Dear Maria,

We have wonderful neighbors next door. They are a young couple with darling children. We visit off and on when we are all outside. It’s not what I’d call friendship, but we certainly enjoy each other. My dilemma is that I am very neat and they are not! I try not to overlook the condition of the outside of their home, but it is what we see when we sit out on our patio.

I have been somewhat able to let go since I really have no control over any of it. I don’t want to bring the issue up and jeopardize our relationship–especially with the youngest who sits with me some times and I read to him. I know from things they’ve mentioned that they are not open to changing any of their ways. They have sweetly apologized for the messes.

I have noticed that when we have company they seem to ask about the neighbors’ patio, etc. One of our family members asked if they were having a garage sale! Nope, that’s just the way their patio looks 90% of the time.

Am I on the right track by taking in their goodnesses (which are many) and asking God to help me accept the way they choose to live?

Thank you so much for your wonderful column and your expert advice.

Signed,

What a Mess

Dear What a Mess,

Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanac, said it best: “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.”

Yes, you are on the right track. You sound like a wonderful neighbor to visit with, especially when you read to the youngest. I suspect he feels a little lost in the shuffle, and clutter, of their yard, so the extra attention is welcome. You are annoyed by their sloppy outsides, but are focusing on the positives in your neighborly relationship. What a big heart you have! Would that you had a big hedge to go with it.

Kitchen windowHere’s the view from our kitchen window. Our neighbor replaced his AC unit, and chose warehouse-worthy equipment to finish the job. We spent years shaking our heads at the view, then it dawned on us that some creative landscaping would improve things. Sure, we’d rather the return ducts weren’t there, but there is a lesson here in where to focus one’s attention. (That lesson, “Sunset Swingset”, is another post.) You’re attending to the good you find in your neighbors. Bless you!

I’m not sure what can be done in this situation, short of trading a bit of that goodwill for an honest request to keep their yard more presentable. I’m sure you could do this in a gentle and loving way. Or, is there a homeowners association you can appeal to, or a neighborhood preservation program in your county or district? It sounds like you’d rather not pursue the issue. So, I suggest Rose of Sharon bushes. They grow quickly and bloom before you know it. Leave some space between for the little guy!