Nayaswami Jyotish, co-director of Ananda worldwide and a founding member of the original Ananda community near Nevada City, lists seven factors that help make a happy co-housing group:
- A comfortable balance between togetherness and privacy. Too much “group-think” and “group-do” spoils the fun. Let people contribute as they feel.
- The biggest problem areas in a co-home are almost always the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry. Jyotish warns: “Don’t share bathrooms unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.” For several years in the early 1980s, seventeen Ananda members shared an aging summer home in Atherton, where the single bathroom and the tiny kitchen with a corner sink caused continual aggravation. (“Excuse me!”) When renting a house to share, be sure the floor plan accommodates a reasonable flow for living and working together.
- Avoid rigid systems, particularly when it comes to food and spiritual practice. The “tyranny of lists” can quickly become oppressive, and sap the joy from shared living. “Please write down every single piece of food consumed, and remember sign your name!”
Photo: If you want to start your own community — or just live cooperatively with friends — check out the kitchen first. A roomy kitchen calms nerves and invites harmonious service.
At Villa Gioia, a highly successful eight-unit co-house at Ananda Village, the residents contribute an equal monthly amount for food, secure in the knowledge that if one resident likes expensive cheese, the costs will balance out over time.
- The most important ingredient for living together is tolerance for others’ ways. If you expect everyone to do your bidding, your chances for finding happiness in a co-house will be slim to none. Diversity is freedom.
- Establish a clear division between public and private space. People (especially children) are more inclined to share when they know there are things they don’t have to share.
- Emphasize inner bonds, and don’t sweat the small stuff. What if you’re living with housemates who hold strong views about decorating? Fine! You may have to let go of your personal tastes for the sake of harmony. Jyotish says this can be very liberating, as people realize that the joys of friendship are far more rewarding than always getting their way.
- Larger groups tend to be more successful. In a small group, if one person leaves or creates tension, it has a bigger effect. A good size to aim for is 12-15 adults.
Do these “rules” sound like a catechism in old-time social values? A refresher course in simple living? If so, perhaps that’s because co-housing means learning to live together. And that’s a skill we’ve neglected for the last hundred years.
The Ananda community welcomes visitors. To arrange a tour, call the community office at (650) 941-9507.