Monday, November 12, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 26 - More Butts in Your House

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 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: 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.



Anonymous said...


If anyone I respected as much as you but who lived much closer to us in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa made this offer, I'd very strongly consider selling the house and taking them up on this. But we just can't move to upstate New York. What a wonderful idea/offer, though! I hope many more will start thinking this way.

Best of luck in finding the right match. I bet you will succeed.

Lisa in Central MN

Rosa said...

Have you thought about advertising in Communities magazine? Or looking at their listings?

We finally had to stop having roomates, i couldn't keep up with the work and we had problems finding people who were responsible enough to pitch in but not already attached to stable households. But I do think if we had a whole separate apartment we could do it. I hope you find the right people.

Anonymous said...

An excellent idea, but what is your timeframe for finding people who fit the bill?

I suspect the more patient you are the better- maybe be prepared to keep your antennae up for years? WWOOFing in the short term might be a way to put your toes in the water (and start sharpening your ability to read people from early impressions). As the world situation progresses you may find yourself with a richer choice of more dedicated participants.

On the size of a self sufficient property I can agree. We have been on our two acres for a year now and already find ourselves grateful we didnt try and take on anything bigger. Anything about this size you can aim to manage with hand tools with a couple of peoples labour, and it will produce enough food for about 3 people year round, though commercial staples like grains and beans will probably be around for a long time, so there is no absolute need to grow everything you need. Same with woods and grazing land- there is so much of it around it is often easier to use it indirectly. Scavenge fallen branches and barter with a neighbor on a bigger property to let a milk goat browse. There are many ways to use land that dont involve owning it- your farm sharing offer is proof of that.

Amelia said...


Yes! We're very hopeful that our son will continue to live with us (and his partner will as well), as otherwise there's far more space here than we need.

If we do wind up moving, we've been offered the addition at a friend's (built for reasons similar to your own) just until our own place is built: he's been trying to encourage his sister and her family to move in so that the children can attend a very good school in their catchment area, and they've got enough land and space to hold everyone comfortably.

I wish you every success!

daharja said...

If you have so many acres, have you thought about subletting the bulk of the land for pasture or cropping? If there's an agricultural college close by, you could sublet to th college for free, in return for a share of whatever the college produces on your land. I'm just coming up with ideas here, but there are lots of ways you can use unused land, without necessarily selling it or building on it. Depending on the area you live in, your local council could be interested in reforesting it for you, and doing the work for you, if the area is severely degraded.

As far as the house goes, you don't have to sell to move to small accommodation. Why not rent the place out, and move down the road to a smaller home? You could rent your place for more than the rent on the smaller home, enjoy the payout on the difference, and never have to work again if you are still currently working :-)

The home would still remain yours, you can move back in any time you want, and in the meanwhile you're getting the benefit of owning it without having to pay for the heating, cooling etc. Sounds sensible to me. Depending on your government, there could be tax benefits to renting out a property as well as being a renter yourself as opposed to living in the family home (two ex-workmates of mine actually live in each other's homes, to take advantage of tax breaks given to renters and landlords in Australia in this way).

Think outside the box. The home as it stands is a burden to you. Turn it into an asset, instead of a liability, and the way to do that is, quite simply, not to live in it and pay all the added costs of a huge home you don't need. If you can't bear to part with it or the area, like I said, move down the road to a smaller home that better suits your needs.

In the end, a house is just a pile of bricks and wood. Thats it. What turns a house into a home is feeling good about yourself, your relation to the planet, and your sense of place, family and community. If you are uncomfortable with living in the ridiculous US average of housing, be better than average and move out! Be proactive instead of reactive, and you, your family, your budget and the planet will all benefit.

That sounds sensible to me.

jsb said...

I highly, highly recommend joining families and sharing space. Since getting married 12 years ago, we've almost always lived in some communal setting, either student housing or sharing an apartment. For a couple years we lived with another couple, sharing the same physical space. It was great: we had 8 hands to raise one child, and 8 hands to cook, clean, and share in our homemaking. It was a big house, about 2300 square feet and we never felt that we lacked privacy.

Our friends moved away from Minnesota. (The now live not far from you in Saratoga Springs, actually) It was that experience of living so closely and having so much help raising children that convinced us that it was very important to live with others. So, after a variety of other life changes, including having another child, we bought a duplex with another couple and have been living with them for two and a half years. It has been the ABSOLUTE best decision we have ever made, both in terms of living our our values and building community.

We downsized from our 2300 sq ft for the four of us to about 1100 sq ft. Our total household size is about 2000 sq ft for six people, 333 sq ft each. (Although we've stopped having kids, our friends haven't started, so that ratio will go down.)

Downsizing space allowed us to jettison a whole lot of things that we didn't really care about and to focus on a simpler, less cluttered lifestyle. We also chose a more walkable neighborhood with better bus service.

With our friends, we've reduced our energy consumption significantly and support one another's commitment to a simpler lifestyle. Our friends don't own a car, nor rely on ours, and we've been able to do fine with one car, public transportation and a car sharing program ( If there was a more direct public transportation route to the school we'd probably be able to not own a car.

The other night, we did the energy consumption calculations proposed by the Riot for Austerity, and we're pleasantly surprised. Although it's not up yet, we're working on our own little blog, where we'll post the numbers some time soon:

We're getting better about growing our food. Along with edible landscaping (apples, cherries, cranberries, ribes and berries) we also have a small but significant backyard garden. We also maintain a community garden plot a couple blocks away.

We are stocking our root cellar seriously for the first time this season. Most of the produce comes from local producers. We're blessed to have, which is something like the extended CSA you've described. In addition, we've got a great source for raw milk and cheese. I think we're very close to getting 75%-80% of our food from sources within a 100 miles from home. It gets better as we learn to preserve and to find sources.

Anyway, this is all to say, go for it! We were made to live in community, not to be isolated. The folks at Community Solution have absolutely got it right: community is the solution to the crises facing us. One can grow lots of food, stock up to be secure, live off the grid, etc. etc. however, non of those kinds of investments are as resilient, long-lasting or rewarding as investing in living with people you care about and building community.

I think it is a great shame that we have built so many norms and structures that have created isolated families. That is the dark side of the "self sufficient," "40 acres and a mule" archetype. It's people living closely with one another and caring for one another that will make the difference in the times ahead.

We're not trying to live out some sort of utopian or communist ideology. We're just sharing space, food, and raising kids. There's no formula, just people who like to live together and like each other. It's pretty easy actually; it's less work and more fun. It's more of everything we care about.

Kiashu said...

Sounds great! We're on the wrong continent, though, or else I'd be straight over there this afternoon ;)

I think the WWOOFing is an excellent idea, it'll give you a taste of the sharing to see how you like it, and as anonymous said, help you learn how to get a quick idea of how people are likely to fit in with you. You may also discover how tolerant you are of having to teach others how to do things on a day-to-day basis - doing it with adults is different to children...!

Best of luck, I applaud your efforts.

Wendy said...

Great idea! I've thought about renting out a room on a couple of occasions, but unfortunately, if the average American is wanting 850 sq feet, coming into our home would be quite a disappointment. We have a 1500 sq ft house on a 1/4 acre, and we already have five people in our family - plus the assorted pets :).

I love your weekly ideas, though. We have been reading them, and while we're not officially "rioting", we are actually making many of the same changes you propose, or our situation is already what you're suggesting (as with our house with only 300 sq ft per person).

Mike (planbe) said...

Great idea, though you're in the wrong country for us :-> Community-ish living (we have our son and daughter-in-law living in a cottage on our property, and had my in-laws living there for about five years) has many other benefits -- someone to look after animals and garden when you're away, someone to borrow a drop of milk from for coffee, thus avoiding a trip to shops, someone to share pizzas when making dough for two is impractical, someone to help lifting feedbags when you've injured a knee... the list is endless.

Small thought: More people living in the house should reduce heating/fuel costs, since human bodies are pretty effective space heaters all by themselves!

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a great idea and I hope you find a lovely family like yours to share with. I wish I could apply but a I live way across the Atlantic from you :(. In the UK houses are smaller I think because we don't have as much space as you in the US. We (6 of us) live in a 750 sq ft home - that's only 125 sq ft per person! We could do with an extra bedroom but apart from that I wouldn't want a house that's too much bigger. I'd love a bigger garden though, so we could grow more of our own food and maybe have some chickens (for eggs).

Anonymous said...

We, on the other hand, could practically be dating we live so close to you. I wonder if you could stand living with two shrieking girls (10, 8) and a five year old boy who lives to play baseball. And a woman who cannot figure out how to knit socks. And a man who makes huge messes in the kitchen making beer. And two large dogs, two snippy cats and assorted poultry. Drew and I have explored communal living several times; we were interested in the eco-village in Ithaca but that turned out to be waaaaaay to expensive. We checked out a community that was trying to form outside of Troy and we talked to the Quaker community that is forming in Columbia Co. Money really turned out to be the big issue. Having enough start-up capital to buy into the community. We just didn't have it, you know? At any rate, we're always thinking and talking about how ridiculous it is that we all live in the humongous spaces, or even small spaces, ALONE with no-one to help with the laundry, the cooking, the sickness, the loneliness, etc. etc. I hear you.
Heidi in Schodack

adamek said...

Have you thought about setting up some kind of agricultural internship? Advertise on some campuses and you could probably get some workers for room and board.

I'm a recent subscriber to your blog. Do you have chickens and/or goats. Goats don't need just fields they can also browse on underbrush in woods. They're an easy low tech way to keep woods clear, though if you want young replacement saplings you'll have to keep the goats away.

Cinnumeg said...


I'm interested in talking about this sort of thing. Adding my energy into any sort of "lifeboat" community is something I would like to explore. Not sure I'm ready to commit to a major change, but I'm receptive to lots of ideas. Guess that's where I'm at--gathering ideas right now.

If I may gush about myself, I'm a very interesting fellow, and I'm quite adaptable. One drawback is that I'm pretty much by myself. I have a partner who lives in Troy, but I don't think he'd be into this sort of arrangement. We've started talking about the economy though, and we're both concerned about so much stuff. He has a massage practice, and he's a Reiki master. We're both eclectic witches too. I'm an astrologer and tarot card reader as well. And I have an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and am on the board of a community theater here in Albany. Played Capt. Hook in Peter Pan at Indian Ladder Farms over the summer. (As I said, I'm an interesting guy.)

I've been employed as a legal secretary/word processor since about 1999. I'm really tired of that, and I want to do something else. Don't have a lot of money myself, but I'm healthy--I lost 110 pounds 4 years ago. There's a lot of possibility in all this that I'm attempting to work with.

More to come. Unless this has tired you of me already. Still, I feel that I can't shut anything out as of yet. The more information, the more knowledge and best of all, the more wisdom I can avail myself of the better.

Richard in Albany

LaVonne said...

Oh man, if I was 30 years younger, I'd be applying in a heartbeat. I've lived with roommates much of my adult life for economic reasons, and it rarely worked out for long, sadly. I think it was because I put ads in the paper for other single mothers and we didn't really take the time to get to know each other first. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Sharon isn't there some kind of Jewish courting where you don't date but talk (chaperoned) and as soon as one of you hears something that makes you think a marriage with the other person won't work out, you stop the process? Sound like that's what you need to do, except rather than just stop the process make sure you are actually taking about the same thing, etc.

MEA, who has toyed with the idea of moving in with Sharon, but can't get her parents up to speed on the idea and is worried about moving dd the younger from her doctors...

Louise Z. said...

This is one I'm doing! My son moved back with me in my 12x60 mobile home and we have the two little ones 1 1/2 and 4, two-four days [24 hrs.] each week. Lots of luck and patience finding someone. Hugs

Rejin L said...

Wow, very brave of you to put this out there, Sharon. I have been seeing more of this in the city (New York): extended families sharing a brownstone, et c. As the housing crunch tightens and heating becomes more expensive, this is the only logical way to go. I always wonder what people are thinking who build those big, showy places for a family of two or three.
We invited a friend to come live with us when he lost his space, and have never regretted it. My son loves him like the grandfather he never met.

homebrewlibrarian said...

While I think it would be grand to live near or with you, Sharon, I'm not willing to move from my home in Alaska. On the other hand, a long time friend who was at one point my landlord and I are talking about me moving back. He owns a building in an urban area with two one bedroom apartments on the lower level and a three bedroom apartment above them. His daughter, son-in-law and grandson plus a roommate live upstairs and he's in one of the lower apartments. The other apartment needs renovation (from water damage last year) and once that is underway, he'll move there and I'll move into his apartment. He, his daughter and I have been discussing gardening and fruit trees and all three of us took knitting classes ;-) He'll be charging me rent (at $250/mth less than where I live now, I'm rather motivated to move back) but all that I give him will go right back into the property to provide upgrades and renovations. I'm the most gainfully employed of the lot of us and have offered to purchase items that would be of use to all (tools, equipment, etc.).

Had this opportunity not come up, I would be looking for a roommate to share the two bedroom apartment I now rent. But I'm not happy with no place to garden (I tried container gardening but out of sight is definitely out of mind for me and nothing did well) and being alone. Once I move back, I'll be sharing meals with my friend and other activities with everyone there. While we won't be sharing one "house" we will be occupying the same footprint and seeing each other frequently.

The big trick will be educating the upstairs folks to reduce their usage of everything. I think they wash clothes daily! And I don't even want to think about all the diapers they throw away. Well, it will take babysteps but if we're all working on the same things together, breaking the washing machine habit (or the shower habit or the disposable diaper habit, etc.) will be achieveable.

Good luck finding a match. Perhaps you need a shadchen??


Michelle said...

Me, my pointee toe shoe daughters,hubby, and 7 sheep will be right over. hehe.
Jus' kiddin'.

Nice thought, but you need to consider what won't work.
Guns, beer, music etc.

Good luck.

jewishfarmer said...

Hi Folks - That is the problem, isn't it - everyone lives where they live, and I live where I live for various reasons. It can be tough to consider relocation - I understand that. But I'm excited by the responses I've had, and hopeful about the possibilities.

Michelle, I do have some absolute restriction that can be discussed when we get to that point, my husband and I lived for years in graduate school with a couple we adore, and would still be living with if our locations and jobs were compatible. Our friend "Avi" is a hard drinking metal head who played loud music at 2 am. He is also one of our best friends, the godfather of our second son and someone who I'd live with now if I could. So I'm wary of placing too many advance restrictions, other than those of health and safety, upon this discussion. Don't worry, we're aware of the issues, though.

I want sheep, and a few little girls around would be refreshing - when do you get here ;-)?

Rosa, I appreciate the suggestion -I figured I'd try the blog first and see where it gets me, but we may seek further afield if need be.

Right now, we're less interested in renting or having WWOOFers - these days I'm writing more than farming, and probably couldn't justify their time. I suspect that if we could find the right match, this would probably do us best, but thank you all for the suggestions. We both have a lot of experience living with people, and we're excited about the idea, if a bit nervous.

Heidi, if you aren't joking, send me an email - and we've got to get together. Just give me until December to finish the book. Seriously, you sound perfect - we've got 4 shrieking boys, none of whom has yet really discovered baseball (but we'd like them to), two dogs, four cats and assorted livestock, so I'm not sure we'd even notice yours ;-). Eric would love to learn to make beer, and I'll show you how to knit socks if you'll help us get into Suzuki (am I remembering right that you do that quite seriously?). It sounds like a dream come true! Just give me until December, and let's get together.

And thank you all for the wonderful and inspiring stories about your own experiences living with other people - I'm enjoying hearing about them so much!


Richard, I'm not going to do much replying on the blog here, but send an email and we can talk about it.

Adamek, we're not able to handle an intern right now, but maybe eventually. And we do have chickens, and are expecting goats in the spring.

Daharja, there is a lot of land where I live, more available for rent than really is needed, and no ag college very close - also no houses for rent nearby, since this is quite a rural area. I think this option suits us best right now.

Anonymous said...

And here's me at the other end of the spectrum.

For the past 15 years my place (4 bedrooms) has been filled to overflowing with my adult children, foster children (100 + at last count) friends and their adult children and partners. We always had a marvellous time. In the last eight months there is suddenly only me bumbling around the place. Getting too old for foster kids, waiting for one of them to get out of jail, best friend died, adult children all moved out into their own places, garden too huge to manage on my own (arthritis).

Now the thought of filling the place up again scares me. I'm too old and tired to bother. There is an obviously homeless older woman who hangs around the local shopping centre who I have considered making contact with to see if she would like to visit. There are refugees looking for space to start their lives again. So many people who could use the space, support and company.

By this time next year I expect I will have sold this place and found myself a small unit complete with a small garden. Definately a move in the wrong direction, but the only sensible thing I can think of to do

fostermama said...

I was pointed here by one friend, and have just pointed another friend your way. The word is getting out, even just from this blog post. And I think it'd be a great match for her, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Kamilla said...

Thank you!
I'm tired of reading about environmental home designs for houses over 5000 square feet. If it's that big, it's not an environmentally sound design.

MovieMasher said...

I'm sure you'll find someone great - probably many great someones will turn up. If you had posted this a few months ago I would have jumped, since it's exactly the kind of situation I was looking for. (Well, an artsy ecovillage would have been great too, if affordable.)

I wound up in my own little cottage with friendly neighbors, but there were several great 'inlaw' apartments on small 'hobby' farms available in the area (Hudson Valley). Unfortunately all of them would have required a car :(

I found these situations by placing an ad on Craig's List that included a good bit of personality, since the dynamic really is similar to online dating. I figured folks would want to know a lot about me before connecting, because a failed connection at so personal a level can be uncomfortable all around.

I hope those who contact you about the place remember to provide enough background, links, and especially a picture, so you can get a sense of who they are before engaging. And nobody should get upset if they don't get a reply - just like on dating sites, it's often better form to just ignore a message than respond with lack of interest.


Mum said...

I tried something like this, and I'm sure it's the right way to go even tho' my way didn't work out. I had a 4-bedroom home, daughter at university and 16 year old son so sick I wasn't sure he'd live to be 17. Some Africans rented the next house and started helping me out with gardening and chores and watching my son so I could just go out of the house sometimes. They sent me on holiday to their relatives in Africa - something I wish everyone could do, I learnt so much about not wasting water or any other thing that could be re-used and living without fuel.
To cut a long story short I married a guy, brought him and his 4 sons to live with me. And they borrowed so much money against the value of my house to get all the things I'm trying to give up, now they've moved out and I have to sell up just to pay the debts. Somehow I'd like to get the message back to Africa that we need them to be ambassadors of a sustainable way to live, instead of every African taking terrible risks to get into the wealthy countries so they can live like us and throw stuff away - my husband's relatives in this country will only wear new designer labels and don't even use the doorstep recycling collections we have here.
If only we could get the right messages exchanged between ourselves, who could share our unsustainable riches, and our overseas cousins who have so much they could teach us but would prefer to learn our worst excesses...

Gretchen said...

you're appealing to all my fantasies about farms and communal living and whatnot. Sometimes I think we're idiots for staying here when Dave could likely get a job teaching anywhere in the country. Other times I think we'd be idiots to leave, since my family is so close by here and it makes sense to stay money-wise. Of course, it would take forever to sell the house now anyway, so I should probably stay focused on the "we'd be idiots to leave" angle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon:

The agricultural internships idea is a good one, or how about a graduate student at your hubby's school? When I lived in the states, I always had a grad student or post-doc in the spare room who would maintain the garden, house-sit when I was on research trips, or help out with house maintenance in exchange for a place to stay. They were able to stretch their small budget more effectively, and I got some help that I needed.

Best of luck on finding the right person or people. And, I giggled when you talked about "butts" Here in the UK, we call them bottoms here or bums. The only time "butt" is used is in the context of a water butt=a rain barrel. So more of those kinds of butts for the house are a good thing too!


Anna Marie

Anonymous said...

if i read or hear the words "think outside the box" one more time in this foolish society i am going to take the gas pipe.

Anonymous said...

For people living in urban environments, there is another way to bring more butts into the home that has a long tradition behind it, and tends to flourish in hard times -- the boarding house.

Setting up a home to comfortably rent out a couple of rooms or a whole zone to others can make a big difference to both people needing a room and to home-owners or renters.

It's a very flexible arrangement: the same slightly adapted house can be a B&B or student homestay when times are good, a boarding house when money is tight -- and take in family members easily when things get really rough.

We've happily housed 4 adults and several pets in 850 square feet, by creating enough distance between bedrooms -- ours was in a 'stealth' garage conversion, the real bedrooms were reserved for the guests -- shoehorning in 2 common areas instead of just one (expanded kitchen and the existing small living room, in our case), and scheduling the bathroom a bit, it can be done.

Reasonable room rents instead of exploitation, quick attention to any maintenance problems, a bit of inter-personal diplomacy and respect, and a contract with face-saving 'outs' for everyone if things don't work out after a month or two are the keys to making this kind of arrangement work well.

While not as communitarian has Sharon's co-housing, it is another way to double the density in the home, and help everyone adapt to changing conditions.

Anonymous said...


As I've recently started looking into intentional communities, I found there were many things I had not considered. Even if it were not your intention, I'd suggest a book such as "Creating a Life Together," by Diana Leafe Christian. It might help point out some things that would help your proposed association succeed in the long run.

You might also want to consider a posting on one of the intentional communities websites (e.g., or

My impression is that there are many, many little (forming) groups that have good intentions and ideas. But, with a few notable exceptions, most do not seem to attract throngs of people.

There does not yet appear to be a huge swell of people seeking alternative living arrangements. So, groups seem to grow more slowly than one might hope. I think that will change, but for now I think those of us who are moving in that direction need patience and steadfastness.

Good Luck,


Anonymous said...


Your 100% right on Sharon, but all should know its 100% very very hard to live with others, unless folks are very clear and open and have clear written agreements and folks aren't carrying "baggage" and know how to use "consensus", and folks have some sort of ownership
(or people are just somehow built in pure wonderful)

We all may be required to do to this much sooner then later (people weren't tribal because it was a fun idea, they were tribal for survival)

Sounds like you know some about living with others (non-family), but I'd strongly recommend reading this book cover to cover:

Creating a Life Together (Diana Leafe Christian), 2003

Of course is a good website about community.

- will, duluth, mn, usa

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Pour the proto-yogurt into the thermos flask.
Fill it to the top. It won't change in volume at all. Now seal the flask and leave it somewhere it can be undisturbed for 8-14 hours. Overnight will be fine.

Anonymous said...

You can put your yogurt in another container and put it in the fridge (warm yogurt is kind of yuk) and eat it just as it is.
But if you want to make Greek (strained) yogurt, there is another step to the process. Pour your yogurt into a muslin cloth, and suspend it over a bowl for two hours (I put the cloth in a colander over a bowl).

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, you've made Greek yogurt. It's deliciously thick and creamy, even when made with skimmed milk.
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