Watch where you step in cohousing

There are things I learned while living in cohousing. One is my fear of conflict. Like most people, I was a little conflict averse but I went in knowing we would have to deal with it to build a strong community.  I see how horrendous things can go if you try to sweep everything under the rug and that community has a huge mountain in the rug.

So, since then I make an effort to head right into a storm cloud before the rain.  I met some new neighbors at the place I was renting when I first escaped. They saw my dog and made some passive aggressive jokes about hearing our dog. I thought that was odd since we were a corner away and the dog is usually in the farthest corner from them. I think they were confusing us with the seasonal renters next door to them whose big dog barked a lot. Either way, I wanted to face it right away. I think I already mentioned a neighbor who didn’t talk to me and told my landlord my dog barked (because she did one time whereas I know we now have a Beagle and they bark constantly) and next thing I knew, I was evicted.  So, I bought a gift basket, knocked on their door and said I was serious. If there is too much noise from my dog – let me know. We are trying behavior classes, a contraption that makes sound when she barks, water spray, everything. Ever since cohousing, I have known that we need to stop her bark to be good neighbors. They took my gift and my word and it was never a problem.

Relationships take honesty and the will to work through everything.  I am glad that I learned that lesson and won’t ever fear bumps again, but I would walk carefully on top of some rugs in some communities.

My favorite place to find gifts, from the White Earth Ojibwe Community:

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
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16 Responses to Watch where you step in cohousing

  1. zevpaiss says:

    If one has a fear of conflict, cohousing or community at any level really is not for you. As I have been quoted since I started in cohousing in 1991, Cohousing is the longest and most expensive personal growth workshop you will ever take.

  2. expsteacher says:

    I love your quote! But I have heard many a cohouser or mediator give a pass to people saying they are conflict averse.

  3. Flower says:

    “If one has a fear of conflict, cohousing or community at any level really is not for you.”

    I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have a fear of conflict, except of course those people who create conflict and chaos and then deny any personal responsibility. There may be those that claim it doesn’t bother them with bravado, but then walk away or desert you or refuse to stand up or worse, let other people in the conflict blame and scapegoat you. When it comes to conflict I think it important to avoid fighting losing battles and that isn’t being conflict averse as it is hard won wisdom.

    I’ve been in the scapegoat position and know it intimately. I’ve also always tried to confront issues head on before the situation gets worse. I don’t seem to meet people who appreciate it. People I tend to meet seem to feel entitled to agreement. It’s as if everyone wants you to hold up a mirror and make appreciative noises at them. I don’t.

    I think I’ve mentioned it previously but there’s a great book called, The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome by Harriet B. Braiker and she discusses approval addiction and people pleasing habits that are prevalent in the conflict averse.

    “As I have been quoted…Cohousing is the longest and most expensive personal growth workshop you will ever take”

    I think you can accomplish the same self-growth by just living your life, if emotional and personal growth is a desired outcome. It’s little like climbing a mountain, except that no one ever gets to the top, but you can turn around for a moment and look down to the place you started and see how far you’ve come.

    • CJ says:

      I just ordered the book you recommend. Were there others about People Pleasing? I’ve heard two people say something about people pleasing to me so I figure I better get better at saying no.
      The problem with cohousing is that the whole basis is on the group and (trying) to please the group. I should have known I’d take it more seriously than others. Some could care less and break the policies we had set (like dog poop even though they had plenty of bags!). I don’t know why I thought that joining a group that would have opinions about you (Like middle school) was a good idea. I believed the idea that otherwise I’d be lonely. I also had a wonderful experience in communities before but they happened naturally (like out of necessity) or were established with rules (such as college so we didn’t have to invent a government like cohousing basically does).
      So I’ll read the book and continue to focus on only let people in my life who are uplifting. The idea of an intentional community seems ridiculous to me and if they really worked, so many communes would not have folded in the 60s and 70s.

      • Zev Paiss says:

        I feel bad that you had such a super-duper shitty experience in your Cohousing community. Really I am. But your ongoing dispicable complaining is disgust! Isn’t it time for you to pack up your things and head home. Thousands of people have had good if not very good experiences despite the challenge of living in a interconnected neighborhood. I have alway expounded that Cohousing is the longest and most expensive personal growth workshop one will ever take. Is it easy? Hell no. Can it be worth it? Hell yes. But it does not work for everyone and that is okay with me. Best of success on your next adventure.

      • Flower says:

        Hi CJ,

        I’m glad to hear that you ordered the book. I recommended other books on your site that have been of great value to me, although they are not directly about “people pleasing”. If you would like me to write them down again I will do so. Just let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts on the book as well when you’ve finished it. I recommended it on another site where I used to comment and they thanked me. It made a difference in their life.

        “The problem with cohousing is that the whole basis is on the group and (trying) to please the group.”

        I picked up on that and group situations can be toxic in many situations. In my research I came upon the following quote by someone who allegedly has lived in cohousing for a long time. They listed 4 attributes to success, “generosity” being one. The quote was the following, “When I was in the stage of attracting new members to my current cohousing community….it was clear that a person was not going to do well if their first question was “What can this community offer me?” Rather potential community members need to consider what they are bring to the “party.”

        I’ve never met a single human being who does not operate from a place of self-interest with the one exception of Mother Teresa who I’ve never met. It’s only natural for people to seek what they feel will be of benefit and act in their own self interest. The cohousing websites and articles talk about benefits to the parents and children–free babysitting and childcare being a biggie.

        Cohousing websites paint a very pretty picture from what I’ve researched and the marketing tends to focus on the positive and gloss over the potential negatives.

        It’s important to know your vulnerabilities, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Keep on writing and keep on sharing your story.

  4. CJ says:

    I love your mountain quote! And the thought that cohousing is the only way to have personal growth is hogwash. Plus, assumes it’ll be a positive place with growth in mind which isn’t true. It’s just a housing project!
    I think everyone hates conflict but in cohousing, they say we are supposed to lean in and that conflict makes us a better person and stronger community. Ha! Maybe for a few places but most just end up with bitterness, enablers, and people leaving. I”m glad to be back in the real world, where there are no expectations around conflict like in cohousing.

    • Flower says:

      I wanted to ask you more about the “leaning into conflict” idea. I’ve been looking at a lot of cohousing sites and I don’t see it mentioned at all in their marketing. The marketing focuses on the beautiful environment. Buzz words like shared values, established culture of trust, care and fun, sustainability and where kids can roam free with their friends and everyone loves everyone etc., etc., etc., but there’s no mention of leaning into conflict. It’s absence is noticeable, except the following, “To support open communication, we check in about one another’s well-being and help resolve conflicts when help is needed.”

      So at what stage in the recruitment did you hear about leaning into conflict? Was this concept openly communicated or did you have to research on your own? Most marketing has contact pages, but they don’t get into the potential conflict or cons. Everything is more “positive”. Maybe they assume people will know, although the marketing offers an idealized vision of cohousing. They make it sound too good to be true!

      If they were more transparent about the conflict part it would give people pause. Then again, maybe I’m just different because I’ve experienced so much conflict–mainly from other people who create it given their behaviors. I don’t really consider myself adverse, but I don’t go out of my way to place myself in the middle of potential conflict either.

      I love to hike, so relating climbing a mountain to personal growth works for me. I’m glad that you liked it.

  5. CJ says:

    I saw it recently! I should have noted it for you. I have seen it a few times but not sure where – it could have been places that discuss intentional communities in general or maybe in some books. I’ll be on the look out now.
    There is one community that tells perspective members as much as possible. Some leave but it’s better to be forewarned. That is an established place whereas we were new so who knew what was up ahead. I suspect though that they still don’t discuss the past, process the present, or try to change for the future. I did hear one person say they think their cohousing that is being built will be filled of problem solvers. I will have to ask a follow up once they’ve been built a few years.
    I’ll have to think of some beach phrases as that’s where I hike.

  6. CJ says:

    I thought you already quit reading my ongoing complaints? I am moving on but you can’t tell someone what their timeline should be. And I want to be the ONE place in the universe where people can talk about the good and the bad. I love hearing how it has worked for some and I just wish they would share that – not gloss over the bad parts. And how they went through the bad parts.
    If you are reading my blog, you will see I”m trying to pivot away since I have the chance now to break away completely. I don’t have a house there anymore. I am free! Yet, I want to be there for those who comment or need a place to vent when they are struggling.
    It is easy to get sucked back in, as is obvious, since you got lured back to comment. But the resistance to me talking about my one experience is fascinating to me. The phrase I always remember is from feminism – the personal is political. I”m just sharing my thoughts as a writer and woman and someone who loves the idea of cohousing but in the gamble, got in a group that went toxic at that moment.
    Please, start a blog! I wanted to blog while living there and show how it really is. That’s why I started this one.

    • Zev says:

      We recently had two home come up for sale and the process of selecting new neighbors is quite extensive for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Seven out of the eleven homes in our community are permanently affordable so the first step in addition to everything we require.

      Once they qualify their income with the city then they are required to complete a questionnaire that asks about their experience around shared living, participating in shared meals and workdays. Then we have them attend an open house so they can see the home and survive the slew of questions the “welcome” committee typically asks. We also encourage them to ask us anything they want.

      Then we require them to attend a community meal and a business meeting. We want them to know what they are getting involved with before they seriously consider living here. We take the questionnaires cross off the names and have the committee give points to the answers. The top three candidates are then passed over to the seller and they make the final decision. For the most part it has worked well. But over the past 25 years we have definitely had a handful of residents who have decided it just did not work for them. I would be curious to imagine if you would have moved into your community if a process like that was required.

      • Flower says:


        It sounds like an extensive process in your cohousing project, however it doesn’t sound like it’s a uniform process. I wouldn’t assume that it’s been standardized across the board as I don’t see evidence of that in my research of existing marketing and recruitment materials.

        “Thousands of people have had good if not very good experiences despite the challenge of living in a interconnected neighborhood.”

        Is there hard data to back up this statement. I’ve searched for it and it’s difficult to come by.

    • CJ says:

      The above to the person who quit my blog was to Zev. He has a new comment about choosing who lives in your community.

  7. Zev says:

    CJ it is not so much about who a seller choses to pass on their cohousing home and a lot about the MANY steps we take prospective buyer through so they have a realistic idea what they are getting into. I suspect CJ was never orientated into the community you were part of.

    • CJ says:

      I”m trying to form a response so it’s taking awhile. I was one of the founders, first people to move in and had spent a year and a half working with others. 4 other founding members moved out too. Then we had a rental family that came and went within two months which sparked the big incident, over children, that lead to me moving out with my kids. Another renter came and went within months. A couple with kids bought a new house that was built (a year after most had) and didn’t last a year. Another rental family was going to buy but left within a year and won’t speak to anyone even when seen around town. So, in that community, I don’t think it’s orientation. However the more honest a community is and does try to welcome in newcomers, that’s a sign of a healthy community which I don’t think my coho was. They let me sell to anyone and leave the getting to know the place up to the buyers. In my case, they were out of the country so I don’t think they pushed it that much anyhow.

  8. Maggie says:

    Yikes, “your ongoing despicable complaining is disgust”! Reeks of privilege and lack of awareness and oppressor shaming. Sorry you’re dealing with more of the exact reason you and I left CJ. Speaking up always brings out those who don’t understand but want to preach, mansplain.

    I personally very much appreciate you sharing a perspective many are not brave enough or resourced enough to share. I certainly am not exposing myself by writing a blog. Most who have been harmed by cohousing will shrink away because of the attacks they endured and will again face if they speak out. Typical of what happens to victims and a typical reaction by those who know nothing of abuse. Cohousing is a sitting duck set up for abusive bullies. I think my old cohousing should have a sign saying “welcome bullies, pedophiles, narcissists, you are safe to do your bidding here”. But you don’t need a sign. They smell it out. And some cohousing organizations have good boundaries and solid systems to deal with such things but many don’t and unsuspecting people get harmed. Usually minorities.

    I feel very annoyed when the “cohousing is the cheapest and best therapy” idea is said in regards to harm. Major spiritual override. Yes cohousing can be stimulus for growth but it certainly is not therapy. Yes it can show us where we get triggered but being triggered by harm is not something that we need to be healed. Harm needs to stop. Thats like telling someone who’s assaulted that it’s ok, they learned a lot and will heal so we aren’t going to do anything to prevent it. Again, very privileged. When harm occurs people should react and protect not go talk it out as if everything is just about our own personal experience. Violence occurs and is perpetuated by those who don’t speak up. Cohousing has lots of this as its full of innately biased people, we are all innately biased so if you haven’t looked into it you are perpetuating harm. Instead of quoting the most privileged members cohousing communities should be asking questions of those complaining, sharing, expressing and those who leave and of those who say nothing. The most vocal in cohousing are often the most privileged and socially protected. I took a great course on this all about power dynamics in community. I wish it was required of folks. Seems imperative to have this awareness otherwise cohousing is just going to accentuate implicit bias and cause more harm.

    Another note, in my cohousing community they wanted to have a new member process but the bottom line was anyone could sell to anyone and because the community had gotten so bad many weren’t even participating and rightfully didn’t care who moved in when they were pushed out and had to sell. Why would they? Legally there was no obligation to sell to certain people. So that was another misleading thing. I just wish the members had been upfront which they weren’t and I do not appreciate lies about the truth of a community. I have not heard of many cohousing communities that are totally transparent about how it really is, the joys and the challenges and the downfalls and weaknesses. The joys and dancing in the fields of flowers are shared a lot. I also know many couldn’t articulate that as they dont have the awareness themselves and are blind to such realities just like here on this thread. If you have lots of power you dont feel the effects so you have no idea other people’s realities. If people wanted to see they’d ask about what people complain about instead of complain about someone complaining. As if hearing a complaint is so hard to tolerate. Sitting with a complaint is nothing compared to the experience of abuse then the experience of groups perpetuating the abuse.

    I have years of experience with communication, conflict resolution and conflict. I actually enjoy lots of conflict as I enjoy the break throughs one can have. But my experience of cohousing was dysfunction and years of harm that people didn’t want to face so the majority hurt the minorities over and over again. And they didn’t want to hear about it or learn about it. They just wanted to be right. The most unaware kept taking over. And some sure spoke like they were aware. Actions and words need to match. Abusive folks can be so smooth. Grooming includes knowing how to sweet talk everyone. And grooming was a part of what I saw in cohousing.

    Keep blogging, keep complaining, keep sharing the reality CJ. Maybe more will enter cohousing with awareness of how it is and less will be harmed by perpetrators and then harmed again by those gas lighting you and telling you it was good for you as it was an opportunity for growth. Imagine if activists didnt act because they listened to the theory that it was all just “an opportunity for growth”. Uhg.

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