The World I Choose

October 20, 2011 | 36 comments
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My first posts at Times & Seasons were about building zion-like communities. I’ve wanted to expand on those posts in the year and a half since I originally wrote them, but whenever I try the words refuse to come.

Why? In part it’s because communities are difficult and complicated. Mostly, however, it’s because the ideal community that I envision is so dear to me that it pains me to put it into words. I feel like the words do violence to the vision, and a part of me fears that, in transit from vision to writing, the vision might get lost.

That said, I’ve reached a point where I realize that there’s no moving forward until I’m willing to get started. So here’s my vision of the place I hope to inhabit.

First is affordability.

Life is too wonderful to spend it worrying about finances, and too short to spend unnecessary hours in the workplace. I hope to spend the time I have in the society of my loved ones, in appreciation of art and nature, in creative works, and in learning through study and observation.

I think the first trick to making all of that happen is to live affordably. My target number would be to have expenditures somewhere around $1,000 per month in food and housing for my whole family.

Next is space.

The $1,000 per month target isn’t really all that unrealistic on its own. When my wife and I were first married, we lived on less money than that by renting room in a house in Springville, Utah. The recent “microhousing” movement also provides options for extremely affordable housing.

Living in a tiny residence is fine as long as you have accessible space around you. Places where you can meet with people. Places to walk or hike or swim or nap. Places where your kids can play (that’s the crucial one — being cooped up with highly energetic kids and nowhere to take them is rough).

Modern homes are multi-purpose structure. They are recreation areas, study areas, sleep areas, dining areas, entertainment areas, childcare areas, work areas, and socializing areas, all combined in one. I think I could be happy with a tiny home that functioned as just a sleep area if I knew that there were other facilities nearby to meet the other needs.

Next comes distribution of labor.

It usually takes me about 30 or 40 minutes to make dinner in the evening. I figure every other family on my court is spending 30 or 40 minutes making their dinners as well. For six households, that’s four hours of time spent each night making dinner. Making dinner for all six houses might take me longer than 30 or 40 minutes, but it certainly wouldn’t take me four hours.

I think this sort of duplicated labor takes place all the time. In childcare, home cleaning, yard work, laundry, etc. I’d like to live in a community where households don’t have to waste time doing things on their own that could be accomplished much more efficiently together.

Next comes technology.

The internet and computers are hugely awesome. I wouldn’t want to live in a community that is so focused on simple living that it would forgo the advantages of technology.

Next comes education and job skills.

I’ve been blessed to have been trained in marketable job skills. I’m a computer programmer. It’s not my #1 passion, but it’s not a bad gig by any means. And it’s been very reassuring to know that I’m very likely to be able to find work if ever the need should arise.

I want to live in a community that provides an education in marketable job skills, both to children and adults. I imagine a community where those who have job skills serve as teachers and those who desire job skills come as students. Of course the economics of that exchange would need to be worked out, but I think it could be handled within the economy of the community (see: distribution of labor).

Next comes self-determination.

One potential problem I see with intentional communities is that they need rules, obligations, and expectations. That’s not to say that rules, obligations, and expectations are inherently bad. In fact, they’re necessary in order for of my previous points to function. However, as much as possible, I would hope to see the community build around autonomous households. This is the point I have the least to say about right now, not because it’s not important, but because I just don’t know much about community governance.

So that’s my start: affordability, space, distribution of labor, technology, education and job skills, and self-determination. I hope to come back to this again in the not-too-distant future to fill in some details and perhaps add some additional principles. But for now, it’s a start.

36 Responses to The World I Choose

  1. Julie M. Smith on October 20, 2011 at 8:40 am

    “I’d like to live in a community where households don’t have to waste time doing things on their own that could be accomplished much more efficiently together.”

    I was a little taken aback by “waste” here. I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that the countless army of (mostly) women who cook for their families each night is wasting their time.

    I am also surprised by your word “efficiency.” It seems that there are a lot of things in life that we might (and do) value above efficiency.

    As I am sure you are aware, there are dinner co-ops that pop up from time to time where a group of (usually) women will cook in a manner that you describe. I am sure some of these are very successful and that’s why people do them. But there are solid reasons that over 99% of the population does not choose to participate in these groups. We’ve chosen something other than efficiency, whatever that might be.

  2. Tim on October 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I think the main reason people don’t co-op is the lack of community.

    I participated in dinner groups as a single BYU student. If I recall correctly, they only happened twice a week–but the time saved cooking was a huge benefit. We each cooked once every four weeks for a group of 8 people–8 unique meals, and I only had to cook one of them. The majority of the meals were high quality.

    Time spent cooking is a lot more effective if it can be done on a mass scale, as long as the quality and health value of the food is not compromised. “Waste” doesn’t mean complete waste–it just means “less efficient.” And I think the main reason dinner co-ops don’t happen on a more regular basis is the lack of community, and not because dinner co-ops themselves are problematic.

    By the way, I really like this series, and I hope it continues.

  3. Dave on October 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Sounds like married student housing.

  4. Bob on October 20, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I do most of the cooking for my wife and me. My ‘efficient’ trick is called ‘leftovers’. I can get five meals out of one pot of chile.
    As a missionary, we would bless the food while it still was in the store bags__saving 20 prayers a week!:):)

  5. Dane Laverty on October 20, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Julie, you’re right that it was a poor choice of words on my part. There are hundreds of wonderful reasons for keeping meals as family-only events. What I meant to say is that there are also hundreds of reasons for considering expanding meals into community events as well, and that it’s worth considering them. That said, it requires coordination, planning, and, perhaps hardest of all, a willingness to open up to one’s neighbors. Those are things I don’t do well, but I hope to get better at.

    Tim, thanks!

    Dave, the year I spent in Wymount was one of the most enjoyable years of my life. I think married student housing is my ideal existence.

    Bob, way to go on efficiency with prayers :)

  6. Alison Moore Smith on October 20, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Does your $1,000 per month include purchasing/maintaining the open space? Does it include the education/training you envision?

    But, really, if you only need a thousand bucks a month, you don’t need much training. You can just work part-time at McDonald’s and spend the rest of your time painting sunsets. :)

    P.S. While it may be deemed “duplication of effort,” I chose to stay home to raise my children for myriad reasons, none of which were trumped by supposed inefficiencies. Efficient is not necessarily effective.

  7. Peter LLC on October 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Julie, you’re right that it was a poor choice of words on my part.

    Hmm. It was clear from your post that you were talking about “things [..] that could be accomplished much more efficiently together.” If duplicating effort = a waste of time in your book, I’m fine with that. Julie is right that not everyone values efficiency above all else. In the US, I suspect that some variation of “autonomy” or “independence” has the upper hand, which leads to all kinds of duplicated effort on, say, the freeway during rush hour. But we still press on and hazard the consequences.

  8. Paul on October 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    #6: “But, really, if you only need a thousand bucks a month, you don’t need much training. You can just work part-time at McDonald’s and spend the rest of your time painting sunsets. :)”

    No can do — McD’s will go out of business because everyone’s eating in dinner co-ops….

    Sorry to be picky, Dane, but lumping childcare into the activities to be more efficient bugged me a bit. As my SP regularly says, when dads spend time with their kids, it’s not babysitting; it’s being a dad.

    But very interesting thoughts, still.

  9. Dane Laverty on October 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Alison, I’m planning to get into more detail about the way I see the financial situation working in a future post. Be patient :)

    Peter, that’s exactly what I think when I’m in stop-and-go traffic for 30 minutes on my drive home.

    Paul, my vision isn’t that everyone would live this way. 99.99% of people will live the standard modern American lifestyle. McDonald’s will be fine if I go off and do my own thing.

    As for childcare, my views are changing. I once believed that no one could be a better parent to kids than their actual parents, and that childcare was a necessary negative influence in children’s lives. I still believe that it’s important for parents to be a strong presence, but as I’ve had a little more experience with childcare programs, I find that many of them can attend to the children’s needs more effectively than can a mom or dad who is taking care of work, chores, meals, etc. Again, that’s not to say that it’s bad for young kids to entertain themselves (or even just be bored) at home while mom and dad take care of business, but rather just that placing kids in an environment where they are engaged with other kids and activities is also a potentially positive choice.

  10. Researcher on October 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    The major problem I remember from married student housing was the noise. For a long time our kids couldn’t play ring-around-the-rosie or do anything but tiptoe through the apartment because we had hyper-sensitive downstairs neighbors move in and they made life thoroughly miserable for us. After several months of that, we moved to another part of the complex. And I never liked to let my babies cry for any length of time, which made it hard to train them to sleep, since the walls were thin.

    High density housing needs very good soundproofing to make it into a valid long-term option. Even better is to have space between each housing unit to cut down on the stress to the community and especially to young families due to unavoidable noise.

    Of course increasing the space between units decreases efficiencies of building materials and of energy use.

    Another issue in married student housing was light. Small apartments and homes usually have small windows, and that increases the incidence of cabin fever and light deprivation during severe weather, like six months of straight winter in the Upper Midwest.

    But I do miss the international flavor of the community and the nearness of neighbors and the people sharing the same time of life.

  11. Sam Brunson on October 20, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Dane, it sounds (to some extent) like you’re advocating urban life, but with a focus on knowing one’s neighbors.[fn] Which I like (although I also maintain that food co-ops are, for non-students, a bad idea, unless you get a group of people who value food at the same level).

    And I like urban life: one of these days, I’m going to do a post on why Mormons ought to come to Chicago.

    [fn] The sense of community in a building can vary a lot: the first building my wife and I lived in after getting married (Columbia student housing) was pretty impersonal: we knew two other couples in the building. Our next building, maybe a mile south, was really tight: everybody knew each other. And our next building was somewhere in between. We also found we got to know more people when we had a dog, and had to be in the elevator at least four times a day to take him out. So maybe the answer is to live in a city and have a dog :)

  12. Jax on October 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Dane,

    You didn’t mention it, but dupication also works well with the distribution of labor. For instance, does every family in a neighborhood need a lawnmower? Or would 1, 2, or 3 work just as well?

    You could work at McDonald’s part time, or do real estate and sell, say one house every 2 months… less work time, less stress because you work for yourself, high income per hour ratio. Why accept low efficiency in your work when you are trying to get rid of it everywhere else? Or use your free time to study law, pass the bar, and take a case when needed…

    In a zion like community, hopefully the self-determination is coupled with the desire for good education and increased knowledge. Hopefully someone will be into medicine and can take care of setting broken bones, stitches, etc. If your having an “intentional community” invite a local MD to join for the prescriptions and to teach others the basics. That is how he earns his money/keep.

    Sam, I pictured more rural, not urban. Buy a large acreage (100, 200, 1000), build in a common area, and everyone has full use of the surrounding nature, biking, farming, gardening, etc. Each family has its own space and privacy (and sound protection) as well the benefits of shared spaces as well as a shared responsibility for upkeep.

    Wifi is a must!!!

  13. Alison Moore Smith on October 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Paul #8:

    No can do — McD’s will go out of business because everyone’s eating in dinner co-ops….

    LOL Hey, if we’re talking efficiency, fast food places can spit out dozens of meal deals in minutes! ;)

    Sam Brunson #11:

    although I also maintain that food co-ops are, for non-students, a bad idea, unless you get a group of people who value food at the same level

    And that is tough to do. I was in a dinner coop a few years ago. A bunch of us made a whole mass of a single entree, froze them, and then exchanged for a variety of meals. Problems:

    (1) Different tastes and preferences
    (2) Different nutritional ideas (we only use whole wheat, no sugar, etc. — not one else had that criteria)
    (3) Food allergies and other special requirements (is EVERYONE allergic to nuts, dairy, and/or gluten these days?)
    (4) Differing ideas of how much should be spent on a meal

    Overall, I don’t know that it actually took me less time, because I’ve made a years-long effort to eat inexpensively and nutritionally in very, very little time (because I hate cooking). Spending a day cooking massive amounts of food for the trade, probably took as much time as I would usually spend to cook all the meals together.

    OTOH, it was a motivation to get all the cooking done and out of the way for a couple of weeks and it was fun to try different foods that others had prepared.

    Jax #12:

    For instance, does every family in a neighborhood need a lawnmower? Or would 1, 2, or 3 work just as well?

    Whatever number works for you…as long as I’m not the one pushing. I think I’m best suited to be a…singer or maybe a reader or an aesthetic arbiter. And I’m really good at organizing. So I will be responsible for assigning tasks to the rest of the commune. (Oh, and I play a mean bongo.)

    Where do I sign up?! :)

    I still believe that it’s important for parents to be a strong presence, but…

    Dane, be patient. I’ll be back after I clean the vomit from my shoes…with my last copy of the family proclamation…

  14. Bob on October 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Utah and Idaho had their little Zions by the hundreds__The Mormon Villages__where are they now?

  15. Dane Laverty on October 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    That’s alright Alison, I’ve got a spare one for you :)

  16. Tim on October 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    The great thing about this idea is that it’s completely voluntary. You don’t want to live there? Fine. You have extreme dietary needs? Don’t join.

    I imagine that there would be a division of labor depending on need and talent. Those who have less talent for cooking wouldn’t cook–they’d mow common lawn area, or vacuum and clean common areas. And most allergies (nut allergies, for example) are pretty easy to work around. Those who have extreme wide-ranging food allergies don’t have to join, or can simply opt out of community meals.

  17. Tatiana on October 20, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    There needs to be a strict apportionment of stewardship, as well, so that one older person who likes to make rules and put up signs with the rules and sit and watch for infractions of the rules so he or she can yell at people doesn’t settle in.

    There should be one or two cars available so people can drive into town for doctors appointments.

    The community needs some goods or service to sell to outsiders to earn its way.

    I had an online friend a few years back who lived in one of these intentional communities, and who posted a long description, for all us curious people, of how it worked. It seems like a really good idea, but also one that would be difficult to administer. It’s halfway between a family and a neighborhood.

    His had a rule that each resident had to log 40 hours a week working, which was still far less than with a regular job, since doing communal laundry, cooking communal meals, etc, counted toward your 40, many of which tasks presumably would have to be done outside one’s work time on a regular job. He said several people would propose that they stop having to record their work time, but it was the same people whom everyone knew would not work their full time unless they had a mechanism of accountability anyway, so the idea never passed.

    The guy didn’t have kids, so I forget what the rules were for children, how many you could have and whether you had to do extra work for them or what. Also I forget if you could have pets.

  18. queuno on October 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    And I like urban life: one of these days, I’m going to do a post on why Mormons ought to come to Chicago.

    Chicago proper or Chicagoland?

  19. queuno on October 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I’ve also found that sometimes, people who *like* cooking for the masses are not the people who *should* cook for the masses.

  20. chris on October 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I think these are great secular notions of what an ideal life would be like. I’m not seeing Where the disciple ship of Christ cones into play. Maybe because I cone at faith from the perspective of following Christ through sacrifice and trials and burdens and enduring the refiners fire and being better for it.

  21. Rachel Whipple on October 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    This sounds like a reinvention of the kibbutz, but with a more autonomous, less socialistic flavor. I’m interested.

  22. Naismith on October 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    A lot of us are going to end up in communities like that, when we retire. Most baby-boomers are ill-prepared (not really their fault; most don’t have the pension plans that previous generations did). So a lot of us are going to be forced into communal living arrangements of some sort or another. Someone who can still drive will use someone else’s car to drive around those living in the house that someone owned.

    Not having children around will simplify things a lot.

  23. Bob on October 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I fear communal living always ends with communal sex. (Maybe even Monks). To avoid this, communial groups have strong rules against it, (by keeing males/females apart), but these usually fail. Or, you can have rules for ‘sharing’ sex, like ‘Fundamental Mormons’, or no rules at all__like 60s Hippies.

  24. Researcher on October 21, 2011 at 7:44 am

    I nominate Bob … er … never mind. Wrong blog.

  25. Dane Laverty on October 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Jax, your example of distributing equipment like lawnmowers is great. The same could go for power tools or tall ladders or other specialized equipment that is only needed occasionally.

    Bob (#14) — I assume that they became towns like Burley and Twin Falls.

    Tim, that’s an important point. I’m not trying to describe a community that would be right for everyone, I’m just trying to describe a community that would be right for me. Y’all are invited, but none of you will be forced to live there :)

    Tatiana, my hope would be that the community wouldn’t be quite that communal. The rules would be limited to financial and economic considerations, to make sure that everyone gets a fair output for what they put into it. Your example of a “work hours log book” is about as far as I could see it going.

    queuno (#19) — That’s the truth. The same applies to just about any discipline.

    chris, I’m not sure what you’re looking for. Are you saying that in order to be spiritually fulfilling that we need to make life intentionally difficult and inefficient? To me, our temples are a great symbol for the kind of community I imagine. They are far more beautiful and comfortable structures than any of us could build on our own. They are designed to be pleasant. I believe our communities should be pleasant too.

    Rachel, if I knew anything about kibbutzes, I might be able to respond to that. But “more autonomous, less socialistic” captures the idea. I think one difficulty in making intentional communities palatable to Americans is that they are so strongly associated with weird hippie communes. The goal for this community is to be not-that.

    Naismith, yeah, I need to check on my 401k.

    Bob, …?! Do you have anything to back up that claim, or do you just imagine that people living in proximity will be unable to restrain themselves? I wonder how the people living on your block manage to maintain propriety. Perhaps you segregate your streets and buses ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2051399/Bloomberg-outraged-ultra-orthodox-Jewish-bus-women-told-sit-back.html )?

  26. Chadwick on October 21, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Tim says:

    “I imagine that there would be a division of labor depending on need and talent. Those who have less talent for cooking wouldn’t cook–they’d mow common lawn area, or vacuum and clean common areas. And most allergies (nut allergies, for example) are pretty easy to work around. Those who have extreme wide-ranging food allergies don’t have to join, or can simply opt out of community meals.”

    Bleah. While I may not want to mow lawns for a living, I don’t mind mowing a lawn every now and again. It gives me a good excuse to download a few new tunes to listen to. And while I don’t want to be a cook for a bunch of picky people, I do enjoy cooking.

    I personally prefer the life of inefficiency. It allows me to try new things without being told “you’re good with numbers; leave us alone and go count something.” Church can be horrible about this. Let’s see….30-something CPA who plays the piano. Bet you can guess my last few callings.

    As for the daycare initiative, I second Alison. While I don’t mind if other people use day care, I’m glad my wife stays home with our kids. Of all the things to outsource, child-rearing is at the bottom of my list. That and I like my kids not constantly being sick.

  27. Bob on October 21, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Dane,
    I am unsure that Burley or Twin Falls were ever Mormon Villages. My mother was born and grew up in Albion 20 mi. south of Burley and was a teenager in Twin Falls. Albion was clearly a Mormon Village. My Father grew up in Moroni, Ut. Also a Mormon Village. In Moroni, my Grandfather was given town land for a home. His wife and daughters ran it. They took care of the young children, cow, pigs, garden, etc. The men worked a field outside of town, given to them by the Church according to the size of the family. Two days a week, the men would work the Church’s “Big Field”. and came home for the weekend.
    As to how sex plays out inside Cultures, I will give one ‘support’ for my thinking: “Coming of Age in Samoa” (Margaret Mead 1928 ). This book, (and Margaret Mead), were central in my study of Anthropology in the 60s and 70s. Keep in mind, I studied this in classes, as a RM, surrounded 60s Hippie, and taught by professors trained by Mead.

  28. Sarah Familia on October 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    – Living in a tiny residence is fine as long as you have accessible space around you. Places where you can meet with people. Places to walk or hike or swim or nap. Places where your kids can play (that’s the crucial one — being cooped up with highly energetic kids and nowhere to take them is rough).–

    Dane,

    I’d say a key aspect to this type of living is having good weather, so that many aspects of life can happen outdoors. I can totally picture it working in mild California (and even better on a tropical island). I always feel like I need a bigger living space in a colder place.

    Maybe what you really want is to move to Europe. I am always amazed by how huge everything is in the United States (from houses to shopping centers to cars). I loved living in Italy, where houses and communities tended to be smaller, but beautifully organized.

  29. Dane Laverty on October 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Sarah, you’re right on about climate. Utah in the winter is a very cramped place to be at times. I’m sure Europe is great, but I love the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, and have no desire to leave here. So if I’m going to build my envisioned community, it will be here :)

  30. Bradley on October 22, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Why are Jews so successful? Because they work together. LDS are the only Christians who think they are Jews, so I think we’re halfway there already.

    Where I live in Arizona, most LDS go with the prevailing culture. Which is, everyone is into their own thing. Phoenix is like a city of five million hermits. People apologize when they bump into your personal space as if throwing off your invisibility groove is a big deal. Maybe it’s a western thing.

    So a cultural change is necessary even for LDS. Building a cooperative community is about culture, not religion.

  31. Bob on October 22, 2011 at 6:03 am

    Bradley, I agree with you: working together is useful and can be effective. But ‘hermit’ is the default setting.(Or at lest it is in LA).

  32. Jax on October 22, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Dane,

    Utah is great, but it turns out Arkansas has more affordable land, more space, less regulation, better winter climate, longer growing seasons, greater opportunity for missionary work (not a postitive for everyone), and doesn’t have an entire state’s population/culture that would think you are the next David Koresh (or pick any other ‘false prophet’) and probably shun you for trying to do something like this. So you could always come join mine…you’ll make family #3 :)

  33. Dane Laverty on October 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Jax, I guess it’s time for me to schedule a trip down that way :) As a native Californian, I have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of living in the South. But, to be honest, I’ve never been. I can’t imagine leaving the foothills of California, but I’m always happy to visit anywhere and give it a chance!

  34. Jax on October 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I know this thread has died… but I just finished watching a documentary on Netflix called “The Real Dirt on Farmer John”. It was a bit strange, and the entire first part of the movie had nothing to do with this post. But the feeling of community, respect, and harmony all come together in the end that, to me, seems to be what Dane is looking for. If anyone is still reading this thread, check it out!

    Dane, let me know and I’ll play host for a time.

    P.S. Was it you or Dave who was doing the post on KNIGHT, MUSE, ETC. and the way we perceive the world? I’ve been waiting on them to continue!

  35. Dane on October 25, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Thanks for the suggestion, Jax. I’ll have to check that movie out.

    And yes, that was me doing the “forms of agency” posts. In the process of writing them, my perspective on the theory changed. I’m planning to come back to them again, but it will be in an altered form.

  36. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Notre Dame’s Vetville was the sweetest community we ever lived in. It was married student housing for ND grad students with kids. The apartment buildings were arranged around a grass commons with playgrounds, benches, and picnic tables. The commons was fenced off so that it was only accessible from the apartments. And there was a community center off to the side with a big screen, kids toys, and other stuff. What a fun place that was.

    But there was never much in the way of communal meal times. We had a sunday potluck every now and again, which was a blast. But the attraction wasn’t practicality.

    The reason most families have their own meals is that tastes in food tend to be easier to accommodate on a small scale, scheduling meals on a family level is much easier than on a community wide basis, eating in one’s home is more convenient (no having to go outside in the cold wet or dark), sociability with a big number of people can be tiring, and since eating together is a ritual act having communal meals be standard inverts the social priority of family over community that most Americans feel is proper.

    I think what you need to clarify is if the efficiencies of eating meals together is your primary goal or if its having a communal activity that acts as a glue. If its the latter, could there be alternative glues?