Baby Boomers Are Moving Into Communal Housing For a Surprising Reason
As people age, they often become more isolated. Life becomes lonely, whether because they’ve lost their partner or find it physically challenging to get out. That’s when becoming a member of a community is important. Joining a group with other older people, or entering into a communal living situation, has definite health benefits.
An additional rationale for communal living is critical in today’s environment. Many people living in one place reduce each person’s carbon footprint. If a group of people shares one large home, there is a big saving compared to having each person live in their own separate home.
Older citizens often feel increasingly vulnerable as they age. Although they may cherish having their own space and familiar surroundings, they also recognize the importance of having others close by in case they need help. For some couples, when one spouse dies, the other finds it hard to cope with daily living, and their loneliness becomes overpowering.
Living communally means knowing that if they need assistance or get sick, there will always be help and support.
Retirement Version 2.0
By the year 2030, about 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65. That comes to over 60 million people. Baby boomers (people born between 1946-1954) are now retiring and are considering what their later years will look like.
Many studies of this age group report that “boomers” are not planning to sit at home and watch TV. On the contrary, now that people are living longer, many feel they will be entering a second, full stage of life.
These Guangzhou Women Lead the Way
In Guangzhou, China, seven friends would get together often, and the conversation usually turned to plans for retirement. None of them wanted to be alone and far from each other, so they devised an extraordinary plan.
The seven friends pooled their money and bought a home where they planned to retire together. They spent about 4 million yuan (around $580,000 USD), purchased a 7,500-square-foot house, and renovated it. A 2019 YouTube video about the group has over 1 million views.
Friends Make Plans
The seven women who purchased the retirement home have been friends for over 20 years. In fact, they feel more like siblings than friends; that’s how close they are. They’d get together often to chat, and because of their age, the conversation would always include everyone’s plans for retirement.
Finally, in 2018 they decided to get real about making a plan. They needed a home in which they could live for decades since the age difference between the oldest and youngest was ten years. They were excited to start looking for a new home.
The home they found needed work, but as they say, it had “good bones.” Originally built out of red brick, the group re-designed it, both inside and out, and it is now a stunning home. There are floor-to-ceiling glass windows to bring in the maximum amount of light. Most amazing is a floating team room with glass walls.
Located in a small village about an hour’s drive from their hometown of Guangzhou, the home’s beautiful glass walls and many windows offer a view of paddy fields and magnificent greenery. It is an incredibly calming space for these women.
A Group Home with Privacy
The seven friends did an outstanding job of designing a home that provides both communal spaces and private rooms. At three-and-a-half stories, the house features two tea pavilions. One is outdoors, and the other is the floating room.
Most of the communal space is on the main floor of the home. The kitchen is big enough for all of the friends to cook and eat together. Upstairs, there are spacious bedrooms for each woman, so they can retreat and have total privacy when they want it.
Many Women, Many Talents
It is amazing to all seven women how well their talents complement each other. For example, some are outstanding cooks, some specialize in Chinese medicine, one or two play instruments, and some of the women go shopping for food in the nearby village.
These seven women have truly created a family and are happy to be living together and sharing their magnificent home. Their retirement idea may inspire others who want to avoid the loneliness of retirement while living in a beautiful space.
Stumbling Upon the Solution
As they neared retirement age, San Francisco natives Rose Mark and her husband Larry were looking to move from their fast-paced and rapidly growing city to something a little calmer. They hadn’t planned for communal living but stumbled upon it by accident.
One day while house hunting, they saw the Phoenix Commons (which, despite its name, is not in Phoenix). The Phoenix Commons is a community for people aged 55 and older and is located in Oakland, California.
At Home, Together
At the Phoenix Commons, a retiree can experience the best of communal living while also having complete privacy. There are 41 units in the Commons, and each resident is the owner of their own home.
Therefore, the residents live in their private homes but can also use the communal features of the Commons. There is a large kitchen where residents volunteer to prepare communal meals, and a movie theater for all to enjoy. By the way, each home has its own kitchen, but most residents would rather eat together!
Residents at Phoenix Commons enjoy many family and group events together. This includes potluck dinners, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. Many residents invite friends and family who live outside the Commons to join in.
And that’s not all. The Commons includes a well-stocked library, a large community room, and a host of speakers who visit to present lectures to the group. The hobby room offers classes on woodworking, music, and art. We don’t think anyone at the Phoenix Commons has a chance to feel bored or lonely!
Deciding to Live in an “Intentional Community”
Communities designed with age or interest-specific groups in mind are called “intentional communities.” The Phoenix Commons qualifies in that regard. In 2016, Rose Mark and her husband were one of the first couples to make the move. She firmly believes that “if [her friends] could witness life here, it might allay some of their fears about giving up their independence.”
Rose now recommends this type of residence to all of her friends. To her, this is a perfect mixture of independence mixed with community. As people age, they have many fears about how and where to live upon retirement. Many fear losing their independence. But as Rose says, “It is an incredible feeling of security, safety, and peacefulness.”
Did you think that your days of having roommates ended decades ago? Well, consider these three women. Barb Coughlin, 71, Mary Townley, 71, and youngster Phyllis Brady, 66, decided to move in together after each had been living alone for around ten years.
Of the three, two are widowed, and one is divorced. They were all living alone, feeling the need for companionship and looking ahead at years of loneliness. In one interview, the three stated that their decision to live together came down to one thing – to end the loneliness.
A Fun Group
These three had been friends for over 40 years. Barb, Mary, and Phyllis were all living in London, Canada, and would see each other often, always enjoying each other’s company and hating to part after each meeting.
After much discussion, the three decided to live together. They each sold their homes, then faced the task of cleaning them out. After all, they didn’t need three ovens! So they each got rid of as much as possible, then pooled their finances to buy a home. Their friends are happy for the three women, who call their home “the party house.”
A Home that Fits the Life of a Retiree
When people hit retirement age, one of the biggest concerns is their health. As they get older, they will become less mobile. This is a major factor that the three women considered when buying their home.
They knew that their new home needed to accommodate changes in their level of mobility as they aged. They wisely chose a home with very few stairs and individual bedrooms and baths for each woman. There is also a finished basement (with a bar!). The kitchen and living room are considered joint spaces.
Barb, Phyllis, and Mary share all the expenses and split the responsibilities. They take turns with cooking, cleaning, and upkeep. While the financial savings is a definite plus, they admit that what they love most about their situation is the benefit to their mental and physical health.
They have no regrets about their decision. In an interview, Phyllis said, “If we can be independent and be in this kind of situation for the next 20 years, that would be a great thing.” It looks like these women made a great choice.
How to Find the Right Community
When it’s time to decide how and where you will retire, each person has to figure out what is right for them. Some people prefer to be in a communal situation, including communal dining and events, while others value their privacy but want to be around others their own age.
Research is the first step, starting with online advice, Facebook groups, and retirement community websites. There are even services that will help you find the community that is just right for you.
The Bottom Line
Some people harbor negative ideas about communal living, imagining being forced to eat every meal together and participate in activities they don’t like. But when you think about it, young adults live communally, share chores, and sometimes hang out together, so why can’t seniors do the same thing?
Today’s baby boomers are rethinking their next stage in life, opting for more active, social lives in their retirement years. Looks like retirement is taking on a whole new meaning.