By Wendy Wiesner
Tiny Houses and shared living arrangements are currently hot topics on the COHO-US Listserv, tapping into the consistently popular themes of affordabiity and simplicity.
Can these now-trendy models that trade-off square footage and private amenities for more affordable, manageable lives deliver on our high expectations?
Since cohousing has already been doing precisely this for over 30 years, incorporating the lessons learned from it makes sense.
One crucial insight is that being intentional with design--first and foremost considering it within the context of human needs and the real human beings who will actually live there--matters.
Some are taking this collective wisdom of cohousing and applying it to various modes of living, which is helping these models to evolve and succeed.
This discussion about Tiny Houses and shared living arrangements brings to mind the efforts of former COHO US Executive Director Oz Ragland to define a new shared housing model called Cohouseholding (cohouseholding.org).
Oz has lived in the Songaia Cohousing Community in Bothell, Washington for many years. Recently, he moved into a shared house co-located in the community, which was designed with cohousing principles in mind.
Cohouseholding, as it is succinctly defined on the Berkeley Cohousing website: "Unlike the Cohousing model (multiple private homes sharing common facilities), Cohouseholding focuses on unrelated adults who share a single dwelling - creating shared households".
To make this model truly workable, Oz has factored in some very practical considerations. For example, when sharing a kitchen, often the mission-critical bottleneck is found at the sink.
Planning for two sinks in a shared kitchen--which at the outset might seem like an "American Way" luxury--might just be the key to long term harmony and efficiency in a shared living situation.
Bathrooms are another area where this kind of strategic thinking has been applied. As a female, I unabashedly admit that my requirements here--both in terms of optimal space and time allotted--are much different than my husband's. Again, for the sake of harmony and efficiency, more than one bathroom might not be wanton excess (for some people, but not necessarily everyone).
Point is, creating environments that naturally foster the best in us--both as individuals and groups--is a key element of any affordable living strategy, no matter what the housing type. If the physical situation is untenable, or just plain drives us crazy, we'll most likely have to change it at some point, and there will be costs involved.
To wit: in one episode of Tiny House Nation, there was not enough room in this home's bedroom for Dad to stretch out his arms out and put on a dress shirt. If a person has to either go in the kitchen or outside to put on his/her clothes, this is most probably a problem. Had this fellow been a few inches shorter, all would have been fine.
Ultimate question in my opinion is this: how can the physical environment, whether a Tiny House, shared housing, Cohouseholding or Cohousing (in the most traditional sense), buttress and/or enhance the well-being of its residents?
One of the many brilliant aspects of Cohousing is that it addresses this question on a macro or community/neighborhood level, and to a certain extent on the micro level (do we need/want a washer and dryer in every unit, or not?).
Deeper shared living situations and Tiny Houses require that we put even greater thought into the micro-level decisions (which the Cohouseholding model has done), and that we think in service of built environments that will be designed (or redesigned) from the outset to bring out the best in ourselves and others.
The reward is living our lives more affordably, more sanely, both today--and tomorrow.
Wendy Willbanks Wiesner
Founding Board Member and Treasurer, Partnerships for Affordable Cohousing (PFAC)
Note: Since writing this post, Chuck Durrett has been making connections with the key creaters of a Tiny House community in Eugene, Oregon called Opportunity Village.