.  
Here’s another brief article highlighting how others are also demonstrating the viability and joy that such unconventional living arrangements can bring.  This article highlights the economic benefits of such an arrangement, and that’s a benefit that everyone can appreciate.  Economics was one of our reasons for trying our communal living experiment, as well as the desire to experience and foster deep Christian community like you read about in the book of Acts in the Biblical New Testament.  
Ownership of a home (or at least the renting of a separate domicile like an apartment) has long been part and parcel of the American dream, born out of a time when the folks coming to our shores from Europe were leaving behind economic and political systems that directly or indirectly limited the ability of ordinary folks to own their own land.  Those humble origins have spawned an amazing tradition of land and property ownership in the US that has proven (recently, particularly) to be problematic in some key ways.  But even when the world financial markets aren’t melting down from abuses of power and privilege, everyone owning their own home is just plain inefficient.
Communal living is a difficult thing.  The family in the article has a house almost twice as large as the one we had in St. Louis, with double the number of bathrooms we had.  That would certainly help ease some of the stresses of having lots o’ folks in your home.  Hopefully more folks will examine these sorts of unconventional living arrangements as a means not simply of weathering the current recession/depression, but as part of more mainstream changes that could reduce the costs that a household requires, the environmental impact of providing separate housing options for every person/couple/family unit, and the other incidental costs involved in replicating furnishings and other household items that could better be shared.
I’m not sure my wife will be to eager to engage in another communal living experiment.  I know I would like to take another crack at it, learning from our experience in St. Louis and a few more years of grey hair and – hopefully – accumulated wisdom!  Depending on the economy, we may have that choice taken out of our hands to some degree!

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