The Non-Consumer Advocate Book Club — Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle — Week Two

by Katy on February 12, 2009 · 20 comments


Simple Prosperity


Welcome to week two of The Non-Consumer Advocate Book Club. We are discussing David Wann’s Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle.

The first week we discussed the preface, introduction and first chapter.

This week we’re discussing the second chapter: 

Evolutionary Income: An Instinct For Happiness

The second chapter begins with:

“If I were to ask you what you want out of life, I can guess what you’d say. You want less stress than you have now, and more laughter. You want a greater sense of control over how you spend your time, including fewer everyday details like security codes, telephone calls to be made, and endless consumer choices. . . .”

This passage speaks to me because I keep myself deliberately un-busy. Not only does this mean I have more time to spend doing the things which give me pleasure, but I have much more control over my life. And it’s when I feel like I’m losing this control, that the stressors of life creep up on me. And it’s not just the “consumer choices” that overwhelm me, as I am quite capable of letting myself get overwhelmed without a consumer product or service in sight. School volunteering, educational work requirements, social issues, making meals that are frugal, tasty and healthy. Yup — it’s possible to get oneself in a complete tizzy without a single consumer thought.

Wann goes on to write:

When we’re lucky enough to have the important things in our lives, we are . . . more likely to sleep soundly on a cushion of well-being. We’re less likely to be dependent on the approval of others, and more likely to know in our own heart that we are on the right track. We spend less time at the mall hunting/gathering what we hope are the latest fashions and hippest products, and more time completely absorbed in activities that make the time fly past. When we understand who we are and what we want, we have a greater sense of clarity and direction. Rather than feel like something is wrong or insufficient, we feel content. We know instinctively that we have “enough,” and those nagging insecure voices go silent at last.

Who among us has not felt like our lives would be improved if we had better clothes, furniture, household goods, etc? I was at a school event just this evening and caught myself looking at another mother’s cool fabric headband. I started thinking about how cute it would look on me, and  hmm . . . “I wonder where she bought that?” 

I have worked very hard in the past few years to try and declutter my house, which has been an incredibly freeing experience. With the exception of a set of flannel sheets, there’s been nothing I’ve regretted getting rid of. I’m far from being clutter-free, but each Goodwill donation trip gets me a little closer to my goal of not being a slave to my possessions.

I know that I have “enough.”

The subject of happiness is explored, as Wann writes:

“The urgency of our situation doesn’t mean that we can’t live satisfying, enjoyable lives; in fact taking better care of things and people will bring stimulation and purpose to our lives.”

Psychologist Richard Ryan is quoted  as saying:

Desires to have more and more material goods drive us into an ever more frantic pace of life. Not only must we work harder, but once possessing the goods, we have to maintain, upgrade, replace, insure and constantly manage them. Thus, materialists end up carrying an ever-heavier load that expends the energy necessary for living, loving and learning.

It’s that snowball effect where the stuff you possess requires you to upgrade other areas of your life. 

The various definitions within the psychological field of true happiness are explored, and Wann notes that:

“Many of these psychological insights are relate directly to the theme of this book — how to create a more productive, less consumptive lifestyle.”

Note that he writes less consumptive and not zero consumptive. Which I think is important, because even though I very much want to cull my possessions, I take tremendous pleasure with the useful and beautiful objects I have accumulated through the years. The perfect antique framed print, high quality bedding or a row of well loved books. They give me pleasure, and are part of my happiness. But that closet full of board games that we never actually play? It just makes me feel depressed.

Wann ends the chapter with a section titled This Way Out.

Referring to the TV documentary Escape From Affluenza, Wann refers to those infamous Joneses that we all strive to keep up with:

Imagine the benefits of arranging a truce with Joneses, and all others who are victims of affluenza (that’s most of us) that we aren’t going to try for absolute perfection on our lawns; for the perfect mix of possessions, or victory in the battle for the highest salary! If the lifestyle we’ve been leading is making a mess of the environment, using up many of world’s resources and leaving us feeling queasy as a culture, why not just move on to something else?

I do feel it’s true that the constant striving to keep up appearances keeps us from participating in the areas of our lives that are truly meaningful. My personal example of this is from when my sons were little. I noticed that when the house was nice and clean at the end of day, it meant I had been a crappy mom. I had most likely stuck the kids in front of the TV, and they hadn’t made messes and I’d had time to clean. But when we played and set up blocks or legos or made forts, or baked, the house would be completely destroyed by the end of the day. It was very back-and-white. But I lived in fear of people dropping by and seeing my seeing my sty of a home. But really, what difference would it have made to have someone see our mess? 

Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses took away from my parenting.

In the last paragraph, Wann poses the questions:

Why does money have to be the only form of wealth we pay attention to? Why do we assume that monetary success is the best measure of a person? Doesn’t it make more sense to base our respect on what she knows, how trustworthy she is, how funny or how healthy and full of energy, rather than just how much money she makes or how many people she supervises? Our basic need to have the respect of our peers is not really met with a “trophy” home if we don’t have the time to know our neighbors.

This chapter’s theme of competitive monetary success vs. true happiness certainly warrants some thought. I do live in a great big five bedroom, one bathroom house, which actually is the biggest on the block. But I don’t spend all my time and money trying to impress the neighbors with it. (My home investments lately have been decommissioning an old oil tank, and having a new sewer line built — hardly keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type of improvements!)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you living in a community where keeping up appearances is more important than you are comfortable with?
  2. Would you be willing to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle if it meant being happier?
  3. Are there people in your life who put pressure on you to keep everything just-so, and it’s keeping you from being able to pursue the life you want?
  4. Are you finding that the Joneses in your community are beginning to be affected by the economy and are starting to explore some simple living options?
  5. Please feel free to explore any of these questions or to post your own in the comments section below.

Next week: Personal Assets: Chapter Three  — Personal Growth: Creating a Rich Life Story

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

non consumer girl February 12, 2009 at 4:02 am

Wow, your post has blown me away!
This captures the essence of my journey.
I must get this book!


Alison February 12, 2009 at 8:23 am

I agree with all or most of the tenets in this book and am working on being conscious of these ideas in my own life. However, from what I experience in my community, I worry that, given more time, people may not put it toward spending more quality time with loved ones and friends, volunteering, or participating more fully in parts of their life that are more meaningful. I worry that, instead, there will be more mindless TV watching! I worry that we’ve lost our “instinct for happiness” – and that another side effect of “affluenza” has been losing sense of what truly makes us happy. There is a great deal of media emphasis these days on cutting back on spending and reducing consumption, but there is definitely an opportunity with mass media and our social behaviors to emphasize what to do instead of spending/consuming. Sorry to be negative…


Suellen February 12, 2009 at 9:42 am

I just finished reading this book, and it’s changed the way I view my life. I’ve started to bag up things I don’t need and am taking them to either the Salvation Army or our women’s shelter. I’ve bought reusable bags for my groceries (I even get a discount for using them!) and I’m now taking “navy” showers! Little steps, but they feel HUGE to me!
I love this book!


Meg from FruWiki February 12, 2009 at 10:05 am

I’m also into decluttering. While my husband and I have certainly bought some stuff this year, it doesn’t even compare to the number things that we’ve sold or given away. And it does make us better appreciate what we have as well as make us feel more comfortable at home. Plus, it also makes us question every purchase because we don’t want to disrupt the balance. As it stands, I still see plenty of stuff to get rid of.

I’m very glad that my husband and I live where we do in a very unpretentious neighborhood. Neighbors have described it as a “working class” neighborhood and that probably sums it up well. It’s mostly older couples and young families and you don’t see many high end cars around here. There isn’t even a HOA to worry about. I feel very comfortable here, unlike times when I’ve visited family or friends in gated communities.

I’m also reading the Millionaire Next Door right now and it made me think about our future in this neighborhood. If we keep up with our frugality, get rid of our debt, keep growing or even just maintain our income, and make good investments then ….who knows… that might be us some day. And I can imagine us here or somewhere similar, not worrying about keeping up with the Joneses but just enjoying being financially secure.


Meg from FruWiki February 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

Alison, I share your fear, too. T.V. is can be a powerful addiction. It took my husband and I awhile before we cancelled cable — even though we did without it for the first year or so that we were married because he had never had it and he didn’t really spend feel like watching local channels. In fact, his ancient looking t.v. stayed in his closet under the laundry basket. But once we got Discovery Channel and SciFi he was hooked!

We cut the cable back in December and somehow we’ve survived just fine. My husband doesn’t have much time to watch video nowadays anyhow, but I watch video on Hulu, TED, and other sites. It isn’t like totally giving up t.v. but I believe that it is much better since I have more control over what I watch, much of what I watch isn’t network television, I watch less overall, and there are much fewer commercials.


Alison February 12, 2009 at 10:20 am

It’s true – you have to think consciously about your TV or it can take over! Many times friends and family have come over and looked at the spot above our fireplaces and said “a flat screen would look great right there.” We actually removed the hook up for a flat screen TV above one fireplace (in our kitchen) because we didn’t want the temptation of having it on all the time. We have one TV in the house – none in the bedroom or kitchen – and we enjoy just looking at the fires in fireplace 🙂


Di February 12, 2009 at 8:21 pm

1. Are you living in a community where keeping up appearances is more important than you are comfortable with?
I’ve never kept up appearances. I go for comfort rather than style. I’d rather hold true to my own values. Our neighborhood though yes they are typical americans. Lawns, designer clothes, next door has a hummer and everyone has 3+ cars. Yes we stick out like a sore thumb 🙂

2. Would you be willing to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle if it meant being happier?
Yes, and I am.

3. Are there people in your life who put pressure on you to keep everything just-so, and it’s keeping you from being able to pursue the life you want?
No-one openly pressures me, but friends commented when I took out the grass on the front 🙂 I hate grass, always have, it’s the source of my allergies in summer and so I don’t want it in my garden. I’m planning on putting edibles in the front, wonder what they and the neighbors will say about that!

4. Are you finding that the Joneses in your community are beginning to be affected by the economy and are starting to explore some simple living options?
I’ve seen a couple of people on our street reduce their lawns and put wood chips with plants in instead. Not really due to the economy but trying to be more green. One family reduced their lawn by 50%! Other than that I can’t say I’ve noticed any changes at all.

5. Please feel free to explore any of these questions or to post your own in the comments section below.
I loved this book, so much so I read the whole thing. One thing I really took from Davids writings was the sense of community we need to build. I think that was lacking in MY/our life. We know our immediate neighbors but no-one else. Happy to say that was rectified today when I was gardening when I met a couple of new neighbors, one helped me garden too 🙂 We have that passion in common.

Regarding the TV issue, we cancelled our cable a year ago and haven’t missed it. Best thing we did.

After reading Affluenza I stopped and thought hard about every purchase I made, and still do. I see this book the same, it’s making me make more changes. I want to declutter, to clean my house and live more simply. Heck I even started knitting and sewing again!


Pennie February 12, 2009 at 9:37 pm

The neighborhood that I have lived in for the last 25 years is what I think of as “random rural,” with mostly older manufactured homes and even older-yet farmhouses on small acreages.

The family across the street suffered a devastating home fire two years ago (cooking fondue in the living room…what?) that did enough damage to make it more reasonable to rebuild rather than repair, so they demolished their modest ranch-style and started over.

They built a spectacular new home–5 bedrm, 5 bthrm street of dreams-style showcase that both blotted out our view of Mt. Hood (sigh) and also left our little turn-of-the-century bungalow across the street looking admittedly a little ragged at the edges.

This experience has been the first time that I can honestly say that I have ever had a real sense of what that “keeping up with the Jones” kind of thing can feel like. If I were a different sort of person I probably would have taken out a line of credit out on my paid-off home or cashed out a retirement fund (or some other crazy thing) and plugged it into fancy bells and updated whistles for my place, but instead I simply enlargened my vegetable garden area and (mostly) just look the other way.

I second and third the comments about television creating a black hole of addiction for folks–but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion in itself.

I enjoyed chapter two of the book even more than ch 1, if that is possible. Right brains unite! 😀


Mandy @ New Patriotic Homefront February 13, 2009 at 6:52 am

The book finally arrived at my library! I will try to catch up soon.


Mariah February 13, 2009 at 8:11 am

“Keeping up with the Jones” can be great if you live next door to frugal, green folks. I drive less, water my lawn less, eat out less, at least in part from what I’ve learned from my neighbors. We grow some of our own food and help each other in our gardens and with freezing and canning. We share tools and help each other with projects. We also recycle and consider what we buy so we make less trash and can share the cost of garbage pickup. If we’re going shopping we check if the neighbors need anything, or sometimes car pool to the grocery store in an efficient car.

Right now I’m wishing I could keep up with them and install solar collectors! I know lots of my neighbors pretty well and think I live in a GREAT community!


Alison February 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Mariah, your neighborhood sounds wonderful! Now that I’m off my TV-soapbox, I will share a couple of thoughts about the “keeping up with the Joneses” questions Katy asked…in our neighborhood, it’s not just about material goods, but also about joining certain clubs and committing to certain types of vacations (usually requiring second homes or expensive seasonal rentals), which sets people apart socially. I’ve noticed that there are fewer social events through the schools in this neighborhood and I wonder if it’s because everyone’s off doing their own thing….


Julie February 14, 2009 at 7:06 am

We moved to this neighborhood to be close to the private school my son was attending at the time. We really hate it, though, because everyone is so unfriendly and snooty and really into material things—well, they appear wealthy, but I’m sure most of them are up to their eyeballs in debt. Ours is a duplex set among these McMansions. I have to be careful walking to my mailbox lest I be run over by a Mercedes SUV hurtling down the hill at me. There’s no way I’d want to keep up with these Joneses, even if I could. We miss our previous home which, although it was in a planned community, had a great diversity of home styles (condos to golf course mansions) and types and ages of people. We knew tons of people and even the neighbors we didn’t know well would say hi. Before that, we lived in a 1950’s neighborhood of all modest homes—“working class” as someone mentioned above. That was nice, too. We can’t wait to get out of our current neighborhood and back to something real.


rekindled February 14, 2009 at 10:42 am

I can really relate to everything in this chapter. I used to think that a person’s success in life was measured by their financial wealth. Most of my careers guidance at school seemed to be based around how we would earn the most money. However, I have learned that the movement of small green pieces of paper has no direct effect on my happiness whatsoever (as long as I have enough money to eat etc). I am now working in a job with shorter hours, for less pay, but I am the happiest I have ever been because I now have the time and energy to spend on the things that I think are important – my family, friends, and my own personal hobbies and interests.

Not only that but I agree that happiness comes from finding personal meaning in life. My job allows me to make a different to other people’s lives and that is more rewarding than all the money in the world.


Viki S February 14, 2009 at 11:43 am

I have this book here from the library and really need to open it, it sounds like. But, from what I’ve read, I can figure out what it’s main theme was. I agree with everyone about the TV thing. We have a dish (cable is a fortune here) and when winter came and my son and dh were inside more, we upgraded so we’d have more cartoon channels, sports channels, and movie channels. I don’t watch most of them, but I do love Planet Green. If I go down to the lesser package, I will lose it. I could live without it though. It’s just about convincing the rest of the family.
As far as the neighborhood thing, I’m in a western suburb of Chicago where everything is expensive and overdone. I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in a small town and my husband grew up in a small town in IA. Now that we have a son (8), I wish we could live in a less “busy” area. We moved 4 years ago from a neighborhood we loved, just so our son wouldn’t have to go to a grade school that we knew the “average” kids and the “wealthy” kids didn’t get along. It was all about brands, how many sports you’re in, how many cars you have, how big is your bedroom, do you have such and such toy yet? That’s not us and we wanted our son to grow up amongst more average people who value other things than money. A lot of moms here stay home during the day, but they still have “Better Homes and Gardens” homes. Everyone has at least 2+ kids (we have one). All the dads work so much that they’re hardly ever home, and when they are, they’re hanging out with the other white collar dads and drinking expensive beer. The moms have their “playgroups” (which I was never invited to) although their kids are mostly grown now. When we first moved here, I told my dh that I need to get a twinset and some pearls to fit in! I hated it here! However, I think everyone kind of knows that we aren’t like them. We’re kind, gentle people who love the environment, our son, and animals (inside and out). We do a lot of volunteering and started a new Cub Scout pack at my son’s school this year. In that group, we try to instill learning instead of what “cool” trips we can go on. We don’t deny anyone if they can’t pay to join. Everyone’s welcome and I think that freaks people out. They’re not used to that.

Basically, I’ll keep wearing my Birkenstocks, my husband will keep mowing the lawn in his sleeveless shirt (showing his celtic cross tattoo) and big boots, my son and I will be vegetarians, and we will not pay someone to come and spray all of those chemicals on our yard (like so many others do). I’m sure it thrills our neighbors to see these things sometimes, but they have to get over it. We pay our assoc. dues ($240!) and our taxes ($6700) and we’ll stay as long as we like. They’ll have to deal with it! i’m not changing to be a carbon copy of everyone else!!!!


Sandy S February 15, 2009 at 4:26 am

In my case, “keeping up with the Joneses” doesn’t apply so much to the neighborhood, as it does to society in general. We live in a typical suburban neighborhood and although I’m certain we lead a significantly lower maintenance lifestyle than most of our neighbors, I think we appear pretty average. The thing I struggle with, is feeling alienated from the people I come across in other social situations when they talk about their expensive vacations, day spa visits and cable triple play packages. While I am happy enough living without these things, I still feel isolated. Reading this blog (and David Wann’s book) gives me hope that there are other people like me out there.


Julie February 15, 2009 at 7:32 am

Viki S, your neighborhood sounds like mine! I am also a Birkenstock-wearing vegetarian (with a vegetarian son). My husband doesn’t have a tattoo, though. 🙂 Everyone thinks we are freaks. We drive a Prius with anti-war etc. stickers on it and someone called it a “hippie-free-love Prius”. People are so scared of anything different, it’s way too much like high school.
Anyway, keep the faith! There are others like you, in my case we are about 2000 miles away but I just wanted to say hi.
Thanks Katy, for the forum for us “frugal freaks”.


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