killing the green eyed monster

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Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Reader Stacey sent me this question the other week:

How do you conquer jealousy/envy when it comes to material possessions?

Stacey’s question was quite a bit longer than that and her focus was actually on homes, but I thought it was such a good topic that I wanted to explore it further here.

I’m not immune to pangs of envy.

Embracing a life with less stuff has certainly helped but I’m still prone to the occasional bought of jealousy.

Lots of our friends and family have nice homes, go on spectacular vacations, are in great shape and have fabulous wardrobes.

Sometimes I think wistfully, why not me? Wouldn’t that be nice to own/do/be.

But there are several things that have helped me curb jealousy or envy to a sometimes quiet whisper rather than a full blown, break out the credit card or tears, roar.

Live your values.

When we were in a pile of consumer debt, and I was checking every morning, we were extrinsically focused and motivated.

Could we get a bigger home?

Should we get a new car?

What’s the next vacation we can go on?

What’s our income like compared to our friends?

Did you see ___ got a new ____ and are going to _____ and are driving a ______?

Deciding to get off the consumer hamster wheel, to live smaller and get out of debt, changed things. It was a wake up call. It forced us to look inward.

Do we want our son to grow up in a home where it’s always about the next thing to buy or the next thing to upgrade?


Do we want him to grow up in a home where being good citizens and spending time with each other are the focus?

When you get new eyes about how you want to live your life, it’s less tempting to be envious of what everyone else has.

Envy is a choice.

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up with a circle of friends and family that are so damn successful: Senior VPs, marketing gurus and others that have generally kicked butt in the workplace. They have huge salaries, loads of responsibility and really cool business cards.

My last corporate job was a few rungs up from entry level.

When I play the comparison game it’s pretty depressing.

Instead of comparing, I try to be thankful. I’m thankful my friends have received the recognition they deserve, that they’ve found careers they find fulfilling and that I’m doing what I want right now too (even if it comes with a negative salary).

Stuff does not equal contentment.

Stacey was specifically asking about house envy. How do you handle your friends and family having huge show homes with all the accoutrements when you’ve living in a small and modest space?

There are some gorgeous homes here in the Isle of Man. Georgian town homes that have been beautifully restored and renovated. I’ve been in a few and, wow, they are spectacular.

I’m sure the families that live in them enjoy the space and beauty every day.

When I think about my family moving into a big and beautiful home I know that what we would give up for it would actually reduce our daily contentment. I’d spend more time cleaning. The increased rent and utilities would mean a reduction in some other area of our life, probably travel. We wouldn’t have the ease and peace of mind of our son always being within ear shot. We’d give up our ocean view and easy access to the beach. Playing out this kind of scenario in my head allows me to appreciate the nice things my friends have, without feeling the need to own them myself.

It’s easier to not be envious when you know that stuff won’t make you happier.

Any suggestions for Stacey on how you battle envy or jealousy?

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  • Lightbulb. I love our home. It’s not big, but has tall ceilings, a functional kitchen, and is laid out well for a young family. My biggest complaint has been that this 1940’s home has no closets! I’m always envious of my friends with new homes and big closets. I’m a minimalist in that I don’t like much stuff out. I like for things to be cozy but clean and put away, hence the need for lots of big closets. BUT, if I was a minimalist in the way that I actually went through and purged more stuff from the cabinets, the dressers, the drawers, and the closets I DO have, I probably would have PLENTY of room right where I am. Thank you. You never know what’s going to trigger that moment of realization. I thought I had already had them and was just fighting an old house. It’s really me, my stuff, and the green-eyed monster I’m fighting.

  • Oh, this is a familiar struggle! I was raised overseas, a missionary’s daughter and so by necessity AND choice learned to be a minimalist… But on return to the US as a teen, I was overwhelmed by the materialism that literally seemed to consume my peers and families. I’ve fought that urge to “fit in ” by owning the right stuff and looking the right way ever since.

    Now when I feel those desires… The urge to go out and window shop when I know I’m weak, or to peruse the real estate sections when we are not in any shape to purchase a house yet… I ask myself what’s really prompting it. Because it’s usually an insecurity resurfacing, or a new experience on the horizon that is prompting me to sink down roots instead of going where I need to go. This is usually when my husband and I will go for a long walk and “count our blessings” and realize the progress we’ve made toward stability Nd achieving our dreams for our family. And then we come home and take careof what we have and have friends over and remember that if our rent was higher or if we had major debt we couldn’t do this without scrounging up pennies to feed them.

    • My youth was spent pining for material things too. We lived in a very affluent community but were a single parent family with a very low income. At times were were on social assistance.
      PS. My husband and I take a lot of long walks and count our blessings too :)

  • Avoiding “tech envy” is a huge challenge for me. I work in the “cutting edge” tech division of my organization and it’s expected that we buy the new “it” device as soon as it comes out. When I didn’t get an iPhone right after it came out, I got quetsions from supervisors about why I didn’t have one. Now I’m the only one in my group who doesn’t have a tablet, and I’m hearing about that too and will probably succumb to the pressure because I feel like I need to have the devices to be considered “tech savvy” at work.

    At least I can hold on to my CRT TV at home!

  • Oh, I love this post! We live in a small 2-bedroom condo. My 16-month old shares his bedroom with my full-time job. I am staring at his crib right now. I am in no rush to move. I am in the process of looking at how to better share our living space with my work space in other parts of the house (sadly his room is not baby proof because of my work- which means we don’t spend a lot of time playing in his room). We often are asked when we are moving to a larger place now that our son is getting bigger. My husband and I share a look during these conversations. I don’t WANT a bigger house. That means a larger mortgage, yard work, increase in utilities and taxes. We have to learn to live within what we are provided with. We travel to other countries and see how full families live in spaces that are a fraction of our 1,300sq foot house. That is what I think about each time I wish for a little more space and I am grounded again in what I want. Would I like a yard that is fenced in for my son and our dog? Yep, but again, I know the sacrifices we would have to make to have that. I don’t envy other people’s things. The one thing I envy is having the financial means to live a little more comfortably. But then I realize that is something we have to work on as well and that happens by choice. So, thanks for pointing out that envy is a choice!

    • My sister moved in with us when my son was 8 months old. She moved into his room and I realized we didn’t use it that much anyways. It was a good eye opener that we spend most of our time in the living area of our home – still do even now that my son has his own room.

  • Ever have one of those days when it’s all on a similar theme? Started off with me posting about my 3rd anniversary discovering minimalism/life simplification.. Moved onto quoting Baz Luhrmann on Katy the NCA blog. My own FB page them got a good ole dose of Baz – popped across to yours and ended up quoting something else from him on yours,
    I’ll wrap it up here… “Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself” Thanks Baz couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • I definitely get this feeling from time to time. I tend to think very analytically so, when this happens, it usually results in sitting down with our excel budget. I spend a few minutes planning out how I might make the vacation, bigger house, new furniture, etc happen. Many times the object of envy is within our reach… but I realize as I look at our budget that, really, I prefer the choices we’ve already made – living within our means, paying down debt, and having the luxury of working flexible hours while our baby girl is little… I guess I count my blessings using an excel spreadsheet… It kills the green eyed monster every time!

    • That’s the route I go to as well: what impact would that decision have on the rest of our life and finances. Lately we’ve been thinking about buying a car. It’s possible for us to get one and build gas, tax, insurance and maintenance into our budget. But I’d have to shave a bit off of other areas of our life. Not sure it’s worth it.

  • I find it helps to have your priorities straight. What do you want and why? Living a simpler life is not always easy. When I see college friends taking their children off to Utah for a week of skiing or Germany for a summer trip I do cringe a little. As I know I can not afford that for my children, but I also choose to spend our money differently, buying better food over newer and fewer clothes, taking my kids to free events like Pop UP Opera. As for our house I am lucky, though we live in a mid century farm house it is still large by current standards. About 1/2 of the people in my children’s school live in small under 2000 square foot houses, the rest live in McMansions. We are somewhere in between. But quite frankly I would be happier with a smaller home. (Seems my children like to be in the same room as me, even at ages 14, 11, and 7). A big house is just more to clean.

    Changing our perspective is not always easy but sometimes we have to be thankful for what we have.

    • It’s all about choices! We have chosen that I stay home with our children so we know we won’t be driving new vehicles or taking fancy vacations. Like you, we also choose to spend more on quality food because we value our health over material possessions!

      And I agree about a bigger house, it is more to clean! With 2 little ones, it’s hard enough to keep up with 1,300 square feet. And, I love that your children still like to be in the same room as you, I hope mine are the same as they grow!

  • The answer for me is to NOT WANT any of it in the first place. Envy is gone like a puff of smoke. Even if we had the money we would not want the big house. We like the closeness and coziness, everything within easy reach, very little stuff.. I adore sparse and basic. It is great to be able to visit someone else’s new big house and not be one bit envious. We have 600 sf apartment but we are looking for a tiny old house in a specific location. We would like a footprint of less than 500 sf, plus attic for sleeping. Not wanting is seriously so liberating. You can even take pride in choosing to live small, having a minimal wardrobe and old furniture. Really, it’s a mindset and I agree that envy is a choice (though not always an easy choice).

  • I also get house envy. Ours is tiny and awkward, and I’d love just an open floor plan with an actual entryway.

    But, then I look at our mortgage that is less than most rentals, and think how free we’ll be when we pay this place off way before 30 years.

    Oh yeah and the #1 thing that keeps the envy away – most moms who live in those houses have to go to a job and put their kids in daycare, ick, and I don’t. Love it.

    • Totally agree!! Our mortgage is $200-$400 less than just renting in our town (crazy I know) not to mention hundred and thousands less than the McMansions of the oil rich people here!
      An acquaintance of mine has three kids under five, all in daycare and all sick all the time. I am SO blessed to stay home!
      In a funny way we are growing more and more into our small home as we rid ourselves of excess. We are discovering our 1,070 sq ft home is more than enough for me, hubby, toddler and baby on the way!

  • I can’t say I never envy others and their things but due to my lifestyle it’s very rare that I do. And most of the time when I think I want something somebody else has, after thinking about it, I realize I really don’t want it because of the cost, the fact I have nowhere to put it, because I already have something that serves the same purpose, etc.

    As far as suggestions to battle envy/jealousy, work on contentment! I’ve found that when I’m thankful for the things I have and remember how blessed I truly am, I am content and don’t envy others. Thanks to contentment, I’ve reached a point where I’m happy for friends when they have a house that’s big and beautiful, purchase a new car, go on a nice vacation, etc. The frugal side of me ‘cheers myself up’ if I do feel a bit envious, by reminding myself that they also had to pay for those things. I’m content with my 1,300 square foot home for my family of 4 because the mortgage is low and there’s no financial burden of owning a home. I may be driving a 10-year-old car but it’s paid for! And so on!

    I’ve also found that since we’re intentionally living more minimally, the desire to acquire is gone. We don’t want more! We don’t have much room in our home and don’t want more clutter and so we’re not envious of the stuff that other people have!

  • My husband’s family has more than what I grew up with. Visiting his mother’s house and his siblings’ houses caused me to feel A LOT of envy in the early years of our marriage. Well, now I’m in my 50’s and live in a bigger house. I have the yard to worry about, and all the cleaning. I’m looking at it and wishing we had stayed in a 1200 square foot home! In a neighborhood of small homes we got to know our neighbors better. Our kids always had other kids to play with. Housework took a lot less time. I spent more time with people. I am now in the process of trying to declutter, with a plan of moving to a small, low maintenance home in a few years.

  • I definitely get envious on occasion, but I’m a lot better than I used to be. I agree that living your values and embracing your life is the key. Our family really doesn’t have much, but it was 100% by choice. I had a great job, but I decided I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I made that choice knowing that my husband’s income wasn’t all that great. There are trade-offs when you make a choice. For me, focusing on my own family instead of everyone else has made all the difference. I had to go so far as deleting or hiding Facebook friends who did nothing but talk about spending their money. It also helped to make new friends who have the same priorities and a similar financial situation–they don’t pressure me to spend money I don’t have, and they help me to stay on track. When I do get feeling jealous, I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. Are they in a different stage in life that allows them to do more? Have they made sacrifices, decisions or put in effort that I wouldn’t be willing to? Would I want the unpleasant aspects of their lives, too? The grass often seems greener, but when it all comes down to it I really wouldn’t want to trade with anyone.

  • What a great post! I think you hit the nail on the head. When you live your values it is so much easier to brush off the green eyed monster. When you like (or maybe even love) the way you live it is easy to remind yourself why you made the choices you did (or do). When the monster does rear it’s ugly head it is nice to remind myself that “things” don’t make someone happy. Everytime I give in to a purchase that I’m sure will help me ______________(stay more organized, get skinnier, cook more easily, insert whatever you want here), I learn that lesson again…it probably didn’t make me happier. And the regret after the sticker shock is usually enough to keep those doubts at bay for a little longer. In the end I think people can tell I like to live the way I do, that I seem happy…because I’m making decision that are true to me.

  • I used to get depressed when I’d go to someone’s house that was nicer than mine. I told that to a friend and she said she had reached a point where she was happy for those people, not jealous of them. I finally reached that point and what a relief. However, we live in an older home with 70’s paneling (that I painted), so I do have drywall envy! I like my house to look nice and for stuff to match, but mostly I want things to work properly.
    My dream home has changed over the years, from a large 2 story house with perfectly decorated rooms, to a small 1 story with clean, uncluttered, and organized rooms. Our current home is too large, and while my husband loves the location at the lake, I’m a city girl and tired of driving so far just to get anywhere. So I do struggle with contentment living here. But I’m trying to focus on getting rid of stuff and working on the things I CAN do, and not worrying about the things I can’t do. Bloom Where You’re Planted!

  • I also love beautiful homes, nice things, the latest technology.

    But when I think about what is required – what I have to exchange – in order to have one of the things I envy for a moment, I soon realize, that for me, it’s not worth it.

    We could live in a big beautiful, fully furnished model home (been there, done that). But that would mean a career for my husband, maybe one for me. We would have to exchange the current freedom we have (of being able to travel) for the comfort and luxury of a home (or anchor, as we sometimes call them).

    I’d rather live very simply, with more freedom, then in luxury. Both freedom and luxury is not an option for me, right now anyway :)

  • I don’t envy people who have stuff. I don’t care much about stuff. All I want is money in the bank. Like most people, I get a sense of security, I guess. Actually, when I see people with a lot of stuff, things like iphones and stuff like that, I think “you should put that money in the bank!” I just think it, I don’t say it. So, I actually feel bad for them. Am I the only one? I shouldn’t feel bad for them since they want to have those things. I think I put myself in their position and I would feel terrible having to pay that bill every month! I would be upset at myself!

  • My ex and his partner bought and renovated the most GORGEOUS period home – just like I’ve always loved, and (when he and I were together) I’d dreamed of having with him. At first, I was really envious – it’s a gorgeous place to live, sit on the porch and by the fire … then I saw the hard work in renovating, the constant repairs and maintenance, and the HUGE amount of cleaning and gardening – not to mention cost in furnishing it, and stress of the vulnerability to break-ins. My husband and I live in something that pales by *that* comparison, but when I think about what I REALLY want: well, we live in a cool open-plan house that I’d like to bring ‘up to date’, but is warm(and has a fireplace, too), just the right size for us, close to work and a great school, shops and lots of amenities, which our daughter runs in & out of, and which is a cinch to clean and maintain.

    My parents always taught me to ‘do a list’ – to write down the pros and cons of each option. For me, my lovely little house wins every time :)

  • We’re a family of 7, and certainly in our home, we’re on top of each other a bit, and there’s a lot of noise. We also have a very nice size yard. I’m actually pretty happy with the size home we have, though having a bit more storage space would help. Then, I would fill it with stuff. I think the storage space simply needs to be reworked, not increased. I also consider how much more time I would spend cleaning if I had more room. Having a larger yard would mean more time spent cutting the grass and taking care of the flower beds.

    When thinking about purchases, I often think of them in terms of how much we spend on groceries weekly. I’m certainly not perfect by any means; I just keep working at it. I’m also learning to use time to think about my desires. For example, my cell phone contract is up in August. My smartphone is fine, though I’d love more storage room. While the iPhone is attractive, it doesn’t have the built-in keyboard that I love. What I truly need is a phone with more storage and a built-in keyboard. I’ll use my time to research and make the best decision I can.

    • Just curious ,how large is your home? We are newlyweds (2 1/2 yrs) with a 13 mth old and a baby due in July, but dream of having four, five, six kids – really whatever is the Lord’s will. We are in 1,070 sq ft and are confident that we can fit at least three children and if we are blessed with five+ kids, we would save to pay (in full) for an addition. We love our location, yard, home, etc. and are excited to live simple, minimal, faithful lives.

  • Thank you for this post! (And for your e-mail). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what you said, and I talked it over with my husband, too. You were absolutely right. Living where we do allows us to have a lifestyle that suits US. It lets me do my freelance work (not huge pay, but very fulfilling). It is letting us slowly reduce our debt, something that living beyond our means wouldn’t do. If we had kids, I’d be able to stay with them, something that’s important to me.

    You also mentioned how being on the same page about money and not going for the huge house or other similar large financial commitments ensures that you don’t argue about money with your spouse and this is true for us too. Every time we want to make a purchase, we sit down and talk about whether we really NEED it after all. We haven’t fought about money in at least a year. Our relationship is better for it. We have everything we need and more, and the more things we let go, the less THINGS we have to worry about.

    One of my specific complaints was the very small bathroom in our 1250 square foot house. Instead of whining about it, after I got your reply I took a look at some creative ideas to make the best use of the space. I cleaned out unnecessary clutter, I’m planning a coat of paint, and I spent a little bit of money I had saved to get a new light fixture, faucet, and installed a dimmer switch. Now it feels a ton bigger because it’s better lit, is more energy efficient, and is a place we are more likely to want to spend time in. I wasn’t shelling out to knock down any walls, and the bathroom is no smaller than the average bathroom in most “normal” and not super-sized homes. All it took was a small amount of money invested and some creativity.

    I appreciated all the comments left on this post, too. I needed some outside wisdom and am so grateful! I’m going to keep slowly eliminating unnecessary material stuff so I can worry less about stuff and focus more on the things that matter to us.

  • We seem to have gone against trends all along. We had kids before our friends, so we lived in family apartments while they were in student digs or backpacking. Then we had a smart, large apartment (which we cluttered!) when our friends were beginning to get into serious relationships. As we moved into renting a huge, rambling country house for kids, dogs and cats, our contemporaries were living in or buying either chic new city apartments or minimalist modern houses. After our first daughter moved out, we began to downsize – first to a smaller family house with a cleaner look and less “country” – and everyone around us needed a bigger, more luxurious house with enormous windows and a Bose sound system, Bulthaupt kitchen and I don’t know what and now that we finally bought a house in a smaller city, it is an old (1770), beautifully renovated, very picturesque cottage, tiny by most standards but perfect for us. Let those around us spend time and money on housekeepers, window-cleaners, gardeners, insurance and maintenance for the homes they have overspent on (and now beginning to look dated – so 80s/90s and no real character!) and that they tear their hair out over when they separate/divorce and have to start over in a regular apartment with all their young kids, jealous wives, bitter husbands who can no longer afford the fancy car and the watch collection… Meanwhile, we have little maintenance because house and garden are so small, continue to drive our ancient cars that get us from A to B perfectly adequately but cost us peanuts to run and our money can be spent or saved as we see fit (travel or the props to do so etc.). And a great and close family to boot – no matter the smaller size of our house, there is always room for 3 kids, their partners, friends and our grandchildren: the more the merrier! And that’s what counts.

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