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

Before I left we met semi-regularly, usually on weekends when we were all at home. Since we all had different schedules, we found we just had to adapt our meeting times to people's needs. At one point, I was commuting to work, and I as I would often leave by 6 or 7am, it ruled out the possibility of an early morning meeting. And Pete usually got home late most weeknights, which made evening meetings difficult.

We used to meet every week on Wednesday mornings, at 7 am. You might say, "Man, that's an awful hour to wake up for a collective meeting." Well, I have to say, the thought has never crossed our minds. We were single-mindedly dedicated to making this "the best collective in the San Francisco Mission District."

Actually, we used to meet in the evenings, but since there was no pressure to end the meeting--no one had anywhere to go at 10pm on Thursdays--the meetings dragged on and on. This behavior is endemic to low-scale collective groups, and usually is their bane. Realizing that, we moved to the weekend. But people wanted flexibility with their time on the weekends; no one knew where they'd be Saturday night or Sunday morning.

We then moved it to mornings. Mornings were good because, first, I had to be quick about it because I had to work, and second, nobody wanted to talk on and on at 7am. It was still considered a little bit of a hardship, and during the winter holidays we skipped a week or two with joy.

Later, we aimed for weekend nights when we're all at home. Our commitment was still firm, even if our schedules weren't.

Before I left, in my last year at the collective, regular meetings dropped off and we only met every couple of months, or when there was a crisis. I think by that point we had established a close communication, though, so we were always talking about current problems, interests, and so on, which obviated the need for an actual separate meeting.

We kept notes on all our meetings. Someone, I think it was Jean, suggested this at the beginning. The idea was that the collective has a group memory. I've heard of long running collectives (20+ years) with books of notes on group decisions. So at the meeting, someone took simple notes about our process. We kept our notes in a simple three-ring notebook, from a thrift store. Before, we just had some office paper clipped or stapled together.

The note-taker starts by collecting topics for the meeting. The list of topics are just the things each of us wants to talk about. It really can be anything house-related: scheduling, food, chores, whatever. We also raised problems we were having with each other, as topics. For example, one of us may have been upset that they were left to clean some horrendous mess in the kitchen . So they can bring that up, air their annoyance, and we can figure out why it happened.

Of course, we were just regular people like any other people and have no magic about making all of it work. One of us may have been bothered by something and there just wasn't anything to do to change it. I remember at one point someone wanted to have all the house lights off at night, except in the rooms where someone actually was. But the others argued that the house was too depressing like that. The first person really wanted to have those lights off, since they thought it was just a waste of energy to have them burning if they weren't used. But the others held their ground and we stuck with the lights on.

So living together, and meeting together, is a process. I mean that it's something you work out as you go along. We have some principles: we all wanted to be heard, and so, to hear everyone else; we all wanted a comfortable, relatively clean home; we didn't wanted stress; we wanted to eat good vegetarian food; we'd like everyone (including ourselves) to feel happy in the house. So you guide yourself with those principles but sometimes we can't make it work how we want to. And that's just life.