Many people talk about cohousing but few actually commit to it. For Mary Jordan, a founder of the RareBirds Housing community in Kamloops, BC, it was the image of a boiling frog that finally moved her to act.
Specifically, in the Spring of 2011, she went with some friends to see the Canadian environmental film, “How to Boil a Frog,” a comedy-documentary which popularized the boiling frog fable.
The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The film suggests that humans are in the position of the frog, oblivious to the dangers of a slowly warming planet.
“I’d had conversations with friends before about our over-consumption,” she says. “Here we are, a bunch of singles or empty nesters, everybody having their own appliances, taking up way too much space… we realized it would be more practical and sustainable to live together. But it was just talk; it didn’t materialize.”
Then came the film and its suggested solutions, one of which was cohousing. Mary, who is a part time counsellor, began emailing friends to talk about the idea. A number of them came to a meeting, then another meeting, then a retreat… within three years they’d bought a vacant lot with majestic views of the Thompson River and the group, three singles and three couples, moved into their custom-built, 6,000-square foot home.
“Right from the start we had the same vision, that we would live as an intentional family in a shared home,” Jordan says. “We didn’t realize what an anomaly that was.” Most cohousing developments, she’s learned since, are much bigger and involved self-contained dwellings. “I think our size, just six units, helped us move quickly.”
Mary Jordan will share her experiences with cohousing as part of a workshop, Is Co-housing Your Next Step? in Toronto October 20-21.
“One of the biggest surprises for me has been the amount of change we’ve gone through in the last four and a half years,” she reflects. Indeed the household has successfully transitioned the death of a member and two (soon to be three) changes in membership, which takes some energy.
“You kind of get into a rhythm or a hum and of course anybody coming or going into the community is a disruption. You all have to feel your way for a bit. New people who have come in say it takes a year to learn all the stories and become part of the history. So you need some flexibility.”
Is it worth the effort? Looking back from her vantage point now, seven years after she first put things in motion, would she do it again?
Jordan doesn’t hesitate. “You know, I ask myself that and yeah, I would. Sometimes I may get cranky with something that’s going on and wonder for a moment if it’s worth it. And then I say, ‘Mary, you live in a beautiful house with a bunch of wonderful people, what could be better?’
“The community is a joy. Conversations, chatter, people. I enjoy the camaraderie, interesting conversations with guests, learning about people’s activities. These relationships are strong bonds of support.”
She pauses briefly to reflect, then: “I suppose it may be easier to live by yourself. You don’t need to consult anybody, you make all your own decisions, you can leave your dirty dishes in the sink if you like… but who wants to live like that? People need community.”
Number two in a series highlighting the leadership and themes to be explored at Is Cohousing Your Next Step, October 20-21, in Toronto. Read the whole series:
- An intentional family: Mary Jordan and the RareBirds
- Why you’ll live healthier, longer in cohousing (Oct 4)