Shared Living For Solos

SOLO 98 | Shared Living For Solos


Following the Golden Girls episode, Peter McGraw continues his investigation into alternative living arrangements for singles. In this episode, he invites Darlene Savoy and Ben Lough to define and discuss shared living options. They discuss some considerations for people contemplating shared living (i.e, the 4C’s: cost, convenience, community, and care; but along the way they discover a fifth “C”) The team closes the discussion with advice and resources for those contemplating shared living.

Listen to Episode #98 here


Shared Living For Solos

The last episode featured a fun discussion about the Golden Girls. I have had many solos tell me that they want to create a Golden Girls living situation in their golden years. To that end, I invite two members of the Solo community to talk about options for shared living beyond what the Golden Girls did. Our first guest is Darlene Savoy. She hails from the East Coast of Canada and, after a hiatus, has returned to live there. A self-described late bloomer, she aspires to create a friendly cohousing development for solos. You may be familiar with her as a guest co-host on the launched episode Reinvention with Arlene Dickinson.

Our second guest is Ben Lough. Ben is a professor of Social Work and Business Administration at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He’s the Director of Social Innovation at the School of Business, where he supports student social ventures and teaches courses in nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, and international social development.

We identify and define shared living options. Some will be familiar and some will be new. We also discuss some considerations for those of you contemplating shared living. I call them the 4Cs, Cost, Convenience, Community, and Care. Along the way, we discover a fifth, Climate, as in minimizing one’s effect on climate change. Finally, we close with some advice and resources for those contemplating shared living.

Finally, the bonus material is back. As you know, I host a private Solo community, which you could be part of by applying at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. The three of us take a survey about our preferences for shared living, discuss our similarities and differences, and make some jokes at my expense along the way. You can find the audio on the Solo Slack channel. It’s a fun conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get started.

Welcome, Darlene and Ben.

Thanks for having me.

I’m thrilled you folks are here. We’re here to talk about alternative living arrangements for solos and looking beyond the obvious, and owning or renting a home, condo, apartment, and so on. We’re going to have some focus towards the end of the conversation on our later years as solos. We’re all very young, at least my two guests are. I’m the old guy in the room. Speaking of which, our previous excellent episode was about the cultural phenomenon known as the Golden Girls. What’s notable about the Golden Girls is that these four women live together in the same house. Do you know what city they lived in?

I don’t know.

Do you know what state they lived in?


I’m not sure. I never watched it, Peter.


Yes. They were in Miami. I’m pretty sure they were in Miami. I have been doing some work on aging, retiring, and dying solo. For obvious reasons, this comes up a lot, “You’re single. Are you going to be single forever? Who’s going to take care of you when you grow old? What are you going to do? How are you going to do this?” It’s a common question. Frankly, it’s a pretty reasonable question. Of the dumb questions that single people get asked, it’s not quite dumb. It’s one of the least dumb questions. It’s something I’m actively thinking about and preparing for. The sooner you start thinking about it, the better. Housing is clearly going to be one of those.

What’s great about this is both Ben and Darlene are members of the Solo Slack channel and they pitched this to me. These two forced me to tape this conversation, which I appreciate. It’s a long time coming. We’re going to talk about shared living and I am a novice. I have done a little bit of reading, but you two are the pros. Why are you the pros? What is your journey? How did you get to a place where you’re nerding out on the Solo Slack channel, which you can apply for at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. We would love to have you. A few hundred people are on there already. What happened? Ben, you start. Did you buy a house?

I started thinking about shared living not that long ago, to be honest. I did a lot of international travel professionally. As a young person, I lived in a lot of hostels and did the shared living experience abroad. As I started getting older, I started having roommates and had lived alone. Both were okay to me. I’m pretty agnostic about whether living alone or with others is better. I started thinking about whether the sociality that is shared living arrangement brings could add value beyond solo living or living by yourself in an apartment, condo, or house.

I started thinking about possibilities for myself and other people who may not have this opportunity because of the way we’re thinking about housing, which isn’t always super innovative. We still have a lot of traditional models of housing. I was thinking about it for myself and how do we change the industry and get more people involved in thinking about alternative housing options?

If I may, the standard model is like a detached home. We think about it as starting farmhouses more or less and now as suburban living and so on, which is so dominant in the United States. The alternative is buildings, high-rises or low-rises that are condos or apartments. For the most part, those feel like the only two options for solos. When you look around, they dominate the market.

Also, solo people think about living with roommates or living with themselves. Those are the options, but there’s much more variety in terms of possibilities.

Before we get to Darlene, there is the saying, “You’re not just studying this. You’re living this.” Are you experimenting with a shared living space?

I wish I could say yes. I’m living alone, but I purchased a house that I’m converting into a co-living space. I anticipate that in the next few years, I will be living with others. I may keep my house as well. We will talk about that later if you want. I do want to have a room in this place. They have the option of sociality and full living.

How big is this place?

It’s 3,600 square feet.

How many bedrooms are there?

There are five bedrooms.

Please, tell me there are ten bathrooms.

This house was built in 1904, so there is a problem with the bathroom situation. I’m going to make four bathrooms. It’s got two. The idea is five bedrooms and four bathrooms and it’s got quite a bit of shared space. The whole 1st and 3rd floors are shared spaces and the whole 2nd floor is a private space.

Last question. Are you going to be seeking solo tenants?

When you mentioned the traditional model, solo people often think would be by self or with roommates. In the past, older adults have thought about living with others. I know we will get to that. I live in Urbana-Champaign. It’s a college town in the middle of nowhere and it’s a land-grant university.

I have been there. You’re not exaggerating.

There are cornfields and soybeans. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s pretty rural. People come here to work at the university. There are a lot of PhD students and new faculty who come here not knowing yet if they want to buy a place or whatever. There’s a big market for professionals who want to share space for different reasons. That’s what I’m hoping to tap into.

How about you, Darlene? How many homes do you own?

I have zero homes owned. Leading up to this show, I was trying to think of what brought me here. I pondered it for a while and thought, “I don’t know. I had to think about it.” A few things all came together around the same time. I grew up in a tight-knit, small town community. It’s a small town in Miramichi, New Brunswick. Nobody has probably ever heard of it.

This is New Brunswick, Canada, not New Brunswick, New Jersey where I went to college.

Here’s a shoutout to peers in the crowd on the East Coast of Canada, the Maritimes, to be specific. When I became a teenager and grew up, I wanted to flee as quickly as I could. I traveled a lot and lived in a lot of cities. I was married for a while and then moved to a variety of cities. I was always looking for the next thing and always looking for community, the next best job, and the next best city, not quite finding what I was looking for. Right before COVID hit, I moved back to the East Coast and stayed with my parents. It ended up being a lot longer than expected because of COVID. In doing that, I had a lot of time to think.

That’s what brought it all together for me. It was planning my future from a place where I had a lot of time to think. It wasn’t all roses and puppies because there were moments where it was quite dark, but I took that time, thought about my future, and planned, “I want to make extra money. The housing situation is not very good. There’s a shortage.” I thought, “What do I want? Where do I want to live?” I found this cohousing idea and went down the rabbit hole of cohousing, co-living, and all of this.

I read a couple of books, started attending webinars, and joined a real estate investment group in tandem. The icing on all of this cake was that I discovered single positive podcasts at the same time as yours and some others. There are others. It all came together at the same time, realizing there are other options out there for singles, and singles are underserved. We do the things that we want and I’m not seeing them. That means there’s got to be other people out there who are also looking for this. Business opportunity. What do I want? Everything swirled together.

To preview this, we’re going to the next step and talk about some of the options, what they are called, and so on. We will do a little bit of educating and we’re going to talk about, is this right for you? What are some of the advantages? For some people, they think about disadvantages first. It seems uncertain. It’s disfluent and not part of the narrative. In the United States, it drives me crazy that Americans are seeking to build wealth by buying and selling homes from each other. As you know, homes are generally built for families. Apartments are built either for singles or couples. You might even buy an apartment instead of a condo.

I’m eager to get into this. We will talk about some of the advantages of these and we’re going to depart with a little bit of advice from the two of you. In the next episode, if I can preview this, Darlene is going to return. We’re going to talk about some of the even more innovative ideas that are looming out there, which are quite good. Let’s jump in. Is that good?

That’s great.

Ben, you already mentioned something and that was roommates. This is a very interesting idea. We tend to think about roommates at particular stages of life, which is college and twenties, as you’re trying to find your footing in the world. Solos often have roommates. We already talked about the Golden Girls. Those are their roommates of sorts. This is a throwback, but do you remember The Odd Couple?

We have aged ourselves again.

The Odd Couple is about two middle-aged older gentlemen who live together. This stuff happens. There’s Three’s Company. That was a phenomenon. In part why was Three’s Company a phenomenon because one of the roommates was a guy. The idea that two women and a guy would live together was scandalous. The guy had to pretend to be gay and do something else scandalous to justify living with these two attractive and vivacious women. With roommates, what’s the story? Solos and roommates. I don’t have one. I don’t want one. Convince me why I should be thinking differently or why there are people who should think differently than I do.

I don’t think I want to convince you otherwise. What do people want with their life situation? Often, people start out getting roommates because of necessity. They often do it as students. It’s a low-cost option. They’re living with other people. It may be their preference, but it may not be their preference. Co-living is similar in the sense that you get people living together. It’s not necessarily only 2 or 3. It could be 4, 5, or 6. The biggest difference is co-living, which is different from cooperative living and also different from cohousing, which we’ll talk about.

There are a lot of various similar terms that mean very different things. Co-living doesn’t save you money. It’s not a good choice for saving money, but it is a good choice if you want to have greater sociality in your life and a community of others who are similar to you or think in similar ways that you do. You have a private space, but you prefer to live with other people. That’s the biggest difference that I see in terms of co-living versus roommates. It’s the intention behind it. It’s not about saving money.

I acquired a roommate for the first time in many years besides my cats. They don’t pay a cent. They’re high-maintenance. In sitting in my parents’ home and planning, I discovered, financially, if I wanted to do these things, it was difficult to make that decision because, like you, Peter, it’s not what I would choose, but it’s out of necessity. It’s necessary for me to do that. It has been an adjustment.

There’s a thing I want to bring up about roommates if I can and then we will pivot into co-living. I have a very close friend who has a roommate. She calls her the wifey. They’re incredibly close. For the most part, they get along well. There are some points of tension here and there, as you might imagine. This friend is considering living on her own. To be honest, she does better with a roommate. Her psychology, her emotions, and her mental health are much better.

It’s like a support system.

I remember her saying to me, “I feel like a loser with roommates in my 30s.”

Imagine that in your 40s.

I pushed back on that because that’s an old model. It’s an old way of thinking and a little narrow, to be honest. It isn’t that thing that, “I’m waiting to grow up, so I have roommates. Once I grow up, then I can chuck the roommates and find my one roommate forever.”

It’s often called delayed adulthood in the literature. I do a lot of research on this stuff and I’m always pissed at that statement of delayed adulthood like you’re getting roommates because you haven’t figured out how to grow up or something. It mimics what you’re saying, Peter. People feel some stigma around living with another person. For me, I’m pretty agnostic, so I will have, in terms of a year, people will move in and out.

I do have 1 or 2 roommates at any point in time, but now I’m living alone. For me, it’s always an adjustment. When people come in, I get used to them and it takes me a couple of weeks to adjust. I’m like, “This is life.” They leave and it takes me a couple of weeks to adjust to living solo again. I’m sure that people from the outside do look at that and I don’t know what they think.

Who cares? That’s how I feel. I’m like, “Who cares what other people think?”

Things are changing. That’s the point. More people recognize that co-living is an option and it is becoming more of an option. Maybe roommates, the term itself, is demeaning, but if you call it co-living, it’s cool and it’s the thing people are doing. Maybe it’s a switch of language that will help with the stigma.

As an aside, if I may refer back to one of my favorite episodes called Waiting with Kinneret, this Israeli sociologist, and Iris, who’s a behavioral scientist. We address what it means to be an adult and settle on an eloquent and elegant definition, and that is, “Can you parent yourself?” That’s the only standard by which to judge whether someone’s an adult. There are no markers, milestones, ceremonies, number of people in your household, or whatever it may be. That’s a friendly reminder to those of you who haven’t caught that. You have talked about co-living. It also goes by the term flatting.

In New Zealand, the UK, Australia, and the circle of English colonies, it’s pretty much called flatting.

Flatting sounds like the new planking to me but nonetheless.

Is flatting a cool term?

It could be. I call an apartment a flat sometimes. I like the idea of a flat. I like to cut off a bunch of syllables. I sound more like a global citizen. How is co-living or flatting different than having roommates?

It’s having more roommates often. More than that, with roommates typically, you’re all paying rent and living together. Co-living is often managed in a different way than roommates are managed. Typically, you’re paying an extra fee to have the place cleaned. You’re paying a fee to have conflicts managed, for example. There are issues around that. There are often events that are planned. The management will plan an event and it will be much more community-based or community-focused. There are a lot of different ways that I see the difference. What do you think, Darlene, given your knowledge of co-living?

You hit the nail on the head. When I think of co-living, I think of people having a little bit of their own space.

You might have your own room.

You might have your own bathroom and management or some layer on top of it where there’s a third party involved usually. Whereas roommates, like when I rented this apartment because the vacancy in the city is almost zero. I took the initiative to get a two-bedroom and two-bath and find a roommate. The onus is on me if he doesn’t pay the rent.

You have to negotiate conflicts.

In terms of the money thing, if you’re a co-living, you’re in a nicer space. You have furniture that rats, dogs, or whatever do not chew out. They’re nicer accommodations. You can save money in the sense that you’re not paying as much for the type of living that you’re getting. You’re getting more bang for your buck. Whereas getting roommates is when you’re trying to save money.

It reminds me a little bit of, and I say this in a positive way, an elevated dormitory living and elevated residents. The model a little bit is there’s a building.

There are some similarities but less separate and more like a house.

If it’s in a big building, you could have multiple units that all share space. There may be 4 or 5 people living in a room and four of those rooms together in the shared space has twenty people. In that sense, I could see what you’re saying, Peter, in terms of the dormitory. Often, it’s also just a house. It’s five people living in a house.

That’s the most familiar feeling. You have your own private space, there’s a community space, and there’s someone who manages and deals with problems, and so on. What strikes me as one advantage of this is there’s this idea of the negotiations and the dealing with other people. We’re social creatures and we know that solos like other people generally. That’s one of the myths. Some solos are loners, but many of us are deeply and broadly connected. As with other people, we just don’t want that one person dominating our attention and relationships for now or forever. It provides that.

This is something that I’m noticing the more I study singles. It’s that singles are more mobile than couples. They move around a lot more and appreciate the flexibility there. They’re more nimble too. They have less stuff than someone who moved into an apartment and had to consolidate. I have been trying to get rid of stuff. I like not having stuff. Maybe I don’t have to own a couch or as much kitchenware. This idea of, “I want to pick up and go somewhere else,” I can do so much more easily than pulling in a big eighteen-wheeler up to the house.

It seems like these new co-living groups or companies are affiliated across different cities around the world like those boutique ones in Rome.

You can go to Bali, Rome, Italy, New York, or wherever and buy-in.

It’s the new timeshare.

It’s a hell of a lot cheaper when you use it.

Without having to sit through the afternoon.

They are furnished. That’s a big difference, too, between roommates. You bring in your own stuff. Typically, all the shared space is furnished and the bedrooms are left largely unfurnished. There’s a bed and maybe a night table, but they want it to be unfurnished so that you feel like it’s your personal space and stuff. For the most part, they’re totally furnished. You’re not supposed to bring your stuff with you.

As a quick aside, if you are solo and renting an apartment, you have two options when it comes to furniture. You either buy furniture or rent furniture. At this point, renting furniture is not good.

I didn’t even know you could do that.

You can, but it’s terribly disappointing, especially if you have any sense of design or taste. It gets quite expensive very quickly. You’re better off buying cheap, good-looking furniture. It’s wasteful.

They’re disposable furniture.

I’m sure people are going, “I get this co-living thing. How is that different than being a part of a co-op?” That’s a term that people know. What is co-op or cooperative housing? How is that different?

We debated this a little bit. There seem to be a few different definitions.

Canada and the US have different definitions of lots of stuff. What is Canada saying?

That’s the thing. As soon as I started researching about it, there seems to be multiple definitions even within Canada. The definition I’m familiar with is these older buildings that were built by the government in the ‘70s or ‘80s, and then people move into them. They have to apply that to be low-income, move in, and buy a share. It sounds like buying into a condominium. You pay a few hundred bucks and pay rent essentially, but it’s not technically rent. It’s a co-op. You’re now a member, you vote, and you might have some shared gardens and all of that. The definition that you came up with also exists in Canada.

It’s a similar model. The way I see a co-op is you’re paying rent and somebody is getting that check and making a little bit of money off of your rent. The co-op is you are collectively paying the mortgage. You decide together like, “We’re going to come together and pay this mortgage on this house,” which means if your mortgage is $2,000 and you have six people, then you’re not paying a ton of money. That’s the money you’re paying to live in the house.

I don’t know much about the Canadian model. If you own a condo in a bigger building and governments subsidize it, and governments sometimes do offer incentives for co-op or cooperative living, then it is a money-saver for sure. The biggest difference is that as a cooperative or a group, you’re paying a mortgage. They could be friends, but it also could be some people in a government program.

I have also heard it be called co-ownership. There are houses in, for example, GTA, which is a Toronto area. It’s an expensive, bigger city in Canada. They have groups that help match up people who want to buy a house together. They call that co-ownership as opposed to a co-op where it would be single dwellings throughout the building.

In general, in a co-op, you have your own private space still. It might be in a flat or an apartment or it might be a single room and shared.

It’s more like an apartment or a condo.

That’s more the Canadian model though. In the US co-op model, often you’ve got 10 to 15 people living in a house. It’s a hippie vegan culture where everyone is sharing resources. I have a friend who has that culture.

I was trying to figure out the difference between that and co-living. The difference is ownership. In co-living, you don’t own. You rent.

I’m going to go on record here to say I have zero interest in a co-op.

I’m not surprised, Peter.

Anybody who reads this knows that I don’t want to go to these meetings and vote.

That’s what also turns me off to co-op. It’s self-governed. You’re going to these meetings once a week to manage problems and concerns that are not managed. It has zero appeal to me.

Some people like that stuff because you get enmeshed, care about these things, and have a say. I don’t think it’s wrong. I just think it’s wrong for me. I have a good friend. There are some of these in Boulder. He lived in one in Boulder and it worked very well for his personality. He’s an easygoing guy and a little hippy-dippier than I am. He liked chipping in and it was his night to make dinner. It had a very communal feel to it.

I have some friends too and they love it here in Nevada. Part of what they love is the conflict. They like getting together, resolving conflict, and talking about it. They think it’s self-growth and a way to learn. I don’t need that anymore.

That’s the thing, though. What is great about this conversation is it flows from this idea that we’re not all meant to partner up or be partnered for our entire life. We’re not all meant to either live in a family unit or live alone. Some of us are meant to live in this communal with either more or less control. In one case, you’re like, “Let the management folks deal with this.” The other case is like, “I’m going to wade into this. We’re going to scrap and claw. By the end, we’re going to all be crying and hugging.”

They have created techniques and an entire sociocracy for resolving conflict in these kinds of developments.

If you know anything, I have very strong opinions about myself but not telling other people what they should be doing when it comes to this stuff.

I told one of the co-op guys that was doing this co-living thing and he honestly couldn’t understand it either. He’s like, “Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you live with other people and self-govern it?” I’m like, “Some people don’t want to do that.” He didn’t get it. Everyone is different in terms of their needs. There are a lot of housing options to appeal to these different needs.

We need more. That’s where we’re headed with this. The last one that I want to talk about is cohousing. There are all these cos. There are too many cos. What is cohousing?

I see cohousing as a group of people who have come together first and generally create this community. Some of these communities take ten years to create because it’s a lot of red tape. They end up creating it as a mission statement with their values. They buy the land, hire the architect and the developers, and build individual dwellings or houses. Sometimes it’s in a more country or rural setting.

The stereotypical one would be that nuclear families are all living and their kids are playing together in their cornfields and shared garden, workshop, kitchen, and meals. It’s usually based on a strata model, like a condominium. You’re paying for your own house, but there are extra fees on top that would cover the shared grounds. There would also be other communications between them and there are urban ones as well. There’s one in California.

You might buy a building. You can do this.

There’s Swan’s Market. Have you heard of that one? It’s in Oakland. They took a market that had been left, gutted it, and made it into an entire, essentially, apartment building with a cafeteria.

Once these things are built, there’s going to be some turnover. I assume you apply to join.

I don’t think you have to apply. It depends on how they have structured their other arrangement. Usually, they almost see it as a self-selection process. If a person comes in and looks around, sometimes people vote, but they just assume it will work out.

They’re like, “If you want in, you know that this is what Swan’s Market is going to be like.”

“If you want in that badly and hang out with us for a little while and still want to move here.” That’s a step.

It’s often multigenerational too. It’s quite different in the sense that you’re trying to recreate a little microcosm of the world with ten houses that are sharing a common green space or something. It’s a very different model.

Some of them have businesses involved. They’re hybrid, residential, and business all rolled into one.

We’re going to talk a little bit more about the business behind this in the next episode when we talk about some of the more innovative options here. It sounds like there’s also the potential for development or a developer to go and do this, have the vision, and recruit the people or the people come together, have the vision, and do this. I have a friend. She’s a lifelong solo and retired now from her job.

This topic came up because we were talking about aging and retiring solo. Her plan, which she’s working on executing, is she has several girlfriends who are also solos. Their plan is to all buy condos in the same building. The idea is, “We’re going to care for each other and keep each other company.” Where does that fit in these buckets that we’re talking about?

I would put it squarely in cohousing, but I don’t know what Darlene would say.

I don’t know if it’s as organized with cohousing.

They have their individual units. In all the other models, you’re living in a common space. The only model that allows for individual private residencies, a condo is a private residency, would be cohousing.

I’m not sure it fits into any of them. It’s another idea. We should come up with a name for it, though.

As long as the word co is not involved.

My uncle does exactly that. I thought about my uncle and his wife. Before she passed away, they moved into a building and had a bunch of friends in the same building.

I’m in a very friendly building. I would love it if I could move a bunch of my friends in.

Take some other people in.

You could.

Although I have a lot of friends that I don’t want in the building.

Invite the ones you like. That’s the cohousing model. You self-select.

I like them all. It’s just I want some in the building and some I don’t. I’m going to try to recap this as a layperson. We have traditional roommates. You manage it yourself or the roommate who’s bringing people in manages themselves. There are one or more roommates in an apartment or a house. You have co-living and these are smaller groups of 4 to 10 people. They choose this living space to live in, but someone manages it, takes care of the cleaning, and does the heavy lifting with regard to managing that thing.

There is cooperative or co-op housing, which has that same feel, but it’s communal. It’s governed by the tenants or residents of that space in paying rent and covering the cost of the unit. Lastly, we talked about cohousing, a development of sorts, suburban or urban, where you have your own living space but a shared living space and a common vision about lifestyle and values.

There are some shared meals and kids playing with grannies.

I could imagine programming Thursday night happy hours and stuff like that.

There are lots of seniors’ cohousing now as well.

That model has been around a long time in Scandinavia, Peter. There’s plenty of history around that. It’s just new for the US.

Let me ask one other question because we’re going to pivot into something where we’re going to talk a little more about growing older, which is this model of retirement community assisted living nursing home hospice. I’m moving my hands along the spectrum where you can imagine that. You pick this space. As you might lose functionality and your health starts to suffer, you might move into your 80s, 90s, and so on, where you need more care depending on how you move through this path. That is also a shared living arrangement of sorts, especially as you move from your own unit into assisted living. Certainly, in a nursing home, there might be a cafeteria, shared meals, people who come in and check on you, cleaning services, nursing, and so on.

It’s the extreme co-living experience.

Some of these places are turnkey of sorts. You sign up for them.

Some of them are very luxurious and some are more utilitarian.

Some are government-sponsored. I have seen a lot of nursing homes and so on. It’s why folks want to read Financial Freedom with Money Amy, so you can afford the nicer ones.

They’re super expensive as institutions. There are smaller and more innovative models like we’re talking about in terms of a smaller group of maybe younger and older people living together, even if they’re fairly well on their way to death. If they don’t need quite as much healthcare, but they’re still not super functional, they can live at a much lower cost with younger people who also don’t have the money. This is a common model in Scandinavia. Otherwise, we don’t have that model in the US.

This is a perfect segue because I do care about talking about some of these options. Let’s talk about this. How do you make some of these decisions, especially as you’re getting older? I’m so proud of myself. I came up with the 4Cs, Cost, Convenience, Community, and Care. We have touched on each of these a little bit, but I want to dive a little more deeply into this. Let’s talk about costs. In general, which of these are better for people who are price-sensitive and price-insensitive?

I will start talking about co-living. A lot of people think that co-living because you’re living with other people is saving money. It doesn’t necessarily save money. It’s about the sociality that comes on top of a nicer place or whatever on the convenience side of your seat. There’s a lot more of that in co-living. Certainly, with cooperative housing, you’re saving a lot of money, but you’re also often living in squalor. Not always, for sure.

Let’s be easy on our hippie friends.

That’s not to be confused with a commune, which is also its own C.

It starts with C and O. It’s not necessarily a cost-saving option. It’s about the same market price as a studio.

Maybe we should do this the other way. Co-living is a little bit more about convenience, community, and perhaps depending on the model, care. There’s convenience and community. Darlene, does that resonate?

That sounds right.

What about the others? Let’s talk about them one at a time. The next would be co-op. That’s cost. We can put in a lot of work.

There might be more work.

It’s more work.

Cost and convenience go down. Community goes way up. It’s almost family-like. For care, do you find seniors in a co-op environment?

We do. It can be intergenerational.

There’s cohousing.

There are high costs and lots of communities.

They’re built around this idea.

Care is up there as well, but I am skeptical about convenience. What do you think, Darlene?

There are certain conveniences that a lot of them build into it. For example, a lot of them share cars. There’s a little parking lot off to the side and they will only have 5 cars for 10 houses to save on the cost and create convenience for people who might not have otherwise have a car. Having a shared workshop or bedrooms that people can rent when they visit are convenience factors.

If I may, I need to editorialize for a moment. I don’t want to say I’m anti-home, but homes are overrated. I’m not anti-marriage, but marriage is overrated. I want to go on record. I own a home, but I don’t live in it. That’s how overrated it is. I have done it. Especially as a solo but, in general, homes are incredibly costly. They’re high status and part of the American dream, so they’re coveted. You’re paying a lot of money for a lot of space you use very infrequently. Homes often have a dining room, guest rooms, and basements. They might have a garage that you’re not even using to house your car. You’re using it to house a bunch of other stuff.

You’re hitting the nail on the head as far as what cohousing communities sell, which are shared resources that people use just like the workshop.

I only need the dining room on Friday night.

Why buy another lawnmower for every single house? You don’t need it.

You have a lawn that you use infrequently, but when you have a cohousing or co-living situation, you have a lawn that people share. Not everybody needs it at the same time. Some people never need it. It’s just there. For a shared toolbox, thank you very much. I remember buying a drill. I needed a drill once. You either go to your neighbors or buy a drill. I remember I purposely bought a used drill. I’m like, “I’m going to buy an entirely new drill. I don’t know how many times we’re going to need this thing.”

It’s any of these things that have that cost lowered. If someone else cuts the grass, that ups your convenience. I have a very close friend. He lives in Minnesota. We talk about his suburban dad life. Regularly in the summer, I will call him. I’m like, “What are you up to?” He goes, “The suburban dad life. I’m cutting the grass today.” That’s the big event.

It takes all day, so that has got to be it.

He’s cutting the grass. I said to him, “I don’t think I will ever cut another blade of grass in my life.” I have cut a lot of grass in my life, especially as a boy doing jobs. I’m dealing with skin cancer as a result of sitting in the sun and cutting lots of grass. He doesn’t have much choice in part because it’s also good for him in some ways. It gets him out of the house.

It becomes a part of your routine.

There’s another thing besides the 4Cs that maybe fits or maybe doesn’t. A lot of people do this because of environmental reasons, the sharing of resources, the lowering of costs, and the lower consumption generally, especially with co-ops and cohousing. The consumption patterns and the environmental savings are big motivations for some people. It doesn’t fit necessarily in your Cs, but it makes a lot of sense for what you’re talking about.

It’s climate.

There you go. It’s a 5C.

This is something that has come up in conversation and it’s a delicate topic. I’m going to get in trouble for this. What is the single most impactful thing that someone does when it comes to the climate crisis? That’s having a child or adding a person. One of the other most impactful things that people do is their housing and transportation situation. You’re suggesting ways that these shared living situations are beneficial when it comes to climate change. That’s outstanding.

For a lot of people, that’s their primary motivation.

A lot of these places are built to the new codes of passive housing. There are all these different buzzwords for all the different building codes, but almost all of them are built to these new codes. They don’t waste as much power. They have lots of solar panels and rain capture.

Anytime you share walls is immediately environmentally friendlier. This is already obvious, but I’m going to say it as someone who is now growingly anti-lawn or lawns are overrated. That is what would have been ten lawns and houses now become the equivalent of two lawns essentially. That’s a huge difference in water, fertilizer, carbon from cutting, time, and so on. We know people are out there using the old-school push mowers. Who’s going to do that? That’s real work. This is wonderful.

The last thing that I want to do is get your advice. I don’t want your advice because I’m happy with my situation. For the person who specifically read this, shared living is interesting. I have always imagined myself doing a Golden Girls situation eventually and so on. Where do people start? How do they start thinking about this? Where do they go?

There are a lot of great books. I have read a couple. One was called Creating Cohousing and the other one was called Creating a Life Together. There’s a website in the US and there’s another one in Canada. They’re Cohousing.org and Cohousing.ca. There are tons of links. They have so many webinars and most of them are free. For some of them, you have to pay for classes if you want to learn how to do sociocracy training or whatever.

A lot of them are learning about different cohousing developments or co-living situations or how to create them. There are lots of great webinars. During the pandemic, all I did was tune into these free webinars all around the world. They were virtual tours of different cohousing developments. You can go on there and learn all about it.

For me, it’s more the psychological side. Know yourself and what you want. If we think about these 5Cs, which one is most important to you, or are none of them important to you? If you like living by yourself, live by yourself. I have a little caveat around that I might mention. I’m a single guy. It’s easy for me to live an unchallenged life. My life’s pretty easy, so I have to intentionally create opportunities or think about opportunities to disrupt my life and make it a little more challenging.

This is one reason why I invite them. It’s because they do disrupt my life. That gives me more meaning and growth in life. As a solo, it’s especially easy to be comfortable. You don’t have the kids whining and the spouse. You get to do what you want, which is the beauty of solo living. Also, it is detrimental in the sense that you can become too comfortable, too easy, or whatever.

The word is rigid.

You become too rigid, too selfish, or whatever. There are a lot of options there. Living with other people pushes you out of your comfort zone in a meaningful way. If you don’t want to live with other people, that’s fine but consider the option. That’s one piece of advice. How might you grow if you did it? It might even be the best thing for you, even if you don’t want to do it. Beyond that, if you decide to do it, then why are you doing it? If it’s to save money, then there are options for that. It’s not co-living.

If it’s an avid adventure, going to new places, and living short-term in Bali or Chicago while you’re working on your computer and all these things, then maybe it’s co-living. If you’re aging and want kids around and variety, then maybe it’s cohousing. There are lots of different options. You don’t need to stick anymore with the single-family home.

You take one, do what you’re doing with it, and create a different model with it.

That’s one of the reasons I purchased this house. It wasn’t because I wanted another house. I’ve got three at this point. Also, I don’t believe in houses. I spend a lot of my time traveling and I hate having things, but for me, this was pushing myself to do something new, create something different, and provide value in the community that wasn’t there before. We don’t have co-living as an option in this community yet, so I want to get it started. I wanted this to be the start of something bigger. For me, it is also about disruption.

If it’s not obvious to the reader, both Darlene and Ben are better people than I am. I’m thrilled to have them as voices. My only defense to do what you’re describing, Ben, is I travel and take psychedelics.

Those are good options too.

There’s one last question and then I will give my piece of advice. This is a good starting point for people to start to think about, “There are options out there that aren’t obvious and that they might work for me. I might read about it, take a webinar, and tour some facilities. I’m sure in that way.” Is there a way to experiment with these ideas? A year lease is a bizarre invention to me. Why is it that every place has a year lease? If you want to experiment with these ideas, get dirty, and muck it up like Ben likes to do, how does someone try to approach that?

I will give my opinion and then Darlene can jump in. Cohousing is usually designed as four-month minimum leases. It’s not year-long. Part of the model is they want people moving through. They want it to be temporary as a part of the model. I’m keeping the house that I’m living in now. I’m also doing this co-living thing that I’m going to keep a room there and experiment with that. I have resources. I can do that, so I’m lucky that way. If you have resources, you can do both and experiment in that way. I don’t know, Darlene, if you can experiment with cohousing.

That’s a pretty big experiment. That’s not something you should dabble in. I’m certainly not committed to any of these because I have become interested in them in the last couple of years. I have a roommate now and that’s working out well. As you described, Ben, that was part of my thinking. It wasn’t out of necessity. It was, “If I want to go down this road and try these other things, maybe I should get back into those habits.”

You’re used to having a shared space.

To confront this sharing of space with somebody has been good. It’s stretching me a little and also saving me money at the same time. As far as dabbling, I don’t know. It’s funny you should say the real estate and how you dislike buying, selling, and making money off of that. I joined this real estate investing group thinking, “This is interesting. I might learn a thing or two about creating a co-living.” In my mind, I was imagining it being creative solutions. It’s very much the buying, selling, and profiting off of houses, which is still interesting but it’s a little out of control.

It’s fine if you want to have real estate as part of an investment portfolio, but I would say buy a REIT rather than buy a home. My parting advice is you could start by taking a survey at OneSharedHouse2030.com. This is a website that Ben or Darlene told me about. We have each taken this survey and it takes you through many of the options about what your preferences for a shared living might look like.

The bonus material is back. If you join, the three of us on the Solo Slack channel at PeterMcGraw.org/solo, you can hear our subsequent conversation where we talk about our preferences for what shared living would look like. Each of us has gone to OneSharedHouse2030.com and done the survey. It will be a lot of fun. With that, Darlene, thank you for forcing yourself onto this show.

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

That’s not true. I called Darlene to have a conversation and make sure she was normal. Once I figured out that she was the delight that she is, I invited her to co-host an episode and do this. Darlene vetted Ben because I had no idea that he was going to be as thoughtful and knowledgeable about this as he is. In many ways, the two of you are inspirations for people who are considering doing something different that might fit their lifestyle better. With that, I would want to say thank you.

Thank you. It was super fun.



Important Links


About Darlene Savoy

SOLO 98 | Shared Living For Solos

Darlene Savoy hails from the east coast of Canada, and after a 20 year hiatus has recently returned to live there. A self-described late bloomer, she aspires to create a solo-friendly co-housing development. You may be familiar with her as a guest co-host on the recently launched episode Reinvention with Arlene Dickinson.


About Ben Lough

SOLO 98 | Shared Living For Solos

Ben Lough is a professor of social work and business administration at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is the Director of Social Innovation at the school of business where he supports student social ventures—and teaches courses in non-profit management, social entrepreneurship, and international social development.


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