Thursday, 23 February 2017 00:00

It is a most curious and awesome feeling when you wake up in the morning, open the door to your room, and find three people in synchronized yoga poses in your shared living room space, one person cooking a large breakfast in the kitchen, and the other reading a book on the loveseat by the window.

An even greater feeling of joy comes when you walk outside of this space to people rolling into the parking lot from the market on their bikes, fresh vegetables in their backpacks, about to cook up their part of the next potluck dinner for all members of the cooperative community to share. A lovely couple lounges on the hammock in the common area. A friend from the apartment next to yours sits in a chair facing the sun, sipping a cup of tea, gives you a smile, and says, “Hey! How are you today? Coming to the co-op meeting? There will be vegan soup and fresh-harvested lavender honeysuckle sorbet!” (Of course you are—wouldn’t miss it for anything.)

You walk out to the garden that you helped build a few months prior with a few members of the co-op’s garden committee in front of your apartment building, and harvest some peas, greens, and whatever else you can manage out of the space. A plan to cook your part of the potluck dinner tonight is in the works. 

This was my world while living in a cooperative community in the always sunny, always beautiful North Carolina.

Throughout my life, up until my move from Maryland to NC, I had lived in pretty conventional housing spaces—living with parents or with roommates who more or less did their own thing, saying hello in passing when one of us miraculously had time in between working part-time, going to school full-time with internships. These environments, although wonderful and loving spaces, were a little more solitary, making it easier to create and accomplish goals on an individual level, but perhaps a little less conducive to group collaboration or team-oriented goals and focusing on the idea of embracing community.

Everything changed for me when I got a call from a good friend who had recently moved to North Carolina, telling me about how wonderful this community he was living in was. He told me he knew that I’d fall in love with the place and the area, insisting that I visit, because his apartment had an open bedroom. My friends and I arranged a visit within the next two weeks, packed backpacks for the weekend, and drove six hours south to stay with our buddy in North Carolina at the co-op. I knew the moment I stepped out of the car and into that warm, spicy cedar aroma in the air, and found myself enjoying a cup of local coffee at a hip café in town, that this place felt right already. We made our way to the co-op, and were greeted by friendly hellos, though we were not even members of the community yet! I ventured back to Maryland after this trip, feeling different. I had never known community quite like that. My friend called me and offered to move me into the room in his place within the next few days. After having finished up with my bachelor’s degree, serving tables at a restaurant for years, and not feeling completely satisfied with my major’s career opportunities after school, I figured, why not? It took me only about two or three weeks to get my Maryland world settled and to make my way down south to North Carolina. I was incredibly excited—ready to be a part of something bigger than myself and my small town. 

This opportunity was more than I could have hoped for. The cooperative community consisted of three apartment buildings, each with three apartments. Each apartment had two to four people living inside. These spaces were considered “low-income” housing, for people who made less than $28,000 a year—an amazing incentive to create an environment where people felt comfortable with their living situation, able to make ends meet, feed themselves, and have time to be a part of the community’s ongoing projects, group-related upkeep, and grounds maintenance. Basically, this allowed members of the co-op to live happy, healthy lives, working jobs they enjoyed, spending free time doing fun things they loved that made a difference, pushing toward future progress and positive change, and spending this time with people they loved. Yes, this was my kind of home.

I got to be a part of what felt like a large group of family members, working toward common goals of being good to each other, the planet, and the people around us. We worked hard to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all members of the co-op, as well as all guests, visitors, and members of the local community. We offered a hand when others were in need, took care of pets when each other went away, and tended to the outdoor spaces.

We also all enjoyed many days and nights together spent around a bonfire in the community outdoor space, hiking and running around on local trails, cooking and enjoying delicious farm-fresh food, going out and exploring the town, having good conversations over coffee, and listening to live music. It was an experience I had not previously had the pleasure of being a part of, and after being exposed to such collaboration—such genuine love and teamwork—I didn’t want to not have this in my life. After these experiences, I learned a lot about myself and about others.

Living with a community of people taught me how to keep open lines of communication, work collaboratively to create goals and projects, and understand that although people may not work the same way as I do, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing! Diversity is what makes this life so interesting and beautiful. It taught me how to open up and let go of any ego, walls, or defense systems that I may have had from previous toxic living situations. Dropping passive aggression and negativity opened up so many doors to collaboration and love.

With this community, I was introduced to the very wild and wonderful idea of “being completely myself.” Crazy idea, huh? Through this community, I thrived. The support I received from my co-op family on a daily basis was beyond measure To have a home away from home, a family away from family—now that is something special.

I believe that this is true of any community space or gathering. When people come together with the love of humanity in their hearts, so much can be accomplished. I carry these stories with me every day, and they have led me to a happier, more open and understanding lifestyle. We can meet our goals! It’s always easier together.

Friday, 13 January 2017 00:00

This is an interesting new concept in housing options. Podshare provides a safe environment to those who prefer to have a live/work situation membership rather than renting or owning an apartment. When you join Podshare, you get a security code so that you can have access to three locations in the Los Angeles area with a bunkbed to sleep in. Their plan is to expand to have a nationwide network of locations that can be accessed with one membership.

When you arrive, you are assigned a bunkbed pod. Some of the bunks have Murphy beds that raise to create a desk area. You have access to a bathroom and kitchen. The memberships are meant to be short-term, with many members staying only a few months. Some members are travelers, some need a short-term place to live, and some use the pod locations as workspaces. The spaces have been designed with Millennials in mind, and are great for social interaction. Take a look at the video below to see how Podshare was created.

With our world population growing, and minimalism becoming popular, this could be the new norm in housing. We have a similar dormitory-style housing area at the ecovillage. Our dormitory is great for those who want to try ecovillage living before committing to a one-year apartment lease.


Monday, 07 November 2016 00:00

I wanted to share this delightful teahouse that a neighbor of mine has in front of her home. It has a quaint seating area for two, a living roof with plants, and rain chains to guide the water down to her flower beds. 


Edited by Lisa Charles, MPH

Saturday, 03 October 2015 00:00

 I am fascinated by the tiny house movement. With ever-increasing housing costs, the idea of living simply in a small, affordable, perhaps off-the-grid home becomes more appealing by the day.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. Many of these homes, often built on wheeled trailers to skirt the issue of building permits, run smaller than most apartments. Typical sizes can range anywhere from 100 to 500 square feet or more. Many require special alternative amenities, such as solar power, composting toilets, and septic tanks.

While they do have their drawbacks, however, these small abodes also come with several advantages. One of the main boons is the cost. Brian Schulz, a resident of Oregon, built a 200-square-foot home out of salvaged wood and other materials found within a 10-mile radius of where his house stands. He spent $11,000 on materials total, most of that going toward concrete, insulation, and other necessary non-naturally-found materials for his 14-by-16-foot home. Most of his wood he sourced and milled himself from a friend’s forest, beach driftwood, and other discarded wood to create a beautiful and unique house all his own. You can see more of his home here.

Moving farther away to a place most people consider too expensive to own property, Kristie Wolfe bought a quarter-acre plot in Hilo, Hawaii, for $8,000 and, over the course of a two-month period, built what she calls her treehouse, shrouded in the rainforest, for $11,000. She finds the 225-square-foot escape freeing. Surrounded by windows staring into the jungle, the space feels much larger than it is, and she finds living simply much easier than she would being weighed down by excess belongings. She gives a tour of her treehouse here. If a quarter acre sounds too small, consider that it took me only a quick search online to find multiple two-plus-acre plots for sale for under $10,000 in California, Oregon, and Washington. Adding a few more thousand above that greatly expands the possibilities.

Since these houses are smaller than traditional housing, owners focus on not wasting any space, capitalizing on features and furniture that serve multiple purposes. Many have tables or seating that fold to create other uses, such as bedding. Stairs frequently house storage options. Kristie Wolfe’s treehouse uses a bathroom sink that drains into the toilet bowl for water conservation and space saving.

If you are tired of spending money on rent and are curious about the idea of living in a less complicated house, I encourage you to look into the small house movement and see if it interests you.


Photo 1 credit: Amanda “Earthworm” from Flickr

Photo 2 credit: Tammy Strobel

Thursday, 10 September 2015 00:00

It’s really no secret or surprise that our landfills have become a problem and the way we consume - make, take, dispose - isn’t turning out to be ideal. Designers, builders, and companies are starting to realize that a linear consumption model will lead us straight to...well, where we are now. A place that’s unsustainable.

And so leaders in the sustainability movement are trying to bend the lines of that model to help create a circular economy. And the good people of Brighton, England have come up with the latest in insanely cool ways to make a circle out of what we’ve already made in a linear way: take our very common trash and make building materials out of it.

The Brighton Waste House is the United Kingdom’s first house made almost entirely from waste - jeans, coffee cups, lights, chalk, toothbrushes, video cassettes (remember those?) and more. The house is currently not housing anything other than an experiment - it’s a test case for new building materials, along with new types of windows and solar panels. For instance, toothbrushes (20,000 of them diverted from landfill and oceans) and video cassettes are being tested for their insulation properties. 

The other goal of this house is to show that low-carbon homes can be built cheaply, quickly, and sturdily using materials that were once thought to be trash.

The kitchen countertop? It’s made from old coffee cups and grinds!

The staircase? Thrown away paper!

As we start to run out of raw materials and their cost begins to rise and make them prohibitive, this kind of thinking outside the landfill box could very well be our future. Head on over to the Guardian to see just how good looking our trashy future could be. 

Photo credit: Andrea Westmoreland