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Frugal Happy: A Stronger Neighborhood in a Covid-19 World

Despite the hardships and sadness the pandemic has brought, this neighborhood is closer than before

Although it may seem counterintuitive, social distancing has made our neighborhood seem closer rather than farther apart. Photo courtesy Chris Stratton and Wen Lee.

This coronavirus pandemic is terrible. By almost all measures, life now sucks for everyone. But there is one thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see during these unprecedented times, which is that despite all the social distancing, our neighborhood has actually become closer.

Seems counterintuitive, but I suppose it makes sense. Since we’re all stuck at home and can’t go out for our usual activities, we are doing more things here in the neighborhood, which means we see and interact with one another more often.

Can’t hang out with friends. Can’t go to the movies. No restaurants. No gyms. No beach.

We could stay inside our homes all day, every day. But this would make most people go nuts—I certainly would. So in a COVID-19-world, what the heck can we do to get out the house?

Walk around the neighborhood. Every. Damn. Day.

Wearing protective gear, of course!

Our baby doesn’t actually wear a face mask; children under the age of 2 shouldn’t. Ten seconds after this photo was taken, she protested and pulled the thing off.

(Oh yeah, Chris and I have a baby now! We’ll discuss our attempt to raise a Frugal Happy Baby in another post soon.)

I’ve lived on this street for over 20 years, and I’ve never seen this many people out walking. Seems like every time I look out the window, I see a someone taking a walk. And when we go out for a stroll, it’s like we’ve joined a walking party.

Okay, when I say “walking party” I mean like two or three people. But considering we are a small street of 20 households and there are normally zero people walking, it’s a noticeable difference.

Everyone is properly social distancing and staying physically apart, of course. But we do see each other. And have mask-muffled, yelling conversations across the street.

We talk about how we’re doing, how we’re being impacted, and the latest happenings. The kids are home from school and driving us crazy. Mom got laid off from her job. The city is offering free grocery delivery services.

Having more conversations means more connection. More acts of kindness from neighbors in these challenging times. One day I opened the front door to find freshly harvested chives from a neighbor’s garden. Another time a bag of homegrown citrus was waiting for us on the porch.

Welcome home to a bag of citrus from a neighbor’s tree.

The family next door texts periodically to let us know they are making a grocery run, and do we need anything? (Soymilk, please!) Another neighbor down the street called saying he removed a bunch of aloe vera from his backyard, and do we want them? (Yes, we’ll take three!)

Then there’s eighth grader Priscilla, who told me she was bored at home and looking for sewing projects. She wanted to sew face masks for the neighborhood, but she didn’t have enough fabric or elastic. So Chris and I gave her one of our old bedsheets and another neighbor around the corner donated some elastic — and voilà! Homemade masks in the Share Shed.

A neighbor made these face masks from a donated sheet and some elastic.

Within a couple hours of being put out, I saw the first mask being taken by a water utility worker who happened to be doing a job in the neighborhood. Within a couple days, the rest of the masks were gone. Thank you so much, Priscilla!

I’m happy to report that the Share Shed has experienced a revival. It had been sitting empty for several months. But after the pandemic hit, neighborhood sharing activity has been on the rise.

Our Share Shed is back in action.

When a neighbor gives you lemons… you make fresh-squeezed lemonade, of course!

Not everything fits in the Share Shed, though. Last month, we decided to refresh the mulch in our yard (you can relive the exciting story of how we killed our lawn a few years back). Through a service called ChipDrop, we suddenly found a giant pile of free mulch on our driveway. And by giant, I mean 20 cubic yards—over 5 tons of the stuff!

No way we were going to use it all. So we put the word out to the neighborhood. Over the next week or so, neighbors came by with buckets and shovels and helped themselves. Turns out when there’s a global pandemic and everyone is at home, yard work and gardening become very popular activities.

By far, the most heartening thing I have noticed in the neighborhood is the uptick of family time. Specifically, low-tech outdoor family time. It’s a reminder that despite all the flashy technology and hubbub of modern life, it’s really about the simple things.

Parents and kids playing ball in the street. Multi-generational group walks. Families biking, scootering, jogging, skateboarding together. I mean, it’s pretty idyllic.

Minus the whole everybody wearing a mask thing.

So yes. Life sucks right now. But it turns out when we can’t go out, we become closer to the community of people immediately around us. Our families. Our partners. And our neighbors.

Sure, we’re all going stir crazy. But the truth is life on this street is the most alive it’s ever been. And that’s pretty nice, at least.

When this awful pandemic finally ends and we can go back to “normal,” will these neighborly bonds continue? I certainly hope so.

This post is one in a series by Chris Stratton and Wen Lee, a husband-and-wife team living in the Los Angeles area who are turning their 1963 suburban house into an all-electric, zero-net-energy home. They chronicle their attempts at a low-carbon, low-cost, and joyful lifestyle on their blog Frugal Happy. This post was written by Wen. All photos courtesy of the authors.

Use these links to read more posts by Chris Stratton and Wen Lee:


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