Today I am sharing my top 10 tips for creating community in your neighborhood.
Deep down we all desire to know others and be known. For some it is easy to meet and talk to other people, but for others not so much. It has always been important to me to get to know my neighbors-those that live and do life closest to me.
I recently moved from a smaller town near Montgomery called Pike Road, AL. We lived in a small neighborhood designed for children and our homes were very close together. It was a little crazy at times but a wonderful place where our family thrived. When my husband was offered a new job in North Alabama, I knew it was the best thing for our family but was not happy to leave. Moving in the midst of a pandemic and social distancing would be tough. Below is my list of 10 things I have learned over the years.
- Get outside of your comfort zone and your house! It is easy to stay inside our home and take care of “us” but if we want to meet our neighbors we have to see them! The book The Turquoise Table shares how the author placed a picnic table in her front yard and painted it turquoise! For a little while each day, she sat outside and slowly began to meet her neighbors. We have an old vintage glider in front of our new house and I make a point to sit and speak to anyone that comes by. So sit outside. Maybe late afternoon when neighbors are out walking dogs? Smile and say hi when they come by. That is the start. Maybe have a bowl of water out if it is hot for their dogs to drink. My kids and I make sure to sit outside with a pitcher of cold CountryTime lemonade and cups to share with other kids outside. (This teaches them generosity and hospitality too!)
- Everybody plays or nobody plays. Teach kids to include everyone early on. It hurts to be excluded. We know that as adults! Practical application: if you are hosting something for some neighbors, extend invitations to everyone you practically can- even if you don’t know the person across the street-invite them. Knock on their door or write a note and leave it. To some people, simply being invited means the world. Be sure to invite them again even if they don’t come. Be sure to invite them even if you were excluded from something in the past too. Teach this to your kids. Even if a child does not want to play, they should have the option to play.
- If you see something that needs to be done and you are able to do it, just do it. Trash on the ground? Pick it up. A toy in your way? Move it to the side. You’ll be amazed what miraculous things happen when you take action with little things. Don’t be overly critical of your surroundings. Sure we have to see ugly stuff in our neighbors’ yards sometimes. Sometimes our yards get a little unruly. Show some grace. Perhaps they have not felt well physically or emotionally and can’t do it. Don’t complain unless it is detrimental to your health.
- Talk to your neighbors and not about your neighbors. Even if it is a tough conversation. Solve it right away if possible. Know that if you talk about your neighbors they will probably find out sometime. This is hard but if we have applied #3 with grace then this conversation should be a little easier. My father shared the story of a friend of his who lived next door to a very cranky and rude neighbor. No matter what, attempts at friendship or peace were never well-received. Then one day he was cleaning out his gutters. The cranky neighbor’s wife was outside and casually mentioned how her husband could never clean their gutters because of his fear of heights. Seeing the opportunity, my dad’s friend came down from his ladder, moved over to their house and cleaned out his cranky neighbor’s gutters. Yes, the crankiness disappeared and a friendship was created.
- Be generous. Hand out popsicles. Share a glass of sweet tea. Old toys, outgrown clothes, a cup of sugar can make someone’s day. In Karen Lehman’s book Listen, Love, Repeat she shares about what she calls “heart drops.” A heart drop is the intentional remembering of a need, like, or want that someone mentions in casual conversation and then acting on it. When my son was 5 we attended vacation bible school and one day he told his teacher in passing that he sure wished he could have pink hair. (We had been using wash out spray hair color for fun but didn’t have pink) She showed up the next day with a can of pink hair spray for him. I think of that heart drop every time I see her. Does your neighbor love homemade cookies? or a certain plant or flower? Make a note of their likes and then if you can act on it.
- Be grateful for what you have. Being content with your own surroundings and life makes it a lot easier to enjoy friendship with those around you. Don’t be overly critical of your own home by constantly comparing it to your neighbors. While this is a personal attitude you can only change yourself if you are content and grateful for what you have then you can easily see the needs of others around you and act on them. Need help feeling contentment where you are? Make a gratitude list. Every day, write down three or more things you are thankful for.
- Keep quiet and keep the peace. Don’t be too loud after hours and if you are planning a party that could go late. Stop by before and give your neighbors a heads up. Tell them you may be a little loud but will definitely be quiet after a certain time. (Maybe bring cookies or another small something as a preemptive sorry!)
- Help if you can. See an air-conditioning repair van at your neighbor’s home? Walk over an extra fan to keep them cool while it is being repaired. See a neighbor struggling to tackle a big project? See if you can help if only for an hour. Know that your neighbor recently lost a loved one? Invite them just to sit outside with you a while and share a sweet tea. You don’t have to be their counselor but you can ease their pain a bit by being present. If that is too difficult for you, write them a note that you are thinking about them.
- Welcome new neighbors and introduce yourself. Knock on their door, introduce yourself and tell them to join you when they see you outside. In today’s world, most won’t take the initiative to reach out themselves. You may feel silly doing this the first time but it gets easier. The first day we were at our new house a family down the street came by and brought us a welcome card and a homemade dish rag. It came in handy that first day too! Another neighbor stopped by with an empty cool whip tub filled with peanut butter fudge. She wrote her name and number in marker on top of the tub. It filled my heart with joy to know that there are people close by that I could reach out to if I needed something. Be the same for someone else.
- You may feel awkward. Anytime we engage in conversation with someone new there is a little uneasiness. We want to present our best self and may end up saying or doing something that feels awkward. Who cares? I promise that taking the initiative to invest in someone else is more memorable to your neighbor friend than anything silly you might have said or done. I am pretty sure they are feeling the exact same way also!!
Did you find that you are already doing some of these tips to create community in your neighborhood? What would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments!
If you would like to share family-friendly content with the Dogwood Journal, please visit our submissions page.