Want to have a good laugh that quickly turns to a look of horror? Play a little game of Worst Neighbor Story Ever with a few fellow Chicagoans. That one time the guy downstairs faked a robbery and then had a four-hour fest smashing the remaining furniture in the middle of the night (yeah, that really happened) will look like absolutely nothing, I promise. But be prepared, because the look of horror might come when you realize that you yourself have committed some of the Worst Neighbor crimes, without even meaning to.
On the slight chance you’re looking to get back in the good graces of those living around you, or if you’re looking to start off on the right foot after moving into a new home, give one of these ideas a go.
If you have a new baby
In a world where women aren’t expected to give a Kate Middleton presentation 14 minutes after a delivering a baby, there would also be understanding neighbors who don’t bang on their ceilings with broomsticks every time the tiniest humans cry in the night. However, not everyone can be compassionate about loud kids for the first 13 years of their lives. And even if your neighbors are lovely, you may still feel a wee bit tense around them after scurrying to quiet the screams every hour on the hour in those early days.
What will help? A bag of locally-roasted coffee beans, a half-dozen bagels, and flavored cream cheese to ease into a morning after not enough rest. And don’t forget a batch of all of the above for the new parents.
If you have an adorable dog
So your sweet little dog peed all over the lobby. Obviously, you’re going to scramble for a paper towel or half-used tissue or just-in-case cardigan from your bag to clean it up. And clearly, next, you will apologize profusely to anyone caught in the spray. How can you make it up to everyone else in the building who now walks wayyy around to avoid you and your pup?
What will help? Set up an (ahem) pee-no grigio cart with plenty of wine, portable plastic glasses and a little sign that says something like, “Sometimes we drink to forget. Please help me move past the shame of my dog’s shaky bladder with a glass of wine and apology.” You may need permission from your HOA but I bet even the president can be swayed after a few sips.
If you share a parking space
Hallelujah, you don’t have to drive around and around and around the block to find a semi-legal spot. Even more praise-be if you snagged a place in a garage. Just try not to ruin your good fortune by parking just a little too close to another car, scraping, or blocking your neighbor in.
What will help? Become a parking space fairy – sweeping, dusting, shoveling, reorganizing and de-cluttering on the regular. If you’re indoors, leave a few cases of water bottles or sodas out for everyone with a “Please enjoy a roadie on me!” note attached. And if you did any damage to another car, the best practice is to pay for repairs.
If you wear clompy heels
After hours, I do my best socializing propped up on high heels. And during work-from-home hours, I do my best conference calling in my boss boots. That might keep my confidence and income up, but it doesn’t necessarily boost my relationship with my downstairs neighbor. If you’ve been a little too click-click-clicky down the long and winding corridor of your condo or apartment lately, it’s time to make some quick changes.
What will help? If your budget allows, line your pathways in rugs for starters. Then invest in some soft-stepping slippers. While you’re at it, pick up a pair for your neighbor and leave them with a nice note about how you’ve converted to walking on clouds rather than kitten heels, and you thought they might like to join in the fun.
If you’re sensing a little tension
Whether you got into a back-and-forth at the condo board meeting, you wake up at zero-dark-thirty a.m. to the tune of her birds, he’s crabbing that you aren’t shoveling the sidewalk quick enough, or your trumpet practice/children’s squeals are getting on their nerves, the only thing you can do to turn it around is by being extra kind.
What will help? Start making offers – to collect mail or feed those dang birds while they are out of town, rake their yard, carry recycling back to the alley bin, snap up some donuts while you’re running around to find some, whip them up a latte with your new espresso machine. The offer doesn’t have to be big or cost any money, just be a gesture that says you see them and their happiness matters to the people on their block or floor.
If you leave 47 pairs of shoes scattered outside your door
When we live in small communal spaces in a city packed full of people, it is easy to let our personal belongings spill out into hallways, landings, and other common areas. If your shoes are stinking up the public spaces, let down your righteous guard about germs and first reconsider how you might fit it all just inside your door. If that’s absolutely not possible, tidy up the area and hide your shoes away from your neighbor’s sight.
What will help? A basket or shoe organizer tucked under a side table. Add fresh flowers or a jar full of candy on top to distract from the kicks hiding underneath it all. If it is just snowy or wet boots you keep outside the door, invest in a doormat and tray big enough for their boots, too – signs of welcome more than clutter.
If your pet jumped the fence into the neighbor’s yard
So Fluffy has found their way (again) into your neighbor’s prized tomato garden and maybe even left a little parting gift right on their pristine patio. First, get the creature back home and secure her where she won’t be lost, scared, around kids she shouldn’t really have contact with, yelled at, fed something she shouldn’t ever eat, or held for ransom. Second, do something about the fence if you can. Repair the holes, plant some trees or reconfigure so your animal has more obstacles. It might also be time to add in a daily run with your dog, a little more loving with your less active pets and vow to spend more time with them outdoors.
What will help? Keep it simple with the “I’m so sorry” and follow-up on any planned remedies. That paired with a big bouquet of beautiful flowers or a bounty of veg from your own yard should (erm) mend fences.
If you got caught bashing them on social media
Not raising my hand here but I have heard my friends say they’ve posted a long old rant about a crabby neighbor only to realize they were actually connected on that network, too. Bloop. After hoping that the post never made it to their feed, delete delete delete. If there’s any sign that Mrs. Smith did see your commentary on her caftan, steady yourself for a full adulting kind of conversation.
What will help? You’re going to have to apologize, preferably in person. Keep it concise: “I let my anger/snark/emotions get the best of me and I didn’t consider your feelings before I posted. I am so sorry.” Add cookies, a cake or something so delicious that she will just quietly unfriend you at 2 a.m.