Keeping Up With the Joneses, Liberal Portland Style

by Katy on March 6, 2009 · 34 comments



I’ve written a time or two about keeping up with the Joneses. That competitive drive to have one’s belongings, clothes and home look as good, (if not better) than the others in one’s social set.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to suburbia or wealthy neighbors.

The Joneses are everywhere!

I live in the Hawthorne neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. This means that I live in an extremely left wing neighborhood, which is within a left wing city, which is then within a left wing state. Yup, I live in a bit of a bubble. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure to buy expensive status items to fit in.

First of all, you’re nobody unless you carry around a Sigg bottle. These eco-friendly reusable metal water bottles cost $21.99 apiece, which means that to outfit a family of four would set you back almost $88 dollars!

Give me a siggin’ break!

And if you have a baby, you must attire them in $60+ Hanna Andersson outfits with $28 Robeez baby booties. And you’re no one without a competitively expensive stroller!

So what’s a non-consumer to do?

I’m far from immune from the draw of popular products. For the most part they’re popular because they’re cool or cute. Were I truly oblivious to the draw of these items, they wouldn’t even cross my radar, yet they do.

I keep an eye out for this stuff when I’m browsing in thrift stores, and I envy my sister’s two Goodwill Sigg bottles, and my sons wore Hanna Andersson pajamas when they were little, only from thrift stores.

So I guess I am keeping up with the Joneses.

Am I proud of this? 

Absolutely not.

But I guess I’m human after all. (Although, the simple act of writing this column is helping me be more aware of my own issues with this stuff.)

However, I am proud to say that I have thus far resisted the call of backyard chickens with the obligatory knitting obsession. Which is my neighborhood’s SUV’s and Starbucks.

What are the Joneses like in your neck of the woods? Please share in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

knittinandnoodlin March 6, 2009 at 4:50 am

You are proud to say that you have resisted the call of a “knitting obsession”!?!?

How sad!

And I found your blog via a link on a simple living forum on Ravelry (a knitting/crocheting website)!

Knitters don’t bite…but our chickens might! =)


Dave March 6, 2009 at 6:04 am

Wouldn’t chickens and knitting be more of a frugal, non-consumer thing to do?

Grow your own meat and eggs, knit your own hat and scarf?

If I had a yard, I’d get chickens immediately; backyard-fresh eggs are amazing!


wendopolis March 6, 2009 at 6:46 am

Actually Sigg bottles are made of the good plastic–that’s why a lot of people have them, rather than the bad plastic that leaches junk into you. I’d love to get some for my kids, but as you said, the cost is rather prohibitive for those of us with more than say, two kids. I have five, and three are in school and take their lunch every day.

I live on a cul de sac with older people–mine are the only kids besides on girl across the street. There isn’t any Jones pressure in my neighborhood, that I’ve noticed. Of course it could be that I dont’ care since I garden in my front yard. 🙂


Kristin March 6, 2009 at 7:02 am

Knitting is a great thing. While it may cost me $10-20 to knit a pair of socks, the enjoyment I get from knitting and the fact that it keeps me calm while waiting at the DMV, more than makes up for the cost. I’ve also been able to knit scarves and other things as Christmas gifts which saves me a ton of money. Even making someone a $20 pair of socks for a gift is much more valued that a $50 store bought item, even though it’s expensive for socks.

As for the Joneses, I run into them more in my professional life. I may be the only CPA around driving a seven year old Kia. The way I see it, if I expect my clients to save and live within their means, I need to teach by example.


tam March 6, 2009 at 7:30 am

Ah, to have neighbors that recycle, have chickens, use good plastic and think about the environment! If only those were the “Joneses” that I lived near.

Here in Miami, people are still obsessed with Hummers, giant houses and designer clothes. We may be number one or number two in foreclosures in the Sunshine State, but people are reluctant to make any sacrifice whatsoever. Non-consumption is a rarity here and almost never discussed. And don’t get me started on littering; people here didn’t get the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” message from the 1970s.


Shymom March 6, 2009 at 7:39 am

A few years ago I read a book called “The Serial” which is about people trying to keep up with the Jones in the 1970s and is set in the town we now live.

Their thing was macrame and finding the absolute best wool or silk to do the job.

A few weeks later I was in a coffee shop and I overheard people talking about gardening and the absolute best garden gloves that you can buy. (This is an area where when many people “garden” they have a small area that they take care of and a service comes to take care of the yard.)

My first thought was that gardening was the new “macrame”. My second thought was ” I have those gloves, and they are good.” 😎


The Frugalista Files March 6, 2009 at 7:47 am

Yikes, the Joneses are real. I guess that’s why I blog about the frugal and fabulous life. I can’t give up the cute strapless dresses or expensive make up. I just make it work for me by buying on sale or recycling old make-up tubes so I can get free ones. And you best believe whatever I buy, I use up.

My lip brush is the best investment I’ve made. I dig DEEP into the tube.

Katy, I think you’ve found a way to make the Joneses obsession work for you. Thrift store chic is all the rage, no?


Kristen@The Frugal Girl March 6, 2009 at 7:58 am

Wow, your Joneses are a little different than ours.

My neighborhood isn’t terribly hoity-toity, but just down the highway in our state’s capital city, life is quite hoity-toity. Whenever I go shopping there, I feel totally out of place…there’s a bunch of stay-at-home moms there whose kids are at private school. They drive fancy new minivans, their hair is highlighted, they have clothes from Nordstrom, their children don Gymboree every day, and so on.

I prefer to stay around here, where I don’t feel quite so poor! lol


MaryC March 6, 2009 at 8:24 am

Louis Vitton purses, hair extensions and weekly mani-pedis. Oh, and BIG SUV’s, $150 jeans and housekeepers.
I don’t have any of those. My car is an SUV and it is a BMW, but we bought it from family when it was already 3 years old and we got a great deal. I’ll drive it till it falls apart. Is that a rationalization? I hope not. 😉


Kori March 6, 2009 at 9:12 am

I live outside of Austin, but spend quite a bit of time in Austin proper. I have to say, it sounds like Austin and Portland have a LOT in common. Being green and frugal are very trendy around here (there are roughly a bazillion thrift stores here), but there’s still that undercurrent of having to have the “in” green items, support the “right” causes, etc. Definite status symbol stuff going on.

On the flip side, Austin also has more of a true environmentalist/hippy/thrifty/recycling & reusing-like-mad counterculture, where it’s not about status, it’s just about doing what these folks believe in. That’s what I try to focus on, and it’s really helped me accept that I am very different from a lot of my coworkers and most of my friends.

The interesting thing is that I was really concerned about my friends thinking I was turning into some kind of a whackjob, but most have been really supportive and think a lot of the changes I’ve made are fantastic, even when they aren’t things that they’re willing or ready to do themselves. It’s really starting to feel good to be unique!


Magdalena March 6, 2009 at 9:55 am

We just returned to rural Canada, but there are still Joneses to keep up with. (This can happen even in Plain communities.) You need the big pickup with chrome, nights out at CW bars, a vacation in Florida. Since our mission is to the poor, obviously we cannot be tempted to flex our keeping-up muscles. Still, we are tempted to get the off-grid stuff that rocks. And rural type antiques. I would think keeping chickens in the suburbs is not the best idea, since droppings have to be composted and feed can attract rodents. I do knit, but then I also spin, and I sell what I make.


thenonconsumeradvocate March 6, 2009 at 10:15 am

People . . . Sigg bottles are metal, not plastic!

I guess you’re not as cool as I am. ; )

And I have two “Sigg-type” bottles that I bought for 25 cents and 99 cents.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


steplikeagiant March 6, 2009 at 10:20 am

Wow. I think I am totally clueless as to who I am to keep up with. I mean I live in a extremely liberal, but not particularly affluent town (yet – it’s getting there – ugh!) Here no one seems to care what you look like or what you wear or what you drive. There are definite trends and sharing of good product info but mostly that is around stuff you need to live and ideas that help save money. Sure there way too many people buying “green” stuff, but those are fools with too much money. Most people I know have been doing this kind of thing since the 70’s and they have taught us to make do. We do our own thing around here. Maybe that’s our thing to live up to…doing it your own way 🙂 PS…I love to knit my own stuff…I get yarn at Goodwill. You can have your chickens. I grew up with them – enough said! I just buy my eggs from the farmer at the tailgate.


kmcdade March 6, 2009 at 10:57 am

giggle. I’m not in the Hawthorne area, but have the same liberal temptations. Like you, I buy Hannas used or from resellers (where I sometimes get new stuff for used prices). I did buy my Klean Kanteen water bottles new, but figure they will last, so they’re worth it.


Angela March 6, 2009 at 11:51 am

I used to knit and crochet and macrame when I was about ten, but haven’t taken it up again. In Los Angeles, it all depends on what neighborhood you’re in. A lot of people in our area are really into gardening, and that sometimes makes me feel ashamed of our yard because I’m not a gardener. Our friends even go to a “bee club” to learn about how to have a hive of bees in your backyard (it helps pollenate- I guess you wouldn’t need that in an environment that wasn’t so out of balance). I’ve noticed an annoyance from some friends when I mention I’m buying nothing new- like they think I’m trying to be superior or something.


LeAnna March 6, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Good post. I keep trying to think that I’m not keeping up with any Joneses, but I do get a little self-righteous about what I do, what I have (or lack, e.g., TV) and all that jazz. *sigh* Humans. Such fickle, insecure creatures.


nancy March 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm

LOL, I have four chickens in my backyard (which lay very expensive and infrequent organic eggs), a storage area full of yarn (haven’t touched the needles in two years), and my daughter drinks water from a $22 metal sippy cup.

Life is not so different in Corvallis, except that we dress much worse, thank god. I couldn’t keep up with the hipsters in Portland.


wendopolis March 6, 2009 at 4:49 pm

My mistake. Nope, I’m not as cool as you. 🙂


knittinandnoodlin March 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm

I was mulling over this post today, thinking about how I keep up with the Joneses…and I’m pretty sure I don’t. If I blend with the hipsters, it’s because I find all the cool clothes at the thrift store (hello, brand new Birks for $1.98! etc.) like you. But, I live in an apartment in a town full of mansions…so when people ask where I live sometimes I feel a little odd identifying with living in that town because I am not cut from that same cloth.

Be comfortable with keeping up with the Joneses if you are doing it in a thrifty and frugal way, I say. You get the last laugh and you are living lightly upon the Earth. How could that possibly be a bad thing?


Meredith March 6, 2009 at 6:26 pm

We get a little of everything in our new hood – a small city in Ontario. This town has a strong eco contingent (water conservation plan, city compost collection, etc), but also a lot of backlash from the folks who wish everyone would stop protesting the Wal-Mart expansion already. And I feel it on both sides: the pressure to keep my kids outfitted like everyone else and the pressure to acquire all the right green “accessories”.

What I’ve pledged to do is to continue to see through both visions of the world. Acquiring endless plastic crap doesn’t help anyone, really. At the same time, why is a $22 water bottle necessary for anyone? Yes, it’s better than a plastic one, or than bottled water, but why not question the principle of consumption that has got us into this mess in the first place? Why do you need water on hand at any moment? What’s wrong with a drinking fountain (hard to find these days, I know, but there was a time…) or waiting until you’re back home or stopping at your favourite cafe for a cold drink in a glass if you’re that parched?

Anyhow, I digress! I know what you mean when you say you wonder about the secondhand trendy items. We do this all the time with our boys – find the popular clothes, the spiderman backpacks, etc at Value Village – we paid less and who has to be any the wiser, right? But, I paid for it, still. And by celebrating the Guess shoes that get for $5 or the nearly new Robeez for $10 am I sending the message that the labels and brands matter? Even if I paid less for them, I’m still endorsing the idea of clothes and accessories as the key to happiness. Furthermore, I wonder if I’m sending the message to my sons that it’s great to save money and walk easy on the earth, but it’s equally important to be just like everyone else.

A great post! Lots of food for thought.


Dana March 6, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I live in rural Indiana. There aren’t a lot of Jones to keep up with in my neighborhood.

However, we do go to church in the next town over. There I feel like we don’t quite fit in with our slightly out-of-date secondhand clothes and 1997 minivan. I feel as if there’s a lot of posturing going on there, and we have scoliosis.


Gerard kiernan March 7, 2009 at 5:09 am

Living in small-city New Hampshire, I am not exposed to much trendiness, thank God! Partially , it is because New Englanders don’t talk that much and bling/flash/boasting don’t seem to be much in the culture.

Sometimes it seems the competition is to see how cheap you can be. People race to see who can spend less on heating by using alternatives like wood. I worry about particulate pollution and got a super-efficient oil furnace instead. But I can’t say with pride that ‘I got my wood stacked’ .

The water bottle thing is funny. Those Sigg bottles have a plastic liner, and the company keeps mum about what type it is. I did get a dented one for half off. They dent easily! If you freak out about polycarbonate, you can get out your older Nalgene bottles, made of a softer , and presumably less estrogen-laden plastic.

One thing that has been researched extensively is the extent to which your material yearnings are influenced by your neighbors and their consumption. People tend to feel happier when their relative wealth is slightly higher than their neighbors, and they feel less happy when they stretch to be like their neighbors.

In that regard, we knew we had to live in the older, less affluent part of town. If anything, I can get a little embarrassed about having more and fancier stuff. That is good, I think, compared to being embarrassed about my 1995 car (what? no prius or audi wagon?).

There is a funny sort of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in philanthropy that I am starting to notice. When you give money to nonprofits, they invite you to receptions, dinners, lectures with their ‘heavy hitters’ and try and up-sell you into a higher giving bracket. It is wierd , because it tugs at all kinds of emotional and moral strings.

Plus, it leads to less happiness because you start to get that striving/yearning back.


CanadianKate March 7, 2009 at 9:51 am

I’m pretty oblivious to keeping up with people. I don’t watch tv and don’t have a need to belong to groups based on affluence so I don’t keep track of what is going on in the world.

Part of the reason is I’m already “up” (I live in an upper middle class neighbourhood and I take it for granted.) Don’t want to be poor, and won’t because I own everything I have outright. Don’t want to have more because I’m having a hard enough time managing everything I own already. Family is important to me and now that the kids have grown and moved away, spending time with them is my top priority and things make that more difficult.

We drive whatever I let us drive. Poor dh wants a Mercedes (we could pay cash so price isn’t the issue) and I say no, we’d be paying through the nose for name, repairs and insurance when a Honda Fit is what we need. Actually, we have neither because our van is still running well, and the PT is literally falling apart (found an important bit on the garage floor just last night) but we are moving to being a single car family so that isn’t a big deal.

I live in a very conservative area (in the good way – self reliant, not crazy-right-wing) and even our Lenten Book Study isn’t going well because the book is on how the advertising is corrupting family structure and we are all saying, “Just Turn Off the TV and Stop Buying Kids Everything They Ask For.” The book is focusing on regulating advertisers. Some in the group say that because they can’t afford otherwise, but the rest of us don’t believe in shopping for the sake of shopping, we put our energies elsewhere. Most of us resent the $11.50 we spent on the book (me in particular since it meant breaking the Compact.)

I’m lucky to live in an area where the Joneses reinforce my values rather than make me feel discontented.


hur1eys March 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm

This article really made me think. When my husband and I were young and just having babies we lived in the north shore of chicago…and we had less money and I felt more pressure to “keep up with the Jones” . The young mom playground group was a killer on me and my ego- 12 years ago we moved 50 minutes north west to a “mix” economic area (very wealthy to very poor) and amazingly as my children get older I have let more and more of the insecurities behind. I always thought it would be the opposite. The turning point was when I committed to shopping at aldi’s. In my area you see a real mix of the community at aldi’s and it dawned on me that while i was there to save my pennies and dimes the women behind me in the Audi was doing the same and the women in front was just trying to feed her family with pennies and dimes. once I got there mentally I never looked back. I shop a mix of Kmart for Wrangler boys pants (cause they are cheap and they are made to last even the toughest boy) to thrift store for my daughter cause she is nutty about plain jeans NO trendy patterns (which at times is amazingly hard to come by in main stream store and don’t get me started on the scavenger hunt for plain white cotton underwear- hard to find ANYWHERE) to goodwill for myself…also, telling the kids that if it meant so much in compairison to their peers they were welcome to save up there allowances, really put in all in perspective for all of us…and my used 10 year old toyota is outdated but the nicest car I will probably own so i will drive it till it falls apart of my oldest threatens to take it on her drivers ed test!


Non Consumer Girl March 7, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Our Jones’s are pretty hard to keep up with! We live in a reasonably affluent area, and most people have a lot of money and a huge house with pool and tennis court.
We have downsized by choice a couple of years ago, and now we live in a townhome, in a security complex, with a shared tennis court and pool.

One day, one of the Yummy Mummy’s daughters (5 years old) came to my house and asked my daughter who is 5 years old, lots of loaded questions which sounded like she was repeating overhead adult questions, like if we owned our townhome, did we like having to share our pool with other people and when we were going to move into a real house like hers?

Most Mums in my area are the Yummy Mummy types, with all driving the latest 4WD with the new shape Prada sunnies (sunglasses) as a headband! Pilates is the new yoga, and Mrs Jones goes to the new pilates studio 3 times a week after dropping her darlings off to their respective private schools.
Mrs Non Consumer Girl (me!) makes do with our sparklingly clean, lovingly cared for family station wagon which is 7 years old. I drop my child off to her public school with the good reputation, and I do the ‘real’ yoga, without all the shiny expensive equipment. I go once a week, and the other days, I walk to exercise. My Ray Ban sunglasses are 5 years old.

Not a chicken or a knitting needle in sight here!


thenonconsumeradvocate March 7, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Non-Consumer Girl,

I thought the “Yummy Mummies” were just pretend.

I guess I’m also a “Yummy Mummy,” but only because I smell like cookies, pie and bread.

Yummy . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


marianne March 8, 2009 at 5:42 am

way to make me feel bad about my sigg bottle and backyard chickens katy! 😉
i actually have good jones’s in my town. everyone recycles everything they can (our town charges for trash but recycling is free) and several houses have chickens. our town is actually holding a sustainablity fair next weekend to show the benefits of recycling, how to conserve energy, freecycling etc. i do have someone across the street we call “the griswolds” because since we moved in they have always tried to outdo our halloween and christmas decorations. we try to keep it classic looking but one year the guy actually climbed on his roof to staple rows of white lights across the whole roof! he kept blowing fuses and it was quite funny from the privacy of our living room. but it was right out of national lampoons christmas vacation. =)


Angela March 8, 2009 at 11:48 am

I know this is a few days old, but I was just reading over the comments, and judging by how many times the Sigg bottles were mentioned, that is the new status symbol de jour (italics).

I’d never even heard of them! I think ours are called “Nalgene”- which is some type of plastic that’s supposed to be more environmentally friendly, as well as healthier.

Shows what a geek I am that I wasn’t even aware of this “Sigg” bottle…


BohoBelle March 8, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Wow, what great posts from everybody.

I remember learning in my university marketing class that it is our deepest instinct to belong to a tribe. Only problem is now our tribes are called PlanetArk or Sigg or someother brand name.

From reading everyones comments I get the feeling that keeping ‘up’ with the Jones is okay as long as they are the people you really want to be, not just think you should be.

Eg. in our case, (the people who like to read this blog), our Jones should be people like Katy, not our neighbour’s neighbour. As its good to have an role model I think.

I like what CanadianKate had to say:

“I’m lucky to live in an area where the Joneses reinforce my values rather than make me feel discontented.”


Jacquelyn March 8, 2009 at 2:42 pm

How funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday – it’s been on my mind a lot lately. I also live in Portland, and it’s interesting to me how environmentalism has become the new status symbol. While it irks me, I try to just do what I can and what is important to me and also to not judge other people who don’t do or value what I do. I wonder what it will be for the next generation?


Jeanne March 10, 2009 at 9:04 am

Don’t throw out the knitting and the chickens just because they’ve become trendy. I’ve been knitting and crocheting since I was 12, I’m 50 now, and it’s a great stress reliever. I’ve also made all of my own dishcloths that way for the past 15 years. And I keep chickens, and have for 12 years, but then I live on six acres and it just makes sense.
My point is that trendy things some times become that way because of the intrinsic value they possess. Hanna Andersson clothes are well made and durable, finding them second hand it perfect. They also used to have a warehouse sale once a year with really low prices.


thenonconsumeradvocate March 10, 2009 at 9:18 am

Dear Knitters and Chicken Folk,

I have nothing against knitters. Some of my best friends are knitters, (okay, all of them . . . .) I know how to knit, but I seem to be lacking that “knitting compulsion gene.” I can put it down, walk away from it and forget about it. Plus my sister is a grade-A compulsive knitter and crocheter, and keeps us in hats, socks, mittens, dishcloths and even Swiffer covers. She even crochets plastic grocery bags into renewable tote bags, which are F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!

I have a good friend down the block who does have the backyard chicken coop, and she has been generous with her eggs. (Thank you Lise!)

I am very hesitant to bring on projects that will complicate my family’s life. And chickens, I believe would fit into that category.

What I won’t be doing is bringing on these projects so that I can be “cool,” that’s where the Joneses fit in.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Bagbabe53 March 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Although this horrible recession has not affected our everyday finances directly (my spouse is a business owner in a specialized area always in demand), we have simplified a lot over the past several years because we want to retire by 60, and do so comfortably. We moved into a smaller house, and entertain at home more. I drive an eight-year old car, and if I need a cocktail dress, I shop Ebay (super deals, many with tags still on) or a local consignment store. I am returning to work soon as our 401(k)s have lost over 20 percent, but that’s OK because one is about to enter college, and the other will finish law school this May.


Moe December 10, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Oh my, I would change with you in a heart beat. I happen to be on the left myself and would love to have chickens in my back yard and have the latest eco friendly water bottle. My neighbors would turn their noses to that (chicken part) and talk about you to other neighbors. Keeping up with the Jones in my neighborhood is cut throat and I hate it. They form clicks and it all depends on how big your home is and if you drive a BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover, etc.. And who does your lawn, what additions are you doing to your home and what vacation is it this year. We are middle class from MA and happen to have bought a home in So. NH where homes are less expensive but had a great school system. I happen to find a home in such a beautiful neighborhood, not the biggest home but just right for us. What a mistake!!!!! I happened to have bought a home where all the VP , Dr, etc live. My family is on a completely imcome bracket as my neighbors that we don’t get invited to their parties. We even bought a used BMW to try to fit in, how ridiculous for us. I can’t sell my home in this economy but if I could, you would see the smoke from my heels from me running so fast. What a bunch of snobs and a few wannabe. Life is so much more important that what you have and own. If I only knew what I was getting myself into.

Now that’s, “keeping up with the Joneses”


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