Life Lessons I've Learned From Communal Living

October 7, 2014


This August I moved into a house with nine other people. Guys and girls with a variety of interests, priorities, and passions. We have thin walls, just two bathrooms, and many strong personalities.

Just one week in, I considered throwing in the towel. But I didn’t, choosing instead to push through my discomfort.

Now, two months later, things have taken a turn for the better. I love living in my crazy, sometimes dysfunctional, but oh-so special house. It has not been without hardship, of course, but I am taking everything in stride. I’ve already learned so many invaluable lessons and I know there are more to come. The experience of communal living has roped me in.

And I’m not the only one. All over the globe, communes and intentional communities are gaining new members who wish to step away from their trivial, everyday lives into something more connected (and arguably more meaningful).

Living with a tight-knit group of people fosters the development of interpersonal skills basically out of necessity. These are useful not just in communal living, but in any living situation.

– Don’t take things personally.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a (undeserved) bad attitude, you know this is easier said than done. It takes practice, but it is possible to let things slide off your back even when all you want to do it stew over it. What you must realize is that unwarranted hostility has little, if anything, to do with you. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it fun to deal with. But it can aid you in moving past the incident and releasing the idea that you could have done something to avoid it.

– Be your own advocate.

No one’s going to stand up for you but yourself. Sure, a friend may have your back, but not if they don’t know what’s going on with you first. It’s easy to become a stepping mat when living with others- especially if you’re a conflict avoider, like myself. Being easygoing is good, but not at the sake of your own wellbeing. So if something someone does makes you uncomfortable, say it. If your housemate (or sibling, significant other, what have you) hurts your feelings, speak up. Which leads us to…

– Don’t assume others think the way you do.

You may think it’s rude to reach over and take a bite of someone’s meal while someone else thinks it’s perfectly fine. Or perhaps you have loud phone conversations on a daily basis that turn out to be disruptive to those forced to listen. You may be extra conscious of something that someone else pays no mind to, or vice versa. Communicating these differences can get everyone to be more mindful, even if they don’t ultimately meet eye-to-eye. This creates progression toward a more peaceful living space, while expecting others to meet your standards does the opposite.

Additionally, it’s even more beneficial to refrain from assumptions about a person on a deeper level. When you live with others long-term, your topics of discussion will probably head towards more weighty issues. In these cases, you might find that someone’s stance on a controversial topic contradicts your own. Remain mindful of this reality to avoid offending anyone.

– Let go of attachment to physical belongings.

When living in a shared space, get comfortable with sharing your personal possessions- or at least work towards being less possessive of them. Of course, in most modern societies, it isn’t realistic to share everything. We have different financial statuses, needs, and desires. However, learning to let go of your “stuff” is healthy- especially if it has become a part of your identity in some way.

Being willing to share (whether it be your food, your clothes, or even your car) places less value on your belongings while increasing generosity and trust. Plus it saves money and is an environmentally conscious choice.

– Pick your battles

As you probably know, not every one is worth fighting. In my house, we all have assigned chores. Sometimes I will go into the kitchen to find a stack of dirty dishes in the sink, even though there is someone assigned to tackle that task. I could go to the person whose job it is and give them a hard time, but I usually opt to just do the dishes myself if it bothers me that much. It is rarely worth the time and effort to get into that discussion. It’s generally smart to save your fights for the big things that really matter. That way you are taken more seriously when an important situation arises and not pegged as the person who complains about everything.

– Find gratitude in the “little things”

There are so many great aspects of life and that regularly get taken for granted. Coming home to a hot meal (or the ability to make one). Living with or in close proximity to a support system who will pick you up when you’re down. Having people to talk and laugh and stay up late with. Having a space to go to where your values are shared or at least considered. Communal living has opened my eyes to all of these things plus more. I had many of them before, but failed to realize how meaningful they were.

Finding gratitude in any situation brings joy- you don’t have to live in a group of ten to appreciate the beauty of life. (This was just a trigger to encourage me to do so).

Now I encourage you to find light in dark places. Remove yourself from earthly woes and try to find something more. Bring kindness and love into your life. Learn to let go.

You don’t have to join a commune to do so. (Although you certainly can if you want). Simply begin to live with more intention, slowly applying these skills to your life. I am sure that the benefits will quickly present themselves.

Have you ever been in a communal living situation?

Also by Quincy: How to Maintain Balance in Your Busy Life

The Beauty of Living Life in the Gray



Photo: Alan Levine via Flickr

Quincy is an NC-based college student who is passionate about leading a healthy and compassionate life. Aside from classes, she fills her time with cooking, writing, travel, and yoga. You can find more from her on her blog Shugurcän and on Instagram.


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