Rivka Cocker shares her experience of co-operative living and the significance of community in a shared house. For Issue #18 ‘Rising’.
If you’ve heard of co-ops before (which I hadn’t until I moved into one last year), the stereotype you’re probably envisioning might be along the lines of a hippie house, vegan commune or anarchist retreat. I can’t argue with all of these generalisations but nonetheless, the things I learned from living in a student co-operative house in the US, in contrast to my crumbling Bristol flat let by Digs, might make you wanna convert your student house into a co-op.
The questions I’m often asked when people find out where I lived are: Did you have to do jobs / chores around the house? Did you grow all of your own food? And did you have to share a room? The respective answers being yes, we distributed labour equally; some, mainly herbs and fruit but not enough to feed a house of 25; and no, I didn’t but the option was there.
The co-op realm was and is unique and radical: this Manifesto is about more than just a lifestyle change. It’s time for you to rise up, resist oppression and reuse and recycle anything and everything you can. Please do try this at home!
A for Anti-capitalist job economy and Activism
The anti-capitalist job economy works through accountability and distributing physical and emotional labour fairly among housemates. Cleaning the shower and cooking dinner are ranked differently based on time then jobs are given out to distribute the points equally among members. Dividing labour in your house doesn’t have to involve a full-on job economy spreadsheet (but who doesn’t love a bit of colour-coded organisation?). This year for example, I introduced the peg system into my flat where everyone has a wooden peg with their name on that hang on a mini washing line in the kitchen. No time to wash up you bowl before your 9am? No problem! Peg it as a reminder to you and others that you’ll do it later. See your flatmate run out the door and leave their cuppa? Peg them! This has reduced awkward confrontation and feeling so frustrated by your messy kitchen that you end up with cleaning up after others. The peg jokes are an additional bonus!
Challenging classist, ableist, gendered and racial microaggressions is an important part of any activism. Being conscious of your everyday interactions and calling people in, not out. Make your house a safe space and question language choices – practice saying ‘hey folks’ instead of ‘guys’, or ‘period products’ instead of trans-exclusionary and sterile sounding ‘feminine hygiene products’.
B for Bulk Buying
We all need washing up liquid, toilet paper and some kind of food staple (pasta, couscous, nutritional yeast?) so why not order it in bulk? Set up a Splitwise or kitty fund and enjoy the cost-effective advantages of sharing. Economically beneficial and sustainable! Yes please. In addition, feel free to ‘borrow’ toilet paper from any greedy corporation.
C for Creativity, Consensus and Community
Communal decision-making is vital and makes communication a key component of any community. At the co-op, we had house meetings with proposals and discussions every Sunday which began with everyone checking in – your name, pronouns and a check in question which didn’t have to hold any level of truth. It could be anything from the colour of your blood, to your last interaction with a cat. Be imaginative and have a giggle. Using consensus for group discussions or proposals to buy something communal, alongside routinely checking in on jobs and each other felt healthy and ensured that all voices in the house were heard.
Creativity was at the heart of the house as we held art nights and could decorate the already mural filled walls. The second option is obviously less viable for Bristol student properties considering the very valid fear of losing your deposit over a blue-tack stain. Still, art nights with your housemates and friends can foster a supportive and creative environment! Plus, you can send in whatever you make to be published in TWSS – a win-win situation.
So, is it time to convert your house into a co-op?
Illustrations by Rivka Cocker.