If you’re a fan of the long-running TV shows Friends and Seinfeld, where a group of unrelated adults live in close proximity and share conversation and meals, and help (or at least attempt to help) each other when things go wrong, then keep reading: cohousing might be an ideal living arrangement for you.

The idea behind cohousing, of course, has nothing to do with American sitcoms and a typical contemporary cohousing arrangement is a far cry from Friends’ Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) lounging on Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler’s (Matthew Perry) couch while bemoaning the state of her love life. The movement originated in 1960s Denmark, when young families saw communal living arrangements as a way to share childcare, cooking, household maintenance and other domestic responsibilities. (For more, see: What is Cohousing and How Does it Work?)

While the roots of cohousing grew from the lofty ideals of cooperation, community, and sharing, cohousing isn’t for everyone. While Jerry’s neighbor Kramer may be Seinfeld’s most lovable character, do you really want him babysitting your toddler or manning steaks on a communal grill? Here are a few practical questions to help you explore whether or not it might be a good match for you and your family.

How Green Are You?

Fans of cohousing point to its green potential: an environmentally friendly set up in which electric and gas bills — as well as environmental impacts — are lowered due to pooled resources and shared common spaces such as cooking, dining and recreational facilities. That’s not to mention tremendous savings on manpower and materials: it’s far easier (and cheaper) to pitch in with building a community sundeck than spending all summer toiling away on your own. To further lessen their carbon impacts, residents often engage in car sharing: again, a much easier proposition when the participants live nearby. (For more, see: How Going Green Can Cut Your Taxes.)

If lessening your environmental impact is high on your list, cohousing might be an excellent prospect. When compared to buying a single family dwelling in the suburbs, which tends to have high carbon output and energy consumption impacts, cohousing’s green potential is especially compelling.

Are You a People Person?

Extroversion is not a required trait to join a cohousing situation, much less enjoy the fruits of cooperative living. But if you’re famous for your cantankerous moods, have been described as a reclusive hermit, or if a visit from the postal carrier is your optimal idea of the maximum amount of social contact in a day, you should probably strike cohousing from your bucket list. In fact, most cohousing cooperatives explicitly ask potential members - either informally or through a formal application and interview process - to agree to actively participate in developing and maintaining positive interpersonal relationships within the group. (For more, see: How Moving Can Affect Your Finances.)

If you’re single, the social benefits of cohousing might be especially beneficial. While only 9% of Americans lived alone in 1950, today that number has skyrocketed to 28% of U.S. households. In light of this trend, many communal living enthusiasts view the cohousing arrangement as a perfect, convivial alternative to living alone: you have your own private quarters, but still share regular meals and other parts of your life in a meaningful way with others. As social isolation becomes an increasingly serious world issue and more adults eschew marriage and live alone — especially in first world countries such as Japan, the United States and much of Western Europe and Scandinavia - cohousing may become an increasingly appealing situation for many singletons.

What is Your Definition of an Ideal Community?

As late as 1950, nearly half (44%) of Americans lived on farms or in small towns. Of course, not all of these residents lived in idyllic cooperation, where community members cared for each other when ill, babysat for the neighbors’ children and helped out when someone’s car (or tractor) broke down. Yet life for many Americans in previous eras may have resembled something closer to contemporary cohousing than the way the typical American now lives: in a single family home in the suburbs, which have been long criticized for breeding economic and social isolation. After all, bigger houses and sprawling yards promote physical isolation from neighbors. Acknowledging that proximity creates opportunities for community building, cohousing communities strategically place neighbors not only geographically close, but build common spaces for neighbors to play, work, relax, cook, hold meetings, and celebrate together. If this sounds like your idea of heaven, then perhaps cohousing might come close to your ideal community. (For more, see: McMansion: A Closer Look at the Big House Trend.)

If, like many Americans, you would ideally prefer to have a fenced backyard of your own rather than a community green space where your neighbors might gather for a picnic or toss a Frisbee, then cohousing might not be for you.

How Much Time and Money Do You Have?

While cohousing can save both manpower and money - imagine your neighbor drives you to the airport instead of you hailing a cab, babysits your kids for free one Saturday, and the two of you chip in with the rest of the group on the new landscaping project - it isn’t necessarily low-cost. While affordable cohousing cooperatives exist in cities such as Petaluma, California, and Boulder, Colorado, such communities are typically only feasible for those making mid-to-upper level incomes. For example, at Jackson Place, Seattle’s first cohousing cooperative, listed prices for typical 2-bedroom townhouse units in the past few years have been upwards of $300,000. If that seems expensive, keep in mind that the median home price in Seattle hit $309,750 this year. (For more, see: 6 Signs that You've Made It to Middle Class.)

And then there’s that vast and unquantifiable subject, time. Just as friendships take time to cultivate, cohousing communities are built not only on geographical proximity but hours spent together: whether preparing a communal meal (optional or occasional in some communities, required and regular in others), planting a garden, or engaging in the kind of spontaneous conversation that happens when you run into a neighbor while taking out the trash. Those who travel a great deal for work, or whose heavy workload means that they rarely prepare meals at home, complete maintenance projects, and engage in recreational hobbies, are unlikely to have sufficient time to complete even the basic requirements of cohousing community life.

What’s Your Conflict Resolution Style?

While not all cohousing communities operate on a true consensus model, where everyone in the group must agree, most communities have a clear dispute resolution process that values transparency and fairness. No matter who you live and spend your time with, conflict will inevitably occur. But if you would prefer to simply avoid the neighbors who annoy or inconvenience you rather than deal with them directly, and vice-versa, you might shy away from the proactive conflict resolution tradition of cohousing. However, if you’ve ever had a difficult neighbor who refused to comply with a watering ban during a drought, or who insisted on blasting heavy metal at 4 a.m. each night despite polite requests to desist, a transparent system to air out community disagreements may prove enormously appealing. (For more, see: 7 Must-Have Real Estate Contract Conditions.)

The Bottom Line

If, when you watch Friends or Seinfeld, you think that the adults portrayed have been living a little too closely too each other, you might think twice before signing a cohousing agreement. Then again, the characters on these sitcoms lack the structural agreements inherent to cohousing, including dispute resolution, consensus models and formally organized ways to share meals, common spaces, maintenance, childcare, recreation and resources. Ultimately, however, those drawn to embark on the cohousing lifestyle may do it for reasons that have little to do with logistics: rather, to live in a neighborhood where the spirit of trust, friendship and cooperation is embraced by the community. If that sounds to you like something that only happens on sitcoms, maybe it’s indeed time to check out your local cohousing association. (For more, see: Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life.)

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