Saturday, April 3, 2010

Living with Roomates..... Intentional Community

Since last summer, Isaac and I have been living with another married couple.

This gets various reactions. Some older folks drop their jaws and are speechless.... it's just so unusual and unheard of in their world, and it seems to be a quite risky thing that would be dangerous for a marriage. Some non-Christian folks drop their jaws and laugh - their only context for that setup is swingers.... and we are not swingers. Generally people my age or parents with kids around our age immediately say.... "Oh, that is SO COOL, you guys are really living in community!".

How did this come about? Well, this couple is in our community group at church. We were getting to know each other with time, and because they like to watch Lost and we had cable, last spring they started coming over every Wednesday to watch Lost and then usually stayed for a couple of hours to talk. We discovered that Asher and Isaac both love to discuss politics and theology and just about everything. In one of those discussions someone jokingly said something about us moving in together. It was a joke, but Asher texted the next day and said.... would that actually be feasible?

So, we started talking about it. For me, it wasn't too unusual. My brother and sister-in-law were already sharing a home with one of my high school friends and his wife. It's not unusual for extended families to live together in Asia where I grew up, whereas here in the US privacy is a high, high value. We quickly found out our leases were up at the same time in a couple of months. We quickly said that if we were to do this, three things would have to happen.

1 First of all, we'd have to find an apartment large enough for us to have plenty of our own private space so that we could get away if needed. We decided we wanted a three-bedroom so that we could have a room for an art studio/office.

2. Secondly, we'd have to be saving money. Three of the four of us are students, and paying the bills is a challenge. There'd be no point in getting into a more complicated living situation unless it actually saved us money. So - we started apartment hunting, and quickly discovered that we could save a lot of money. In the end, the apartment we chose cut their rent by half and ours by a quarter, plus we split utilities.

3. Thirdly, we'd set up house rules. We met to eat at and talked about how this would go - who would clean what, and when? What are our expectations and boundaries? How will we communicate when problems come up?

What we already knew is that we shared some key experiences - Asher had also grown up overseas and Steph loves that about him, so there's some basic understanding of being a part of but also not a part of the American culture. We shared a love of discussion, theology, and politics. In fact, they're just about the only people I've met here in Dallas that agree with me politically! :) That's huge, because Isaac and I talk enough about that sort of thing that it would be hard to live with people totally uninterested in anything related to those topics. We know friendship, community, our marriages, and most of all faith are priorities in our lives. I wouldn't move in with just any friend, but in this case it all matched up.

So.... it was a go. We found an apartment and moved in. Now, about 10 months later, we think it's been just about best case scenario. It's not perfectly easy, of course, but we knew that going into it. As an introvert, it took me a while to come out of my shell and push myself out of the private space when I wasn't yet feeling secure in these new dynamics. Sometimes we do have to clean up after each other. And, worst of all, our kitchen is ridiculously small for four people to be sharing, and if we all happen to be home and cooking at once, it's insane in there.

But really, it has mostly been so much FUN. It's like a cross between having college roomates and living with adult kids in the house (not that you guys are like kids... Steph, hah!). You just take your serious arguments behind the bedroom door, and learn to appreciate that there's people to play games with.....

watch movies with, have great discussions with, host parties....

And have random spontaneous outings (like this one, where we got in Halloween costumes in 10 minutes and set out to trick-or-treat our friends):

It's FUN. I struggled deeply with loneliness after coming to Dallas, and the two biggest things that pushed me out of that were getting a car and living with the roomies. It makes it feel like we have a home here. It's set us up to be life-long friends. In general, it's cool, and something I'm really thankful for.  

Here's some of the ways we make it work. We have rotating house chores:

We have a communication board on our fridge where we leave each other messages.... like whether or not the dishwasher is clean, or who owes who money, or how much we owe for rent.

We also have a community fund that we both input some money into each month, and this goes towards the shared food items listed as "staples" below, as well as other community purchases:

We try to have a community meal once a week, except it never ends up happening quite that often. One couple cooks for the other one and we usually watch a movie or play a game afterwards. If there's something apartment-related that we need to talk about, this is the time to sort through it and/or air our grievances.

Each couple also has intentional dates alone, so that we're still getting married couple time. 

And.... we tease each other a lot, and we laugh a lot. That's probably what makes it work the most.

In conclusion: I wouldn't do this forever, I wouldn't do this in every life stage, and I wouldn't do this with most people, but in the right situation, I highly recommend it.


Jaimie said...

I sounds awesome. Stuff like this encourages me, for some reason... I guess, that there's more to community than the old marriage fallback, which isn't for everyone, or doesn't come to everyone.

This Heavenly Life said...

I love your thinking here. So many times, I've joked with my friends or cousins that we should all live in a big house together: sharing work, learning from each other, having would just be perfect. As long as, like you pointed out, our views on the big issues lined up. For us, it would probably come down to parenting styles. I couldn't live with people who were hateful or short-tempered with their kids, yelling and punishing all the time as opposed to patient teaching and modeling. Religion and politics would play a smaller role, but still be so important, especially in the respect that we'd have to be willing to converse civilly and with open minds.

I'm so glad you wrote out all the details of how this works for you! So interesting. I'm now having all kinds of daydreams about how this would work in my own life...

Steph said...

:) love.

missed you while I was gone.
I'm pretty sure as soon as the semester's over in a few weeks, family meal will be much more regular. I loves it. :)

Erin said...

I really like the sound of this, as long as everyone is on the same page. Especially just having people around to hang out with. I don't tend to go out heaps (lack of money and just not into crowds) but it can get a bit lonely being at home alone at night.

Erin said...

Les and I lived in a similar sitiation a few years ago-we together with another couple built a suite in our basement in our duplex and because they were planning in the next two years to go on the mission field they sold there house and moved in. Now we didn't exactly share groceries but I pretty much cooked the meals four- five days a week as I was a stay at home mom and the rest all worked. I babysat their son from 7am-4pm and then she would come home and we would visit and then they would just almost always end up staying for supper. Most of the time it was great but occasionally it was frustrating ( like them sneaking upstairs and turning up the thermostat and running the dryer ALL DAY LONG!) but we loved it most of the time and Julianna and their son Ethan are still to this day BEST FRIENDS who tell everyone they are going to marry eachother when they grow up! so cute. Anyway good for you guys for putting yourselves out their and giving it a try, and I understand the lonely bit-what an amazing way to form community and relationships. Les and I have teased with a few different friends maybe we should be like the Hutterites who are basically living in communisim but it really is appealing the idea of closeness and community, especially in our north American realm of privacy!
Thanks for the post Kacie, I was wondering how this sitiation started and how it was working!
Sending you hugs from Canada!

Alida said...

What a great set up! So glad that it's working out for you all!

Kacie said...

Well Cinn, I think there are times when intentional community may not be the best choice - if you need to work on your marriage, if your children need more one-on-one attention from their parents, etc. I think having community in your life is an absolute necessity, but being in same house isn't ALWAYS the best plan, i think. However, it is sometimes an AMAZING plan, as we have experienced and it seems you have too!
I think more people should try it.