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 tried living alone and find it more fulfilling to live with a group of inspiring, well-adjusted people. We still have our privacy, and surprising things become economical at this scale: we have a chef come every week, for example, and we recently bought a 4-person sauna.
The time is ripe for a resurgence of communal living. Adults the world over are lamenting how hard it can be to make friends after college, 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 level of social and intellectual stimulation is kind of like 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? Urban communal houses seem distressingly short-lived - would they be more stable at a large scale, say at 100-150 (Dunbar's number)? Can communities support members through big life transitions, like starting a family? I don't know, but I hope to find out by interviewing people about their community experiences. Here's a working list of best practices:
[#]Principles for a great community
"Strong gate, soft center." If you have a high bar for housemates, then you won't need as many rules.
No bosses, many leaders
. Empower everyone to execute big projects with a "doocracy": distribute decisionmaking and funding
decisions, and make consensus-building as low-friction as possible. We post proposals to a Slack channel and vote with emojis 👍.
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.
Avoid breakups. "Housemates are your siblings: don't penetrate them" -- Tina, house poet. Note that this is a norm, not a rule, because we're all adults and a rule would probably backfire anyway.
Automate common friction points. It's amazing how much stress unclean common spaces
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?
[#]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! 🙌
Updated: August 16th, 2018