Guidelines: General Use of Common Spaces

Some groups want to approach the topic of general use of common spaces in an unstructured, high-trust, low-bureaucratic way. Others have highly organized approaches to the general use of common spaces. People drawn to intentional community tend to be anti-establishment and have a bit of a grudge about following rules. Many groups start out with confidence that everyone’s good intentions and deep introspective work will lead them to naturally approach each difficulty with curiosity and compassion. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned groups split up. After Diana Leafe Christian’s decades of work promoting and studying forming-phase intentional communities, she stated in Building a Life Together that only 1 in 10 groups make it to the point of jointly owning property. It could be a huge help to find the intentional communities that lasted, which are most similar to your planned IC. What helped them uphold shared agreements? Were there consequences for anyone who consistently failed to contribute fairly? The following content can be used as a guide or even a template to help your group establish agreements.


The ”prohibitions” section is about safety, especially for residences that include minors or other vulnerable people. It is consistent with nonviolent communication to set clear boundaries about general use of common spaces. We’ve tried to provide some language to help you do so respectfully and clearly.

Illegal recreational drugs:

    • Should not be allowed on the premises

    • Should be grounds for expulsion from the community

    • Should be dealt with by group decision in a manner to support non-use

    • Should not be policed by the community, as long as no minors are involved and no community rules are violated


    • Should not be allowed on the premises

    • Should be allowed after work hours

    • Should be regulated by group decision only if it becomes problematic

Tobacco smoking:

    • Should not be allowed on the premises

    • Should be allowed in designated indoor areas

    • Should only be allowed outdoors


    • Should not be allowed on the premises, even if its legal in our location

    • Should be allowed with medical prescription

    • Should be allowed after work hours

    • Should be allowed in designated areas only

    • Should be regulated by group decision only if it becomes problematic


    • Should not be allowed on the premises

    • Should be allowed only in a legal supervised therapeutic setting

    • Should be allowed by those authorized to use them for ceremonial purposes

Daytime visitor access:

For a variety of reasons, some members may feel more comfortable limiting access to the building that is their primary residence or in which they spend a large portion of their daytime hours. This can be a dealbreaker issue and is important to discuss as a group, ideally prior to establishing residence together.

    • Who should be informed of planned visits and how far in advance?

    • Visitors should only be admitted to ___ areas after the group has discussed individuals and made agreements.

    • Visitors should not be restricted after certain individuals or visitor types are approved.

    • Visitors should not be admitted based on the consideration of members’ judgement.

    • Signs should be posted to direct visitors where to go or who to call about visiting.
    • Those who invited a guest are responsible to ensure they are informed about rules and norms for general use of common spaces.


    • Which buildings should be kept locked, should be kept locked only during night time, should not be locked?

    • Who should hold keys to various buildings or gates including storage sheds? Who should be responsible for checking that they are locked, and how often?

    • Outer gate (courtyard or yard) should be kept locked, should be kept locked only during night time, should not be locked.

Overnight guests:

    • Should be permitted in limited circumstances as decided by the governance process

    • Should be allowed in designated guest areas

    • Should be subject to group decision only if it becomes problematic

    • Should not be a concern of the community, as long as everyone’s privacy is respected


    • Should be limited to private rooms or private residences (following the norms in our larger culture)

    • Should be permitted within designated areas of the IC (e.g., a gated hot tub)

    • Should be welcome and discussed through the governance process, to consider each individual’s preferences

Tidiness and Cleanliness

Let’s get on the same page about definitions of tidiness versus cleanliness. Tidiness is about things being put away, things having a designated place. Cleanliness is about no sticky jam spots on the table, counters wiped and floors swept. Some people care about one and not the other, yet these are often talked about as if they are interchangeable.

Clutter level of shared living areas:

  • Super tidy at diagnosable OCD level
  • Tidy in shared spaces, with a designated place for things
  • Average level of “lived in” look
  • Creativity in progress (translate: not tidy)
  • Clutter doesn’t bother me

Clutter level of shared work space:

  • Super tidy at diagnosable OCD level
  • Tidy in shared spaces, with a designated place for things
  • Average level of “lived in” look
  • Creativity in progress (translate: not tidy)
  • Bachelor pad standards

Cleanliness level (germs & crumbs):

  • Medical need for a regularly disinfected environment
  • Medical need for a dust-free environment
  • All food counters & tables wiped down after each use
  • All food counters & tables wiped down daily to not attract pests
  • Disinfectants must be ecologically safe products (chemical sensitivity)
  • Disinfecting is not important
  • Dusting is not so important
  • Dishes washed (or loaded into dishwasher) daily to not attract pests
  • We area not planning to share cooking or dining space

Aesthetics of Housing and Surroundings

Does your group have strong decorative preference for shared indoor and outdoor (patio) areas? 

Décor of shared areas: 

  • Not important
  • Prefer furniture & decor that’s kid-or-pet friendly (used or easily replaceable)
  • Decisions based on practical utility and durability
  • A consistent aesthetic theme is important

Yard or landscaping:

  • Paved walkways and driveways
  • Mowed, trimmed, manicured outdoor space
  • Tidy and clutter-free outdoors with storage out of sight
  • Covered space for storage of jointly owned resources
  • Space for kids and/or dogs to run
  • Gardens and edible landscaping
  • Xeriscape
  • Yard aesthetics are not governed by group, up to individual lot owners

Neighborhood or scenery:

  • Nature scenery is on site
  • Nature scenery is near by
  • Clean well maintained urban or suburban surroundings

Noise and Sleep

Many of these lifestyle descriptions would be important to know if you plan on sharing living space or community workspace.

Noise level: 

    • A quiet serene living space should be the norm

    • One quiet space should be reserved for those who need to focus on work

    • One space should be available for those who like to have videos or games on frequently

    • Parents with children shouldn’t have to constantly keep them quiet

    • As long as the vibe is positive, loud gatherings can be frequent

    • A lively social environment should be the norm

    • Different noise tolerance can be managed by having designated times for noise and quiet

    • Just keep it down enuf that neighbors don’t complain

    • Party house: Some people love lively conversations, music, and something always happening. If this is your group’s style, make it known so that you’ll attract people who want the same high energy vibe.

    • Monastic style or quiet house: no conversations in designated spaces. That’s where you go when you want quiet. Could include a place for snacks and tea. Some don’t want to say no to conversations directly but also are emotionally exhausted, don’t want to have to have a conversation just because they go to the fridge.


    • I’m an early riser

    • I’m a late riser

    • I keep an early bedtime

    • I keep a late bedtime

    • I often stay up past midnight

    • I’m not very consistent with my waking and bedtimes

    • My sleep is easily disturbed so I need quiet at night

    • My sleep is not easily disturbed

If your group is not planning to share living space that’s close to sleeping space, you still might want to make a note if you plan to have quiet hours or a curfew for shared areas. If people have different preferences, is this topic open for discussion?



    • Is the plan

    • Is a workable option

    • Is workable part time

    • Is okay but not necessary

    • Is not the plan if it doesn’t work for others we want to be in community with

    • Is not workable

Comfort and convenience:

    • We like a cushy life.

    • Regardless of our remote location, we are not a community that demands a rugged life and hard physical work.

    • We are looking for members who enjoy or at least can tolerate a rugged life and hard physical work.

    • Most of us have to tolerate extreme temperatures on occasion, because of work demands.

    • We still have a place for members who for health reasons can’t tolerate extreme temperatures.

Tech savvy: 

    • We’re low-tech for the most part.

    • We’re in need of help for troubleshooting or figuring out new tech.


    • We must have wifi on 24/7.

    • Some of us need to be consistently connected to wifi during work hours.

    • We can work without consistent internet connection.

    • We’re concerned about the effects of constant wifi exposure. We deal with this by…


This section may not be necessary if the interaction and responsibility level for other members doesn’t differ from the mainstream culture. However, in situations with an intended family-like responsibility for others, parenting norms need to be negotiated. Clarity can prevent the conflicts likely to arise from differing assumptions. Here are sample statements that describe some differing approaches to parenting.

    • We all feel a responsibility for well-being of children in the community.

    • We are committed to shared child-care responsibilities such as carpooling or swapping child-care.

    • Children are the responsibility of their parents, so any shared care needs to be agreed on between individuals.

    • We are planning on-site staffed childcare facilities to be available for working parents

    • We have free-range children who are allowed to roam the majority of community spaces unsupervised.

    • Our IC culture is that adults generally feel free to praise or to ask children to stop a disruptive behavior.

    • We don’t feel that parents should have to micro-manage their children for the benefit of adults around them. Except during meetings, we generally expect kids to be exuberant and noisy at times.

    • We prefer not to have child(ren) present during in group planning and personal sharing meetings, so we’ll provide child care during that time.
    • Parents or the designated guardians at any given time are responsible for children following rules and norms for general use of common spaces.


Some people have extreme difficulty with sleep that can be disrupted by barking. Others may prefer no outdoor pets to create a space for wildlife to be comfortable and safe. Some people have allergies to indoor pets, or they may already have pets that do not get along with others’ pets. The topic of pets might still be up for discussion. For example, creating fenced areas could accommodate pets. Training or an electronic barking feedback device could help. For some intentional communities, dogs are one of the most often contested issues about general use of common spaces, including poop and leashes. 

Here are options for your group to consider.

Dogs: Indoor dog(s) okay, Indoor dog(s) okay if small, Indoor dog(s) okay if non-shedding, Indoor dog(s) okay if some rooms are off limits,  Outdoor dog(s) okay, Outdoor dog(s) okay if not frequent barkers, Indoor dog(s) not okay, Outdoor dog(s) not okay,  With separate residences each household decides

Cats: Indoor cat(s) okay, Outdoor cat(s) okay, Indoor cat(s) not okay, Outdoor cat(s) not okay, With separate residences each household decides

Other animals: It’s helpful to list those you plan on, so that people with allergies can steer clear or negotiate.