Breaking Up with Mr. Monopoly

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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.
  • 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.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I had a few awesome teachers who taught me how to get away from Mr. Monopoly.  Maybe I’ll tell you about them some time.  Image courtesy of rutty.

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7 responses

  1. What an inspiring post. I’d have to say that I officially broke up with Mr. Monopoly 20 years ago, although my discontent had been growing for a number of years beforehand. I have never looked back, and at this point I can’t fathom any other way of living. I’m constantly amazed that people think my lifestyle is difficult, or that I’m somehow “choosing to suffer”.

    The truth is that I can’t imagine how anyone who lives a “standard” life keeps from going totally insane. Perhaps I just have a low tolerance for the things that most people put up with on a daily basis, but I cannot imagine having to wake to an alarm clock every day, or having to sit in traffic, or wear pantyhose, or makeup, or take business trips, or live on fast food, or breath stale office air, or any of the myriad of other things that “successful” people must do to themselves.

    I think the truth is that we have a pretty screwed up sense of what success is. Have you heard of the concept of GNH? It stands for Gross National Happiness, and the country of Bhutan has actually adopted it as their measure of success: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_national_happiness

    It seems so obvious to me that the true measure of success is happiness, not dollars.

    Thanks again for a great post!

  2. Love the ending paragraph of this post – we can force people to simplify, it has to be something that they want. I just hope and pray that people aren’t indoctrinated by Mr. Monopoly so much that when the day of disatisfaction comes, they don’t push the thought aside because they don’t want to be “one of those…”

  3. Love the post! Would like to get input from you and readers: As a family we have largely shunned consumerism and sought real fulfillment through nature, relationships, etc. I have been teaching biology classes, but have recently decided to go into business selling ebikes. I’m a bit torn because nobody “needs” an ebike, but I think if people buy this “want” that it will be a net benefit in that it will help them slow down, live locally, get outside, and lower their carbon footprint. Here’s the question: can a person reject Mr. Monopoly and yet be in business selling something?

    • I think it depends. If you’re selling ebikes to get rich? Then no, I’d say you haven’t rejected Mr. Monopoly at all. These little ebikes (almost like mopeds, no?) don’t directly run on carbon fuels, and are more in line with a bicycle’s ideals, but appeal to a different set of people, like people with disabilities, older people who may not feel confident on a bike, people who aren’t in the best of shape. They’re a step in the right direction in terms of eco-friendliness. And from the sound of it, you and your family have already broken up with Mr. Monopoly. Are you concerned what people think of this new business venture?

  4. Christine, you have summarized nicely who can benefit from scooter-style ebikes. I also plan on selling a variety of pedal-assist ebikes to help people who can pedal get more use and enjoyment from their bikes. I guess my hesitancy with being in business is this: a business must grow and make a profit in order to exist. This is ridiculously simple, but in some ways it seems to conflict with living simply and frugally. I want to provide goods and services that help people in their own lives and which move us to a more sustainable future, but I don’t want to encourage more consumerism. If I am to continue in business I need to reach customers who want this product, but I dislike the traditional means of advertising that prey on people’s emotions and insecurities. And then there is the “risk” that managing the business successfully will lead to becoming rich. I like what is written in 1 Timothy chapter 6 (see verses 6-18): http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_tim/6 and am reminded that the “love of money” is the problem, not money itself. In theory much good can be done with much money, but there are certainly pitfalls associated with wealth. Ideally I hope that being in business will allow us more control over our time, more time in nature, and more happiness for us and others.

    • I like your views, and have shared them Kevin. I think you might just be the type of person God decides to bless, and you may become rich. You know why though, remember the parable of the talents? Matthew 25:14-30 specifically verse 21: 21″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ You will be the type of person that will use your wealth properly. We have a multi-millionaire in our church that tries his best to hide it – but anonymous large donations don’t stay anonymous for long. He lives in a modest home, and dresses modestly, but is able to give very generously.

      My husband and I are in the middle of “Breaking up with Mr. Monopoly” selling our too-large-for-us home and moving into something 4 times older and half the size. I’ve decided, when I’m making a decision to not let money play into it at all. Sure changes the ways I look at things! Best of luck to everyone on this adventure!