Posted by: Kristi
Last week Kelli did a post on 10 people in your life who may need some encouragement. One person she mentions in that list is your neighbor. This got me thinking of some more specific examples on how you can be intentional in encouraging your neighbors or building relationships with them. Sometimes I want to do something for my neighbors but I’m just not sure what to do when one can only take so many cookies. Hopefully this list gives you (and me!) some additional ideas!
1. Share your children (or yourself) with them.
No, I don’t mean expect to have a built in babysitter next door. If you have elderly neighbors, single neighbors, or just simply people who you can tell enjoy your kids, make it a point to visit with them with your kids. We have a nearby neighbor who loves talking with our almost 3 year old son. We specifically go out of our way to walk by her house if we know she’s outside because it is an easy way to encourage her. Although we haven’t done this yet, I know she would love it if we shared some of Levi’s art work with her as well.
Side note: This works for us because our son loves loves loves people. I am definitely not telling you to force your children into uncomfortable situations with people they don’t want to talk to. If your child is shy, sharing artwork from them may be a better route for you!
Also, it’s not just children who can brighten someone’s day. If you know someone lives alone and leads a quieter life, make yourself available for conversation.
2. Attend parties you have been invited to.
Some people love parties and some people really prefer to stay home and avoid the small-talk. If your neighbor casually invites you to something they are hosting, go! How many opportunities will you be given to be invited into your neighbor’s home? Take them when they’re given so you can learn more about them and let them know you care about important things in their lives. Be sure to bring a small gift for the occasion (when appropriate) with a card or a hostess gift. Some parties you may be invited to: graduation open houses, birthday parties, confirmation or other religious open houses, neighborhood gatherings, etc.
And, even if you aren’t invited to the party, give a simple gift or card if you know your neighbor is celebrating something.
3. Share your pool, playground, or other fun things.
We have been on the receiving end of this and let me tell you – jumping in the neighbor’s pool for 20 minutes after spending a hot summer morning in a stuffy house with no air conditioning and bored kids: Game. Changer. I’d like to think we are respectful neighbors in that even with an open invitation, we still always ask the neighbor before coming and rarely ask to come over if we know their kids are home or if it is prime swimming time.
I completely understand if you don’t want to give an open invitation to your neighbors to use your fun things, and I definitely don’t think you’re a bad person for not wanting to extend that (for a variety of reasons). However, if you see your neighbors out or think they may enjoy something of yours, invite them over or schedule a time for them to come over.
4. Try your best to have an open door policy.
I get it. I have two little boys scurrying around and the house is rarely in company status unless we do in fact have planned company coming over. However, if any of my neighbors stop by, I try to always invite them to come inside. And actually, this mentality has helped me keep my house cleaner (I don’t keep our house spotless but I try to keep it in a state where if a neighbor randomly stopped by, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to invite them in).
One time a neighbor kid was playing with some of our garage toys out front. His mom came over to get him back home and the boy randomly asked for a tour of our house. I remember trying to decide if I should brush off or honor his request. I decided that it was a good opportunity to invite the boy and his mom in and I gave them a tour of the main floor of the house. I’m pretty sure that is the only time that particular neighbor mom has been in our home.
5. Share your garden produce or extra food.
Again, we have been on the receiving end of this and it makes being far from family a bit easier. Sharing food, whether it be produce or party extras, reminds me of things that families do. One neighbor asked if we would be interested in garden produce and I gave her an honest answer that I would love it if they had any left over.
Another neighbor has given us cookies that were leftover from a party and even hamburger buns. I have to admit, the buns were a little weird, but we took them and froze them as she suggested (she insisted they had tons of leftovers from an open house and already had plenty in the freezer). It’s probably a good idea to know your neighbors before offering them buns, but think of your neighbors next time you end up overstocked after a party.
6. Attend sporting events or extra curricular activities of your neighbors or neighbor kids.
Ok this may sound a bit stalker-ish but it doesn’t have to be! If you know a neighbor kid attends a certain high school and you know he plays soccer, then just randomly go to a home game. You don’t have to sit with your neighbors or even let them know you’re going (depending on your relationship with them). However, if you see your neighbor kid score a goal, next time you see him, give him a little pat on the back and strike up a conversation regarding their activity.
7. Lend a helping hand.
This can be played out in a variety of ways. Lawn care. Snow removal. Watering plants. Jumping a car battery. Mail pick-up. Pet care. If you know your neighbors are leaving town, offer to help with some lawn maintenance or pet care. Or, within reason, jump in when you see a need. One time we were out of town and our neighbor watered our front flowers because they were dying. We felt bad asking ahead of time for plant care while we were gone, and then she did it anyway! I know it takes time and effort, but be the generous neighbor.
8. Invite them over.
I realize some of these ideas have been limiting based on your situation. You may not have a pool to offer and your neighbors may not have invited you to any parties. However, you can invite your neighbor over to your home.
This invite can be for dinner or even just for a simple dessert. Do you have a fire pit? Invite a couple different neighbors over to make s’mores. No fire pit? Cookies and ice-cream are rarely refused. If you know your neighbors aren’t dessert eaters yet you’re still not comfortable with a whole dinner of togetherness, invite them over on a weekend for an hors d’oeuvre. Want to go a little bigger? Invite several of your neighbors over for a hot dog party.
9. Take them food or small gifts.
Eating is common ground. People gather around food multiple times a day; it really is a connecting point. Take your neighbor a meal, a plate of cookies, or some fresh bread (dinner rolls or sweet bread) for a holiday or for no reason. Celebrate smaller holidays (Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, first day of Summer or Fall, etc) simply as a reason to give your neighbors something. Depending on how well you know your neighbors, if you see a small gift that reminds you of them, get it and include a card of why you are giving it to them.
We threw a mustache bash for our son’s first birthday party. A few months later, our neighbor (who at the time had never heard of a mustache party) gave us some coffee mugs she had found with mustaches on them. It was a really kind gesture for her to think of us and then follow through on something.
10. Send a Christmas card or if applicable, write a thank-you note.
If you are on the receiving end of any of the services mentioned above, be sure to write your neighbor a thank you note! Hopefully a thank you note is still the norm after receiving something, but I find that I often need a reminder when the “gift” wasn’t something tangible. Following up a verbal thank you with a handwritten thank you note will let your neighbor know how much you appreciate them and will most likely encourage them.
Also, even if you aren’t doing a fancy Christmas card with pictures or a letter, send a simple card, homemade or from the store. Be sure to include a line in there about letting you know if you can help out in any way.
A couple closing remarks: when we first moved into our neighborhood, we picked a couple evenings to walk to our nearby neighbors, ring the doorbell, and introduce ourselves. Although some of the conversations were slightly awkward, we didn’t regret it at all and feel that it avoided more awkward conversations that could happen down the road (..see what I did there 🙂 ). If someone new moves in by us, we try to reach out to them right away. I encourage you to do the same with your neighbors!
Also, try to find the line between being the friendly neighbor verses being the one people dodge. Simply to respect our neighbors’ privacy, time, and space, we don’t strike up a conversation every time we see them out. Be aware of when your neighbor seems chatty and when a simple wave is all that is needed.
Do you have any more ideas on how to build a relationship with or encourage your neighbors?