Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Eric McCarty.
My neighbor, JT, is seven feet tall. Or close to it.
His dog, Mia, is 10 inches high at the spikiest hair on her pointiest ear. Or close to it.
JT and I have been neighbors for almost two decades. Telephone-pole JT and Mia the Mini stroll the streets every day on his lunch break. Quite a pair. Mia takes 47 steps for every Ent-like JT stride.
A couple of years ago, I asked JT if I could borrow his ax and maul to split some wood. (See #4 below.) He said yes, but only as long as he could come help. He didn’t seem worried about me or his tools, rather, he seemed eager, like I’d asked to borrow his football and was going to have all the fun by myself.
As we stretched, he casually mentioned that he used to split wood for a living.
What? I stared at him, trying to figure this out.
We live in the city. JT has a cantaloupe-sized yip-yip dog with the same name as my daughter. He runs a dental instruments startup. He’s as skinny as a toothbrush. And he used to split wood for a living? I didn’t even know you could split wood for a living. Who is this guy I’ve been living next to all these years?
He took one swing and I was a believer.
We took turns. He gave me pointers. I employed previously-unknown-to-me muscles. He knocked the rust off his tools and his back. I consumed preventative ibuprofen. He lamented old joints. I ribbed him about his single mis-hit.
And, bonus, nobody went to the ER.
I wish I would have known years sooner that asking a favor of a neighbor would be the start of a good friendship.
Good Neighbors Are Active Neighbors
Oftentimes when we’re in need of some help, or a certain tool, we’ll call up a friend or family member who lives across town, or go to the store to buy something we might only need to use once. Instead of making these big, less effective efforts to fulfill a need, why not turn for help to the folks who live right next door?
One key aspect of manliness mentioned a few times here on AoM is developing your community and neighborhood. Marcus Brotherton mentions one of the elements involved in making this effort: “Being a good neighbor begins with a positive, proactive mindset.”
There’s a mentality in our culture that being a good neighbor means you don’t bother anyone who lives close to you. That’s passive neighboring, not good neighboring.
Being a good neighbor means you think ahead, initiate, and deepen relationships with those around you. It means you’re often the first one to knock on the front door. It means you’re proactive.
You might think that asking for favors would make you seem more annoying than neighborly, but consider what’s called the Benjamin Franklin Effect. When Franklin was a state legislator in Pennsylvania, there was a rival legislator that had badmouthed Franklin in a speech. Franklin understood that if he was to get anything done during his term, he’d have to work with this guy. To get in this grumpy gentleman’s good graces, Franklin did something counterintuitive — he asked his rival for a favor.
Franklin recounts what happened in his autobiography:
“Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favor of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I returned it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favor. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”
From this experience, Franklin coined the maxim: “He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
Now, your neighbors hopefully aren’t your rivals, but even if they are, asking for a favor (as long as it’s fairly easy to fulfill) will actually kindle some warmth and foster a sense of community. There’s this odd sense of “Oh, I helped this guy, I think I actually like him.”
It’s in that spirit that I offer the following:
8 Favors to Ask Your Neighbors
These favors are best asked for face-to-face. Favors are far more readily agreed to when there’s a human standing right in front of you; it’s too easy to offer a quick “No, we can’t” or even a non-answer when the communication is done digitally. That said, in some cases, digital communication is the only route available, and can be useful for casting a wider net.
It should be noted that even if you’ve not interacted with your neighbors much before, you can still ask for most of these things. They’re largely low-level, low-investment asks, and won’t be denied except by the grumpiest of people. If anything, they’ll probably just be pleasantly surprised at the new interaction, and hopefully, it’s the start of a good neighborly relationship.
1. “Can you keep an eye on things while we’re out of town?”
One of the most common neighborly favors to ask is for your place to be looked after while you’re out of town. Don’t necessarily ask them to do a bunch of chores (be respectful of their time and efforts), but it’s no problem to ask your neighbors to be aware of anything that might make the house look unoccupied — packages/newspapers on the front step, a sprinkler system gone awry, etc. They’re the first line of home security while you’re gone, and you can return the favor when they’re away.
If you’re pretty friendly and familiar with your neighbors, you can even ask for larger favors, though as part of “trade deals.” If you and your neighbor both cut your own grass, you might make this suggestion: “Hey, I hate coming home from vacation and having to mow the lawn right away. What would you think about cutting each other’s yards when we’re on vacation?” The same deal can be made for shoveling snow in the winter (though that is less predictable, and you’d have to know the deal wouldn’t necessarily be completely even).
You can also ask a neighbor for the same favor if it’s just you out of town, say on a business trip. If they know your wife has her hands full with kiddos and a full-time job to boot, they might be more likely to pull the garbage can up the driveaway, or even bring a meal over.
2. “Can you teach me how to . . .”
Chances are high that you have a handyman neighbor you always see working on the house, or a guy with a workshop in their garage who’s always tinkering on something. If you’re not that guy, and perhaps want to be, there’s no better way to start than by popping by on a weekend afternoon and asking if they can teach you something, or if you can just observe, or heck, if you can help out and learn something in the process. People love passing on their skills, and being able to show off a little bit too. Doing this will definitely build some camaraderie.
Get your kids involved too. Your son or daughter can pick up a new skill, and have someone in the neighborhood to talk with and learn from down the road. Not to mention, you’ll be training your offspring in the ways of good neighboring.
Related is asking a neighbor (with whom you already have an established relationship and a gauge of their willingness to assist with certain jobs) for help with some sort of DIY house project. Now, you don’t want to ask him to be your general contractor, but if you know he can install a light fixture or replace a fence post, ask for his help the next time you need some expertise. Be sure to reward with a cold beverage of his choice and/or snacks.
3. “Can you help me move some furniture?”
Once you’re out of college and established in life, you shouldn’t be asking people to help you move. But even Lou Ferrigno would need a hand moving just a single couch, dresser, or fridge. If it’s either too heavy for one man or simply impossible to get at the right angle on your own, ask for help. Your muscles (and knuckles) will thank you.
4. “Can I borrow that tool?”
A couple of months ago, I came across some free dirt. (We city dwellers don’t laugh at the thought of free dirt!) I had it dumped in my front yard and needed to move it to the back. I don’t have a wheelbarrow, so I asked if anyone had one I could borrow on our neighborhood website. Within an hour I had three offers. Some folks’ impulse might be to go out and buy a tool, but if it’s to be used only sparingly, is that really the best way to go?
Some guys have all the cool tools in their garage. Others don’t have the money, the room, or the inclination to stock their garage like Lowe’s. Nothing wrong with that. And most guys are glad to let someone else benefit from their investment. Be prepared to assume responsibility for the tool by replacing it if you break it.
Always return the tool in just as good (if not better) condition as you got it (clean, fueled up, etc.).
5. “Can you jump-start my car?”
Keeping a set of jumper cables around is a good idea. But you may not have them available or have another car close by to hook them to. Your neighbor will be happy to give the assist; what guy doesn’t feel better after helping someone get their engine running?
6. “Can I borrow your truck for a couple hours?”
One of my neighbors loves for people to use his old beater Nissan truck. He even made a copy of the key and gave it to a couple of us. Stellar guy. Your neighbor may have an older truck which he wouldn’t mind you using if you need it. This is another of those “leave it better than you found it” opportunities. Make it a point to send it back to him clean and with a full tank. I’ve used my neighbor’s truck so much that I’ve changed the oil for him a couple of times. Totally worth it.
7. “Can you hide my Christmas presents in your garage?”
I’m always worried that my wife and girls are going to find their gifts before the big day. The smaller ones are pretty easy to hide, but the bigger ones (leg lamp, bike, etc.) can be difficult to conceal. If you know your neighbor has some extra space, you might ask if you can stash some gifts at his place. If you know him well, you could even ask if you can have UPS deliver to his door instead of yours. Just make sure he knows what to expect and that it doesn’t become a hassle.
8. “Can I borrow a cup of sugar?”
One of the most classic of neighborly asks, it’s high time to bring back asking our neighbors for a cup of sugar or a tablespoon of butter. Rather than take 20 or 30 minutes to run to the store for a single forgotten ingredient, run next door and ask. That’s what neighbors are for, right?
The above favors are not only ones you should be willing to ask your neighbor, but opportunities to offer help when the situation is reversed. No matter who’s helping whom, make it a point to get to know your neighbors and get stuff done at the same time.
Who knows? You may be like me and live next door to Paul Bunyan without even knowing it.
Eric McCarty is a digital marketer and long-time fan of AoM. It was AoM which got him started down the path of good neighboring back in 2013. He runs a site dedicated to tips and inspiration to help us become better neighbors by knowing, caring for, and enjoying those who live around us at BetterNeighboring.com.