You live in a what
I live in a 16-person house, and we'll grow to 22 some time in the next year. Usually when this comes up in conversation people's eyes bug out and I can see them imagining a beer-soaked frat house, a den of nudist hippies, or - if they're from San Francisco - a hacker house (shudder). To be fair, there are many houses that fit these descriptions. The Archive, however, is not: my experience is of a group of reasonable adults who have all tried living alone and find it more fun, easier, and inspiring to live with a diverse group of values-aligned people. Surprising things become economical at this scale: we have a chef come every week, for example, and we recently bought a sauna; and the only people who share rooms here are the handful of us who choose to do so to save money.
The time is ripe for a resurgence of communal living. Adults the world over are lamenting how hard it can be to make new friends, the Internet and social media exacerbate our social isolation, and older generations continually remind younger generations to spend more time with their friends and less at work. As someone who isn't great at staying in touch with old friends and has been lonely before, let me assure you - coming home to a house where close friendships just happen without any effort on my part is wonderful. The density of experience here is comparable to college.
"Sociologists since the 1950s consider... three factors crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other" - New York Times
So naturally I've been researching the lifestyle further. What do the houses with the most fulfilled residents have in common? What are the secrets of long-lived urban community houses? What's it like to live in a large community, say at the limits of Dunbar's number (100-150)? How can communities support members with families? I've been gathering as many data points as I can find by interviewing community dwellers about their experiences. Here's a working list of best practices:
[#]Principles for a great community
- Eat together. Over and over again I hear that this is the #1 practice that keeps communities feeling close.
- No meetings. Too many agenda-driven meetings are a fun sponge and the loud & confident have their opinions overrepresented. If you can build consensus quickly, democratically, and frictionlessly, then project leaders are unhindered and the house runs smoothly. We run all decisionmaking through a Slack channel in which we asynchronously vote on proposals with emojis, and it's been unbelievably effective.
- Have a high bar. "Strong gate, soft center." If you have a high bar, then you don't need as many rules. Our bar is that everyone is a yes and more than a third of us are a fuck yes.
- No bosses, many leaders. Empower everyone to execute big projects independently with a "doocracy". Distribute funding power. Housemates contribute $X per month to a shared account and we use cobudget.co to vote on which projects our dollars should fund.
- Don't shame disengaged housemates, support them. It's natural for your energy for a house to ebb and flow, particularly when you're feeling overwhelmed. Make sure they don't feel guilty about it.
- Avoid breakups. Generally speaking, housemates should be discouraged from dating. There are plenty of fish in the sea and casual relationships are unnecessarily destabilizing. Does not apply in case of True Love, of course.
- Automate common friction points. It's amazing how many houses fray at the seams because they can't figure out how to seamlessly distribute chores. We have the house cleaned every week. We also used to struggle with dirty dishes until we installed a webcam - we learned that we were all already doing a great job, and that the dishes were coming from our guests! None of the other chores have caused us any issues (yet).
Many more to come! I just started this project in late July 2017.
Key research themes
- Scaling. Would this actually be better if we were a village of 100-150? I imagine we'd be more stable, and I feel like we'd have super strong "social gravity", which would enable us to attract brilliant and fascinating people from around the globe. But how does this actually work - how does intimacy scale? How do we keep the house introvert-friendly?
- Sustainability. How can we make a community that is supportive of big life transitions, like starting a family?
- Recruiting. How do we recruit well? How do other houses manage this? What proportion of short-term to long-term housemates is optimal?
- Governance. What technologies can help keep logistical details low-friction at scale?
- Space. How might we design spaces for both extremes of the introvert/extravert spectrum? What communities have existed in unique spaces (e.g., an old cruise ship), and how has that affected their experience? What legal structures enable or inhibit communal arrangements?
- Culture shift. This lifestyle is fringe, but many would benefit from trying it - how can we normalize and evangelize it? How might we increase the supply of communal houses?
- Impact. What can/should we stand for and what difference can we make in this world?
- Culture. Some communities have a culture that says: "you are enough"; the Archive's culture says "grow into your full potential". Both have advantages and disadvantages. Is it possible for both to exist in the same place?
My interviewing project to-do list contains an expanded list of the above questions.
[#]Want to contribute to these principles?
Great!! Let's hang out: just claim a spot on my calendar with Calendly (I'll be automatically notified), or message me on Facebook. Interviews are typically about an hour and I post all my research here so anyone who visits can benefit from them. Thank you! 🙌