Penn Johnson

How to Build and Maintain a Community House

by , 08/20/14

Community-House

There’s a notable difference between a home and a community: a home is a place you’re forced to be; a place where you might not feel like you belong because your family won’t let you use the backyard to create a compost pit. In comparison, a community is a place you want to be; a place where you feel like you belong; a place you can contribute to and grow with. Building a community takes time, but with the right kind of people it can ultimately help you learn and grow as a person.


Group Norms

When it comes to creating a community, there need to be group norms. That is, a list of things every member of that community keeps in mind during meetings, encounters with visitors, and during everyday life. That generally means having a large sheet of paper with “Group Norms” written at the top along with a list of house rules to follow. Some group norms might be: give everyone a chance to speak, respect the opinions of others, and do your chores on time. These norms may change when different people are at the community house and when different events are happening. For example, someone visits the house often will be more accustomed to everyone living there, along with individual mannerisms, whereas a newcomer might feel estranged if someone from the house acts in an odd way or curses or loses their temper or any other scenario you can think of. Always be sure to respect the group norms and re-write them if necessary when the community meets.

Related: Tec Team Costa Rica’s Tropika Home Facilitates Stronger Communities for Senior Citizens

Group Meal

The next thing to keep in mind when creating a community is a scheduled meeting time like a business might have. It might be weekly, bi-monthly or monthly. During this time, you and the other members of the community should be able to speak freely and without judgment. Weekly meetings are a great way to reflect on what happened throughout the week, plan meals, and share a personal goal for the following week. They’re also a good time for everyone to figure out what every other person is thinking and to get inside his/her head a little bit. Normally, weekly meetings are therapeutic and relaxing, but make sure to have a scheduled agenda and a facilitator to lead and keep everyone on track so you don’t end up discussing things that have already been addressed, or focusing on one minor topic for too long. Be sure to check in with everybody when the meeting goes over its limit and ask people if they’re okay with sticking around in order to continue covering the agenda.

Chore List

A third idea to keep in mind when living in a community is chores. A similar sheet of paper as the “Group Norms” usually designates chores. If you’re living on a farm, be sure to account for all the extra farm chores that need to be done (collecting eggs if you have chickens, churning compost, watering plants, etc.). If you’re living in a regular house, on the other hand, know that some basic chores would be things like: cooking, dishes (washing, rinsing, and drying), cleaning (bathrooms, common spaces, kitchens, etc.), and handling trash/recycling/compost. These chores will ultimately vary based on the community you hope to create and will generally rotate on a weekly basis.

Disagreements in communities are common and can create tension among members. When disagreements arise as a topic of conversation (which should usually best at group meetings) be sure to address them either anonymously or directly with the person responsible for the confrontation (depending how your group norms designate confrontational problems). Unsettled disagreements can lead to alienation and poor cohesion in the house, which is always best avoided. If possible, try to keep the peace and settle with one another. Common disagreements are things like keeping noise down during quiet times, extended bathroom usage, or annoying morning alarm clocks. Always be sure to work together to solve problems that arise and be sure that all parties support ideas decided upon.

Related: Finca Bellavista: Highflying Treehouses Nestled in the Costa Rican Rainforest Canopy

Building a community takes time and patience, but with collective consciousness and awareness it can thrive. I urge everyone who lives in a house to follow these guidelines as it creates a tension-free way of living and allows for maximum relief and relaxation. Communities can be whatever you want them to be—it’s all up to the members to decide what’s best for everyone. Go create a community and see for yourself the positivities that can arise.

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