How to Be a Good Neighbor: 9 Old Fashioned Tips for Getting to Know the Folks Next Door

by A Manly Guest Contributor on November 13, 2013 · 31 comments

in Friendship, Relationships & Family

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by John Corcoran.

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

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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 

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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.

4. Bring an Unexpected Gift to a Neighbor

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There’s nothing quite like an unexpected gift. My wife loves baking cookies, so we’ll make some extra and drop them off at a neighbor’s house. It is a very simple gesture, but one which goes a long way.

We’ve gotten some incredible reactions out of neighbors over the years from these gifts. One time, a neighbor who had just been through a rough breakup almost started crying because she was so touched by the gesture. I wanted to say, “Hey, it’s just cookies,” but, wary of an elbow to my ribs courtesy of my wife, I restrained myself.

5. Invite a Neighbor for Drinks

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Breaking open a bottle of wine on a Friday after work is a nice way to keep relations friendly between neighbors. To keep the idea manageable, make it clear in your invitation that you’re inviting a neighbor over for just a drink and appetizers; that way, you don’t feel obligated to turn it into a full-fledged dinner party.

It’s easy to push back a more formal dinner engagement, because of the commitment and expectations involved. But you can have neighbors over for a casual drink with short notice and less preparation, and you will be less likely to continue pushing the idea off to some future date.

6. Organize a Play Date

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If you have children, a great way of getting to know your neighbors is by organizing a play date with kids in your neighborhood. You can either invite other families over to your home, or simply make a date to meet at the park.

My wife and I have struck up some great relationships with other parents in our neighborhood through setting up play dates with kids my son’s age. Better yet, once you start introducing these parents to other parents in the neighborhood, your network expands and the entire community benefits.

7. Go for a Walk

Brett and Kate recently wrote an epic post about the many virtues of walking, which is after all “the world’s most democratic activity – it is open to almost everyone.”

As they mentioned in that post, there is no better way of getting to know a place than by walking it. Yet for so many of us who live in automobile-centric communities, we aren’t very likely to actually walk up and down the streets surrounding our own neighborhood.

By getting out of the car and walking around our own neighborhood streets, we may meet new friends, discover nearby hiking paths, parks, or stores, or even stumble across new neighbors moving in.

8. Ask Your Neighbors Questions

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One very easy way to meet your neighbors is to simply knock on their door for the purpose of asking them a question. You could ask for a restaurant recommendation, or about local parks, or for directions. If you’ve just moved in, you could ask what day trash pickup is or how to dispose of lawn waste. The question is really just an opportunity to knock on someone’s door and open up a conversation.

A few weeks ago, a neighbor actually knocked on our door and asked for an egg. That’s right, one egg. She was baking cookies, was one egg short, and didn’t want to drive down to the store. I loved that she felt comfortable enough to ask us. We ended up chatting for about 10 or 15 minutes. The point is to make an effort to reach out and get to know your neighbors, even if the question is just a ruse to open up a conversation.

9. Provide a Small Service to your Neighbors

There are countless little obligations that come with daily domestic life. Things like cleaning out gutters or mowing the lawn, fixing a broken appliance or getting a toy down off the roof.

As a man, these things tend to fall on our shoulders. But that doesn’t mean we’re expert enough to handle all of them.

AoM contributor Darren Bush uses his garage/blacksmithing shop to sharpen neighbors’ lawnmower blades, which isn’t much trouble for him and generates interaction with his neighbors. It’s a really useful service for him to provide in his neighborhood.

You could be known as the neighbor who has a bandsaw for cutting wood, or who can help replace the garbage disposal when a misplaced spoon causes its premature demise. Whatever it is, try to become known as the go-to person in your neighborhood for a particular service, and you may find it a vehicle for meeting more neighbors than you would otherwise.

Reach Out to a Neighbor Today

My son Mason (on the right) and his new neighbor friends.

My son Mason (on the right) and his new neighbor friends.

As my son grows older, he won’t always be blissfully ignorant to the presence of neighborly discord on his own block. I can’t save our particular neighbors at the other end of the block from their bitter feud, but I am hopeful that if more neighbors were to engage in just a few of the ideas I mentioned above, then it would mean that type of discord could be a thing of the past. And that would be a good thing.

What tips do you have for getting to know more of your neighbors? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

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If you are interested in more tips about how to build stronger relationships with people in your own neighborhood, I have a new, free ebook for AoM readers called How to Create Your Personal Networking Plan which I think you’ll love.

John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer, and creator of SmartBusinessRevolution.com, where he writes about networking strategies such as how to network for business.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John S November 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I have lived in the same apartment for about four years, and given the nature of apartments I see neighbors come and go with frightening (and sometimes welcome) speed. This, to the point that the only neighbors I really know are the elderly couple next door and the young lady who is the live-in apartment manager- everyone else is pretty much window dressing. It’s just one of those places- much like the DMZ houses in the article- where everybody keeps to themselves and you rarely see anyone except in the morning heading to work or coming in from work. Even the pool- the largest in the area- is virtually empty during the summertime except for a few people baking themselves or the odd beer party, complete with people who may or may not even live there.

I want very much to move to a ‘normal’ place where ideas as illustrated in the article can be better implemented- around here, sadly, you’re as likely to get the police called on you (or an ambulance called FOR you) as you are any other reaction.

Mayberry, where art thou?

2 Dom the Antisocial November 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I love the way our neighborhood runs. It is quite similar to this man’s and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fortunately, our neighbors already had this friendly system going when we moved in, but if we should ever move again, I will certainly do my best to make it this way in our new neighborhood. Let’s just hope that the new hood isn’t a metaphorical DMZ ;)

3 J.T. November 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I think the single thing that makes our neighborhood so friendly is that people make a conscious effort to spend time outside of their houses. People have their morning coffee sitting on their stoops. Since nobody here has a real workshop, most guys on our block keep their tools in the garage and work in their driveways (a couple sawhorses are just as good as a workbench). Folks set up benches in their front yards and rest on them when they take a break from gardening.

It’s an urban area — I think people started hanging out outside to deter crime, but it’s turned into a really great thing. Kids can play on the sidewalk, neighbors can holler to each other if they need an extra set of hands on something, and we all know which kids and pets belong where if someone’s running loose.

Go sit on your front steps tomorrow night. You’ll be amazed at who you meet.

4 Doug November 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm

It’s great to meet new neighbors…

Yeah, just not like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPH3HSA_EfI

5 Phillip November 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Neighbor Jerry is a nice guy.

Usually we only communicate through our windshields with friendly waves as we are passing one another. When the snow is flying he is the one who plows me out.

I could have bought a mop instead of borrowing one from him last month, but I wanted to do it as an ice breaker. We chatted for about 15 minutes. Reminded me how kind, patient, and giving he is. Everyone should be so lucky to have such a good neighbor and in turn to be one.

6 David November 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm

It is great to see there are still neighborhoods like this. Thanks in large part to my wife, we have turned our black into the type of place where you know everyone’s name, car, child’s name, etc. We share food, tools, baby sitting, and what every else one of our neighbors may need. And it all started with us getting together on a random Wednesday evening for a few drinks.

Reading this, I would like to thank my wife for making our block the neighborhood you have written about.

7 Wade November 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Down here in “The Hollow” I put up a sign “I’m firing my smoker up if anyone wants any meat cooked”. I get a couple of handles of brown liquor and set out some lawn chairs. Heat a little peanut oil and fry a few chicken wings and boudin and you will have a crowd. When the meats done you wrap it in foil and they go home. If the police roll by, stop them and make them a quick plate and offer a smoke.

8 Jon November 13, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Start a garden, getting input from neighbors about what they like. They can help care if they want. Harvest parties, canning parties, drying, and pantry hosting can facilitate neighborly goodness. Not only that, but can also improve quality of life in other ways…resiliency, sustainability, diet, psychological well-being… Off-line solar and water catchment could even further the health and financial stability on your block. I believe you’re only as healthy as your neighbor. ….Aaaaaand GO! :)

9 Mason November 14, 2013 at 1:20 am

I was surprised organizing a poker / card night wasn’t on here. The ladies in my neighborhood hold cards every Wednesday and they still regularly have them every week as they have for years. I kinda feel left out, but I know that if I wanted to do the same thing it would probably be easy and fun to do.

10 Bryan November 14, 2013 at 6:20 am

When I lived at my parents’ house, we had some yahoos move in next door. We didn’t know they were yahoos when they moved in, but our first experience was trying to get them to quiet down at Midnight on a Friday night. (“It’s Friday night,” was their excuse.) We never had a good relationship with those neighbors, because of that first experience.
When I moved into my own house, one of my priorities was to introduce myself to my neighbors. It payed off. We had a neighbor whose daughter liked to invite the whole high school class over to party in her pool. A couple of times, this went on all night. Because we already had a relationship with them, I was able to address the situation in such a way that I appeared sympathetic, rather than antagonistic.No feelings were hurt, and we all got along the next day.

11 JEM November 14, 2013 at 6:57 am

Yeah, I live way out in the country. I have one neighbor. A sex offender, his wife and kids. They are always in a crisis, needing to borrow money (we don’t give them) or needing a ride because their vehicles are broke down or borrow tools (which he left out in the rain) or pet food or water because their water is turned off. It’s always something. How do I get a DMZ? It sounds nice…

12 Nick November 14, 2013 at 7:45 am

The village I grew up in was tightly knit. We didn’t even lock our doors; in fact, we knew it was a solicitor if someone rang our bell. My first few apartments were quite the same way, very neighborly. My first property was a condo, and no one socialized despite living so compacted. This year we bought a house in a small town and I couldn’t be happier; everyone seems to have good relationships with their neighbors and I continually have chats with mine. I never realized how awful it is to have poor neighborly relations until my condo experience.

13 Jonathan November 14, 2013 at 7:52 am

Thank you for this article. I’ve always thought that some of the downfall of American morality and culture can be laid at the feet of not knowing one’s neighbors.

When I was growing up, everyone knew everyone and looked out for each other (for the most part). I don’t know how many times a neighbor looked out for me and called me out if I was acting like an idiot. Not sure there’s much of that anymore.

14 John Weiss November 14, 2013 at 8:43 am

This is an article that brings up an important topic.

But I would caution you to not invite your neighbor over for a drink until you know a) he has a good character and b) he can hold his liquor.

I’ve been in the uncomfortable position of inviting someone I haven’t vetted before to have a drink. It was uncomfortable and he got way out of line. Which meant I had to bring him back in line. Which means we don’t talk anymore.

On that same token, I wouldn’t trust a guy fully if I haven’t seen him drink. If it turns him into an animal… perhaps he always was.

15 Andy November 14, 2013 at 8:49 am

The city of Golden, Colorado seriously encourages this kind of behavior. They ask that you get permits for the block party, but they’re pretty easy and they’ll come block off traffic and give you alcohol permits and all that for just a few signatures. A buddy told me that you can apply for food, and they’ll actually give you $200 for supplies for the block party (haven’t verified that though).

I like the idea of putting up a sign when you’re cooking. Maybe this weekend I’ll roll the smoker out to the driveway and see if I can get some people to come over. If you can’t make friends with homebrew, homemade sausages and jerky, and a big brisket slow smoking, well then I just don’t know what to say. Maybe I can get the neighbor with the dog that won’t shut up to come over and I can nicely remind him to bring the dog inside at night…

16 Watts November 14, 2013 at 9:50 am

Great article, as someone who used to move fairly often for work, I can personally vouch for several of these.

I love that in the related posts section is the article for how to break down doors…

17 Brian B November 14, 2013 at 10:01 am

I live in a small community where houses have a bit of spacing between them. Though when the neighbors moved in across the street, I introduced myself and family to them. We still talk once in a while and share a drink or two.

Now, my children are pretty well behaved, but I let him know if he saw any shennigans from them that he should feel free to let me know as I can’t possibly watch them at all times.

He valued that suggestion and we talked a bit about raising families, etc. It has lead to having a good friend (with a bit more life experience than my own).

18 Denise November 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

I can’t stress #9 enough. I don’t offer a “service” to my neighborhood, but if I am raking leaves or shoveling snow, I always take care of my neighbors’ too. They really seem to appreciate it, and it’s nice to do.

19 John Corcoran November 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

@JEM: That sounds unfortunate. Neighbors definitely come in all different stripes, and sometimes there will be people who you don’t want to know. But I think my larger point in the article was to get to know neighbors who you don’t already know. Of course, just getting to know them doesn’t guarantee your neighbors won’t be sex offenders…

@Nick – it’s interesting that your condo was not very social. Usually if you have property owners (vs. renters), it increases engagement and people become more “invested” in their community, meaning they get to know their neighbors more.

@Andy – I need to move to Golden! What a cool city. I wish more cities would do that.

@John Weiss – I think that’s a good point. But you never know if someone can handle their liquor until you’ve had a drink with them.

@Denise – that’s really great that you help your neighbors with those things. Often, if you’re doing it already, it takes little extra effort to cover a neighbor as well.

20 Reg A. Klubeck November 14, 2013 at 11:39 am

LOVE the photos, especially the Play Date!

21 Claude November 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm

#9 is the easiest one for me. If you keep your eyes open its pretty easy to catch your neighbors in situations where they could us a hand.

22 Jeff November 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

My wife and I are looking for a new home so I have bookmarked this article. I think the major reason we haven’t found the right house yet is that we are both sad to leave our neighbourhood. On one side there is a Dad-like man who is constantly trying to lend me tools, and on the other is a husband and wife the same age as us. They have a son 3 months younger than ours and a daughter on the way who will be less than a year younger than our daughter. I have actually heard joggers talking to each other about choosing their route because they love the nieghbourly feel of our street. If our family wasn’t growing we’d never leave our house. I will definitely be trying these. Before this house I lived in a DMZ condo and do not want to live through that again.

23 Julie November 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm

My neighbor and I work in the yard in the evening, so it’s a perfect time to walk over and chat. Sometimes we walk the dogs afterwards. I’ve met other neighbors through their dogs.

24 Kim November 15, 2013 at 8:40 am

I’ve recently moved into a new neighborhood-6 houses on a cul de sac-and was hoping for some Leave It to Beaver kind of neighbors but alas, nothing. No one has made an effort to introduce themselves (except me) and one man doesn’t even wave back when you wave at him in passing. But the walking does really work-people on other streets are much nicer than the old farts I’m surrounded by.

25 Townie November 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

You have described life in Ave Maria, Florida. This is how we live.

26 Joey E November 16, 2013 at 5:48 am

One of the best things I’ve learned is ask to borrow things (an egg, tools, etc). It’s humbling, but we have had to recognize that if someone wanted to borrow something from us, we’d let them do it no problem. By borrowing something, we give them the honor of blessing us, and it breaks down barriers.

27 Tim November 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I’m glad to see this article and people becoming interested in reaching out to form a “neighborhood”. I’m not sure how helpful some of these tips will be for the Average Joe, however. You don’t know your neighbors, so you organize a block party out of the blue? Not especially realistic, in my opinion. I did appreciate the last two tips, and I plan to strike up a conversation with the new couple next door at the first opportunity. For someone like me, with a borderline social phobia, it’s really difficult, but as I found when I summoned the cojones to simply walk up to my other neighbor last year and introduce myself, well worth the effort. My neighbor had never met the family who lived in my house previously, even though they had lived there for almost ten years!

28 Jet November 20, 2013 at 7:38 am

I appreciate the sentiment behind this article, but if I may, I’d like to be a Debbie Downer for sec. I live in a big city and everyone doesn’t always have the most pure intentions. Be careful who you invite into you home. Remember, you don’t know these people. Allowing them access to you house and family can be a recipe for disaster. Some people prey on the good nature of others and use it to victimize them later. If something seems “off” about a particular neighbor, trust you lizard brain and don’t invite them into you home. Screw being polite…

29 Cynthia November 28, 2013 at 9:58 am

All of us neighbors in our cul-de-sac celebrate with a block party the Saturday before July 4th. There is a “Firecracker Festival” sponsored by our city that takes place in a local park. We can see the fireworks from our neighborhood.
A few of us neighbors have also attended trivia nights together as a group.

30 Yana December 4, 2013 at 12:22 am

I liked you tips! They are really great and can help to become a very good neighbor! I think there is no point to explain why it is so important to have good neighbors and have good relations with them. I always use the tip “Bring an Unexpected Gift to a Neighbor”! It can be some cake, cookies, sweets that I make at home. You know, it’s a great way to make someone’s day brighter! We should also consider our neighbors’ lifestyle. For example, what they do for a living, what their schedules might be like, and so on. Sometimes, we can remedy problems before they even start if we know everything beforehand. Oh, also we should keep our dogs if there re some on a leash if they have a habit of running rampant on our neighbors’ lawns, especially if they have a cat or a dog of their own, and make sure to clean up after it. It’s very important, as there are lots of quarrels between neighbors about the pets we keep. Communicate with your neighbor! It’s the best way to know each other better. Always be nice and polite to your new neighbors. When someone new is moving next to you, welcome them, they will be thankful to you for a cake you have prepared.

31 laura m. March 8, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Most people are working or glued to the computers at home. We live in a city subdivision and many work shift work. Few interact, except retirees as we walk by their yard if they are out in front. Younger folks don’t have any time to socialize or go to any civic or church activities now days as some have long commutes and weekends there is yard and house work and shopping. Most women work and they socialize with co workers during the week.

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