Pete and Jean formed the Hampster House Collective in 1993. They had lived in cooperative situations with largish groups of people. They decided they wanted some more privacy, and decided to find a flat they could share. They found Hampster House in late summer, and I joined them shortly after they first moved in. I think they decided they wanted to live cooperatively, but didn't have some big manifesto or ideology. It was more like: let's buy food together, let's cook together, let's talk regularly about how things are going. And that, for me, was the basis of the cooperative.
Hampster, by the way, comes from the street name, Hampshire, where the flat is located. The House is actually an old Victorian flat, not a house. I think Hampster House is kind of a silly name, but that was San Francisco, and in the late 1990's your collective had to have a name. It's just how it was. Besides, once it was all guys in there, it was kind of like a bunch of hampsters. Actually, maybe it's a cute image.
Jean moved on to her own place, to be replaced by John, who left after a spell; then Dan joined us. Otherwise we were a pretty stable house. Jean and John still visited sometimes; Jean baked bread there sometimes. And of course everybody stopped by for our summer vegetarian BBQs.
A collective or a cooperative, in the sense I'm using here, is a group of people who decide to intentionally form a community based on sharing and caring. For example, at Hampster all our food was shared
; this means Pete's food was my food was Dan's food. Nobody freaked out if all the corn flakes were eaten; we just talked about it and decided if we wanted to get more next time. Actually we didn't buy corn flakes, anyway.
We also shared duties in cleaning the house
, each of us rotating through three sections of the place on a monthly basis. We shared our personal belongings as long as we were comfortable with it (no hard sell here). We also spent time hanging out and talking with each other. We all got along really well and that took some investment of time and energy.
We met on a semi-regular basis
, to talk about any problems that had cropped up, either between us personally, or with the Hampster itself. We made our decisions together.
It may sound kind of idealistic, kind of extreme if you've never lived like that before. But on the one hand, people get much more extreme when it comes to collectives, just in the USA. For one thing, we didn't enforce any strict discipline, we shared no written philosophy, had no leader. As for idealism, well, I lived in a collective because that's how I wanted to live for a few years. It's a living situation like any other. We sometimes disagreed, sometimes got annoyed with each other. That's to be expected. It seemed, though, that we all knew what we wanted and so it was a practical choice to live as we did. We just lived the way we wanted to live. Collectively.