Wouldn’t it be great if we could all create our very own customized utopia? That’s exactly what Therese Clerc, founder of La Maison des Babayagas is doing, and I think baby boomers are going to thank her for her efforts. At the very least, they should sit up and take notice.
Her vision is to create a Realistic Utopia, a place where old age would be an adventure to look forward to, instead of a looming disaster. Clerc is creating a place where senior independent women (single, widowed, and divorced) can live out their lives “alone together,” in a manner of their own choosing.
She was inspired to undertake this mission after taking care of her aging husband for many years. Once widowed, she realized that she had no desire to put a similar burden on her children. For the past twelve years she has worked tirelessly to bring this “realistic utopia” to life. La Maison des Babayagas is designed as a “guild of solidarity” devoted to the art of aging well. (The name references a grandmotherly witch from Slavic folklore.)
Based in Montreuil, France (a suburb of Paris), La Maison des Babayagas is a self-managed cooperative society for senior women, without the institutional constraints of a nursing home or a rest home. It’s a place where residents can live out their old age in dignity, at their own pace, according to their own preferences, with other like-minded women.
The self-managed housing is designed to accommodate twenty women living independently in studio kitchen apartments, sharing common areas. La Maison has no permanent nursing staff or medical equipment. The residents share the duties of running the house, and provide ongoing support to each other.
Clerc secured significant funding from the community by creating a partnership with UNISAVIE, a University of Knowledge about Old People. (Love that!) In addition to the senior apartments, there are four additional units for university students within the community. There is also a spa on the premises to take care of the body, a place for entertainment, and rooms for education and continued learning, all thoughtfully designed to stimulate the mind and nurture the spirit. All this, at one-tenth the cost of a nursing home.
The Babayagas seem to have thought of everything. Three to four times a year during the planning stages, they took short trips to the country to form friendships and make certain they could all live well together. The women also engaged the services of two mediators to resolve conflicts that may arise.
If you’re wondering why only women, there’s a good reason. France has a whole lot more single ‘alone’ women than men. 77% of all women 65 and older live alone, while 75% of men that age still have partners. The numbers are quite similar for the US, where on average we have 5 times as many single older women as men.
While a realistic utopia is a paradoxical concept, it’s one that just might help reframe the aging process, and change society’s opinion about “old ladies” to boot.
Robyn Waters is president and founder
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