A New Face For Communal Living | Robin Sparks

A New Face For Communal Living

As some of you may know, I have been living in an intentional community in Marin California this summer. You see, even when I am ‘home’, I experiment with new ways of living in the world.

I dreamed of living in community for years, and although I had thought it would happen in Bali, it has come to fruition in Marin, California. I love the lifestyle. In short I live with 8 people in a beautiful home in Novato, California. In our home we have 3 married couples and 2 single women. There are a number of other communal living houses in the Bay Area. I call it an upscale commune.

Here is the view from one of the community homes in Novato, California. The view from a community home in Novato

I will write more about my personal experience living in community in the near future, but for now, here is an article recently published in Common Ground Magazine, co-authored by 4 women in my community – Debra Price Van Cleave, Dr. Amore Vera Aida, Teri Bigio Berling, and Fay Freed.

A New Face For Communal Living – A New Day For an Ancient Way of Life

“You have been telling people that this is the 11th Hour, now you must go back and tell them that this is the Hour, and there are things to be considered: Where are you living? What are your relationships? It is time to create your community.” Hopi Elder

If you’re still imagining hippies and hacker hostels when you think about communal living, you may want to think again. Across the Bay Area, from twenty-something tech entrepreneurs to baby boomers, individuals, and couples with or without children, intentional communal living or co-living is often the housing option of choice and with good reason – the benefits are many.

Ancient tradition with a modern twist: Since ancient times, people across the globe have been living in groups for reasons as diverse as safety and security, building cities, developing agriculture, or simply fulfilling the human need for belonging. People then, as now, discovered that doing life alone is really not a viable option for having a thriving life, especially as we age.

Many of today’s communities worldwide are examples of ‘transitional’ lifestyles for a more sustainable future on Earth, rich with goodness but without compromise for the generations to come. This in comparison to the intensive consumption and wasteful style inherent in traditional nuclear families model. Examples of current styles of communal living include the Kibbutz movement in Israel, Findhorn Community in Scotland and Damanhur in Italy, co-housing and farm-based communities across America and worldwide, as well as the compound-style of extended family in Bali. Locally, Green Gulch Buddhist community and a multitude of techies living together in San Francisco and Silicon Valley are current examples of communal experiments.

A Marin County Successful Communal Experience: Let us tell you about our successful intentional community model for the urban-suburban environment. We are a diverse group of boomers and genXers living a thriving lifestyle in various configurations of households for more than 25 years. We are passionate about this powerful, viable, sustainable and timely solution for living vibrant lives.

Over the years, we’ve raised children, created businesses, traveled, invested, celebrated and grieved together. As a group, we’ve supported many socially responsible organizations. In short, we’ve intimately shared our lives and supported each other through all of life’s twists and turns. Community is a lifestyle we feel to be the perfect antidote to today’s fast-paced, stressful, expensive and isolating design. While it’s not for everyone, we’ve 
found that there are many benefits of intentional community living that might resonate for you, too.

Financial Benefits: Living in community is more affordable, making a higher lifestyle available by sharing. As a homeowner, you can enjoy having additional income and tax benefits. As a renter/housemate, you gain broader access to combined resources, and investment opportunities are sometimes possible.

Personal and Relationships Benefits: At whatever stage of life, you are not doing life alone while having access to privacy and required solitude when you choose. A powerful support system surrounds you in good times and in challenging situations; we solve problems together.

Singles have many more people with whom 
to interact, and the couples find that their relationships are enhanced by having other eyes and ears around them, as well as learning from others. Children are notably well-adjusted because they experience many styles of adult behaviors. There are extensive resources for their enrichment. By the nature of living together, one is prompted to show your best self. By sharing tasks, many hands make lighter work, and of course it’s more fun as well.

We make a difference as a group: Our lifestyle is more sustainable due to 
a lighter footprint on the planet. We share appliances (one stove and two refrigerators instead of many!) and bulk purchases of food and supplies; we use solar energy and conserve utilities. We live our lives with a committed purpose that is conscious and mindful.

Life becomes more creative and interesting: 
Imagine a life filled with delicious gourmet and organic meals together, celebrating occasions, business co-ventures, outrageous parties, multi-dimensional workshops, weddings, memorials, and traveling together!

Many intentional communities in this country and abroad are mission-driven or based on a particular philosophy or spiritual foundation or leader. Our community has no one leader. While we share many common values, we do not share a specific philosophy or religion. What our diverse community homes do share is a practice of appreciation and gratitude, for example giving thanks before a meal. We practice consensus decision-making so that everyone’s voice counts. Regular household meetings assure that all kinds of situations are addressed, with differences and preferences included. This makes for a smoother flow, and more joy and nurturing in community living. We like to say, “In communication, anything is possible.”

Many people ask us how this community got started? There are different ways to tell the story, but the bottom line is that it developed out of the long-standing friendships and sisterly relationships of the women. It was our aligned desire to raise our families in a design different than the single nuclear family model, that of ‘extended family’. The partnership we have received from the men in our lives has made this all possible. (In addition, we were given much guidance and support across the years from friends and experienced mentors.)

This article was co-written by four dear friends passionate about Communal Living: Debra Price Van Cleave, Dr. Amore Vera Aida, Teri Bigio Berling, and Fay Freed (Left to right in the photo.

Additional resources:

Fellowship for Intentional Community

Foundation for Intentional Community

Communities Magazine

Communities Directory

Global Eco-village Network


Co-housing Association of the US


Lafayette Morehouse Community, Lafayette, CA


Damanhur Federation, Piedemonte, Italy


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