Over the last few years, I’ve been growing curious about intentional communities (also known as self-sustained communities and eco-villages). I read a lot on the topic and recently I even sampled life in this sort of environment.

But when I asked, in my Instagram story, if anybody knew communities like that I got replies about couples or singles, who’ve moved to the countryside. A friend growing spices, a family creating an organic farm, things like that. That’s why I thought that a short article on intentional communities, life there, the goals and values behind the movement, and how to find them, might be interesting. 

Intentional communities
Photo: Bertrand Bouchez

Why Intentional?

Usually, these are groups of people who’ve made a well-thought-out and aware choice to move their lives closer to nature. In traditional communities, many of the people were born where they now live, or they’ve moved there because of work or family. Besides, they live their lives according to traditions and customs. In contrast, intentional communities form around shared values, goals, and ways of life. 

For instance, if I live in the village X (traditional community), I might occasionally chat up the neighbors, we could swap seeds and gossip, or even have shared celebrations, such as Christmas and New Year’s. But while I am a vegetarian and want to have a pet pig, my neighbor might be devouring sausages from dusk till dawn and enjoy slaughtering pigs. Therefore, we don’t share similar values or ways of life. 

On the other hand, if I live in the intentional community Y, we’re all there because we’re into sustainability, we like playing music together, and want to live closer to nature but with modern comforts, which we build together. Meaning we share beliefs, goals, and lifestyles. 

Of course, this is not to say that everyone who lives in an intentional community wants the same thing. The point is that there have to be core values that bond these people together. 

How Do People in Intentional Communities Live?

I would love to give a simple and straightforward answer to this question but for now, it seems like trying to answer. “How do people in big cities live?” Some are artists, others – thugs, there are beggars and bankers, people who live downtown or in the suburbs. And each of these humans has a specific rhythm of life. The same goes for intentional communities, although there are some common principles: 

Close Proximity to Nature

You’d normally find intentional communities far from cities, or at least in the outskirts. One of the values that these groups share is love and respect for nature. And because it’s a tiny bit harder to grow tomatoes in Times Square, and even if you do they’d probably be a bit smoggy, intentional communities choose more secluded spots. 

Intentional communities
Photo: Paige Cody

Non-Violent Communication

It sometimes happens that in an argument we look for who is right and who is wrong. Yet the only result that this generates, is that each side hangs more furiously to their perspective. According to the principles laid out by the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) effective communication requires an entirely different approach. Instead of trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong, we are to come up with mutually beneficial solutions. 

Non-violent communication means that we share what we feel, try to refrain from passing judgment, support each other, listen to, and respect each other. That’s a key element of intentional communities because unless we are able to communicate well, we can’t live together comfortably. 

Intentional communities
Photo: Shane Rounce

Everybody Contributes

In some intentional communities, people rotate tasks, in others – each person is responsible for a specific job, another option is to be more flexible and rely on talents, needs, and wants. Whatever the structure, a homogenous society requires that everybody does their part. Naturally, as is everywhere else, there are people who are more diligent with their tasks and others, who are less careful. This is where non-violent communication comes in and if someone is not contributing the group comes together to support each other and figure out a solution. 

How Do I Find Intentional Communities? 

If you’d like to know more about intentional communities or even try them for yourself, there are several options. 

Intentional communities
Photo: Martin Kallur

At first, I started by watching documentaries. 

Here are several suggestions: 

An Australian experiment where strangers come together to build their dwellings and live as a community for 1 year

A documentary by National Geographic on life in harmony with nature 

A YouTube channel that introduces us to interesting alternative homes and ways of life

You could also take a look at the GEN website, read their solutions library, or one of the books on intentional communities. 

One of the intentional communities I’d like to visit the most, on Instagram

Here you’ll find a map of intentional communities around the world. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list, because some of the communities might not be registered with GEN. 

If I’ve piqued your interest – write to me in the comments below, on social media, or in the contact form. I’d love to have a discussion on the topic 🙂 And very soon I’ll follow up with an account of my first experience with intentional communities in Bulgaria.