My Journey to Tiny Cohousing

Hanging out on the porch at Going Places - a tiny cohousing community in Portland, OR (photo by  Kristina Lynn Photography )

Hanging out on the porch at Going Places - a tiny cohousing community in Portland, OR (photo by Kristina Lynn Photography)

These days I live in a tiny cohousing community called Going Places in Portland, Oregon. I introduced our community last week in a post called We Are Going Places. Prior to living here my fiance Isha and I lived in another tiny cohousing community called Simply Home Community, which I helped kick-start in 2014. (And there's one other tiny house community in our neighborhood, too, as well as lots of individual tinies tucked into backyards. It's fun to be living in the epicenter of the tiny house universe!)

Here at Going Places we all share the main floor of the common house, which has a kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, and a flexible space called the Req Room (you Harry Potter fans out there know what we're talking about!) In addition to all this shared space, we also have two tiny houses on the property, The Lucky Penny and Tiny for Two (T42), which act as detached bedrooms. Lori uses The Lucky Penny and Isha and I use T42. Ryan and Kyra use a bedroom upstairs in the common house as their private space.

It's a good little life and there are days I pinch myself in happy awe that I've already arrived at this place. I say that because I've been interested in cohousing for nearly two decades and I feel really lucky to call this place home. I realize I've shared bits and pieces of my story with you, but I want to share a little more about my journey to cohousing in particular.

Let’s rewind to the childhood version of lil ol’ me. I was a pretty serious kid who was very seriously considering a career in architecture by the time I was 10 years old. I spent hours designing houses with graph paper, Legos, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and play dough. Sometimes I’d go full-scale and build forts with the furniture or under the back deck. For as long as I can remember, I’ve fully intended to someday design and build myself a house.

However, the greatest eureka moment of my young life was when I learned about the social and environmental benefits of cohousing in my ninth grade Human Ecology class. Suddenly, I had a profound awareness that buildings do not function in a vacuum and that they are only as effective as their communities. So, at the age of fourteen, I decided that sustainable design must be considered on the community level. I did not have a name for my expanded paradigm at the time – I just knew that I wanted to live in and help design thriving communities.

My fascination with community development and sustainability – and especially with intentional communities – continued throughout high school and college. When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy during undergrad I took a course called Le Cento Città (The Hundred Cities), which investigated land use planning of ancient European cities. I became fascinated by how cars were integrated into cities originally built on a human scale and how most of the families I knew shopped daily from fish mongers, butchers, and green grocers with whom they were on a first-name basis. When I traveled to Denmark I marveled at the honor system fruit stands, the emphasis on renewable energy, and the camaraderie of thirty families feasting and dancing at their cohousing community’s annual Solstice Party. When I dedicated my sociology thesis at Whitman College to an exploration of design and interaction in cohousing communities, I found that when people move to a cohousing community their relationships with their family and friends often improve because the physical and social structures of the community facilitate a healthier lifestyle.

As I heard their stories about the benefits of living in community, I realized there were lots of practical reasons to share resources from an environmental and financial standpoint, but the real clinchers for me were the social and emotional benefits. I especially loved hearing about coming home to a home-cooked meal several nights a week (while only cooking a few times a month), having lots of hands (and brains and backs) for work parties, and creating traditions together through celebrations and holidays.

So I knew that someday I wanted this sort of collective lifestyle for myself. In 2007 some friends and I attempted to create a cohousing community with “normal size” homes in Walla Walla, Washington, but we weren’t able to rally critical mass. Many meetings, bylaws, conference calls, and articles of incorporation later, our group dissolved and the members made other housing plans. Around the same time, I learned about tiny houses when a colleague left a Yes! Magazine story on my desk about my tiny house hero Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings. I sent an email to one of the members of our cohousing group, floating the idea of creating a cohousing community of tiny houses. She was as fascinated as I was, but we weren’t sure there would be other people interested in tiny house community.

Little did I know at the time, there were other people all over who were Inventing Tiny House Community. It's tricky to actually get a tiny house community going because there are so many considerations and regulations haven't caught up with reality in most municipalities. (We address all this and more in our Tiny House Collaborative Tiny House Community & Zoning Workshop!) I'm grateful that so many people are working on it, all across the country. And I'm especially grateful that I have the opportunity to live in a tiny cohousing community myself! It's a good little life!