How does the thought of growing old in a close-knit community of old friends sound to you?
Earlier this month, we shared an article about 7 women from southeastern China
who have purchased a dream home as part of their pact to retire and die together.
The house is beautiful. A 700-sq m (7,535-sq ft) modern house surrounded by paddy fields in suburban Guangzhou. Each of the women has their own room, with communal living spaces on the ground floor. There’s a swimming pool and a tea pavilion too. The friends plan to each learn a skill, such as cooking, gardening and playing an instrument, that will contribute to their retirement household.
The story struck a chord with Thelma & Louise Club members on our Facebook page and group. “This has been my dream for a very long time,” said Gem, a sentiment that was echoed by other women.
“We like to think that this is how Thelma & Louise would have handled retirement, if they hadn’t driven off that cliff!”
Why you should retire with friends
Aside from handpicking the folks by your side as you ease into old age, there are plenty of reasons to retire with friends.
Did you know that a sense of connectedness is vital for your wellbeing? Social isolation can be as bad for your health as obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and comes with a higher risk of depression and weakened self-esteem. A strong social life is an antidote to all that. By retiring with a group of friends, you’re plugging into an already deeply connected community.
It makes financial sense too. On our Facebook page, Linda pointed out, “One of the new retirement homes here in the UK are charging £1250 per week. Special price!! Eye watering monies....” Eyewatering indeed! By downsizing and moving in together, you’re sharing costs and making your savings stretch further. And you’ll have more say over how that money is spent.
It’s also a way to avoid soulless retirement homes, as another member of our Facebook group commented: “This would be much better than a rest home where my mom was when she passed ... Such depressing places. I have always said that I would never end up in one.”
Rest homes may be depressing, but the path there is well trodden. Establishing a retirement commune isn’t so easy, as Nihal pointed out:
“The idea is appealing ... For someone who lives and spends most of her time alone, I find that a sense of community as I get older is a good thing, so, why not. The logistics though are another issue altogether.”
Learn from other baby boomers’ mistakes
Four Toronto-based friends in their 50s and 60s decided to set up a truly shared space
as an alternative to “unappealing” retirement homes and “last resort” nursing homes. Their conversations morphed into a solid plan: a big common kitchen, places for conversation, a guest suite for children and grandchildren, and a small private space of about 57sq m (600 sq ft) each, with everything designed for “aging in place”. The idea was to move in together sooner rather than later because, “it takes time to grow old together; it take time to form a community.”
“The idea was to move in together sooner rather than later because, “it takes time to grow old together; it take time to form a community.””
Ultimately, after 3 years of conversations, workshops and media attention their plan fell through. They needed other people to join their community to make it work but not everyone shared their communal ideas, Toronto real estate costs boomed, and zoning bylaws simply didn’t recognise cohousing as a valid development type. True to their communal living ethos, the friends outlined their process on the Wine on the Porch
blog, so others can learn from everything they went though.
Retirement communes: a new trend
Fortunately, this isn’t the only narrative for co-housing retirement dreams. The baby boomer generation excels at making new options when existing ones don’t appeal. According to US Census Bureau data, living with people you’re not related to is five times as likely to happen nowadays as it was in the 1950s.
There are 165 co-housing communities in the US, with almost the same number again in planning stages. Phoenix Commons
, Oakland, is a good example. In the UK, there are 20 such communities already established, with double that number in development. Interest is co-housing schemes is growing in Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while it’s long been a government-supported housing option in the Netherlands and Sweden. It all points to a growing trend that we need to at least be aware of, if not jumping on board with!