I'm starting to appreciate the full range of benefits of co-habitating with my boyfriend's family, a lifestyle formerly known to me as "mooching." Admittedly, I originally was eager to partake in the no-rent, frequent-free-meals, high-quality-shower type of benefits. These selfish reasons are certainly the temptation of every low-life mooch. I felt less guilty, however, after I read Little House on a Small Planet.
A central theme of the book is that more house equals more waste. It's wasted energy to heat and cool, wasted land and resources and space for other species, wasted time because it takes more work to afford it and more housework to maintain it — basically that houses can waste time and be a drain to Planet Earth.
A year ago my partner and I were heating our cabin in Washington, my partner's brother was heating his downtown Austin apartment, and my partner's parents were heating this whole house. First the brother moved into the house, then we followed. The house that was supporting two now supports five people and three dogs. By sharing a single house, this family and I are using a more responsible portion of the world's resources.
In the middle class United States, it is common for a child to grow up, leave a bedroom empty in his/her parents' house, and create a new household with a mate. Sometimes this new household is new construction, tearing up land that has never been built on, creating new roads, mining, smelting, shipping materials of various toxicities, and so forth. Meanwhile, that empty bedroom is still being heated and cooled, as a "guest room" or maybe a "sewing room." Bummer for Earth. Not to mention new households mean new household goods, which have to be manufactured, transported, stored, and eventually fill up the landfill.
Our tendency to create our own lovenests makes us a "neolocal" society. Back in the day it was perfectly normal to move in with the folks — and it still is in other cultures. These kinds of families can share labor, expenses, and childcare. With so many of us struggling economically, maybe it's time to think about what we lose when we trade the clan for a nuclear family.
Having a neolocal society means that we also lose some benefits of community. New construction leads to sprawl, and sprawl often leads to de-centralization of community. Isolated and fearful, some families try to install community through structured programs or youth groups. Many kids are shuttled from door to door by way of car door.
The more I gain by being around my partner's family, the more I wish I could gather all my loved ones in one place. What if I could ride a bike instead of taking a plane to visit them? What if I could babysit for my long-time friend? What if I could share dinner with my chosen clan every night?
Being here has made me feel supported in every sense of the word. I have more free time and money. I have an extra mom, dad, and big brother that give me love as well as space. I don't have a child, but my dog is getting much better socialized now that he has two other dogs, three other human caretakers, and a big fenced yard in his life.
I lived the most difficult way possible out of socially-conditioned pride, but now I see the benefits found on the other side of stigma. Of course, this is not to say I'll live here forever. To live my ideals, accomplish my goals and not live as a mooch, it behooves me to create my own home/community and share it with others. Until we find our own place, I continue to HIGHLY appreciate the eco-friendly hand-out. (Thank you, family!)