And they said, "You should write a book."

In 2004, we were each happily living independently in Pittsburgh. While planning for a distant retirement, we realized how fantastic it could be to live together. We found ourselves asking, "Why not now?"

On what seemed like barely a moment’s notice, we pooled resources and bought a big old house. Making it up as we went along, we dubbed the shared home we created a cooperative household. Friends urged us to share our story and so we have. We invite curious readers to step through our door and learn what makes our cooperative household work.

 

My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household, St. Lynn's Press, 2013

   An excerpt from My House Our House: Open House at Shadowlawn

Welcome! We’re so glad you could join us for our open house. By the end of the evening, you’ll know exactly how three independent adults share communal space, yet create personal space, in ways that make this cooperative household work. But be careful – you might want to move in.

During the house tour, we’ll explain how we created the home we fondly call Shadowlawn, derived from the name of our street. We quickly found it useful to have a name for the house, not to be cute, but for ease of communication. After all, this place is “my house,” “our house,” “your house,” “her house,” “Jean’s house,” “Karen’s house” and “Louise’s house.”

Shadowlawn has more dignity than “The Old Biddies’ Commune,” the humorous name we coined when we first started dreaming about a shared venture. Friends memorialized the acronym by carving “O.B.C.” into a large rock, now nestled on the front stoop. They deposited it there in the dark of moving-in night to inaugurate our “commune.” It was waiting to surprise us when we opened the door on our first morning in the house. We re-interpret the initials in various ways. We like “Only Beautiful Chicks” best.

Before you come inside, join the group in the backyard. Good thing it’s not raining; no way all the guests could fit into the house. We’re glad we took the time to ring the yard with tiki torches, creating a shimmering glow on the foliage. The trees and gardens are among the things that made us fall in love with this old house, but none of us could have taken on this kind of lawn maintenance alone.

Exhausted as we are from our move, we’re loving the moment. Maybe it was crazy to host a twelve-hour open house and grill dinner for 200 a bare month after moving in, but the adrenaline-fueled adventure of the move has left us feeling like we can tackle anything. Our new-old house looks surprisingly good, certainly the best we could manage in four frantic weeks of coordinating, culling and moving our individual possessions.

The living room may be colonial at one end and contemporary at the other, but the colors blend and the green sofa makes the transition between the wildly different area rug patterns. Everyone’s furniture received a place of honor, even though the styles are so different. Jean’s softer color palette works well in the little room with the bay window and great view of the backyard and gardens. While we think we’ve created wonderful harmony out of dissonance, Jean’s daughter, Maureen, had a different view of the decor: “Nothing matches, does it?”

Since we moved in, we’ve felt a bit like trailblazers. On first meeting, people in our new neighborhood frequently exclaim, Oh! You’re one of the three...just like The Golden Girls...How’s it going? What you’re doing is fascinating...Can I join the “commune”?

Please don’t be shy. Help yourself to shish kabob – chicken, beef, or tofu – from the grill, drinks from the patio table. We know you won’t mind the mismatched assortment of paper plates, napkins and cups at this party. Go ahead: combine the shamrock plate, the Thanksgiving napkin and the Happy Birthday paper cup as you assemble your meal.

The bizarre assortment actually has meaning; it symbolizes in a small way who we are and what we are creating. Those paper plates and napkins are the remnant paper goods from the combined 123 years of our individual adult homemaking. During the house tour, you might be as surprised as we are at how well the eclectic combination of household furnishings works together, considering that all the items were acquired separately during our cumulative 82 years of marriage and 41 years of single living.

Although things appear to be well organized now, we’ve just barely pulled it together after months of turmoil. Buying this old house on almost a moment’s notice turned our lives upside down. We were actually shocked at the sudden way it happened, and so was everyone we knew.

When asked what she thought about our plan to create a cooperative household, one relative returned a terse one-word e-mail: No. But once the surprise wore off, we got positive reactions from family, friends and neighbors...

In the course of the evening, many people suggested, You should write a book. And so we have....