How can we make our city apartment more of a social hub?
March 17, 2015 1:22 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are in our late thirties with a young child of 2, living in a big European city. Though we still have social lives outside and host a few dinners a month, we're finding ourselves increasingly isolated at home, and it's kinda depressing. We long for the days when people used to just 'drop by' and the home was filled with people. How can we shake things up and make our apartment more social?

I know that part of this is due to the realities of living in a city, and living in 2015. But I'm interested in finding ways that we can accelerate our 'home social life' - and ideally, to turn our apartment into a kind of social hub, where people might, eventually, spontaneously show up.

Our apartment is in the centre of the city. We are both artistic with a wide range of hobbies. Our child generally likes being with people around and is pretty adaptable.

My sense is that people these days need a pretext to drop by – a common activity. And since most of our friends these days are connected to us through a common interest, I'm thinking of organising meetings at our home, with a view to collaboration, and see how things go.

Have any of you managed to deal with a similar situation? Any tips and suggestions? Are we thinking about this the wrong way entirely? Your ideas much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I think the vast majority of people would expect an invitation to someone's apartment that had a very small child. I would 100% believe this was the issue, and not anything about living in a city, or it being 2015.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:24 PM on March 17, 2015 [43 favorites]

I would also never drop spontaneously into the home of someone with a two-year old. (I am in my thirties and don't have any kids). Do the people you want to spontaneously drop by also have small children?
posted by bimbam at 1:34 PM on March 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

I had this apartment! (Granted, I was fresh out of college and my friend group was either in their final year of school or first year out, so young/flexible schedules/etc.)

Central location is the most important thing. Looks like you've got that. Easy access via transit/available parking/safe bike area? That's important.

Other things:
-Have comfortable, slouchy furniture.
-Always have easy food. No one wants to impose on their friends, so being a person who always has a pot of chili on the stove or a cupboard full of fast snacks or is in the middle of 14 pizza places is key.
-Not hovering. If you truly are cool with people just dropping in, let them come and don't make it a thing. Let them think of your place like an extension of their home, and not someplace they have to be on guest behavior.

When I was living in the hangout apartment I loved it. (And then I got tired of it and since then intentionally moved far enough away from my peers that no one drops in because I don't like pants.) It really felt like an extension of the college dorm setup where everyone is just comfortable wandering into each other's lives when the mood strikes.

If you want to encourage people to come over like this, let people know that your door is always open and you love drop ins. Invite people over for no reason and low-key occasions. Invite someone to just come by for tea and chitchat. Have a regular craft night where people just drop in on a Wednesday or whatever to sit&knit. Low pressure, no special purpose, just to get people used to being around your place.
posted by phunniemee at 1:35 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I read once about a woman who had a standing thing that for, say, two hours or so on Sunday, she would be serving tea and anyone could drop by and they were welcome to bring food items to go with the tea, if they saw fit. So she was mostly providing space and tea. It was pretty low budget and the time was flexible. She just made sure there was constant hot water and a selection of teas to choose from.

She talked about how much it facilitated connections between people who would otherwise not have had a chance to connect. It was very casual and different friends of hers got to meet each other.

I don't know how you would put the word out and make this a "tradition" where everyone knows "Hey, tea at Anon's -- standing invitation!" but that might overcome whatever social/psychological barriers are preventing people from just dropping by. If you want them more than once a week, you can make it however many days per week works for you.
posted by Michele in California at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2015 [29 favorites]

Inspired by some friends of mine who used to do soup on Sundays open to anyone they knew. Buy a large soup pot, make soup in it on a weekend afternoon, and invite everyone you know to come over at any time that day and have a bowl. If no one shows up, you've done yourself a favor and made yourself dinner for the rest of the week.
posted by wrabbit at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2015 [13 favorites]

Could you pick a night of the week and have a weekly "Open House Dinner" with an open invite to your friends to drop by with food or wine to share? With a workshop area/theme of the common activity your friends share?

When building an event like this from scratch -- or any party really -- I've had the most success getting individual buy-ins from the people I'm closest to, and then inviting more distant friends. That way you will set yourself up for failure instead of sending an impersonal email to 50 people and having 1 show up.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 1:38 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I like the spirit of this article. Although it is less spontaneous, it seems like a way to make social occasions happen more often.
Friday Night Meatballs
posted by blackjack514 at 1:38 PM on March 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

I have friends who have scheduled dinners that they invite people to. They have a public Google calendar where they put what they're serving for dinner. These friends generally expect a couple days' notice, but are pretty flexible. But it certainly makes meeting up with them easier.

So maybe you can have a calendar of tea/dessert/movie/hang out time and then people will know that it's ok to drop in at those times, making it feel less of an imposition.
posted by ethidda at 1:39 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Make a regular event at your house. Or several! Some friends of mine with two small children have instituted a monthly wine night. It begins at 7 on a Saturday after the children are in bed and everyone brings a bottle of wine to share and maybe a snack.
posted by MsMolly at 1:57 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I used to do Sunday Brunch at Snacks' Place and after about three weeks it became A Thing. Facebook helped with this greatly, I would just shoot invites to the usual suspects and leave it open invite. People from all different corners of my friend network (and even friends of friends) would stop by and eat pancakes, bacon and eggs while watching whatever weirdo anime I was into at the time, or just chit-chat while sippin' on some french press. It was ultra no-pressure, and there was always at least two people there besides me every week.

I have no idea how you foster that sense of welcoming-ness when you're in young family mode, but I too hope to do the same in the next five years. Broadcasting that you're open to such things and presenting yourself as a laid back, happy host(ess) goes a long way. It also would depend on knowing a fair amount of people who aren't super busy with their own families. I hear kids make a derailed train look like spilled milk.

I was (and am) really only friends who appreciate and foster that kind of spontaneity, which is what makes the magic possible, ymmv in that aspect.
posted by Snacks at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

nthing the 'open house' idea. It gives you a delineated time, which helps; it would suck for Kid to be having a meltdown when someone drops by unexpectedly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

In my experience this also comes with friendships where the "spontaneous unplanned hangout" is common. You can initiate those yourself. Whenever you are near someone's house, text them: "Hey, I'm in your hood (or going to be in your hood later this afternoon)! Wanna grab a cup of coffee/meet me and kiddo at the playground?" Whenever you don't have evening plans and it's noon on a weekday, text friends, "Yo, it's been awhile - wanna grab a drink/dinner tonight? Wives and kids included...or not"

You will see that some friends are receptive to this and some aren't. They'll start doing it back when they are near YOUR house and then you can say "Come on over!!"

When you do have one friend over for brunch/hanging, text a bunch of others: "Hey! I'm hanging at our place with Jane and Steve. Come over??? Toddlers are busy giving each other bruises in the living room and we have mimosas"
posted by amaire at 3:28 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Start inviting people to and get known for always having happy hour.
posted by rhizome at 10:41 PM on March 17, 2015

So I have a neighbour who knows everyone, talks to everyone and is friendly with everyone.
Whenever I call, she asks me if I want to come over right now. When I come, there are often friends of hers or her kids there already. When she makes dinner, it's always something that can be stretched, so she'll ask me or my kid if we want to join in.

Basically, she makes it seem easy, like she always has time for another visitor. It took me a while to figure it out, though, because this is really rare.

So my advice is, call people often and ask if they spontaneously want to come over. Even and especially if you're just slouching around in yoga pants and the house isn't cleaned. Eventually, they'll believe you!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:10 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

You need to take the culture of your city into consideration. Where I live (also within Europe) it is very much routine to "drop in" and it has taken me YEARS to wean (most) of my friends from this habit. If dropping in is not part of your city's culture, it is going to be damn near impossible to make it so among your friends.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:30 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

To piggyback on what other people are saying, my family had a once-a-week nightly party for a couple of years, and it was great. We'd make soup and maybe a fruit salad and then people would just show up for about five hours. As an added bonus our friends got to know each other better, and people got more comfortable with our house. It was work to make the food though -- a weekly tea is easier if you don't want to cook!

Also, tell people you'd like drop-ins. I would never drop by anyone's house without being explicitly invited to do so.
posted by feets at 2:23 AM on March 18, 2015

Depending on your building's culture your neighbors might not be very happy with this arrangement. People constantly coming and going and chatting in the hallways make a lot of noise.
posted by pravit at 3:48 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Send email (or some other kind of electronic invitation) out to lovely people each week:
We'll be home all this Sunday afternoon and we'd love to have you over for tea and cakes and wine. Please come by if you're interested.

Betty, Bob, and Junior.
The invitations would cost you nothing and would be minimally intrusive. Make sure the kid's name (even picture) is in there so they know this thing probably won't be leading to opium pipes and naked Twister. Personalize invitations as you see fit: Be prepared to decorate Easter eggs. Be prepared to discuss this [link to something silly] and how it presages the end of civilization. Bring an umbrella. Bring your guitar. Don't bring your guitar. Bring Lulu. Don't bring Lulu. Etc.

Send the invitations each week, even if it is a given that certain people will show up. If you want someone to stop coming, stop inviting that person and hope the hint is taken.

Email would also allow you to arrange meetings elsewhere. "Weather permitting, we're having a picnic at [location and time] this Sunday. If it rains, we'll run home. See you one way or the other?" It's a little risky if you can't predict the crowd, but you could arrange it for some place within an easy walk or bicycle ride of stores and then send people out for supplies if you ran out of Peek Freans.
posted by pracowity at 6:07 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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