So you want to start a community

Some of us who live in established successful communities regularly get questions about how to start new communities.  There is pretty standard advice which is worth sharing in this format.

Before you start a new community you should:

  1. See if there is an existing community which meets your needs
  2. Live in an existing community before you start one

Starting a new community is crazy hard work.  Even if you have a clear vision, excellent people to start it with, a place to move into and ample resources to start it, your chances of success are low.  And the chances that you are starting with all these advantages is pretty low.


For all manner of reasons, many people feel that community life would be good for them.  Perhaps they have fond memories of living collectively in college.  Or maybe they miss a close knit family and wish to reproduce this environment with friends and intimates of their own choice.  It is easy to imagine an isolated life in the mainstream which makes people long for something richer and more interconnected.

Beyond this, people like to create.  They want to build something new, craft something with their preferences and identity built into it.  This is fantastic.  But because community creating is so difficult, your first step in this adventure should be a serious review of the communities which already exist.  It is far easier to join an existing community than it is to start a new one.  (This does not mean that it is easy to join a community; this can be an ordeal in itself.)


And even if the community you find is not perfect for you to live in long term, there is a strong case to be made for trying to live in an existing community before you build your own.  My own failed thinking might be instructive in demonstrating this point.  Before I came to Twin Oaks, I really wanted to start my own activist-oriented community in eastern Europe.  I had been fighting Russian-designed nuclear reactors which were being completed by Western companies after the Berlin Wall came down and I was convinced that a community of organizers would be a powerful tool in preventing dirty energy solutions from spreading.

I also thought I knew what was critical in making this proposed community succeed.  Specifically, one needed to have a good decision-making model and a carefully selected income engine.  I guessed at the time that consensus would be the governance solution.  I also thought the business should be something that it was easy to train people in, which was not a classical assembly line situation.  I visited Twin Oaks nearly 20 years ago now, with a focus on these specific aspects.

What I found was that I was wrong.  Twin Oaks did not use consensus and while I often complain about our decision-making model, it functions reasonably well and there are lots of different models which serve different communities (sociocracy, voting models, charismatic leaders, councils of elders, boards of directors, etc).   What I see now is that members being cooperative and flexible, is more critical than what specific decision format you select.


Consensus does have advantages

It also turns out that there are lots of different ways to pay the bills.  And while I thought what I was looking for was a well-structured community owned cooperative business, in most cases, new communities don’t have this and the individual members pool income from straight jobs.  Businesses which support income sharing communities (the income engines) come in all manner of different shapes and as long as you have some people who are willing to do sales work (often a problem in communities) you have a chance at building a culture around your business and being viable.  It also helps tremendously that income sharing communities are very cheap to run because of the high degree of sharing which is happening.

What I did not realize was how central a role internal communication culture and especially managing gossip would play in the survival of communities.  This does not come up in most guides on how to start communities.  But if you get it wrong, it will be more important than if you selected voting over consensus.  Because of the intensity of community living, you need to be able to recover from events where trust gets damaged, or the fabric of your community will likely unravel.  This is why some of us spend so much time working on things like Transparency Tools.

I would not have known this if I had not lived in a community.   I would have prioritized solving the wrong problems.   The lived experience of being in a community will also help you find out what about community living does not work for you.  Like it or not, community life will almost certainly push your buttons.  Learning this about yourself before you take on the giant task of starting your own community is basically a necessary prerequisite for success.


Having kids in your community is also clever.

This article first appeared in the Commune Life Blog


High End Auction Items – Sat 2 PM deadline

Ira often has good ideas, too many for a single person really, which is perhaps part of why she lives in communes so there are more hands to manifest her ideas.  When i showed her the fingerbook for the benefit auction, she said “Is there anyway from people to bid online?”

This is a great idea, and  major headache.  The benefit auction to help us buy the neighboring land

The auction is in less than 36 hours and there is nothing online.  And as fun as it is to sell things at the auction, we really need to make money for this campaign, so i am going to do this very fast online offer for some of the larger items.  If you want to place a bid for these you can send it to me at paxus (at)  Please put “Auction Bid” in the subject line.    Anything described and depicted in the first link is available, but i want to draw your attention to these larger items.

A very cool small briefcase made out of old Coke cans.

case of cans

Case of cans back

There is a very fancy handmade leather, brass and antler suit case, one of a kind.  Minimum bid $800.

antler case

antler case closed

A local concert by Twin Oaks own star musician Devon (see first link on this post for restriction).

Devon singing

A lovely saxophone


A sound Healing Session in CVille – See details in first link.

sound healing session

If you want to participate in this auction email me your bid (and perhaps how high you might go if someone else bids over you).

Maybe i will update this page.










Help Twin Oaks Grow

We are launching a capital campaign in hopes of buying the neighboring 105 acres.  There is a crowd funding appeal which can be found here.

If Twin Oaks has ever been a significant influence on you, I would encourage you to contribute to this campaign which is helping with the opportunity and problems we face regarding this neighboring land.   For more on this see the following video.

If you have things of value which can be auctioned off for the communities 50th-anniversary celebration, please contact

These could be as simple and immediate like a leather coat or as elaborate as a romantic getaway which is catered by scruffy hippies (which is one of the premiums which is one the crowd funder already, here at the Twin Oaks retreat cabin).

And if you can’t contribute in any of these ways, consider sending this post on to a friend who you know thinks fondly of us and might be willing to help.


40th dancing

Spoon?, Thea, Elsa, Alex, Luuk, Kele and Robert dancing at 40th anniversary 

Help as you can.


Sing Louder

The fine folks in the intelligence services who keep track of terrorist sympathizers no doubt have me on their list.  At various points, I have written about the hypocritical and revisionist response to the Paris bombings, criticized US drone use policy under Obama, promoted anarchist who use violence, and criticized police tactics used to apprehend the Boston Marathon bombers.

But despite this, i am no fan of terrorism, either freelance or state sponsored. Terrorism is sometimes politically effective because it tears at the fabric of everyday life and makes the issues it is highlighting impossible to ignore.  But this in itself does not make it fair or just, it just makes it effective.

On May 22 a suicide bomber killed 22 concertgoers and injured dozens more in Manchester.  The performer at that show was Ariana Grande, who has tried to do right by Manchester, despite not being responsible for the attack.

grande and fan.jpg

She has visited victims of the attack in a children’s hospital.  She has pushed her record company to give half a million dollars to the families of victims.  She has delayed her planned tour and instead has organized a giant benefit event in Manchester this weekend with many big name pop bands, with free tickets to those who were in the May 22 concert.

grande benefit concert poster.jpg

But perhaps most important is Grande’s message to her fans and the world.

“Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before.”

Sing louder Ariana, sing louder.

What Trump Makes Great

I estimate that I despise Trump about 4 times more than the average liberal US american. Despite this, I am still aware of a small but important number of things Trump has made great again.

Steven Cobert is a very clever guy.  But Trump gives him the raw material he needs to be brilliant.

Much closer to home, the Trump presidency has made my weekly phone calls to my mother great again.  Hawina, Willow and I were visiting my mother on election night.  It was a shared family tragedy.  And now every week my mother and I rant together about the increasingly preposterous administration.

Because of her upset, my mother went to her first protest in her life as a participant.



i did not tell her it is the name of an eco-terrorist group


But it is not surprising that this slash and burn President will cut some terrible government programs.  True to his promise (which Hillary would have reneged on) Trump killed the terrible Trans-Pacific Partnership.


In a budget which will certainly get re-written, he has zero-funded the Mixed Oxide fuel fabrication facility.  This expensive, ill-conceived program is designed to convert plutonium from weapons into reactor fuel.


We can only hope that while he is slashing the Department of Energy (which mostly funds the US nuclear weapons laboratories) he will pass on rescuing a Bankrupt Westinghouse.

bankruptcy westinghouse


Poetic Bombs

I have numerous short stops that i make on most days at Twin Oaks.  One of them is by Coyote’s room.  We will chat about current community gossip and politics.  He will ask me to get him another box of candles or a double cheeseburger with double onions.  While in his room I often write a quick letter to Cassie ex, which he then completes and sends.

Coyote and Cassie in heart

Cassie and Coyote – lovers and pen pals

And sometimes, when i am lucky, he drop on me a piece of writing, a poetic bomb.  Today was one such day.  Coyote has been off the labor system for a while now and leads a quiet life mostly on the second floor of Ta Chai.  He is an avid reader and writes to his favorite authors.  He wrote to the poet and revolutionary Wendell Berry who sent him back the powerful poem HOW TO BE A POET (to remind myself).  Which includes the lovely lines:

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

And desecrated places.


Coyote’s room is like a tiny gallery.  He has copied pictures of the people important to him, famous or familiar.  And is regularly rearranging these memories to suit his current desires.  And tangled among these images are some of the most profound ideas of our time.

coyotes nicknacks,

Free Advice – Disgruntled Cooks

I have a bad Facebook habit.  i can quit anytime.  Maybe.

facebook snort

Part of it is that i am on some intentional community Facebook groups which have distinctly different politics generally than i do.  One of these groups is the Intentional Communities Discussion Group, a group which has more interested spirituality than i am, there are some rugged individualists, some folks into gun rights.  And they have questions.  This was one of them: 

Can you weigh in on this…?

The situation: Our community is roughly 40 adults. We are a non-profit, focusing on sustainable education. We offer lunch and dinner Mon-Fri with community members getting ‘credits’ for their cook and clean shifts (credits go toward their rent/fees). The schedule, ordering, organization and admin of the kitchen is managed by the kitchen coordinator.

The problems: We are having some difficulties running our kitchen effectively. We’re losing money (as we have to buy all organic ingredients). Cooks are uninspired to cook with variety (often cooking beans, rice and baked vegetables, over and over). People aren’t buying into our meal plans (perceptions of being too expensive, not meeting variety or dietary needs, etc).

cook with fire

The question: How do you run your kitchen? How do you keep costs down? Any tips on where to source cheaper organic ingredients? How do you keep cooks engaged in preparing *good* meals? How do you get community feedback on the communal dining experience?

*THANK YOU* for any input you can give us!!!

My advice:

I have a number of suggestions starting from the mundane and going to the radical.
Mundane first: Grow food/get food donated – If you have 40 members, some of them can garden. Gardening can be a maddening and low margin activity. Gardening also can be meditation, joy and salvation from the insanity of our current culture. Get your members to garden with the intention of having this be an input into your meals and something that community members do in place of some cooking. Additionally patrons of your cafe, who you want to include in the greater culture of your community can be asked either for surplus produce OR to “plant a row” for your community/cafe. Build relationships with your customers.
plant a row
Progressive: Expand the collection of cooks you have, by reaching out to your customers. Do trainings in how you kitchen works with experienced cooks showing new cooks (former customers) how it works and have them prepare meals together. Adding something new will make things more interesting for current cooks. Compensate new cooks with free future meals. Bring in a local TV station to cover a training session and your novel approach.
cooks being filmed
Radical: Change the nature of your community to be income sharing. If the members of the community were to pool their income to meet all their needs you could solve this problem in a number of ways. Technically, this is much less difficult than it sounds. Culturally, it is off the chart hard. We do it in the FEC communities, including importantly at Compersia in DC where members have dramatically different levels of income, debts and needs. BUT when you do make this jump, you take control of the collective economy, make sharing dramatically easier, reducing idle resources, taking control of your internal economy. If you want help understand this let me know.