Loneliness. Everyone fears it. To be utterly alone despite the multitudes that surround you. We all want to be connected in some way to some one or some thing. It’s the reason there are groups. Real estate groups. Knitting circles. Cat lovers’ clubs. Golfers’ digest. The lists are endless. Behind all of these groups is a commonality. Something that connects one person with many. A common denominator.
But what happens when you move into a new area or a new house and just don’t know how to find that commonality? What happens when you know no one and have no clue how to “get connected”?
In 5 months of being in our new house, I have met 14 of my neighbors. Out of the 14, I have had extended and meaningful conversations with 7. And with 3 of them I have had regular conversations and have even exchanged phone numbers. How did I do it?
Here are three simple ways I’ve found common ground…
1. Pick Up Trash
“They always be dropping trash round here!”
Whether it is on your property, near your building, or just on the street near where you live, pick up trash. Yes, reach down and with your hands and pick up garbage on the street. You can use gloves or put your hand in a plastic bag like you would do to pick up dog doodoo. Do it every day. Make it a habit. Why is this important?
Other than knowing that you are making your place look better, you are also speaking to your neighbors. They see you. Your neighbors see you bend over to grab that candy wrapper, that empty Gatorade bottle, that newspaper ad. It speaks to them and tells them about you. It might not seem like much but it is a big deal. Nobody REALLY likes trash.
2. Rake Your Leaves
“You’re out here again, huh?” asked my neighbor Will.
“You know it! These leaves never stop do they?” I responded.
It seemed like I was out there every day. It was more like once a week. I’d come out with rake in hand. Make a pile. Shovel up the pile and dump it in a trash can. Roll the trash can to my backyard where I had a compost pile. Then I’d go back inside.
I made no effort with my neighbors. I didn’t chat with them about the nature of leaves. Or the changing seasons. I just raked. But just like with the trash, they were watching. Will was watching. Seeing me toil every week over the endless falling of leaves gave him freedom to speak. He felt comfortable reaching out and sharing in the pain of home ownership. The leaves connected us.
Weeks later we would strike up another conversation about something related to houses. The next week he helped me with my trash. Two weeks later we talked about cars. Two weeks after that he told me some intimate details about his family. And before we knew it, we had gone from neighbors to friends.
All because of a few leaves.
3. Shovel Your Snow
“Do you need some help shoveling?”
I’d just finished shoveling my sidewalk. It had snowed the night before. Across the street an elderly man was shoveling his walk. I joined in with him and we knocked it out in record fashion.
“Thank you”, said Mr. Wright. Half an hour later I was re-entering my warm house. We had spoken for nearly 30 minutes. He had been in the Vietnam war, had owned a farm in Georgia, and loved to ride the bus.
This time it wasn’t my neighbors seeing me but me seeing my neighbors. When you step outside your door it is almost impossible to live in isolation. You see things. I saw Mr. Wright and it was natural for me to help him.
Weeks later I was stuck at a relative’s house overnight when a massive snowstorm swept across Philadelphia. I couldn’t get home for a few days. I was really worried about my property not getting shoveled. However, when we finally got home… The sidewalks had been shoveled.
My neighbors had done both sidewalks of my corner property. Mr. Wright shoveled one side and Will had shoveled the other.
What if you don’t have a property? What if there are no leaves where you live? What if you live in Texas where there is no snow? Those are all valid points but the bigger question is what do all three of these things have in common?
They involve humbling yourself and showing others you are willing to put in the work. They are all about showing others you care. Your actions show people what you care about and those actions make people comfortable in talking to you. You are telling those around you that you care about this ground, this area, this neighborhood.
It took ZERO words but you now have a connection with your neighbors. You now have something in common. Congratulations! You have just built community.
Comment below – how have you gotten to know your neighbors? What’s worked for