Ignoring the Joneses: Getting To Simplicity

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by Damian Morys Photography

One of the biggest obstacles to success in simplifying our lives comes from comparing ourselves to others. We feel that we need a bigger house, newer car, more activities simply because we see other people having and doing those things.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

In the U.S., we have a phrase for this: “keeping up with the Joneses.” It is when we are driven to consume more based on what we see others doing. It is usually applied to tangible things like houses and cars, but can also take insidious forms such as activities.

Consider: you sign your daughter up for dance because the neighborhood girls all take dance, even though your daughter isn’t particularly interested in dance. Or you join the PTA because Supermom down the street finds time to do the PTA – not because you want to help the school.

Why You Can’t Keep Up And Live A Simpler Life

It is pretty apparent that you cannot keep buying things and still lead a simpler life. After all, having material goods means that you are going to have to spend money purchasing, then maintaining the items. The more stuff we have, the more we have to pay for both in time and money.

The same applies to activities: the more you have crammed into your schedule, the less time you have to do other things. The busier you are, the more complicated your life is going to be.

Breaking Free From The Competition

It’s not easy to break free from the cycle. We have been trained through bombardment with advertising that we “need” the latest and greatest. Seeing others with these items reinforces that somehow we are missing out.

It is possible to break free of the competition, though, and it can be done with a few simple steps.

Do I Need It? Or Want It?

My daughter’s first grade class took them through the difference between needs and wants, and it has been touched on in every grade since (and in the Girl Scout badge work as well). They looked at what was necessary to live, and then everything else.

When considering buying or participating in something new, ask yourself if it is a need or a want. Most of the time it will be a want.

Let’s say you see that someone has a child excelling in soccer. Soccer is not necessary to life (yes, I realize I will get flamed for that). So we want our child to excel at soccer. But why?

Do we want the child to be healthy? Do we want him to learn the early habit of exercise? Or do we want bragging rights?

By Saying Yes, What Am I Saying No To?

By the very limited nature of time, we cannot do everything. Therefore when you say yes to something, you are, by necessity saying no to something else.

When considering buying or participating in something new, ask yourself what you are giving up. It may be a long-term financial goal (saving for a house) or a sacrifice of an activity you really treasure.

Another example: your neighbor has her four daughters in gymnastics, soccer and scouts, as well as taking piano. Your daughter doesn’t do any of those things. You decide she needs some after-school activities, so you sign her up for gymnastics, piano and softball after getting token buy-in from your daughter. Does she really want these activities? Her homework time and play time have been sacrificed.

Even purchasing things requires you to give up time. You must work for the money, which is trading time. Is what you are buying worth the time you are giving up?

Toughening Up

Decided the Joneses can go on their own way requires a bit of internal strength. It would also seem to require a bit of tough skin. After all, we are trained to judge out outside appearances. Who is to say that we won’t be judged on our choices?

Here’s a bit of news, though: most people don’t think about us as much as we think they do.

The tough part is not sacrificing what is truly important to us in order to have something we think we want in the moment. We have to toughen ourselves to hold each and every choice up to our goals, and decide if it fits in.

It is a challenge to leave behind the subtle competition we stand in with regard to our neighbors, family and friends. But by deciding what we need, what we want, and what we are sacrificing to get these things, we can step out of the race and begin to live a more simple life.

Do you keep up with the Joneses? Have you tried to stop? What were the results? Share below.

Photo by Damian Morys Photography