Keeping up with the Joneses — Let’s Not

You may have heard the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses”. I’ve often wondered where it came from and why we need to keep up with the Joneses? It doesn’t seem to be a very green thing to do. I decided to look into it.

Who are the Joneses Anyway?

There are varying explanations regarding the origin of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”. Two are listed below:

  • In 1913, Arthur R. Momand created a comic strip called “Keep up with the Joneses”. The “Joneses” were neighbors of the strip’s main characters, and were spoken of but never actually seen. The comic strip ran for 26 years, and was later adapted into books, films and TV.
  • Astor Mansion - Detroit Photographic CompanyThe Jones were a prominent New York family with interests in Chemical Bank. In the 1850’s, the Jones and other rich New Yorkers began building extravagant mansions, including a house by William B. Astor (married to a Jones cousin), a phenomenon described as “keeping up with the Joneses”.

Why do People Want to Keep Up with the Joneses?

Is it human nature or marketing that instills in us the desire to “keep up with the Joneses”? In early societies, did some families try to keep up with the family who had the most hides or best hut? There probably wasn’t a lot of marketing going on back then so maybe it’s part of human nature that’s gotten out of control.

I realized I would need a lot of further research to cover this topic so for the purposes of this post, I decided to focus on some of the terms used to describe the phenomenon of “keeping up with the Joneses” (some are actually in the dictionary).

  • Affluenza – combination of the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (disease), an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses, an unsustainable addiction to economic growth.
  • Tiffany Diamond and Emerald RingConspicuous Consumption – coined by Thorstein Veblen in 1899, showy extravagance in buying or using goods or services, meant to impress others with one’s wealth, status, etc.
  • Materialism – the doctrine that comfort, pleasure, and wealth are the only or highest goals or values, tendency to be more Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2concerned with material than spiritual or intellectual goals or values.
  • Over-consumption – a situation where resource-use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem, a prolonged pattern of over-consumption leads to inevitable environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.

Not Keeping Up with the Joneses or Anyone Else

Interestingly, when I entered “keeping up with the” in the Google search field, the top results were for “keeping up with the Kardashians”. Apparently the Kardashians have replaced the Joneses as the people we are supposed to keep up with.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that having more stuff does not make people any happier than those with less stuff. Why contribute to global warming and use our planet’s limited resources to generate stuff just so we can impress our neighbors?

Let’s start a new trend called “Not Keeping Up with the Joneses or Anyone Else”.

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  • Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition
  • Wikipedia

Stuff — Less is More

It doesn’t make sense economically or environmentally to use resources and materials to manufacture, transport, use, and dispose of stuff we don’t really need. After completing spring cleaning and donating our family’s excess stuff last fall, I thought about all the stuff we still had and how to minimize acquiring more stuff. A phrase from a college architecture class came to mind that became my motto.

“Less is More”

—Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (architect)

Shopping — Less is Less

Shopping CartsThe less one shops, the less likely one is to buy. I enjoy shopping just as much as the next person and have done my fair share over the years. Like many others, I eagerly embraced online shopping. But my favorite place to shop is still a brick and mortar bookstore. Mail order catalogues from companies I have never heard of arrive unsolicited in my mailbox along with a few from companies I do buy from. The American marketing machine is very powerful and I had to learn new shopping strategies in order to try to live up to my new motto of less is more.

Mail Order Catalogues

  • Interesting how I didn’t need a new t-shirt or shoes or thingamajig until I saw it in a catalogue. My strategy is to recycle mail order catalogues without looking at them. 
  • Better yet, request to be removed from catalog mailing lists.

Online Retailer E-mail Lists and Notices

  • Don’t subscribe or unsubscribe from e-mail notices about new products and sales. If I need something, I can always go to the retailer website.
  • Avoid browsing retailer “recommendations”. If one didn’t think of it oneself one probably doesn’t need it.

Habits to Break or not Acquire in the First Place

  • Think twice before going window shopping. I generally shop when I need to buy something but I am not totally immune to the “impulse buy” urge. I admit to shopping for fun or to see what’s new. Not going in the store (including virtual ones) in the first place is a good strategy for me.
  • Buy ButtonBeware the credit card. Sliding a credit card through the machine at the check out stand is so easy. Many online retailers make it even easier by storing credit card information and offering “1-click” purchasing.
  • Be cautious of coupons, special offers, and sales. One doesn’t really save any money if one buys something one doesn’t need just because it was on sale.
  • Shopping for emotional reasons can result in unneeded purchases and credit card debt. “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping” and “retail therapy”, are phrases probably coined by the America marketers to get us to buy more stuff.

A Beginning

My less is more approach to shopping does not mean I haven’t bought anything or acquired more stuff, but at least now I think twice before buying something.

I enjoy buying things for other people. Perhaps that is a way of justifying shopping, by saying to myself, “it’s a gift”. 

We still have a lot of stuff, but at least we’re acquiring less stuff and at a slower pace. It’s a beginning…

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