The Art of Community Building

by Tammy Strobel on July 19, 2010

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. :)

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