Have you heard of communal living? Learn what communal living means and why it matters more than ever before. And hear two honest stories from people who’ve already tried it out!
We live in times of unprecedented material prosperity.
Yet in Western countries, we also live in a world in which more and more people live alone and in isolation.
Since 1991, the number of single-person households in Germany has risen by 46%. Countless broken relationships and a divorce rate of almost 50% in the EU add to that tragedy. We live in a society where personal security and the power to decide on your own count more than community. Consumerism, emancipation, capitalism, egocentrism… all those undeniable trends have taken their toll on us.
Depression, anxiety and loneliness are on the rise. And lockdowns don’t do us a favour here either… According to a study, feeling lonely is actually more dangerous to your health than smoking or high blood pressure!
The environmental cost
These trends have been detrimental to our environment, too. Not only are our cities polluted and overcrowded (anybody who’s ever had to drive into town at rush hour will agree with me…). But the construction industry is also responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – much more than global aviation traffic. Alienated from nature, many city kids grow up without any understanding of nature and farming.
For a long time, we have been walking away from a lifestyle of community and sharing, towards an individualistic lifestyle centred around our space and our possessions.
Isn’t it high time for a change? Why not choose a different path towards a simpler, more sustainable & meaningful way of living?
Two stories of communal living
That, too, is part of Plentiful Lands’ vision! Personally, I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of communal living and sharing. And so, I’m always excited when I find out about people who are already living it out in one way or the other. To discover how that could look like in practice, I’ve asked two families who are experimenting with communal living to share their experiences.
Casa Adobe in Costa Rica
Ruth and her husband belong to an intentional Christian community, Casa Adobe, in Costa Rica. The community is learning what it means to live as actors in a story of a good creation in which all forms of life can flourish, by sharing meals, relocating refugees, gardening in an urban setting, getting involved in community organizing and hosting music nights. She says,
“If we had to title the predominant story people around the world live today, it would be called ‘Global Consumerism.’ The love of stuff justifies consuming people in the name of production, progress, and the maintenance of privilege. It also justifies the voracious plunder of our planet with no regard for the delicately balanced web of life, its most vulnerable members, or for the living conditions of future generations. And it eats away at our very soul, deafening us to the cries of the people, the cry of the earth, the cry of God’s Spirit in us. It shrivels up our imagination, so we succumb impassively to the status quo.
Living justly together as part of the living planetary community requires both concerted counter-cultural action and a re-casting of our imagination: not one without the other. How we respond to questions like ‘What is life for?’ ‘What is the good life?’ ‘What and who is valuable?’ determines our practices. And our committed practices nourish the necessary questions.
Casa Adobe’s vegetable garden
In Casa Adobe, patterns of communal prayer disquiet our natural tendencies to conform to the status quo and send us into action. Reducing our carbon footprint by sharing household appliances, limiting consumption and simplifying our lives, gardening, and organizing the community to carry out a river clean-up, all these actions push us back on our knees in humble acknowledgement of our limitations.
I am convinced that the re-casting of relationships between us as humans and of humanity with the rest of the living community requires that we step out of the individualistic matrix of single homes and private property. Far from slight tweaks here and there, the condition of our planet demands re-casting and embodying diverse forms and experiments of community sharing.
Will you dare to imagine living a new story with me?”
Two families in Switzerland
Tamara Boppart is a copywriter, creative and speaker. She works at Central Arts, a movement of creatives in pop culture and churches. Along with another family, they live together beneath a common roof in the Zurich area. She writes,
“Against the background of increasing individualization and with a general tendency for the unconventional, it was quickly clear to me after baby number two that we weren’t supposed to settle for a small family and a single-family house with a neat front garden. Too normative and narrow. But if not like that, how else do we want to live?
My husband and I took a pragmatic approach to this issue. We grabbed the best friends we had, proclaimed communal living for ourselves, without knowing exactly what we meant by that, and scrolled through the real estate portals. Many others also dream of alternative forms of living and community life. Just starting with it is probably still the best advice when it comes to realizing visions. There is no way around the first step.
So, we moved into a house in the countryside with two housing units. Births, garden parties, guests, a large dining table and creative projects have multiplied life under our common roof. After four years, the house became too small for all of this and again, we asked ourselves: How do we want to live? Our dreams were huge, the budget wasn’t. Because we didn’t want to let go of the former, we learned to plaster walls and lay floors. Four adults and eight children live under our roof. Two separate residential units and rooms for shared use. The two living rooms are connected by a door.
Rooms for living and sharing
Spaces inspire me. And not only because of aesthetics but also because of the possibilities and the stories that could be told in it. Home office, making music, growing vegetables, having guests, watching movies, writing books, hiding, choreographing, hosting parties, eating together, growing – there is room for our full lives.
In Switzerland, around a third of the population lives alone. Have we ever been alone as much as we are today? Doesn’t a year like 2020 show us what happens when we lose our social connections, the binding power that lies in encounters and being together?
It is a treasure not to have to enjoy and take responsibility for one’s life alone but to live with like-minded people. To work together and feel like you deeply belong is one of the most fundamental human needs. I think we are all looking for a place where we are understood without having to say much. Where we are seen without constantly having to cry for attention.
On the way to real coexistence, however, we stumble upon our own convenience when it comes to living in relationships. Why choose conscious closeness and vulnerability when I can protect myself in the anonymous distance? Why participate and give away my time if I could keep it for myself? And why choose conflict-ridden forms of households when you could just as well avoid it? Yes, not being alone has its price. After eight years of community life, I know that it can be a very high one.
And yet. When asked how I want to live, I’ve found my answer: in community. This makes my life and my faith so much richer, denser and more intense. Four walls and I myself are not enough for me.”
Do you dream of communal living? What does community mean to you?
Communal living is still more or less the norm in other countries. So I’m profoundly grateful to my international friends for opening up new horizons to me and inspiring me with their stories!
Please, feel free to share your story with us – or other people’s stories that inspire you
Teaser photo credit: Kevin Wolf on Unsplash. All uncaptioned photos courtesy of Unsplash.