We're halfway there, folks! Is anyone out there actually doing these, week to week? I'd love to hear how it is going for you.
At Community Solutions, one wonderful presentation on transportation focused on the advantages of "getting more butts in the seats" - and I'll write more about this next week. But today, I want to talk about a corrollary practice - getting more butts in our houses.
Over the last 50 years, the average housing space per person has risen from 250 square feet to 850 square feet. We're living in absolute mansions, mini-Versailles, as Miranda at simple-reduce so wisely calls them. We have more space than anyone could possible need, and because of that, we consume more resources - more space means more stuff to fill it, more heat, more light... While many younger people have roommates and housemates, as you get older, it gets less and less common - even though having others around to help out, share the load, and work together can be equally valuable at different stages of life.
Now I live in a giant house - it is an ancient, rambling old farmhouse, and four years ago, we added an addition for Eric's grandparents. The total house size is about 3800 square feet - putting our per person usage at right around the insane national average. And while we've proved you don't have to use a lot of energy in a big space, we're also frustrated, because we have more space than we need. It is hard to keep clean, a lot of work to deal with, and expensive to pay the taxes on.
We built the addition with the assumption that Eric's grandmother, who was comparatively young and healthy, would live with us for 10 years or more. By that time, we thought, one of our own parents might need the space, or my oldest, autistic son might be close to living on his own. But Eric's grandmother sadly died only a few months after her husband, our parents are in their 50s and early 60s and don't need any help, and my son is 7 1/2 years old and not going to get his own place for a long, long time. Meanwhile, I live in a six bedroom house, and my four kids, as I've said, not only all sleep in the same room, but most nights they end up in the same bed ;-). So the house is a bit of overkill.
The land is overkill too - talking with other CSA farmers in Yellow Springs, we pretty much all agree that without draft animals or tractors or large pasture arrangements, 1-1.5 acres is pretty much the maximum a single human being can manage by hand. We have 27 acres, most of it woods and pasture, but still plenty of room for more gardens and more expansion, but no time, and not enough energy. I'm writing more and farming less, and I'd love to share the work with someone else who cares about a piece of land and wants to commit to it.
My husband would rather have his fingernails ripped off than contemplate moving, so that brings me to the next option - just as instead of buying a higher mileage car you can carpool and effectively double your per person mileage, getting more people in our existing houses would dramatically increase their sustainability and efficiency. It costs the same to warm the house to 60 whether six people live there or one. And for every person like me with a giant house and a bunch of land, there's another person who has been priced out of the real estate market, or is struggling to get by.
Roommates are one option, consolidating with family another (I still have to write a post about how to actually live with your relatives - coming soon to this blog near you!), adopting more kids might be one option (and it is something we are also considering). But finding some way to get more people in your house is an excellent strategy for saving money, energy and building community.
Which brings me to our house, and its severe shortage of butts. As I said, we need more butts in our house. At the moment our friends have jobs elsewhere and lives they are happy with, our family is doing ok on its own. So we've decided to use the internet to seek out other people who might be compatible with the same basic goals and interests, who would like to share our home.
Announcing this is extremely scary for me, because I'm not always the easiest person on the planet to live with, and I particularly worry about what might happen when someone who thinks highly of me because they read my blog comes into regular contact with the real me, but the truth is this - we have to take some risks. So I'm going to take this one, and hope that maybe out there in internet land is a perfect match. I know, that sounds like dating already - but it sort of is, only this time it is family dating ;-). But there won't be a first kiss ;-).
What we're looking for, in the long term, is people who are interested in serious community building - that is, people who want a long term, extended family/close friend intimacy. Everything else is negotiable - what we're looking for are housemates who we'll enjoy living with and be the richer for knowing. We are not just looking to be someone's landlord - so what I'm actually proposing is something kind of like dating - that we'd spend a long time getting to know one another, and then take a risk - if you are interested. I would ask that anyone who emails me about this not be offended if we don't pursue you, or if we decide for some reason not to do this altogether - these kind of arrangements are delicate and I don't think anyone would be happy with a bad match.
I think it goes without saying that you have to be interested in the kind of life we live. That is, You don't have to use cloth tp, but we're not interested in seeing our power usage triple, either. If you come here, you'll be living with me, the whack-job environmentalist who periodically tries to argue her husband into turning the main power off entirely - forever. So far, he's winning the fight, and obviously other people will get votes on that too, but I would assume that you wouldn't be insane enough to want to share my home unless you were also into cutting your emissions and fossil fuel usage, Peak aware, and didn't mind having a crazy lady wander over for tea and a rant about the latest emissions stats.
We have a 1000 square foot downstairs apartment, extremely well insulated, with a new Soapstone wood stove. It has a bedroom, galley kitchen and living room, as well as a freakishly large bathroom, and a sun porch. There are also, adjoining in the "main" part of the house two additional small bedrooms with intersecting bathroom that might be added to the deal. Or we could just have the whole house open to everyone and divvy up space in other ways, depending on inclination.
Our ideal candidates would probably be people in a similar stage of life as ours, with young kids of their own (mine are now 7 1/2, 6, not quite 4 and 2), because you'll be used to noise, mess and chaos. We're willing to consider other people, but if you haven't lived in a farm family with small kids and pets, you might be surprised how disruptive it is. We're happy to share land, house and resources, including animals, and would love to share farm work with you. The people we imagine would be extremely flexible, fun to be around, patient with me and the kids (my husband is easy), not too neat, or at least tolerant of us (we're slobs), handy (we're not especially), and interested in building a partly communal, partly separate arrangment, and willing to make delicate negotiations between privacy and sharing.
Money is up for discussion - this isn't primarily about money for us. So are long term possibilities for working out a legal stake for people we've proved we can live and work with in this land. Our goal is to make friends, share values with people, make change in our area, and pool our resources - we're open to some barter and possible ways of sharing expenses. We're trying very hard to bring our place up to speed for the coming crisis, and people who want to share in that project are essential. Living out in the country the way we do can be isolating, and we have more than we need right now - while some kind of economic arrangement will be necessary, we're flexible, and having friends and people to share the work with right here would be valuable to us. Trust me, you'll be expected to kick in, but we're not shooting to make a profit here.
I would encourage other people to take this risk as well - a lot of us had plenty of roommates back in the college and grad school days, and for me at least, those are mostly happy memories. In some ways it is harder now - not because I mind sharing more, but because we own the property and I don't much care to be someone's landlord. I'm hoping we can achieve something a little more equal in the long term. If other people want to consider homesharing (who aren't already) and post links in the comments sections, I invite you do so.
Please email me at email@example.com if you are interested in pursuing this. Right now I'm under the gun finishing my book, so I can't promise I'll do anything more than write this post and read your response before the beginning of December - please don't take it personally. But I'd like to hear from you, and begin thinking about making some changes.
Seriously - you can cut your emissions two ways - use less, or spread your use around. Consider getting more butts in your house, if you've got the room.
Edited to add: After I posted this, I spotted Stuart Staniford's analysis on the subject of extended families living together, and I'd really like to direct everyone's attention to it here: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3198. I'm thrilled that Staniford, one of the best analysts out there, is turning his energies towards household change. The simple truth is, if anything I think Staniford radically underestimates how powerful this kind of social, domestic change could be. He rates this as slightly lower than raising fuel efficiency - but I think that's absolutely wrong - people living together could be vastly more important than fuel efficiency standards, and have a huge host of impacts all over our consumption. Please do check it out.