by Charles B. Maclean, PhD, Trillium Hollow Cohousing

October 2006

Cohousing isn’t for everyone, so how do you determine if it’s a good place for you? Here are a dozen questions to help you explore aspects of that decision. The questions are intended to make your determination easier and, just as important, the underlying issues they probe might prevent an ill-fated mismatch of your expectations with the realities of life in cohousing.

1. What are your hopes for living in cohousing that attract you and are these expectations realistic for the community you are considering joining? 

Put another way, what needs in your life are not being met that you hope will be met in cohousing? Voice your expectations early and gather feedback from residents about their experience. Listen to the words and watch for behavior that demonstrates that they walk the talk.

2. What would you like to learn while living in cohousing?

Cohousing is a great place for co-learning. You can be both a learner and a teacher. Perhaps you’d like to learn about landscaping, cooking, math or computers. There may well be someone in your community who would like to teach you what they know.

3. What would you like to teach, model or mentor while living in cohousing?

Your investment of “self” is core to the building of community.

4. Do you look forward to playful connected time like some shared meals, discussion salons, celebrations or community gardening?

Hermits thrive elsewhere. Cohousing is about both togetherness and aloneness. You don’t have to be an extrovert to thrive in community; introverts are equally essential to a healthy community.

5. Are you receptive to giving and receiving emotional and physical support whether it’s a ride to the airport, emergency childcare or a listening ear during a crisis?

Living in cohousing can make life simpler, safer and more nurturing because of the support systems that don’t depend on relatives.

6. How good are you at establishing your own boundaries and respecting the privacy and boundaries of others?

Living in cohousing is up-close and personal. You will do well to learn to say “yes” or “no” with conviction. It’s your “nos” that give meaning to your “yeses”.

7. Are you willing to learn and use a consent decision-making process?

Living in cohousing requires that we sometimes let go of short-term personal preferences in order to assure the long-term sustainability of the community.

8. Are you willing to contribute 6-10 hours a month of work time to complete the tasks essential to keep the community running and alive?

Sharing the load and doing it together keeps spirits up, costs down and is the glue of community.

9. Do you value building quality relationships and spontaneous socializing with a wide range of people from different age groups, ethnic, political and spiritual viewpoints and lifestyles whom you might never meet in a more conventional neighborhood?

Cohousing embraces diversity at a very deep and practical level. It isn’t always easy but it’s always invigorating.

10. How do you handle conflict situations?

Six days out of seven, cohousing is wonderful. But living in cohousing will involve some conflict because deeply committed, passionate people bump up against each other once in a while. If you can use the energy of conflict to produce creative, positive change, you will thrive. Once you are considering a specific community, the questions become how well you would fit with its members. You might ask:

11. Do you know why other cohousers have left this community?

Healthy communities pay attention to why people leave. They debrief those who leave, learn from experience and are willing to talk about it.

12. What would likely cause you to want to leave cohousing and how can you and fellow cohousers address those concerns in advance to help assure that situation doesn’t arise?

Too few new cohousers discuss their “conditions for satisfaction/ dissatisfaction” up front and only learn of them after it’s too late. Voicing those conditions is a courageous and essential exercise that makes you proactive and not a victim.

Charles Maclean, PhD, was one of the members of the core group that created Trillium Hollow Cohousing in Portland, OR, where he continues to live. He is a donor advocate and the chief committed listener of

Charles is also the author of the 39-Question, 360-Degree Self-Assessment Tool, “Will You Survive & Thrive in Cohousing?” available at

© 2002, 2006 Charles Bernard Maclean, PhD, All rights reserved