Leaving Cohousing and Remaining Committed to Community

Karen Gimnig
Karen Gimnig at East Lake Commons

In the span of about 6 months, I will leave two precious cohousing communities. I ask myself how this can be as I’m more committed than ever to community living and building my life around it. It turns out, it’s complicated.

Often the burning souls of community move into cohousing and stay forever. There are good reasons to think of cohousing as a place where you can age in place and die in your bed surrounded by neighbors. It’s a great plan, and it happens, but not for everyone. Not even for everyone who loves community.

Modern life is complicated. Gone is the era where one generation after another grows up in the same small town, the same spiritual center, the same schools. The world has gotten small enough for us to meet people from across the earth. Business opportunities shift us from one side of the country to the other. Families grow and needs change. Financial limitations play a part. All of this happened for me.

I find myself preparing to leave my first cohousing community to move across the country. I’m only beginning to realize the things I will miss: How quickly I seem to finish the dishes when I’m looking out on a scene of children playing and dogs frolicking. Group emails that remind me daily of the richness and generosity of our community: “Maypole drummers needed.” “Extra candy? Let me be your candy fairy and take some away.” The security of knowing my teens can spend a night at home alone without being really alone. Being able to run next door to support my dear friend with chronic illness – to meet her needs, and experience her vibrant spirit in every moment. Stepping outside my door into love and light whomever I happen to run into that day. It will be sad to step away.

A bit ago I left my second cohousing community – the one that first existed in my own mind, that I worked for 2.5 years to help found before discovering that this beautiful, engaged and successful group was no longer a fit for me. This is a different kind of loss with different things to miss: Hopes, dreams, the fabulous creative energy of a group building a future, budding friendships with dear people, plans for knitting circles and herb gardens.

For the next 3 years, the last of my children’s childhood, their needs will dictate where we live and it will be in a place where cohousing does not yet exist.

So in a few months I will no longer be an active member of any cohousing community and it feels like a part of my identity is shifting. Am I a fraud when I speak of the value of cohousing without living in it? It feels that way, but I don’t think so. Cohousing is more than an address or a building. Cohousing is a way of being and I’m coming to see how I carry it with me, as I imagine we all do, even as the next phase of my life requires me to seek community in other ways.

Cohousing has changed me. I find it hard (and sad) to imagine a life living alone. Fortunately I have managed to arrange a houseshare – a cousin of cohousing that carries many of the same values. I’ve come to believe in the power that living in relationship has to change the world, and find that isn’t limited to living together (though that certainly makes it easier) and I’m already thinking of how to be in community with all of my cohousing-learned collaboration skills outside of cohousing.

Best of all, I get to continue to engage in cohousing through the communities I support as a consultant. Personally my priority has to be my son, but professionally I get to wade in the waters of hopes and dreams, connection, conflict, collaboration and joy with communities at all stages of life. Through their projects and homes I get to continue my journey, my learning, and yes, my addiction to community. Which may be the best proof of all that community is there for all who seek it.