Collective Living FAQs

Comments and questions from people who have lived collectively or would like to know more about it. If you have an answer to these and any other questions –or questions of your own–please join in:

Who cooks?

Do you share your money?

Come on, someone has to be in charge, right?

Do you have any privacy?

What happens if someone wants to leave?

How do you make decisions?

What if someone wants to have a friend spend the night?

Who takes out the garbage?

And more…..

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12 Comments

Filed under collective living

12 responses to “Collective Living FAQs

  1. scootch

    i’m living alone at the moment after a solid 7 years of collective living, and honestly, i can’t wait to get back to it. sure, there are things about it that can be irritating. the one that always got me wuz the dirty dish mulitplication factor. if you leave a dish in the sink, when you come back, it will have multiplied by at least 3. this hopefully leads to a policy of no one leaving dishes, but of course that can’t always happen. living alone, i appreciate that when i come back, the only dish in the sink is the one i left there. the flip side is that i’m now more likely to leave my dish in the sink.

    the biggest factor in having a successful collective living experience in my opinion is communication. yeah, you need a system that works for everyone, but that system can be very dynamic and flexible as long as everyone is talking. and listening. this is a skill that takes work and practice. you have to really be dedicated to it. it doesn’t just come naturally. but once you get it, man, the living is easy. cheap, supportive, fun, and a real antidote to isolation.

  2. Evan

    Living in collective houses for the last 2 years has tought me a lot. As a person that was born in a classic “hippy” community, I feel very safe in saying to those who ask that my living situation is not hippy. I watched my parents generation of collective living go through a lot of struggles because of petty personal issues, drugs, etc. but I have not experienced that here.

    People ask “so do you want to, like, smash the state?”

    I often think that the collective living I’ve experienced in greensboro is like an alternative to statehood. The revolution folks talk about is a quiet one within our own homes, trying to live in a way that is more intentional and interdependent. I came to Greensboro to study for an entirely conventional career and escape the mistakes I had seen my parents generation make, but I feel as if the collective living I’m experiencing now learned from past mistakes and attempts to build real, functional community.

  3. jamie

    All of my collective living experiments have been more or less failures, so I am not qualified to answer questions about successful collective living.

  4. robotronik

    Thanks Jamie for your honesty! I feel like collective living is often romanticized so it’s nice to see an untainted opinion.

    I have lived in collective homes on and off for the past 6 years. My houses have varied as much as the many personalities that they’ve contained. In the past it has been a rarity for me to find a house where everyone shares a single vision for their home, but I believe every conflict between us taught me a little bit more about excepting the perceptions of others as valid and extremely important. There is no right way to run a collective home- it is a fluid process built on many many compromises from everyone involved. We all meet halfway and instead of less what we get is an entity that is stronger, diverse, flexible and supportive.

    1. Who cooks?

    Depends on who you live with! Some people love to cook for everyone anytime they are hungry (I like those people), some like to only cook for themselves, others only cook when they agree to (i.e. scheduled house dinners). It also depends a lot on the food protocol for the house- whether you share food or not and whether the house as whole contributes to acquiring it. If food is bought by one individual they may be less likely to feed a group.

    2. Do you share your money?

    I have never lived in a house where this happened, though I have had friends who did. Usually it was a fund where everyone contributed a monthly sum that went towards house expenses like food, repairs and random needs (i.e. gas, birthday candles, lightbulbs, toilet paper, etc)

    3. Come on, someone has to be in charge, right?

    This once again depends on the house and its inhabitants. I’ve seen it go in all directions. In my experience an alpha tends to arise. Generally charismatic and confident, that person is passionate about the house and spearheads house projects. I would not say that they are in charge per se. I really just see this as a typical manifestation of our dominant culture within the home. Leading and being lead is taught to us from a very early age as is reinforced daily.

    It takes a lot of work to create a completely non-hierarchical environment in a home. Some homes I know take this very seriously and pursue it as a priority by creating methods of communication that require everyone to have equal participation. Special care is taken to check power imbalances that arise under the surface. Learning to understand and re-evaluate our relations to power is a learning process and requires a lot of patience from everyone. Mistakes get made, skeletons come out of closets and everyone learns a lot about themselves as a microcosm of how the world turns.

    4. Do you have any privacy?

    I am a privacy junkie and I spend a lot of time alone creating, writing and listening to music in my room when I am home. Though sometimes frustrated with my lack of sociability, my roommates have always respected it.

    5. What happens if someone wants to leave?

    We get sad and nostalgic, throw a slamming party, and then we get to work looking for someone else who kicks ass. Finding the right person to replace someone can make or break a house. Settling for someone who isn’t the right fit can make everyone miserable, especially the new resident.

    6. How do you make decisions?

    This also has varied a lot. I lived in a 25 person co-op where decisions were made through a strict consensus process.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_decision-making)

    This was by far the most well run house I have lived in with the most diverse group of people personality-wise. I was blown away. However, my old other homes have been dwarfed in comparison with anywhere from 3-7 people and we made decisions through house meetings, typically over dinner. We’d create a list of issues to discuss and run through them one by one, leaving a topic only when we all felt satisfied with our results.

    7. What if someone wants to have a friend spend the night?

    In my experience, guests have some special rules that have to abide by, but they only really exist to protect the house from exploitation which unfortunately happens occasionally. Having a protocol in place for these occasions is, in my opinion, essential for good roommate/guest relations. Some of these rules involve what food the guest is welcome to, where they can sleep and and for how long. If the guest has a sponsor (i.e. Bob is my guest because we go way back, therefore I’m his sponsor) then the sponsor is responsible for the guest and serves as a liaison for to the rest of the house. If the house has a request, they can ask the sponsor to make it happen. This keeps relations cool for the guest in the house and kills awkward feelings and possible passive aggression from unhappy roommates.

  5. What’s coming into my mind right now is on the of the few experiences I’ve had living in a non-collective situation. A few years ago I moved to Chicago for 6 months and lived and worked in the same apartment with my boss and co-worker. I still think back to that time and, fortunately, laugh. I wish I could show you the comic I drew at the time… but that would probably be inapropriate anyways. The point is, put into a non-collective situation, all of a sudden I was overwhelmed with a sense of territory and possession. It was an intense feeling! I had my own hand towel in the bathroom I kept in my own drawer in the bathroom. We each had our own everything and the house was filled with duplicates and a lack of diversity. No interesting herbs, no interesting oils (because why would I buy all those just for me to use?), etc. I couldn’t wait to come back home where I had a family and community to take living risks with and share the joys of living. Personally, the favorite of my house, the sprouthouse as we like to call ourselves, is food. I have never eaten so many good meals in my life! And I’ve never been healthier since I can better afford locally and organically grown foods and I have the opportunity to learn from my knowledgable roomies about nutrition… All of this is to say, I feel so rich being able to share resources with others in my (and other) collective households.

  6. Great topic, Liz. I agree that there need to be more resources for people interested in collective living. I live in a collective focused on racial justice that consists of 4-5 families. We have some fluidity of “membership” as the young adult generation finds their roles and desires for collective living. We have been at it for almost 10 years depending how you count it. We didn’t start as a formal collective; our collectivizing was/is an organic process that we have developed over time. We are an income sharing collective which I think would be at the top of our faqs. I read some of the comments made by other folks on Ed Cone’s blog and part of what seems to be missing is the understanding that all collectives are different. The ones that I am familiar with, ours included, are experiments in finding a better way to live. It’s not for everyone and we by no means have all the answers, but we have taken the risk trying to design lives that work for eachother and the wider community. On to the faqs…

    Who cooks? Three to four nights a week we have meal sharing plan for houses/individuals that want to participate. Folks come pick up yummy, vegetarian meals and take them home. We eat together from time to time; we used to do weekly potlucks but have gotten away from that for the time being. Our meal sharing plan was originally started because so many of us are activists and we needed affordable, healthy food during the week when so many of us are running to meetings and community events.

    Do you share your money?

    Yes, we are an income sharing collective. All money earned goes into a collective pot and a rotating finance committee divides it up for bills, groceries and other household needs. We are anxiously awaiting the day that we have a surplus and have to decide as a community what to do with 😉

    Come on, someone has to be in charge, right?

    Yes, we are in charge. Except for the stuff that is out of our control. Seriously though, we all have a voice into the goings on of things. We have focused alot of time and energy into communication and accountability around anti-racist principles.

    Do you have any privacy?

    Well, I’m married, have two year old, a four year old and one bathroom, so not much. But I’m not sure that reflects on collective living perse.

    What happens if someone wants to leave?

    Hopefully they let folks know their plans so we can support them as best we can.

    How do you make decisions?

    Consensus, for the most part. Kind of depends on what’s being decided.

    What if someone wants to have a friend spend the night?

    They need to clean their couch off.

    Who takes out the garbage?

    Me.

  7. Danny

    I’d have to say that for me collective living has been an enjoyable experience. It feels good knowing that I’m part of a community of supportive individuals. And sharing the expenses allows the others and I to pursue things we really love to do without having to worry so much about how to make ends meet.

    Who cooks?

    Not me, usually, if only because I’m not a particularly good cook. I try to make up for it in other ways, though, such as, for example, fixing the washing machine and the shower curtain bracket. I think everyone has some skill they can bring to the situation, and it’s just a matter of finding where it fits in.

    Do you share your money?

    Never! It’s mine, all mine! Seriously, we split the total bills and rent and chuck in a bit extra for common food and a house emergency fund to cover things like a new pump for the washing machine.

    Come on, someone has to be in charge, right?

    We decide house policy and such by consensus, but people tend to step forward and bottomline projects that they find particularly interesting. I like messing with mechanical stuff, so I took the lead on fixing the washing machine. Another housemate likes to garden, so he took the lead on finding irrigation buckets and clearing away the kudzu to create a space. In the end it all balances out, hopefully.

    Do you have any privacy?

    More than I had in my last shoebox apartment, where I could hear my neighbors’ conversations through the wall (No need to watch any reality shows there!). I’ve got my own room, which is big enough for my bed, computer, bass and cat (which also gets to roam the common areas), and what else do I really need?

    What happens if someone wants to leave?

    No one leaves unless the great leader says so! Just kidding. When people leave — and it’s expected, by me, anyway, that some people will leave, as other relationships in their lives change — we say a heartfelt goodbye and then begin looking for someone else. I’ve actually enjoyed knowing all the people who have passed through my house, and have learned a lot about them and myself from my interaction with them. And while the group dynamics may change with new people, I’ve always felt that the basic atmosphere of the house remained the same. It’s like M.A.S.H. — Frank Burns may have been replaced by Charles Winchester, but the show was still funny.

    How do you make decisions?

    By consensus, which is great but takes some getting used to. It can (will) take longer to arrive at a decision, but everyone’s input is taken into account, hopefully. When we discuss things, we have to balance the outspoken people with the less-outspoken people, because in our society outspoken people tend be regarded as “leaders,” so it’s important that everybody get a chance to air their views.

    What if someone wants to have a friend spend the night?

    I assume we’re talking about non-“significant other” friends here. The policy is to notify the other housemates in advance — assuming your friend notified you in advance that they were coming!

    Who takes out the garbage?

    It varies. Different people volunteer. Unlike the other houses, we don’t have specific tasks that get rotated. We have a cleanup period before house dinner where everybody pitches in to do what needs to be done. I usually mop and sweep, because I like doing those things, but sometimes I dust, or clean windows. Depends on who grabs what first.

  8. d

    hey. i have lived in collective situations and love it way more than living on my own or in a couple situation. one collective i lived in was with 10 people. we had monthly meetings, people signed up to cook dinner for everyone whenever someone felt an urge to. sometimes we had house cleaning/fixing days, but probably only about once a month. we had 2 fridges, one for shared food, one for “personal” food that belonged to the person who obtained it. we had a house fund that we contributed a small amount to each month. we had a garden and chickens. we had a guest room for guests. anyone was welcome for 1 night, after that, unless someone knew the guest or decided to “take them under their wing” and be their house “sponsor” and be responsible for the guest they had to move on. but that never really happened.

    i also just wanted to point out this link to you. i visited this house, and it was very different and structured compared to our collective, but it worked very well and is very interesting:
    http://egfs.org/

  9. Eric

    I am very interested in collective living, and it is great to see so many collective houses here in Greensboro. Soon enough I plan to live in a collective house (in GSO) but until then I’ll probably be stuck living in dorms. Anyone interested in starting another collective house in a year or so?

  10. keegan

    I live in a collective activist house in Somerville, MA. Our size has varied from 4 to 7 in a tiny apartment.

    Who cooks?
    Usually most of us will get home by eight or nine, and someone will usually have an idea for the night that they came up with, and everyone helps them create their culinary vision — it’s sort of like art, every night. Some people like to spearhead the meal more often than others, but we all pitch in somewhere. I like to cook breakfasts, especially when we have a lot of guests over. Another housemate will make really good curry or burritos; another loves to make cupcakes. We all have our niche. We almost always have a guest staying for some period of time; at one point we were housing over twenty people for a four day period. They all help out a lot!

    Do you share your money?
    We share money for all our expenses as far as utilities, etc., and have a couple things we collectively purchase. We all pay for a farmshare at a CSA that supplies all of our produce; that’ll run into mid-December. We also all cover the cost for staple food items (25 lb. bags of rice, beans, oil, etc.) and special items that we pick up for our big house meals (coconut milk, etc.).

    Come on, someone has to be in charge, right?
    We all have our roles that we negotiate ourselves through consensus. Someone pays attention to the bathroom, someone else makes sure the counters and tables are clean, someone else sweeps and mops the floor. Our kitchen is really our biggest thing we handle together, because it gets such heavy use, and until recently was our only common space.

    Do you have any privacy?
    When I need it, yes. We have a general rule that it’s okay to come in and hang out if the door is open, but not if it’s closed (and to knock if you need anything).

    What happens if someone wants to leave?
    We’re very clear to each other about our intentions for staying, and usually are always making decisions for six months ahead. In the spring we re-evaluate if we’ll be resigning the lease in August. We have had situations where we have had to make people who have lived with us leave because of their behavior, and we worked our way through that well.

    How do you make decisions?
    We either will personally talk to each person about their feelings on a decision, and if we feel like we need to discuss it as a group, we’ll have a house meeting; but 99% of the time everyone just says okay, and the big meetings are about things like new housemates. We all try to stay very conscious of each other when bringing up decisions and decision making.

    What if someone wants to have a friend spend the night?
    We have a really simple chart hanging in the kitchen that we use for this. You fill in who’s staying, the date they will arrive and leave (or undetermined), if they have a car, are bringing any pets, and who brought them. We don’t have to get an okay on every guest, you just put them on the chart (or on short notice, just text message everybody). We have had people block certain guests before, and we respect that and do not allow them to come into our house, but this is for really special situations, like for extreme misogynists.

    Who takes out the garbage?

    This is our number one problem! Usually a few of us late the night before or that morning go through the process of bringing the cans out to the curb, and to take out our recycling, which is the big part. We never can have enough recycling bins, and are perpetually dealing with piles of recyclables that we can’t fit in our containers.

  11. Mani

    If I can be perfectly honest – from an outsider’s perspective, this entire topic (and especially the answers I’m seeing) would be indistinguishable from a “Tips to get along in your college dorms.”

    In fact, that’s what these collectives – again, from these response – appear to be (functionally, at least).

    Is there something I’m missing? What makes a “collective living” home different from a flat where the roommates get along – if anything?

  12. Hi Mani,
    Speaking from the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of time in college dorms, I’d have to say this:
    (1) the food-sharing is different–in college dorms, usually people don’t share their food or contribute to a “staples” fund–people keep their food separate.
    (2) there’s no consensus building process–there are informal talks, but in an anarchist household, everyone’s got to agree before a step forward is taken.
    (3) there’s no shared vision to create a more egalitarian society. College roommates get together for a time, then split; anarchist households usually are made up of people who are committed to egalitarian living, consensus-building, and right speaking.
    Basically, it’s values that are different.

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