Not Enough Privacy in Cohousing?
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 21:08:00 -0800 (PST)
Howdy Cohousing ListServe Readers,

I contributed the following to the internal discussion about privacy happening this week at Trillium Hollow Cohousing in Portland, OR (I don't live at Trillium, but do own a unit there which my daughter and her family used to live in). Someone suggested that maybe my posting there would be of interest to other cohousers so I'm posting it here. Do you think an article on this subject would be useful for the Cohousing Association's e-zine? If so, please address an email to editor [at] and make that suggestion. And BTW, if you've yet not signed up for the mailing list for that (free) e-zine, please go to to do so.


----Original Message-----
From: Joani Blank
Sent: Monday, March 06, 2006 9:09 PM
To: Trillium Hollow Neighbors.....
Subject: Re: Privacy discussion

Hello everyone,
As most of you know I've visited dozens of cohousing communities, and I've talked to literally hundreds of people who are wondering if cohousing would be right for them. Also, what I'm about to say has been confirmed by Katie and Chuck, (Mr. and Mrs. Cohousing). And that is the following: Loss of privacy is the number one worry expressed by people considering cohousing AND it is virtually never complained about by people who actually live in cohousing. Also to the best of our knowledge no one ever left cohousing because they felt they didn't have adequate privacy. I have a personal opinion about why this is a concern for so many people. (I'll risk saying quite a bit more for men than for women.). I think it is because some fear that their personal lives will inevitably be more open to their neighbors than they think they are comfortable with. Think of the kinds of things that those of us who live in cohousing know about each other and you can understand why someone new to the concept might think that we're just a little closer to one another than they think they'd be comfortable with. In most cohousing communities we will--or we might well--know things like:
Jack had a crummy bad day at work.
Susie got all A's on her report card
Janet's mother who lives back East is ill
Hank and Sarah have had a lot of family vising this week
John has a really bad case of the flu
Sharon's applying for a new job
Michael won't eat mushrooms, Tom doesn't do dairy, Samantha is allergic to everything So far so good here, right? Well maybe not. For some people knowing these kinds of thing about your neighbor, or more to the point, having him or her know these kinds of things about you. is way too much intimacy (translates to "not enough privacy").
but what about:
Ann and Bob are fighting a lot and may be considering divorce
Lou's teenage son stayed out all night and she doesn't know where he is
Randall's girlfriend just dumped him
Harriet just got engaged
Cynthia was just diagnosed with breast cancer
Tom seems really depressed and he barely speaks to anyone in the community.
Phil just got laid off from his good paying job, and may not be able to keep up with his families's mortagage. Now, it's understandable that some people might feel that thingsi n this second list should remain private, and it might indeed be somewhat difficult to keep situations like these away from everyone else in your community. The flip side of that , of course, is that in a conventional neighborhood, you probably don't have any neighbors you could share this sort of thing with, even if you wanted to.

my 2 cents on the "not enough privacy" question.

At 09:14 AM 3/6/2006, Brian Setzler wrote:
One of the issues that often comes up for potential cohousing members is the issue of privacy, or the lack thereof in cohousing.

It is a real basic concern for potential members and it got me thinking about how might we address this? How do you deal with it? Do you feel more or less privacy in cohousing? How do you balance privacy with community?

The results of this process may be something we could ultimately put on our website or even submit to a place like for wider sharing. Let me know what you think

A few of my personal thoughts on the issue:

First, I always felt I had an adequate amount of privacy living in cohousing. Most if not all the information you had about me or my family would have been information I shared. Information about my work life, money, dating, politics, family matters, religion, beliefs, etc. came out voluntarily and wasn't gleaned from snoopy neighbors invading my privacy. I willingly shared more and more of this personal information as individual relationships in the community developed, just as one does in a friendship.

How much "privacy" does one have in traditional housing? And why don't we refer to this concept of privacy as isolationism? In our society, the most "private" people live in walled compounds. Think of movie stars living on a private, gated estate where 95% of the people they see or deal with are probably economically motivated interactions. I have been out of the community for 6 years now and live in a single family home. Despite high ideals and the best of intentions I barely know my neighbors (of the 15 houses I could easily hit throwing a rock from my house, I probably know the names of 6 people and I've never had a meal with any of them!). Do I have privacy because I don't know them? They know when and if I come and go. They can tell a lot about me by the car I drive, bumper stickers, how I dress, what I carry in when I come and go. They can also make judgments on similar information about any visitors. All of this would of course be speculative because we've never actually met.

I do believe the issues of privacy, community and sharing oneself are intertwined but not how most people think: Live in community = give up my privacy. Instead of looking at what one might be giving up (i.e.. privacy), maybe we should refocus the issue on what one gains: Security, being known, support, camaraderie, team work, increased human skills around communication, bonding, connecting, problem solving, conflict resolution, learning to appreciate differences, connection with all phases of life in a multi-generational community, etc.

How much "privacy" does one really have in the age of the internet, The Patriot Act and government spying? A quick google on my name and you get 42,000+ hits. (Many are about other people but still, you can find a lot about someone this way! You can also pay for search services).

I hope this generates an interesting discussion,


Brian Setzler

Joani Blank
Cell: 510-387-1315
joani [at]

Joani Blank
Cell: 510-387-1315
joani [at]

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