Re: Does your community clean all the common areas yourselves?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 7 Oct 2018 17:06:36 -0700 (PDT)
> On Oct 7, 2018, at 3:31 PM, Eris Weaver <eris [at]> wrote:

> Ah, here is a key difference in how Sharon's community approaches work and
> how mine does. We seem to be very stuck in the model of "everyone must take
> turns doing everything." Not EVERYthing, exactly - different committees
> obviously do different things and some jobs require specific skills - but
> when it comes to physical labor, we expect everyone who is physically able
> to participate. We've never asked people "what job do you WANT to do?”

Rotating all jobs was a theory from the 1960s-70s that was still in fashion 
amongst some in 2001. The reasoning is that any division of labor leads to a 
hierarchy of value. The result will be that (1) some jobs will be considered 
more important than others. Usually it is something like the treasurer is 
higher status than the weeders. And that (2) everyone should be “allowed” to 
learn all the skills. Our education system channels people into tracks that 
determine what they will learn or not learn. To develop as whole people, we 
need to have a full range of skills.

I’ll restrict my comments to cohousing but the result of this thinking would 
severely limit all of our entire society because it would severely limit our 
ability to innovate.

Cohousing is not one’s whole life. The person who does high level math at work 
may not be interested in anything a home except sweeping floors. The person who 
sweeps floors at work may take delight in writing policies or chairing the 
board. A person who attends meetings every day all day may prefer a job that 
allows them to avoid meetings except when necessary. So cohousing doesn’t 
represent one’s whole self. 

Cohousing is normally not designed to be a therapeutic community, though some 
people are interested in that. People don’t move in to be fixed or to fix 

To consider one job harder or requiring more expertise is to demean the other 
half. The demeaning is the problem — not the work. Work is the work, and should 
be valued much more equally. Cohousing is an opportunity to do that—to view 
jobs and the people who do them as equals. That doesn’t require that everyone 
take turns doing the compost or balancing the books (shudder). People have 
interests and abilities that are better used than denied. If the person who is 
an expert at numbers still wants to do the books when they come home, why force 
someone whose vision blurs when looking a column of more than 2 digits? If they 
want to do it in order to learn, that is something else. The task is to figure 
out how can they learn and the community still ensure that the books are well 

The other social need is recognizing the importance of expertise and knowing 
history. Rotating jobs was designed to keep any one person from “owning” that 
job and thus manipulating the organization by having knowledge no one else was 
allowed to have. Remember lawyers and doctors in the 1950s? It was a conscious 
professional decision to keep knowledge secret in order to increase income. 
People were not allowed to even see their medical records. That only began to 
change in the 1970s with the feminist movement. No one could file an official 
document. Now people can even divorce themselves.

Knowledge is power. And power is good. Power to accomplish things, not to think 
it infers any social status or permission to take advantage. There is the 
problem of only one person understanding a job — what happens when they step in 
front of a truck? But rotating jobs is not likely to fix that problem. Rotating 
jobs means no one has any expertise. Every job has to be kept at the lowest 
common denominator so it can be transferred to everyone. 

I remember when everyone was supposed to facilitate meetings. Rotating 
facilitation has been a nightmare in any group I’ve been in. If it is a small 
team where everyone is experienced and not much leadership is required, it can 
work. But someone still has to provide continuity and leadership — learning 
over time what works. Becoming skilled.

The other problem is recognizing only physical labor as work. Committee 
decision-making, policy writing, mediation, record keeping, etc is not 
considered work. Only physical labor — what used to be the boy jobs — are real 
work. That one drives me nuts. When I think of the “important” jobs, I can’t 
think of one that we would want to do without for any length of time.

Cohousing depends on all kinds of work. The more skills one or a few people 
have in any particular area, the better. I’ve seen a sea change in how we 
function when a person has moved in who has real world skills in an area— 
budgeting and financial planning, commitment to weeding to avoid Roundup, the 
experience of the kids room as a learning environment, a person who has 
experience with large kitchens.

We have people who are very committed to recycling but we have one person who 
will sort the recycling bins in the fear that a recycler won’t take a bin if it 
isn’t sorted correctly. He also keeps up with all the regulations — what is 
okay this month and not the next. It is a constant job. It’s a crusade for him. 
Would I do that job? Not a chance, or if I did, it wouldn’t be as well done.

Let people do what they love or to which they feel some commitment. If no one 
will do a job, hire it out. 

Just my opinion, of course.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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