Sunday, April 12, 2009


"Have you tackled wind chimes?" a reader from Watertown, Mass., asks me in an e-mail.

My reader's choice of a verb is no accident. Her neighbor's wind chimes are driving her nuts, and she's on the verge of violence against either the chimes or the neighbor.

"I know that, if this is my biggest problem, I should count myself lucky," she adds.

She recently moved into a new neighborhood, and the wind chimes hung at the house next door clank round the clock. She knows this, because she works from home and is therefore subjected to the noise day and night.

"I am trying to talk myself into liking wind chimes," she writes, "because I can't bear to approach my neighbor. I know some communities ban them."

She knows this because she has spent some time researching the issue on the Internet. She has sent me links to stories, including one from Denver about a lawsuit that forced a resident to take down his wind chimes by nightfall and not rehang them until 9 a.m. There are countless stories of homeowners waking to find their wind chimes duct-taped together to keep them from chiming.

"Am I in the right to not want my neighbor to subject everyone to wind chimes 24-7?" my reader asks. "It seems cowardly to go to the city to ask for a solution, rather than to approach my neighbor first."

My reader is wise to recognize that, if the wind-chime nuisance is the biggest problem she's faced since moving into a new home, she's fortunate.

Still, as anyone who has ever been kept awake by neighborhood noise knows, sleep deprivation can magnify the urgency of even the pettiest nuisance.

While she would be within her rights to call the city about the noise, it's good that my reader is reluctant to make that her first step. Calling the authorities on a new neighbor is not a good way to cultivate warm relations over the picket fence. It would be the best way to go if she had reason to fear that her neighbor might respond violently to her request, but since that is not the case -- there is no direct correlation between rage and wind chimes of which I'm aware -- contacting him directly is the civil and sensible thing to do.

As for the options, willing herself to like wind chimes seems futile, and is likely only to increase her frustration at the unwanted clanging. A judicious duct-tape strike by dark of night would be trespassing, and in any event wouldn't convey the message she wants to send. Her neighbor would be more likely to think it a children's prank than a request by a nearby adult for abatement of the noise.

The key point here is that the neighbor probably doesn't realize that the wind chimes are bothersome. He hung them, presumably, because he enjoys the sound. If my reader doesn't tell him that he's annoying her, he may never know. It's quite possible that, upon realizing that he's disturbing her, he'll voluntarily take them down altogether.

The right thing for my reader to do is to approach her new neighbor, introduce herself and ask him, as civilly as possible, if he would mind bringing in the wind chimes after dark. Granted, she may not get the results she wants, but she may also be surprised by how effective an honest and direct approach can be.

She might be doing the whole neighborhood a favor.

c.2009 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Elian said...

A direct approach is usually the best; you're right about that. Much as I would like to read about the fallout of the "Chimean War" whereby your reader puts up her own chimes and does a quid pro quo when her neighbor comes over and asks her to stop the annoyance, I think the real problem is one of control over one's environment. Here the neighbor's chimes are a reminder of the loss of such control. Whenever I've lived where there were chimes (and worked from home,) I didn't mind because I always knew, and--most importantly--liked, the chimes' owners. Perhaps your reader should acquaint herself with the neighbor as one person to another first. Galling though it may be, your reader's neighbor probably doesn't even notice the chimes anymore, but definitely will find their absence deafening. It is unlikely, even with the best of intentions, that they (he/she?) will bring them in at night. How about your reader also first selecting an alternative place (farther away from her earshot,) so that she can offer a solution as she points out a problem.

Anonymous said...

This problem gets at a lot of human nature issues, such as loss of control of environment which can drive us crazy. I agree with the reply about getting to know the neighbor first, as I wonder if the friendship would somewhat mitigate the woman's response and obsession about the wind chimes. I have to admit a thought ran through my head that maybe she could remove them in the middle of the night but that definitely would not be ethical (or legal of course) but it's a response that occurs... Often, acceptance is something we need to focus on and those zen kinds of coping mechanisms that are really our only option.

Anonymous said...

I live in an apt complex and my nbr has 9 windchimes. We asked them to move them further down, away from our apt. He said "no, it doesn't me". We have talked to him several times, taken him gifts, been very kind to him. He said plainly, "I am not moving them". They give me a headache, ears hurt, jaws ache, and I continue to hear the wind chimes even away from home in complete silence. NINE METAL WINDCHIMES. I am forced into my bedroom only on windy days.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, your neighbor with the nine chimes is being very selfish. Neighbors should not have to listen to someone else's chimes even during the day.

I feel that noises from my dwelling should not be reaching over to the inside of your house - you have rights too - and I should not have to listen to your chimes inside my house all day long and every time the wind kicks up.

Those who pooh pooh this problem and say well if that is the worst problem you have, or get some ear plugs, just don't get it. It IS a serious problem, and can be down right torture.

In my own case I have a million things on my mind, I have my own problems and issues, and it is very inconsiderate of you to be so thoughtless that the sounds emanating from you wind machines may be unpleasant, annoying and stressful to others. Keep your sounds and activities to yourself - quit putting them on others also. They have their own lives to live; they aren't bothering you, quit bothering them.