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What is Coliving?


Today I got a message from someone asking me "Could you recommend a good resource clearly explaining what coliving is?". I smiled because I thought it would be an easy request to fulfill.

It was not.

First of all, I was surprised that I had not already written such a piece myself. As I am launching the second season of Life at Selgars I assumed I would have something up my sleeve. Second of all, it hit me that a lot of the definitions and articles out there titled "What is coliving?" did not really check all the boxes for me. So here we are.

What does the CO stand for?



Co stands for Community. But it could easily stand for collaboration, cooperation, cohesion, or co-creation. It basically means togetherness, as opposed to just "living" the way we mostly live today: on our own.

a quote from The Truman Show movie
What is a normal way of living?

Coliving is nothing new

it is simply rebranded.

I will spare you the reference to the tribes in caves but you get the idea. It is actually the concept of owning or renting your private space (as a sign of success) that is relatively new. For the longest time, we lived with others. In reality, we never really stopped, it just became a transition period, before adult life started and something "better" would become available (affordable), but never as something you would want to shoot for.

Enter: the housing crisis, the rise of remote work, and, loneliness.

Coliving can solve it all. At least, that is the premise.

A simple definition?



We often see coliving being compared to coworking. I find this confusing. No one wants to live at the office. I like to think it is what you make of it. But people prefer definitions. A group of people, (usually more than five and non-related) intentionally choosing to live together for a period of time (see different types of colivings) to share common spaces, and amenities as well as experiences. It differs from having housemates by the emphasis that is put on the sense of belonging and community that is intentionally built by the group via events, workshops, and other activities. In many cases but not necessarily, these spaces benefit from the guidance of a community manager who onboards residents and leads the community events.

Is coliving for everyone?


I like to think coliving is indeed for everyone but that not every coliving is for everyone. In order to create that unique sense of belonging, it is essential that the community define its own membership criteria, boundaries, and symbols. I have quoted her more times than I care to admit but Priya Parker says it best in The Art of Gathering: to create the room, you need to close the door. It is of course a difficult notion to accept as we are trying to build a more inclusive society. But every community builder will tell you, it is an absolute necessity for any authentic and thriving community.


Different types of coliving


Residential

Residential coliving is for people looking for accommodation for a relatively long-term stay ( usually for at least 4-6 months, up to several years). Those are most of the time located in cities and offer large shared spaces (living room, kitchens, gym, coworking space...). They also often have a large calendar of events and activities. People living there are either working from home or commuting to the office.



a screen shot of the home page of The Collective coliving website
The Collective in London was one of the first large residential colivings.

Some residential colivings offer private rooms, others have the option of small studios including a kitchenette and others choose to divide their larger buildings into several flat shares of 6 to 12 residents with the ground floor being accessible to all. We find distinctions even within the residential colivings as some communities are long-term stay but self-managed (that is to say that they are not managed by an entity or a hired community manager). Examples of these would be K9 Coliving in Sweden or Nest in Denmark.

Destination

The "destination" or "digital nomads coliving" are usually located outside of cities, in the countryside, or at least close to nature (mountains, sea...) which is usually what attracts the residents. These guests are there for shorter stays, from 2 weeks to a few months, and are mostly remote workers and digital nomads searching for a home away from home, a group of like-minded people, and a safe place to work from for a period.



a screen shot of the home page of EcoIsleta Coliving website
EcoIsleta Coliving, one of the few destinations coliving in Tenerife

Other



Despite the headlines, Coliving does not have the monopole of Community living. Cohousing projects and eco-villages are popping up every day in every part of the world. While they are not technically colivings, they do share and put collaboration and community at their centers.


Size matters


Residential colivings can vary in size. The self-run communities tend to be smaller (up to 50) while the spaces created by developers and run by operators can boast up to 500 residents. Destination colivings tend to be smaller than the residential ones.

  • because they are usually individually owned and run which means it is more difficult to acquire very large buildings

  • because they focus on community first and tend to believe it is easier to maintain with under 25 people.


a screen shot of the home page of Nest's website
Nest in Copenhagen, a rare self-run community


Why do people live like this?


I will shamelessly paraphrase myself from the copy I wrote for K9 Coliving's website last year: Because they love it! They love the opportunity to have access to beautiful and large spaces they would never be able to afford on their own. They love to share their life moments, the good and the bad, to feel understood, to find support at their doorstep. And they love the feeling of growth they experience being able to learn and experiment in an adult-sized playground, day after day. Of course, all stays are different, because people are different and spaces are different. The length of your stay will also greatly impact your experience. But overall, talking to happy colivers, we learned that coliving is a wonderful way to experience life to the fullest:

  • you meet people you would probably have never met otherwise

  • you learn about other cultures and ideas

  • you get inspired to take on a new hobby or even start a business!

  • you make friends and always have people to do things with if you so wish

  • you create a support system you trust deeply

  • you feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself

  • you can help others by sharing your skills and knowledge and have a sense of purpose

  • you learn SO much about yourself!

  • You also tend to eat very well and laugh a lot.

For some, coliving meant surviving a breakup, figuring out their next step, starting a company with a fellow resident, meeting their life partner, having a child, or starting their own coliving space!


friends sharing a meal at a coliving space
Food. Brings. People. Together


But how about...


now let's tackle the most common preconceived ideas and true challenges of such a housing solution.


Privacy & Space


That is the number one worry of people who first hear about community living, and rightly so. It is scary to think we'll share our space, our bathroom, our bedroom maybe even, with strangers. It is important to keep a few things in mind:

  • There are options. You do not have to share a room if you do not wish to. Most of the time you also do not have to share a bathroom if you do not want to. Of course, it all comes down to your budget.

  • The type of people you will find in colivings are used to living this way and tend to treat people the way they want to be treated

  • Spaces are designed for group gatherings as well as privacy

  • It is much easier than we think. Most people I have interviewed about their coliving experience have shared their surprise at how simple it was for them to share their space.


Cost


It usually surprises people to realize how much coliving can cost. We tend to think that if someone chooses to share their space it is to save money.

The truth is, it is probably "cheaper" to rent a room or an Airbnb sometimes. Because what you get for the money is not comparable. And that is what is difficult to grasp when you have not experienced it.

At the risk of sounding extremely cliche: Community does not have a price tag, but it does make you richer.

Jonatan who runs EcoIsleta Coliving in Tenerife wrote a very good piece about just that topic a few weeks back.



grocery bags filled with essentials for a coliving space
A majority of colivings include "the basics" in their fees: oil, coffee, tea, toilet paper...

The dishes in the sink...


Cleaning is the number one cause of divorce. I just made that up. But we can all agree that humans come out into the world with different definitions of what is clean and tidy. So how does coliving not turn into the Hunger Games?

  • Ask any community builder and/or manager, the key to Coliving is hiring cleaning staff.

  • Every space has ground rules and guidelines - The most important ones are usually framed above the sink.

  • The vast majority of colivers know the drill and are respectful of the space and others.

  • Dishes do pill up in the sink from time to time. After all, we are human.


a large group of colivers at the breakfast table
The more dishes, the merrier.

Social burn out


"I could never live like this, I am not an extrovert." "Good God, me either." I am an introvert who hates people but loves community. Go figure. The first thing we have to understand (and community living is quick to teach you that), is that YOU need to figure out your own boundaries, otherwise, you can indeed easily be sucked in and burn out. The Fear Of Missing Out, the activities, the people, the novelty... it is all pretty exciting. You want to be part of it all, and host and attend, and participate and lead, and ... I personally lasted six months. Every coliver will probably go through the learning curve and soon realize boundaries and routines are healthy and the Joy of Missing Out is real. That being said, there are usually plenty of pockets for privacy and hiding in those spaces. Whether it is your own room or dedicated quiet spots and/or zen rooms.

the feet of someone laying in a hammock in nature
Taking time for yourself is encouraged. (Picture: Josefin Wall)

To conclude, not all colivings are created equal, so do your homework. Stay curious, and do dive in, whether it is for 3 weeks or 3 years, coliving can be a life-changing experience!

 

Disclaimer: This is obviously based on my personal and professional experience after having lived in a self-run intentional community for three years and working with coliving spaces in Europe for the past five years. I also now co-run my own seasonal coliving at Selgars.


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