SLT056: Beware of the The Comparison Trap

Whether we’re hard-wired for it, or it’s learned behavior, we all fall victim to the comparison trap from time to time. Whether it’s houses, cars, paychecks, toys (I’m not just talking about kids’ toys here, I’m talking grown up toys like boats, motorcycles, gourmet kitchens, tech gadgets, you name it)…from time to time we find ourselves comparing what we have against what others have.

And it’s not just when you have less, but we tend to compare just as much when we have more than others too. Read more…


Topic: Beware of the Comparison Trap

How does comparison typically make us feel? Does it make us jealous, like we’ve been slighted? Are we envious, like we deserve something too? Or maybe we feel proud and superior because we have more or better quality things? Often we fall into a comparison trap that leaves us feeling anything but good. Maybe what we should strive for (when it comes to “stuff,” any way) is to try and stop comparing altogether.

That’s not to say that there’s no place for comparison. When used as a tool to discern, and when used objectively, comparison can certainly be a good thing. Take for instance:

  • Determining who is the right fit for a job or position at a company or on a team. Comparison is ok when strictly used to determine a person’s skills and qualifications to perform a job or fill a position.
  • Judging the quality of products or services that we invest in. Things such as comparing prices, materials used in a product, where we’ll get the best value for an education or the experience level and ratings of a service provider…those are most definitely legitimate reasons to compare. These may actually be considered healthy reasons to compare.

But we begin to fall into the comparison trap when we begin to use it to determine our value and self worth, or even worse, the value and worth of others. When we compare ourselves to others it leads to nothing but discontentment and unhappiness. And here’s why:

  • The comparison trap is one of the negative side effects of the hyper-consumer society. It tantalizes our subconscious with the false notion that our success is based on being rich, famous and having more, more, more.
  • That “gotta have more” mentality automatically puts us in the race of “trying to keep up with the Joneses.” But where does that really lead us? Do we ever achieve enough? There will ALWAYS…I repeat ALWAYS be folks with more stuff. We typically turn to this set of questions regarding things and happiness:

If you’re not happy with the stuff you have now, would you be happier with twice as much? How about 10 times as much? Chances are, you’d be happier with half…

The problem with the comparison trap is that it always leads to envy, jealousy, and sometimes resentment. I know I’ve often been guilty of this in the past…and even sometimes today. Back in Episode 6 we spoke with our friend Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. Joshua notes notes in his new book, Clutterfree With Kids, that “Comparisons are always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves with the best we presume of others.”

But, bringing it back to “stuff”, sometimes we aren’t much better than we were when we were kids, comparing what kind of tennis shoes we had or what kind of jeans we have. As we get older, the comparison trap just manifests itself differently if we don’t put it in check; what kind of car, boat, suit, purse, house, shoes, etc. What kind of job, what’s your title, benefits, perks…what your kids have, where they go to school… I’ve even seen adults one upping each other over what their adult kids do, drive, live…just perpetuating the cycle.

The bad news is it’ll always be there. But the AWESOME news is, for us, it ends when we say it ends. But we can’t end it for anyone else, they’ll always compare. But we can end it for ourselves.

There are two very simple ways to help you combat the comparison trap. They really don’t need any explanation, so we’ll just list them here. You’re smart, you can figure out the rest:

    1. Know and believe that experiences and people such as family and good friends will always make you happier than things ever can. And…
    2. When you feel yourself slipping into the comparison trap, try celebrating other’s successes instead of envying them.

Final Thoughts

So what does comparison do for us? Well, it can certainly be helpful for some things, but when we succumb to using a tool like comparison to gauge our worth, status, or standing based on things that we have or don’t have, it leads us down a slippery slope and into the comparison trap. But, much like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers…each of us has the power to escape the choke hold that comparison can put on us. Where comparison can be our kryptonite, simplicity can be our superpower.


So, do you find yourself comparing what you have against what others have? If you do, how does it make you feel? If you’ve stopped, what made you stop and how does that feel differently? We’d love to know. Be sure to leave a comment below.

Qs & Comments Segment (New):

Claire wrote in to talk about living in a small space. She suggested that Dan’s desire to live in 500 sf may be a little too tight for a family of four. She thinks that Vanessa might be more on track with 750 or more sf.

Don asked us what our approach is to home decor. He says he’s always liked simplistic home design but how we strike a balance between minimalism and still having a “homey” place to live.

April and her husband have a 6-year-old daughter and want her to be able to play and create, but need to set up better boundaries. So, April asked Vanessa a few questions, such as: What do you do with your daughter’s toys? Does she play in her room? Also does she do crafts at home and if so, do you do that on the kitchen table and just clean up for dinner?

THING Segment:

Vanessa:   Joshua Becker’s new book: Clutterfree with Kids. I love all of Joshua’s books and I honestly a little skeptical at how this book would be any different.  But of course he delivers.  What I like most is that it’s a simple 200 page book that has very practical advice on how to raise your kids to live clutter free.  It’s not an organizing book…it’s a book about intentional parenting.  Joshua gives a compelling reasons for minimalism in all of his books, but having read his books…in this one it feels like he’s writing more with conviction. It’s definitely worth the read. You can find out more at


  • I’m working with our friend Joel Zaslofsky of Value of Simple on a “simplicity summit” of sorts, called SimpleRev, short for simple revolution. SimpleRev will be 200+ passionate simple-living advocates. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist will be there, and even others like Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home and Mohamed Tohami of Midway Simplicity will be supporting from afar.To learn more, just go to or
    • Date/Location: October 3-4, 2014
    • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
    • Venue: University of St. Thomas Downtown Campus
  • Special thanks to all of you who’ve left reviews for us on iTunes. It really does help people find the show.

So here’s a shout out to:

    • OrthoMonkey
    • Hikerbird
    • CajnIndian
    • Rebbie4274
    • NRamsland

Finally, sign up for the Edit & Forget It Challenge! If you’re already on our Edit & Forget It Challenge email list, that’s great. If not, you can sign up here.


You can download a PDF of our show prep, too.

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9 thoughts on “SLT056: Beware of the The Comparison Trap

  1. Great podcast again! I really enjoyed the new question and comment section. I also have to say that my husband and I have lived in a 650 ish square foot apartment for three years with three regular sized closets and while I enjoy this space (and all small living) there are still a few things I miss. These are: a second closet in our bedroom, a bathroom vanity for more storage, a dishwasher, larger dining and living room areas and outside storage as well as mud room areas. I think 1,000 sq feet with all the above added with lots of big windows and vaulted ceilings would be perfect. Something like this (my all time favorite small house):

    Be well guys!

    • That home is soooo pretty and doesn’t look too small at all! Color, proper design, open space and lots of windows make a huge difference (pun intended ;o) Thanks so much for your input about the size of the home and comfort. I’m all about having very few possessions, but I still need openness and little more space. I wants lots and lots of margin…he-he!

  2. I am so glad that I found your podcast! I found a link on the Project 333 site even though I have not started the project (yet). I am in a new phase of simplifying our lives. Two years ago we downsized to move from San Antonio to California. We sold a house with about 1680 square feet and now rent one with approximately 600 less square feet. We are a family of 3, and I hope that we can simplify our lives to comfortably live in 800-1000 square feet. That is my take on a small but comfortable size for a family of three.

    • Sounds great, Sara! We’d love to get updates on how it’s going for you. Dan keeps wanting to go smaller and smaller but I’m reluctant to go smaller than 750 sq feet. So…any feedback in my favor will be greatly appreciated!

      • As you two have said in the podcast, the design is very important to a living space. We may end up with a bit more square footage as renters since we cannot dramatically change the design of our spaces. Moving into a house built in the 1950’s, we have a smaller scale of rooms and closets, but the space is still very usable. I am intrigued by the small cottage plans from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and would consider those for building our own house if the opportunity arises in the future. I am also interesting in hearing more about your considerations about going to one car. We talk about that idea too, especially as my husband gets into biking.

  3. Great Podcast again. I am a parent educator and I find young parents are hungry for simplicity.
    My favorite line about the comparison trap…”It ends when we say it ends (and) we can’t end it for anyone else”. That applies to soooo many other things. It reminds me of the phrase: “Be the change.” When it comes to changing the world, living our convictions works way better than judgment and criticism.

    • I couldn’t agree more Judy! You’ve got to start with yourself first if you want positive change. And you never know who you’ll influence by someone merely watching you practice what you preach. It’s can be way more powerful. Thanks as always for your feedback and comments ;o)

  4. I have always loved the quote, “comparison is the thief of joy” (I think it was Theodore Roosevelt). I live very comfortably in a small apartment, but am hoping to seriously downsize within the next decade to a rent and mortgage-free tiny house. Some of the things I work on is focusing on what truly makes me happy. I like good coffee, walking, visiting with friends and a night out for dinner or at the pub. None of these requires extra stuff, special equipment etc. If I’m out shopping I stick to a strict list (clothing, food, yarn, anything!) and often ‘pre-shop’ on the store website for things I want to try on or buy. Instead of browsing, I look at crowded store aisles and deliberately think, “more crap I don’t need”. It actually really helps me! (I do love nice clothes etc. but don’t actually NEED more!)
    If you are looking at housing needs, I would highly recommend the “Not So Big House”, a great book about using quality design instead of space to meet your needs. Thanks for a great podcast, hope my two cents is useful to someone.

    • Hi Emily! That’s so funny that you mentioned Teddy Roosevelt’s quote…I used it in a tweet last week when I tweeted out the show link. And I must say that the “No So Big House” IS a fantastic book! It’s been a while since I looked at it so I really appreciate the reminder. We mentioned in this week’s show that Lloyd Khans’s Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter is one we keep around too. The homes in it are certainly less “refined” than we’d plan to build, but the fundamental use of space and the creativity is very solid. Thanks so much for stopping by, Emily!

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