Beacon Hill is not a neighborhood normally associated with families who intentionally “live without.”
But at the Beacon Hill Friends House, a modern Quaker homestead on Chestnut Street, there are no chandeliers or silver spoons in sight.
To the nearly two-dozen live-in residents, simplicity means more than purging excess things: It’s a spiritual life-stance, the core of their community-based living.
“I first moved here when I was at Boston University,” said Christy Little, 25, the Beacon Hill Friends House residency manager. “I knew some people who lived here already, and I wanted something more than what the dorm life was offering.”
(Photo by Hanna Trudo)
Little oversees the Friends House residents, who range in age from their 20s to mid-60s.
She described the selection process for housing as similar to applying to college, “but more personal.” Not all residents are Quaker, but they abide by Quaker values of peace and tolerance.
“One of the first reasons I was attracted to BHFH was the diversity, especially in age,” Ian Bell, a 21-year-old resident, said. “I’m fairly certain I’m the youngest person at the house right now, and connecting with older individuals with a variety of experiences is exciting.”
Little, who has lived and worked in the community for two years, emphasized the value of “less-is-more” living in a shared space.
“We don’t spend a lot of money on luxury items,” she said. “Our priorities are more about getting along together, and less on the physical space.”
Family dinners, a tradition since the house’s founding in 1957, are a central community activity for residents.
Holly Baldwin, director of the Beacon Hill Friends House, views mealtime – often curry chicken or tofu with rice and salad - as a chance to practice sustainability while interacting.
“We consume less by buying things in bulk, so our footprint is smaller. We strive to live as better stewards of the earth,” she said. “I think that when we live in a community like this, we are fixing a lot of our basic needs, [including] social needs [by] eating together family-style.”
With a diverse group of career-focused residents that include a writer, computer scientist and massage therapist, skill sets also are shared in the house. Residents serve on committees that oversee various aspects of the non-profit Friends House.
Each resident is assigned individual responsibilities, including cleaning, but there are few “hard rules” in the house, Little said. Shared kindness is the overarching theme: When someone is sick, others will take over his or her tasks.
“When people have minor emergencies that come up, almost always a few people will go down to visit them, because it’s no fun to be in the hospital by yourself,” Baldwin said.
Unlike many conventional Christian-based religions, members of the BHFH aren’t united by traditional prayer recitation.
“Not everyone in the house is Quaker, and our variety of Quakers aren’t into saying vocal prayers,” Baldwin said. But a passage from the 1600s by Isaac Pennington, which promotes peace, forgiveness and helping one another, exemplifies the values that residents “try to live up to,” she said.
Residents say they take pride in practicing tolerance and togetherness and forging a sustainable community in one of Boston’s most prestigious zip codes.
“I never feel judged living here -- ever,” said Bell.
This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Hanna Trudo, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (firstname.lastname@example.org), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.