An Experience in (Mild) Communal Living
Overview History Meetings Cleaning Eating Food Shopping Recycling Worm Bin

Most collectives have some sort of cleaningschedule. If you've ever lived outside a cave, you'll realize that cleaning a house, anapartment or a flat takes a lot of work and time. Living collectively we found thattime could be split among members of the group, to make the process easier.

We lived in a Victorian flat, with a longhallway with rooms coming off either side. The living room lay towards the front of the hallway,and the hall ended in the kitchen. Further beyond the kitchen was a pantry-style room, whichopened to the garden.

Early on, we divided house cleaning chores into three simple areas: the living room, the bathroom, and the kitchen. Over time, realizing that the hall and back pantry needed cleaning too, we added some chores to even it out. Cleaning the bathroom is a task in itself; but cleaning the living room includes cleaning the hallway and taking out the recycling. This is because the living room is very easy to clean--most of the work is vacuuming the carpet and straightening furniture.

We used to keep our chores for a calendar month, and switched at the beginning of each month. Chores rotated clockwise when the flat is viewed from above. Living room went to bathroom, bathroom to kitchen, and kitchen to living room. This rotation was really accidental. During our first chore assignments, we realized the kitchen was a huge place. You could spend time cleaning the stove/oven, fridge, small and large pantry, sinks, table, and windows and still only do an okay job. Recognizing that, we decided that the kitchen chore should be followed by the living room, as a sort of treat after a month of hard workin' chores.

Later our process changed, and we removed the rotation among chores. Each of us took ownership one of the areas. The idea was that if we owned an area, we’ll be more likely to take care of it and keep it looking nice. That was how things were working when I left.

We didn’t have any rules about it, but the general understanding was that cleaning should happen once a week. We expected it to take an hour, but if you were dedicated it might only take half an hour.

Overall, I don't know how successful our collective cleaning efforts were. For my part, I was irregular in my commitment to it, especially after living there for a few years; I might let months go by without doing much cleaning-wise. The amazing thing was how clean the place was overall, something our friends always commented on. Dan was very dedicated in keeping the kitchen clean, and Pete was pretty good about the bathroom. Maybe those are the areas that people notice the most, anyhow.

We did have other non-regulated policies about cleaning. For example, we always cleaned up after dinner, and never left plates in the sink overnight. I think that in the six years or so that I lived there, we must have left dirty plates a handful of times, maybe ten times. It was pretty amazing. I think this contributed, for me, to a sense of care in the house and in the kitchen that made the environment very pleasant. In general, the cook for the night would clean up the cooking dishes (pots and pans) and the others would take care of most of the plates. It was a working system.

We weren't too hard core about our tasks. Weal realized that no one else will do the chore if we didn't, so we'd eventually get to it. If someone didn't get to it for a couple of weeks, they'd get some reminder in one of our meetings (meeting.html) . Of course we all wanted a clean house, but if it slipped a little, nobody lost their supper (food.html) over it. Somehow, though, we ended up with a pretty clean house, considering we were three bachelors.

We purchased cleaning supplies as part of the monthly food (food.html) shop, and we shared them for all tasks. This includes, by the way, laundry supplies, although we each cleaned our own laundry.

We tried and use simple or"natural" cleaning supplies when possible. For example, we didn't use bleach, even in the bathroom, since there's some worry about the effect of millions of local folks sending chlorine through the sewers. Our cleaning supplies for dishes and laundry came in bulk. This means we brought our own plastic bottles to the store once a month and filled them from even larger one-gallon bottles. This seemed cheaper and anyway, it meant fewer plastic bottles to the plastic bottle heap. We later changed this process to actually buying one-gallon bottles directly; since we knew we'd use an average of a quart of these liquids (laundry, dish and personal soap) every month, this saved us some effort in the intervening months.

We did use cleanser (e.g. Ajax-like stuff) for the bathtub. Personally, I never got the baking soda-vinegar solution to work well for me. For the floors we use some citrus based stuff(for example, CitraSolv but we used various) that smelled pretty nice. I don't know what it did for the floors.

We bought lots of sponges and changed them, like clockwork, at the beginning of each calendar month. They began to smell if we kept them longer. We could have used bleach to kill the sponge bacteria, but we try not to use bleach, and besides, it causes sponges to break down and fall apart after a few uses.

For laundry soap we used some concentrated stuff we bought in bulk (either Lifeline or Lifetree). It was pretty strong--I used about two capfuls (a cap is maybe a tablespoon) for a whole load of laundry.