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Cohousing: A Cure for Isolation and Loneliness

The Cohousing ABQ community regularly gathers together, even now before any buildings have been completed, on the cohousing land adjacent to the bosque.

Have you ever felt oddly tired? Distracted and depressed for no particular reason? Maybe I need more sleep, you think, or more exercise, or less stress. Truth is you could just be lonely and suffering from social isolation.

Afternoon picnics give parents a chance to relax while the kids run off some energy.

Loneliness and isolation have gotten so bad in America, the Surgeon General came out with an advisory this year calling it an epidemic, with devastating results on Americans’ physical and mental health. Consider this: “the mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.” According to the advisory, social engagement has fallen steadily for the past 20 years, and the highest prevalence of social isolation is among single parents, older adults, and—believe it or not—young adults. The pandemic, of course, didn’t help, but it did make the problem and its impact painfully obvious.

A project too big for one person becomes a piece of cake with some extra help.

What’s an introvert to do?

I’m particularly familiar with this trend, because I’m an introvert. Always have been. That means I don’t initiate social engagement. I like being social; love talking with friends over a drink or dinner. If someone invites me to do something, I almost always say yes. But myself, I avoid making plans, setting things in motion, making the call. Instead, I busy myself with work and projects, like this article. So when I retired, I knew I needed to sell my house and join a cohousing community. Because only an intentional community would surround me with social opportunities; otherwise, I was looking at years of effort to build a social network through traditional channels—and I don’t have time for all that.

Deeper and more meaningful connections with your neighbors is a benefit many of our members are looking forward to in cohousing.

That’s what brought me to Cohousing ABQ—that and the fact that Albuquerque has 310 days of sunshine a year. It didn’t take me long to find out that an “intentional community” is much more than just being neighborly and sharing weekly meals together. It’s a real commitment to one another. It starts with a shared vision and values. Agreement on things that are really important to all of us, like sustainability, diversity, being close to nature, and nurturing joy in our lives. As we share work and decisions, support one another’s setbacks and successes, and learn how to find consensus and weather disagreements, we grow ever closer. And this is before our community is even built.

An ideal environment for Remote Workers 

While there are many advantages to working from home (avoiding the commute, saving on gas, access to the fridge, walking the dog), the huge disadvantage is the isolation. When I retired, the thing I missed most were not only my great work friends, but all the smaller aspects of socializing: asking someone for their opinion, sharing funny stories, solving problems together, going out for lunch or drinks. It was a rich social environment. Zoom helps, in its own awkward way, but it’s not the same.

In cohousing, remote workers are not alone. In a multi-generational community like ours, there’s bound to be other neighbors around, someone you can take a break with. Or maybe you just watch the little kids playing outside for a while. Take a walk through the gardens and see what’s blooming. Or, in the case of Cohousing ABQ, take a quick walk to the Rio Grande adjacent to our land and see what the river’s up to.

Work hard, play hard; the opportunity for it all is right within the community.

Recently, some cohousing communities have set aside space in their Common House for remote workers. The most likely place to work is the large dining room, generally empty during weekdays. Other smaller meeting spaces in the Common House can often be used for phone calls or Zoom meetings. Or there’s always the patio. No reason to feel confined to your small home office all day—or perhaps need a home office at all.

Support for frazzled parents

Parenting of young children is one of the hardest jobs around. It really does “take a village.”

Many parents feel stressed, isolated, and lonely from having too much on their plate. Jobs, running a household, shopping, getting some exercise, driving the kids to school and activities, taking the dog to the dog park, helping with homework, arranging play dates, arranging family outings, finding time for friends or, don’t forget, your partner. Yikes. Being a single parent, having limited resources, or having a child with physical, emotional or behavioral problems just exacerbates the issue of not enough time in the day.

What you need is a built-in support system. One right outside your door.

Like many of the people who choose a multi-generational cohousing community, the adults at Cohousing ABQ want to be involved in the lives of children and in helping their parents. Whether it’s taking kids to the zoo, reading to them, doing crafts or showing them how to build a chicken coop, we have plenty of skills and interests that kids can learn from while giving their parents a break. Or we can volunteer to drive the kids to school once a week or pick up groceries for their parents when we do our own shopping. For birthdays, holidays, graduations—regardless of age—the entire community comes together to celebrate.

Broken wrist? No problem. An enthusiastic 8-year-old would love to help.

And if an emergency happens? When one of our families had their toddler hospitalized for a serious respiratory infection earlier this year, the community rallied and provided all the food they needed so they could focus on their daughter’s recovery, including bringing dinner to the hospital. Same thing happened when Patti broke her wrist. Even 8-year-old Elizabeth stepped in to help wash Patti’s hair, although Patti wasn’t helping, what with all the laughing.

And what about pet parents? Beyond helping folks with pets by offering to dog or cat sit, at least one cohousing community I read about recently has two households who actually share ownership of a dog, a decision made before the dog was even adopted. One household pays the bills and the other is always willing to dog-sit, so both enjoy having a dog and the dog is happy at either house. Where else would that be able to happen? 

Point is: In cohousing, you’re not alone no matter what life throws at you. The community will help you figure it out, because your well-being contributes to the entire community’s well-being. 

- Pat

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