• Kylie Blu

Why you might not want to settle for the single family nuclear archetype

Growing up, the single family home was the ideal. To own a home in the suburbs, to have kids was everything that I thought led to a happy life. But the illusion of single family existence has been faltering with each social and environmental crisis. The pandemic has exposed the isolation of living in separation and the impracticalities of relying only on ourselves and the government to support us.

And so, the pressure to conform with this well established archetype is beginning to evade. Leaving space for the emergence of many new possibilities.

I’ve been living in a cooperative for over two years now and people are curious about it. I often can separate people’s reactions into three different categories. Those who are living it, those who are excited about it, and those who believe they can never live it. I am most fascinated by those who say they can never live in community. It makes me wonder, how in the last generation have we accepted and adapted to living in disparate units of one or two?

I recently read about indigenous tribes who had longhouses that were home to up to twenty families, and how Hopi children would use the same word to name their mother as they did their aunts¹. Even in America, co-housing in the form of rural farm life to crowded New York City tenements was widely accepted².

Whether or not the introduction of iPhones and social media have completely satiated our need for living with others, the argument for co-housing goes beyond our need for connection. It can also be an adaptation for many of the environmental, financial and resource crises we see growing like a darkening storm cloud over the fantasies of owning a single family home overlooking a sprawling green lawn.

However, it is possible that with a return to living with others we can subdue our anxieties about whether our day-to-day actions are ethical whilst empowering us with the skills and practice of relating with others. Especially during a time where a difference in politics can shut us down to engaging on issues that affect everybody.

The power and possibility that living together in community offers cannot be expressed in less than a thousand words, but I’d like to share one of the core differences that living collectively offers over say, living with friends, to help conceptualize why it is powerful.

And that is, living in a community requires the intention of working towards shared goals.

When we are working towards a common goal together, we are not just co-inhabiting the same space. We are actively creating something together. This act of collective creation requires accountability because we are choosing to partake in a project that relies on our participation. The group acts as a self regulating organism, keeping each other accountable to the shared goal.

One of my housemates, Jonah, shared an interesting insight into how he thinks of collective living: collective living can be viewed much like how one might view being in a high functioning team one might find at a company. Except with the big difference that instead of pursuing the interests of the higher ups, you’re working towards improving you and your teammate’s tangible home lives.

With the project topic being our home lives, and the common goal asking for our participation, we in the collective are asked to vocalize and discover who we are and what we need in order to stay on this team. As the act of living together happens each day, the pathways towards listening to ourselves and vocalizing ourselves are paths necessary to walk daily. And as I lean into the latter end of my twenties, I see that practice is probably the most essential and transformational act of doing.

*It is important to note here that a cooperative should never expect these skills to be perfected or even well practiced from the get go, and that it is in a cooperative that we learn and practice these skills of relational awareness.

In addition to providing practice for being in healthy, high functioning relationships, living in this way provides an avenue to challenge the status quo and create alternatives in the here and now. I see it as being an activist by living your day to day life.

With wealth being synonymous with living in nuclear units or alone, a return to communal life is resisting the ideals presented to us. The more we question why we reject communal living, the more we can recognize the stories told about single family life and the narratives they drive.

One underlying narrative of the single family home is that we only need a small family unit to be happy and healthy. This can be seen as an uplifting of American family values, however a more critical lens can see that in the tightening of what a family looks like, neighbors, friends and elders are excluded. And the power of these narratives can be seen as American family values rears its white picket fence towards our neighbors from other countries.

At the heart of it, communal living is a choice we all have the opportunity to try out. If you live with a partner, consider living with another duo or with one of your families. If you live alone, consider living with a few friends or find a larger more established cooperative. Starting a co-op is one of the best ways to learn about cooperative models. It’s the way I began my journey.

But be prepared that along the way, you will be challenged by the stories that go along with the single family nuclear archetype. Creating a new future means reckoning with the past.

However, this life is too precious to be directed by commercial interests seeking to sell you an ideal that works for a few. Challenging these stories at the very least will widen your net of possibility and potentially bring you into a family that is beyond imagination but real, rooted and part of a revolution.


¹Niethammer, Carolyn J. Daughters of the Earth: The Lives and Legends of American Indian Women. Touchstone Book Published by Simon & Schuster, 1996.

²Lind, Diana. Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing. Bold Type Books, 2020.

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