Cooperative living is a type of lifestyle in which several non-related individuals or individual families share a property or residential space. This differs from living situations such as multi-unit apartments, as the shared property is often jointly rented or owned by the participating members and uses a democratic system of decision making. Many aspects of cooperative living help people share costs and labor to create a suitable living habitat for all involved.
At its smallest level, cooperative living is often found among groups of roommates sharing an apartment or home. While each may have his or her own bedroom, communal spaces, such as the kitchen, living room, and dining room, are equally accessible to all. Roommates living cooperatively must also come to agreements about how rent, utilities and services are divided. Some may also choose to share cooking and food shopping expenses, but many prefer to each do their own shopping and cooking and divide fridge space equally.
Cooperative living may be done on a much larger scale, with residents sharing whole apartment complexes or large tracts of property. While larger co-ops may have each individual or unit in a separate living space, there may still be common areas, such as gardens, entertainment rooms, or gyms, that all members can share. Decisions about the property, such as who to admit, whether to get cost-increasing services such as an internet upgrade, or whether to improve the property with something like a swimming pool are usually decided by an equal-share vote of all members.
There are advantages and disadvantages to cooperative living. One of the greatest advantages is the creation of a support network among members, who may be able to help one another out just as family members might. This advantage is often appealing to those wishing a greater sense of community or family than exists currently in their lives. Borrowing a cup of sugar or asking for emergency babysitting may be a lot easier and friendlier when neighbors are people who residents know intimately and trust.
One of the major disadvantages to cooperative living is that human social behavior is not always egalitarian. Just as in junior high, factions and cliques may form, older members may attempt to rule younger members, and cause for gossip can quickly disrupt a peaceful social environment. Many co-ops adopt strict and comprehensive rules to guide decision making procedures, but conflict management skills are an essential part of any cooperative living situation.