Goodbye to the Joneses: Who Were They, Anyway?

Goodbye to the Joneses:
Who Were They, Anyway?

 

Obituary: It is with our deepest condolences to all that we announce the death of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, everyone’s favourite neighbours and friends, as they passed away at the ripe old age of 105. They will no longer taunt us with their fancy purchases and their beautiful pictures of every vacation we have ever dreamt of. We wish them a peaceful rest, and ask that, in lieu of flowers and donations, your money may remain with yourselves and your time with your friends and family. There will be no service, as we have celebrated life of keeping up with the Joneses for far too long. 

 

Who were the Joneses, anyway?

 

You hear the term “Keeping up with the Joneses” used liberally in the personal finance space. If you don’t know the term, it describes the efforts that people take to keep up with the neighbours that have everything.

 

What I didn’t know was that it started with a comic strip called Keeping up with the Joneses created by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand in 1913. The comic strip was popular and ran until 1940 in The New York World and other newspapers.

 

There are a few other ideas where the Jones’ family came from, but this is the most widely accepted version.

 

Here we are, more than a hundred years later, still chasing the dream of keeping up with the Joneses!

 

I had previously shared a post about our history, and how, post-war, we were in the mindset to accumulate anything and everything, as life before was a struggle, and excess anything was but a dream. In the post, I felt we had become addicts of owning stuff.

 

Despite being an Xennial (for those who do not know, it’s the gap between Gen X and Millennials, roughly 1978 – 1983), I was raised with the Gen X mindset of more is better. To have more, to afford more, to accumulate more meant that you were wealthier, and therefore better off, should something happen in the world that limited our access to “stuff”. Gen X was really the last generation raised by parents who remember rations and war/post-war life. Those were the days when parents  made you sit at the table until your dinner was finished, whether you were still hungry or not, and if you liked it or not, because that was what was served. There was no option for a different meal, or not finishing your plate, because that was wasteful.

 

How many people remember being told there are starving children in the world, so finish your dinner! (Can’t say it made sense to me then, or now. I offered to ship it to them…. that didn’t go over well.)

 

My parents, for example, have a basement full of stuff. An extra dining table, supplies that were “on sale”, childhood toys, exercise equipment from the 80s, the old Atari game system, an old stove, a massive freezer (for the two people that live there), a couch, the last two artificial Christmas trees, a dresser… the list goes on and on.

 

Sometimes there were benefits from having parents that saved everything. We all had that time in our lives that we didn’t have anything: college days where life was about hand-me-downs, and making due with small spaces because we didn’t have the money yet to have the life we wanted. Post-college, reality tended to set in, and we started wanting, but for some, a simple lesson (or two) was learned. Fellow blogger,  Your Money Geek, shared a post about being broke and learning the value of things during that period of time.

 

It’s a common perspective that millennials have been raised in a completely different time, leaving them with a different mindset. They have never seen a shortage of anything: there’s been a never-ending supply of food, commodities and technology that moved faster than a speeding bullet.

 

They can’t reminisce about getting up to change the television station, rewinding a cassette tape with a pencil, or waiting for a sibling to get off the phone so you could call your friends.

 

(Removing the privilege argument from this to say that not all millennials have been raised to rely on having enough. I acknowledge that many were not as fortunate to have everything handed to them.)

 

Earlier, I read a post shared by the blogger of FlytoFi.com where he has a guest writer who discusses minimalism and millennials. This post resonated with me, as I agree with the writer who states that minimalism can be traced to millennials, and not needing everything is a concept that is new to everyone. Millennials had enough, or too much, depending on the situation, and now excess has flipped to the extreme: to want nothing.

 

So, who are today’s Joneses? Are they the neighbour who has a boat, two or three cars, a big house and flashy jewelry? Or, are they the neighbour who lives in a condo, has a compact car, and believes less is more?

 

Are today's Joneses the mindless consumer or the immaculate minimalist? Do they still exist and why, after 105 years, do we let them control us? Click To Tweet

 

We struggle with the concept that both are the Joneses. We want access to the big house, the boat and the flashy side effects, but we also crave the simplicity of minimalism. How many times have you gone on vacation with just a suitcase, stayed in a hotel room, and realized that there was very little you actually needed beyond what was there? How many times have you gone home, glad to be home, but overwhelmed with all the clutter and things you own?

 

And yet, how many of us still get a thrill from going shopping and buying something we think we need, just to bring it home and realize three months later that it was not something we needed, but something that cluttered up our space and gave us a momentary glimpse of what being the Joneses is like.

 

What a vicious circle we have created for ourselves!

 

Whether you are on the journey to seek financial independence, saving for your retirement, or just having a healthy savings account, let’s redefine the Joneses.

 

Ten Reasons Not To Be The Next Joneses:

 

  1. Reduce waste in our landfills.

 

  1. Less property tax to be paid on smaller properties.

 

  1. Less fuel emissions on smaller or hybrid cars. (What’s better than paying for a Ferrari? Having a friend who has a Ferrari!)

 

  1. Less stuff to clean and purge or to launder (like clothes).

 

  1. Enjoy and appreciate your belongings more.

 

  1. No stressing about overextension of credit.

 

  1. No awkward moments with the repo man.

 

  1. Better credit score from less debt.

 

  1. No worries about people trying to steal from you if you are perceived as wealthy.

 

  1. More money for the people and things that matter.

 

Being a conscientious spender is one of the biggest factors in the pursuit of financial freedom.

 

What do you think about the Joneses? Is it still attractive or has it finally come to an end? While I wish the Joneses of our lives well, I think their reign has finally come to an end.

 

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Why We Are Addicted To Everything

Do you want everything, all at once, right now?

Many of us would say yes. If there was a way to have it all right now, the majority of us would take that offer up. How many people would prefer to wait, delay receiving the things they want, or money, or fame? Not many.

 

addiction

 

I have thought about this for some time now, and realized we are all addicts. Yes, each one of us. We all want our goals to happen now, we want our fruits of labour before we put in the labour, and we want to enjoy it all right now. From emergency funds to retirement funds, toys and houses, travel and food, we want to experience it all right now.

Historically Speaking

I looked at our history, in a general sense, and saw a trend. We are all addicts! How could it not happen? Looking back to the times where the oldest living generation would still remember what it was like, there was always a trend for more. Have more. Do more. Need more. Scarcity reigned as people lived with less, lost more, suffered more, and worked harder.

1920s

In the late 1920s, North America experienced the Great Depression. Unemployment rose drastically, and world demand for products fell, causing prices, and in turn, profits to plunge to new lows. In the early 1930’s, 30% of the labour force was out of work. Can you imagine a time where families relied on one income, and one in three families was not able to find employment? It would be disastrous by today’s standards. We hear of the mortgage rates increasing by 0.25%, and the foreclosure hawks start circling, looking for their next target. (FYI: that’s $2.50 per thousand dollars. At a half a million-dollar mortgage, that’s an annual increase of $1,250.00 or $104.16/month.) Imagine no employment for one third of all families. That would be the epitome of less.

1930s/1940s

The Great Depression was felt until the beginning of the 2nd world war. In 1939/1940, unemployment disappeared as men were sent to work in factories, and others went to war. That time was not spent being idle; as families were responsible to maintain households without the men, and as the war continued and conscription called more and more men to war, women left the households to work outside the home. Everything changed: we heard of rations, lack of products that we, today, take for granted.

I cannot imagine ten years of not enough employment, struggling to feed your family and find a roof to keep your head dry at night. I cannot imagine the stress felt, only to turn into a time of war, where families lost their head of the household, brothers, fathers, sons did not return, and moms, sisters, aunts and daughters were working in factories that even men may have declined at an earlier time. Throughout this time, scarcity was a major theme. There was not enough money, time, food, support, etc. The average person did not have extra.

It wasn’t called minimalism back then, it was the way that life was.

 

Life wasn't called minimalism back then, it was the way that life was, then we traded our dreams to keep up with the Jones. -From Addicted to Belongings. Click To Tweet

1950s and beyond

Businesses and new start-ups really took off after the end of the second war. Opportunities and ventures were possible once again, and the rise of the automation and instant gratification took hold. Inventions to simplify life became the rage. Keeping up with the Jones’ became a way of life, because everyone wanted the house with the picket fence, the new car and 2.5 children. The more that people bought, the wealthier they appeared.

And yet, the poorer they became.

Here they are, in a time where food is plentiful, transportation has became a cheap alternative, work is available, and yet a shift happened. Once upon a time, people worked to live. Introduce all the things that people had to have to show progression and advancement, wealth and acceptance from others, and we became people who lived to work.

Manufactured products started arriving from other countries, promising cheap labour and even cheaper prices.  This created a new heightened experience: people could purchase whatever they wanted, cheaper than ever! (Even if they only lasted half as long as the old one, that was okay because people were starting to need new, bigger, faster, fancier replacements long before the old one would have expired anyway.) We, as a culture, bought more, threw away more, replaced more, consumed more, worked more, and had less.

What? Less? How could we have less than before?

We traded face to face conversations with the telephone. We traded imagination for television. We traded time for money. We traded our dreams to match those of the Jones’.

We traded our dreams to match those of the Jones’.

I repeated myself because this, this is where we are today.

I can’t really blame society for morphing into the addicts that we are. Imagine if you were a child in a candy store, denied candy every day for months on end. The first time you were left alone in the candy store, you would likely take a handful. Imagine if you were allowed to enjoy as much as you could eat! You would stuff yourself, your pockets, and anything else that would hold candy.

Isn’t this what we did? We had years of deprivation, scarcity, and feelings of not being enough. We suffered through loses, and celebrated all kinds of successes, simply to feel better. Then, someone said, it’s ok. The deprivation is over: go forth and enjoy life.

Story of Society and Becoming an Addict

This is the story of our society. We see times that are tough, and prior generations scaled back and rationed. Then, the times were amazing and abundant with gifts for all, and we enjoyed every moment. We hoarded everything. When times got tough, life as we knew it would end. We would realize what a mess we were in. Some would fix it. Some would not be affected. Others lost everything.

Recently, I read The Year of Lessby Cait Flanders. Motivated by the want for things, the need for acceptance, and the lack of self-esteem all of this wanting has brought many of us, she spent money she didn’t have, spent time in abusive relationships, and spent her health on short-term fixes, like binging on alcohol and food. She embraced her own dreams, removed the material things that no longer gave her joy, and she focused on becoming her most authentic self.

I cheered her on, as she left the destructive behaviour behind, and as each milestone was met, it occurred to me: we are still obsessed with stuff. We either obsess about how much we have, or how little we have. What we chose vs what we can choose now. We obsess about ourselves: how we see ourselves, and how others see us, how much we are liked, and how much we like or do not like others.

Addiction: Something we all struggle with

It’s a scary world we live in, where much of our behaviour appears to be motivated by want, need, and greed. I fall victim to all of it myself – I have debt from spending more than I could afford. I have eaten my share of indulgence, and I have wanted it all. I still do. I am no role model in the ways of being satisfied with what I have, because I am as scared as the next person. I fear there will not be enough for us when we are older. I worry about the ways of the world, and the changes we are seeing, and I worry about the next generation, growing up without the skills to handle the hardships that technology advances will likely bring about.

We are all addicts who obsess over more or less, and we no longer listen to what our own personal dreams are. Can you really picture yourself living in a home with six bathrooms, two kitchens, four garages and being house-poor? Do you see yourself cleaning a house that big, or do you think you will hire someone when you get there? What will you put in the three living rooms? Where will family gather? Is there family? What will you do when it’s just the two of you, and how will you spend your time? Unless you have a very large family that lives with you, it’s likely you only inhabit one or two rooms at a time. Do you really need that much house?

We do not need that much.

When I adopted my first dog, I was in my early twenties and my then-partner and I lived in a small place. I had asked if he wanted to get a second dog, as every dog needs a friend, you see. He said there was not enough room for two dogs, never mind the one we had. I thought about that, and realized one very important factor: whatever room I am in, so is my dog. Whatever couch I sit on, so does my dog. It doesn’t matter if we own a mansion or a tiny home – whichever room I am in, so is my dog.

A house is a home, not a museum. We are people, not curators in a museum. Let’s start by taking stock of what is really important to us, and go from there. Find your own dreams, clear your own space, and it is likely you will really notice you have more than you thought.

Let’s stop the addiction. Let’s do it now.

Why we are addicted to stuff.