Whether the you and your spouse are in your first house or you have been in your neighborhood for awhile, keeping good relations with the neighbors can make a big difference in your quality of life. Here are a few etiquette tips to reduce friction and keep the peace with your neighbors.
1. Say hello. A friendly smile and wave to a neighbor when you go out and get the mail can go a long way toward creating a pleasant atmosphere.
2. Turn your music down. This is a simple peacekeeper, tried and true. If you plan on entertaining and having music, let your neighbors know ahead of time and keep it to a reasonable volume. If you play music in your backyard, remember to turn it off when you're done instead of going inside and forgetting about it as your music plays into the wee hours.
3. Close your garage door. Avoid the habit of leaving it open because you plan on going back out in awhile. This is especially important if it's messy. Not only is this a security issue, it's also an issue of extending common courtesy to your neighbors who may not wish to regularly get an eyeful of your collection of boxes, garbage cans, etc.
4. Do not let your dog bark incessantly in the backyard. Leaving your dog alone to bark all day—or even worse, all night—is a sure way to strain relations with your neighbor or possibly violate a city noise ordinance. If your dog stays in the yard while you are away at work, ask a neighbor who is at home during the day if they ever hear your dog. If there is a problem, fix it. They'll appreciate your consideration and in addition, it's the right and mannerly thing to do.
5. Reach out. Invite a neighbor over for a drink or a meal. Or invite a few neighbors over for a backyard BBQ or potluck. Investing some time in getting to know the neighbors will help keep relationships harmonious and make it easier to handle any problems that arise.
6. Maintain your yard. At a minimum, meet the basic standards of yard maintenance by mowing, weed-whacking and doing your best to keep your yard looking decent. Hire someone if you can't seem to get it done yourself. Neighbors get cranky at the thought of their property values going down because of a slob next door.
7. Position outside lights with care. Make sure your security light doesn't shine into your neighbor's bedroom.
8. Don't leave toys in the front yard. Whether it's yours or your children's toys, yard equipment, or car parts, it's bad policy to leave items on your front yard or driveway. Put your tools away when you're done with them.
9. Be a good driver. Don't treat the neighborhood streets as your personal racetrack. Always be mindful that there are kids, dogs, walkers and bikers out on the street. Also, when driving through your neighborhood, turn the volume on your car stereo down. Your neighbors shouldn't associate your comings and goings with a thumping bass and rattling windows.
10. Discuss problems in person. If a problem arises, talk to your neighbor in person first. Approach the situation in a pleasant way, "You may not have realized this, but ..." Start here rather than resorting to a nasty note or a call to the police that will be sure to permanently strain your relationship. Also, use good judgment in identifying real problems: a party on a special occasion is one thing; a continuous stream of parties that interfere with your sleep on a regular basis is another.
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.dianegottsman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.