Welcome to the Neighborhood
Our across-the-street neighbors, who lived in the house for 34 years, moved last week. It’s bittersweet in that they are changing states in order to be closer to their grandchildren, but it’s always sad to leave the place you’ve grown to love over so many years. This weekend, the new owners started to move in. I haven’t had the chance to knock on their door and introduce myself just yet, but I’ve started thinking about neighboring and how we can all get to know the people who live near us better.
I think it’s easy to see the advantages of knowing your neighbors. Not only are there friendships to be found and more easily built with people around you, there are some practical advantages. Sharing lawn equipment, asking for the proverbial cup of sugar, and having someone nearby keep an eye on your house while you’re away on vacation come quickly to mind. Neighbors are also people who can quickly come over and watch your kids when there is an emergency (or a not-so-emergency like “oh my goodness we’re out of milk”).
Knowing your neighbors also starts to build a new sense of pride in the neighborhood. It’s nicer to come home, everyone is a little more motivated to keep front yards maintained (I’m not saying perfectly manicured), and home values can go up.
Simple ways to get to know your neighbors
I’ve moved 17 times in my life. That isn’t a typo… 17 different houses, duplexes, dorms and apartments. Some in the same city as the previous home, others in completely different time zones. Over the course of these moves and having met countless new neighbors, I have a few ideas on how to reconnect with those who live nearest to us.
1. When a new neighbor moves in, go over and introduce yourself. I try to take a light smelling candle or a cute notepad and a pen (those things tend to be the last things unpacked and can be helpful getting rid of musty smells in rooms or writing down numbers for a new plumber or neighbor). With a daughter who had a food allergy for awhile, I tend to stay away from baked goods, but I know few people who turn down a good cookie. Also include a card with your name, address, phone number and email address. It’s a nice gesture to offer advice on a dry cleaner, mechanic or other services if your new neighbor is from out of town.
2. While you’re doing lawn work like shoveling the sidewalks covered in snow, or blowing fall leaves, the first consideration is to make sure you don’t put your cast off in your neighbors’ yard or drive way. But if you have some extra minutes, take it another step and shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk, too.
3. Invite a few folks over for drinks or a football game or the Winter Olympics (those are all about international unity, after all). There’s no reason this has to cost a lot of money or be a huge put out. Pop a few bags of popcorn and ice some sodas or an extra six pack and ask the neighbors to come for one half or a skiing round. Less than $10 and you get some time to get to know them (and find out if you cheer for the same team!).
4. When the weather gets better, take an evening walk around your own neighborhood, or spend some time sitting on your front porch or front lawn while others walk. Make eye contact, smile, say hello or even “your dog is so cute!” Sometimes a full conversation will spark, and other times it’s just nice to smile and enjoy the sunshine.
5. If there’s an issue, talk to your neighbor in person. The internet is full of snarky, passive aggressive and sometimes funny notes left between neighbors and apartment sharers, but notes aren’t the best way to build full relationships. There are always extenuating circumstances, and when there is real danger or law-breaking you should take appropriate steps, but if it’s just annoyances like noise, a dog barking, or general frustrations, it’s best to approach the neighbor personally.
The Art of Neighboring
Beehive Books hosts a monthly book club, and the book for December was The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak, Dave Runyon, and Randy Frazee. The book includes true life stories of neighborhoods to give examples of how to reach out and connect with your neighbors. Beehive still has a few copies available if you’re interested in one of your own.