I’ve had a bad relationship with this guy. He’s the man from the board game Monopoly — otherwise known as the man who teaches kids to hoard money and screw their friends out of everything they own. He’s the one who pushes everyone to buy buy buy. He’s consumerism and greed. I’m sure I’m not too far off when I say every one of us raised in today’s capitalist society has met this man.
Luckily, I was able to break it off with Mr. Monopoly fairly early. I still remember the exact moment when I knew I was out of his clutches. It was eleventh grade, and my English teacher had me on the verge of tears. He told me I was too abrasive, that I interrupted people, and I would never be rich and successful because of who I was and how I behaved. He saw that I was getting upset, and his idea of comforting me was to say (rather nastily, I might add), “I’m teaching you how to be rich. Don’t you want to grow up to have lots of money?”
“No,” I said, “I’d rather be happy.”
My teacher replied, “Oh — you’re one of those.”
And that, my friends, is how Mr. Monopoly and I broke up. I was upset at the time. Everything in my life was telling me that my teacher was right: I should want only money, and I should adjust my personality so that money could find me later. I was wrong for focusing on something besides money, and I was going to be an outcast because of it.
But here’s the thing. It’s been eight years since that conversation, and I’m not an outcast. I’m happy. I like not focusing on money. Just as it’s unhealthy to focus solely on one person in a relationship, it’s unhealthy to make money the end-all, be-all in your life. If you spend all your time devoted to money, there’s no time for anything else, like reading all of Jane Austen’s novels in one summer, or cooking meals from scratch, or learning a new hobby or daydreaming or walking your dog to the downtown pet store every day. These are things I have time for because I don’t have to make it work as much with Mr. Monopoly.
I still have to talk to Mr. Monopoly on a regular basis. But he’s not my first priority anymore. Is he yours? There are a few ways to tell if you’re focusing too much on acquiring money, and then a few more steps to take the sort them out.
You know you love Mr. Monopoly if…
- You are standing in line to buy the new iPhone as soon as it comes out — and you already have last year’s iPhone in your pocket.
- Every conversation with your friends revolves around how much money a new idea/gadget/car/problem is costing you.
- You hate your job, but you go to work anyway because you really want a new pair of designer jeans/shoes/purse/sunglasses/watch to match the ones already in your closet.
- You feel out of balance with your work life, but don’t want to change it because you couldn’t afford the Stuff you’re planning on buying.
- You have thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and still keep using your cards.
- You feel a pang of regret when you think about the environment, but don’t change any of your consumer habits because you deserve the Stuff you’re buying.
The list could go on and on. In fact, it tends to, because actively practicing these behaviors leads to the next ones. It’s horrible loop to be in, and often it feels like there’s no way out of this one-sided relationship. But there is. You have to break up with Mr. Monopoly.
You can break up with Mr. Monopoly by…
- Readjusting your idea of comfort. Do you really need three bedrooms if there are just two people in one house? Use the outdoors as your third bedroom, or use your community’s resources like the library and wi-fi in coffee shops. Get out. Be with people. How about your cell phone? Do you take pictures with your camera phone often enough to warrant buying a new phone for the built-in flash? Think smaller in terms of space, less in terms of Stuff.
- Identifying the money-mongerers in your house — and then removing them. This includes things like the television, where both commercials and TV shows try to sell you a “standard American lifestyle” that involves lots of new clothes, big houses, and angst over very attractive people; magazines, where advertisements and articles tell you about the next hottest life cures (here’s a hint: they’re not really cures); junk mail; even friends who care too much about money and not enough about spending quality time with you without a TV on in the background. It’s hard to remove friends from you life, and they may turn out to be your biggest support system if you try to include them in your changes. I suggest gently steering the conversation away from money (“do you mind if we don’t talk about what kind of car you’re planning on buying next? I read a really great book last week, and I’m excited to know what you think.”), or asking if you can hang out without playing video games or watching a movie one night. Let your friends know what topic is acceptable, instead of what is unacceptable. Positivity goes a long way. That, and finding a community of people who share your interests.
- Finding something else to focus on, something like a great work ethic; a new author; food; reducing your plastic use; volunteering with a local organization. Take your mind off the money, and you’ll be happier.
- Giving yourself permission to move on, by saying, “I need money to survive, but it’s not the most important part of my life.” Then going out there and try new things to figure out what is the most important part. I promise you, by the time you actually get to getting out there and figuring yourself out, you’ll be in a much better place than when you were with Mr. Monopoly.
These steps sound easy enough, and there’s a good chance that you’re reading this thinking, “yeah, that sounds all right. Maybe later.” That’s cool. File this away, until the day when you’re feeling dissatisfied with your role as a consumer in today’s society instead of an actual breathing person — when you know Mr. Monopoly doesn’t care about your feelings, and you’re tired of feeling that way. Then come back, roll up your sleeves, and get ready for some hard work. It’s worth it.