“Talkoot” = How Finns Share on Vacation Time Island

Like most Finnish families, your correspondent and the family have a second home outside the city on an island some 100 kilometres west from Helsinki, 5 kilometres out on the Baltic Sea. We are there all year round – from hot summers to freezing winters when the sea ice can be 1 metre thick, or as thin as a sheet of paper.

The floor area of our house is around 100 m2 – it was built with thick logs in 2002 on a big hunk of grey granite facing the sea – see above photo.

Our house is on our own 0.2 hectare plot, which is part of a 10 hectare site that we own through a joint real estate company with five other families. Each has their own private plot but we share the  pier for the boats, a nice one kilometre long beach, a 3 kilometre nature walk for exercise, and a small 30m2 log sauna cottage on the beach.

The 10 hectares is covered with granite rock and a forest of pine, spruce, junipers, larch, alders and birch forest, with plenty of blueberries and wild mushrooms ready for picking from July to October. Swans, ducks birds, eagles, gulls, herons and storks fill the skies and water, while song birds, deer and foxes roam the forest. 


We could survive on fish if we went fishing every day, (perch, pike-perch, pike, sprats and flounders are the most common fish) but generally we buy fish from a local fisherman once a week. Shopping has to be done once a week too because shops are a boat ride and a 12 kilometre drive away.

All our homes also share a joint network of six bore-wells and waters pipes, as well as a sustainable soaking sewage system for grey water from dishwashing, showers, and washing machines. Toilets are either bio-composting, (you can grow tomatoes in the material after composting for 12 months), or ash-burning WCs, where the BS is heated until it turns into a dusty ash that is also a good fertiliser for the tomatoes!

The nice thing is that all six families have households with very different skills so we can do work together like painting the homes, ordinary carpentry and plumbing, basic home repairs, boat repairs, tree felling and cutting logs for firewood.

It is a great solution that cut costs substantially and is fun to do especially when some of us are great cooks. When a day’s work is completed a glass of beer or wine, and some tasty cooked dishes from one of us is very welcome to share.

In the above photo you can see the shared sauna cottage that had a facelift with new paint and renovated terrace. Demanding work like painting the outside walls, or renovating a wooden terrace is easier with many hands sharing the job together.

We call this with one simple word in Finnish – it’s “talkoot”, a word we have borrowed from the Swedes who say, “Talko” . It is a bit like community service without being forced to do it by some judge. Spreading the effort makes it easy for all – the work seldom last longer than a couple of days, and helping out your neighbours means that you can expect to have reciprocity when in need, within reason.

Naturally, we have those of us who have bad knees and backs, but there is little point in feeling bad about them. Not everyone feels active when talkoot calls. We all get the same aches and pains occasionally, and we would never let them drown if they cry for help while swimming – you never know when they come up with some grand idea to solve a shared problem!

This  “talkoot” concept is great and much better than normal “single-family-summer-cottage-life” where children and wives have to help dad, or vice versa. They all end up normally complaining about concentration-camp-like forced labour conditions when Dad wants the grass cut or when mother wants the terrace painted yet again…

In our “shared-second-home-solution” we have 10 hectares of land and six families who together can afford to buy four-wheel buggies and grass cutting tractors which are fun to ride. Normally there is a queue of teenagers and others ready to cut the grass!

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