Home But Not Alone

Imagine moving to a house, apartment or farm that comes complete with a built-in network of caring friends and neighbors. Whether you’re craving Mayberry-style kinship or just an antidote to empty-nest syndrome, one of these “intentional communities” may be right for you

by Sharon Lerner
Twin Oakers working in the field image
Twin Oakers working in the field
Photograph: Justine Kurland

The fact that each person’s share of income is only about $5,000 presents one of the biggest challenges of living at Twin Oaks. Life here is modest. Members make do with a monthly allowance of just $75 for personal expenses, including travel, toiletries and treats. “Objects of envy,” the Twin Oaks term for cars, dining room sets and similar pricey items, must be donated to the community on joining or given away.

Most residents I speak with say they were drawn to Twin Oaks by its values and unconventional lifestyle. Many came at solitary junctures in their lives. But, according to some members, the community’s one-bedroom-per-person policy seems to encourage breakups and new romantic pairings. A resident called Tigger, whose ex-partner and child have left the farm, told me only half-jokingly that the community feeds on the drama: “Since we don’t have TV, that’s how we amuse ourselves.”
By the time I return to Brooklyn, I realize I could never make a home for my family in an intentional community. All the meetings, the coordinating, the accountability to others seem like too much work. Instead, I decide to experiment with a more informal arrangement. When I pick up my son after school, I invite his friend and her mother to come over. Her first response is an incredulous “Now?” Happily, her second response is a shrugging “Why not?” and we wind up spending the rest of the cold winter afternoon pleasantly holed up together.

Just as they’re leaving, I take an even bolder step. Kate, one of my oldest friends, who has two boys around the ages of mine, phones to hammer out a brunch for next month. “Why not just get together tonight?” I say.

“Like right now?” she asks with that same tinge of surprise. Yes.

That evening Kate and I sip wine and assemble the lasagna we’ll all eat for dinner. Our conversation meanders. Nothing we say is momentous or deep. Yet it is precisely this kind of mundane togetherness that I’ve been longing for, a small step toward a more connected existence. It’s not a commune, not even a sleepover. But I’m happy to have had these few hours of connection—and afterward, I’m happy to have my time alone.

Sharon Lerner is the author of The War on Moms. Her next book is about ideal places.

Next: Trading (Vacation) Spaces

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Comments

Paxus Calta04.12.2013

i have lived at Twin Oaks for 15 years and i have never heard anyone refer to a car as an object of envy. We have a fleet of 17 vehicles which we share and as a group tend not to care much about status symbols like cars. There is occasionally envy around things like fancy computers.
Overall Sharron has done her research well for this article and one can get something of a feel for what it is like to be at Twin Oaks.
If you are interested in a longer and somewhat more exotic view of Twin Oaks you can read this:
http://funologist.org/2011/12/10/re-post-island/

Matt 07.12.2012

I've lived in two different intentional communities over the last ten years. I've never been to any of the communities you visited, but we have folks from Twin Oaks visiting all the time. Personally, I could never live at any of the places you mention either, but your statement "By the time I return to Brooklyn, I realize I could never make a home for my family in an intentional community" puzzles me.
You know they're all different, right? For example, my 80 person community on Staten Island is *nothing* like the communities you mention. Making a statement like that is kind of like going to three restaurants you didn't love and deciding you don't like to eat out. You spent a very limited amount of time at three communities out of hundreds. Don't make such sweeping judgments. Most people I've lived with over the last ten years wouldn't want to live in the places you mentioned either--and that's not a criticism of any of the communities. It's an acknowledgement that you visited three relatively similar rural communities and applied that experience to all of us.

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