The Baseline of Order

I live in a gated community with fairly strict standards that all homes have to follow. Anyone who wants to live in the neighborhood must contractually agree to these standards. If anyone falls short of them, they’ll get a letter from the community management association with a request to bring their property up to standard. If they don’t comply, the community association has the authority to fine them and to seek other remedies.

We’re not even allowed to park our own cars on the street, only in our driveways or garages, so there are hardly any cars on the streets. No one can park an RV on the street, except very temporarily for loading or unloading.

No soliciting is permitted in the neighborhood, so it’s extremely rare to see any door to door salespeople, Mormons, etc. The streets in the neighborhood are private, not public, so solicitation is equivalent to trespassing.

Every homeowner has to pay extra dues to make this happen – currently $122 per month.

In addition to this community, I live within a section of Las Vegas called Summerlin, which is also privately managed. To live in this part of town, it costs another $48 per month, and there’s another community association that overseas this area.

So I pay $170 per month in extra community association dues, just to live in this part of the city that’s privately managed. These dues fund the management associations. These dues can increase over time too. I think it was around $115 per month total when I first moved to this house in 2007.

Sometimes this can feel like an annoying place to live. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who dislikes these kinds of standards, let alone having to pay extra for them. You do sign away some freedoms and invite more restrictions to live in such a neighborhood. More than once I’ve gotten a letter from the community association to fix something or other that’s fallen below standard, such as trees in need of trimming. In another part of town, no one could obligate me to tend to such issues that many people would consider minor or irrelevant.

Presently our community association is requiring homeowners to repaint their houses. This community was built around 2003, so the paint on some homes is apparently showing its age. I will have to get my house painted soon too. There are only six allowed color palettes for our neighborhood since we have to adhere to a uniform look. I’d have to get special approval just to change from my home’s current paint scheme to one of the other five.

On the other hand, I also like to remind myself of the benefits. I’ve lived in many different homes and apartments over the years, and I’ve stayed in this home the longest of any.

One benefit is that these standards keep the community looking really nice. That’s good for keeping the resale value of homes high, which means more equity for the owners.

Because of these standards, there are rarely any annoying issues to deal with regarding neighbors. For the most part, we don’t have to worry about loud parties going late into the night, loud dogs barking incessantly, etc. Most of the time it’s a very quiet neighborhood, except when landscapers are doing yard work. If some issue comes up, the community association is likely to catch wind of it and handle it. They even have someone drive around the community at least monthly to look for potential issues.

These dues also help to pay for more upkeep and higher standards around the whole surrounding community than the city would normally provide. The streets are repaved more often, so they always look pretty new. There are more trees and plants and nicer landscaping in community areas. There are more parks and nicer parks with better upkeep. There are well-marked bike lanes. There are free bag dispensers for people to clean up after their dogs.

This whole side of town is master-planned, and the design really does seem more intelligent than other parts of the city. There are few traffic issues, so running errands at rush hour isn’t a problem. There’s accessible shopping and entertainment. There’s a fire station and a new police station within easy walking distance, so if there were an emergency, I’d imagine they could manage a fairly quick response time.

The builders and businesses in this part of town have to follow strict codes as well. There are no billboards in the area. Commercial logos on buildings have to be kept low-key, so there are no giant signs for fast food places and such. There is ample free parking everywhere.

When I go to different parts of town, the difference is obvious. Sometimes it feels like I’ve switched cities. The streets are dirtier and more cracked. There’s more trash. There are more weeds. Buildings look more haphazardly designed. Even the traffic lights seem less intelligent. And then there’s the smell… a special local blend of pot and urine.

I feel more relaxed and less stressed in this part of town. It’s more orderly and less chaotic. It’s more stable and predictable. But it does cost more. The additional order isn’t free. It costs more money, and it has a certain psychological cost as well. But it also pays off with some financial benefits (like higher home values) and psychological benefits (like peaceful enjoyment of the community).

I don’t always want this much order. Sometimes it feels too tight, too predictable, and too controlling. But then I recall what it was like to live without this baseline of order for long stretches. I’ve lived in more chaotic and disorderly places, and I generally found it way more stressful. I especially didn’t like living in places where it was hard to get a good night’s sleep.

I don’t mind some chaos when I travel. In fact, I often embrace it because it makes for fun memories. I love exploring areas that feel very organic, like walking around a city that feels like it was designed by a lunatic, not knowing what I’ll find around each corner. Inviting surprise can be wonderful.

At home, however, I do like and appreciate a higher baseline of order. Having that stability in my living situation makes it easier to invite and handle more chaos and risk in other areas of life, such as creative projects, entrepreneurship, and personal growth experiments. When I want to mix things up a bit, I have the option (but not the obligation) to invite more chaos, which can be very stimulating when it’s desired.

At the heart of this, what I really enjoy is having options for exploring my relationship with chaos. I like having the freedom to make conscious choices in this area. I like being able to decide how much risk to take, how much disruption to allow in, how ambitious to be, how much to change at once, and how much stress to experience. This gives me a say in how I explore new growth experiences. To make this work, it’s really helpful to maintain an orderly baseline as a jumping-off point. I can always “go home” to a place of high order when I need to reset.

At other times in life, I lacked this stable baseline and spent way more time dealing with chaotic events and circumstances that I didn’t necessarily want. I felt less free during those times, even though I had fewer obligations and responsibilities. I felt more preoccupied with all the turbulence surrounding me. It was harder to make conscious choices and to focus on creating the experiences I wanted. The chaotic energy swirling around me was always pushing me in different directions. I couldn’t maintain any sense of forward progress.

I share this as an invitation to consider what would actually make you feel more free and what would help you grow.

Would you prefer a baseline of order, a baseline of chaos, or some mixture of the two? If you have lots of order, will you still want to dance with chaos? If you have lots of chaos, will you still be able to develop a meaningful relationship with order? How orderly or chaotic do you want your life to be?

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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