Living in an Intentional Community: A Case Study of Twin Oaks

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People often ask me to define “Intentional Community”. In short, it is a planned community of self-selecting residents with common values that prioritize social cohesion, shared responsibilities & shared resources. 

I find it best to provide an overview of an existing intentional community. Below, I will provide a case study of Twin Oaks. You may resonate with or against some of what you read. Keep in mind that each community decides what works best for them and sets their societal norms. Do what works for your group!

Case Study

Twin Oaks serves as perfect community to review for several reasons:

  1. Established: It was founded in 1967.
  2. Documentation: They are strong culture of logging activities & documenting paperwork.
  3. Open Source: They have a long history of welcoming visitors and sharing their processes.

Twin Oaks is situated on 450 wooded acres 30 minutes from Charlottesville, VA. It is home to about 90 adults & 15 children. They have 1.5 million in savings and generate about $600,000 annually.

The Buildings

Its infrastructure is rich with various co-housing units, including one specifically for elderly/handicapped members with an attached hospice. Interestingly, every single person has their own room, even if they are married. It is their private space to retreat when they need to recharge or want to be alone. Some co-housing buildings are geared specifically to families, which wings for each family and shared kitchens & living rooms.

Twin Oaks has several onsite worker-cooperative businesses, including a tofu factory, hammock business. There is an office building that serves as a post office & a central organizing hub for the automobile fleet.

Other buildings feature a communal clothes “library”, a massive restaurant-sized kitchen, communications hub, dining areas and party rooms. Perks include swimming lake, sauna, food gardens, & visitor housing. 

In the two or so hours that I spent touring, I only saw a fraction of it. It is amazing what people can build when working cooperatively instead of competitively.

The Cooperative Economy

All the while, I saw various members of the community fulfilling their 42 hours required of each member.

As a quick aside, for those that are taken aback by the 42-hour work week, I want you to consider several things about living communally vs the way most of us live.

  1. There is no commute time. All work is done onsite.
  2. It is an all-volunteer economy. You get to pick your 42 hours from a number of areas, so instead of doing a job you hate, you pick something that you enjoy. Like cooking? Child care? Farming? Fixing Cars? Cleaning? Construction? Office duties? Making Tofu or hammocks?
  3. Because all the work is supporting the community, someone is covering your typical domestic chores, such as cooking your food, cleaning the bathroom, teaching your children, fixing your car. When you finish with your 42 hours, you have 126 hours to spend as you wish.

Also, keep in mind that 42 hours fits their needs. Other communities have less work requirements.

There is no cost to join the community. The work week done by community members covers their housing, utilities, food, material needs & benefits. Additionally, a monthly stipend is distributed to all members.

Maternity & Paternity Leave

On top of that, if you have a child, your 42 hours are completely forgiven for a full year. And you gradually pick up hours again and return to a full 42 hours once they turn 18.

Can you imagine? But wait, there’s more 😉

Retirement

Once you turn 50, one hour is removed from your obligation each year, so a 60 year old would only have a 32 hour workweek, a 70 year old a 22 hour work week.

Sick Leave

The benefits of living communally are easily seen when a community member becomes emotionally, mentally or physically ill. Work hours are reduced or eliminated based on the person’s capabilities. The rest of the community shoulders the load. People tend to heal much faster without the threat of financial collapse, losing their employment and/or work piling up.

Vacation

What’s funny is that people end up going way over their hours because they are picking jobs that they really enjoy and they can also diversify their hours over several fields to prevent burnout. Guess what happens with all those extra hours? They are banked for vacation.

Buyers Club

The residents collectively purchase products for themselves, often at wholesale pricing. As a community, they decide which items should be bought for everyone. However, you are also granted a monthly stipend for any individual items that aren’t communally purchased. For example, there aren’t any major coffee drinkers there, so they decided not to provide coffee for everyone. People who want coffee use their stipend.

Shared Resources

Just as you would check a book out of a library, they have libraries to check out cars, bikes, tools and even clothes!

If that sounds like an uncomfortable or unusual idea, I ask you, which is more important to you? Access or ownership? Do you need a lawnmower to take up space in your garage all the time, with the maintenance time & costs fall on your shoulders? Or do you simply need access to a lawnmower for 20 minutes a week?

Decision-making Model

Twin Oaks uses a modified consensus model. This empowers residents with an equal say in how the community is run.

Network of Communities

Twin Oaks is part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC). The FEC is an umbrella of communities that provides resources to the communities, such as medical/dental, mentoring, loans & free labor.

Learning More

Want to check out Twin Oaks? Visit during their annual Communities Conference or during their Saturday Tours.

The Communities Conference contains workshops for starting/living in community. Even more important is the “Meet the Communities” program –  a meet & greet of 30-50 different communities where people can “speed date” various communities to determine which are the best fit for them to join or recreate, ask the community reps questions & setup dates to visit the communities in person.

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Jill Kanto

Jill Kanto combined her background in Intentional Communities, living in her DIY Tiny House, her skills as a Front-End Web Developer and not being able to sit still to create SearchTinyHouseVillages.com. She travels to 1-2 Tiny House Festivals a month as a speaker. Learn more about her journey.

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