How to Get to Know Your Neighbors

by heather

SharingI know I’ve written in the past about how important it is that we know our neighbors. But, as a work-at-home writer, my natural tendency is to be a bit reclusive. So, making the effort to really get to know my neighbors is something I’ve always struggled with.

What were my “classic” excuses?

1. Oh, they’re probably really busy, I don’t want to bug them.

2. What if I don’t like them?

3. What if they think I’m annoying?

I used these excuses, and many more, instead of just walking over and introducing myself. And it’s not just me. Many experts and spiritual teachers are worried about how “exclusive” our society is becoming. We don’t even know the people next door, much less the people on the next block. Why?

Because often, we’re shuttered away indoors watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Net.

When I moved to Detroit, however, I resolved that I was not going to be the “reclusive writer” I’ve always been. I was going to get to know my neighbors, and start creating a community of people I could help, and who could help me in return.

Last week I moved into a rambling old house, which is divided into four spacious flats. Which means there are three other households in addition to mine, living in this gigantic old mansion.

And within a week, I already know my current neighbors better than I’ve ever known any neighbors in the past. Already we’re helping each other and sharing resources like food, advice and tools. And it’s been amazing.

Why We Need to Know Our Neighbors

When we know the people who live around us, we begin to develop community. We have people we can turn to for help, and who we can help in return. We can borrow tools, food and labor. What’s even better is that we can give these things in return. As the wisest always say, “We’re far stronger together than we are apart.”

Plus, it just feels good to be involved with others. But all too often, we throw up imaginary “roadblocks” that prevent us from getting to know people who are living within our immediate vicinity. Even when those people are living on the other side of the wall.

How to Get to Know Your Neighbors

There are many ways you can get to know your neighbors.

1. Just Walk Right Over and Introduce Yourself

Whether you’re the person moving in, or you’ve got a new family moving in next door, you need to take the initiative. This is hard…but I promise once you do it once, it gets easier. This is what I did when a new family moved next door at my old house. I baked them espresso cake, accompanied with a homemade jar of blueberry syrup, and walked over to introduce myself.

This move, my new neighbors were the ones who took the initiative. Several of them introduced themselves as I was moving in, and immediately gave me their cell phone numbers in case I needed help with anything. After spending the first night in our new place, I then woke up to a box of homemade muffins and cookies at my front door. Delight!

Every single one of my neighbors said the same thing to me: here, we watch each others’ back. In Detroit, this is a very good thing. I feel safer knowing my neighbors are looking out for me just as I’m now looking out for them.

A half-century ago, it was the social norm to give new neighbors the gift of food and an introduction. I think it’s a practice we need to revitalize. Having been both a giver and a receiver now, I can certainly say that introducing oneself, and giving food, is a wonderful way to cement new friendships.

2. Get Outside

So this isn’t going to happen much right now (as I write this, the wind is howling outside and it’s -8). But getting outside is a great way to meet your neighbors. Grow a garden in your front yard, read on your front porch, and play with your kids outside. The more your neighbors see you, the more comfortable they’ll feel talking with you.

3. Get Involved

There are plenty of ways you can get involved with your neighbors.

4. Get the Kids Involved

Kids can be great icebreakers for adult neighbors.

If you have kids, why not plan an end of the school year party, or a summer sleepover? Have an outdoor cookout and invite the parents as well.

You can also organize play dates, and set up a rotating shuttle service with other parents.

5. Get Some Exercise

Go out for a walk or run. Walk your dogs. Go for a bike ride.

The more you can get out of your house, the more you’re going to see your neighbors. Don’t make excuses…just do it. I promise the new relationships you’re going to make will be worth the minimal effort you’ll have to put into them.

Last Word…

I’d love to hear your take on this. Do you know your neighbors? If so, what did you do to break the ice and start a friendship with them?

If you don’t know your neighbors, what’s been holding you back?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Eva Collins December 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm

I found that putting free stuff out in the driveway, or a yard sale is great for meeting the neighbors. The other one that is fun for the entire family is a block party. Getting permission to close off the street just long enough to let the kids parade their decorated bikes and big wheels, while parents walk from house to house, with or without kids, and say hello. After the streets are opened, the barbaqueing begins at the end of the driveways. The lawn chairs and tables are out front and people wander around eating, drinking and being merry!

heidi December 16, 2010 at 7:47 pm

I moved to a town of ~400 and started to fix up a house. It’s amazing how people bring food and things when you show interest in gardening and giving new life to a neglected building! The dog walking routine also helps, as does porch-sitting in the evening.

Solar China December 17, 2010 at 1:00 am

Have an outdoor cookout and invite the parents as well.

Caitlin December 17, 2010 at 10:07 am

Several of my neighbors introduced themselves when I moved in, but maintaining a relationship has been difficult since I work 40 hours during the week and may or may not be home in my free time. I’ve definitely gotten to know the neighbor kids better than the adults since they are all outside more often.

Growing up my mom always took a pie or something to new neighbors and as I got older I’d introduce myself as a potential babysitter. We haven’t had many people moving in my neighborhood, but I think keeping that tradition is awesome. I’ve always known at least some of my neighbors, I can’t imagine being so disconnected.

annemarie thomas December 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm

when a new person or family moves into the neighborhood i give them my “list”.

over the years, through trial and error, i have compiled a list of the ‘best of’ in the area. it goes from services, e.g. plumber, restaurants, and other things.

people have found this helpful and even if they came from the next town, they don’t know our area.

booklet printing November 22, 2011 at 2:30 am

The lawn chairs and tables are out front and people wander around eating, drinking and being merry!

Mark December 4, 2012 at 1:59 am

Being neighborly can also be a burden. I have a neighbor that buds into affairs. He helps out one neighbor 24-7, but does nothing for other neighbors. He is out 24-7, makes noise and is just a pain. There is also something to be said for hello and goodby. Also being neighborly with one party and not another causes friction. Example…he cuts this ladies grass, a senior about three times a week. We have other seniors on the street and nothing. How do you think they feel. He plays favortism.

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