Small Steps to a Community of Goods
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of the community of goods lately. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, this means a voluntary community where everything is held in common, as demonstrated for us in the book of Acts. It’s not political communism, which forces redistribution on everybody.
I applaud those who go all-in on the community of goods concept, such as fellow MennoNerd Micael. I stop a bit short of saying that every Christian should jump in to this practice right away. It’s a great ideal to move toward, definitely, but we live in a fallen world and I’m not sure going from 0 to 100 in a day is often the healthiest approach. For many of us – especially if you factor in families you are responsible for – that’s a risky proposition as you put all of your trust in a few other people.
So, with that in mind, I’ve been thinking about some smaller steps that we could initiate within a community to help establish trust in that community and free up some money for those who really need it.
Share Your Stuff
We were theoretically taught this in Kindergarten, but for most of us, once we hit adulthood we throw that lesson out the window. I get confused when I see things like every house on the city block having their own lawnmower for their lawns small enough they take 20 minutes to cut. Why not have a rotation where it moves around the block? Tools are usually the first place my mind goes because I need them so rarely (renting an apartment, no car, work at a computer all day) yet it’s still somewhat assumed that every adult has their own stash.
I’ve had similar thoughts with movies, books, kid’s toys, video games, kitchen appliances, and so much more. In this idea, you still own your property, unlike a community of goods, but there’s open lines of communication to make sure it is easier to borrow something instead of buying it.
Once a week, Emily and I volunteer at a local non-profit cafe. They are able to sell food pretty cheap because of the volunteers. It’s also serving as a “third space” for people to gather, whether or not they buy anything. There’s often community groups in there, particularly other non-profit initiatives that can’t pay a rental fee to meet. Volunteering not only gives us an opportunity to help these people and groups out, but also to interact with them and learn more about our city.
Shop Farmer’s Markets
There are a few reasons I like farmer’s markets:
- Supports local small businesses (the food isn’t necessarily local, but the business is)
- Mostly healthy food
- Often cheaper than grocery stores
- Less wasteful packaging destroying the environment
- See a lot of your neighbours in one space
This is one that many Christians still do very well. Potluck dinners are great, and so are regular dinners with people taking turns cooking for everyone else. As long as your standards when cooking for others is similar to your standards when cooking for yourself, you’re going to save yourself a lot of time and money by taking turns cooking in bulk.
Ride Public Transit
Cars are expensive; in Canada, it’s an average of $10,000 a year total cost of ownership, i.e. about 20% of the average adult Canadian’s income. And yet, in certain areas of Canadian culture, it is completely assumed that you own at least one car, ideally one per adult in the house. Having more than one car per person is a status symbol.
I’ve written before about how public transit is a moral imperative. Not only do you save money that you can then give to somebody who needs it more, but it forces you to actually see your neighbours. You can’t get away with spending your whole life in your house, your car, and your office. You say hi and thank you to the driver, you get annoyed at the crying child followed by sympathy for his mother trying desperately not to draw attention, you get used to running into some of the same people on a regular basis, and you’re reminded of the less fortunate who often don’t have a choice but to use public transit.
Community gardens are becoming a popular trend, often facilitated by non-profit groups or local government. Why not create one of those on your property? That of course presupposes you have enough of a lawn and are close enough to others to easily share, so this won’t be a possibility for a lot of houses in the city. There are also weather limitations, so it’s not like people in Ontario can grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables all year. But there is more than enough that we can grow here and doing that for yourself and your neighbours is a great way to save money and build community.
The average square foot per person in a house now is about double what it was 60 years ago. We put smaller families in larger houses. Some of that trend is changing as more young people get smaller places downtown, but for the most part, we complain if we don’t have a lot of space. As a student, it was normal to live in a house with up to 9 other people, and in many ways it was great. Why stop after that?
Here’s a realistic scenario: two small-ish families in a 3-floor (2 plus basement) house. One’s bedroom is on the top floor, one’s is on the bottom, and the middle is a shared kitchen and living room space. Depending on needs, you might need another bedroom or two or an office, but if you plan that in advance, you can probably find a house which fits the needs. You still get your private space, you spend half as much on a mortgage, and like public transit you can’t get away with living a life outside of community.