Lean on Friends, Not Vendors

belonging place social connection Nov 30, 2023

Inflation is a theme in 2023, and it just doesn’t involve the cost of living. Holiday decorations have elevated their game. If your area is anything like mine, houses are garnished with perfectly hung lights and, occasionally, a Christmas-themed blow-up like Santa. Not only are these decorations five-star, but they also seem to show up not a minute after Thanksgiving. These people are on it!

I figured out their trick: they are hiring professionals. Rather than enlist family and friends, more and more residents are turning to vendors to raise their holiday decorating game.  Responding to the market opportunity, Christmas tree vendors are offering tree delivery services, including an option to set up lights. Who’s to complain? Neighborhoods and homes look increasingly festive during the best time of the year.


More tree vendors are offering services to have a tree delivered with lights. This can be a valuable service but what do we lose by outsourcing holiday decorations to a vendor? (Photo by Frames For Your Heart on Unsplash


Lean on Friends, Not Vendors

Outsourcing holiday decorations can be appealing for those who can afford it, but it is not without its downsides. Beyond the fact that people lose the opportunity to get into the mood of the season by hiring others to prep their homes, a moment is missed to spend time with family and friends. There is also the shared feeling of accomplishment gained from fulfilling a task.

Hiring vendors empowers a feeling of independence and autonomy, yet it can enable social isolation and loneliness. With the Internet and a smartphone, the task of decorating a home may not even require a face-to-face conversation. Task complete, move to the next one. For the productivity-obsessed and relationally deprived, services like TaskRabbit can be an enabler.

With an increasing number of single people (approx. 30%) and those living alone (approx. 14%), the temptation to hire vendors can be great and, sometimes necessary, for those without immediate family and friends to help. However, single people generally report higher levels of loneliness, and relying solely on vendors can exacerbate this risk. Help with decorations could be an opportunity for social interaction and to make a new friend.

But more is lost at the neighborhood level. When we enlist neighbors to help, we not only solve the problem at hand, but we also increase trust and the likelihood of creating and deepening friendships with those who live near us. This is what social scientists call “social capital.”

Neighborhoods with high levels of social capital function better than those with low levels according to a recent report by Johns Hopkins University’s SNF Agora Institute. Social capital (or “civic opportunity”) influences the ability of a community to come together to solve problems, such as forming mutual aid organizations during the pandemic and decreasing vaccine hesitancy. Civic opportunity can vary greatly by geography – for instance, every county in Connecticut is among the highest providers of civic opportunity but most of Mississippi is among the lowest – and the SNF Agora Institute is in the process of building a publicly available database of the U.S. that evaluates civic opportunity by ZIP code. 


Some places are shown to be particularly strong for social capital (Source: Johns Hopkins University)


Friends See Beyond the Immediate Need

There is another subtle but profoundly important difference between hiring vendors and enlisting friends. A vendor is hired by the job or on the hour. There are strict boundaries. It’s a business managed to maintain profit margins and minimize litigation risk. On the other hand, friends and family develop a shared sense of obligation to each other. They may help with a task, but they can see beyond the project at hand and be motivated to help.

For example, if you help neighbors with holiday decorations, you may find that there are other needs. Perhaps there is an opportunity to invite them over for a coffee and conversation if they are lonely or help with running errands from time to time. This can violate our freedom to do whatever we choose at any moment but remember the sense of obligation and mutual aid can be shared. You may have needs that you don’t even perceive that family or a neighbor can not only notice but also meet.


How Will You Handle Holiday Decorations?

My wife and son put up the lights in our house. But this tradition may come to an end in a couple of years when he heads to college. What will we do? I plan to fill my son’s role and help with the lights. And, if not, I plan to ask for the help of a neighbor. My ambition is not focused on winning any holiday decorating awards.  

How will you handle holiday decorations? Your answer to this question may impact your well-being as well as those in your neighborhood.


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