updated January 7, 2021
What is cohousing?
Cohousing is a style of living that originated in Denmark in the 1970’s. It’s an intentional community of private homes organized around common space, shared meals and group activities. In the U.S., cohousing started in the early 2000’s. It is not the same as “house sharing”, which emphasizes shared residences. A cohousing development is also not the same as a commune as some think, as there is no shared community economy. Residents have independent incomes and own their own homes, which they can sell on the open market.
With a cohousing lifestyle, each single family or attached home has numerous traditional amenities, but share areas such as dining areas, gardens and recreational spaces. Because each unit is self-contained, you can balance your need for private time with the pleasure of group experiences. Neighbors help each other with everything from food shopping to home maintenance and residents make decisions about governance as a community. Cohousing is not for everyone, but participants say this type of setting provides a healthy balance between privacy and community.
Senior cohousing and coronavirus
Community living helps decrease the social isolation and loneliness seniors often experience as they age. Even before the spread of Covid, loneliness and social isolation were already at record levels in the U.S. In January 2020, Cigna released a report showing approximately three in five American adults identified as lonely, which represents a 7% increase from 2018.
In this extraordinary time of the Covid19 quarantine, cohousing offers residents much needed relief from the everyday stress felt by so many. Residents look after and help each other in this type of living situation. They share grocery shopping and other necessary outings which greatly reduces the risk of exposure. The close physical proximity of the homes and common areas allow people to easily interact, while they still maintain a healthy social distance.
Why is cohousing attractive to boomers?
There are many benefits of this lifestyle for boomers. Residents enjoy an intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive environment ideal for aging at home in a non-institutional setting. This model is a good option for active older adults who still have years of life ahead of them, but desire a home with less maintenance. People who live in these collaborative communities describe the lifestyle as safe, nurturing and fun.
People choose this type of living situation for a variety of reasons. Here are the four benefits we hear about most often:
Benefits of senior cohousing
Cohousing fosters connection. This lifestyle brings people together who choose to live cooperatively based upon shared values. Celebrations add flavor and help build relationships. Many housing options for seniors who want to live in their own home don’t provide a neighborhood atmosphere; cohousing offers an attractive alternative.
Shared activities, including community meals, are part of daily life. The wisdom of the group plays and important role in making decisions about governance and everyone is encouraged to participate. This practice requires an environment where all members are comfortable communicating and feel that their opinion is valued. As a result, neighbors get to know each other well and it is easy to nurture and provide support to each other.
Sustainability (Green Living)
Community means sharing more and consuming less, and green living starts at home. Not only do residents collaborate on everything from green technology to recycling, they also often share resources such as tools and lawnmowers.
In senior cohousing, shared resources and close proximity means residents may live independently longer. Living on your own longer results in less money that therefore needs to be spent on expensive retirement homes. A cohousing situation may also lead to a decreased need for professional caregivers as neighbors pitch in to help. Residents may choose to live in smaller units instead of investing in larger personal houses; they can then channel their money into shared facilities and take advantage of economies of scale. Finally, residents share material goods and responsibilities to help the community become financially sustainable. The upfront costs of cohousing may not appear to be less than other choices for this age group, however, the longer term savings are undeniable.
The Bottom LIne
It all comes down to making the world a better place. According to Charles Durrett, author of The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A community Approach to Independent Living,
“Great environments don’t happen because architects create them, but because cultures create them;”
Would you be interested in a lifestyle that may require a smaller living space in order to gain access to shared community amenities and to live with like-minded people who share your values? Many find cohousing to be fulfilling joyful, rich and sustainable. Your thoughts? Please share them in the comment section below.