Building Community Without the Commune
J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy recently sent me an interesting article about one nun’s experience of communal living. In her order, the sisters all take a vow of poverty in which they choose to contribute all their income (many have “secular” jobs) to a common pot, and own all possessions collectively rather than individually. It had some cool takeaways for anyone, and it also got me wondering: is communal living trending?
Because I’ve also been hearing buzz over Rod Dreher’s latest book, The Benedict Option, which suggests communal living in less extreme forms. We, too, have dreamed of buying a large property with friends, living in separate houses but sharing outdoor chores and using the property to serve the larger community.
It seems the idea of communal living is back in vogue after a generation of building decks in the back of the house instead of porches in the front. And attached garages so you never have to see your neighbors, unless serendipity strikes during the half-minute walk to the mailbox.
It’s true that a sharing economy has emerged, along with a rising movement toward minimalism/simplicity. People are going “back to the land” in various ways. The idea of communal living may be more of a dream than a reality for most, but there are practical ways we can all build community. I imagine this is what people are actually longing for in the most individualistic culture ever.
I’ve lived in close community perhaps more than the average person. First it was my family of five kids, plus all ones my mom babysat and neighbor kids coming to play. In college I always had multiple roommates. After college, we lived in an apartment building where several of our married friends resided. I started calling this place The Commune because they said the gas bill was split evenly among the residents (it wasn’t).
When the rent increased people started moving out. So we moved in with friends. While we didn’t pool our incomes or anything like that, we did share a shower and kitchen.
A year later we purchased a home on the same block. From there, we set out to continue building community. We invited all our immediate neighbors to our house-warming party. Which, by the way, is the best way not to have the cops called if the party gets too loud. I also took cookies to our neighbors within a week of moving in. Thank goodness they weren’t home. The cookies were a little on the crisp side, and I learned later that my neighbor is a pastry chef.
But enough about me. Here are a list of other ways we can practice community and sharing without getting all Animal Farm:
- Swap babysitting with other parents.
- Make errands more efficient. If you’re stopping by a store, text your neighbor to see if they need anything.
- Share tools. Why does everyone need to own a ginormous extension ladder? How often do you actually use some of your tools?
- Share skills. While you’re sharing tools, why not share your skills? Whether it’s baking, crocheting, or rebuilding your ant-eaten home, sharing DIY skills is invaluable.
- Share meals. Invite people over for dinner. Or brunch. Or a fire-side s’more. Just remember to aim for hospitality rather than entertaining. That makes everyone feel more comfortable.
- Share baby gear. Even before you’re done having kids, sharing is caring. I’ve borrowed and lent out everything from clothes to carriers.
- Give stuff away. Even if you could sell something, consider giving it away in order to build community. When I think of all the ways people have shared with me, I’m more likely to dismiss the few bucks I might get for an item and just pass it on.
- Share life. At some point it makes sense to go beyond small talk and discuss real life. That point is different for every relationship, but being there for people (and having others to lean on) is what community is really about.
- Share money. Be generous. Give to good charities. Support your local church. Treat someone. Take the tool that money is and use it for good in the lives of others as well as your own.
- Share faith or values. For us the deepest sense of community comes from our church. Did you know the word church literally means the assembly? It’s not about the place. It’s about people coming together. And the word fellowship actually means to share or to have in common. Much of the sharing described above happens in this context for us, and it’s a source of great joy.
As I type this list, countless examples of sharing come to mind. My neighbor who has clothed my son for the last year or more, and just sent over cupcakes this evening. Our friends down the street who gave us a shop vac for our house-warming present. And much, much more. I’m at once humbled and motivated to continue striving to share and build community.
For Further Reading: Frugal Friends Don’t Let Friends…
What are other ways of building community? What do you think of the idea of communal living?