I’ve decided to do a five part mini-series about how friends can help friends for free. On the surface, it’s a common sense series of posts but a concept I think a lot of us need to be reminded of, especially single folks who have families far away like myself. My point: we need to rely on each other now more than ever!

My friend Dorrie really wants to paint her bathroom and was trying to convince me to put the project on Too Cute Tuesday. Since I was thinking that may be as interesting as watching paint dry (well, since it would be that), I told her  that I’d help her this weekend. She seemed pretty excited, but a slightly off paint color is putting off our plans until next weekend.

It can be really overwhelming to hold down a job (and possibly a second job), have hobbies and friends, be supportive of family, and maintain a household. You certainly can’t do it alone, and even when you have other people to help, it’s still hard.

So here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about. As Americans, we have this underlying value of self-reliance to the point where asking for help is the last thing we will do. Buy why? If you can’t hire help or do it yourself, are you just supposed to not do a task? That seems kind of ridicuous!

Being a good friend means in part getting excited about painting. And to be honest, it’s easy to get excited to help good friends. Dorrie has fed and let my dog out around dinnertime countless times these last couple months when I’ve had to work late or couldn’t make it home in time, which means so much to me. And your friends you help out are just as happy to reciprocate for you.

So hopefully I’ve gotten you excited about asking for help from friends in completing some of your tasks, especially at the start of the new year. Some guidelines:

1. Be specific about what you want. If you want people to help you move, have boxes and tape ready. When they show up, tell people what to do. “If you could pack all the dishes in the kitchen and wipe out the cupboards after, that would be great.” Nothing feels as inconsiderate as making your buddies stand around on their day off. And don’t feel like you’re being bossy, telling people what’s going on is helpful and done in a friendly tone comes off just fine.

2. Provide food. If someone is giving up a day or even an afternoon to give you a hand, don’t leave them wondering when they’ll eat next. Some of us have blood sugar issues, some of us just need some additional not-so-alturistic motivation.

3. Have an end-point to the task. Quitting time can be when the pizzas get there or at 6 p.m. Signing on to help someone for an indefinite period of time can feel a little overwhelming to your free help so give them a heads up as to what you are thinking.

4. Be gracious but don’t apologize the whole time. Say thanks is nice but continuously apologizing the the chaos or thanking over and over can be a little annoying. Your friends don’t want you to grovel. (If they did, you’d know it.) Know your buddies are there to help you because they want to be, say thanks once and follow up after the task is finished with a thank you email or phone call if you really want to.

5. Make it fun. My friends S and S bought this house two years ago from someone who was really into 1970s style wallpaper. Their style is more contemporary country (not to mention aging wallpaper is not pretty regardless of style preferences) but getting rid of all that wallpaper was an overwhelming project to undertake. To jump start their efforts, they had a “stripping party”, sending out scandalous-looking invitations and inviting us all to come over for pizza, beer, and stripping wallpaper. We all smelled like vinegar but with beer and cranking tunes, it was an almost fun way to spend an afternoon. So if you’ve got a big project, make it a party!

6. Be the first to jump in when a friend asks for help. Reply all to that group email and ask what time you should be there. And if your friend is a little shy but you know they could use a hand with a task, make a concrete offer: “I’m going to come by Sunday afternoon and we are going totake everything you need to to the recycling center.” Helping each other works in both directions. (That said, if you have helped people before and they never seem able to help you, feel free to make yourself less available.)

Remember your friends are a resource and a gift but not indentured servants. That said, a resource untapped is just a waste. Let’s help each other out!

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