When I was growing up, I lived in a few different neighborhoods. Each neighborhood seemed to uphold a particular standard, possessing certain attributes: spacious yards, quiet streets, and tall fences. When we were house-hunting last year, I noticed a similar trend in many neighborhoods. At one point, I remember our realtor noting that if a house we were looking at didn't have a "privacy fence," we could always put one in.
We like secluded areas in our homes, don't we? We like space to be ourselves, places to roam around and do as we wish. We like our privacy.
And yet, we complain about how disconnected people are from each other. We bemoan the fact that we feel so alone, despite living in populated neighborhoods. We wistfully glance at our neighbors as we see them coming and going in their cars, wishing that we lived in "the good old days" when people actually knew each other.
But still, we hide behind our phones, schedules, and fences. We don't necessarily like the way things are, but we're reluctant to rock the boat. We prefer to see ourselves as the victim of circumstances (our disconnected age) instead of realizing that we have the power to change ourselves and our communities. We don't want to experience discomfort or awkwardness, so we hide in comfort behind our tall fences.
For nearly five years, I have been living without privacy fences.
My husband and I began our marriage by living in apartments. One apartment was simply a selection of rooms in the front of a big house. There were a few other apartments in that house, so it was normal to hear the faint noises through the thin walls, to greet our immediate neighbors as we walked to and from the house, as we maneuvered heavy baskets of dirty laundry down the stairs to the filthy shared basement laundry room. Our next apartment was in an actual apartment complex. It felt like a palace, since we had our own washer and dryer. There was air conditioning, internet access, and considerably less mold and bugs. I did not have a car during the day, and we did not live in a pedestrian-friendly part of town, so I spent quite a bit of time walking around the grounds of the complex. I became acquainted with our neighbors who walked their dogs, with the employees who cleaned and cared for the grounds, with the staff who worked in the office. A year ago, we bid these kind people farewell and we moved into a house of our own. A house that does not have a privacy fence.
There's a fence all right (having a fenced yard was very important to us, since we have an active toddler), but it's a short fence that comes up to about my chest. I look out into my backyard, and not only do I see our laundry drying in the wind, but I see one neighbor's vegetable garden and another neighbor's floral displays. A couple of our neighbors have tall privacy fences, but most of them have the same type of short fence that we do.
When we moved in, I wasn't exactly sure if I wanted to be so visible each time I was in our backyard. Would it get awkward at all? Do people even do this anymore? Will I desperately want to put in a privacy fence?
Quite soon, I realized the tremendous benefit that comes with short fences. My son and I met our next door neighbors because we did not have a tall wooden fence blocking our view. We were in the backyard, they were in their backyard, and it was the most natural thing in the world to introduce ourselves and begin talking. We are now well acquainted with these neighbors, and go visit them in their house often. We met the women who lives behind us in the same way. A few weeks ago, I noticed that one house nearby was having work done on it, and shortly after, someone moved in. We have already gotten to have several lovely conversations with the woman now renting that house, because we'll both be outside at the same time (my son loved her dogs and often wants to go running outside when he sees them). A few nights ago, I found myself talking for a short time with my next door neighbor and the women who lives behind her. We all stood at the fence, in our respective yards, and chatted for a few moments. One evening, the old man next door was outside with his dog and invited us to come watch The Lawrence Welk Show with him and his wife. We declined, but it was very thoughtful of him. Would we have experienced this type of neighborly hospitality if a tall privacy fence had been standing between us?
Some people may think that there's an obligation, if you see your neighbors outside, to drop everything and talk. They may fear short fences for this reason-it could be hard to get anything done! I have found that this is not the case. Even if we see our neighbors when we're in our backyard, we don't always have a lengthy conversation. Sometimes, we don't talk; we may have weeds to pull, laundry to hang, or other tasks that need to be done. We'll greet each other, wave, and move on with our business. But even if we're not engaging in a conversation, I like to think that we're brightening each other's days. We are sending over a smile and a reminder that we are here for each other.
I can't guarantee that all of your problems with loneliness and needing community will be solved if you don't have a privacy fence. I can't promise that life without privacy fences will be easy-peasy and without struggles. All that I can speak on is from my own experience and observation. I've found that despite challenges that come from living without the seclusion of a tall fence, the chance to know my neighbors and cultivate a deeper community with them is well worth it.