i just heard that Acorn lost a couple of charming interns because the place is too dirty.  Let’s be clear, it is pretty dirty.  And in our defense the place is a farm.  We grow an increasing fraction of our own food as well as a significant number of seeds for the business. This means an approximately endless supply of people working in dirt and coming in for at least a couple of meals and meetings on the average day.

And this topic inevitably comes up whenever we talk about our diversity as a community; it may be that our biggest barriers are cultural and that if we are truly going to be more open to a wider diversity of people, we may have to do some shifting of our internal culture.  Being cleaner is an obvious starting point.

But please don’t suggest that there is an easy fix, if we all just pitched in a bit more.  It just does not seem to work out that way, at least in the communities i frequent.    There are people who clean, and some clean quite a lot.  And pushing back there are kids and pets and poorly house trained adults (and even well trained adults and kids who occasionally screw up in the scores of entries into the residential buildings each day).  It is going to take some clever ideas and some culture changing.


Who has the time to clean after a hard days work on the farm??

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

20 responses to “Filth”

  1. cardin seabrook says :

    A lot of times when people only say dirty they also mean smelly. You may not want the type of people who are intolerant of dirt and smell. Or maybe you dont want the type of people that are aloof about it. There are people who see cleanliness as tyranny. There are people (like me) who see grunge as a sure sign of incompetence. Clearly Acorn has got their shit together when it comes to running a vital business. I bet if the place was pritty clean then it would be easier to see what their real issue is.

  2. ezrafreeman says :

    There’s an easy fix for that– everyone just pitch in a little bit more 🙂

  3. Seby (aka Twigsy) says :

    I think I would also ask to define ‘filth’. The above picture, to me, does not represent a very dirty environment. Are you talking about people literally tracking dirt around? Sweaty, dirty people sitting on furniture and making it smell bad? Old food being left laying around with mold growing on it? If a person’s comfort zone is a clinical level of cleanliness, I would have to say that a working farm is not an ideal situation for them, but it sounds like things may have gotten really bad. Certain things can be put into place, certain practices encouraged, to deter the worst and most offensive problems, but I feel confident that Acorn has dealt with these matters long enough to have them ironed out, yes?

    • paxus says :

      @Twigsy –

      Kassia (who is shadow editing this blog, including coming up with many of the better images) choose this picture not because it depicts our filth, but because it is a funny picture of a hard working and apparently visibly exhausted River.

      The place is dirty. I am a socialized privileged white male who has done disproportionately little cleaning in my life and i dont pay attention dirt generally, and i can tell it is a quite dirty place.

  4. hillary says :

    @Twigsy has a point. There is a lot that can be considered filth and I would be curious as to what specifically is going on in there. In any case it sounds like more communication is necessary. As Brandeis once wrote, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  5. ht says :

    Speaking as an ex-oaker, this is probably the biggest reason why my partner and I have ruled out living in an intentional community. We are both introverted intuitives according to myers briggs. We do not require “clinical” levels of cleanliness and we love the outdoors, which is to say we are tolerant to nature’s dirt and odors, but a sense of order in our living space is a crucial element in our day-to-day creative functioning. I’m guessing that what one calls filth another might call chaos.

    • paxus says :

      @ht – absolutely. One persons unworkable filth is another persons comfortable chaos. And i do have to say when Dragon prettied up the Rec Collective after Fox and company cleared it out, it looked lovely and i thought to myself “wouldnt it be nice if it was orderly and clean like this all the time” but i hold out little hope for such an outcome

  6. GPaul says :

    Since a few people asked for clarity here’s my report on the mess at Acorn: The floors get dirty quickly from all the foot traffic. Counter tops and tables get crumbs and small spills on them quickly from so many people using them. Bathrooms get toothpaste and soap residue and hair build up quickly. Food does not stay out long enough to rot, but there are buckets of compost that get emptied once a day. Leftovers will sometimes get forgotten in the fridge and go bad. The clutter accumulates everywhere at an unbelievable pace. The furniture does not match and gets dirty quickly from dirty clothes, dirty shoes, and little spills. The people shower less, on average, than most in “the mainstream”.

    I would say: dirty, yes, chaotic, yes, filthy, no.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest G:

      Thanks for the specification and clarification. i would agree with all your analysis.


    • Seby (aka Twigsy) says :

      Thanks for the specifics, GPaul. These would be my suggestions, based on your evaluation. 1) Dirty Floors – If you’re not already doing so, implement carpet ‘runners’ and boot scrapers in high traffic flow areas. These will help to contain the dirt so it can be more easily ‘hoovered’ in an efficient way. 2) Dirty Counter Tops – This is tough, but at least in our home (multi-family), we push each other to wipe counters after every use. Keeping a small pail hanging near the counters, and a couple of rags that you rinse after use, makes it easy to quickly scrape crumbs and such into the pail, which can be dumped into the compost when needed. 3) Bathroom Scum – uck… yeah, that can be the worst. Who wants to clean up other people’s body waste? *shudder* I can only suggest, like the kitchen, encourage folks to take a moment to clean up after themselves. 4) Leftovers – How about adding ‘Fridge Patrol’ to a weekly chore list? Have someone check the fridge at least once a week for leftovers to compost.5) Dirty/mismatched Furniture – two words ‘throw covers’. Use old sheets as covers for furniture. They can be washed much more easily than the furniture itself can! Don’t know if any of that helps, but it’s my .02 🙂

  7. Eman says :

    When I mentioned the whole idea of it needing to be cleaner, I was specific. The farm dirt and nature or even ppl smelling didnt bother me in communities I’ve been to. It was food messes being left. It was people’s very dirty rooms attracting bugs and rodents. Unorganized areas that made it hard to find things. Dirty bathrooms with all kinds of dirtiness that isnt about farming at all.

    But like GPaul and Twigsy have said, this happens in multi-ppl households with a lot of foot traffic. As someone who grew up with several other ppl in a house, cleaning up after a bunch of ppl time and time again is tiring. So doing it together is key. Prob is, folks who want to clean or even like cleaning, arent every where. And yea, after doing a long day of physical labor not everyone will want to. But thats what roles and responsibilities are about.

    I think that’s one of the things we have to remember about community. We all come in different capacities. But we all must work together to make it work. Esp if folks want it to be open to more diverse groups. For many of us, our home is our temple. And we want our temple clean. However, if folks are living there and dont care to make changes to have anyone new come through, then there’s no bother. Be happy, live how you like and only have ppl over who are down with your way of living come by or not at all.

    None of us can have our cake and eat it too. Not even at an intentional community.

  8. Tree Bressen says :

    Some communities do a weekly cleaning party where EVERYONE joins in, as doing it together at the same time is much easier than one poor communard feeling burdened (and likely resentful).

    When dishes were an issue at Walnut St., one thing that helped was having a bin near the sink that random dirty dishes could be put into. So when i arrived to cook i could throw other people’s dishes there instead of stressing over them, and eventually the people who tended to leave those dishes would wash them. The same approach could be used for random crap lying around in the common spaces: have a bin in every room where it can all be thrown by anyone who is bothered by it.

    In the distant past at Acorn–back when it was cleaner (not clean, but cleaner than recent times)–one member who was kind and sloppy requested one common space be designated as “sloppy ok” and have reduced expectations for neatness. He lived in the barn so we agreed to that as the space and he was happy. Maybe now the group is not at that point, you should try the reverse instead: designate one space as neat and commit to it.

    I think it’s very relevant to distinguish between neatness, hygiene, dirt, etc. They are far from the same. I personally don’t care much about dirt and i care a lot about neatness/order. Don’t hide behind a defense of farm dirt, that’s almost never the problem. I agree with Seby, make it really easy & convenient to clean up. For example, even tho i currently live in a not-very-large house by myself, i have two brooms (one lives in the kitchen and the other in the mudroom, they are at opposite ends of the house and each gets dirt from the outside), that way one is always close at hand.

    • paxus says :

      @Tree – now i know the topics which will get your commentary, expect more on Acorn and messiness. A group cleaning day would probably go some distance to helping the situation. Ganas has trash cans marked with “lost and Found” on them, which are distinctly not filled with trash.

      And my post is weak on distinguishing between dirt and chaos, and these are importantly different. i do think the farming/ag activity plays into the mix, and there are many other factors as well. Thanks for your thoughts

  9. Loran says :

    How much of this “dirtiness” is attributed to communal living in itself? Is there a “tragedy of the commons” going on here? In other words, since all property is held in common, there is no “cost” to making things a little dirtier, and little incentive to clean up, since in the end it’s not __your__ space and any eventual cleanup will likely be performed by someone else?

    On a larger scale, it is this same dynamic that can lead to air and water pollution. It is very hard to motivate people to clean up something when no one specific person or entity is responsible for it

    Have TO or Acorn developed any strategies to minimize the tragedy of the commons?

    • paxus says :

      Ah Loran – good questions. Sp i failed in this article to distinguish between dirtiness and chaos/clutter. Both problems exist. Since i am not highly affected by either it is a bit hard for me to measure. I do disagree with your analysis some. The cost of things being dirty or chaotic is similar to what happens in your own house, you need to live with the mess. i think people largely do feel like it is their space, there is just a lot of it, and it is pretty high activity, especially, high interrupted activity which tends towards things being left around.

      There are conventions. The clean up people for meals make sure that the food counter is completely cleared and cleaned after every meal. While dishes stack up during the day, they are fairly reliably all cleaned up at one point during the day, they just quickly start amassing again. Other interesting norms include putting things which need to go downstairs (like abandoned dishes) on the large flat banister upstairs. Even if it was not your dish, the two step process (collecting it from the room, especially from near the computers) and placing it on the banister is a ways of saying “i would like this mess from another person to go away now” and often it is picked up from the banister by someone else who is saying generally “i did not make this specific mess, but i will help by getting it to the dish washing station downstairs which i am about to pass.”

      It does not feel like a “tragedy of the commons” situation, because stuff is not getting used up or over taxed. And yes there are several systems, but as GPaul points out, these are crowded busy spaces. If we had the low occupancy/paid external cleaning staff of many suburban places, we would be more clutter free.

  10. Lydia says :

    I an not a neat freak, by any means. In fact, if you took a look at my current apartment, you might be appalled. What freaks me out is the report of fairly regular outbreaks of lice that spread through Twin Oaks and cause many to decide to shave their heads. Untidy=ok, gross (old dirty dishes) = ok, parasitic health hazards = well….

  11. Joanne says :

    Crumbs and spills left, toothpaste spit… these things are personal responsibilities that take less than a minute to do and goes so far to show that you care for and respect your housemates. I don’t get it.

    • paxus says :

      If you don’t live in community, it is a bit hard to believe how these messes get created. And when people in the community clean up 9 out of 10, it is the missed one which gets the attention. Some places are good at keeping clean, but it takes a major effort.

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