Earlier this year, I had the luck and the privilege to live in the Campbell Club, one of the co-ops in the college town where I currently live. It’s a BIG house, and I really really enjoyed my time there. And even though I had to leave because of unforeseen circumstances, I learned some very valuable life lessons from living in a big house with 25 other people. And 8 cats. And a giant metal spider sculpture.
1. You Have To Pick Your Battles
I won’t lie to you, Lovelies: Some of my roommates at the co-op really got on my nerves. Like the stoned guy who entered my room without permission. Or the person who stole my super-special veggie patty sandwich (I did not lose it, for the hundredth time!). But sharing a space with so many people, even a space as big as the Club, depended on not sweating the small stuff. This didn’t mean being a pushover — I spoke my mind when it came to things like people being late for their chore shifts. But I had to learn how to save my freakouts for when it really mattered. If nothing else, people will take you more seriously when you do speak your mind.
2. Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness (And Frickin’ Decency)
Co-ops have a particularly bad reputation for not being very clean. It makes sense; Pile a lot of busy (or not busy) people into a big house and there are sure to be some hygiene issues. Add in animals, and it can get gross very fast. It made me realize that keeping a clean environment isn’t just good for health and appearance: It’s also a sign of respect for yourself. Granted, I’m a little paranoid in terms of germs. And there were kids in the co-op who had backpacked across countries and other awesome-but-kinda-grungy activities, and hence didn’t mind the less-than-perfectly-hygienic conditions. It’s really the idea that counts. Whenever I mopped the floor or washed out a dish, it was my way of saying to the world, “I respect who I am and where I live. And I don’t want to have any of my roommates or their animals become sick or be injured by living in an unsafe environment.”
3. It’s All About Communication.
Biggest cliche in the world, I know. But this is the biggest lesson I took away from the Campbell Club, because the members went to such great lengths to make sure communication between the members was cohesive. People went out of their way to not hurt other people’s feelings. The house had special workers that were solely there for resolving disputes between members. It was a utopian living situation in that way, and it made the house a very pleasant place to live. And it made me wish that all communal places in life required you to go out of your way to be decent to other people…
4. Caring is More Important Than Appearance.
Second-biggest cliche. But think of it this way: Would you rather have a good-looking, well-spoken person who never did their chores live with you, or the barefoot girl who runs down the stairs in a frenzy because the granola she made for everyone might be burning in the oven? Would you rather live with the buff athlete who knows when all the coolest bands are coming to town, or the skinny guy with the weird outfit who spent six hours weeding the front yard so that you could plant carrots? Seems obvious to me.
5. Life Is Easier If You’re Friendly.
There’s a whole lot of cynical people out there who would disagree with this. But it’s true: Making an effort to be nice to people really does pay off. Maybe not in the short term, but definitely in the long term. It’s the kind people who the co-op members remembered, and who were welcomed back when they needed a place to crash for a few days. Mutual kindness leads to a better environment in which to be a team. And that’s exactly what a co-op family is: A team. A team of hippies, freaks, and people who like to have a good time in a weirdly painted house.
Have you ever lived in a co-op or any other cooperative living setup? What have you learned from the roommates in your past? Let us know!