I 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.
- Set a date to play poker or board games.
- Organize a community lending library.
- Organize a canning group for summertime canning.
- Start a community garden.
- Invite them over for coffee or evening drinks.
- Organize a neighborhood dinner swap.
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.
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?