Cohousing Gets That We Thrive in Nurturing Communities

The appeal of living with like-minded people is driving exciting, new-style living arrangements.

Jan 12, 2020

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Love just hanging out with friends? Imagine if you could plan a future together with them in a shared housing arrangement, with all the camaraderie that involves, but in a setup that still gave everyone space and independence. The good news is that with “cohousing”, you can!

Combating loneliness and the chance to bring the idea of “loving thy neighbor” to life, just got easier with this relatively new concept popularized by baby boomers. From Denmark to Canada, retirees, the middle-aged and younger people with an eye on a future free from social isolation, are discovering a new route to retaining a sense of community.

Cohousing enables residents to enjoy cozy social events, and still live independently. As research like the 2018 AARP study show that at least one third of the over-45s are lonely, this modern arrangement offers an appealing solution.

Cohousing is innovative because it allows individuals to enjoy their own space inside their apartment or home while benefiting from shared facilities such as a community garden, lounge, library, kitchen, or living room with like-minded people. Organizations such as The Cohousing Association of America exist to help people pursue this lifestyle built on fostering meaningful connections with others.

The benefits of living in a warm and supportive community are well documented. In 2013, York University anthropologist Margaret Critchlow wrote an article in the Social Science Directory journal explaining how an enriching community life can even lighten the experience of aging: “In a senior cohousing community, giving and receiving co-care is entirely voluntary. Members may choose to support each other [when running] errands, driving, cooking, or going for a walk with a neighbor. Being good neighbors helps people age well in a community and they have fun doing it!” she explained.

Cohousing is a relatively new concept. The first cohousing community was founded in Denmark in 1972, according to the book Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves.US citizens followed in the early 2000s. Now, Americans can choose from numerous communities to suit their needs, and in which they can develop meaningful relationships with neighbors who share their values. For instance, specific cohousing communities may focus on environmental sustainability, a shared passion for spirituality, or an interest in social justice. 

Cohousing also appeals to those who live far away from family members and to people with no siblings. Lynne Markell, 74, is a member of cohousing community Convivium. She is convinced that living around other people as she ages will yield multiple benefits for herself and the community at large:

“I’m single. I live alone. I don’t have any children. I wouldn’t call myself lonely, though I [do] realize I could live healthier and better with other people around me,” she explains. “We believe in the value of community support. Giving help and getting help back.”

Unlike the residential communities for the over-55s featuring social opportunities planned by developers or managers, cohousing units are more intimate, smaller, and it’s the residents themselves, according to MarketWatchk, planning the activities. This fosters a sense of active aging and social engagement. 

Valerie Thacker Smith, 38, a member of intentional community, Concorde, says that these social engagements come with several other perks; that cohousing is healthier for residents overall, for instance, as reported in Ottawa Citizen:“People are so much better off. It’s not just the emotional benefits. It has financial benefits,” she said. 

Advocating the advantages of this way of life for members of all generations, she shares that “Co-housing gives people of all ages a chance to be part of a community and contribute.”

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REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.