Until we become rich enough that we can buy up extra mansions just to create a buffer zone, having neighbors is a fact of life for all of us. The sooner we realize this, and that neighbors are people too, the better life goes for us.
If you’re getting ready to move into a place of your own, or you want to make the most of a fresh stab at life in a new area, it’s worth your while to brush up on your people skills and learn how to be a better neighbor. Here’s how.
1. Introduce Yourself. Stay Invested.
Most of us spend a huge portion of our lives in close proximity to others. When we don’t know the people around us very well, shouldn’t that feel — well, weird? If you’re moving, or are just settling in, then make a point to introduce yourself to as many of your neighbors as you can. Then, make it a point to get to know them. If they’re genuinely standoffish, you’ll know pretty quickly. But they might just be waiting for somebody else to make the first move. These people could become friends and allies, and who doesn’t need more of those?
This might sound a little forward, but get your neighbors to enter their numbers and addresses in your phone, too. Do this as soon as you can. You’ll pick up their names earlier on, plus have an instant “social network” in case there’s news in the neighborhood that’s worth sharing or you need somebody to step inside and water the ferns (or the cat) while you’re away.
2. Keep It to a Dull Roar
If you’re renting, you might share a wall or a roof with people you don’t know or know imperfectly. If you’re moving into your first house, you don’t have these things — but you still almost certainly have neighbors. And making the wrong kinds of noise at the wrong times of day or night is a quick way to foster resentment.
Consider which local noise ordinances — or just plain common sense — might apply to activities like hosting hollering partygoers, revving loud engines or mowing lawns in the dead of night (or after 10 pm) or the small hours of the morning (before 10 am). Even a spirited outdoor Socratic debate between friends can be disruptive during work nights and school nights, so be courteous to your neighbors and you can expect the same in return.
3. Work to Improve Collective Property Values
Speaking of mowing lawns: when was the last time you considered the curb appeal of your new digs? Having high property values in your community is a collective benefit as well as a collective responsibility. Make sure you’re pulling your weight and upholding your part of the social contract.
Nobody should be losing their heads over dandelions — partially because keeping your grass at a tasteful height takes care of that problem well enough. But you might want to consider spending a couple of weekends pressure-washing and re-painting your deck. Or your shutters and front door. Or your whole house, if it’s been a few years and things are looking faded or dingy.
If looking after any of the repetitive landscaping tasks, like mowing, takes more time and effort than you’re willing to spend, replace the grass over time with native trees and shrubs and look at other hardscaping and xeriscaping options.
4. Make Your Neighbors Feel Included
If you’re the type who likes to entertain groups of friends or throw get-togethers, help your neighbors feel included and make the community feel more closely-knit by welcoming them to your next scheduled festivities. Hopefully you’ve introduced yourself by now and you’ve struck up a few conversations here and there. This is a great way to keep yourselves present in each other’s lives, and it’ll avoid any awkward instances of neighbors having to listen to a good party going on just next door. If you’re looking to make some social magic happen, what better way than by introducing two different sets of friends and acquaintances?
5. Pull Your Weight With Shared Spaces
If there are common areas you share with your neighbors, or that you both have to navigate, such as parking areas, driveways and walkways, do your best to keep these areas neat and free from unsafe or inconvenient obstacles. Park respectfully and with smooth traffic flow in mind. Take your garbage cans and recycling bins inside reasonably quickly so they’re not a navigational hazard. If you clear your walkway on some random winter day and you still have some steam left, tackle your neighbor’s walkway next.
Property lines are shared spaces, too. So be mindful of things like pinecones and blown-down branches from your trees making their way onto your neighbor’s property. Is your fence sagging into their yard? Get it diagnosed by a professional. Are there other little things you can do to pull your weight or make shared or bordering spaces easier or more enjoyable to use?
6. Take Part in the Community
Finally, remember that you’re part of a larger community. If yours is like the thousands of other cities and boroughs in the U.S. or elsewhere, there are social and civic events happening regularly all over the area. See what’s going on around you — you never know when you’ll run into other folks from the community who are worth knowing, or who might be able to shed light on the history or the choicest gossip about your neighborhood or county. Don’t forget about doing your homework and then putting in an appearance at local elections, either.
If you follow these fundamentals, you should have no trouble at all ingratiating yourself with the neighbors. And for your trouble, you’ll have some prospective new friends and a new safety net watching your back.
Photo provided by the author.