5 Effective Ways To Establish Community

Last week we talked about the meaning of community. We decided that community truly is (or to the best of my understanding) any group sharing something in common.

Photo courtesy of Guillaume Dutihl of Tiny House Giant Journey.

Photo courtesy of Guillaume Dutilh of Tiny House Giant Journey.

My wife and I both grew up in relatively stable households. Although both sets of our parents had seen divorce, remarriage, and (eventually) blended family units, we never felt like we were social outcasts. We both had opportunities to go on family vacations, our holidays were full of people coming and going, and we were encouraged to communicate and share in a number of situations. We both knew community and knew that it offered some key elements:

  • Happiness. Hardly a day went by that we didn’t laugh and tell jokes and sing songs. Smiles were commonplace in our homes.
  • Perspective. We realized quickly that the world didn’t revolved around us and that there were others to consider.
  • Encouragement. Our parents participated in PTAs, scouts, church, etc. They rallied behind us when we hit home runs and when we struck out. Most of all they were there to remind us that tomorrow was another day.
  • Responsibility. We both learned early on that we had to work to keep up our houses and that even the smallest of efforts was needed to keep things running smoothly.
  • Accountability. To be successful you need to know that for every action there is a reaction.

It has become disheartening these last few years though as we have seen our nieces and nephews, friends and relatives, and others disregard the need for community. With the advent of the Internet and with the unbelievable growth of social media we hardly have to interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. Retail locations have self-checkout (no baggers any longer). Banks allows you to deposit checks be TXTing a photo. Trips to grandmothers house have been replaced with Facetime conversations. Donations and tithing can be done online with linked bank accounts. Even vacations can be planned down to the meal with online reservations.

But that does not mean that community is not necessary. In fact in his 1887 thesis Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies outlined two types of community or more specifically human association. The first is Gemeinschaft which is translated to mean ‘community’ and the second is Gessellschaft which translates to ‘society’ or ‘association.’ As he explores these two Tönnies makes a point to say that no group is wholly Gemeinschaft or wholly Gessellschaft. In fact, he details why humans need a healthy mix of the two. His writing though is is theoretical though and lacks a practical application. Not once does he answer the question of how to obtain community without sacrificing “me” time or upsetting the G und G balance. Hopefully these 5 ways will help you:

  1. Faith-Based. If you are spiritual or religious consider joining a group filled with like-minded people. A number of RV parks offer non-denominational chapel services as well as some small groups or Bible studies. You can also find a local church while on the road that welcomes you and gives you a familiar feeling. As a tiny houser who is parked you may want to check out local churches, synogogues, temples, or the like. If nothing else it will be worth the coffee talk before hand and the handshakes after.
  2. Munchies. Make food. Invite others over to share in it. Have a happy hour at your house or in your backyard. “Breaking bread” is a fantastic way to meet and converse with people.
  3. Presence. Take on a roll of being a friend who others know they can count on or even call up to talk to. It may inconvenience you at time but it is such a simple way to engage. You can also check out local mentoring options. I know at our local public library there is a group of reading mentors who once a week volunteer with other adults to read to school-age children. Don’t leave these things up to someone else. It may never get done!
  4. Network. Networking has become such a corporate term in the last few years that many of us have forgotten that the definition is – quite simply – a group or system of interconnected people or things. It is being part of a group of like-minded folks. Events are just the physical manifestation of those networks. I immediately think of the tiny house Meetup groups held in Boston, Boise, and south Florida, where like-minded folks can meet each other and talk tiny despite their other affiliations. From these sort of events are born authentic friendships.
  5. Family Tree. A large part of the tiny house life and the nomad life is spent focusing on relationships. It is about cultivating the love you have for your family and the love they share with you. I can remember quite well when my parents stopped being just my folks and started also being my friends. That meant a great deal to me and to them and we learned to cherish each other thereby increasing the value of our time together.
  6. BONUS: Walking. Seems simple enough, right? Put one foot in front of the other. But when you commit to walking, be it your neighborhood, your campground, or even a local park, you are more than likely going to encounter others. If you add talking to your walking you may just end up walking away with a new community!

In what ways to do you work to increase community? How does it make you feel? Can you imagine a life without community?

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

Establishing Community In the Tiny House World

As long as I can remember the question has been posed on Facebook pages, in FB groups, on blogs, in real-time conversations, and in workshops.

If a tiny house community existed would you want to live there? What do you think of living in community? 

Bikers sitting around a campfire in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana. Image by Heinrich van den Berg  / Getty Images.

Bikers sitting around a campfire in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana. Image by Heinrich van den Berg / Getty Images.

The answers of course, as varied as the people responding with them. Overall though I feel as if I have seen more people align with the notion of living on their own slice of Earth than living in community. And allow me – as has become tradition – to note that the phrase “tiny house” does not necessarily denote a tiny house trailer in the style of a Tumbleweed Fencl, but rather any sort of non-conventional, small space, established as a domicile.

When my wife and I first established residency in rural eastern North Carolina we did so knowing it was a bit of an isolated environment. Afterall, we had collectively lived in 9 countries and 16 or so states including Paris, Kona, Israel, etc. We had even both lived on the road as well out of backpacks of 3000 cubic inches. Part of the allure of the countryside though was for the “breathing room” we felt we had been missing. We also wanted to do a little homesteading and micro-farming. By about the third month in NC though I began to realize there was a huge difference between the aforementioned “breathing room” and utter isolation. Sometimes days would pass where we would see only each other. At the time we hadn’t established our legal address on the land so we didn’t even have the benefit of seeing a postal carrier. If it weren’t for the Interwebs we may have been little more than exiles in a foreign land. To have interaction with even family members we typically had to travel by car a minimum of 17 miles one way. That inability to connect quickly led to doubt, boredom, concern, mild depression, and even resentment and then manifest itself in weight gain, stress headaches, short tempers, and complacency. By the sixth month I was realizing how utterly important community and interaction is to the human experience. Anthony J. D’Angelo – teacher, leader, and curriculum developer – is quoted as saying “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” I had ceased to care and therefore I had ceased to search for a sense of community.

In order to escape the funk I realized something had to give so I dug in deep to researching the notion of community. I was wanting answers to the tough (and perhaps unanswerable questions) of:

  • What is a community?
  • Who comprises the community?
  • What is the history of the community?
  • What are the needs of a community?
  • What are the relationships within the community?

After what seemed like a combination of books, articles, blogs posts, and the like I was still stuck on the primary question.

WHAT IS A COMMUNITY?

While we traditionally think of a community as the people in a given geographical location, the word can really refer to any group sharing something in common. This might refer to smaller geographic areas — a neighborhood, a housing project or development, a rural area — or to a number of other possible communities within a larger, geographically-defined community. Community can be established by race or ethnicity, professional associations, religious beliefs, cultural notions, and even shared backgrounds. In fact, if you are reading this post and following this blog chances are you feel connected to the tiny house community. You have daily exchanges with others in the community. Personally I identify most with the Christian community, the tiny house community, the RV and fulltime family community, and the Florida State Alumni community. Those are the groups I find myself wanting to spend time and energy with and around. Community doesn’t have to be insulatory though. Various communities can certainly overlap.

An African-American,  Catholic, art teacher, for example, might see himself (or be seen by others) as a member of the black, arts, and/or education communities, as well as of a particular faith community. An Italian woman may become an intensely involved member of the ethnic and cultural community of her Jewish husband. I don’t think a person belongs to just one community when observed under the microscope. And a person should not feel the pressure to do so.

In those first months of tiny house living I was missing the larger picture. I was trying to desperately to take my whole existence and make others accept it. I was making little to no attempt to become part of my new “life.” The result was I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I was removed from my interest communities and my geographic one.  I was a square peg trying to force myself into a round hole. I was missing an understanding of the community I had moved to and how the new relationship could be mutually beneficial.

Farmers

My new home was – and still is – a unique place along the eastern seaboard mixing the farming world with the beach world. Jeans are formal wear. Flip flops are sacred. Wal-mart is the community meeting hall and the most predominant landmark for travel. Johnny Cash is on par with the 4th Beatle and the 13th disciple. My community is full of folks who can put their hands in the dirt and tell you what will grow and what won’t, what the pH level is, and how to improve it all. My people can make a feast of cornmeal and anything that once had a pulse and can find fresh fish in a puddle leftover from an afternoon shower. They are kind but like most groups, stick to their own kind. Understanding this was paramount to understanding community. Once I began to embrace them they began to embrace me and we quickly formed a friendship. I had found community and again found peace.

What about you? Do you value community? How have you found community in your environment? 

Next week I hope to talk about 5 Effective Ways to Become Part of a Community. Y’all come back now, ya hear?

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

 

We Quit Our Jobs to Ride Our Bicycles

I heard about Jim and Shane while on a teardrop trailer gathering in northern California and just their simple Facebook name said it all: We Quit Our Jobs to Ride Our Bicycles. The bicycle tour is still going on, but once they hang up their helmets—the tiny house building will commence.

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The two men from Northern California had both been raised in mountain communities and wanted to return to the land after working for several years. The idea of quitting their jobs and riding around the U.S. on their bicycles coincided with their love of the outdoors, gardening and working with their hands.

“We were growing tired of living in the mundane and felt the need for a dramatic change,” Jim and Shane said. “The idea of traveling by bicycle was appealing to both of us from the stand point of its simplicity, its affordability and the exposure to possibilities. With traveling by bicycle, you see and experience so much more in the slow pace of pedaling than you ever could in the enclosure of a speeding car. We also were interested in exploring the country in search for new ideas and a new place to live, one that would accommodate our dream of building tiny homes.”

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Jim has an interest in small structures and Shane has a strong background in sustainable living. After stumbling across Lloyd Kahn’s book “Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter” in a small book store in San Francisco, they decided that they would build a tiny home for themselves after finishing their trip.

“Our experience with bicycle touring has solidified our interest in simple living and has taught us the virtues of getting by with just the basics,” they said. “We have a particular interest in the salvaged aspect of the Texas Tiny Homes and the ones that emphasize outdoor living and engagement with the surrounding environment.”

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Their tiny house idea has expanded further to become a tiny house community. They want to create a bicycle centered communal living space that includes several tiny homes, a common meal and meeting space, large garden and greenhouse, gray water system, bicycle powered laundry machine, and photovoltaic and water heater panels. They also want to build with salvaged materials. The men recently spent a few weeks building a greenhouse with recycled materials for a host family in Pahrump, Nev. After their pedaling tour, they will be on the lookout for a town to host their tiny house community.

“Finding a town that is willing to work with us on our idea of tiny home community has proven to be a challenge,” Jim and Shane said. “We want to find a place that is in need of affordable living and be able to provide it in the form of tiny homes.”

You can follow their tour and see their beautiful photos on their Facebook page and on TrackMyTour.com.

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Photos by Jim and Shane of We Quit Our Jobs to Ride Our Bicycles

 

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]