Re: Reluctant Cohousers
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 24 Dec 2014 11:14:06 -0800 (PST)
On Dec 23, 2014, at 1:17 PM, Maggie Dutton <maggiedutton [at]> wrote:

> Objections like:
>   - ·       I like my privacy too much

Cohousing provides lots of privacy. As much as you desire. Participating in 
workshare is important but other social activities are optional. And even 
workshare jobs are often solo jobs. The person who cleans the bathrooms, does 
it at midnight because that is the best time for her. Others do computer 
records work, or weed gardens alone.

The important thing is being a good neighbor. Being on call when needed in an 
emergency or when someone needs a special favor. Just as you would in a 
neighborhood where you had lived for a long time. Cohousing drastically 
shortens the time period needed to know your neighbors, but you don't have to 
be best friends with them.

>   - ·       Strata Horror Stories

Social class? Exclusion? My community has less of a full group consciousness 
than we had when we moved in. Groups who share a crisis become very close. And 
developing cohousing has lots of crises. People who move in 14 years later take 
a lot of things for granted and tend to live more like they lived before they 
moved in. But there are many activities that bring people together. I do wish 
sometimes that we had a more inclusive crisis.

>   - ·       Concerned about getting along with so many people

You con't have to. I even have trouble being polite to some people, but then 
I'm not the most favorite person in my community. I express my "opinion" too 
much. What I tell people is that it's like an extended family -- Some people 
you love. Some people you avoid. Some you only see on holidays. Others you 
rarely see at all.

>   - ·       Don’t like anyone telling me what to do

No one tells anyone what to do. Just try it! There are expectations like don't 
park your car anywhere but in your parking spot. If you want to use the CH for 
a party, reserve it on the calendar. These are just the things one has to do 
anywhere one lives. In this respect it is important to clarify the things that 
are particularly important to you before you move in. If you like to hunt and 
have guns, be clear that guns are allowed or at least not in your own home. If 
you have a pet python, check out your neighbor's fears of it.

>   - ·       Like lots of space around my place

This one is hard. One solution is to have single family homes and have one on 
the edge of the community. My family in Oklahoma always live in houses where 
the front faces other houses and is on a paved street. The back looks out over 
a field. At my uncle"s house we used to eat breakfast while looking over a huge 
pasture of cows and see the rancher walking his fences every morning looking 
for breaks.

At my grandmother's we looked out over a field large enough for the traveling 
circus to pitch tents and stake elephants. But on the front of the house was a 
close neighborhood of people who had lived there for years.

>   - ·       Could not stand having that many people around

People are doing their own things. They don't sit around and talk that much. 
After meals but only if you go to meals. In the piazza on summer evenings but 
you can walk another way or sit on your balcony.

>   - ·       How affordable can it be when you have to pay a share of the
>   common house too

This is an issue. We say units are smaller to compensate but in reality we have 
a richer life with more amenities, not a less expensive one. But I do think if 
the community goal is to live as inexpensively as possible, then the group can 
do that. I was on the Chickasaw reservation in Oklahoma over Thanksgiving. The 
tribes traditionally had one room homes and a large common house which was also 
one room. They actually had summer homes and winter homes, both small but well 

The issues to keeping a community affordable is less customization when 
building, smaller homes to reduce upfront and ongoing costs. Good design that 
requires less maintenance and less heating, and cooling. Better decisions about 
what is really necessary -- like darkrooms, exercise rooms, etc. Common houses 
can get very expensive. What do you really need? 

>   - ·       We need to move sooner than spring 2017

This is an issue for those who want to get their children settled in schools or 
to have more children before 2017. I think most of our initial residents were 
living in temporary housing before we moved in. I was renting on someone's 
enclosed sleeping porch. Others had sold their houses and were bunking with 
parents or in month to month rentals. Mostly because of delays in  move in 
dates -- other housing was sold or leases ran out.

So even if you say 2017, it might be 2018. No promises. People have to work out 
alternatives. About 10% of our people lived out of the area and found new jobs 
and moved closer while they were waiting for move in.

If you want to do it, you can.

> your spouse was the one that was keen and you went along.

This worked out interestingly. Spouses who were reluctant became some of our 
most active members and the initially active dropped back. In only one case 
that I remember did a couple move out because one really didn't like it. Some 
singles moved out because of new relationships with people who couldn't imagine 
living here. 

We have been more fortunate that many communities, however. I have to say that 
everyone here is friendly and involved at least minimally. We all know each 
other and everyone is available to do jobs when asked. 

Three people showed up almost immediately last night because one household 
needed "three strong adults" to put a trampoline together before Christmas Eve. 
When my coffee grinder died before a meal a few months ago, I put out an email 
and immediately had offers of 7 and 3 appeared at my door.

But I certainly don't see everyone every week or even every month, much less 
have conversations. Some who participate in weekly meals do, but that is 
optional. We might wave. Or see someone's spouse or child so we remember all 
the household members.

For me, the "togetherness" of cohousing is expressed and emphasized in ways 
that make people remember how much they wanted to escape living in their 
parents house with five siblings and one bathroom and a picky grandfather.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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