Communes: the pros & cons of intentional community

My fiancé and I are curious about commune living, community co-ops, or intentional living communities for our future living arrangements — but we need advice. What should we know before we decide whether to take the dive into this world?

Oh, do I ever have the inside scoop on this one. See, my mom runs an intentional community called Sacred Groves on the property where I grew up. For those who have read my book, our wedding reception happened at Sacred Groves, so all the shenanigans that took place that night were hosted by the Groves.

That in mind, I decided to bring in my mom to answer this question. Take it away, Ma!

Intentional Communities

By Therese Charvet, of Sacred Groves
Setting up for one of our ceremonies in the Round HouseLiving in community is as old as the human race. Our modern lifestyle with singles, couples and single-families living in isolated housing units is relatively modern, and uncommon in much of the world. Conventional houses and apartments offer much privacy and reduce the hassles of sharing, but they can also breed isolation, loneliness and can put a strain on marriages. Intentional Communities, Communes and Co-housing situations offer an alternative to this model, one more akin to our traditional roots.

Andreas doing a community yoga class at Sacred Groves
Every community is different but the basic premise is that you live in proximity with a group of people with whom you share the use of certain common facilities, and things are set up in such a way as to promote connection and familiarity amongst the residents. Generally speaking, this is the definition of "Intentional Community." Dozens of models of intentional communities exist, some with only a few people, some with hundreds, some with a charismatic leader, others with a commitment to consensus.

There is quite a movement afoot in the U.S. toward community living. In fact, a national organization exists and a national directory of intentional communities is available for people looking for housing. For more description and definition of Intentional Communities, see Wikipedia and/or the website for The Fellowship of Intentional Communities.

Sacred Groves
The log cabin
I raised my daughter Ariel in a single-family dwelling, a tiny log cabin we built ourselves. Ariel and her father David were both only-children that enjoyed their privacy, and the house was small, so I put my desire to live in community on the back burner for twenty years. However, I always yearned for community, so I tended a thriving network of friends and comrades.

In late 2005, my current partner Tere and I decided it was time to make the land where we live, Sacred Groves, an "intentional community." We transformed the downstairs of the log cabin (with kitchen, bathroom and dining area) into "common space" and used the upstairs rooms plus three nearby cabins as private space for residents' bedrooms. A couple women friends who happened to be looking for housing at that time decided to join our experiment and the four of us formed the first rendition of a Sacred Groves Intentional Community.

Sacred Groves
The round house, in a rare quiet moment
Since that time, we've had a dozen renditions of our community, as people have come and gone. In 2007-08 we built a beautiful new home, the "Round House" with two bedrooms, two nearby round cabins, a new cabin near the log cabin and another new cabin on its way. We currently have eight adults and five children living here, an age range of 7 months to 60 years old. We've evolved "Community Agreements" to guide day-to-day activities, share a "food fund," community dinner cooking schedule, chores for keeping our common spaces orderly, a "community fund" for gardening supplies, regular "Community Councils" for talking over business and our lives. Five of us adults (plus four kids) share the kitchen and bathrooms in the Round House.

It is nearly always heart-warming and sometimes very challenging to live in this way with people. Some of the challenges include getting enough quiet/private time, figuring out chores, working out disagreements in a functional way, staying out of each other's business. Each of us has to deal with our personal control issues regularly; community living does not make it easy to be a control freak. It flushes out what you are attached to, that's for sure! But the rewards are worth the effort! These rewards include spiritual and personal development and participating in the evolution of human consciousness toward a more cooperative society. That's big work, work the world really needs right now.

The children of the Groves
A few of the children who roam the Groves
The success of a community depends on a combination of personality factors and the functional infrastructure. Ideally the community has a clearly articulated mission and goals, so those coming in will know what they are getting into. Systems for paying expenses, buying food, keeping the house clean, keeping the property tended need to be equitable and clearly articulated. Written agreements and policies are helpful, especially with big groups. The personal qualities that work best in community are open-ness and curiosity toward others, willingness to share resources as well as the skill to claim personal boundaries when indicated. A good communitarian is willing to work through conflict and drop judgments, to look at one's own foibles, control issues and blind spots, is committed to creating a better world by doing the interpersonal work of learning to live cooperatively and happily with others.

In closing let me say that I love this lifestyle and hope to live in community until old age. I don't understand those 90 year olds who want to live alone in their own house until they die. I love living around children and young adults, it keeps me flexible and up to date, it gives me a place to share my stories, my skills, my time and my gifts. It makes me smile to hear the children laughing uproariously as they jump on the trampoline. Life is good!

If you're interested in learning more about my mom's community, you can see photos of Sacred Groves on their website or on Flickr. Oh and my mom tells me they miiiiight have openings for new Grovesmates in the coming months. Click here if you're interested in that sort of thing.

I'd also love to hear from Homies who may have had experience living in community. I know from my times out at Sacred Groves, that it can be a challenging and rewarding experience for folks who are suited to that kind of living. Anybody got any stories to share?

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