A Guide to Being a Good Neighbor

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neighborhood illustration

Don’t know your neighbors? Now is the time to learn who they are and possibly make a new friend. Here’s how to come out of your shell and be a good neighbor.

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A few years ago, we made a big move — from the suburbs right on the edge of the city to a house in the middle of the woods. It was a huge adjustment, but a good one. We now had a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of town, a place where we rarely heard the sound of a vehicle. We were far away from the usual shops, but we had a wealth of farms around us with all the fresh food we could want. We were miles away from the rest of the world.

But that meant that we were also far away from neighbors, both in the physical and emotional sense. We were in an entirely new place, and while we are the kind of family that is content to keep to ourselves, it was definitely a big change to not see the usual friendly, smiling faces. Within just a matter of weeks we began to feel rather isolated in our new surroundings.

That was until two months ago, when an old tree came crashing down.

Broken fences make good neighbors

Many years prior to our purchase of this place, the former owners had erected a fence right along the property line. That fence was meant to make it clear to hunters where the game lands ended and where residential property began. It served its purpose well in that no hunters had ever strayed onto our private land.

When the tree came down, it demolished the a huge portion of the fence. Actually, demolished is not a word strong enough to describe that the tree actually did — the fence exploded, splintered, and practically evaporated under the weight of that enormous trunk. We heard the tell-tale sound: The cracks, the pops, the roar, and the massive thump that shook the whole house. The neighbor on the other side of that fence heard it, too.

two kids neighbors

We slowly walked toward the fence — looking down to avoid the debris, looking up to be wary of other branches that might have been damaged during the tree’s fall — and then saw our neighbor doing the same. We met each other at the fence and stood for a moment in silence, awed by the damage. Then he held out his hand and gave a big smile as he introduced himself.

An hour later we had a plan for how to remove the tree (he would take care of that in exchange for the firewood) and replacing the fence (that would be our job). We had also exchanged phone numbers, learned about each other and made plans to talk again very soon.

How to be more neighborly

Since that day at the fence, we have gained a new friend. We have also started reaching out to make more. Though this area is rather isolated, there are ways the community comes together. Here are a few places where we have met the neighbors and made new friends:

  1. Community events. The local firehouse has a monthly breakfast that seems to bring out the whole county. It’s a cozy place with little elbow room, so you have to say hello to your neighbors. School festivals are open to all, not just to parents. Same with the plays, musicals and other events that the local kids practice so hard to bring to the public. The key is to always say hello to the person next to you.
  2. Yard sales. When we see a yard sale sign, we stop. It’s not just because we love yard sales (oh, we do!). It’s because we can walk up to the person in charge, shake their hand, and say “We live right up there, just beyond the ridge. I guess that makes us neighbors!” And so another conversation is sparked and another connection is made.
  3. Offer to help. An elderly neighbor might welcome a strong partner to help shovel snow, or a young couple might really like having inside information on where to find the best local getaways. Even if they refuse your help, you have introduced yourself and made a good impression. They will remember you, and when they need a helping hand, they just might reach out.
  4. Simply wave. It sounds like a very elementary thing, but people still respond to friendly overtures that don’t take a bit of time. As you drive by, cast a friendly wave toward someone standing at their mailbox. Over time, you will come to recognize your neighbors, and they will recognize you. Eventually you can slow down and say hello, and who knows? That conversation could turn into a neighborly friendship.

The world seems to get bigger every day. We are so easily connected to those who are half a world away, thanks to the internet — but what about those who are literally right down the street? Resolve to make this year the one when you connect with those near you.

 

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.