$50K kitchens, saturated photos, mom bloggers and envy.

As I posted about last week, we’ve recently bought a home (our first, as job changes kept us on the move for much of our first decade of marriage and parenthood). While it’s in decent shape, there are a lot of changes, mostly cosmetic but a few functional, we want to make right away to make the house more livable. And we don’t have much of a budget for renovations right now.

For months, I’ve been poring over home-renovation magazines, and clipping out the pictures that spoke to me. But when we actually got to work on the house and I started sorting through the fat folder of clippings, I knew at least half of them were going to have to go.

Yes, I’d looked at, fantasized about, and torn out photos of $50,000 kitchens. But ultimately, I knew that keeping those photos in my file would only get in the way of my making our current kitchen, with our current budget, into something I could live with and even love.

If the $50K kitchen was really on my list of dreams, I suppose I’d have kept the pictures and used them as inspiration. But when I really thought about it, I realized it’s not. The granite and stainless steel combo that’s the stuff of high-end kitchens on HGTV is nice, but it’s nice for somebody else. What I want is a light, bright, cozy, warm, homey and functional kitchen, and I can have that for a whole heck of a lot less. And while the idea of custom cabinetry and an architect’s touch are fun fantasies, I can’t let them get in the way of loving what I actually have. (To see what I’m working with, check out my brand-new home-reno blog—it’s nothing fancy, but I’m having fun.)

When I consider the $50,000 kitchen I didn’t know I didn’t want, I think of all the testing/reviewing opportunities that have come to bloggers, and giveaway opportunities for readers, and wonder if they’re clouding our collective minds, making us think we want things we were perfectly happy not having a few years ago. Sure, advertising has been around our entire lives; and its job has always been to make us “have to have” things we didn’t even know we wanted. But with blogging, it’s more insidious, because suddenly it’s our peers getting the luxury skincare products and new appliances, and with some time and effort, it seems we could have it, too….or at least win it, or get it in a swag bag if we go to the right event.

A few years ago I was offered the opportunity (as a lot of blogging moms have been) to test drive a new, top-of-the-line minivan for a week. For a week I’d be buckling my kids into their car seats in a van that smelled of leather, not faintly of mildew and old peanut-butter sandwiches. We’d be playing with features like captain’s chairs that swiveled around to face the back row and heated seats.

For a day or two, I was really excited about the opportunity. And then it occurred to me: why, exactly, would I do this? Sure, it would be fun while it lasted. But purchasing a $45,000 minivan wasn’t (and may never be) on my list of priorities. At the end of the week I’d have to hand back the keys and get into my much more—uh—well-loved Caravan. And the things I barely notice now—like the thin edge of rust above the rear wheel or the shabbiness of the hard-used interior—would surely stand out much more clearly in contrast with the sleek new vehicle I’d been using all week. Why go out of my way to make myself dissatisfied with what I had always been content with?

It’s not just money and material goods we start to covet, either. I read a few eye candy blogs full of gorgeous photographs of children with impossibly blue eyes and rosy cheeks, wearing clothing more vibrant than anything found in my home, sniffing flowers brighter than any color I’ve ever seen in nature. If you look at these blogs long enough, it’s easy to start thinking—as I sometimes have—that the world these mothers and children reside in must actually look like that. “Why is her life so much more beautiful than mine?” I’ve found myself wondering.

But of course, the truth is that those photos are processed (sometimes, ridiculously so, though I guess that’s part of the fun). I don’t process my photos, which is why they end up looking less like a fantasy family, and more like this:

if I were any kind of photoshopper we would all look better

Could I learn to process my photos? Probably. Do I want to take the time tinkering with them? Not really. There’s nothing wrong with processing, per se, it’s just not a priority of mine. While I respect people who have a knack for doing it well, I have limited time and energy to devote to the perfection of a craft, and would prefer to spend mine writing.

Okay, so maybe your head is spinning right now. “Did she just jump from expensive kitchens, to minivans, to photo processing in the same post?” But it all fits, don’t you think? We ‘re all inundated with blogs written by people who have things we don’t have, whether that be a skill or a trip or a new refrigerator.

Envy is human, and it can be an effective way to light a fire under your butt and get you working toward the things you want. But it can also make you waste your time, spin your wheels, and pursue things you don’t even care about.

So what’s the answer? Certainly I’m not saying we should stop reading blogs. Nor am I even, necessarily, railing against the over-commercialization of blogs, though I do sometimes wonder if the world really needs another review or giveaway blog. We are adults here, and while we’re navigating a new media that can be overwhelming at times, it’s up to us to figure out a way to participate in social media without letting ourselves be “influenced” every way the wind blows.

So try this: once in a while ask yourself: is the time you spend consuming media (whether it’s blogs, magazines, home-renovation shows) inspiring you to make the most of what you have? Or is it making you feel like what you have isn’t good enough?

If it is, what changes can you make?

If somebody handed you $50,000, what would you spend it on? What does that tell you about your priorities? (If money isn’t an issue in your life, you could try substituting “A month of free time” or “a brand new skill”.)

I think I’d spend my $50K on a fantastic family trip to Europe. I’d spend a thousand or two on a new stove and maybe a vintage hutch. And I’d put whatever was left toward paying off my student loan. If I had a month of free time, I’d read, learn to play the violin, and relax. If I could get a new talent, I’d be a tap-dance star. Mad Photoshop skills, a $50K kitchen or top-of-the-line minivan aren’t even on the list.

And I guess that tells me all I need to know.

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