I heard this question recently. Twice actually. Three times if you count February 2012 Lori’s own head.

It’s funny how radically different October 2012 Lori feels about this question than February 2012 Lori did.

February 2012 Lori was really scared to move from working alone at home to opening her home as a free community coworking space. Questions in her head:

  • What if a total jerk shows up?
  • What if a criminal shows up?
  • What if a group of extroverts take over? (I may be the only human more scared of groups of extroverts than criminals.)
  • What if it’s all computer programmers who show up and non-techy me has nothing in common with everyone else?
  • What if too many people show up? Our space isn’t that big.
  • What if I suck as a host?
  • What if our home is too loud/quiet/hot/cold/small/big/pet-filled/clean/dirty for others?
  • What if I don’t like coworking at home?
  • What if someone accidentally lets our indoor cats outside?
  • What if the dog or cats barf on someone?

You name it, I worried about it.

Sometimes I think back and shake my head at that me, and I give her a mental hug for moving forward through those fears to make today me possible.

Today I’d say that it is dangerous NOT to open your home as community space. Here are 9 lived reasons why…

1. Greater connection. We’ve been meeting an ever-widening circle of our neighbors and community, making new friends monthly now. Today, those who’ve come and stayed in our lives I actually cannot imagine my life without. Like Narisa, and Tabitha, and Fisher, and Cathy, and Sayumi, and Skotia, and Tom, and Mark, and Christopher–AMAZING humans, most of whom live nearby, and most of whom we didn’t even know 6 months ago. It is such an honor to have them in our lives. Our neighborhood rocks!

2. Greater imagination. These people are expanding what else this space could be. For example, Fisher first used the space for his company offsite retreat. Now we use the space for that sort of thing. Also, in addition to the sort of standard digital-creators coworking space I’d imagined, we also do crafternoons in which we make stuff with our hands, like painted rock garden markers and guerilla gardening seed balls. Tabitha inspired this with her bean-bag toss games and other craft work she brought into the space. And now Narisa wants to make Kokedama, which, I learned, are beautiful hanging moss ball thingys. And we’re making a neighborhood party preparedness kit. And we’ve given painted garden/yard markers to neighbors. And we’re thinking about what we could do for the neighborood together. And I now want to create a community mini library. We’re also doing more community movie nights, more community dinners in, and more group field trips out than we used to. I’ve begun to host a Cool Women Potluck to spend more non-work time with cool women.

3. The right people tend to find us now. Daniel and I have space for 3 other humans to live here (plus 2 dogs and 3 cats and 6 fish). Coworker and amazing friend Tabitha found Narisa for us, our new housemate. We used to do city-wide searches via university databases and craigslist, spending a ton of time and energy finding the right people to live here. We now receive personally vouched-for people from people we’ve worked with/played with, like, and trust. All people who LOVE the idea of turning your home into a coworking/coliving community space. Although I started the coworking space simply because I was tired of working alone, the coworking space has now made our home a premium place to live here in Seattle, because we have an amazing community to offer now, not just a room and a roof.

4. Not a single jerk or criminal has shown up and no group of extroverts has taken over. This fear of mine today now seems unfounded. Of course–like anywhere on earth–a jerk or criminal could show up. But today I’d argue that openness/collective happiness tends to draw openness/collective happiness most days. Amazing new people are showing up in our lives now on a weekly basis. People with great stories, a stunning array of skill sets, and more passion, enthusiasm, energy, trust, and courage than I’d imagined possible. And some of them bring their dogs. And some like to play board games and do crafts. And some cook and make fancy drinks. And some get me to movies I wouldn’t have otherwise gone to. And some serve the community in ways I’d never imagined. Yay!

5. We’ve recognized connections to several larger communities. We’re part of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance now–others dedicated to holding collaborative space–from digital coworking spaces to maker spaces. We have friends now at Office Nomads, The Mill, Agnes Undergound, Coworking Eastlake, Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare, and more. We’re also now connected to many groups who care about simimlar things, such as public food/gardening/farms/trading/bartering, like Alleycat Acres and Backyard Bartering, and other neighborhood groups reimaging ourselves and our Central District neighborhood for the better, like Jackson Commons Seattle and The Kitchen Sink Project. Getting to know these folks–kindred spirits all–has brought tremendous joy and comfort to me.

6. The coworkers here have been resources for my work and vice versa. For example, coworker, neighbor, and new dear friend Fisher found us three people in his bicycle community to interview for our web site Different Office. I couldn’t have found these people without him–they weren’t obviously my community members until Fisher connected us and we met. And our work is feeding brand new work that Fisher’s doing: Velograph. Coworker Cathy edited our book Different Work while she was between jobs. Sean and Fisher harvested strawberries and rhubarb here for their Popcycles work. Tabitha created postcards for the coworking space. She also got my Orchard Steward’s blog more exposure. The list goes on and on. These people are now making my own work seem sustainable for the long term, because they are sustaining me. I aspire to do the same for them.

7. Good is drawn in and multiplies here exponentially now. Our home is slowly becoming a more playful, more creative, more happy, more fun, and more effective place to be. People gain courage here to change their lives, their homes, and/or their jobs. I gain courage here. The space feels simultaneously more real, more human, and more sacred to me now. It’s hard to describe. But I LOVE it here now. Apparently you can have ever deepening levels of love for a space just like you can for people. I had no idea. But watching people regularly take courageous leaps in new directions–and knowing that we were a little bit of the support net beneath them–feels really, really good. People have deep intuition about such things, I think. Here, we actually listen to ourselves. We don’t have to say that out loud. We feel it. Feeling it is more than enough, most days.

8. I’m getting closer to my husband and housemates. Daniel and I both work. A lot. And for those who love to work in general–plus love their work like we do–it’s easy to be apart much of the time. The coworking space has brought us closer in multiple ways. For example, its success prompted us to have friends create us a big, round, 10-person table that we both love. I work there a lot, as expected. But Daniel now has many of his meetings here where I am–from his photography group to mentoring/teaching groups to work team offsites. And Chris brought his work team in to do a video shoot here today. And every time Narisa coworks with us she makes us all fancy drinks. Women fucking rock. Also, Daniel and I began seriously, for the first time, to imagine ourselves as coworkers. We now work together on Different Office–work that stretches us both and brings us both joy AND helps us spend more time together. Also, the space itself found us new housemate Narisa, who is more outgoing than we are, and she’s bringing out the more social side of all of us. We’re doing things together as a housemate family more often–both at home and elsewhere. Love this.

9. I feel safer in my neighborhood. Our amazing Central District neighborhood has its share of urban problems, including poverty, drugs, gun violence, and all the other things that make many flee cities or put up walls around neighborhoods. Fear, hopelessness, anger, and apathy all live here–sometimes within me. In the CD, we’re often not in the position to be able to ignore it or look away from it, others far more so than me. Yet opening our home as a free community coworking space is changing my experience of the neighborhood, and a few others’ experience of it too. Examples:

  • This is a neighborhood full of generous, creative, open, and giving people. Anyone who walks into our space experiences this.
  • I walk more and see more of my neighborhood now. To get the word out about our space, I need the help of other community centers/spaces/people so I’m walking more and meeting more neighbors.
  • We also simply know a lot more people–and we trust them–which makes being in the neighborhood feel safer.
  • Tom of CDNews coworks here sometimes now. He brings us news of community meetings–ways to get invovled–and things we may otherwise have missed, and we pass it on. I used to only occassionally read his blog–because it reports all criminal activity here and was depressing. I read it far more often now. It hurts far less to look at our problems together than it does on my own.
  • We now hear far more about all the good news/work/people/groups/projects in the neighborhood than we used to. I hear about some new good thing in the CD every day now. Instead of relying on mainstream media (what were we thinking?) to learn about our neighborhood, we now get a much fuller, richer picture of our neighborhood. The problems here are a small, very painful, slice of a whole, beautiful, picture here. I suspected this before. I actually know this now. Weekly now I think “I cannot believe that this cool human lives in my neighborhood. We’re so lucky.”
  • Last month, somebody broke into our neighbor’s home–when they were gone for a weekend–and stole computers and purses and alcohol. It occurred to me that thanks to our coworking/coliving space, our home is actually safer. Because there is always somebody home at our house: most days, there are LOTS of people and dogs and cats at home here. People I trust to run the space even when I’m not here.
  • In the face of the worst, we offer each other comfort. Last night around midnight, I heard gunfire echo across our neighborhood: a lot of shots, 15 to 20 in a row it seemed. One of my new community members and I connected via Facebook, and I learned from him what was happening, what the police were doing, and where exactly the gunfire came from. I will never be a person who owns a police scanner. But last night, in the dark, with gunfire echoing in my sad ears, I was very happy to be connected to a friend who does. Thanks!

For us, turning our home into a community space has been more than worth the risk. It’s been an amazing, eye-opening, life-affirming, minds-expanding, friendship-gaining experience. Belly expanding too, I’ve gained 5 pounds: the increased walking so far not outweighing the increased food and drinks showing up at our door!

In our experience here, getting closer as a community makes us safer as a community, not less so. Getting closer gives us each other, and we really need each other. As our neighbors become our dear friends, the courage to continue improving ourselves and our neighborhood shows up in buckets. And it shows up in baskets, and wagons, and jars, and casserole dishes, in shovels and rakes and plants, in seed balls and garden rocks. And on bike trailers. Fantastic bike trailers!