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The Art of Community Building

Portland move in the park

Have you ever felt disconnected from your community? Or that you don’t have enough “time” to make an impact? I’ve felt that way many times, especially when I was caught up in the rat race.

Gaining control over my time and finances was the primary reason I decide to live a simple, minimalist life. While searching for an alternative to the work-spend treadmill I discovered that connecting with community brought joy into my life. But in order to find the time to do things like volunteer work, I needed to transition away from the habits that demanded most of my time and money. And one of those habits included selling my car.

I believe living a simple, minimalist lifestyle promotes community involvement and offers a number of solutions to the land of dissatisfied American consumers.

So let’s talk about a few tips to help you reconnect with your community.

1. Share and borrow stuff.

Rather than running out and buying the latest gadget, power tool, lawnmower, or hammer, consider borrowing the item to share the cost. A variety of sharing cooperatives have popped up around the county. There are tool sharing programs, computer co-ops, bike sharing, and cool car sharing programs like, Zipcar.

You don’t have to be part of cooperative to share stuff. Consider helping your friends and family with childcare, pet sitting or taking care of their garden. The examples are endless.

Sharing stuff is an awesome way to connect with others. First, you don’t have to buy something new or used. Second, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful connection with another human.

The next time you “need” something, ask a friend, family member or colleague if you can borrow it. Don’t forget to share your stuff too!

2. Participate in your community.

In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard, points out that “nearly three-quarters of all American’s don’t know their neighbors.” That is a startling and sad statistic.

And filmmaker Judith Helfand is currently making a film about the 1995 heat wave that struck Chicago. Over 600 people were killed as a result. Helfand explains that many of the victims were poor and socially isolated. She argues that we should engage in community-building activities all year long. These types of activities could have avoided the tragic deaths that occurred in Chicago.

You can find community in many places. The internet is a good starting point. You can create a blog, join a social network, and find out what projects local organizations are focusing on.

For instance, introduce yourself to your neighbors. Drop by with a plate of cookies or invite them over for dinner. Or volunteer with a local community organization and ask your neighbors if they would like to tag along with you.

3. Go car-free.

Traveling in a big, smelly, steel box doesn’t foster community. Sure, you might get to know the people you’re traveling with. But most American’s drive by themselves. That activity is lonely and no fun. Consider going car-free to plug into your community. Ever since I went car-free, I’m more connected to my community and my social life is rockin’. Here are a few of the car-free benefits I’ve experienced:

Lifestyle shift: Selling my car forced me to make a huge lifestyle shift. Now I get around by bike or by foot. I’ve met some incredible people on the streets and made new friends. You can’t do this in a car.

Time: I’ve taken back my time. Rather than spending two or more hours a day commuting to a job, I work at home and use my extra time to volunteer for a non-profit.

Hanging out with friends: Initially, I thought selling my car would hinder my social life. But the opposite has occurred. I’m going out more and have made some amazing new friends. Traveling by bike, walking, and car-pooling are a few transit options I use if I have to go across town for a party.

Saving cash: By selling both my cars, I save on average $14,000 per year. And saving extra money gave me the freedom to leave my day job and pursue an unconventional career path. More importantly, I’m able to donate money to organizations I believe in. If I still owned a car, I would be saddled with debt and stress.

The Big Picture: Resources are finite. If you are healthy and live in a city, sell your car. It is possible to get around by bike, mass transit or by foot. Living without a car can be difficult, but so is owning a car. I’d rather worry about getting my clothes wet in the winter, instead of forking out a $500 car payment every month.

Plus, we all have a responsibility to look at the big picture.

4. Flex your “citizen muscle”.

A few months ago, I attended a presentation by Annie Leonard, who wrote The Story of Stuff. She brought a powerful message to the audience:

Reinvigorating that citizen muscle will rebuild public participation in politics and generate real collective solutions to the considerable problems we’re facing on this planet. ~Annie Leonard

Most of us have the skills to purchase any kind of consumer product and have it shipped to us within 48 hours. On the flip side, most people don’t know where their city council members meet where public meeting take place.

Flexing your citizen muscle will foster community connections on many levels. For instance, Richard Layard is an economist and has researched what makes people happy. He said “the greatest happiness comes from absorbing yourself in some goal outside yourself.”

So turn the TV off, invite friends and family over for a scrumptious dinner, or attend a city council meeting. Talk about your passions, listen to alternative philosophies, and immerse yourself in helping other people.

5. Do what you love.

We all trade a portion of our life energy for money, so why not do what you love? Living a simpler lifestyle facilitates this strategy.  If you think that’s impossible, look to people like Everett Bogue from Far Beyond the Stars, Karol Gajda of Ridiculously Extraordinary, Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living, and Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. These folks are doing what they love and are part of a broader movement for social change.

It is possible to opt out of the relentless sleep, eat, shop, repeat treadmill. Orient your life around community, not stuff.

6. Live small and think big.

Changing individual behavior is extremely important. I’m a huge believer in living an intentional and authentic life. However, by solely focusing on changing individual behaviors we ignore systemic problems. Fixing broader social ills like consumerism, cycles of debt, and  climate change requires action. It’s essential that we flex our citizen muscles and get involved.

Your community needs you as much as you need them.


Ohhh and before I forget…

My blogging buddy Brett, from Step 1 Minimalist, just released his first ebook: Consume Less, Create More. Be sure to check it out!

Note: This content was originally published at Shareable. It has been revised and edited for RowdyReaders. 🙂

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Katie July 19, 2010, 7:26 am

    Tammy, you are always so inspiring and full of wisdom. I love your thoughts on sharing passions, thoughts, ideas and food with people you know. I could be a lot more involved in my wider community. Awareness is the first step. Thanks for this.

  • Lynn Fang July 19, 2010, 9:19 am

    Hi Tammy, thanks for another inspiring post. Thinking about #6 has led to me to thinking a lot about flexing the citizen muscle, and how I could possibly impact changes in local government. It’s definitely tough to get friends on board, though I’m sure there is some sort of community group to join that works with city government. While personal development is probably one of the first steps towards greater awareness, it is not enough to produce any systemic change. Thanks for your wise words!

  • Miss Minimalist July 19, 2010, 9:51 am

    Thanks for these wonderful tips, Tammy. I think if we (as a culture) could shift our focus away from consumerism, and towards community involvement, we’d be much happier people.

    I’m a huge fan of sharing programs — my mantra is, it’s always better to borrow than to buy!

  • Jan July 19, 2010, 10:14 am

    First of all, great article 🙂

    I really like the idea about sharing the things, even the cars. I hope projects around sharing cars, bikes …just anything…will be more and more frequent all around the world. This is the way the people should protect the planet a little bit.

    All the points were very wisely created… Thank you for this!

  • thomas krenshaw July 19, 2010, 10:15 am

    This is excellent. You are right about living a minimalist lifestyle and unplugging from the nonsense of complexity. I am witnessing this phenonmenon of opting out more and more and people like you are proving to be leaders in inspiration and guidance.

    Thank you.

  • Adena Atkins July 19, 2010, 1:26 pm

    I adore this post. There is such power in community, as your blog perfectly illustrates 🙂

    • Tammy July 20, 2010, 9:32 am

      Ahhh thank you Adena. 🙂

  • Benjamin Bankruptcy July 19, 2010, 5:56 pm

    I’m torn, generally people who comment are already engaged minimal etc. I do feel isolated from my community. I don’t feel connected and really want to feel conected but the sun is down and I feel exauhsted when I get home from work.

    • Tammy July 20, 2010, 9:32 am

      @Benjamin – Maybe you can spend a few hours on the weekend volunteering? 🙂

  • Katy Wolk-Stanley July 19, 2010, 7:11 pm


    Great post. I want to point out that being actively engaged with one’s community really is for everyone. I am a forty-something mom of young teenagers, yet my status as a “soccer mom” doesn’t mean that I’m a cliche. We shop at the locally owned stores in our neighborhood, share excess food with neighbors, (who can actually finish an entire watermelon?!) water plants for vacationing neighbors and open our large home up for visiting foreign nationals. (We’ve hosted two different British soccer coaches for a week apiece this month and will have Japanese teenage girls staying with us for a couple of weeks in August.)

    My sons and I volunteer for the Multnomah County library and our basement is the unofficial tool library for the entire block! My neighbors are always happy to offer last minute dinner ingredients, as well as an extra sunny spot for a tomato plant.

    We drive as little as possible, and carpool when it’s feasible. But mostly we just frequent shops that are within walking distance from our centrally located home.

    My hydrangeas are going bat-shit in the backyard, and I’ll probably fill up a couple of vases for my neighbors in the next few days. happy neighbors = happy community.

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

    • Tammy July 20, 2010, 9:25 am

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Katy. I totally agree. Getting involved with your community is something anyone can do. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. 🙂

      It’s really awesome you are able to host foreign nationals and are so connected to your neighbors. Very cool. And that watermelon sounds delicious. 🙂

  • Jonathan July 20, 2010, 11:28 am

    This is a timely post Tammy 🙂 I’m recently jobless (my animator gig ended), I’m living car free on a bike + ride sharing, and I’m working doing what I love – storytelling and helping people.

    One of the areas where I’m lacking is definitely getting involved in my community. There is so much more I could be doing, more people I could meet, and more involved I could be. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Emma-Jayne Saanen July 20, 2010, 1:34 pm

    This is a delightfully inspiring post. I sometimes find myself in a slump, but posts such as these reawaken my sense of being a part of the world – if I just get off my backside and participate!

  • Colleen July 20, 2010, 3:01 pm

    another vote for share & borrow stuff is also great if you do want to buy something new to you … it’s hard when you haven’t used that type of item, to know what features or things you would like or use or need and borrowing & sharing gives you concrete experience before you might make that kind of purchase. we had a need for a miter saw (for the continual remodeling projects in our old home plus to support a craft selling side line) and lots of bells & whistles when we looked left us confused (did we really need a compound miter, was the laser cutting line really going to make a difference day in, day out, did the shop vac really work to suck the dust, etc. – so we borrowed three different ones from family & friend over the course of three months and decided that many of the features were not things we needed, which made buying a great used one from Craigslist a whole lot easier and saved us a lot!).

  • Josh Lance July 20, 2010, 3:16 pm

    I’m glad I’m finally answering your post here! I admire so much about simplifying your lifestyle. If it weren’t for my art show lifestyle (tents, lots of paintings, etc…) I would have little possessions. I was glad to take a trash bag and throw out some junk today even. If you can direct me to any visual artists who are great examples of the minimalist lifestyle, I would love to see some inspirational stories, Tammy. I don’t hear enough how artists are doing it. One big change I recently did was a name change. I finally legally changed my name and now Josh Lance is my real name. Lance was my middle name and Persichetti was my former last name. Talk about a minimalist approach there! I’m still getting used to it, but it was a huge step in being authentically the man I want to be.

  • Andrew July 20, 2010, 7:10 pm

    Thanks for the good word.

    So much of what I write also is about community. That’s the reason I’m going on the minimizing journey: to cut out all the BS so I can spend more time focused on friends and family.

  • Living Large in Our Little House July 21, 2010, 3:57 am

    I’ve always been pretty involved in my community. In the city it was through journalism for the neighborhood news section of our daily and through the local writing community. Since we’ve moved to our little house way out in the woods, I did feel somewhat disconnected. I do belong to the community bookclub and share a garden with a “neighbor” 2 miles away. The animal organization I volunteer for is more than 2 hours away. However, although the neighbors are farther apart here physically, I do feel more connected with them, especially in times of need. Being this far from civilization, if someone needs a tool, a cup of milk or help during a crisis, the neighbors are there.

  • Dana King August 9, 2010, 10:24 pm

    I am an interior designer and I started a design club to encourage friends and neighbors to collaborate to remake living spaces on a dime or no dime. It is an amazing experience. I would love to share this concept with the world, can you help me?

    • Tammy August 10, 2010, 7:19 am


      Hi there and thanks for reading. Your project sounds great! I have a blogging friend, Vic, over at smallerliving.net that is focusing on a similar topic as you and you may find her philosophy very useful. Good luck!

  • Naomi August 13, 2010, 11:41 am

    Thanks for including me in *your* community, Tammy. I appreciate it!

    The village I live in now is a close-knit community. There are a lot of shared events, including a huge potluck that everyone contributes to. Connecting with neighbors is pretty easy when you live as close together as we do. But I also remember something my dad said when I started college. I was worried that I’d feel lost at a school the size of the University of Colorado of Boulder. And he told me, “You’ll create your own community.” He was right, of course.


  • What?? January 23, 2011, 6:29 pm

    Tammy, how on earth did you save 14000 dollars a year by selling your cars? You mean to say you payed more than a thousand dollars a month for insurance and gas? Furthermore, how is the hassle of finding a friend or showing up sweaty a fun alternative to driving?

    • Tammy January 24, 2011, 7:29 am

      The average American spends over $9,000 a year to maintain a car and we were spending just that but more. That’s a lot of cash.

      Also, I think it’s a matter of perspective. Just because I ride a bike, doesn’t mean I show up hot and sweaty to a party. You can take slow, enjoyable rides in nice clothes, and have a great time.

      Best of luck.