What It Was Like Growing Up on a Commune
My parents made less money than I do, and yet they had much more time.

Inviting our friends into a larger part of our lives means reclaiming more of our time from the isolation of work and daily survival. Our social lives and our survival become the same thing. Entertaining each other at dinner parties will always be fun, but what about sharing child care or joining community organizations together? When it comes to working for my employer, a strict boundary is essential. But when it comes to hanging out with my friends, why should I be so rigid? Why not allow my social life to overtake my errand running and my chores? Why must we try to “entertain” each other when our relationships would become much deeper and more interesting if we did things together other than nibble hors d’oeuvres and drink wine?

The biggest lessons from communal living probably have to do with child care and elder care, I suspect, simply because post-industrial isolation-living has screwed over caretakers so bad.

I found this via Anne Helen Petersen, who wrote:

Even people who come out on theoretical top of this personal choice pile — because of income, race, inherited wealth, credentials, location, home equity — are still miserable. Everyone’s doing their own dishes and we’re all lonely. So what would other ways of living look like? We often don’t have to look too far to find them: they’re in our immediate histories, even in our immediate proximity, in everything from babysitting co-ops to barnraisings. You don’t need a lot of resources to start them. You just need an abundance of imagination, enough to overcome our current understanding of what the rhythms of daily life should look like.

I’m in an incredibly privileged position and I can feel how true this is. I want to start working with my little household to figure out how enmeshing ourselves with others could look post-pandemic…


I (as I imagine many) am a bit torn on this idea. There is a lot of positive things to be said about this in theory and I do remember my days living in a big shared student home very fondly.

But on the other hand, most of the time these kind of communal living styles come to be out of economic necessity, and for many they are not a very pleasant experience. If you have the means to leave any time, sure you can probably find an arrangement for a while that fits your needs, but often this isn’t the case, at least for some.

In addition, I see a clear pattern that leftist people feeling lonely tend to romanticize such living arrangements. Which is probably not the ideal starting point.

Needs and expectations also tend to fundamentally differ, and small grudges over that can easily become bigger issues with lots of passive-aggressiveness making everyone feel miserable.

So at the very least one should probably go into such an arrangement with the explicit expectation for it to fail badly and try to set up some safe-guards for that right at the beginning.

But that said, the current status quo has also failed our society very badly, so we need to find novel ways of living together, and a communal style will in some form probably play a role in it…


“Living arrangements” in terms of, you know, bedrooms around a kitchen… that’s only one aspect of how people enact this – and because it’s the most All Or Nothing, I think it’s not the most useful as a starting point, you know? I think I’ve seen the same romanticization you have, and it does strike me how young the person often is doing that romanticizing…

What I think is useful about this piece is how it points out how these attitudes extend beyond commune-type living; every extended family juggling child-cousins around so parents can run errands is doing the exact same thing. Every time friends arrange a joint Costco trip because Jessica has a minivan and Amanda likes the churros – they’re engaging in the same spirit.

Rather than setting up dramatic changes in living arrangements, my guess is we’d all be better served if we looked around at the community we already have and the things in our lives we already need to get done and figured out how to come together a little more to do them.


Agreed, but lets not forget that all social arrangements come at a significant cost of mental effort (see also: theory of evolutionary brain development). This might come natural for some, but not so for others.

I think this style of community support definitely has a place in certain circumstances, but personally I feel more comfortable with shared infrastructure that does not require as much social effort to use.


Comparisons between stages of evolution do not neatly apply to comparisons between lifestyles; we can’t conclude that a large brain adapted to social interaction is better off in its absence. (See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/ and general health consensus tbh)

This is all pretty broad brush, of course; individuals are different and neurodivergent people are gonna want to tackle things differently, etc. etc. I’d say at the 50,000 feet view, the general US pattern of small households that try to solve all their problems alone is a pendulum too far to one side, and its social norms are in the way of people figuring out what might work better for them.

This feels like a very important point. Not easy though, when your neighbourhood is already fixed in a different mould.

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