After 7 years at Deep End (and 4 more years in other group houses before that), Janos and I have moved out to live near a school we like and some lovely parks. The life change is bittersweet - we will miss living with our friends, but also look forward to a logistically simpler life with our kids. Looking back, here are some thoughts on what worked and didn't work well about living in a group house with kids.

Pros. There were many things that we enjoyed about living at Deep End, and for a long time I couldn't imagine ever wanting to leave. We had a low-effort social life - it was great to have spontaneous conversations with friends without arranging to meet up. This was especially convenient for us as new parents, when it was harder to make plans and get out of the house, particularly when we were on parental leave. The house community also made a huge difference to our wellbeing during the pandemic, because we had a household bubble that wasn't just us. 

We did lots of fun things together with our housemates - impromptu activities like yoga / meditation / dancing / watching movies, as well as a regular check-in to keep up on each other's lives. We were generally more easily exposed to new things - meeting friends of friends, trying new foods or activities that someone in the house liked, etc. Our friends often enjoyed playing with the kids, and it was helpful to have someone entertain them while we left the living room for a few minutes. Our 3 year old seems more social than most kids of the pandemic generation, which is partly temperament and partly growing up in a group house. 

Cons. The main issue was that the group house location was obviously not chosen with school catchment areas or kid-friendly neighbourhoods in mind. The other downsides of living there with kids were insufficient space, lifestyle differences, and extra logistics (all of which increased when we had a second kid).

Our family was taking up more and more of the common space - the living room doubled as a play room and a nursery, so it was a bit cramped. With 4 of us (plus visiting grandparents) and 4 other housemates in the house, the capacity of the house was maxed out (particularly the fridge, which became a realm of mystery and chaos). I am generally sensitive to clutter, and having the house full of our stuff and other people's stuff was a bit much, while only dealing with our own things and mess is more manageable. 

Another factor was a mismatch in lifestyles and timings with our housemates, who tended to have later schedules. They often got home and started socializing or heading out to evening events when we already finished dinner and it was time to put the kids to bed, which was FOMO-inducing at times. Daniel enjoyed evening gatherings like the house check-in, but often became overstimulated and was difficult to put to bed afterwards. The time when we went to sleep in the evening was also a time when people wanted to watch movies on the projector, and it made me sad to keep asking them not to. 

There were also more logistics involved with running a group house, like managing shared expenses and objects, coordinating chores and housemate turnover. Even with regular decluttering, there was a lot of stuff at the house that didn't belong to anyone in particular (e.g. before leaving I cleared the shoe rack of 9 pairs of shoes that turned out to be abandoned by previous occupants of the house). With two kids, we have more of our own logistics to deal with, so reducing other logistics was helpful.

Final thoughts. We are thankful to our housemates, current and former, for all the great times we had over the years and the wonderful community we built together. Visiting the house after moving out, it was nice to see the living room decked out with pretty decorations and potted plants and not overflowing with kid stuff - it reminded me of what the house was like when we first started it. Without the constraints of children living at the house, I hope to see Deep End return to its former self as a social place with more events and gatherings, and we will certainly be back to visit often.

It is a big change to live on our own after all these years. We moved near a few other friends with kids, which will be fun too. We are enjoying our own space right now, though we are not set on living by ourselves indefinitely. We might want to live with others again in the future, but probably with 1-2 close friends rather than in a big group house. 

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[-]Raemon137

I feel sort of empathetically sad that there wasn’t a way to make it work, but that all makes sense.

Living at a group house seems really important for my psychological well-being, though I imagine if I was living with a partner AND kids that’d be a big enough reroll on social circumstances I don’t know what to expect.

[-]Vika42

Yeah, living in a group house was important for our mental well-being as well, especially during the pandemic and parental leaves. I think the benefits of the social environment decreased somewhat because we were often occupied with the kids and had less time to socialize. It was still pretty good though - if Deep End was close enough to schools we like, we would have probably stayed and tried to make it work (though this would likely involve taking over more of the house over time). Our new place contributes to mental well-being by being much closer to nature (while still a reasonable bike commute from the office).

Just curious, but if you found a big group house you liked where everyone had kids, would you be interested? I guess it would have to be a pretty big house.

[-]Vika40

I would potentially be interested, if we knew the other people well. I find that, as a parent, I'm less willing to take risks by moving in with people I don't know that well, because the stress and uncertainty associated with things not working out are more costly.

Space requirements would likely be the biggest difficulty though, as you pointed out. A family with 2 kids probably needs at least 3 rooms, so two such families together would need a 6 bedroom house. This is hard to find, especially combined with other constraints like proximity to schools, commute distances, etc. It's a lot easier to live near other families than sharing a living space. 

Seems you did everything right. Life is not perfect and you seem to have struck a great balance. If you had to formulate guidelines for other parents living with housemates, what would you say? I mean, based on your post it sounds like:

A good time to consider moving is...

  • when the family is taking up so much of the common space the other housemates can't make use of it. Unless they like it that way.
  • when there is not enough space for all the stuff of everybody, including in the fridge, shed, attic. Unless you can take that as an opportunity and declutter.
  • when the kids can't sleep because of the adults' activities (or the other way around). Sleep is important. And none of the countermeasures helped.
[-]Vika20

Thanks Gunnar, those sound like reasonable guidelines!

  • The common space was still usable by other housemates, but it felt a bit cramped, and I felt more internal pressure to keep it tidy for others to use (while in my own space I feel more comfortable leaving it messy for longer). Our housemates were very tolerant of having kid stuff everywhere, but it still seemed suboptimal. 
  • The fridge, laundry area and outdoor garbage bins were the most overloaded in our case, while the shed and attic were sufficiently spacious and less in demand that it wasn't an issue. Gathering everyone for a decluttering spree is a noble effort but a bit hard to coordinate. I found it easier to declutter by putting away some type of object (e.g. shoes) and have people put theirs back (to identify things that didn't belong to anyone). The fridge was often overfull despite regular decluttering - I think it was just too small for the number of people we had, and getting a second fridge would take up extra space. 
  • I would add general disruption of child routines in addition to sleep (though sleep is the most important routine). Surprisingly, it was not as much of an issue the other way around, e.g. the baby was quiet enough not to bother the housemate next door at night. The 3 year old running around the living room in the morning was a bit noisy for the people downstairs though.

Sounds interesting. Always relevant because arguably the "natural state" of humans is hunter-gatherer tribes. In my country high end retirement villages are becoming very popular because of the Pro type reasons you give. It seems some retirees, and gangs! lol are most in tune with their roots.

I had half expected the communal living thing to go more mainstream by now (similar things in fiction like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Too_Like_the_Lightning) It seems it needs a lot more critical mass, e.g. specifically designed house/houses to get the right balance between space and togetherness school right nearby, gated suburb etc so its child safe.

Longer term, I expect to see some interesting social stuff to come from space colonies as there kind of experiments are forced on the inhabitants.