Re: Are Rules Helpful? WAS Environmental sensitivities in community?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2018 19:38:10 -0800 (PST)
> On Dec 21, 2018, at 2:04 PM, Muriel Kranowski <murielk [at]> wrote:

>> I'm much more on Liz's side of this than on Sharon's, though I recognize
> the validity of Sharon's objections to making rules that don't involve
> safety. I want to know what is officially NOT okay in my community, as
> determined by consensus, because I want to live in harmony with my
> neighbors, and I want new people to have an easy one-stop place to find our
> policies and expectations so they can live in harmony with us.

I don’t want to be put in the category of not liking rules. I have a long 
history of writing policies in all kinds of situations and am pretty picky 
about wording. It’s that I don’t think it is helpful or a good use of time to 
try to write rules or agreements about everything one can think of that may 
cause conflict. We often hear from people who are forming a community and want 
to know what rules they need to have in place by the time they move in. 
Obviously pets because some people will be expecting to bring pets. People want 
to know about parking. But until you live together and begin seeing how your 
expectations differ or are the same, making rules is an exercise based on no 
experience. It’s totally hypothetical. 

I think it is more important to understand the issues — what affects people how 
— than to figure out how to write a rule. Once a person said that people in her 
community would walk close to some windows and it made the residents 
uncomfortable. The walkers didn’t realize that. A simple discussion was all 
that was needed, not a rule about how far people needed to stay away from  
windows, times for permitted walking. No borders or bushes.

When we finally wrote a pet policy we grandfathered in a few out door cats. But 
one cat was often in the outdoor corridor and walking on outside seating and a 
dining table. A long haired cat who left wisps of hair. The owner had no idea 
that the cat was doing this or that anyone was upset — and it had been going on 
for years as people considered what the rules should or could be to stop it. 
After a discussion in which the problem was raised, however, the owner found a 
way to keep her cat off the corridor or at least off the furniture or would 
wipe down the furniture after an outing. No rules. No checklists to be sure she 
did it.

Many understandings involve people who live next to each other or use the same 
outdoor faucets. They make agreements and carry on. They don’t have to be 
written down. New people don’t have to be expected to know them unless they are 
moving into one of the units. I tell new people not to worry about it. No way 
they can learn 20 years of experience by memorizing a list of rules. Read what 
is there when you can but no one is going to chop your head off if you don’t 
know something — unless you pull the fire alarm or start a fire in the workshop.

Other things we have rules about because they have caused conflict and 
inconvenience — reservations in guest rooms, cleaning the CH after private 
parties, noise, late fees, etc. But we have amazingly few when you consider 
that it is 43 households with people of all ages interacting with commonly 
owned yards, air, and equipment. In most areas, we can just work it out. It 
amazes me but we do. 

In cohousing,  I’ve learned the value of informal agreements based on what is 
needed by individual members. This is new for me.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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