We might not be travelling right now, choosing to stop a while in Australia and dust off our backpacks, but the world doesn’t need to stop coming to us. We thought it would be worthwhile sharing our perspective on communal living – the benefits and challenges of deciding on a more shared existence.
Before Andres and I met I had lived the single life for a few years; furiously having friends round for dinner, out more nights than in and paying through the nose to fund everything by myself. I loved it, but ultimately with hindsight I was busy trying to spend my time with others.
Then Andres and I went travelling together, setting up a life in Latin America that would unfold in to one communal living situation after another. I soon realised that with different people around you all the time you could stay open to understanding the perspective of many more cultures, share the load, as well as learn how to be flexible and more open to compromise in life.
By working on organic farms, share housing in places like Argentina and China, we both realised that the more people around is good for us. Now we are fortunate to have rented a beautiful big house in Brisbane, with a new friend from England that we met by advertising our spare room. We have space for international guests and the opportunity to stay in touch with the travelling spirit by introducing people to our city while learning about theirs.
The benefits are many:
Company – with Andres and I working different and odd hours it’s hard to get much time together. Having other faces in the house gives me the perfect excuse to stay home and hang out with my ‘housemates’. Also, as a couple we are both widely different on the socialising front, he’s more of a hermit and I need more chat time. Wherever we travelled and now at home I’ve got more people to talk to and Andres has more space to find his quiet place.
Resources – it’s easy to understand that more people sharing a space means less impact on the environment, if done right. We are currently a house of four people sharing the same electricity that just two of us would have used living alone. Our house has also started planting some seedlings, composting our organic waste and recycling as much as we can. Any group project seems more achievable when the enthusiasm is shared.
Costs – as we’re trying to save for other travel, grow our personal businesses and think about what’s next, keeping the costs of living down certainly helps. Sharing all the bills between many and looking after paying guests means life back in expensive Australia is less pressured and ultimately less stressful.
Possessions – coming together with all you own and sharing it with others teaches you to be less materialistic. Not only do you get to enjoy other people’s quirky bits and pieces but you learn that stuff is just stuff and not directly proportionate to your individual happiness. So, someone breaks a plate, or scratches your furniture accidentally, it’s not personal. Just a great reminder that we are all just passing through this life and the things that surround us are not what we’ll remember at the end.
Health – even if you live as part of a couple it’s impossible for that person to be your ‘everything’. We need different perspectives on life and different types of people to talk to about different stuff. More people around is better for your mental health and dare I say better for your relationship. Unless of course your that crazy in lust couple that can’t keep their hands off each other, that couple that no one wants to interrupt on holiday.
The challenges are few:
Company – sometimes not every person you share with is a smooth fit; they may be highly irritating, very different to you and live with strange habits. Ultimately though this can be a benefit. By watching what pushes your buttons you can better understand yourself, learn to let go of your own expectations and perhaps get to know a different type of person than you would ultimately not choose to get to know. People will usually surprise you.
Privacy – when we lived in Cordoba, Argentina for a couple of months Andres and I shared a singled bed in a three bedroom apartment with four brothers and intermittent guests. This extreme example of sharing was probably the most challenging and the most rewarding. Now living in a timber house with thin walls we relish the moments when we have the space to ourselves or we plan short escapes away. You often learn more about the personal habits of people than you care to know but at the end of the day it makes you appreciate what’s normal and that we are all just large animals with some very human habits.
My approach to communal living is probably understood best through the wise words of Norman MacEwan “Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”