Pet peeves of community life: Flip side of the upside

At a recent house meeting (we hold them twice a month at BHFH), everyone was invited to write a couple of pet peeves about living in the house and place them in a basket.

Some of the beefs that made their way into the discussion:

  • Overloaded dishracks
  • Crumbs around the toaster
  • Interrupted conversations
  • Lights left on in empty common rooms

Sound like any household you may have been part of at some point?

roomOne of mine : “More a puzzle than a peeve — how to raise questions or issues with staff without feeling like walking on egg shells.”

One of Carol’s: “When people bring a lot of negativity or irritability into public spaces.”

In some ways, it’s strange that I’d be annoyed by the staff issue. I’ve felt from the start of our time here that one of the best things about BHFH — differentiating it from most coop living situations — is the work of staff who are paid to serve and lead a community they’re also part of.

It wouldn’t be the same — and just wouldn’t work, at least in my view — if our director, residency manager and kitchen manager were hired help who left the house at the end of their shifts to return to their own homes.

crumbsBut the integration of the staff’s work time and off time presents its own set of problems. The Resident Handbook suggests one of the tensions: “Please try not to trouble staff during their off time (after hours, or on their days off) except in emergencies. It can be stressful for them to feel ‘on-call’ constantly.”

Imagine, for a minute, what it might be like to live where you work. Hard to beat the commute, but exactly when is it that you go off duty? At the same time, remembering to raise house-related issues with staff only during particular hours — and figuring out exactly what rises to the level of work-related — can get tedious. And thus the tension.

I’ve also experienced the peeve Carol raised: Encountering housemates whose bad days accompany them home from work and remain in evidence on dish crew or elsewhere in the house. Among the advantages we’ve found living in expanded households over the years is behavior: We like to think we’d be too embarrassed to inflict on others the sort of grumpiness we occasionally dump on each other.

Screenshot 2015-02-27 10.56.37Wait a minute! Isn’t the chance to get to know people beneath the surface — crabbiness included — one of the attractions of living with them in community? Yes, but…

My sense of these two-sided coins sharpened at dinner recently — and again at breakfast. As I’ve written before, the impromptu meals that sometimes happen around here on weekends are among the unexpected pleasures of the place. It can be even more fun when guests at the house join in the prep and the eating. Except when there are just too many chefs in the kitchen, creating a bit more chaos than works even for the ENFPs among us.

Weekend mornings are among my favorite times in the house — most housies with the day off and time to hang out and relax as opposed to charging off into another day battling Boston’s epic freeze. On the rare occasion when the early morning exuberance is more than we can take, we retreat behind a couple of doors to the dining room for more peaceful consumption of the day’s first meal.

The house is big enough, its occupants sensitive enough, that we can usually find a path out of whatever’s bugging us. Not to mention the chocolate chip pancakes that Shannon and Ryan shared with the rest of us this morning.

Given all we’ve written about what we love about this adventure, though, it only seems right to spend some time on the underside. To what should we attribute our emerging crankiness?

  • Is it about us or them (as in the people we live with)? Since life in the house has gotten progressively more collegial and friendly in our 20 months here, the answer to this one is easy. It’s about us.
  • Is the increased crotchetiness linked to our advancing age? I could be kidding myself but, at least from the inside, my 66 year-old self feels more tolerant and less irritable than younger versions.
  • Is the novelty of community life giving way to more of its reality? I’m sure this is part of it, based on my track record at the two-year mark of some previous circumstances and assignments.
  • What about all that Boston weather? As much as we claim to mostly (and admittedly selfishly) enjoy Boston’s 100 inches of snow, The Globe suggests a meteorological impact on mood that’s probably worth paying attention to (especially that two-minute video).

Now that we’re getting in touch with our inner grumps, what might it suggest about our longevity at BHFH? All residents are admitted for two years, with the understanding that we can apply for two additional years, one year at a time. So we’ll need to make a decision within the next few months whether we’ll try to stretch our year in a room beyond two and more.

We’ll weigh a number of factors, but we’re hoping at least one of the variables above will be missing by the time April kicks into May. Unless, of course, April showers and May flowers are supplanted by even more iceberg towers and snow plowers.

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