Keeping Up With The Joneses Was Never Possible

The Joneses were your next door neighbor, your colleague at work, or even your adult sibling. As the Internet has consumed our culture though, the phrase has taken on new meaning with social media expanding our circle of Joneses.

Andrew M. Odom
Andrew M. Odom

We’re all familiar with the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses”. The phrase originates with the comic strip Keeping Up with the Joneses, created by Arthur R. "Pop" Momand in 1913. The strip ran 27 years depicting the social-climbing McGinis family, who struggle to "keep up" with their neighbors, the Joneses of the title. The Joneses were unseen characters throughout the strip's run, often spoken of but never shown. And perhaps therein lies the rub. While Momand created the strip to poke a little fun at people’s desire to impress others it took on a more troublesome meaning throughout the century.

The phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” was at one time limited to striving to have the bigger home, the nicest car, or who sent their kid to the most prestigious school. Life was a pursuit of having what the Joneses have and then hopefully one-upping them! The Joneses were your next door neighbor, your colleague at work, or even your adult sibling. As the Internet has consumed our culture though, the phrase has taken on new meaning with social media expanding our circle of Joneses.

Social media connects us with friends, celebrities, designers, and even personalities made famous by social media itself. Facebook and Instagram don’t just boast the fabulous lives of celebrities, but it has allowed seemingly ordinary people to create a false facade around their regular existence. You scroll your feed and see the person at the cubicle next to you visiting the site where their custom home is being built. You watch as your sister’s kid opens nearly 25 presents on Christmas morning. You watch a Tik-Tok of someone fixing the perfect chicken tikka masala complete with garlic butter rice and homemade Naan, while you stare down at your plate of Stouffer’s Lasagna that is a little too burned on the edges.

We are privy to the daily movements of friends (and online acquaintances) who share photos that document their seemingly fabulous lifestyles – from exotic vacations in Dubai, Thailand & Bali to their morning view of Grand Tetons perfectly framed by the hatch of their vintage Westfalia. It makes you wonder what’s wrong with your life? It sets into motion a series of thoughts and feelings that mirror inadequacy. What’s the natural response? To do what they’re doing. This is how social media has designed a culture of competition. So what is our response? We go after it. We go after that same life curated for our pleasure and we do so even at great, crippling expense and personal harm. We try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

Our culture has become obsessed with seeking confirmation of their social and economic status by those around them. We exist daily in a distorted reality that has created a deluded sense of self-worth and value. We spend a ton of money on restaurants and vacations and take 50 photos in the same spot in hopes to snap the perfect one, which we then add filters to to perfect the image. Then we post the photo and wait to see how many likes and comments our perfect picture gets. Those fancy dinners and perfect vacations seem to be less about the actual experience and more about the perception we hope to create for our audience. And we are going broke trying to showcase our personal glamour. As a nation, we are trying to manage $6,194 in consumer credit card debt to every $30,000 in gross income. We are purchasing homes that cost us $329,000 on average and cause us to 30- and even 40- year loans! Keeping up with the Joneses is simply not sustainable.

We get caught up trying to manage, control and even manipulate other people’s perceptions of us. “Jones Syndrome” can lead to obsessive spending behaviors that will create stress, worry, anxiety, and financial ruin.

We shouldn’t envy others until we know the whole story. And while a picture is worth a thousand words, it isn’t the complete story. In viewing the filtered images of the Jones’ life, we aren’t shown the unedited version of their life that involves the horror on their faces when they see their new minimum monthly payment on their VISA or when they realize they have less than $42 in their bank account! We also don’t know how long they may have saved to go on that trip or how much debt was assumed to make their suburban mansion possible.

Instead of focusing on what the Joneses try to project in social media, focus on your own goals. Do you want to own your own home but don’t want a huge mortgage or have to maintain rooms you don’t even go into? Consider a tiny house. Do what it takes to become debt free and build personal wealth. Don’t actively destroy it. When was the last time you saw your Facebook friends boasting about paying off their car loan, school loan or credit card? Chances are you haven’t because we currently live in a culture where acquisition and ownership is celebrated and praised.

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One of the very first motivators behind the modern tiny house movement was the pursuit of freedom; freedom from debt, freedom from stagnation, and freedom from corporate slavery. Why not work towards that again? Make your choices in life active ones that allow you to establish full financial control of your life in order to live in a more fulfilled way. Who knows? Maybe the Joneses will see your life and start trying to keep up with you!

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Andrew M. Odom

Andrew Odom is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and has been heavily involved in the modern tiny house movement for over a decade.