Do you know your neighbors? In our hurried and often detached society, having neighbors as friends and part of your support system is not as common as it used to be.
One of my friends has a theory about why neighbors don’t know each other well. She believes you can attribute the demise of the neighborly bond to the automated garage door. You may often get home and close your garage without stepping foot in front of your home. You then may isolate yourself in your home and fenced-in yards, which doesn’t allow you to get to know the folks around you.
Whether it’s a garage door, a large-sized lot, busy lives, or a fence keeping you from getting to know your neighbors, you may want to break down those barriers in order to create a more nurturing neighborhood. Not only will the relationships with your neighbors benefit you when you’re in a bind, but they may make you happier.
I’m lucky because my neighbors and I are close friends. Whether feeding my dog, watching my daughter, or sharing a celebratory toast, I can count on them. Yet our neighborhood wasn’t always like this, and it took effort to connect with each other.
Here are some steps you can take to cultivate a connected neighborhood:
1. Create a Contact List
Who are the people in your neighborhood?
Take the initiative to create a document with your neighbors’ names, phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, and email addresses. Don’t forget to include pets’ names, as well.
It may be helpful to create a spreadsheet through Google and share it with your neighbors. Although it takes a lot of work upfront, you will be happy to have everyone’s information in one spot.
Some of your neighbors might want to keep a low profile, and that’s understandable. Make sure no one feels pressured to be added to the spreadsheet.
2. Throw a Shin-Dig
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to be surrounded by young, fun, and caring people in my neighborhood. We ate dinners together, played beach volleyball on the weekends, and even took a road trip to Yosemite National Park.
We became instant friends once we met, yet these neighbors had been living next door to me for months before I met them. Thankfully, my 80-year-old neighbor threw a neighborhood party for her birthday, and that’s where we hit it off.
Consider inviting your neighbors to a casual gathering at your house. There’s no need to roll out the red carpet for this party. Keep it simple by asking each person to bring a dish to share, and see what happens.
Side note: The party is a great time to start compiling information for your neighborhood contact information spreadsheet.
3. Celebrate Birthdays
I love delighting my neighbors by celebrating their birthdays. I hang a birthday banner in front of the birthday person’s house before heading to work in the morning.
You may want to send an email or text to your neighbors and let them know about the birthday. This gives everyone the chance to send well wishes or stop by with a small gift.
Trust me, making this small effort to honor birthdays will make you as happy as it makes them.
4. Ask for and Offer Help
It’s not always easy to ask for or offer help. In fact, it’s such a common issue that scientists have created a Fear of Compassion Scale. Research indicates that a fear of compassion may be linked to depression, so it’s wise to pay attention to that fear and see if you can begin to cultivate compassion for yourself and others.
Not only will you benefit from asking for help, but you may also feel great offering to help your neighbors. Studies show that compassion for others provides physical and emotional benefits.
You can start small with your compassionate acts. If you find out your neighbors are leaving town for the weekend, offer to water the plants or collect their mail. By helping in simple ways, you are building trust and creating a compassionate neighborhood.
5. Encourage Silliness
One of my friends is over-the-moon about her suburban Chicago neighborhood, and it’s not because of the beautiful homes or well-tended yards. She loves the people, and she appreciates that they can laugh together.
In my friend’s neighborhood, a roaming, goofy-looking gnome statue makes its way from yard to yard. Whoever has the statue is tasked with creatively placing it in another neighbor’s yard. The gnome may be sitting atop a window box and peering through a window, or it’s greeting the postman at the mailbox. Sometimes you may find him wearing the hat of a local sports team. The gnome’s adventures keep the neighbors smiling and looking forward to its next stop.
Robert Frost wrote in his well-known poem, “The Mending Wall” the following: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Perhaps he’s right, but don’t let that fence keep you from interacting with people who may greatly enhance your life.