Sunday, April 26, 2009


As the economic "crisis" deepens, many Americans are struggling to keep their heads above water financially. For many, this means a reexamination of their family budgets, seeking cuts in expenditures wherever possible.
For some, this means a resurgence of carpooling, or reducing energy usage, or finding ways to keep their food costs in line, up to and including growing your own food, or buying in larger quantities among multiple families.
For those of us old enough to remember leaner financial periods, these are not new ideas. The multi-family purchase of complete sides of beef, etc. were all the rage in the 60's. I can remember butcher shop plans for buying large quantities of meat, which included the free use of a freezer, and the savings were substantial. This was long before the advent of big box food centers, but it made financial sense.
I can even remember a time where seven families went in together and each made one dinner per week, large enough to feed everyone, and delivered them each afternoon to the houses on our block. Of course this did save energy (although not a concern at the time), but mostly it saved time and effort; as more and more families were responding to the economic challenge with the creation of two income families.
Which brings me to my current observations. As someone in the architectural coatings industry (all right, I sell paint), I try to find new construction or remodeling leads in my region, and as a result of this I have noticed a burgeoning rental vacancy rate, at least in the Southern California market. This didn't make sense to me at a time when many homeowners are losing their houses these days, but when interviewing a large volume rental property owner recently, I realized that many renters are feeling the pinch, and moving in with friends, family or their parents in an effort to save themselves money, as well as their new roommates. This not only saves money on rent, but energy (air conditioning costs out here are enormous), and food bills as well. Not to mention giving all concerned a support system.
And so, I have to ask.....Will this current economic crisis make communal living in vogue once again? We certainly have our share of condominium and town home communities in California, which is, in a way, the creation of a commune in and of itself, with one difference, most are comprised of strangers, but the advantages and potentials are there.
Do we really need these enormous 2500 square foot homes to heat and cool, and landscape and build pools behind? As the worlds resources dwindle, will this mode of living come out of fashion?
Just today, I took my family to the local nursery for some flowers to plant in our front yard, and I sparked a conversation with the manager (as I do), who told me the flower market is staying steady (cheaper than buying at a flower shop for gifts and occasions), but the eatable plant market is booming for him. Potted herbs, tomatoes, vegetable seeds, dwarf fruit trees and the like are all increasing in volume as many are seeing their back yards in a whole new way. Clearly, they are responding to the economic crisis in a very healthy way.
Whether forced by the economy, or as a prudent new found austerity, growing food makes sense. Doing your own laundry rather than dry cleaning wherever possible makes sense. Renting that empty spare bedroom may make sense, and carpooling or taking mass transit certainly makes sense.
Will these economic times force us to rethink the way we live, and spend? Will many see the advantages of a multi-family complex with which to share expenses and as a support community become popular once again? Probably not. we are Americans, and once the economy starts to grow, we will be right back at our own ways, but there is a sort of romance involved in the communes of the sixties. Many families pulling together and sharing expenses and resources to live a better life. Home schooling, community gardens, and a large, nuclear, or extended family.
Communal living could be a remarkably viable means for enriching lives; through sharing and maximizing of resources. Instead of owning many of any one product, you will own less, but share a wider range of items. By pooling the community money, creativity, skills, assets, ideas and resources you may find you could supply everyone's basic needs through communal energies. You might find an abundance of all things available to you, and an optimization in the efficiency of their use.
For example, sharing the use of automobiles, and making a communal dinner each evening. One car can serve numerous people, thus requiring fewer of them; and not only does everyone get a wholesome, nutritious meal each night, but they also only have to cook and cleanup once a week, or less, for example and then only as part of a team.
Does this make sense, or have I seen one to many episodes of "Big Love?" Let me know by clicking on the word comment below. Thanks, as always, for spending time in my world. "The World According to Kimba."

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