Why So Many Millennial Couples are Opting for Cohousing
Remember back in college, when you lived in the dorms and could spontaneously hang out with your friends after (or before) finishing your homework? There were no meticulously-planned coffee dates sandwiched in between the sparse free hours in both of your schedules, no logistically-complicated hangouts that were a headache to plan and frequently canceled. Many of us look back on those days with nostalgia, considering them some of the best times of our lives. What if adult life with your partner could be like that, but with more privacy? Enter cohousing.
Cohousing is a type of semi-communal housing which involves a cluster of private residences together with shared community space(s). In some cohousing communities, all residents live in free-standing houses, whereas in others they rent units in a shared building. There is usually a community building consisting of shared space for activities, a shared kitchen (although private residences also usually contain their own smaller kitchens), and sometimes other shared facilities (such as laundry). Cohousing residents enjoy the privacy of their own space and the social benefits of a dormitory, and many millennial couples are opting to try it out.
The nuclear family, on the other hand, is a relatively new innovation on family life and societal structure. Although it was the norm in England (Hymowitz, 2013) and other parts of northwestern Europe as far back as the 13th century (Strauss, 2016), in most of today’s developed world the nuclear family is really a product of the industrial revolution (Hymowitz, 2013). And in most of the developing world (in other words, most of the world), people still live in extended family groups which are part of close-knit communities rather than in nuclear families.
Living in such conditions is not to be romanticized; it comes with many challenges, from lack of privacy and independence to abundance of gossip and expectations. However, more communal-style living arrangements do offer some advantages. Increasing numbers of millennials are feeling the strain from the financial and social pressures of nuclear family life as housing prices increase disproportionately to income for both buyers and renters. In fact, millennial couples are less likely to own homes than both their parents and grandparents when they were the same age; at the same time, they’re saddled with unprecedented amounts of student loan debt (Dickler, 2020). Sharing bills, chores, and even food preparation with others, by contrast, can reduce the load not only financially but also energetically on each individual.
Couples with children also experience added stress from the constraints of needing to raise kids on their own, without much help from their community or extended family compared to what was the norm for our ancestors who lived more communally in villages and extended family groups. The nuclear family also does not offer the by-default close relationships conferred by communal life, and our packed schedules do not make it easy to form many close relationships. As a result, there is extra pressure in romantic relationships for partners to fill a multitude of social roles for one another–lover, best friend, housemate, confidante, etc.
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Social connection is integral to human health. Not feeling socially connected actually puts our nervous systems into a state of stress, and over 40% of Americans report suffering from loneliness. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon general, compared the health effects of loneliness to the effects of smoking fifteen cigarettes per day. Loneliness increases the risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions (Kluger, 2021). Being in a coupled partnership is fantastic for social connection, but it cannot and should not fill all of one’s social needs and is also further enhanced by strong social connections outside the relationship. Faced with social isolation and other drawbacks of nuclear family life, unprecedented numbers of millennial couples are turning to cohousing (Strass, 2016).
As of 2016, there were over 1,500 cohousing communities registered with the Foundation for Intentional Communities (FIC) either established or in the process of forming in the US alone. The actual number is likely far higher, as many are not formally registered with the FIC (Strauss, 2016). The concept of community living may have sounded niche or hippie ten years ago, but it is rapidly becoming more mainstream.
Most cohousing arrangements (also called coliving) are organized around a shared interest or common vision. There are ecologically-oriented cohousing communities, spiritual ones, digital nomad communities, programmer co-ops, religious communities, you name it. Here are a few examples popular with millennial couples:
–Outsite offers long and short-term coliving spaces for digital nomads, with sites all over the world (including in the US). Digital nomad couples enjoy an above-average amount of freedom but are also frequently plagued by social isolation as a result of frequent travel and lack of a physical work environment with colleagues; operations like Outsite offer affordable living with a revolving-door cast of other digital nomads and entrepreneurs. They also appeal to millennials’ environmental sensibilities; they plant one tree on one of their sites for every booking reservation made, compost and recycle as much as possible, and host multiple events every year aimed at raising awareness of environmental issues (Outside, 2021).
–Belfast Couhousing and Ecovillage in Maine brings together people who want to live an ecologically-sustainable lifestyle surrounded by community. There are 32 private residence units throughout a cluster of free-standing buildings centered around a large two-story common house, and all of the houses are designed to be ‘net zero’ in terms of their energy usage (Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage). Their residents tend to be a mix of millennial families and retirees; the generations live symbiotically, with the older folks often helping to look after the children.
-Co-working brand WeWork operates coliving spaces in New York City ranging in size from studio apartments within shared spaces to four-bedroom units. They’re designed to provide residents with the perks of a vibrant social environment at a more affordable price than other apartments in the city. In addition to the regular rent and bills, the price tag also includes fitness classes in a common exercise and activity space (Dickler, 2020).
Cohousing and Prenups
Living in a cohousing community brings up many unique questions and options to discuss regarding what goes into your prenuptial agreement. Some of these items will be legally enforceable, while others can go into a lifestyle clause, which helps you to set expectations and be accountable to one another and yourselves. Here are some cohousing-specific questions and considerations to discuss:
Here are 5 things to remember when you bring up a prenup.
-Most cohousing committees require members to pay fees that go towards upkeep of the community, shared resources and facilities, and/or events. How will you divide these costs? Will one spouse be responsible for them, will you share them equally, or will you each contribute a percentage based on your income? Will this agreement change in the case of a separation?
-In case of a separation, would the two of you be ok with seeing one another around the community all the time, or would one of you need to leave? If so, who would get to stay in the community, and who would agree to go elsewhere?
-If you decide that you would both stay in the community, are there any ground rules around how you would interact with and treat one another after a separation? Will you have agreements around whether it is ok to discuss the details of your situation with other community members (and if so, could it be discussed freely, or shared only with a select number of people only?)
-Couples who choose to include infidelity clauses in their prenup might also elect to include something specific regarding consequences for infidelity that occurs with another member of the same cohousing community.
-If you have purchased property within the community together, who will retain this shared property, and how will the other party be compensated?
-If both partners decide to leave the community following a separation, who will be responsible for liquidating the house or unit? In a community, many times a unit cannot simply be sold or rented to just anyone; new community members must undergo a rigorous entry process. In this case, who will be responsible for covering the costs of the unit until a suitable new community member comes in and takes over? Check out our gettin hitched checklist to read about what you need to think about before getting married.
Cohousing is an excellent alternative for couples who want to save money while living in community, and a strong sense of community can also support and enhance a coupled relationship, making it more likely to stand the test of time. If you and your partner are interested in exploring this option, start with the Foundation for Intentional Communities. Good luck!
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Hymowitz, K. The Real Roots of the Nuclear Family. Retrieved from: https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-real-roots-of-the-nuclear-family/
Dickler, J. 2020. Like a College Dorm for Adults, Co-living is the Next Big Thing
Kluger, J. N.D. Everyone Needs Someone Else. Retrieved from: https://time.com/intentional-communities/
Merriam Webster, 2021. Cohousing. Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cohousing
Outsite. N.D. Outsite. Retrieved from: https://www.outsite.co/
Strauss, Ilana. 2016. The Hot New Millennial Housing Trend is a Repeat of the Middle Ages. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/millennial-housing-communal-living-middle-ages/501467/
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected].