Coho 101
From: Lynn Nadeau (
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 22:16:15 -0500
I wanted to work on some conversational-sounding Plain English for folks who 
have no idea what cohousing is, and want to know more, after a brief 
description.  This is still a draft, but if any of it is useful to anyone else, 
in this form or edited in any way you see fit, please use it at will. 

Lynn Nadeau at RoseWind Cohousing, Port Townsend WA

How is Cohousing Different from Other Neighborhoods Where I¹ve Lived?

I¹d like to be friendly and helpful with my neighbors, and they know it. 

It¹s OK to expect that my neighbor might give me a hand with somethng, and for 
them to ask me if I could give them a hand. Not everyone can help, or always 
wants to, but it¹s ok to ask. Ways we have helped each other (just a few):

I need to carry this table into the house. Is there a time you could help me by 
taking the other end? 
I¹ve been away and will be returning. Could you turn on my heat?
An ambulance pulls up. Several of us head in the direction of the house: is 
there anything we can do to help?
Visitors are coming. Toys and books and sleeping mats are loaned.
Care and errands for someone who is sick or injured. 
Do you have a lasagna pan?
Do you know what this is that¹s eating my garden? How this tool works? 
My neighbor just got bad news/ good news: I listen with interest. 
My friend gave me a bunch of tomatoes- would you like some? 
It¹s my birthday--- let¹s have a potluck!
After the meeting-- I¹ll fold these chairs or help wash the dishes. 
In know it¹s hard for you to get your landscaping done-- show me where you want 
the plants and I¹ll dig them in for you. 
My dad brought me a pie-- would you like a piece?


Half of the land here is divided up into our individual home sites, which we 
own separately. The rest of the land is owned jointly-- we call it the commons. 

We share land and useful stuff on the commons. We pitch in together to take 
care of the commons, as we are interested and able. I couldn¹t do the physical 
work of building the garden fence, and didn¹t have much time, but I painted it 
now and then when I was free. When we made the pump house, I helped with the 
mosaics, but then I had other things to do, and others worked together on the 
concrete pour and the setting up of the walls. 

I have an extra shovel, and put it in the shed for others to share. 
The deer eat things in my yard, but there is a place I can grow vegetables in 
the common garden, protected by the deer fence. 

We do our best to find ways to live in peace with our neighbors. If my dog is 
barking too much, or my cat is digging up the gardens, or my lights are shining 
in someone¹s eyes, or my radio is too loud, I want to know that, and will do my 
best to adjust things so they are ok. And I know my neighbor would do the same 
for me. 

Over time, I get to know others in the group, and they get to know me. They 
know I wish I exercised more, and invite me to join them on a walk. I know this 
one doesn¹t like to be dropped in on, and that one doesn¹t eat chicken. I clip 
an article from the paper that someone might be interested in. 

Like family, we sometimes make each other mad, but we know each other¹s good 
qualities and try to get back on track. We can¹t all be best friends. Some 
folks don¹t have a lot to do with each other, and others are really close, but 
we all feel we are part of a common project. 

We are equals. I may not understand financial stuff, but I have a right to ask 
questions until I am satisfied that what a committee reports on our group 
finances makes sense. It also doesn¹t matter that some of us have plenty of 
money, and others need to work for lower income, or live on a Social Security 
check. That some like opera and some like jazz. Some are extroverts, some are 
quiet and private. Some are more liberal, some more conservative. Some go to 
church, some do not. Some can do heavy lifting, others can¹t. My opnion counts 
as much as the next person¹s. My potatoes are as welcome at the potluck as 
someone else¹s salmon. 

There is no boss. No ³them² in charge. We all manage things together. If you 
want something changed, or added, or started, you share your idea with others, 
and see if they can support it. There is also no ³they² to blame for things-- 
we¹re all on the same team. 

I put out some energy in connecting with my neighbors, and participating in 
various aspects of our living in this arrangement , but I get a lot in return, 
in friendships and security and mutual assistance. 

We aim to cooperate, not compete. Instead of out-voting others, we aim to come 
to an understanding that works for all of us. We call this ³consensus² process, 
and there is a helpful guidebook that explains more about this business of 
group decisions without voting. 

Old patterns take time to change, and sometimes we are challenged to be patient 
and open-minded when others don¹t see things our way. 

We take care of what we share. The flowers in the field, the shovel I borrow, 
are treated like they are mine, in my responsibility for them too. We are 
careful with each other¹s stuff, too. I choose where I walk in the gardens, so 
I don¹t step on someone else¹s plants; I remember to close the garden gate, so 
our gardens don¹t get tromped by deer or dogs. We pick up after our dogs on the 
common land. We pick up after ourselves. I pull a weed from the path as I walk 
through. I see a piece of trash and take it home to throw out. 

We will have a community building. I¹ll have a part in what the ³common house² 
looks like, how it is used, keeping it clean. I¹ll have a chance to sing a song 
together or debate or mop up a spill, with my neighbors. We¹ll have this place 
to go and find company when we want to talk or relax. We¹ll have an 
appreciative ³audience² when we put together a spaghetti feed, and lend a hand 
with clean up when someone else cooks. We¹ll find cool stuff at garage sales 
for the kid space, and tidy it up when it gets messy. We can have our friends 
over and make applesauce together in a big kitchen we share. 

I feel like my child is safe with any of my neighbors. The child next door, 
when she was younger, used to wake up before her mom and get bored. Knowing 
that the retired couple down the hill were early risers, she had her mom¹s 
permission to go over there, where she could count on a bowl of cereal and a 
game of Go Fish. 

My security is not in being ³gated² , but in being open and connected. 

We are quite the opposite of a ³gated² community in every way. Public-access 
pathways cross our land and are well travelled by neighboring children 
bicycling to school, or adults taking an exercise walk or coming home from 
work. We have few fences and gates, even among our private yards. Almost every 
member of RoseWind is active in community affairs: individuals work with the 
Women¹s Center, Homeless Shelter, Land Trust, Planning Commission, Historic 
Preservation Board, tape recording news for the blind, Audubon Society,  
Wetland project, church-based service organizations, Rhododendron Festival, 
Eco-builders Guild, and  volunteering in our children¹s schools. We learn a lot 
from each other, as we chat. 

I don¹t visit all my neighbors in their houses, but I know they are there. I 
feel less alone, even when I am home alone, to look out and see whose lights 
are on, whose cars are in the driveway, and know they are not strangers. 

I know I have many friends right where I can see them. It¹s a good feeling!
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