Linda Mims’ home is situated so that anyone driving or walking by can see her relaxing on her backyard patio.
Neighbors often stop by to compliment her flower garden, and soon talk of her tulips, petunias, bee balms or coneflowers turns into an hour-long conversation about much more. But Mims doesn’t mind. She believes that this is what it looks like to be a good neighbor. And this is the art of porching.
The word “porching” may evoke images of antebellum homes in Alabama. And yes, for many people in the South, porching is a tradition, a lifestyle. Your porch is like another room of your home, one that extends to the outside world offering you an opportunity to turn neighbors into friends and friends into family.
Your porch is like another room of your home, one that extends to the outside world offering you an opportunity to turn neighbors into friends and friends into family.
But during the pandemic, porch and stoop culture became a bigger thing for folks across the country, and it’s endured. And it’s a good thing it has, because Americans are lonely.
This spring the U.S. surgeon general declared an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, saying that 1 in 2 adults reported experiencing loneliness even before the pandemic.
“As it has built for decades, the epidemic of loneliness and isolation has fueled other problems that are killing us and threaten to rip our country apart,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in The New York Times on April 30. “Rebuilding social connection must be a top public health priority for our nation. It will require reorienting ourselves, our communities, and our institutions to prioritize human connection and healthy relationships.”
The word “porch” is a broad term. So even if you just throw open your garage door and watch your grandkids play in the driveway, that counts.
The front porch could be the first step. Groups like The Porch Sitters Union formed to celebrate the art of porching. And the word “porch” is a broad term. So even if you just throw open your garage door and watch your grandkids play in the driveway, that counts. There’s also The Conference on the Front Porch held every October.
Back in 2020, Tara L. Paige created the Facebook group Black Women Who Love Outdoor Living Spaces after she was fed up with never seeing people who looked like her talking about outdoor living online. Paige eventually turned her porching passion into a business, launching The Patio Chic. And in October she’ll host TPCCon in Houston, Texas, giving Black women a chance to connect in a way beyond the virtual porch she’s created with her a Facebook group – which currently boasts more than 243,000 members.
The history of porching
In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Michael Dolan, author of The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place, explains that the social nature of the porch in America was imported with enslavement.
As the CSM put it: “West Africans were kidnapped and brought first to Brazil and then to the Caribbean. There, enslavers directed them to build their own houses, which had porches where people could socialize out of the sun, says Mr. Dolan. That aspect of Indigenous African architecture spread throughout the New World. When French colonizers moved to New Orleans, the housing styles of West Africa were imported into Southern culture and eventually spread beyond Louisiana.”
For Black folks, porching is in our blood.
That’s certainly the case for Linda Mims.
Mims grew up in Chicago, but she spent her summers at her grandmother’s house in Memphis, Tennessee.
“My grandma had this big white colonial style house with a wraparound porch,” Mims says. “My grandfather would make lemonade and people would drop by and just sit on the porch. They never even went in the house. They would just visit for like an hour or two, just sitting on the porch. That’s how I grew into the culture, or the tradition of porches.”
And that’s the tradition she’s carrying on today.
Mims has been in her home in Matteson, a suburb about 25 miles south of Chicago, for 30 years. And for three decades she’s been welcoming her neighbors to join her on her patio. Sometimes folks come over just to chat and sip coffee, soft drinks, wine or beer. Sometimes they come over for a game of bid whist. Sometimes her husband fires up the grill.
Mims has simple advice for anyone hoping to connect with their neighbors through porch culture: “You don’t really have to invite them, just accept them, welcome them when they come.”
Mims believes in the power of the porch.
She can recall a family member who coped with the grief of losing her husband in part by having a deck built for her home. She decorated the space with chic patio furniture and started gardening too. Soon her neighbors started to stop by and now she not only has a new deck, but new friends too.
Mims, who is in her early 70s, remembers that when she first retired, she felt lonely, even though she had her husband at home with her.
“I didn’t feel like myself,” she says. “I felt like, wow, this old lady retired with nothing to do. And then when the summer came, and we could get outside, it was just so much better.”
5 things every porch or patio needs
Comfy seating: If you want your neighbors to come sit with you, give them a comfortable spot to kick back. Be sure your outdoor area has a cozy couch or chairs. Chic patio furniture can also be a great icebreaker and could be what draws your neighbor over to chat.
Shade and shelter: Add an awning or cute umbrellas to your outdoor space to give you and your guests some shade on those bright, sunny days.
Lighting: If you want to entertain at night, you’ll need to add some lighting. You can try some trendy string lights or go for lanterns or wall sconces.
Plants, flowers and greenery: Eye-catching flowers and plants will definitely make your porch or patio area more welcoming. You could also try a vegetable garden and start offering some tomatoes or cabbages to your neighbors to help build community.
Outdoor decor: In addition to comfortable seating, you’ll need a table to hold the refreshments that you’re going to offer your guests (Southern hospitality goes a long way no matter where you live). But also add a bit of your personality to your outdoor space with an outdoor rug and some throw pillows that show off your personal style.