Living in Cohousing

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The Tyranny of Structurelessness

I recently came across an article from 1972 that I found it enlightening, "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" by Jo Freeman. It is an analysis of the Women's Movement, which shared similar goals of inclusion and cooperative action as cohousing but adopted practices that would defeat them, namely lack of formal governance structures. I found it enlightening in view of the problems in cohousing of cliques forming a few years after move-in.

When a cohousing group is forming, particularly once land is acquired and it becomes "real", everyone pulls together and functions as a cohesive group. Decisions are cleared with everyone, everyone is informed of delays or progress, and everyone is informed of social events. As time goes by, however, sub-groups who share interests or proximity or family types mostly just talk to each other.

Raising Children While Living in an Intentional Cooperative Community

Charlie and I met 30 years ago. We fell in love fast (at first sight at a Madison Wisconsin coop house party). Within a few weeks we were already spring break vacationing together in Florida, and during one of our many long walks on the beach, we shared our goals for the kind of lives we wanted to live in that far off world called adulthood. We agreed that living isolated lives in a single family home was not what we wanted for ourselves or for the world. We wanted the sharing, friendship, culinary pleasures, and yes, even the challenges, of group housing as we had each experienced in college and graduate school. We envisioned having our own home in a village-like community where neighbors would share resources, help each other and create strong bonds. Did we even know back then that there was such a thing as cohousing? The cohousing movement started in Denmark in the 1960’s, but Charlie and I felt we had thought up a new form of Utopian housing.

Once upon a Common Meal

Long, long, ago when our community was forming we were faced with many decisions. One was whether or not to make participating in cooking or cleaning mandatory or just let people voluntarily sign up for those tasks. To me and many others in the community common meals are a very important aspect of community. Eating together build bonds, cooking and working together builds bonds, we all know that. But we were an idealistic group that already had a lot of voluntary participation. Everyone was excited and wanted to participate anyway, so why put a damper on it by making it a requirement.

Empowered Individuals Create a Powerful Community

Every year around this time we have a community retreat. It is a time for all of us to reconnect. To get to know each other on a deeper level. Sometimes the retreat is facilitated with outside help and sometimes from members of the community.

The first night, Friday night, we have a potluck, a ceremony of some kind,and then we watch the Heartwood movie. The movie is made by gathering all the photos and movies that people have taken of life at Heartwood or individual accomplishments for the year and these are put to music by two of our teenage girls. They have been doing this now for several years. It is a fun way for them to contribute and the product is always amazing and something we can look back on in 10 years and see how we have changed and grown.

The Heartwood Shuffle

In our community it's not where you live that matters, but that each member stays connected and gets their needs met. This idea is embodied in what we affectionately call the "Heartwood Shuffle". The Heartwood Shuffle is a dance of compassion and meeting needs. Sometimes it's two steps forward and one step back. We never know when the dance will begin or when it will end. Last year the dance started with my neighbors whose kids had grown and moved out. They wanted to spend a year away on retreat at their beautiful cabin in the Conejos. That opened up their house for rent. Another family was crammed into a little studio apartment with the two kids and another on the way. They worked it out to move into the spacious home next to me and their third child was born not long after.

Swing your partner to the left. This opened up the studio and someone who was just renting a room, got their own place.

Public and Private Values & Smoking

There is currently a thread on Cohousing-L about smoking policies in cohousing communities — what are yours and how do they work? The policies range from quite restrictive on the basis of protecting public health and encouraging healthy lifestyles to simply prohibiting smoking in the common areas but allowing it outside as long as no one present objects. Some specifically define smoking.

Part of the question is whether it should be banned in private homes.

I can't imagine that any community would try to ban anything in homes as long as it doesn't invade or cause a clear danger to other homes, for example offensive odors, noise, poisonous snakes, or storage of flammable materials.

How Much Health Support Can We Provide?

One of the advantages of cohousing is that there are many neighbors just outside your door who can help when you are sick or injured. It is a challenge, however, when this is a long term or serious illness. Your desire to help, the expectations of non-resident family members, the obvious needs of your neighbor, and your own needs may all conflict. The cohousing value of neighbors helping neighbors may also bring feelings of guilt when you say no or feel over-burdened yourself.

When a neighbor at Takoma Village suddenly needed daily care, the family needed guidance on what the community could do and when they needed to find help elsewhere. After talking with nurses and a lawyer who specialized in health care, one of our residents developed the following guidelines for what was reasonable for residents and their families to expect from other residents in emergencies.

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Guidelines for Providing Health-Related Support to Neighbors

Fall is in the air!

Hi, I want to introduce myself. My name is Sandy and I live in Heartwood Cohousing. www.heartwoodcohousing.com and www.heartwoodfarmscoop.com. Our community is about 11 years old and is located in Southwest Colorado. I have volunteered to write a monthly blog where I will try to give you an up close and personal look at life in CoHousing.

This is a beautiful time of year here in Southwest Colorado. The fall colors have gone on and on this year. The smell of snow is in the air and things are starting to change over to a whole new season. We have put the farm to bed and sent our wonderful farm interns on their way to new adventures. Community meals have more soups than salads now, and life seems a little less hectic.

The Cohousing Blues

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