Re: Orientation/Owners manuals
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2020 10:40:19 -0700 (PDT)
One of the most difficult things in an extended family or a community is to 
assimilate new members.

In addition to all the personality preferences and quirks, there is the 
question of how much new people can absorb in how many months and the most 
important things to know. What will help develop their feelings of security and 
belonging quickest?

First, are probably all the things people need to know before they move 
anywhere. These are things people may not think of as “orientation.” What to be 
careful of when hanging pictures. Where the water shutoffs are. Phone numbers 
of the utilities they need to contact and a list of  utilities they don’t have 
to contact (like water in some places). Advice on connecting landlines, 
internet, and television services. Oddities of construction. Where to recycle 
packing boxes. Settings to connect to the community internet or antenna.

If your walls are touchy—contain sprinkler system pipes, for example — banging 
a nail into the wrong spot on the wall is likely to be their first experience 
in community. Information like this is probably more important to new members 
than the process of rotating cooks for the meal program.

For many years one of the first questions when helping people move in was 
"where are the hanging pads that protect the elevator walls?" Something that 
can easily be left out when explaining consensus decision-making.

As in bringing people into a family, names are probably less important than 
relationships. One of our new residents said the hardest thing was figuring out 
which children went with which units and caregivers. Our first generation of 
children included 20 kids who ran freely and interacted with each other and 
with adults without obvious preferences. A list of names and unit numbers may 
be helpful but less helpful than a list that puts people together in households 
and households in relation to each other, including when they moved in.

A seemingly unrelated example — I began teaching at a newly formed college in a 
university. We had no policies. No procedures. At first, new policies and 
procedures were created transparently by everyone in the relatively small group 
of faculty and staff. Anyone with minimal awareness of governance and 
administrative process knew what was what. With time, the book of policies and 
information expanded and then exploded. In 5 or so years, the policy book was 
so thick no one ever looked at it — 6+ inches of pages. So departments began 
writing their own employee readable handbooks. Over time the handbooks would be 
updated with stickies or markers but not the policy book, or the reverse. 

Two lessons of this story: 

1. Never believe that you can put everything in writing and keep it up to date 
unless you have paid staff or a former  librarian or archivist to keep it 

2. Never expect new people to learn that they need to know by directing them to 
the website or handbook. They are already overwhelmed with life changes. Let 
them know 1-2 people whom they can ask.

As not really a F2F person (I’m a writer), I’m often surprised when the F2F 
people begin wanting everything to be written down so it will be standardized 
and available to everyone. It’s a gesture of helpfulness and new people say 
they want it, but think about your family writing down the expectations and 
practices of 3-4 generations of in-laws and out-laws. 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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