How to make friends in your neighborhood

17 May 2017

First, I just have to acknowledge the semi-ridiculousness of me writing this post. I am a well-known and thoroughly-documented introvert, it takes me forever to make friends, and up until last year, I could count the number of neighbors I knew well on zero fingers. But, I’m almost up to needing two hands for my hyper-local crew, so it seems I may have turned a corner! Let’s file this post under “if I can do it, anyone can do it” :)

Here, my seven best tips for making friends in your neighborhood.

Still my two best friends in my neighborhood :)

1. Make it matter to you. Like pretty much all goals, the only way something will be prioritized in your life is if it matters to you. Before June was born, it would have been nice to have friends close by, but I didn’t really NEED them. Since having her, neighborhood friends have become much more of a necessity. Emergencies are what pop to mind first, or a contact to give our babysitter, but there’s another reason that’s even more important to me.

I NEED to know who these people are if I’m going to feel comfortable letting our kids play outside unsupervised as they get older (a huge priority for me). I need to know their names, what matters to them, what kind of people they are, what the insides of their homes look like… I need to be friends with them, and I need to trust them. A childhood with freedom to roam matters to me, and so that’s why I was finally able to push past my discomfort and take action on making friends. If it really matters to you, you will, too.

2. Wave. That first tip was more existential, but this one is very concrete: wave. Wave to everyone. All the time. Whether you know them or not. If you want your neighborhood to be a friendlier place, let the community start with you. I recently watched a TED talk about public speaking and confidence, and there was one line that stuck with me: “fake it till you become it.” If you do something habitually, it will become a part of who you are. If you act friendly, even if you aren’t an extrovert, it will eventually become more comfortable. Small steps matter.

3. Send welcoming signals with your home. If you have a garage, it is possible to go about your business without ever breathing your neighborhood’s air, let alone interacting with another human. Appearances matter. A house with a closed garage door looks closed-off, with little way of knowing if anyone is home. We’ve taken to leaving our garage door open when we’re around as a signal that we’re available for socialization, quick questions, or sugar cup borrowing :)

A screen door is another way to make your house appear more welcoming to interaction, as again, it’s a symbol to neighbors that you’re home, and it also allows you to easily hear if something’s going on outside! (So then you can go join!) Screen doors were a huge marker of my New England summers growing up, and I am desperate to have one (especially as kids get older – much easier to have them playing outside by themselves if you can hear what they’re doing from inside!). With Southern summers and the prevalence of air conditioning down here, however, a screen door is not practical for much of the year… boo.

4. Go outside when other people are outside. Again: obvious, right? But I’m a bit embarrassed to say that when we first moved in, I pretty much did the opposite. Hiding in your house might help you avoid awkward conversations, but it will not help you make friends. So get your butt outside, in the proximity of other people, and let the extroverts strike up a conversation with you, as I can assure you they will :)

And if you live in a neighbhorhood where no one is outside? Be the one to change the environment! Putter around in your front yard “pruning” things, sit on your porch, go for a walk every evening – find any excuse to be where people can see you, so they start to recognize you as a generally friendly-looking person and associate you with a particular house.

5. Be the invitation. After a few months of casual interactions with some of my neighbors, I was ready to go a little deeper. Instead of waiting for someone else to invite me over, I did it on my terms! I invited all of the ladies on my street that I had even once interacted with to a Favorite Things party, and I heavily encouraged them to invite their friends. It was a huge success as a kick starter to closer relationships and a broader social circle.

6. Start a hyper-local Facebook group. I haven’t personally tried this one, but I’m considering it. It’s something John and Sherry recommended on their podcast recently, and I think it’s smart! My neighborhood has a Facebook group with about 1,000 members, and it’s great for certain things (selling patio furniture, chatting about macro issues or upcoming events). But a hyper-local group (say, just for the 15 houses on our “L” that ends in a cul-de-sac), lets you get to know people on a more intimate basis, extend BBQ invitations, and let your hair down in a way you might not in a larger, more impersonal group (John talked about sharing funny memes about neighborhood deer in his).

7. Have a kid or get a dog. Kidding. Kind of :) The truth is that even with all of these tips, we didn’t really make friends in our neighborhood until we had our daughter. Kids and dogs are just great connectors, and they will make your job of making friends a whole lot easier. But, you know, they require a few other things of you, so make sure you’re prepared before committing :)

I would LOVE to hear: have you found it difficult or easy to make friends in your neighborhood? If so, how did it happen? Is it a priority for you, or do you fill your friend need elsewhere? Tell me, tell me!

P.S. Cultivate What Matters is celebrating and teaching on friendship all this week. So much good stuff! Sign up for the series, and check out the Fruitful Friendship guide. I contributed to it, so you know it’s good :)

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May 17, 2017 9:32 am

I followed my husband to his country (the Netherlands) after we got married and that meant I had to start from zero when it comes to friends. I tried lots of things (inviting neighbours over for drinks or a dinner) but the connections only got deeper after I started volunteering for neighbourhood activities such as the spring plant swap and later in the community garden. In November last year we started a monthly ‘street cafe’ (anyone can come and eat at our community center for just 5 Euro, a small team cooks the dinner)- thanks to this I talked (really talked) to many people from my neighbourhood for the first time! So yes, it is important and not always easy to make friends in the neighbourhood:-)

May 19, 2017 9:44 am

Eating is always a great connection point! I would love to start having more casual potluck dinners in the street with our neighbors!

May 17, 2017 10:36 am

Great ideas! We are building a new home and its been on my heart to open myself up to more community. I’m an introvert myself, so it will be out of my comfort zone. But like you, I think its so important to know who you are surrounded by. Plus it gives Christians the opportunity to minister to others right where they are. Love your ideas and I look forward to incorporating some of them soon!

Carly Totten
May 17, 2017 11:37 pm

YES! To everything you said! I grew up in two separate neighborhoods (we moved across town when I was 9), and all of the kids on both streets always played outside without parents. I am well aware that our society has changed, but it’s something I miss seeing in neighborhoods today. When I have kids, I will 100% share your view of encouraging a “childhood with freedom to roam”. I’m so happy I’m not the only one who wants this to come back!

On another note, I’m known as “the runner and walker”. I used to be known as “the rollerblader” when I was younger. If it’s a nice evening (or a nice day on the weekend), I’m outside at some point. I make it a habit to wave and talk to neighbors, often taking out my earbuds to say “hi” and make sure they don’t respond with an offering to strike up a conversation. I’ve gotten to know so many of my neighbors through exercise, and I’m recognized for it as a result. It’s also a fun way to learn of houses that are for sale, renovations taking place (it was an older neighborhood, so it was helpful to see the repairs, etc happening and what our house might need next), and new faces that had just moved in. Just being open to conversation or offering a small compliment (I love the new color of your door, your garden looks awesome, etc) starts to create a connection that feels warm, and it’s also practical too (knowing other neighbors on my route was important to me in case I ever got injured or, God forbid, felt unsafe).

May 18, 2017 12:10 am

I love this post! These are great ideas, thanks for sharing!

May 18, 2017 5:13 am

I can totally relate, Emily! I am not an introvert per se. But I still had a hard time getting to know my neighbors. Thankfully that changed when we had our first kid 3 years ago! So, YES on your tip #7 ;-) It’s a huge benefit to know and trust your neighbors. Like you said, it’s much more than that cup of sugar or emptying each others mail box when on vacation. One family in our neighborhood even watched our daughter while we were at the hospital having our second baby!
I’m thinking about throwing a Favorite Things Party, though! Sounds so fun!

May 18, 2017 9:31 pm
Reply to  Kerstin Thomas

One thing I have often thought about is how my sister, and then my sister and I, stayed with neighbor friends while my parents were at the hospital having babies no. 2 and 3. That was another good kick in the pants to start developing those sorts of relationships!

May 18, 2017 9:36 am

I totally LOLed at the “pruning” in quotation marks because I feel like we are legitimately doing hardcore pruning all the time outside! I’ve become a big waver too, because it’s that type of neighborhood. :) Still, I’ve found it difficult to make friends in our neighborhood (which is basically our entire town) but I totally agree with the statement that we need to make it really matter to us. We’ve honestly been drowning in house updates and work that we haven’t had much margin to take intentional steps toward making new friends, but we’re trying to be more social this summer and will definitely be applying some of these tips! :)

May 18, 2017 12:33 pm

I love this topic! My husband and I have had a hard time growing our community in a big city, especially with friends all over town, and have finally found our neighbors to be some of our best friends! I completely agree with all of your tips, and would have never thought of some. We have a community pool, so we’ve found that it’s easy to strike up conversations with neighbors there. We also try to go to HOA meetings when we can (FUN, I know! :) where we can meet our neighbors. Finally, we just started inviting people over in a very casual, low-pressure way, say for dessert after dinner or drinks after work. We’ve found that with neighbors, last minute invites are easy since the location is so convenient, and it takes some of the pressure off.

May 18, 2017 9:32 pm
Reply to  Megan

Haha, I LOVE that you go to HOA meetings! I wouldn’t have thought those were a good breeding ground for friendship, but maybe I’ve been missing out in our neighborhood :) And YES, casual, last-minute get-togethers are one of the biggest perks of neighborhood friendships, I think!

May 19, 2017 11:14 pm

What a great topic! I love these tips you shared. Saving these for future use! I can DEF relate to being introverted and wanting to “hide” from people at times. I too, am working on venturing out of my comfort zone lately, and being intentional with friendships.

May 22, 2017 11:53 am

I really love these suggestions! I also really love the idea of the “Favorite Things” party to break the ice with acquaintances. Have you read Book of Joy? I’m currently reading it and it’s all about reaching out and beyond your comfort zone — you may love it!

May 22, 2017 8:48 pm

I’m so proud of you for this!! Dave and I met a couple about our age who moved into our neighborhood right before Charlie was born, but we haven’t seen them around much since. We joke that we should leave them a note in their mailbox to invite them over! (Side note: During this conversation, we also said “But how will they respond–leave a note back in our mailbox??” No. We would just have to put our phone number on the note, duh :P)

Victoria B
May 22, 2017 10:06 pm

I love this! We have lived in our house for almost 5 years and barely know any of our neighbors. I am an introvert and generally shy away from comversation. It also didn’t help that we worked full time and had long commutes so we just genuinely didn’t see our neighbors 95% of the time. That being said, we just had a baby and are moving in a couple months to a city where I know nobody. So I definitely want to meet our neighbors this time around and a family oriented neighborhood is one of the things we are looking for in our next house. I love these tips and will really try to get outside my comfort zone! Thank you!

Jackie Stearns
May 27, 2017 9:35 pm

I love this post! I’m right there with you that this wasn’t a priority before my son, but if I want him to experience a similar “neighborhood family” as we had growing up I need to push myself out of my introvert comfort shell! Your tip #4 reminds me of an article I read recently about the turquoise table initiative, you might enjoy!
By the way…can people close to the “L” get the Facebook group invite :). Hope to see you and Miss June soon!

June 4, 2017 8:39 pm

I love every last word of this post! I was so craving community with my neighbors, I took my then 3-year-old door-to-door, inviting the ladies on my street to a Saturday morning coffee. Since then, others have returned the favor and I’ve connected with the “Wine-Down Mamas” in our neighborhood who meet up every other Wednesday to drink wine and catch up.

To points #3 and 4 – if you haven’t checked out Kristen Schell’s The Turquoise Table, I definitely would. Being “front yard people” makes a world of difference in meeting and connecting with neighbors. Her book (and our own turquoise table) is on my wish list!

June 5, 2017 12:52 pm

I love this! Interested to read about this turquoise table! We made a priority to spruce up our front porch and we hang out there OFTEN. The downside here is the humidity and it’s almost getting too hot. I got really lucky that by happenstance, through Junior League, two girls I had met in my provisional class turned out to live around my block! And then, by chance another gal from my hometown also lived on my streen and then a year later, a childhood friend ended up in Columbia by way of her fiance and they bought a house just across the road from our neighborhood. So now there are 6 of us gals who stay in the loop with each other through a group text and we do a monthly supper club (and include our spouses!). Before our connection to the neighborhood, we didn’t know each other very well, but the supper club thing is really great! We may be added new folks to it with a few folks we’ve met. When the month is yours, you pick where we go (summertime) or you serve up the main dish and host. Our neighborhood does have a social committee within the neighborhood association, which I’m not on, but may join. There’s usually a monthly food truck rodeo so we try to go and we usually meet new folks. I think just being outside helps, and then the Next Door app /neighborhood facebook group is a great way to stay abreast happenings. Being in an urban neighborhood is definitely a little different for both Steven and I (considering he grew up in the country and I grew up in a very residential neighborhood.) There are a ton of quirks and iffy streets around, and then there’s the busyness of a community college and a commercial road one street over. We have many people who trek around to bus stops or to the campus, but we see (older) children around and out all the time, so overall it feels safe! Also, working from home and being able to observe and note cars and things like that has been helpful. Many of our neighbors also seem to be home alot during the day, too. We have exchanged keys/codes with our across the street neighbors in the event that we’re ever gone or they’re ever gone out of town. They help with Finley if we take day trips and we water their plants. I think it’s just so important to meet the neighbors and make an effort! It makes us feel more secure in a way.

June 5, 2017 12:55 pm

Typos galore. So sorry!!

[…] my prep days have been a game changer. I’ve also hosted a Favorite Things party, made several neighborhood friends, restocked my card supply, and put our surprise birthday trips in motion. What I hope to accomplish […]