Once, when our son was a newborn, a couple of our neighbors mowed our lawn when they noticed it had gotten quite long. I was home with our son during the day, but my husband was back to work and regularly gone 12+ hours a day, so cutting the grass just wasn’t high on our list of priorities, though we had definitely realized it was growing past “acceptable” length.

The neighbors closest to our house have adult children, but they obviously remember what it was like to be completely overwhelmed with that first new baby, so when they saw us struggling, they stepped in.

Unassuming, the first neighbor walked across the street to make sure that he would not offend us by presuming that we wanted help, but I was so thankful for it. He began, and soon, another neighbor emerged from his home and helped him finish the job. While our front yard doesn’t have a huge grassy area, we do have quite a few raised beds, so the work takes quite a bit longer because of all the edging required than would a typical front lawn. They finished up, and went home.

Perhaps it was a little thing, and not a huge expenditure of time and energy, but it meant so much to us as new, overwhelmed parents. I managed to bake them a plate of cookies as a small token of my gratitude, but even four years later, I doubt they realize how much that small gesture meant to me.

He was totally adorable, and I was totally a mess.

Not all neighborhoods are alike

The neighborhood we moved from previously was just twenty minutes away, but worlds apart in terms of community. We lived there just a year, but we got to know no one during that time. Sure, we could recognize a few faces and would wave as we passed, but that was about it. We knew a couple names, but not a single phone number. Certainly no one would have come and mown our lawn; likely they wouldn’t even have noticed the help was needed.

The neighborhood we lived in wasn’t bad, by any means, but it could hardly be called much more than simply a street with houses on it; it was definitely not a community in the true sense of the word. We lived there, but singly. We never had any kind of interaction with the people who lived near us beyond what we would experience walking down a random but familiar street.

Then again, we didn’t try. The community didn’t exist, and we didn’t make any real effort to foster it. To be perfectly honest, the idea that the groups of strangers who lived around us would be anything beyond pleasant acquaintances wasn’t something we considered. We had no plans to live there long term (it was simply a stepping stone on the way to buying our own home), but I don’t know that our expectations would have changed if we did have long term plans to stay in that home.

Finding Our Forever Home

We moved into our current home seven and a half years ago, even then with the expectation that it was where we would raise our family for the long term. We had no considerations of the move being a stepping stone to a better, larger, home, but instead that this was the place we wanted to put down deep roots.

Baby blueberry plants! They are so much bigger now.

Perhaps our response to the neighborhood would have been different had we not expected to stay very long, but I don’t think so. The tradition of a connected community had been in place for decades before we moved in; we simply continued an idea that already solidly existed. We hear stories about snow days when they set up hot chocolate bars and bonfires and hung out for hours while the kids sledded (the goal is this year to pick that back up). Kids biking in circles around the cul de sac like they do now. In general, life was lived outside and together much of the time.

Now that we know what a fabulous neighborhood looks like and what it takes to foster one, I expect we would encourage it even in a different location, but we first had to experience to know what we’d been missing before we moved in.

The neighborhood I grew up in had some connectedness with a few of the surrounding neighbors, but it was still very much a street of homes where some people knew each other. That was my frame of reference before we moved into this current neighborhood, and what it would have continued to be had things already been in place to a degree.

What Our Neighborhood Really Looks Like

We bought our home from a neighbor who still lives on our street, and we were first introduced to the people who lived in the other homes at the top of the cul de sac through them. Beyond that, we slowly met the rest of our neighbors, beginning with one who knows pretty much everyone within a half mile radius.

This “meeting” though extended beyond a simple hello and introduction, and I think much of that is due to the fact that many of them have lived on our street for a good twenty years or more. They raised their families there and then have continued to stay. Some have even told me they meant to stay, but never got around to leaving. I can absolutely understand the draw of the special neighborhood connection as an induction to put down deeper roots than you’d meant to. Once you experience the close knit community, it has to be hard to leave, because you know you won’t find it elsewhere. And that longevity fosters more connectivity as well.

I’ve written about our neighborhood off and on with this blog since I first started it, but it’s not hard to come up with things to say because it’s a regular occurrence to have something be worth a mention in my Friday’s Frugal Five.

Random leftovers dinner together after Thanksgiving

Small Town Feel

In some ways, our neighborhood feels like a small town, even though we’re nestled in a city of 80,000 people and just outside of the outskirts of Seattle. If I need to borrow a cup of sugar, I really can call on a neighbor, and as long as they have some, I know they will be more than willing to share. Or, as the case may be, a battery for our thermostat and to send up their husband to help me take a look at the underlying problem.

Our homes are generally not huge or glamorous, though plenty nice enough, and during any weather that isn’t a downpour people can be seen outside in their front yards. I found that growing a garden in our front yard (initially due to lack of sunlight in the back yard) was probably the best thing I could have done to continue that connection.

Since I spend a considerable time out front, and so do my other neighbors, we end up chatting quite often out in the middle of the street about anything and everything. It’s amazing how much you can get to know and be comfortable around another person if you just have regular, casual conversations with them.

These short chats also come out of the fact that the grocery store and a small shopping center are just a few blocks away; when you walk to the store often enough, you’re again passing by your neighbors and more likely to pause for a short conversation. These small touches do add up to a real rapport when they happen time and time again.

None of this was a quick process, but a slow burn over the years since we moved into our home. We may have all started out as friendly acquaintances, but occasional neighborhood gatherings and lots of short conversations while walking by has grown a number of those into true friendships.

And beyond friendship, living within our neighborhood means we’re more likely to spend an evening over dinner in someone’s home, staying out of our cars, and living more slowly and sustainably than if we are constantly looking outward. If we all lived more locally, we would all live more frugal, sustainable lives. I love a weekend adventure as much as the next person, but there’s a lot to be said about staying local much of the time.

Gingerbread house decorating fun

The downside Of neighborliness

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one real downside of this neighborhood community that exists where we live, because everything is of course not all sunshine and rainbows. Just like any small town, everyone knows each other’s business, and the downsides that come along with that exist in our neighborhood as well. We get all the great bits, but also a little of the drama as well. Nothing overwhelming, but it does exist.

Beyond that, there are some days where even I, as an extreme extrovert, want to take a walk where I will be left alone and I don’t have to talk to anyone. If the day is reasonably nice, though, the odds are good that someone will be outside in the two blocks it takes me to walk to the stop sign and across the main street. All that takes though is a pair of headphones, and I can be on my way, though it is obviously not anonymous in the same way you’d be in a big city.

The Unparalleled Value Of Fabulous Neighbors

I don’t know why we lucked out and landed in the fabulous neighborhood we did, but of all the homes we looked at during our search, I doubt another one was in a community that compares to the one we have. Impromptu gatherings are common, as are the occasional more planned out block parties and dinners. We step up to watch each other’s pets when we go out of town and our children when we have a last minute need. Beyond a cup of sugar, we share weed pullers and car jacks (we all have our own lawn mowers, but there’s a neighbor who works on them as his retirement side project).

While all these things can exist in a larger community, and we have plenty of friends who don’t live in our neighborhood, there’s no substitute for being able to walk down the street instead of getting in your car. We can have drinks together on a Tuesday night, and then simply take the two minute walk home and to bed. The relationships are real, and they are easy. In a world where we are all overbooked and overburdened, there is a simplicity of looking to the people who already surround you.

Camping trip with other neighbors

How do you foster a community?

Now that we’ve lived here for the better part of a decade, I have some answers here, but some of it still feels like magic. Spending time in your front yard is great, but what if no one else does? At some point, it initially takes two families to start the momentum. As I’ve seen, having that in place when new people move in really helps to show that as something that’s normal and just makes sense.

Go for walks. Garden in your front yard. Say hello when you pass a neighbor. Introduce yourself. In a world where we are increasingly connected electronically, we really need to find ways to connect in real life. And I can’t think of a better place to start than simply looking next door.

Do you live in a neighborhood with real community? Do you wish you did?

49 thoughts on “The Unparalleled Value Of Fabulous Neighbors

  1. You guys are really lucky. We live in downtown Portland and people mostly keep to themselves. Previously, we lived in the suburb and it was the same. We’d love to live in a neighborhood with a real community someday. That’s hard to find these days, IMO.

    1. Yeah, we totally lucked out and stumbled into ours. I do sometimes wonder how successful we would be in recreating even a bit of it in a new place. Starting from scratch seems like it would be REALLY hard.

  2. We are notorious for having bad neighbors above/below us over the past few years. I grew up in a really friendly neighborhood and it has been weird getting used to not having that community feel, but hopefully we’ll find that again when we buy a house!

  3. This is something I would love to happen in the future for me. I think it’s important and living in a great community can make life so much easier. I hope to be able to start (or maintain if it’s already there) wherever I end up!

    I do think it may be slightly easier to have a strong community in the suburbs, as it just does not seem the same in the city where everyone is in apartments and people come and go quite often.

    1. Yeah, I think it’s probably easier in a single family home (or perhaps a condo with an HOA that forces at least a little bit of interaction). Having a space outside to interact casually is a big deal.

  4. Good neighbors are true blessings! Of course, we have the VERY BEST neighbors – my own parents. 🙂 We don’t know a lot of our other neighbors but the few that we have gotten to know are really great. We all hand deliver cards and baked goods to one another during the holidays, and we help each other shovel driveways after big snowfalls.

    1. I am definitely jealous of how close you live to your parents! We live close enough compared to most, but what I’d give for it to be a twenty minute walk instead of a twenty minute drive or more…

  5. This is a #lifegoal to live in a real community. Where I am located we have larger lots, narrow roads that don’t foster bike riding/walking because of no shoulders and zero sidewalks. I really think side walks and front porches a community make, so it’s on my list for the next place.

    1. I sure would love a larger lot, but you’re absolutely right that the bigger properties make it more difficult to foster the same kind of community.

  6. Going for walks is a great way to start things up with neighbors. Because I live on a private street, our homeowner’s association meets twice a year, that is great for putting names to faces and getting closer.

    I am always jealous of my childhood neighborhood, I would play in the back yard of neighbors even when their kids were not home, can you imagine that nowadays?

    1. There are a few things that HOAs are good for 😉 Kids are are good community makers as well – once they’ve become friends, it’s much easier for the parents to connect as well.

  7. It sounds like you live in a model neighbourhood. Almost old timey! I would bet having a close knit (even if it’s just a little more than surface acquaintance) fosters resiliency in the community and people.

    1. I think it helps that the home turnover is usually measured in decades and not years 🙂

  8. The Best House in Melbourne only has grass in the front yard, so we let the dogs out the front when they need to go to the toilet. The neighbours in the street know them now and often people will stop and chat to them through the fence.
    (It helps that I have very cute looking dogs.)

  9. I think a major contributing factor to building your neighborhood community would be the children. If you have neighbors who have been in place for two decades or more and who have raised children roughly in the same age range, the kids made it easier to connect with each other. Having your son might have made that an easier bridge to gap as well because they likely could relate to you having been in your situation in the past.

    I say this because my first neighborhood was filled with kids on multiple houses on the street. We made fast friends by running around, riding bikes, and lighting firecrackers in drainage pipes. But if I step back and look at the parents of those kids now, none of them had much in common with my parents. I doubt there would have been many connections made absent having similar aged kids.

    When we moved, the new neighborhood had no kids whatsoever. There was not a community feel. Most of our neighbors were retirees or nearing retirement. We were cordial and would wave to each other, much like your first neighborhood you mentioned living in with your husband. But there was no community feel. No sense of belonging.

    1. To be fair, when we moved in, there was only one house with kids anywhere near us. That’s changed, but there was still quite a community before that (though much of those were people who had raised kids together a few decades earlier).

      1. Yeah, that makes sense. The neighbors who had raised their families knew each other fairly well. They had more historical reasons for coming together through their kids. By the time we moved in, most had retired and weren’t as socially active anymore. I imagine their kids having moved on had something to do with it.

      2. Our closest neighbors are actually all retired, but that just means they spend more time outside in their yard and chatting with each other 😉

  10. I’ll never get over my jealousy. I grew up in a cul de sac like this, and now as an adult it hurts to not have it. I’ve tried, but this neighborhood people just a) aren’t outside hardly ever and b) when they are just a wave is the best you get. *sigh* maybe someday, after living here for a few more years… I’ve at least gotten one phone number, so there’s something.

    1. I know you’ve tried, too! I feel like it took a good 3-5 years to settle in here, depending on the neighbor. You’ve gotta remember we’ve been here for more than seven years now.

    2. Yeah that’s a frustrating thing about the neighborhood. It seemed easier to connect when I was younger and there were more kids around, but things have changed over the years. And sure, people are friendly, but there’s definitely not the community that Angela has. Also seemed like I at least knew people’s names and faces since mom and I went door-to-door all over the neighborhood for years selling Girl Scout cookies 😂

      1. Yeah, the one downside of knowing our neighbors so well is that we pretty much have to buy anything kids come selling door to door 😉

  11. I just spent the weekend at the Florida Permaculture Convergence where one of the most repeated messages was that the key to resiliency is community. I’m a strong proponent of this type of social capital, which makes up a significant chunk of my overall capital/wealth portfolio. Not only does it help us live more frugally and fill our lives with joy, research shows that these connections and relationships are good for our health (see Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community).

    I spent eleven years of my adult life in a primarily African American neighborhood in Washington, DC where all the houses had front porches. People in that neighborhood spent a great deal of time on their and other people’s porches chatting with each. One of the main reasons I started gardening not long after moving there was to have a pretext for being outside to chat more with my neighbors and enmesh myself further in that wonderful, supportive, and fun community. We spontaneously rang each other’s doorbells to ask for help or plan an impromptu crabfest in someone’s back yard, invited each other to potlucks and birthday parties, and attended the memorial services of neighbor’s who passed. I shared garden harvests and knowledge, got invited to house parties at which I danced my heart out to some kick ass R & B music from the 50’s & 60’s that you don’t hear on mainstream radio, traveled to Paris with two of those neighbors, and formed lifelong friendships that continue even now after I moved away.

    There are no front porches where I live today in Florida and not as many people walk by since I no longer live near a Metro station. I have found though, that gardening and working in my yard remain the best way for me to meet neighbors. I’m pretty extroverted and easy going, which combines well with my love of growing food to generate the perfect conversation starter when I see neighbors growing interesting fruit trees. I have been able to harvest mangos, avocados, and litchis through those interactions and shared my garden abundance in return.

    Another way I got to know neighbors in DC and here in FL is by attending my neighborhood Civic Association meetings. I’m genuinely interested in what’s going on in my neighborhood and staying abreast of matters that impact the quality of life there. I find these meetings helpful for that as well as identifying other concerned neighbors interested in living in a thriving, vital community. Attending the social events for the neighborhood residents organized by both of these civic associations has been a very effective way to meet my neighbors.

    Another commenter mentioned children as a key factor in thriving communities. I do think they help, but don’t think they are necessary. There were very few children in my DC neighborhood. Many of the residents were retired. I also think dogs help. People in your neighborhood likely own dogs and walk them. Being outside when they walk by may present an opportunity to engage in conversation with them. I’ve also reached out to neighbors on Nextdoor.com to introduce myself directly if they post something that resonates with me or otherwise leads me to believe they would be someone I’d enjoy getting to know.

    1. You’re absolutely right on the dog front! They are definitely a low key way of getting to casually get to know your neighbors without any kind of pressure. You’re not the first one to recommend that book to me, and I’m adding it to my must-read list now.

    1. Oh jeez… that is ROUGH. And why, as much as our house itself isn’t exactly ideal, we can’t replace the location we’re at. You can fix the house, you can’t fix your surroundings.

  12. You guys are fortunate to live in a neighborhood where they provide a great sense of community. And like you said it gives you a small town feel and also a sense of comfort. Having block parties with that type of community provides more joy and positive energy.
    I currently live in a neighborhood where most of us keep it to themselves and say the occasional hello to the fellow neighbors. Hopefully when we find our forever home, we will be in a neighborhood that has a community bond like yours.

  13. This sounds so similar to the staggering differences between where we lived and where we just moved to! People say hi – they introduce themselves and our downstairs neighbor is coming for tea on Thursday. She has been so much more helpful than the seller and realtor combined when it comes to all the questions we have about the house. And the next yard people are good too. Even though we don’t intend this to be our forever home, this feels so much more like “our” sort of place compared to where we lived before. The difference is staggering!

    1. Ahhhh I am SO happy for you!! A community makes the not perfect home close to the perfect place.

  14. I’ve made an effort, more of an effort in the last year than the previous 7 combined, but only two neighbors have panned out very much. Still, we’re working at it. This is an old neighborhood and a mix, and I don’t think we’re destined to forming a fabulous community but a little bit of one would be nice.

    1. Hey, it doesn’t require EVERY home on your street. Even one or two can be pretty dang amazing.

  15. We are in a townhouse so the layout is the exact same (but opposite) for our neighbor. One day they ran over and asked in a hurry where our emergency water shut off switch was. We pointed to it in confusion and watched them run off. We later learned their pipe froze…? And the house has been flooded for days before they came back from winter vacation.

    Man, everyone needs good neighbors.

  16. I need to improve here. I’m more of an introvert, and the downsides of neighbors hit home for me more. I don’t like everyone in my business. They already think I’m weird because I actually exercise a lot and ride my bike (ghast!). I’m pretty good friends with a few, but I need to expand that a bit. You’re correct that when we all stick together the benefits are huge.

    1. Yeah, I can imagine this is a LOT harder to do as an introvert. And yeah, the downsides are a bigger concern then as well. Headphones / running are key, my friend.

  17. Real nice blog! My first visit here. I have only been blogging myself since July at age 67 (yes that is not a typo). So maybe I am a bit out of place here among these young people. Although I have no hope of matching anything like this site, I do enjoy blogging!

    1. I’ve been blogging a year longer than you then – go back and read some of my earlier posts. They aren’t nearly as put together as my more recent ones, though I still appreciate the sentiment of them and keep them as a reminder of how far I’ve come 🙂

  18. I find that the closer in proximity you are, the less neighbourly you get! For example, i find it difficult to make small talk in the elevator. There are some other families with young children on my floor, we often say we should have each other over but that never happens, haha 🙂

    Great post!

    1. Oh I wonder! Perhaps there’s a good middle ground to foster that community. Though, the small apartments we build also grow quite a community, so maybe it more has to do with the amount of interior space you have?

  19. That’s a really great situation that you are in. I feel lucky that we have good relationships with 2 of our 4 neighbors, and a few more that I recognize and make small talk with.

      1. We bought a house bordering state land on a cul de sac that is in a fairly rural town, that borders a small (50k) city. I dont count the folks who live up the street, but I guess should. That only adds a few more folks, though.

      2. Ah, okay. That makes sense. Then I’d say you’re doing pretty darn well percentagely!

  20. I love how you do your gardening in your front yard…that certainly is a community conversation starter. Your article makes me think of the statement to grow right where you are planted. It sounds like you’ve done that!

Leave a Reply