Book Recommendation: My House Our House
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2018 10:54:42 -0700 (PDT)
My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household . 
Karen Bush, Louise Machinist, Jean McQuillan

This was recommended on the list a few months go. It is usually described as: 
“The story of how Karen, Louise and Jean created a successful shared home 
should encourage everyone who has playfully or seriously said, ‘When we retire, 
let’s live together.’” But it is much more. I think it is a good book for 
cohousers to read and certainly during orientation and the first 2-3 years. 
Although they had not a clue about cohousing or any other kind of group living 
they refer to senior cohousing in the preface and embarked on this experiment 
as they were retiring. Except for the complications of a broad range of 
generations, the issues are the same. This is an encouraging account of how 
they planned their adventure and worked out issues.

One of the stories I enjoyed was the dishrag vs sponge in the kitchen. 2 wanted 
dishrags and thought sponges grungy. I felt the opposite. They finally decided 
to let each one do as they pleased and see what happened. Maybe someone would 
be converted. Years later the kitchen sink still has two dishrags and a sponge.

The surprise of the book is that it also includes some very helpful discussion 
topics and a quiz on whether cooperative living is for you. The quiz is a list 
of 28 multiple choice questions with possible responses. There are no right or 
wrong answers but they will spark interesting conversations. 3 samples:

> 11.​A housemate always leaves dishes in the sink. 
> a.​You rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, saying nothing 
> because you don’t want to be pushy or hurt feelings. 
> b.​You leave the dishes alone, but don’t like it. 
> c.​You begin leaving your own stuff in the sink.
> d.​You discuss reasonable standards of neatness.
> 14.​A housemate is leaving personal items in the shared space. 
> a.​You ask him/her to remember to take belongings to his/her personal space. 
> b.​You put his/her stuff in the basket for “things to be taken upstairs.” 
> c.​You throw the things in the trash.
> 25.​You and three other people have been living together for four months. You 
> walk into the TV room and find one of your housemates cleaning a small gun. 
> You are opposed to having weapons in the house, but it never occurred to you 
> to discuss this topic before moving in together. 
> a.​You demand that your housemate get rid of the firearm immediately. 
> b.​You scream and go to your private space, where you stay until you are sure 
> the firearm is gone. 
> c.​You tell your housemate that having firearms in the house is unacceptable 
> to you, but that you want to figure out a way to accommodate the need for 
> having it. 
> d.​You ask the housemate to make some agreement about where the weapon will 
> be stored, so you can worry less about it.

At the end there is an invitation to write your own questions based on things 
that would affect you negatively.

What I like about this list and the resulting recommended answers is that they 
are not phrased in psychobabble. They aren’t influenced by the tests the social 
sciences use to assess personality. They are real situations. And real 
responses. All of us have had or seen most of these responses. Even the one of 
the person who threw things away that were repeatedly left in the CH. 

The recommended or preferred attitudes that might indicate you might like 
living in a cooperative situation are quite reasonable, but I think in a group 
of 5 only 2-3 will exhibit one of them. And it won’t be the same person on 
every topic. So don’t be discouraged if your responses are not all Pollyanna. 
These are also goals.

> Did you select answers that show that you can: 
> 1.​Confront problems directly, rather than ignoring them or trying to get 
> back at people? 
> 2.​Discuss situations openly, honestly, and with a neutral tone? 
> 3.​Make tough decisions that respect yourself and others? 
> 4.​Accept and live with democratic decisions without resentment? 
> If you can honestly answer yes, you might be a candidate for cooperative 
> householding.

The chapter on getting started is very good with a series of one at a time 
steps testing things such as what you want and who suitable roommates might be. 
How the finances would work. Some issues here are greater than for cohousing 
because all space except for a private room and bath are shared. All household 
expenses and shopping are shared. A list of fears that may need to be worked 
through. How to confront fears. Choosing good advisors. Confronting what will 
happen if you fail. Trusting your gut.

Also includes a sample partnership agreement and list of resources.

Highly recommended. I think this is a very useful tool for getting to know each 
other even when you already think you know each other. And a good example of 
very sensible ways to work things out.

(Last post today. You can relax.)

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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