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Common misconceptions about coliving
‘My friends don’t understand why I’m living with a bunch of other adults. They keep asking me if it’s a reality TV show … and how much I’m getting paid.’ - Denise, when moving into Casa Chironja
Coliving is WEIRD: or so we’ve been told by a century of marketing by real estate associations, government policymakers, and pop culture. Anyone not-crazy should do everything in their power to get a *place of their own.*
Pop culture glorifies celebrity cribs and makes fun of adults who live with their parents for their failure to launch. Documentaries like Wild Wild Country make it seem like cohousing communities by nature end up as violent sex cults. And Reality TV makes it seem like only the most drama-addicted, attention hungry crazies would choose to live in a house with people other than their significant other.
Here at Supernuclear we’re trying to show the alternatives: respectful, caring communities who function well, provide affordable luxuries, and even have fun. But we still get the same pushback from a lot of folks we talk to: coliving couldn’t possibly work for me, because X. In almost all cases, X is an assumption about coliving we know to be false. So, here are our responses to some of the most common misconceptions about coliving.
1. Coliving is only for extroverts.
This is probably the #1 concern we hear: ‘I like my alone time, and having to always interact with roommates sounds exhausting.’ The real secret is that most coliving houses are full of introverts. When you live with one or two other people, it might seem rude to not engage them every time you run into each other in the kitchen. But in a house full of people, it’s easy to choose your own level of socializing. You can enjoy peace and quiet in your room if you want it. Many houses have lively family dinners, but you also will have the kitchen to yourself plenty of the time. And Phil points out, ‘people you know well are much less draining than interacting with strangers.’
2. Coliving is only for people who all hook up with each other.
So, yeah, we get this one a lot too. It feels like the same people who told us that reefers were going to make us crazy also decided to promote the idea that adults coliving are wild, promiscuous perverts who have weird orgies. Megyn Kelly even specifically asked about this when I went on the Today Show with a few fellow residents from the Archive.
To be clear, consensual adults deciding to have orgies is cool, and some coliving communities like Hacienda are explicitly sex positive. But the vast majority of coliving spaces we know do not have orgies.
Perhaps because coliving is still seen as an ‘alternative’ lifestyle, there’s some overlap with people who also have ‘alternative’ relationship styles. But this is by no means a rule or even particularly common in coliving.
3. Coliving is cheap.
And, by extension, coliving is only for people who can’t afford to live on their own. This is like saying ‘houses are cheap.’ Coliving comes in all forms, from economical dorm-style living to extravagant mansions. It’s true there are some economies of scale that come from living with other people, so it might be a good option if you’re looking to save money. But many people who can afford to live on their own also choose to live together and invest the resulting surplus in things they might not necessarily be able to do on their own: from the Embassy’s Second Life project to Radish’s giant hot tub.
4. It’s chaotic and dirty.
Most people’s only experience of living with other adults comes in college or right out of it, when you team up with randos on Craigslist to be able to afford living in the big city. Lots of people are not at their best when they’re 18-24 and figuring out life, and so lots of people end up with horrible roommate experiences. There was that guy who drunkenly peed on your laptop. Or the one who said she wasn’t comfortable with you subletting when you were out of town for two weeks, then rented out your room on Airbnb, pocketed the money, and denied it... I’m certainly not talking from personal experience here.
Because of this, people try to get a place of their own as soon as they can afford it, and dread the idea of having to share a space again. The thing is people do grow up. They learn how to clean up after themselves, and/or start to earn enough to hire a cleaner. Living with respectful, caring adults is great.
Coliving houses can be dirty and chaotic - but so can single family homes. It’s all about the people you’re living with, and it’s totally possible to have a clean, quiet oasis if that’s what you all want.
5. It’s only for people who want to party all the time.
This misconception is probably rooted in the same experiences that informed #4. Maybe that place you got with a bunch of friends right after college was fun, but you can’t imagine bringing a keg up to a 5th floor walkup apartment again. You associate living with other people with a time in your life when you were less responsible and had a lot more energy.
Coliving spaces can host great parties, because you have a lot more space to play with than individuals do. But it’s up to you and your housemates to determine how often parties happen, and if you’re all working hard on other things that might not be very often.
Joel of the Icebreaker and Langton Labs popularized the term ‘introvert parties,’ for when you gather with housemates to do concentrated work sprints, like you might at a coworking space. I can say I’ve attended far more introvert parties at coliving spaces than traditional parties.
6. It’s only for single people.
In contrast to #4, some people have dream roommate experiences straight out of Friends. But then they end up in a relationship and the unspoken (just kidding - often explicitly spoken) expectation is that, like Chandler and Monica, they’ll get a place of their own.
We just don’t get this. Coliving as a couple is great. Roxana and Jon are married and even own an apartment, but choose to lease it and live in Casa Chironja because in Roxana’s words ‘it takes pressure off each of us to have to entertain the other all the time. I think it makes our relationship stronger.’ Logan Ury wrote a beautiful Modern Love column for the New York Times about how living at Radish helped her and her husband navigate a nightmare year when he was going through cancer treatment.
7. It’s only for people who have a lot of free time.
Maybe you think of yourself as someone that has a vibrant social life and you don’t want to be tied down to a particular circle of friends. You may have heard stories of coliving houses where you’re expected to attend endless house meetings and commit hours a week to house chores.
That can happen, but it’s very much a choice. Lots of coliving houses have figured out ways to streamline decision-making and either hire out or efficiently manage house maintenance. Lightning Society in Brooklyn has a full time paid house manager who takes care of all the property maintenance, and the cost for that is built into everyone else’s rent. Phil wrote a whole article about great ways to manage decision making in coliving houses.
In reality, coliving might be even better for busy people. When things break at your house, there is a 1/x chance that you have to fix the problem, where x is the number of people you live with. If you live alone, it’s always on you.
Did we miss anything? Hopefully if you were a skeptic we’ve convinced you that coliving might work for you after all… And if you’re already coliving and get pushback on something else, we’d be curious to hear about it in the comments.
With thanks to Yicheng Sun of the Archive for helping me brainstorm some of these common misconceptions.