A new family moved in next door to me a few weeks ago, but to my 3-year-old son, you would have thought it was the circus that arrived, elephants and all, with how excited he was. The reality was much more mundane. Moving in were two parents, a dog, and more importantly, two boys right around my son’s age. My son, Mason, was ecstatic.
Now, every chance he gets, Mason bolts out our front door and runs to the neighbors’ house to play with his new friends.
I’ve spent so much time with my son hanging out at my new neighbors’ house, I think they’re going to start charging me rent. I feel like the neighbor in a 60s sitcom who always seems to be hanging out and has nowhere to go.
When I am finally able to break Mason away for dinner or naptime, it is usually only possible by hoisting him in the air and clutching him with all my strength as he kicks and screams. If you witnessed the scene as you happened to be driving by, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a kidnapping unfold.
The amazing thing is that the new boys’ presence has transformed the neighborhood. Our new neighbors are constantly out in front of their house, riding bikes or scooters, or just playing, and their activity has drawn out other kids from down the block. We’ve spent numerous afternoons out in the street, with kids riding bikes and moms and dads chatting with one another. It’s the kind of carefree kid-friendly atmosphere which you frequently see depicted in the movies, yet too often proves elusive in real life.
On our block, you don’t need to look far to witness what happens when neighbor relationships take a very different turn; at the other end of our street, it’s a whole other story. Two long-time homeowners have had a simmering feud, the origins of which no one can recall. They’ve fought over everything — their property line, the fence between their properties, who can park where…you name it.
These two homes always have their blinds shut, their windows and doors closed, and the occupants rarely come out. That end of the block is like the suburban equivalent of Korea’s DMZ. There’s no life, no activity, no joy.
Unfortunately, this type of situation is more common than the friendly community that has blossomed on my end of the street. Americans simply don’t know their neighbors like they used to, and are far less likely to socialize with those in their own neighborhood. A recent survey reported that most Americans are more likely to be able to identify their neighbors’ cars than know their neighbors’ first names.
A few months ago, Marcus shared some great thoughts on the importance of being neighborly.If his post inspired you to be a better neighbor, but you’re not sure how to start, below I offer nine old fashioned and practical tips for getting to know more of your neighbors. These are small steps anyone can take to make some friends and become a greater part of his own neighborhood.
1. Organize a Block Party or Potluck
Some neighborhoods have an annual tradition of throwing a block party once a year. These events are a great way to introduce yourself to neighbors you’ve never met and to reconnect with neighbors you rarely see.
If your neighborhood doesn’t have a tradition of an annual block party, then you can be the catalyst. It doesn’t need to be all that hard. I suggest working with two or three of your neighbors to ensure all of the work doesn’t fall on your shoulders and to divvy up responsibilities for bringing food and getting the word out.
A few weeks after our new neighbors moved in, we did exactly that – we had a block party. I got to meet a number of other dads I hadn’t met before, and it was a wonderful bonding experience.
2. Hold a Garage Sale
You’re probably wondering: how does selling off my crap help me to meet my neighbors?
Garage sales are, by their very nature, local. They tend to attract people from the immediate vicinity. For that reason, garage sales are a great excuse for talking to your neighbors not just from your own block, but also from the surrounding area.
A number of years ago, I had a garage sale right before I was about to move out of a neighborhood. The experience made me wish I had done the garage sale the week we moved in. Dozens of neighbors from the surrounding area stopped by. I met people who had lived down the block from me for years but who I had never met before.
3. Coordinate a Running Group, Cycling Club, or Exercise Group
Exercise doesn’t need to be a chore, and it doesn’t need to be a solitary pursuit. You can use exercising as an opportunity to meet new people.
If you organize a group of friends or neighbors to go on regular runs, bike rides, or engage in some other form of exercise, you’ll make friends in your area and your friends will help to keep you accountable for your health goals.