Lifestyle

Should I live in a commune?



I’ll pause here to acknowledge that if you’re say, over 50, this revelation could seem deranged. What I describe as some kind of counter-cultural revolution is essentially just a neighbour. Living close to someone who generally cares whether you live or die shouldn’t be a life-changing event. For millennia, societies have understood the social and security advantages of having friends and family close by and forming friendships with those who live around you. But I’d guess if you’re under 40 that arrangement might be less of a given. It was a premise we grew up watching countless sitcoms and dramas structured around, sure, but as we entered adulthood ourselves, this idea became more fiction than fact.

Before an unexpected collision of luck, hard work, sacrifice and forced pandemic savings allowed my partner and I to buy a small home in a suburb I’d hardly heard of, we’d braved decades of residential instability. Together and apart we’d trudged through volatile share houses, crumbling apartments and fragile sublets. Leases expired and landlords changed their minds too frequently for any real local connections to be formed. When we did engage with our neighbours it was usually via passive-aggressive WhatsApp groups where renters and owners argued over other people’s Airbnb guests.

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Like so many innocuous parts of life that our parents hardly gave a second thought, neighbours – that is, the kind you can know for longer than 12 months or a couple of years and really get to know – have quietly become something of a luxury. A privilege granted to people who didn’t only have secure enough housing to establish roots, but also the mental space to ask someone about their camellias. And like other vanishing luxuries (education without debt, a good GP who bulk bills, petrol under a $1 per litre) I didn’t really have a sense of what was missing until I randomly stumbled upon it.

I was conscious that the volatility and isolation of urban living stressed me out, but less clear on what had actually been taken. There’s security, and privilege, in knowing you will live in the same house next year. In building a sense of home that extends beyond your own property line and encompasses other people who also feel secure and settled.

And, of course, as with many privileges, the privilege of loving your neighbours shouldn’t be a privilege at all. It should be a right available to all Australians. As obvious and ordinary as a friend who lives close enough to visit in pyjamas.

Wendy Syfret is a freelance writer based in Melbourne and author of The Sunny Nihilist.

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