What To Read: Phil and Gillian want to live with their friends

This week, we interviewed Phil Levin and Gillian Morris, who write about coliving communities on their newsletter, Supernuclear. This interview has been lightly edited for length.

What's your Substack about in one sentence?

The joys, struggles, and lessons learned in buying or renting a home with a group of people beyond your nuclear family, more commonly known as “coliving.”

What was your first coliving experience that sold you on the concept?

GM: I feel like I’ve been coliving my whole life. The house I grew up in had an open door policy: we always had people staying with us, from exchange students to distant family to friends who were renovating their house and needed a place for a couple months. I didn’t realize it was unusual to have a bunch of loose connections living with you until I got to college. While I learned to respect that others have different boundaries than I grew up with, I always felt there was more to be gained than lost from sharing your space. The idea that “getting your own place” is the ideal we should strive for has always seemed a bit at odds with what’s actually best for us.

PL: I started dating a woman (now my wife) who was a behavioral scientist. She devoured all the research on the drivers of happiness in living situations. We decided that living with people we love and admire was going to be the biggest lever for our daily happiness. And so when we “moved in together” we did so alongside 9 of our besties in a big mansion.

Why did you decide to start writing about it?

PL: We’ve made every mistake in the book so that our readers don’t have to! But also, coliving has brought me so much personal joy and growth that I can’t help but try to get others to experience the same. I want the built environment to be designed around our social needs and not just our architectural ones. 

GM: Coliving is still seen as a bit “fringe” – like it’s only for anarcho-hippy-communist-polyamorists. I believe coliving could be right for a much wider population and want to share stories and best practices so that more people feel comfortable trying out this lifestyle. (To be clear, anarcho-hippy-communist-polyamorists have built incredible coliving spaces and we simply want to widen the circle.)

Is the idea of coliving at odds with the idea of having a traditional family? How do you reconcile the two?

GM: Not at all! I know many families actively coliving and hope to raise kids with a “village” myself some day. We plan to share more stories on this topic in upcoming posts. Historically, raising kids with a trusted group is more the norm than the exception – it’s just in the last 70 years or so that Americans have shifted to this focus of living with just their nuclear family. 

PL: Agree with Gillian. We believe that “kids” are the killer app of coliving and its greatest opportunity. I want my (future) kids to get exposure to a bunch of aunties and uncles in the form of my closest friends. That’s why we started our current coliving community, the Radish.

What are common missteps you've seen people make with coliving?

PL: The most common mistake I see is trying to over-systematize. Coliving communities are like friend groups. They are fluid, built on trust, and driven by norms rather than rules. Skip the chore wheels and build a shared understanding that everyone should care about the space (and each other) instead. You don’t need to legislate everything that might happen. 

GM: A lot of new houses start with a ton of enthusiasm, and people don’t have the tough conversations around how much time and money each person is willing or able to contribute. If you don’t set some ground rules, you usually end up with a crisis at some point: if rooms are empty who is going to pay for them? Who is going to recruit new members? While I agree with Phil that you need to have a base line of trust and assumption of good will with the people you’re living with, it’s worth having some clarifying conversations up front.

This year, a lot of people are finding themselves hanging out in smaller groups at home. Can you recommend a few of your favorite at-home group activities?

PL: Change the wifi password and watch everyone lose their minds?

GM: I think you can tell why Phil is the Agent of Chaos in his house. I just love cooking with my housemates and appreciating those with greater culinary skill than my own. 

Who's another Substack writer you'd recommend?

PL: I love Substack to get in the heads of smart people who otherwise wouldn’t have a platform. There’s an [electrical scooter company] Bird employee who writes fantastical posts about the future of transportation called the B-Line

GM: I was lucky enough to stumble on a talk [Kickstarter cofounder] Yancey Strickler gave towards the beginning of the pandemic on a new philosophy/life management technique he’s developing, Bentoism. Creating my Bento is part of what inspired me to start Supernuclear, and the community has helped me keep building this project.

Subscribe to Phil and Gillian’s newsletter, Supernuclear, or find Gillian (@gillianim) on Twitter.