There was a recent discussion on Less Wrong about whether or not ambitious people should have kids.

I didn’t manage to watch it, though I have a lot of interest in the topic. It wasn’t recorded but I can still hope for someone to post lots of details about it in the comments.

One subtheme from the comments that stuck out to me was the idea that there are lots of people who want children (because it would satisfy a genetic urge, or because it is fulfilling, etc.) but delay or decide not to procreate. They hold off because they expect that having children dominates their life in a way which could prevent them as a parent from being able to focus on your work, and this could be a severe limiter for ambitious goals. I certainly resonate with this.

To solve this, I’ve been thinking for a long time that it would be great if a bunch of families lived together. You’d only require one parent (or caretaker) to watch over a bunch of other people’s kids at any moment. Living together has a bunch of other benefits too. It’s hard to find big houses (or a cluster) with all the amenities that a bunch of separate families would need, but it is possible to build such developments to spec.

As a proof of concept, Jefftk raises his kids with a bunch of other adults in the house. I don’t think his house would be big enough for those adults to have their own families, though.

Why don’t people already co-raise their kids with other ambitious families? Well, I think some people probably do, in private situations that we aren’t aware of. But it’s not widespread. It seems like a really difficult coordination problem, to set up a good situation to raise kids with other families all in one place. You have to solve simultaneously for:

  • the space needs of all the families, plus any hired help
  • money: the means to pay for the house (mortgages, rent, etc), wages for hired help if any; plus negotiating loans or room rents across lots of people
  • whatever location constraints you have (for jobs/commutes/schools/etc)
  • all the labor of actually finding or building a home (possibly including solving zoning constraints) and maintenance
  • challenges related to having a bunch of people sharing the same space and presumably working from home, being very busy, etc. (like, there’s a normal cooking rotation but someone gets called away and nobody else has enough time to prepare dinner for 12, clean up afterwards, etc)

Plus, kids themselves are so chaotic (I assume – I don’t yet have kids) that once you have them, I imagine that they dominate your ability to coordinate. It seems like planning ahead might be essential.

Can money solve some of these coordination problems? In the limiting case yes: if, for example, you already happened to own a big building in the center of a big job market, perhaps the Empire State Building, there’s no coordination needed because you could rent or gift rooms to people you wanted to live with. You would still need to figure out how to make those rooms functional for the families living in them (but you could solve that with money as well). And to the extent that such people share some common space, you still need to negotiate the rules of that space. But it’s a lot easier!

So maybe one could solve it if they were a billionaire. Could it be solved on a thousandth of that budget - for a “mere” million dollars?

This is where creativity comes in. A million dollars seems like just barely enough to build or purchase a big house, small multifamily apartment building, or cluster of 3-4 standalone houses, on low-value land. e.g., here’s a 12-bedroom retreat center/B&B with a lot of common space on the market in fairly rural Vermont (but only ~ 2.5h from Boston!) as of this writing listed for $689K.

There are not many such places on the market. But if I can find one in my area online in less than 30 minutes of searching, it should be possible to find more if you are patient, hire a real estate agent, etc.

Would this work? Based on the 5 criteria above:

  • space needs: Is the kitchen big enough? are there enough common spaces and private rooms?
  • money: if everyone puts in a down payment of $100k, you should be able to borrow the rest. this may be achievable. alternatively, maybe one well-off person can borrow it all, or otherwise fund it, and rent to the others; etc. I realize a million dollars is far from chump change, and there are many logistics in pulling it together, but it seems more schlep than impossible challenge. :)
  • location: a rural location seems kinda sucky for anyone who can’t work from home. so this idea would probably be restricted in appeal to people who can plausibly work from home. As for school, maybe kids could go to local school in whatever town; or maybe a homeschooling situation would be feasible.
  • labor of real estate purchase & maintenance: This seems solvable in the early days if there are one or two core founder-types who are motivated to put in a lot of work to make it a reality. Eventually (with additional money) the longer term maintenance work could be outsourced, if nobody wants to do it.
  • solving “roommate conflicts”/negotiating use of space: this seems like the biggest unknown – are some people going to have different standards of cleanliness? can multiple families even share a space at all sustainably? Will noise be a problem? I don’t know how to gather data on this other than trying to figure it out with the specific people I’d be living with, but it seems tractable, especially if everyone who joins is game to accept some early stage chaos while things get ironed out.

I’m particularly interested to hear from people who would like to raise kids in such an environment but are unsure it would work, for some reason. What would convince you that such an idea is worth investing time, energy and money into?