Why Simple Neighborhood Gatherings Are Important with Erin Woodruff

Friendship IRL Podcast Episode 52 - Why Simple Neighborhood Gatherings Are Important (and How to Pull One Off) with Erin Woodruff

Podcast Description

Last March, Erin Woodruff was walking through her neighborhood with her two-year-old daughter. It had been a long winter and it felt like spring would never come. 

During the walk, Erin began wondering about her neighbors. Many were also moms of young children. Were they also depressed and tired of the cold weather? She wished she knew them better. So, she created a means to do so. 

The next week, she hosted a “Favorite Things” party, a low-barrier gathering that had big effects. So much of the language regarding new friendships is about “joining” or “finding,” but here, Erin created her opportunity to get to know her neighbors better. 

I was an event-planner for more than a decade, and I love helping people figure out how to pull off impactful, meaningful gatherings. In this episode, Erin and I talk in-depth about not only how to pull off an intentional neighborhood gathering, but why they’re so important.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Erin’s work as a communications coach and her resolution to make more friends that live close to her after a mid-pandemic move
  • The Favorite Things party – the inspiration, the details, how she prepared for it, the intentions behind it, and why the format works well with new acquaintances
  • How and why you sometimes want to keep things simple at gatherings – plus, how throwing a gathering like this creates more connection opportunities for the future
  • Decision fatigue and the mantra Erin learned from her mother about focusing not on who didn’t come, but instead, at who did
  • Creating intentional gatherings – thinking about what your goal is in a gathering and creating an environment in which you can reach that goal

Reflection Question:

What kind of gathering would you like to host? Who would you like to get to know better, and how could you create the kind of gathering that would facilitate growing these connections?

Notable quotes:

“I kept asking myself, what is my goal for this party? It was to connect with my neighbors. I think another thing – this is kind of a selfish reason – is my toddler is learning how to defiantly run in the road. Part of me just kept thinking, I want people around me who are going to care about her as much as I do.”

“People don’t like making decisions. Decision fatigue is a real thing. And so when you tell people ‘I’m hosting this party this day, at this time, and this is the theme, please bring your favorite thing’ – you’ve eliminated all of the decision-making for them. And even though it costs you a little bit of decision fatigue, it’s going to really pay off in the long run when you’re talking about creating an experience that’s good for someone else. And it makes a huge difference because all they have to do is show up.” 

Resources & Links

Want to throw a Favorite Things party? Here are Erin’s tips. Learn more about Erin’s coaching business and check out her podcast, the Time For You Podcast.

Want to learn more about intentional gatherings? Check out The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

Want to take this conversation a step further? Send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting and use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out!


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Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 

Alex Alexander [Narration] 0:50
I am so excited for today’s episode. Because it’s one of those episodes that on the surface seems deceivingly simple. But as we get deeper into this episode, it is this almost a two parter friends. The first part, our guest, Erin Woodruff talks about how she was walking through her neighborhood. Simple, just taking her daughter on a walk. And she started to realize that she didn’t really know any of these people who were around her all the time. And she wanted to change that. So she pretty quickly threw together a favorite things party. Now, I’m gonna tell you right now, go to the show notes. Because Erin has put together everything you need to host this simple gathering, the invite wording, how she planned the favorite things part, it’s all in there. But as you go into this episode, we get a little bit deeper. Erin and I end up talking about why it’s so important to have even simple connections to the people that live around you. How important it is to know their names, to have them be familiar with you and your family, to wave when you walk down the street. Like that sense of belonging where you live, how important that is. Now, I’m releasing this episode strategically around the holiday season. And I know that the holiday season is normally a time of year that is very jam-packed with gatherings. And that there are lots of barriers to those gatherings. So people get overwhelmed that their to-do lists feels endless. So I think that this episode is a beautiful thing to release right now. Because one, it shows you an option for an incredibly low barrier gathering that you could plan for your neighbors or for anyone. And two, we close it out talking about the importance of doing this. So when you are overwhelmed this holiday season, take care of yourself. But also remember that this kind of stuff, connection, gathering, community, it’s important. So with that, let’s get to today’s episode.

Alex Alexander 3:05
Hi, Erin, how are you?

Erin Woodruff 3:06
I’m so good. How are you?

Alex Alexander 3:08
I’m good. I’m good. I noticed you were on my calendar today. And I got really excited because this story, this experience you had is just like a simple, tangible way for people to do something a little different, make an impact in their life. And sometimes in this podcast, we talk about really big, overwhelming topics. And it’s nice to balance those out.

Erin Woodruff 3:35
I agree.

Alex Alexander 3:37
Tackling community friendship, and connection. Loneliness has so many factors and possibilities and ways that it’s impacting society, that it can be nice just to have a story of something somebody did that made a difference, which is exactly what you did, very shortly before finding me and this podcast, and then realizing like, wait, this is exactly what she’s asking about. Do you want to tell us a little bit about you and the story that brought you here?

Erin Woodruff 4:15
Yeah, for sure. So I am a communications coach, I run my own business from home. And I love talking about connection. And I love coaching and I love helping people grow into the best versions of themselves. And I guess the way we connected is because I had an experience, which I’m going to share here. But I had posted about it on my own social media platforms about me seeking connection with the people around me, my neighbors, and the ladies that live close to me and it was just a really impactful thing. And then shortly after I saw Alex’s post on just a Facebook group, we’re both a part of a collaborative group and she said I’m looking for guests. This is kind of my podcast. And I was like, I actually want to share my experience, not because I think anyone needs to work with me as a communications coach necessarily, but I think, like our missions, Alex, I feel like we’re so aligned in what we’re doing trying to help people better their own lives. So I’m so excited to be here. I feel so honored. So, thank you for having me and letting me share my story.

Alex Alexander 5:24
Of course, of course, you know, I find a lot of people I talked to, there is this overlap. We’re all trying to consciously kind of tackle this problem in different ways. And we need the me and the you and we need the different ways to attack it. Because I mean, connection, I think is an overwhelming problem. I don’t think that I know it, I think about how overwhelming it is every day. So we talked previously, you told me that one of your goals this year was to make more friends who live close to you. Had you moved?

Erin Woodruff 6:05
Yeah, I moved in the fall of 2020. So mid pandemic, I moved. And I’ve been here for… coming up on three years. And I’ve gotten to know many of my neighbors. But during 2020 as the whole world was upheaved, I moved away from my friends and my friends moved away from me. And I found myself feeling very lonely friendship wise. And I’m married, and I love my husband, and I have family. That’s great. But for me, the friendship piece has always been a big part of who I am. So yeah, at the beginning of the year, I was like, I need to make more friends that live close to me, just friends that I can say, “Do you want to go to lunch?” Friends that like, “Do you want to go to the park and let our toddlers play?” “Do you want to go shopping with me for an hour?” Whatever it was. And I found myself… last year, especially just feeling like I don’t have any friends that live close. So yeah, going into this year, that was kind of one of my goals, like how am I going to make friends this year that live close to me?

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Alex Alexander 7:10
I mean, I think so many people… there’s that phrase of ‘Just find a few close friends. And that’s all you need.’ And I think people can really fall in that trap. It’s like, you probably have close friends. I’m not using that quotes and like, they’re not close friends, they are. But when people move away, suddenly, you can’t do all the same things you did before.

Erin Woodruff 7:38
Your friendship changes.

Alex Alexander 7:39
It changes. And it’s totally fine to want some of those things you used to do still, it’s not a slight on the friends that moved away. It is not that they’re not close friends, or that you won’t try or you don’t have all this history and meaning and love. It’s just simply, you want some people where the time it takes to actually get to be physically together is not a constant barrier, doesn’t require tons and tons of planning.

Erin Woodruff 8:11
And especially because I have a daughter who’s almost two. And anytime you add kids into the mix, oh my goodness, anyone who has kids can relate. It is a whole new element of obstacle courses that you have to go through. You can plan. I have some really good friends that live about 40 minutes away. But the planning that goes into that is so much more intense. And so I agree with you, Alex, just being able to say I still love those friends, but I want somebody closer to me, that’s totally fine. It’s really normal to have that community right around you.

Alex Alexander 8:49
Yeah, and they all feel different roles. And, you know, it’s great that you saw that you can have both and want both. Like you can have those friends you’ve had for a long time. And it’s also worth investing your time to build friendships, connections with people that live closer to you. So, you said you’ve lived there two and a half years or so. We met each other pretty recently. So in the two and a half years, between moving there and deciding to reach out to your neighbors, which we’ll talk about in a minute, did you try other things to make connections? Did you just kind of think like, it’s fine, I’ll grit through this? Like what was your thought process in that time period?

Erin Woodruff 9:46
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think because COVID is weird, right? We can all agree on that. Like it’s just a time warp of weirdness. But we moved and it was still pandemic time. So even then, like our neigbors would say hi to us from across the street. So we really never got to meet people then. And then, again, what I mentioned earlier, everyone kind of got upheaved. And more than half of the people that live in my neighborhood, all moved. So not only was I new, but so were so many other people. So there’s a lot of new people in my neighborhood in the last three years. And so I think it’s a combination of a few things, the people who were here when I moved in, they were established and they were happy to welcome me into the neighborhood. And then part of it too, was me assuming the role of, I’m the old one in the neighborhood now. And I have to lead out, and I have to be first. And so I haven’t met, or up to this point, I hadn’t met, like all my neighbors. I had tried. But as people would move in and out, I was always trying to make a conscious effort. Like, I want them to feel welcome, because that’s the kind of community I want to live in. So I want to introduce myself to somebody else who is moving in. So I do think friendships just take a lot of time to develop. And so over the last three years, it’s kind of been a hybrid of everything. Me meeting my old neighbors then leaving, me being sad about that, because we were becoming friends, new people moving in, and then being willing to make new friendships, even with people that were newer in the neighborhood than I am. So I don’t know that there’s any one right answer. But I feel like this year was much more intentional, like, I want to try and make some more friends.

Alex Alexander 11:44
I don’t ever know if there is one thing for people, I think quite often it’s a lot of things that compound. But I’m just always so curious. Because I really do think that society has told us this is an area of our life we can’t really impact, that we can’t change it necessarily. Like take what we’re given and appreciate that because it’s rare and like that is special. So I’m just always so curious what makes people decide to take action, like do this thing that they maybe haven’t done before, and then they’re told, doesn’t always work out. And it’s hard. And, you know, like some build-up, which I think you’re totally right can just be like an extended number of circumstances over a period of time. Something makes people finally decide that they’re going to do something to try and build momentum and invest and be intentional in this area of their life. And we may never be able to pinpoint that. But I’m just always curious. When you did decide to reach out to your neighbors, I feel like you told me a story, maybe about a walk. And I really loved that story, even though I can’t quite remember exactly what it is. But it really left this visual in my head.

Erin Woodruff 13:17
So I don’t know where you live or anyone who’s listening. I’m not sure where you guys live. But where I live, this year, the winter was endless. We had the endless winter where I live, we had record-breaking snowpack. It just never ended. And it was mid-March when things are typically starting to turn towards spring. And it wasn’t. And I was really discouraged. Feeling like this winter really is never going to end. And I was walking around. I live on the corner of the coldest sack. And I was walking with my toddler because there are only so many things you can do in the winter with a toddler. And one of them is walking outside in the cold. And I was just so in the dumps with myself. Just like I’m so cold. I’m so miserable. I’m so over this winter. And I really wish they were just very selfish, depressing thoughts. And I just was like, this sucks. And then I started looking at all of my neighbor’s houses and thinking, well, she has a baby that’s younger than my toddler. So I wonder how she’s handling all of this. That mom has three kids. That mom works full time. That mom has kids and she’s an empty nester now but she takes care of her grandkids sometimes. That mom’s a single mom. That lady doesn’t have kids. And I was just like, thinking about all the people I didn’t know and looking at their houses and then I started asking myself, are they as miserable as I am? Are they so over this winter like me? And as I started to turn my thoughts towards them, I realized like, that maybe they are. Maybe they’re just as depressed and lonely and sad as me, and they’re feeling just like this winter is never going to end. Because I think there’s an element naturally in the summer, in the spring, you see more people outside. And I feel like I was waiting for that to happen. And it wasn’t happening. So as I started thinking about it, I was like, You know what I want to host a party for my neighbors and myself. I need it. I need something to look forward to. And I have always wanted to host a favorite things party. And so I just started thinking about it, we were only on like a 15-minute walk, me and my toddler. It was not very long, it seems like it’s much longer. But it was just a very short walk, I walk in my cul de sac every day. And I don’t know what it was particularly about this day, but I just looked around, and I was like, I’m just so sick of feeling like crap. I’m sick of being so self-absorbed. And I just want to do something for somebody else. And it was partly selfish, but also for somebody else. And then I thought, well, my goal was to make more friends this year. So this would add that, but also, I want to get to know my neighbors. So this whole idea, I decided that a week out, I came home and I made this invitation and I can read your listeners what I pulled up, the invitation so I can read. I’m happy to share it with you. So you can share it in the show notes or something. But I made this invitation. And then I text it to all of my neighbors that lived in the cul de sac around me, the houses that lived by me and then across the street, and I text them all this invitation with the date and the time, the theme, what we were doing. And I said I need something to look forward to, this winter is never ending, I hope you’ll join me for this party. And then I added feel free to invite a neighbor or a friend. Even if they don’t know me, I know how hard it is for people to go to someone’s houses if they don’t know them. But if they’re coming in with a friend, it’s a lot easier. And I told all of them, it was kind of a long text that I sent with the invitation. But I also said everyone I’ve invited lives right around me. So, you’ll be in good company. Come get to know your friends and neighbors. I just need something to look forward to. And that’s just what I kept saying. And the response I got was just incredible. So I don’t know if you have like a follow up question or you want me to keep sharing.

Alex Alexander 17:32
Yeah, I have so many thoughts. I do have a question. Did you ask people to RSVP?

Erin Woodruff 17:38
Yes, I did.

Alex Alexander 17:39
Did people RSVP or do people show up with or without.

Erin Woodruff 17:42
Pretty much everyone did especially if they were bringing somebody else, they told me like, “Do you care if I bring my neighbor Janet?” Like she doesn’t know you.” And I said, “That’s totally fine. I don’t know her either. She’s more than welcome to come.” So I had, I would say like 90% RSVP.

Alex Alexander 18:01
I love that. The RSVP doesn’t matter one way or another. I’m mainly just asking, these are the types of questions that people want to know people ruminate on, and that might be the barrier to doing the thing. I, a lot of times, don’t include an RSVP purely so that people can just like decide at the end. You know, there’s argument for that. There’s argument for requiring RSVP because it forces people to really think about whether they want to go and make a commitment. That also makes it… you know, if I don’t require an RSVP, I have no idea if anybody’s going to show up. So that’s a lot of anticipation and nerves. If you do require an RSVP, you have some sense with the first one of those rules in that somebody will show up at your door. Tthere’s no right or wrong way. I’m just curious.

Erin Woodruff 18:55
Yeah, I included an RSVP with my name and phone number at the bottom of the invitation because I assumed that… I was hoping at least that maybe someone who didn’t have my phone number would get it. So I wanted them to be able to contact me anyways. It definitely wasn’t required. But a lot of people I think were just excited. So they were like, I’ll be there. So I think it probably depends on your preference, your style. But for me, I did have one.

Alex Alexander 19:23
The other thought I had about this is I love… I love if you bring someone else. Like this reminds me of not a story, but in college, I lived my senior year with two gals who… we decided to be roommates because we didn’t want to live with our best friends. And for no other reason, then you can go to do something and you don’t feel this pressure that you have to invite them and whatnot. One of those people to this day is one of my closest friends. But we used to throw parties in college, like girls nights really. Because we all came from different friend groups, we would each invite a group of women, and then ask each of them to bring someone that we weren’t close with. But we’re not gonna say we weren’t friends with them, because we were all in college. So we probably overlapped with each other, but someone that maybe we weren’t the closest with. And those were such fun gatherings. Because when people know that upfront, and there’s the intention of bringing someone else, you mentioned, right, it makes them more comfortable to come. But I also think it sets this precedent before they get there, that everyone is here to meet other people. And you are not going to show up and be the one person who’s in the corner who knows no one because we’ve all been in that situation. So then it removes this pressure, that you’re the only one when you walk in the door. So I love that you were just like upfront about that, and actually gave people an activity that made them feel more comfortable, but also set this precedent that you won’t be alone when you get here. It was such a great intuitive decision in hosting this party.

Erin Woodruff 21:27
Yeah, I tried to be intuitive, but also not overthink it. Because I also fall into the trap of, if I overthink this, it’s not going to happen. And so I just decided, again, assuming that role of like, I’m the host, and I’m throwing the party. And I think that’s the hardest part of like, I get to choose. And I just decided a day and a time. And I sent it out. And there were some neighbors that I know well, that couldn’t come. They were out of town or they had something else. And that’s totally fine. But I was just like, this is the day and time that works for me. And most people came, so it works out. Like if you’re feeling that nervousness, I promise it’s going to work out.

Alex Alexander 22:11
Okay, so then you sent out the invite. You’ve only given yourself like a week. Were there any other maybe decisions you made in planning the gathering? The answer might be no. But I’m just curious if there was anything else that you intentionally chose to do or not do?

Erin Woodruff 22:26
Yeah. So my decision to do a week out was intentional, because I don’t… well, it was a favorite things party, which asks people to bring things. So I didn’t want to do it the next day, because no one would have the time, they would feel caught off guard. And I didn’t want to stress about it for three weeks. So a week felt good, like a good enough time for someone to say yeah, that day is free for me and I have time to get something. And a week was good for me to like… a good amount of time to look forward to it and not stress constantly. So that was very intentional. And then in prep for it, I really didn’t do much. I just got a few refreshments. I bought some premade cheesecake bites that I love. And I made some avocado mango salsa, and I had chips. And I had a salsa and a cheesecake thing and some water. And that was it. And I didn’t… I was like I don’t need to worry about decorations. I don’t need to worry about anything fancy. And one of my neighbors who was thrilled to come, brought over some folding chairs. She was like, “I can bring folding chairs.” And I was like, “That’s great.” So there really was not much prep. And I did that very intentionally for myself. I didn’t want to stress myself out and I didn’t want… especially I think part of it too was I was not trying to think about it but not overthink about how are other people who don’t know me coming to my house going to perceive me. I just tried to make it simple. And still really fun.

Alex Alexander 24:05
I’ve been talking about this. I don’t know if you follow me on Instagram, but I’m talking about this on Instagram recently. This, you know… society tells us that when people come to our house, it should be a certain way but it’s a lot of work to plan it clean and get out your nice… prepare all this food or order it and whatnot. Like that’s a lot of work. So give yourself credit if you’re doing that. It’s hard either way, but it’s also a lot of work to keep things simple and true to who you are and a little closer to what your everyday life looks like. And I really love that you chose to do the extra work of sitting in, you know, maybe a little bit of discomfort of not putting your quote-unquote like “absolute best” foot forward. But in thinking about it, it really works in your favor for this party in particular, because what you’re hoping to build here is connections with people who live right around you, people who could decide they want to ask you a question and come knock on your door 60 seconds later. So setting a precedent that your house is always going to be this, you know, it looks like it’s out of a magazine is not what they’re going to see if they just randomly stopped by on a Wednesday where you’re pulling your hair out. So I love that you made that choice. The other thing when you were talking about it is the favorite things is a fun idea for a party where people don’t know each other. Because it is an easy conversation topic. Like you’ve now created, everybody knows that they were asked whether they did it or not. Somebody might have forgotten. And they could just say all night, like, oh, well, I didn’t have time this week. But I would have brought… like they have something to talk about. And then they obviously have the other thing to talk about, which is, do you live in the neighborhood? Which direction? How long have you lived here? I call them shared experiences or shared interests, that everyone kind of knows, they can talk about in those initial first moments of a conversation with someone you’ve never met before. This makes it easier to move around a room. You really created an experience intuitively, that set people up for success whether you realized it or not.

Erin Woodruff 26:47
Yeah, I do think I realized a lot of it because I like people to feel comfortable with me, but with each other. And so I think another piece of the drama that comes with a favorite things party, and I’ll share this is you’re asking someone to bring something, spend their own money on something to bring it and share it, and in return that you’re gonna get something. And so there’s a risk and reward there. And I had a lot of drama about like, what if this friend can’t afford it? What if they don’t want to spend money? And I just had to, first of all, realize that if someone didn’t want to spend the money, they would decline the invitation to come. And that’s okay, because we can’t control what other people are doing. But then the next thing that I kept telling myself is, people when they’re coming somewhere, they usually want to bring something. People don’t like showing up empty handed. And I kept telling myself that. People like to share the things that they love. People like to come with something in their hands, they like to contribute. And I definitely, definitely saw it. It was a great easy conversation starter. It helped people feel like they were connected with what was happening. And they felt like they were really… it wasn’t necessarily my party, it was our party, because everyone contributed just as much as I did.

Alex Alexander 28:13
I love that. And, and that’s a great reminder to everyone who’s listening, who, like you were saying you might have to work through that discomfort.

Erin Woodruff 28:24
And it’s totally real. And I would definitely remind people, you don’t have to ask your guests to bring anything but for me, that’s what I chose to do. And it was so much fun.

Alex Alexander 28:35
So, let’s talk about the party itself. Tell me about the party. Tell me about people showing up, how it went, how you felt?

Erin Woodruff 28:43
Yeah. So for anyone who doesn’t know what a favorite things party is, I’ll give a quick recap. I’m just going to read it straight off the invitation so you can hear what I sent to my guests. And I said, ‘You are invited to a favorite things party. How it works. Number one, think of something you love worth $10 or less. Number two, purchase three of those items. So all three items are the same. Number three, bring all three items to the party unwrapped. Number four, at the party, you’ll be able to share your favorite item and then draw three names of people whose gifts you will go home with. And number five, everyone will walk away with three favorite items from friends. And then I included the date, time, my address and my phone number for RSVPs. So, it was a pretty simple invitation. So everyone knew… it was kind of like an agenda in a meeting almost. Like everyone knew what was going to happen. So when everyone came, everyone just put all their favorite things on the table. And it was fun because people were eyeing it like, “What the heck is that?” And, “Oh, I want that” and, “Oh that’s such a great idea. I love that too”, before it had even started. So as people started coming… and there were about 17 people there. It was a fairly large party, which was so much fun. There were three guests that came that didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. So that was… yeah, it was great. And it was so fun to meet them. And as people came, they just filled out their name on three tiny pieces of paper, threw it in a bowl where we were going to draw names later. And then everyone just ate refreshments. And I let people chat for 15-20 minutes. And then I just, you know, stood up. And I said, like, “Thank you, everyone for coming. This is really… you know, I’m so grateful that you all showed up, first of all.” Because I think that’s the fear when you host something that people aren’t gonna come. It’s a big fear. So I was just really appreciative to them. And then I actually did share with them the story I shared earlier about, like, last week, I was really depressed and really lonely and really sad. And I wanted to do something to look forward to. So, thanks for coming. And hopefully, you can all fill this woman power that we’re creating tonight. And then I shared my favorite thing. And the thing that I brought, I’m more than happy to share a few of the items. But the item that I bought was fresh flowers. I love fresh flowers. I think they’re such a fun thing to get for yourself. It’s fun to receive them from someone else. But to buy them for yourself is really, really nice. And so I bought three separate vases of fresh flowers. So whoever drew my name, got the flowers to go home with. And then we just went around the room, everyone introduced themselves and things you already mentioned, Alex. Like where they live in the neighborhood, how long they’ve lived there, they talked about their favorite things. Everyone gave a pretty good recap of if they were working, if they had kids, and we had such a variety, you know, anyone who lives in a neighborhood, you’re going to have a huge variety of ages, walks of life, demographics, it was really cool. So we had people who had had a baby two weeks earlier, and I had my neighbor who’s 80. And her husband at the time was in the hospital, fighting pneumonia. And so, we had like the most broad range spectrum of guests there. And it was so much fun.

Alex Alexander 32:24
I was not expecting you to say fresh flowers. I love that that was your gift because it really gave everybody who was there like a little tidbit about you, something to know about you. Were there any other maybe unique things that people brought?

Erin Woodruff 32:40
Yeah, I’ll share. I won’t be able to remember all of them. But someone brought containers of caramels covered in chocolate. Someone brought their own homemade lotions and sugar scrubs because she’s allergic to everything. So she makes her own homemade lotions and sugar scrubs. And someone brought the silicone egg molds where you can get your eggs the exact size of an egg muffin. And she’s like, “It’s been a game changer in my home.” And I love them. I use them every day. And so, she brought those. And someone brought the bag chip clips, that are magnets for your fridge, someone brought a garlic press. Someone brought really cute decorative soap dispensers. Someone brought bath bombs, and another person actually brought succulent plants. So we were laughing because I’m like, I brought fresh flowers and she brought succulent plants. And so, that was a connection for us too. Like, oh, we really like plants. And you can keep thinking of more. But those are just a few. It was all over the board as far as what types of things were brought. And it was really fun.

Alex Alexander 33:59
I love it because it just gave you like a little snippet into these people. You know, maybe, I don’t know, like they have the garlic press. They love to cook. I mean, you just were saying about the woman who makes her own lotions. She’s allergic to everything. Like now you have these little details that you have learned about everyone there. Which is, I mean, how we learn about anyone. Anyone we’re friends with at one point was just another person in the room that we didn’t know anything about. And over time, we started to learn about them and care about them and know them. So it all starts somewhere. And suddenly, you’re in a room where 17 people are sharing some little fact and now 17 people know something about you and they see you walking down the street. It’s as simple as that. And I also love how you said you know, you gave people about 15-20 minutes to mingle. I think a lot of people would wait and hold the activity for a lot longer. But in doing that, you kind of cut that awkward, small-talk phase. Everyone went around at the same activity of talking about their favorite things, picking the names, whatever. And then if people wanted to keep talking, they actually had things to talk about to people, to approach them like, “Oh, I have an allergy too.” Or…

Erin Woodruff 35:23
Yeah. And it was really fun. Because as people went around, people would just ask questions, too. So it was kind of like a group get-to-know-you. It was very informal. And to your point of not withholding the activity, because there were so many people, I knew it was going to… it took over an hour to go around. I knew it was going to take a long time. But also, to me in my mind, like that was the party. That was the whole point of being there. So I didn’t see the purpose in, you know, holding it out. So if you’re thinking like, how long do we have to wait, I would just say, wait till people are there and comfortable and go.

Alex Alexander 36:04
Yeah. Especially meeting people for the first time. I think that’s a great way to do it. And then if people want to connect after, now they have more information about each other, to approach each other and start conversations. And it can keep going that way, instead of host forcing this long mingling time before the activity. Tell us about like the aftermath. What happened? How did you feel after the party? What have you seen has maybe like a ripple effect through yourself or your neighborhood?

Erin Woodruff 36:41
Yeah, great question. So at the end of the party, when everyone drew their three names, and then I just went around, had the ball in my hands, and I would say, okay, draw three names, yell out the names, and whoever was named, she called, just go grab your gift, because I was like, I just can’t do it all. And so it was good, because it got people up and moving, which I think creates the state change that’s really good for connection. And once everyone was done, some people swapped gifts. And it was really funny. And people hung out for a minute, but most of them went home pretty quickly. But everyone, I’ll add this in here, and I can talk more about them, but one of my neighbors brought two of her neighbors that I didn’t know. It’s a sister and a sister in law who are from Ukraine. One of them has been here in the US for eight years. And the other one got here two months ago. They came and she asked me, like, “Do you care if I bring them?” And I said, “Not at all, please bring them.” And the one who just got here two months ago, as she was leaving, she gave me a big hug. And she said, “I had so much fun. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire life.” And it was so sweet and so meaningful to me. And anyone who knows what’s going on in Ukraine can only feel for how hard it is to leave your country anyways, and come to a place you don’t know. But for her to say that to me, I was just like, wow. It just made my night. And everyone was so happy. Everyone was just hugging everybody after, you know, thank you. And everyone left. And the aftermath now has been really great. My neighbors, I know all of their names now. Like if I didn’t know them before, I know now. And so even when I see them, and I’m walking past their house, I can just call them by name. And that makes a huge difference. But I’ve had multiple people at different times text me and say, “Hey, who was the girl at your party who said she does photography?” And I’m like, “Oh, let me send you her number.” And she lives right behind me. I know her well. And she has done photos, professional photos for one of the friends. And she did family photos for another one of her friends. And she’s gotten actual work business from my party. But also it gave other people you know, like I want photos done. And it’s just like really cool to see how that has happened. But just in general, I’ve heard good things from all of my guests that came and I’ve just continued to reflect at how much fun it was and how important it was for me to forget about my own insecurities and do something really nice for someone else because it wasn’t about me. It was selfishly because I had such great time. But it really was about other people. And that has allowed me to just find so much more happiness within myself. So the ripple effect has been really great since then.

Alex Alexander 39:51
In thinking about this party and this story in the way you’re telling it and your choices and your experience, something that stands out to me is that a lot of people hose things like this, because, like you said, you want to make friends who live closer to you. So a lot of people host things like this hoping that they will meet their new best friend at this party. And then when it doesn’t happen, they’re disappointed. They don’t want to repeat it, you know, it wasn’t worth their time. And listening to you, it’s like, you may intuitively just get it. You know, like, we have to tap into the community around us. And sometimes, that might mean making one close friend. But in order to eventually make, you know, I guess these quote-unquote, “friends”, whatever that is that you’re looking for, may not just happen as a direct result of one party, right? It could be that you’ve now kind of cast this net, you connect with these people, you’re happy to do that for them, it also makes you more connected, you will be around them, you will connect with them. And you never know, it might be that they invite you to a barbecue at their house. And that’s how you meet someone or they refer you somewhere. And that’s how you meet people you feel more connected to. You know, it’s not always those first connection points. It’s just like leaning into the web almost, and seeing where it takes you. And no matter what, there’s like fulfillment in just the basic community piece too that’s part of it. Because a lot of people I think, would maybe see this party like, yeah, they got connected to their neighbors. But if they went into it looking for that one friend, they wouldn’t keep going.

Erin Woodruff 42:05
I can completely see the concern you’re bringing up. And I don’t think I had that idea.

Alex Alexander 42:12
I don’t think you did, either.

Erin Woodruff 42:13
I think my idea was, how can I get to know the people around me. Because I had a whole bunch of drama, too. I have other friends that like live a few streets over that I didn’t invite. And I kept reminding myself, what is my intention? And I kept asking myself, what is my goal for this party, and it was to connect with my neighbors. And I think another more… this is kind of a selfish reason, is my toddler is learning how to defiantly run in the road. And part of me just kept thinking, I want people around me who are going to care about her as much as I do. And so I kept thinking, I’m just limiting it, I had to draw actual boundaries in my mind of like, I’m only inviting people that live in these houses. And if they invite somebody else, I don’t care.

Alex Alexander 43:14
I don’t think that that’s selfish. I get why you’re saying that. Because I think society has ingrained that idea. And so, I don’t think that’s selfish. I actually think that what you’re doing is leading by example, right? There’s a lot of talk out there. Like there was a viral video that went recently, I’ll find the Creator Tim Chiusano, I think. Sorry, I probably butchered his last name. But he lives in New York, he went to Tokyo and he posted this video about how kids in Tokyo ride the subway at the age of nine by themselves. And him and his wife were utterly shocked. And how Japan as a society has chosen to basically do anything to protect kids. And when you send your kids out, every adult feels that it’s their responsibility. Currently, US culture doesn’t think that way. And it is actions like this that are leading by example, in small ways to shift the tide. And what you’re talking about is forming what’s called weak ties, which is basically like, deciding that somebody you maybe don’t even know that well, matters, and is trustworthy and whatnot. We’ve lost trust in weak ties in American society. So I totally get why you’re saying it’s selfish, but in my mind, I’m like, you did something about it.

Erin Woodruff 44:55
Yeah. I love that you bring it up. I have never thought about that as weak ties. I’m a big believer in the strength of weak ties. And I do think it is willing to go first to create the community that you want to be a part of. And since the party, none of my neighbors have thrown a party and invited me, and that’s fine. And I’m not offended by that, but I keep thinking that wasn’t my intention. But my connections with my neighbors has gotten stronger. They’ve asked for more favors. They’ve said hi to me every time they see me, I’ve watched their kids. We’re creating a community that is fun to be a part of.

Alex Alexander 45:36
There’s a constant theme on this podcast of people being like, okay, well, this is really hard to be somebody who’s trying to change the way we’re operating. Because people think I’m doing weird things, or they push back and tell me that’s not possible, or they don’t believe in the things I do. And that’s really hard. And I always have to remind people, this is currently counter culture. We are… doing something as simple as throwing this party is disrupting the cycle that is leading by example, like you were saying, to try and create what we say we all want. I mean what a lot of people want. But a lot of people want, or at least at least want the end result. And we aren’t talking enough about the little actions that might make an impact. And in the beginning, when I started talking about this stuff, right, I really was convinced that talking about a party, like this a favorite thing’s party in your neighborhood, and talking about it from a selfish perspective of people don’t want to feel so lonely, would be the carrot that convinced people to take the action. But the more I talk about it, the more I realize that we’ve all just been so convinced. Like, it’s okay, we’ll suffer in silence, that it truly is actually talking about the ripple effect of how if 10,000, 100,000 people did this in their neighborhoods, how it might change something, I think, that might actually lead people to getting over their own fears of nobody showing up at their party and doing this thing, and we’ll never know, if it changes anything. If we can’t see that little actions like this might add up maybe, at least it’s something.

Erin Woodruff 47:40
Yes, it’s something. And I’ll add in here, too. I’ve always wanted to go to a favorite things party, and I’ve never been invited. I know lots of people who have had favorite things parties, and I’ve never been invited. And for me, I could be mad about it. Or I can say I’m going to host one. So again, going back to the leading by example. And I actually told all of my guests there that night, I said, “I’ve always wanted to be invited to a favorite things party, and it never happened. So I decided to throw my own. So thanks for coming. Thanks for being here. Thanks for being my guests. I hope we have a lot of fun.” And we did. But it was again going to what do I really want to do. And that was hosting a favorite things party and it made it easier for me to even want to do it because I knew it’s something that I thought would be really fun. So if you’re listening and you feel like a favorite things party is not for me, but backyard barbecue is, whatever is in your wheelhouse, whatever sounds fun to you, lean into that. And it makes the insecurities less big.

Alex Alexander 48:56
Yeah, it’s just like one more barrier to doing the thing. There’s so many of these, we don’t know if they’re silent, but there’s so many of these like subtle barriers, you know, having the perfectly clean house, we don’t do it this way, that, well, what do they want? Versus what would be the easiest thing for me to do. And if we can start to see those, we’re more likely to just do the thing.

Erin Woodruff 49:21
Because… and I see this within my own coaching, but my own life too, people don’t like making decisions. Decision fatigue is a real thing. And so when you tell people I’m hosting this party this day, this time, this is the theme, please bring your favorite thing, you’ve eliminated all of the decision making for them. And even though it costs you a little bit of decision fatigue, it’s going to really pay off in the long run when you’re talking about creating an experience that’s good for someone else. And it makes a huge difference because all they have to do is show up. You’ve decided all the things.

Alex Alexander 50:02
I love you just said creating, because I think about this a lot. A lot of people when they talk about friendship or community, talk about finding or joining. And there’s nothing wrong with finding or joining. But in order to find or join, you are doing a bunch of research, you’re like going to things and trying it out. It doesn’t feel quite right, you just get over the things that don’t feel right and join what like feel better later, there’s still a lot of decisions in that process. But there is a little less risk because you didn’t create it, you don’t have to risk that people won’t show up or like what you created. Like they may find you and not like it and not continue. So, we think that that’s easier. When in reality, we have the opportunity to create or make, in which case, you just pick what you want, you send it out. And even one person attending is a party, that’s the beginning of a group. Like everything starts from nothing and slowly grows. Don’t I know it? I launched this podcast. We kind of get this in other areas of life. But in friendship, we don’t think it’s successful if…

Erin Woodruff 51:23
Everyone that was invited doesn’t come.

Alex Alexander 51:25
Doesn’t come. And both are a lot of work. It’s just the kind of work you’re willing to do. Either one. But if you make or create, everyone wants to be invited, first of all. And second of all, you can design something that is exactly what you want. And find the people who also like that, you could even, as the creator, be really open to co-creating. So you had some idea of what this favorite things party would be. But like, somebody else gives you some ideas, and you’re willing to shift a little bit. But you can start it.

Erin Woodruff 52:05
You can. And on that note, I just want to add in another thing that I think is a big fear, or maybe not fear about pitfall that we fall into. And this goes for hosting, but it goes for anything is we focus too much on the people that don’t show up.

Alex Alexander 52:24
Mm hmm. Okay, it’s like you’re in my brain.

Erin Woodruff 52:29
Yes. And my mom has six kids. I’ll use her as an example. She’s got six kids, we’re all over. We’re all adults. And to get all six of us together is so impossible. And it happens very rarely. And my mom has adopted this mantra that has helped her. And it’s, I’m happy with who’s here, and I’m happy with who’s not here. Because if I’m sad about who’s not here, then I’m also sad about who’s here. Because for some reason, we have that equal in our mind that we can’t be happy with who’s here if not everyone’s here. So it goes the same with hosting a party. Don’t focus on the guests that didn’t come, focus on who actually came, get to know them, be so grateful they came and then also maybe, if the other people had come, maybe they would have ruined it, maybe they would have hated it, you never know. But because of the people who showed up, that’s what was supposed to happen, and lean into that and be so appreciative and get to know them. Because that is where the magic is. And if you’re so focused on the people who aren’t there, you’re gonna miss out an opportunity on the people who are actually there.

Alex Alexander 53:53
And that was such a great way to close out this episode. Because I think you’re so right. Whether it’s in the party itself or in the relationships that are there or whatever, like we are so often focus on what is not that we totally miss what is. If you think about it, you put some effort and some thought into hosting this party and if you left at the end, just thinking about what didn’t happen versus appreciating the little things that did, you’re never going to do it again. That’s just another barrier that’s going to keep you from doing the things that move you towards the connections and the community and the neighborhood that you want. So, thanks for closing it out that way.

Erin Woodruff 54:40
Thank you so much for having me. I hope anyone who’s listening you go host a party, have some fun, and get to know your neighbors because it really is amazing.

Alex Alexander [Narration] 54:50
What did you think? Let me know I want to hear about it because I personally think this episode was full of so many hidden gems. Not only in the details, and the specifics for how to pull off such a simple gathering. But also in those deeper touch points we had at the end. I want to remind you to go to the show notes and find the packet that Erin has put together for all of us with everything you need for a favorite things party. And if this idea of intentional gathering is interesting to you, I also want to suggest a book. There’s a book called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. It will change, I don’t want to say everything, but a lot of things for you. Because we do a lot of gatherings in our everyday life, whether it’s a party or a get together, a work meeting. And Priya Parker’s book really dives into what is the point of these gatherings? Because quite often, it’s not that every gathering is bad, it’s that they’re not designed very intentionally. So, they aren’t impactful. Therefore, how do we create impactful gatherings, that’s what that book will help you with. And I want to offer something here. If you are still listening, at the very end of this episode, I’m gonna offer this to you. For anyone that doesn’t know, I was an event planner for over a decade. And now I spent all this time thinking about community and connection. I love helping people figure out how to pull off more impactful, meaningful gatherings, how to design a get together. That isn’t just a bunch of work an endless to do list. But really curating something that is simple but leaves people with a feeling. So if that’s something you want, then find me on Instagram and send me a DM, you can go to my website and send a voice memo. You can send me an email, just tell me a little bit about the party, what you’re hoping to achieve. And I will respond with some ideas. I love doing this. I do it for all my friends and I’m happy to do it for you too. So with that, I will see you next week.

Podcast Intro/Outro 54:52
Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

Ask questions, leave comments, share critiques or give advice. All are welcome.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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