A few days ago, I got an email from a reader who wondered if I ever feel jealous of people who aren’t living a frugal lifestyle. People who drive new cars and live in custom homes and have all the latest gadgets and gizmos. Her question made me stop and think for a minute, but in all honesty, it has been a very long time (probably years) since I’ve felt jealous of anyone because of money or material possessions. Here’s the gist of what I told her:
In the early years of our business, we made so little money that we were barely able to pay our mortgage, and not much else at all. My husband and I had quit our jobs to pursue self-employment, so most of our friends were way ahead of us financially at the time, since they had stayed in their first careers. They all had nicer houses and cars than we did, and money never seemed to be a problem for any of them. All the while, I would sit and stare at the list of debts we had and wonder how in the world we were ever going to pay them off.
While we didn’t like having no money at all, neither of us minded being frugal – it sort of became second nature to us (to be fair, I was raised in a very frugal family, so it’s always been my nature to be thrifty). We much preferred digging our way out of debt over buying a newer car or shopping for clothes. It really helped that we were both on the same page as far as long term goals and spending habits.
What I’ve come to realize though as the years go by, is that the people I used to occasionally feel jealous of have their share of troubles too. Marital issues, fertility struggles, and all the various curve balls that life throws at us now and then. It’s just so hard to compare ourselves with other people, because we never really know exactly what they’re dealing with. Who knows – they may be jealous of aspects of your life.
Several years ago, although I was always happy with my overall life, I did occasionally feel jealous of other peoples’ jewelery, cars, houses, appliances, etc. I would also feel self-conscious if people saw me in my old Honda Civic, or shopping in a thrift store. But I never feel that way anymore. There are three major things that changed that for me.
First, my convictions about our responsibility for the environment became stronger, and started to shape nearly every aspect of my life. I know that biking and walking are much better for the earth (and me!) than driving, so I hardly ever take my car out anymore. I know that a smaller house is more energy efficient than a mansion, and our 1300 square foot house actually makes me feel guilty sometimes by how big it is – I would be wracked with guilt if we lived in a bigger place. I know that buying stuff used is the most eco-friendly form of shopping, so anything else would make me feel irresponsible. I know that making our son’s cloth diapers from recycled fabric was much better for the earth than buying disposables, so I was happy to do it. We don’t own a dryer, but that’s something I’m proud of, because it fits with my beliefs about saving energy…. and on and on. Basically, I no longer covet things that don’t fit with my “reduce, reuse, recycle” ideals.
The second big change happened just this past spring, when I came across blogs devoted to the idea of minimalism. There are some amazing ones out there… Rowdy Kittens, Becoming Minimalist, Miss Minimalist, Castles In The Air, and many more. And there are all sorts of links on their blogs to other inspiring sites – it really is an awesome blog community. Basically, I was feeling over-run with stuff, and I started to declutter. I went looking online for inspiration, and came across these amazing stories of people who had literally gotten rid of nearly everything they owned in order to free themselves from material entrapment. To say it was inspiring would be an understatement. I ended up taking about five car loads of stuff to Goodwill, and I pretty much stopped shopping. I still go to Goodwill every now and again when our son outgrows his boots or something like that, but I no longer shop for fun. These days, if I compare myself to people, it’s people who have very little in the way of possessions, and rather than making me covet something new, it makes me want to go purge a closet. Much better!
The third thing is that we got rid of our TV. We’ve been without a TV now for a year and a half, and have only seen a handful of commercials since then. I have no idea what the newest technology, cars, or clothes look like, because I’m not bombarded by commercials. Instead, we use our laptop to watch stuff on Netflix, which is commercial-free.
I can honestly say that I no longer feel jealousy at all about money or material possessions. That’s not to say that I never feel jealous… my dad has been on dialysis for years since an auto-immune disease destroyed his kidneys, and I sometimes feel jealous when friends talk about going on vacations with their parents or having their dads go hiking with them. There are some things that we’ll always wish were different about our lives, that we can’t change at all. But in terms of jealousy about money and possessions, I really feel like those three things have made my life green-eyed-monster-proof.