Sunday, May 25, 2008

BRINGING THE BEACH HOME: COMMUNAL LIVINGOne of the most enjoyable aspects of the beach (for me) was the communal living. All aspects of domestic life were heightened by shared responsibility and constant companionship. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, childcare, and leisure time were all spent in community. I think I would really love to live this way. It is so encouraging! Burdens are so much lighter, joys that much greater.

Most of the world lives in tribes, communities, large extended families, etc. I suppose some of that has been lost as our culture has become more global and living together has become the exception, rather than the rule, at least here in the US. My goal is to figure out how to translate the concepts of communal living into my life. Realistically, I am not going to sell my house and move into a commune. However, I do have the exceptional gift of living in the same town as much of my family. Outside of them, I have my larger church family and friends in the community.

How can I translate the concepts of tribe into my own life? I know it starts with me being more intentional in my relationships. My mom and I already practice several aspects of communal living, such as sharing childcare several times a week.
Also, we have lunch at church one Sunday a month with many other families. Our whole family LOVES this Sunday meal. The kids look forward to it, and so do we. Everyone brings food, the kids play, the adults talk, everyone cleans up. I wish we did it every Sunday.

Occasionally, my friend Charlotte, and I will spend the whole day together at one of our houses. The kids play, and she and I (usually with our babies on our backs) either move furniture around, make bread, hang laundry, sew, or just sit and talk and watch the children play. We both love it so much and are so encouraged. We never fail to have great conversations that make us think and the work is so much more pleasant when in the company of a friend.

When my friend, Stacy, was on maternity leave, we had dinner at our houses at least once a week. It was so much fun. The kids were so happy to play with their friends and it was great to have a break from the normal late-afternoon-crankies. I have missed those dinners now that she has gone back to work, but hope we can pick them back up at least once a week during the summer (she is a teacher).

I am not a person that needs constant company. I love my alone time. I cherish the time that I can spend in quiet and solitude. In fact, I am at this moment at a coffee shop, by myself, and am blissfully happy. I love my friends, but I am just as happy alone. That was the great thing about being at the beach. We all lived together (six adults and seven children) in one house, and shared all the common areas, but all had our own rooms to retreat to. Also, because we were sharing the workload, there were little pockets of time throughout the day that we could sneak off for a few moments of quiet.

I am still working through this topic in my mind, but here are a few ways that I have thought of to incorporate communal living concepts into our single-family-in-the-suburbs-mentality.

-Have an open door policy at our house: invite friends over several times a week. Don't make it formal. It is not about entertaining. It is simple hospitality. Fold the laundry while you talk. Start dinner.

-Work on projects with friends. Have a modern day barn raising: canning food together, bake bread, work on a hobby, etc. Cook several meals to split and stock the freezers.

-Swap childcare. Give each other a break to run errands or get a pedicure!

-Share the bounty. Growing a garden? Share what you grow with friends. Making a pie? Make two and give one to a neighbor. Perhaps you could even share bigger things, like yard tools and such. We share a lawnmower with two of our neighbors. We don't own one, because we have a wooded lot with very little grass. So, once or twice a season, my hubby will borrow the neighbors lawnmower to clean things up a bit around the yard. He returns it with a pork loin, or some steaks.

What ways do you practice community?

(Next Bringing the Beach Home topic: Vacation state of mind, at Home)

*Image from Shelby Nycole on


  1. interestingly enough, we do these things already. So weird!? I never knew I was practicing those things until you listed them!...

    I was just about to call you and say that I have a bout 50 radish seedling and a few cherry tomatoes to give you! do you have room? my garden is packed! I hate to waist them! we need to get back into the habit of getting together once a week. swapping. if anything b/c I really miss you! LOVE!

  2. We live in a small, rural community and we are relatively cut off from town by 7 miles of gravel roads and prairie fields. We are blessed to be located in a farming area that is inhabited by wonderful and "community oriented" people. We love our "space" but we also love mingling and mixing and working together.

    We practice community by tool and equipment sharing (two families don't buy the same piece of equipment, instead we buy something that someone doesn't already have and *share* it. If we are going to do a big job that requires renting equipment (we fenced this past week) we spread the word and other people hop on the rental wagon and we fence at four farms instead of one.

    We have work bees and trade labour, four guys working at one place get a lot more done than each guy working at his own place, we take turns trading "places".

    We potluck, often. We keep it simple as we have many kids, we just enjoy simple food and good company. We plan and include neighbours in fun family actitivities like scavenger hunts, runn off parties (when the creeks start running in spring, we do rubber duck races), etc.

    We just "drop in" on each other when we are out atv'ing or sledding...

    We all spend the day butchering with whoever is butchering, and then get a share of meat, our men go hunting together and then cut and wrap together, we women share bedding plants or pick/weed gardens together, have jam making days etc.

    In the future I hope to plan family sports events with our farm neighbours as we don't want to be one of those sport commuting families.

  3. I think pride gets in the way sometimes. We cling so tenaciously to our "stuff" and our self-sufficiency. There needs to be a holding lightly to the things of this world, a willingness to help in time of need, and RECEIVE help from others. Great post! Many seeds for thought.

  4. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Laurel, just wondering if you ever came across a great natural laundry detergent yet? How did making your reusable bags go? - Misti


  5. Girl, you are speaking my language. I long for this lifestyle and initiate it with others regularly, but find that so many other families are SO busy and tired and harried that they don't want's just "one more thing". It makes me sad and I long for like-minded mamas who live a slower pace and have the values of shared work, vulnerability, space and time, creativity, etc.

  6. Great thoughts here Laurel. I'm probably not as community as I'd like - I have a stubborn perfectionist streak that doesn't like anything less than a pre-organised, thoroughly planned and perfectly executed event. Hmmm.....somewhat of a barrier to spontaneous activity! (It's one of my hurdles in the jouney towards a more authentic and simple life...shhh, don't tell anyone!) Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. I really appreciate your thoughts on communal living. It's simple & smart. It feels right. Thanks for sharing!