Instead of limiting their households to children, parents, and grandparents, plenty of people are going a step further, making homes with friends and even strangers. Cohousing, in which a large community lives together and shares household duties, is gaining popularity. In cohousing, individuals or families generally have their own houses, bedrooms, or apartments but share things like kitchens and community spaces. They’ll commonly trade off on responsibilities like cooking and chores. Milagro Housing, for instance, is a cohousing community located in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. There, families, couples, and single people live in 28 homes in a tight-knit community that shares a kitchen, laundry room, library, meeting room, playroom, and storage rooms.
And Milagro Housing isn’t all that unusual; the Fellowship for Intentional Community, an organization that champions communities "where people live together on the basis of explicit common values," lists 1,539 cohousing communities around the country, some already formed and others in the process of forming. That’s likely a low estimate, since plenty of shared-living communities aren’t reported to any national databases. While some residents hire developers to build cohousing villages from scratch, most have turned already-existing houses and apartments into shared communities.
Cohousing has shown itself to be a useful living arrangement for groups of people with all sorts of priorities. In Silicon Valley’s hacker houses, dozens of computer programmers, most of them very young, bunk together while they work at start-ups or on their own projects. The website CoAbode links single mothers who want to live and raise children together. In Los Angeles, about a dozen young adults live together in one large house called Synchronicity LA. There, they make art together, hold salons, divide up chores, and trade off cooking communal meals four days a week. “It really feels like living in a big family,” Grant Hoffner, a longtime Synchronicity resident, told me.
Cohousing models can get pretty creative. In Hope Meadows, a neighborhood near Chicago that DePaulo describes in her book, retired people live together with at-risk foster kids. There, retired folks, many of whom used to describe their lives as boring and lonely, raise the kids together. And in Deventer, a town in the eastern region of the Netherlands, that model is flipped: Some college students there live in nursing homes alongside elderly people, who they socialize with and assist with various chores.
The modern cohousing movement began in Denmark in the 1970s, and there are now more than 700 “living communities” in Denmark alone, according to DePaulo. In each, dozens or even hundreds of Danish families live in homes built around shared spaces and common houses. “The residents wanted to see each other over the course of their everyday lives, and be there for each other in ways large and small,” writes DePaulo. The idea spread to several other countries, and Sweden even has a number of state-owned cohousing buildings, each populated by hundreds of residents. And that’s just this particular brand of shared living; 120,000 Israelis live in communal villages called kibbutzim, which originated about 100 years ago.