It’s not enough to not be loud after 10pm. Having neighbors that you actually know and interact with has proven to lower blood pressure and increase overall quality of life. I haven’t done the research but I’ll put money on my expert sounding conclusion.
My own housing experience has revealed how much more comfortable I am in my neighborhood when I know that I can call Gayle after my car breaks down or ask Mitch to gather my mail when I’m away on vacation.
Truth be told, that’s not reality for many of us.
You exit your condo/apartment, take the stairs or the elevator to your car. You get in and drive off. Or you walk to the nearest form of public transit—bus, train, uber/lyft/taxi. You return to your condo/apartment, take the stairs or the elevator to your floor and enter your space. You’re safely tucked away in your home.
You press the button. Your garage door opens. You get into your car and drive off, pressing the button once again. In the evening, you repeat the process and drive in, pressing the button one last time. You’re safely tucked away in your home.
Whether or not either scenario exactly matches your own, it’s very possible that in your daily rhythms, you haven’t interacted with a single neighbor. It’s also likely that you and your neighbors barely know each other. It’s not that you’re being rude. It’s that you’re not around. You haven’t prioritized being a warm body that moves beyond the walls of your home and into the minds and hearts of the other warm bodies who exist next door. You haven’t been a neighbor. Neither have they.
It’s scary. Sometimes neighbors are scary! Or at least that’s how they appear. Probably because they haven’t had great neighbor experiences and, like you, they just want to be left alone after their crazy days. Their home, your home, is a sanctuary, an escape from the unpredictable and often stressful realities of all of life.
We need to become better neighbors, ones more present than State Farm.
So, here are 5 steps. You may read them and feel as if they’re actually 5 challenges. I hear you. This package is not an easy try-on when it isn’t how you’ve lived your life, ever, or when you’ve stopped at step 1. Grab a cozy beverage. Read on.
- Speak—say hello instead of passing by silently. Many neighbors are so focused on minding their own business that they end up becoming isolated. Silence has a way of saying “Stay away!” So lift your chin and speak. Super introverted? Raise your hand as a silent greeting. Start there and work your way up to a wave then a Hi then maybe a Hello (one syllable closer to glory).
- Hangout—nothing says I don’t want to be your neighbor like never being visible. Open your garage door while you’re working in there. Maybe even shift a project a few feet into your driveway. Vacuum out your car at home, for once, or sit on a blanket on your lawn (front, back, or side) and read a book. Just don’t hide out. If you live in an apartment building, door decorating for the season or getting your mail at a slower paced time helps you become accessible to others. Using the amenities is another option for visibility. And create a routine—you’ll need multiple trips to the tennis court.
- Care—for your property and theirs. You don’t have to aim for the coveted “best lawn” acknowledgment. You can still do the basics and your neighbors will feel at ease about you. Respecting property lines should be an obvious “to do” and the bonus will be letting them know when something isn’t looking right: perhaps a limb fell while they were out of town or you notice an odd wet patch so you let them know they may want to check their sprinkler system. No need to be a hands-on-hip-finger-wagger about it. A gentle and attitude-free “in case you haven’t noticed” will go a long way. And since you spend time outside, telling them won’t take forever. By now, you may even have their phone number. Text away.
- Welcome—moving usually doesn’t happen under the cover of night. Even if you’re not around when the truck shows up, any conscious adult can tell when someone is moving in. Ring the doorbell. Introduce yourself. If they aren’t at home when you stop by, drop off a card with your info. A $5 gift card to a local eatery makes your welcome a little more exciting but a hand written note will suffice.
- Invite—it’s bold and it’s beautiful. You obviously have a house/apartment/condo/townhome…you have a place to live. So let your neighbors in! You can start small with lemonade and cookies on the porch or shared balcony. You can dive in deep with dinner. It’s not as scary as you think it’ll be. Since this isn’t your first step, you’ll know before you ask if this neighbor is a shifty one. Don’t invite the shifty one. (I’m assuming you’re not a shifty one. Please don’t let me regret my assumption.)
Stay tuned. It’s one thing to read this; it’s another to try it on.
Comment below if you resonate with any of these 5. What would you add or tweak?