Life in Cohousing
Self-select for Daybreak
There is no application process for joining Daybreak Cohousing, but there is an education process. This means it’s up to prospective buyers to thoroughly get to know the Daybreak community before making an offer. Since we are self-managed, it’s especially important to understand both what residents expect from the community and what living in an intentional community is like. Clear expectations are the key to a good fit.
This information was assembled from observations made by people who live in cohousing, who consult with cohousing communities, or who are scholars of the movement. The descriptions and questions are intended to inspire reflection for people considering living in cohousing, as well as those who do.
A shared life together requires a different skill set than what is often available in mainstream culture. Group decisions require strong communication and group process skills. If you interact well in meetings, are willing to share power, actively listen to others, and express your opinions and personal feelings, cohousing could offer an innovative and nurturing alternative to mainstream living situations.
Idealism vs realism
Cohousing and intentional communities sometimes attract people who are seeking an ideal, harmonious village without realizing the challenges of living in one. How are your social relationship skills, your level of self-awareness, your willingness to live with others who may not meet your standards? Are you able to balance rational and emotionally charged viewpoints?
Structure and governance
Research shows that a well-considered governance structure can bring a sense of safety to members of a cohousing community. Good structures that match the needs of each community allow members to enjoy more satisfaction and resolve conflicts when they arise.
As Daybreak matures, in order to keep vibrant, our structures need to evolve in response to the ever-changing membership. Daybreak’s current structure is a flat hierarchy. Is a flat governance structure acceptable to you? If not, are you willing to work with others to change it?
Reflect on the qualities needed
How willing are you to learn and practice new communication and interpersonal relationship skills? Assertiveness, the ability to articulate your thoughts and feelings and ask questions on behalf of yourself or the community, is a skill that can be learned, for example.
Patience and flexibility
How patient are you when change doesn’t happen quickly? Making decisions as a group takes longer than an individual making the same decision. How easily can you shift perspectives or reframe a situation to see issues from other viewpoints?
How willing are you to acknowledge that you may not have all the answers, that you may not know more than other people, that there are new things to learn?
Firm answers of the “right way” and the “wrong way” are rare in relationships, which is why we must become good at discerning the most effective action given the current needs. What would you do when the answer is “could be a few different things”?
How easily are you able to recover from the presence of emotional upset and conflict? Real resilience is aided by being able to get perspective on your situation.
What are your thoughts about the consensus process and our practice of decision-making? Are you able to listen respectfully, state concerns constructively, and collaborate to find solutions? Learning to value win-win solutions that benefit the whole community over the “thrill of victory” takes some practice.
How interested are you in getting better at all of these skills through self-study or by participating in training or workshops offered by the community or other cohousing organizations?
Compassion and empathy
Compassion means taking responsibility for how our choices affect others, and being kind when mistakes happen. Empathy is the ability to identify and understand another’s feelings or imagine their viewpoint, and if action is appropriate, it will be based on what the individual needs or requires. Empathy leads to the stronger, higher trust that helps relationships thrive in a cooperative space. How interested are you in nurturing these skills?
Comfort with conflict
Conflict happens all the time and is unavoidable when human beings get together. Willingness to learn and use the wide array of conflict management skills that are available is essential to living in any community. Conflict management is the work of the individual as well as the community. Active and reflective listening is one key skill, and compromise and negotiation are other skills that can help resolve conflicts. Are you willing to use the conflict management tools that the group has agreed on? How well do you deal with conflict?
Having a sense of humor about the challenges of living in community can help smooth over differences, lower everyone’s stress level, and communicate in a way that strengthens relationships. Humor can help you reframe problems that might otherwise seem overwhelming, loosen up, and energize your thinking. Are you able to laugh occasionally in the midst of adversity?
Reflect on the rewards
Cohousing communities are designed to foster relationships. Does that appeal to you?
Cohousing is about culture change. Interdependence is one of the rewards of the cooperative culture model. Working together on teams is the heart of cohousing. When we ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar, a ride, or chat on the way to get the mail, it helps us stay connected. How does this sound to you?
Connect with other local and national cohousing communities and organizations that offer training and support. Are you curious about cohousing dynamics, how similar they are, and how other communities approach the same situations?
Lower carbon footprint
Live more lightly by sharing common spaces and other resources. How do you feel about sharing common spaces, equipment, and tools?
Be involved in something bigger
Working with others to create something that is larger than our independent selves can be a source of genuine pleasure. Are you willing to be of service in this way?
Reflect on the responsibilities of self-management
Participation in activities and work are important for community vitality and for your integration. In what ways can you imagine yourself participating?
Willingness to serve
Self-management requires willingness and availability to respond to questions and concerns addressed to the teams that you serve on. Residents carry out tasks to manage our finances, coordinate social activities, keep the building in good repair, and care for the landscape—among a long list of daily tasks. Are you willing to manage your schedule to be available to answer questions addressed to your team in a timely manner and to do research to get information that is needed?
It’s important to stay in the loop and have basic knowledge about computers and software and how to use them. We rely on browser-based software to communicate and get community work done: Google Workspace apps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Groups, Zoom. Additional software is used by the Technology, Membership, and Finance Teams. What is your level of curiosity about learning new things in order to communicate and participate? How patient are you with the learning process?
Commitment as an investor
Our buildings, landscape, governance and social life are an extension of our homes and require ongoing maintenance. Are you willing and able to contribute physical and/or intellectual labor to the maintenance of the community?
Technical property know-how
Care of our buildings and landscape requires learning how things work. We are actively involved with maintenance schedules, consult with professionals and collaborate within our team system to stay up to date with our responsibilities.
Ability to work on multiple tasks and set up procedures that streamline workload is an asset in caring for the community and the relationship to our team members.
Reflect on common challenges
Life experience and personal growth
What will be your greatest personal growth challenges of living at Daybreak? What experiences have you had in any type of community settings? What do you most look forward to about living at Daybreak?
How will you handle the “culture shock” of moving from a hyper-individualistic culture to something more cooperative? Cohousing communities are oriented towards cooperative culture, which requires a lot of relearning if you are coming from a single family residence. Here is a chart to help you compare the spectrum of cultures (used with the author’s permission): Comparing Mainstream, Cooperative, and Counter Cultures. What are your fears or concerns about living in Daybreak Cohousing?
Build skills and self-awareness
How willing are you to learn conflict management and resolution skills? Do you have a realistic sense of how others perceive you and how your behavior, attitudes, and communication impact others?
HOA dues and self-management
Our HOA dues fund the common expenses of the community, including our reserve fund. Investments of volunteer hours can be very high, but the actual cash costs of self-performed property management activities can be pretty low. If we fall into disrepair or neglect maintenance, this impacts our property values and special assessments are more likely. This delicate balance of self-management within a changing group of members can be one of the greatest challenges. What do you have to offer Daybreak Cohousing?
Website articles, blogs, online stores
Christian, Diane Leafe, (September 27, 2008) Who Thrives in Cohousing? The Cohousing Association of the United States Blog
Dowds, Philip, (June 22, 2017) Cohousing Costs After You Move In: Part II Findings of the Study, Cornerstone Village Cohousing (Cambridge, MA), The Cohousing Association of the United States Blog https://cohousing.org/cohousing-costs-after-you-move-in-part-ii-findings-of-the-study/
The Cohousing Association of the United States, Series of articles on Relating (no date).
Laird’s Commentary on Community and Consensus
Foundation for Intentional Community
Ludwig, Yana, and Gimnig, Karen, (November 25, 2020). The Cooperative Culture Handbook: A Social Change Manual to Dismantle Toxic Culture & Build Connection, Fellowship for Intentional Community. https://www.ic.org/community-bookstore/product/the-cooperative-culture-handbook/
Ludwig, Yana (Ma’ikwe), (July 17, 2017). Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, Fellowship for Intentional Community. https://www.ic.org/community-bookstore/product/together-resilient-building-community/