How Much Do Your Neighbors Matter?

We live on a cul-de-sac with a shared picnic/BBQ area. In the summertime, my kids are constantly riding bikes and playing in the cul-de-sac. There are currently no other kids, but we know most of our neighbors and they are great about letting the kids play. (One neighbor even bought them tiny rakes because she thought they’d like them. They do!) Our neighbors have been awesome. One helped with our windows, two of them insulated their attics the same day we did so we could all help each other out, and we used the tools of one of our neighbors to do all the window and door trim work. Two of our neighbors came over for Christmas Eve two years ago. We really like the dynamic of our cul-de-sac. We often end up having communal dinners in the picnic area during the summer and stay up late chatting with the neighbors when the sun is out until midnight.

One of the houses on the cul-de-sac is currently for sale. Interestingly, three of the families interested in purchasing the home we know from various places. Here are the options:

  1. A Complete Stranger – I haven’t decided if it’s better to know a neighbor if you’re not necessarily friends with them or if it’s better to have a total wild card. Other people we do not know have also looked at the house, so this is a real possibility.
  2. Really Good Friends – Obviously, these guys would be my first choice. They have been married five years, have a one-year-old, and are looking to expand their family. While their ideal property is something bigger, they could actually buy our neighbor’s house with cash which is a draw for them. They’re great savers, obviously. The girl and I go mall walking together most mornings with our little kids (yes, I’m a mall walker now…) and we talk quite a bit about personal finance. We already hang out a lot, I know them really well, and having someone in the cul-de-sac I trust with my kids would be awesome.
  3. The Mall Rat and Her Husband – This is a family with three kids. She’s told me on several occasions that she is a “Mall Rat” (which sounds like an insult!) and loves to shop. She also frequently complains about how there’s never enough money. The house is too small for her family she says, but they’re seriously considering it because they can actually get approved for the loan. They are nice, but being around them is draining. She loves talking about money, but only in arbitrary terms of how it works against her. It frustrates me to hear her talk about all her “great mall deals” and then continue her “woe is me” money talk.
  4. Family of Six – These guys currently live in a nicer place, but the rent is expensive. They are considering downsizing into a smaller house with their four kids to save money though it is unclear if that’s all talk or if they would actually do it. Two of their kids are friends with our girls, which would be fun for them to have. She has also complained to me about the prices in Alaska and how they need two cars, but struggled to think of any out-of-the box options. “What about your husband bike commuting? Or taking the city bus to work?” These were shocking suggestions. She also had a very successful Etsy business before moving to Alaska, but she and her husband decided to sell all their tools before moving, declaring that instead of making things, they would just buy them instead. She now says her husband regrets that decision now that he realizes how much money they were saving making crafts instead of buying them (not to mention her loss in revenue). The small, 3-bedroom neighbor house would be a tight fit for them, but if they’re actually willing to do it, good for them! These guys would be an okay choice as well, but I return to the original question: Is it better to have complete strangers as neighbors, or acquaintances?

I grew up in an absolutely magical neighborhood. There were about 9 girls my age on my street and we did everything together. Our families would have outdoor potlucks, we played night games every single night, and on May Day, we all gathered flowers, wove tiny baskets, and delivered them to all the other neighbors. The lady who lived behind my house had a big lavender patch and I would go hang out in her garden frequently. She taught me how to make lavender wands and I made hundreds. My next door neighbor had an amazing garden you could get lost in with a pet chicken running through it. My neighborhood was a big part of my amazing childhood. Though I realize I can’t replicate that for my own children, I wonder how much neighbors matter in the long term?

How much do you think your neighbors matter? Have you had excellent neighbors? Terrible ones? How does that environment impact yours?

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18 Comments

  1. I grew up in a rural area and didn’t really have neighbors. I had to ride my bike almost a mile to get to my closest friend’s house. I think it would be awesome for kids to grow up on a cul-de-sac. Hope a family with kids moves in for them!

    • MaggieBanks

      A family with nice kids would be so awesome for my kiddos. I’m nervous!

  2. Alison R.

    I would love to be your neighbor! I currently have a neighbor I call “the stalker” b/c she walks into my house, into my back gate and tells me how to raise our 2 grandsons and 1 granddaughter (we lost a daughter a year ago and are raising her children). We have two grown daughters who live in other states.
    I hope the friend looking to expand their family buys the house!
    Good luck!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yikes! I would hate someone coming over to tell me how to raise my kids! I’m worried about the boundaries thing with someone we know moving in. If they’re really friends, I feel like I could say “not today” and everything would be okay – but with someone that knows us, but not as well, it could get trickier. What if they get offended. Then everything is awkward!

  3. Your neighborhood growing up sounds like a regular “Wonder Years” type set-up. 🙂
    I grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by rural farmlands and we had a great time. Lots of kids same age, and a lot of fun.
    I hope you get someone next door that’s fun for the kids, or at the very least – not a negative neighbor. We had a “draining” neighbor back in LA, and man, we’d be hanging out on our porch enjoying the afternoon, then see his truck and skedaddle out back, lol. He was nice, but he would talk for 45 minutes or more sometimes and we just wanted to sit and chill. This would be followed by similar long conversation the next day, and the next day, like every conversation was at least 30 minutes, even if you’d talked for an hr the day before. Otherwise, that neighborhood and neighbors were all super friendly and great. Our new neighborhood in TX, the neighbors are all nice, but we know the neighbor 2 houses down, best of all, and everyone else we see coming in and out of their garages and wave. No interaction, nothing. I miss the social aspect of our last neighborhood, even at times, our super talkative but well meaning neighbor. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I grew up in a total Wonder Years situation and it was fabulous! We have a good situation now, but I am nervous about exactly what you say – not wanting to spend time outside to avoid the drain. But maybe it would end up being good. No idea. But I’m nervous. 🙂

  4. It sounds like you grew up in a perfect environment. I’d want the really good friends to move in. But that’s only if I felt confident we could still have some boundaries. Could you invite a small group of people over, whom they don’t know, without inviting them? Would they feel slighted? I’m very uncomfortable with social expectations. But that might just be me.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree with you! We did have a chat about that. She said “my husband is worried it will be an Everybody Loves Raymond” situation and you’ll get sick of us. I said, if we’re really actually good friends, we can say “not today” and no one is offended. But there are still risks!

  5. Tawcan

    Sounds like you grew up in a great neighbourhood. It would be very cool to have good friends to move in near you but then it might be slightly annoying (maybe this is not the right word) to see them all the time. Cul-de-sac is great as the traffic is usually limited. Would love to live in a cul-de-sac to get even more neighbour interactions.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree with you Tawcan! There are risks with all four options! I’m nervous about how it will end up!

  6. The saying goes that a good neighbour is better than a far friend. Neighbours can help with small topics: empty the mailbox when on holiday, provide some DIY tools you do not have. Both cases often a few rimes per year to us.
    Next to that, we also share experiences on schools, restaurants and so on. Or we go running together.

    In your case, a family with kids, some similar ages sounds great. The good friends you already have them and see a lot. SO, some new people might be a great addition?

    • MaggieBanks

      Excellent perspective. I’m kind of hoping it’s a total stranger with kids my kids’ age. Then there are no pre-conceived relationships going in. Might be good to get some fresh blood. 🙂

  7. Kim from Philadelphia

    We are blessed to have wonderful neighbors! Ones that my son considers surrogate aunts and uncles. We enjoy spending time together, whether it’s digging out together after a snowstorm, ladies “teas” ( tea and snacks without the men and kids, nothing very fancy) as well as scheduled (and impromptu) potlucks. We pass on magazines and newspapers to each other, petsit, and lookout for each other’s houses when one group is out of town. Some have kids, some don’t. There are people in their 30’s as well as their 80’s! We’re a diverse bunch, but that’s part of the magic!

    Funny, but it wasn’t always like that. Two years before we bought our house it was 9/11. My neighbor said only a few people knew each other casually. She decided to organize a block party that Spring, just because she felt it was an important community building event. Thank goodness she did that!

  8. Kim from Philadelphia

    I should add that we’re not so enmeshed such that we’re always at each other’s houses. We do like our privacy and it’s a nice combination.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s what we have now – to a lesser extent. Fresh blood would be nice… but could potentially be horrible. For awhile, we had a lady that just stood outside and smoked all the time. If we were outside, she would come right over, smoke in my kids’ faces and talk to us for a really long time about awkward stuff. It was horrible.

  9. Wow, your childhood sounds like it was awesome! I moved around a bunch, so never had that experience with neighbor kids. (But I did learn to adapt to moves and change, which had other benefits.) I have no idea which neighbors would be best — anyone who’s not too loud, nosy or obsessed with flashy cars is a good neighbor in my book, but then we don’t have kids so don’t worry about that aspect. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Kids change everything! Is it someone I have to worry about? Is it someone they can end up with if there’s a storm and we don’t make it home in time for them to get off the bus? Do they have friends?

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