There are two kinds of people who coliving communities don’t work for: 1) Inconsiderate slobs 2) Overbearing neat freaks.
Everyone else can make it work. It’s just a matter of having good systems. This post is about systems for cleanliness that work across a variety of communities.
The right expectation: 8/10 clean, most of the time
A good coliving community is one that is “8/10 clean, most of the time.”
10/10 is unrealistic for a heavily used shared space with lots of visitors. You may achieve that for one shining moment right after the cleaners come but it’s not sustainable. If your expectation is 10/10, you will be disappointed. Likewise, no one deserves to live in a 5/10 clean space and they don’t have to either.
This post describes the systems various communities have put into place to keep their space 8/10 clean most of the time with minimal stress and strife.
The 11 strategies for 8/10 cleanliness
= Bucket A: Have fewer things =
I’ll start here because this is the most important and most underrated one.
Most of the game is having fewer things in the first place.
As Marie Kondo might tell you, having few things actually takes a lot of work. Things just accumulate in a coliving house. Everyone who moves in brings stuff. Guests bring stuff. People move out and leave stuff. Stuff just sometimes appears from the ether. Tupperware drawers fill with tops you’ve never seen with bottoms you’ll never see again. You are in a constant battle with an ever-expanding amount of stuff.
Here are three strategies in your battle to have fewer things:
Strategy 1: A Purge Practice
Purging communal possessions is harder than individual possessions because it can be hard to identify the owner and users of stuff. There’s a lot of “maybe that will come in useful to someone one day.”
A culture of “maybe it will come in useful to someone” means a cluttered, unlivable home 2 years down the line. Don’t fall into this trap!
RGB solves this through a purge channel on their Slack. They post items, they give everyone a couple days, and if no one claims the item … it goes.
In the words of one former resident:
“Purge Theory: It takes 1 person to add a new thing to the house, but throwing away a thing requires N people because you have to check with everyone whether it's theirs. So clutter is the inevitable result. Purge Channel reduces that to 1 person to throw away a thing.”
At RGB, there is a culture of doing this frequently, aggressively, and not falling into the “maybe it will come in useful later” trap. The purge is celebrated, a cherished ritual.
Strategy 2: A bin of non-belonging
Often there are items that do not belong. A sweater on the couch. A solo shoe. Lonely single socks in the dryer.
There’s an answer for this. It’s called the “bin-of-non-belonging.” If a thing does not belong in a place (and has no designated place), you put it in a bin.
Every 4 weeks, you just empty the bin (or give it away). Put the onus on the item-leaver to check the bin, not on the rest of the house to deal with the item.
Strategy 3. A rule: No new stuff without approval
This is not very doocratic, but it can help.
Set expectations with new residents: “You may not add new things to the communal space without asking everyone.” People who move from a “normal” apartment or house tend to have more stuff that they need for coliving. And they want a place to put it. Often this ends up in the communal space of your coliving home. Don’t let this happen unless you truly want the stuff. Don’t let your living space end up as storage for people’s belongings.
Remember: it’s so much easier to say “yes” than “no.” And “no” is more often the right answer. Make the default “no” and make the exception “yes.”
= Bucket B: Culture of cleanliness =
Strategy 4: “Pride of Dishes”
Colin O’Donnell at Agape in San Francisco describes the difference between “Pride of Dishes” and “Dish Shaming”:
“Instead of sharing a picture of dirty dishes with 15 people "who made this mess?!" bumming everyone out, we take the 20 seconds to clean the dishes and send a picture of the clean space saying something like "I got chu boo." This can't be passive aggressive, it has to come from a place of love and encouraging others to do the same - admitting to ourselves that we all make mistakes, with 15 people that can pile up quickly. But also at 15 people a little effort to make the space better and more present and really build up quickly as well. Trying to be the community that we want to live in, where we look out for each other.”
Along with bumming everyone out, Dish Shaming also just simply doesn’t work. We discussed why it doesn’t work in the Cheryl post.
A good culture of cleanliness is usually based on “Pride of Dishes.” Here is Agape’s cleaning board which personifies Pride of Dishes.
NOTE: This is not a chore wheel. No one is assigned these tasks. It’s a “brag sheet.” We’ve written extensively about why brag sheets like these are preferable to chore wheels.
Strategy 5: Sink Zero
Sink Zero is a simple rule to set clear expectations.
Zero dishes in the sink, ever. It’s easy to know when you are following it, it’s easy to know when it’s being violated. It’s a super clear rule.
A cousin of Sink Zero is Kitchen Counter Zero. A counter with one object will quickly become a counter with many objects. A counter with zero object is likely to stay with zero objects.
Strategy 6: Get (paid) help
If it’s important (and you can afford it), spend money on it. A weekly professional cleaning split between a lot of people is one of those semi-luxuries that coliving makes affordable. And it will result in a happier house with less conflict.
You aren’t buying cleanliness. You are buying serenity. You are buying fewer passive aggressive messages. You are buying collective energy to spend on other things. It's an investment, but if you choose to make it, it's money really well spent
The frequency of cleaning your house needs might be twice a week (like the Embassy in SF), once a week (like Radish), or twice a month (like Casa Chironja in San Juan). Experiment and find the right rhythm for you.
= Bucket C: Designing the space to make cleanliness easy =
Strategy 7: Label the shit out of everything
The Brother P-Touch label maker is the item you are most likely to find in a well-run coliving house. It’s a cherished artifact.
A lot of cleanliness is knowing where things go and finding them where you expect. And with the high flow of guests in a coliving house, labels are the only real way to do this. Have fun with the labels, they are like the laptop stickers of coliving communities.
Strategy 8: Reduce empty surfaces and storage space
Empty surfaces attract junk. Your whole house will become the large-scale equivalent of a junk drawer if you leave too many empty surfaces or storage.
Each storage space or counter should have a specific purpose (and often a label). Avoid general storage. It will accumulate general junk.
And don’t provide more surfaces or storage space than you need to store the things you actually want.
Strategy 9: Only fill drawers, closets, and cabinets half-way
If the starting point for a drawer is totally full, it will quickly become messy and unusable. People are much more likely to keep a drawer clean if it’s not totally full already. Rearranging a drawer or cabinet or shelf that’s filled to the brim is much harder than a rearranging a half-empty one. So only have as many things as fills half of a storage space.
If the drawer fills, go purge half of it!
Strategy 10: No dish racks!
Drying racks are the government debt of coliving houses. “Somebody will handle it later” is what you say when you put something on a drying rack.
Not having a drying rack or having a small drying rack means that people actually have to dry and put away dishes they use instead of kicking the can to the next person.
Strategy 11: Yes shoe racks!
A no shoe rule requires a lot of shoe storage space. Provide it! It’s worth it. Some houses also have slippers.
Anything we missed?
Please add any strategies that your communities use to keep clean.
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