Re: Disallusioned with cohousing
From: Lia Olson (
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2006 16:18:57 -0700 (PDT)
I'm a wannabe co-houser reading as part of my goal-setting for the future, and
I always find the discussions about pros and cons fascinating.   

What seems obvious to me as I read this particular thread, is that it's
expectations that get in the way of the benefits that some people testify to.  
Of course, there's not going to be 100% universal participation in the drudgery
and chores.   

Have I EVER been part of an organization -- whether work-oriented or
community-oriented-- in which the commitment of each and every member was
equal????  Of course not.   Even in a job where we're paid for performing
specific duties, if a co-worker is ill, disabled, distressed by family
problems, I consider it totally normal to step to the plate and do a little
extra.   I've been blessed by working in a setting where everyone else feels
exactly the same.   The result is that, as each of us cycles through life's
crises and challenges, we do our best and rest assured that our compatriots
pick up the slack when needed.  

 Someone said, wait five years before you make a decision about whether
co-housing works, and that makes such sense to me.  There may be times when you
feel totally put-upon, doing more than your share of the necessary work that
goes into making a community work.  But in five years, there's a good chance
that you'll have a period when you, too, need to pull back--whether for health,
family or professional reasons--and the knowledge that your neighbors 'have
your back' will  be amazingly supportive and healing.   

I subscribe to the idea of "paying it forward."   In other words, giving what's
been given to you where it's needed.   Which is different from the "tit for
tat" formula of exchanging services.  Maybe your neighbor helps you with your
kids when your spouse is in the hospital, and you end up helping someone who
has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer.   It all evens out.   The important
thing is that human needs are honored and responded to.

When you identify with the COMMUNITY instead of your INDIVIDUAL self, it's
easier to see how the balance ultimately makes sense.   In a two-year period,
you could easily feel, as individual, like a martyr, and resent those
freeloaders who don't contribute at your level.   The test is whether, if you
develop a cancer, those freeloaders appear at your doorstep ready to take out
your garbage, sit with you and offer companionship, and drive you to the
hospital for tests and treatments. 

We live in a frighteningly individualistic society in which personal
fulfilllment is almost idolized, but if, when the 'shit hits the fan'
conmmunity wins out and your neighbor drives you to your chemotherapy
appointment, something wonderful and human in the best sense has occured.   

Maybe it would help to judge co-housing by it's triumphs instead of by it's
absolutely inevitable failures.  Frankly, if I had to do an extra stint cooking
dinner for a community meals because others were preoccupied with other
activities, it would be amply repaid by the knowledge that I had a neighbor who
would feed my cat when I was in the hospital, or would look in on me when I was
recovering from a surgery.   In my 'non-cohousing' life, I don't have to give
anything to the community and don't get exploited by giving more than my share,
but when I had a total knee replacement, there was no one to be sure that I was
Ok when I went home, either.  

People aren't perfect, and they all juggle competing demands on their time, but
if community wins out in a pinch, a HUGE step forward for humanity has occured.

I hope to live in co-housing some day, but I don't need my neighbors to be
perfect.  I'll be retired by then, and I expect to 'exploited' because of my
free time.  All I ask is that you see me as a person, not just a resource.  I
like to give to others.  It gives me joy.  I just hope that, if my ability to
give diminishes with time, that you embrace me nevertheless.  I would certainly
do that with parents working full-time, with new mothers, with those juggling
all sorts of commitments.   

If everyone recognizes that life will call on them to take their turn as both
giver and receiver, there might be a chance for community.   If everyone
realized that life is long, and what calls from you changes, a lot of
resentment might be avoided.  Of course, that means that the freedom of the
early twenties doesn't last forever.  If your neighbors help you with childcare
when you're a young family, it only stands to reason that you might have to
help them in old age --even if you have parents needing care too.  Freedom from
responsibility occurs in only the tiniest slice of young adulthood --and is
paid for by the major challenges that young people face in establishing
themselves.   Later on, it's unreasonable to hope for.  Only isolation and
alienation would yield you the freedom from encroachment that a 22 year old
enjoys.  What kind of bargain is that????

The upshot is that avoiding 'tit for tat' thinking and celebrating the bonds of
community is likely to make experiments like co-housing pretty darn satisfying.
 People might let you down in the short run, but is someone there when you need

Less complaining and more gratitude always leads to more joy.  My experience is
with the dominant culture rather than the co-housing one, but I think that it
leads me to know when to say 'thank you' and be tolerant of frailty.  Better
than the norm is terrific, even if it falls short of utopia.   I suspect that
the survivors in co-housing embrace this humble truth.


--- Rob Sandelin <floriferous [at]> wrote:

> My comments after living in cohousing awhile:
> Live it for five years, then evaluate the reality. Trying to evaluate
> relationships within the context of a forming group doing real estate
> development will give anybody a skewed perspective of the reality of life in
> cohousing. Once you move in things should change considerably.  So move in,
> live there five years. By then systems will have shaken down, people least
> likely to succeed will have left and you will have a pretty close
> approximation of what the rest of the time there will be like.  
> And I expect after five years experience you will be able to distinguish
> between your own baggage and what the reality is. People come to community
> with all kinds of expecations, some of them quite unreasonable. But after a
> while you will figure out that.....its not about YOU or what you
> want.......and once you figure that out, you should be able to craft a good
> relationship with community reality. If you never figure that out you are
> unlikely EVER to find a community life that is satisfactory. 
> Rob Sandelin
> Sharingwood Resident 15 years, 8 months, 11 days.
> Naturalist, Writer
> The Environmental Science School
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