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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Know Thy Neighbors

Do you know your neighbors? I mean, do you really know your neighbors?

I lived in a condo development in which there were roughly 80 units, and I really didn’t know any of the people living there other than a few of their names and faces. I didn’t value the relationships, or potential relationships.

When I first moved into the neighborhood, I looked at the situation like any other single bachelor—it was an opportunity to live in a nice place virtually maintenance-free. With a busy life, I enjoyed the thought of not spending hours on upkeep every week, doing maintenance work that people who own houses do regularly.

Or so I thought.

After the first few months of living there, I realized there were a plethora of issues with the condo association. They hardly did anything around the place other than mow the grass and keep up on small odds and ends (roof leaks, siding repairs, etc.). With the tough economic times they had not been able to add much value to the property.

At one point I was solicited by several board members to impeach other members on the board. I was asked to pick sides and support the election of a new board. Since I didn’t know any of my neighbors it was hard to choose which side was right, and it was difficult to decipher who was right and who was wrong—it felt like everyone was being negative (including myself).

After just a year of living there I wanted to leave because of this, and after adopting a minimalist lifestyle I especially wanted out of there, realizing I had this gigantic place all to myself. It was overwhelming.

I spent many days frustrated and blamed the board for the bickering and inability to manage the budget. This was their fault, not mine. I fell into this “why me” stage, which only exacerbated my frustration.

One of my neighbors (who was on the board) sent out an email asking for everyone in the community to pitch in and volunteer to do some upkeep around the community—to make the place a little nicer and increase morale. My first thought when I saw this email was, “Why do I pay condo dues if I have to do the upkeep myself?” Then I realized that this attitude toward the board, and the “why me” attitude, was only worsening the situation. So I did the opposite of what I wanted to do: I replied and said I would help.

When the workday rolled around there were six owners including myself (out of roughly 80) who showed up to help. I did not let this discourage me, because, again, I was sick of fueling my frustration. I worked my ass off and did what needed to be done for the day.

As we worked, I got to know my five neighbors and I realized they were just as frustrated as me. I also developed a good relationship with the board member who arranged the community workday. I felt better about the changes he was trying to make. It took the board about five years to sink the association, and after talking with him, I realized it was probably going to take a few years to repair the damage.

Until I actually got to know my neighbors that day I honestly thought everyone was out for themselves (which may still be the case with some of them), but they were just like me. After we all spent the day with each other, we felt much closer and formed a bond that was beneficial to our entire community.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.