Remembering the convent: our 8-person intentional community on the south side of Chicago

December 20 2011 | Guest post by Libsta

The offbeat occupant is Libsta, an educator in Chicago, IL.

Other occupants: 7 urban teacher roommates

When did you live in this home? June 2006-June 2008

Our home in the convent brought together eight people united by the desire to work for social justice. When I lived in this house we were all fresh out of college and ready to fight poverty, the education gap, global warming, and anything else that stood in our way. Almost all of the occupants still work in urban education and live lives to limit our ecological impact.

This neighborhood is a transitioning neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. There are lots of well-kept single family brick homes in the immediate vicinity. If you cross any of the main streets there are more instances of criminal activity and signs of urban blight.

The physical decay of the building was an ongoing challenge. In the two years I lived there we had to tape off and move out of many rooms due to water damage and mold. We also had squirrel, cockroach, house fly, and centipede infestations. We fondly referred to it as the Seven Plagues. The building was finally deemed uninhabitable about a year after we moved out.

Aside from the physical space, this living situation was a challenge because we were all simultaneously learning to become teachers and trying to live in an intentional community.

The roof was the best part of that home. It was a flat tar roof that we used as a deck. We put patio chairs and a grill up there. In the distance you could see the Chicago skyline. In the summer we had a container garden and we talked up there for hours about topics related to social justice issues. We also started a tradition called "Freeze BBQ" where we would barbeque when it reached below zero. Our coldest was -15.

I also loved the history of the house. The building was built in the 1940s. There was still furniture, clothing, jewlery, and photographs of some of the previous occupants. We liked to incorporate these things into our own decor. Some of the roommates thought there were ghosts. I don't personally believe in that but I did like to look at the old photos and imagine the lives of these people.

The house also had cool features like a dumbwaiter and a laundry chute we used to recycle beer cans.

Living there, I learned a home is what you make it. There is no "right" way to manage any house or household task. We each had jobs within the community and that made things easier. The composition of a home can be changed at any point. The room arrangement is open for reconsideration.

Whether we were was playing corn hole in the hallway, or creating kindergarten-style bulletin boards featuring profanity, we knew how make our house exciting. It was a challenging home and a challenging time of life but we always found a way to have fun.

I really recommend, if you're living with a group, to educate yourself on living in an intentional community and consensus-based decision making. A lot of the skills I learned from this living situation have been translatable to future homes and relationships. I know how to positively and assertively express my needs and listen to others' needs.

Everyone you live with has something to teach you. I learned how to cook for eight, how to container garden, how to make homemade cleaning supplies work, and how to love urban biking.

There are more photos from Libsta's Teacher Convent!

  1. It's so great to see a post about intentional community! I spent a year in a community (Lutheran Volunteer Corps) and have also gotten to experience many other intentional communities short-term. It is definitely an intense way to learn about yourself and build interpersonal skills. Community is often tough but really worth it. And the adventures of living simply and creatively are a lot of fun!

  2. This is what we're trying to do! But instead of calling it an intentional community, we're gonna call it home. Because everyone living there is basically family (no blood though but who says that defines family?). And the way we see it, we'll save A BUNCH on gas trying to go see each other at all our various apartments.
    Would it be safe to say that I think our society is slowly moving back in the direction of big family-style communities instead of individual households?

    • Ooh that would be a great OBH post! "Intentional community" comes in so many forms, from people who share a home to people who live separately but come together often in a community space.

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