The Bondi household, with Lars Goldstein in the middle at the rear. Photo: James Horan
The term "group housing" conjures images of student life, with people crammed into every conceivable space. But it doesn't have to be that way. Sunday Life meets three people who appreciate the benefits of sharing the roof over their heads.
Lars Goldstein, 40, lives in Bondi in Sydney with his partner Vera, their children Paula and Leo, and two flatmates. An architect and stay-at-home dad, he and Vera have had about 12 flatmates since their first child was born six years ago.
"I moved to Bondi eight years ago as a backpacker [from Germany], into a three-bedroom house with two living areas. Then I met my partner, Vera. She moved into my room and then we took the lease. After a while we fell pregnant and then we just stayed because we love where we live. One flatmate moved out because he couldn't bear the idea of living with a baby, but another one was very supportive; she even attended the birth.
The Petersham house with Brooke Hemphill lying on the couch. Photo: Nic Walker
"Then we had another baby! It still works. Very few people are reluctant to live with a baby and many are happy to have a look. In the end, they don't have to care for the child, they don't have to change nappies and stuff like that, or cook. They can live their own life, do what they want – it's just that they share a bit of a story of seeing a baby grow up.
"There are probably two major reasons we have housemates. First of all, it is very expensive to live around Bondi, and anywhere in Sydney. Ifyou rent out another room, you save money. And I really appreciate having 'normal people' around because if you are hanging out with young families you are always talking about kids.
"Sometimes there are downsides, like when you come home and it's not as clean. But because our family is the majority here, I usually do most of the cleaning so I don't have to argue.
The Murundaka community with Heidi Lee in the foreground. Photo: Damien Pleming
"This is a semi-detached, long, narrow building and it works quite well. You can find your spots, you can hide, because not everyone wants to hang out all the time. We have a garden, which really helps as well.
And one more thing which really helps us living together is that we all like surfing a lot. So you have a common theme you talk about – the waves. 'Have you been down there?' 'Yeah, I had a good surf.' We also shape our own surfboards in the garden.
"Living like this is good. I recommend it. Obviously having kids is a big thing, you have to do all the work and you can't expect anything from a flatmate. But it helps to hang out together."
As told to Jackie Dent
Heidi Lee, 32, lives in the co-housing community of Murundaka, in north-east Melbourne, with her partner Chris Grose, 31. Their two-year-old daughter, Elle, was born on site and is referred to as "the community baby".
"I wasn't intimidated about living in very close proximity to people because I'd spent some time at university in a large share house with 14 students. I loved it, so the idea of living in a community with my family was really appealing.
"At Murundaka community, everyone has their own fully equipped house with a courtyard or balcony clustered around a central, shared facility, which includes a big common house, laundry, commercial kitchen, multipurpose rooms, kids' game space and library. The rest of the land is shared gardens.
"We have garden working bees, the finance group has meetings and, given my background in architecture and building, I'm in the maintenance group and the waste group. We are aiming to eventually eliminate waste from our community. Sometimes there can be 25 adults in a room sitting together deciding on our policy on pets, or solar panels, or running an event.
"There have been challenges, absolutely. By and large, our community is [made up of] a lot of people who are activists for social change. Getting a whole bunch of people together who have enormous passion and knowledge about how to live better - and we all really want that – can definitely lead to misunderstandings. I don't think I've been floored by any of the challenges – not that I've been necessarily well-equipped to deal with them!
"Our first child, Elle, has just turned two. The amount of support we got from the community in the first few weeks was phenomenal. It was everything from cooked meals to people doing laundry for us; others were just there day or night when I was walking around with a new baby, saying, 'She won't sleep!'
"Chris and I often reflect on how lucky we are to be able to share this with everyone. I don't know how new families get through those early stages in a normal suburban setting when you're isolated from everyone. My experience was that I had my own home and private space, but any time I felt like company I walked out my front door.
"Someone named Elle 'the community baby' and it has stuck. She might go and do weeding in the garden with someone, go and knock on someone else's door to play with the cat or the children there, sing with some people and speak French with others. These opportunities are just a huge bonus of living where we do.
"We're expecting another baby soon. Not me personally – it's a collective we!"
As told to Lindy Alexander
Brooke Hemphill is a 36-year-old writer who lives in Petersham, in Sydney's inner west, with five other people and a cat.
"I've lived in Sydney for nine years and gone back and forth between living alone and sharing. The last share house was a rough experience that culminated in a flooded bedroom that the landlord insisted I pay rent for, despite it being unlivable. Then I moved into a glorious one-bedroom apartment and swore I wouldn't share again.
"I loved my rented one-bedder. But it's impossible to save money when you're paying $450 a week rent. And so here I am, living with five other people. And a cat. But paying a third of the rent. Financially, it makes sense. Mentally, the jury is still out. Sharing again after two blissful, yet at times lonely, years is not without its challenges – and, I'm surprised to admit, rewards.
"Co-habitation is an ongoing lesson in compromise and tolerance. For example, why is there suddenly a milk crate in the downstairs toilet? Or a power cable running the length of the – wet – bathroom floor. Where did that tyre in the backyard come from? What happened to the only ladle in the house? For reasons unknown, you'll later spot it in the fridge on the third shelf. Then there's the cleaning roster which once had a person assigned to 'wiping the benchtops', a job I'm of the belief should fall under the title of 'everyone cleans up after themselves'.
"Sometimes, odd things that happen in the house turn out to have perfectly good explanations, like the random kettle on the upstairs bookshelf. That's the second-floor tea station, of course. Or the two litres of milk sitting on the window sill. Someone is making yoghurt. Why else would it be there?
"It stands to reason that the older you get, the more you struggle in a share environment. You get set in your ways, habits start to form. In my case, it doesn't help that I have a few years on my housemates. Several of them are still at university and one is currently trying out a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle, hence the yoghurt-making.
"Now that I'm inching closer to 40, I've moved past those experimental 'finding myself' days. I'm probably correct when I argue the downstairs bathroom needs to be cleaned more than once a month. But perhaps I should loosen up when it comes to other things, like the 17 towels hanging on the back of the bathroom door, because what I'm discovering is that good things come from letting go and looking at the world from someone else's perspective.
"You might discover a better way of making fried rice courtesy of your Japanese housemate, or be lured for an invigorating winter swim to celebrate Sweden Day on a random Friday night, something that never would have happened if you were living all on your lonesome.
"A sense of adventure, tolerance and understanding are excellent character traits to foster at any age. That said, those revelations come with an urge for a household PA system to make announcements like: 'Could the person who owns the bag of groceries on the kitchen bench under the Viking helmet please put them away.'
"Is it any wonder that there are almost two million single-person households in the country? I think not. But this really will be the last time I share. No, really."