How to Overcome House Envy

You’ve walked into that house before. You know: the grand, striking one where the handsome furniture alone costs more than your house? You’ve felt that feeling before. The woe at your own small, simple digs. They call this house envy. And when you have house envy, you feel small in a big house. Here’s some tips for dealing with it.

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Defining House Envy

This past Saturday, I accompanied my 8-year old daughter Zuzzy to an end-of-the-basketball-season pizza party hosted by one of her teammates. The address should have been a clue. The grand doors should have hinted at what was inside.

I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw:

  • Five stories
  • Soaring, coffered ceilings
  • Two car garage (a big deal in the city)
  • Two outdoor decks (one is rare enough; two is practically unheard of)
  • Ritzy neighborhood
  • Over 5,000 square feet

Although I find them beautiful, I don’t envy houses in the suburbs. They’re supposed to be big. That’s why you move to the suburbs. But outsized city homes? I need a napkin to wipe the drool.

When we got home, something felt…off. The walls of my house felt like they were closing in on me. I had a funny feeling in my stomach. Turns out, it was my eyes recalibrating to my much smaller house. And that woozy feeling? House envy.

Here’s how Merriam-Webster* defines envy:

Envy: painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.

Sure, envy is wanting what someone else has. But did you notice the definition starts with the pain and resentment? It makes sense, because the way we feel lasts longer than the desire we have.

So house envy is not only wanting someone else’s house, but also that nagging feeling that your own house isn’t good enough anymore after you’ve seen theirs.

Before we get into the solutions, let’s analyze the problem, shall we?

Analyzing House Envy

Envy is typically a two person interaction: You, and the person you envy (or vice versa, but since you generally don’t know when you’re the recipient of someone’s envy, we’ll focus on our envy of others). However, you only envy when you feel like you’re on the short end of a comparison.

Envy: You > Me
No envy: You = Me
Pride: You < Me

Here’s a hard truth I learned from living in New York City: No matter how smart, attractive, and talented you are, there is always someone better than you at your best game. And with a house, it’s not only about you, but also about your accomplishments.

  • We spend all of our savings for the downpayment
  • We size up our purchase price based on the mortgage payments
  • We determine our mortgage payments based on our income

Our houses then, are a proxy for our career and capabilities. The way we furnish them reflects our taste and refinement. Our houses are the biggest (literally and figuratively) symbol of our success.

Chances are you don’t have the nicest house of anyone you know. Chances are you feel inadequate when in a much nicer home than yours.

And the way we deal with that inadequacy? We reduce those we envy (or their houses), or find a way to increase ourselves. We think things like, ”well, I probably have more money in the bank” or “eh, I could probably do it too if I were willing to work my life away. But I love my kids.”

Do you see? We’re always trying to get back to that “No Envy” level where You = Me. Perhaps even the “Pride” level, where You < Me.

Or, as the singer Morrissey uncomfortably observed in song:

We hate it when our friends become successful. Oh, look at those clothes. Now look at that face, it’s so old…You see, it should have been me. It could’ve been me. Everybody knows. Everybody says so.

Morrissey’s sharp satire exposes the uncomely feelings we try to keep hidden and our foul strategies for coping.

Here’s how we cope with envy:

  • We see someone else’s success, then…
  • We want that success but feel inadequate, so…
  • We cut down the object of our envy and/or elevate ourselves, but…
  • We feel guilty about it, so…
  • We try not to envy, but…
  • We feel even worse that we can’t seem to stop.

Out of the 6 steps, 5 of them happen internally (steps 2-6). Envy is inherently selfish and private. And since most of us would rather privately drink pickle fizz than publicly eat humble pie, making it public is a non-starter. (Although, side note: it is a good exercise to find an accountability partner you trust to share these types of things.)

Is there another way? Here are the very steps I took to get over my house envy that I hope you’ll find useful.

6 Tips For Dealing with House Envy

  1. Stay selfish,  but do “selfishness” better.Spend your time and energy thinking about what you do have. Choose one room a day and find something in that room you can be grateful for. Think about why you’re grateful for it and what life would be like if you didn’t have it. To recover from my house envy, I kept looking out of my favorite window, appreciating how that window brings in the light during mid-day.
  2. Become unselfish.Be happy for that person with the nice house.Genuinely. I was grateful that this family had income to feed their children. I also appreciated that they opened up their house to us and that I got to experience what it’s like to be in a ritzy home.
  3. Improve what you don’t like about your house (within reason).(Within reason because the point is to improve upon something you don’t like, not build something to keep up with the house you envy.) Even though my bed was in my room, it wasn’t a bedroom because, technically, it’s not a bedroom unless you have a closet. Every morning, I would have to cross the hallway to my children’s room, which has 3 closets, pick out my clothes, walk it back to my room, and get dressed. Something had to change. Because I’m frugal and particular, I wanted it stylish, but I didn’t want to spend a gazillion bucks on my room. That’s when I engaged Chaney at Mix and Match Design Company for an e-design. It’s completely transformed the way I feel about my bedroom and I love waking up to it; Chaney did an amazing job–see for yourself!
  4. Remind yourself that regardless of how beautiful the house is, if the relationships inside it aren’t warm, how a house looks doesn’t matter.My wife used to say this whenever we’d drive past the stunning homes in Fairfield County, CT: “These houses look so perfect that you tend to assume that the lives inside them are perfect as well.” Then we’d chuckle, knowing the true strength of a house is not in its walls but in what’s inside of it.
  5. Remind yourself that success isn’t always visual.Financially, it’s better to have your assets liquid (able to be sold quickly) than illiquid. And unless you walk around with your financial statements stapled to your shirt, your liquid assets are invisible to most people. Personally, success is also learning to not be attached to things. A house is a big, meaningful thing, but it’s still a thing. It’s better to size your house to your lifestyle than build a lifestyle to match the largeness of your house.
  6. Remind yourself that your identity isn’t in what you own.The final judgement about you is not whether you’ve amassed nice things. It’s how well you loved and helped others, especially those who can’t offer you anything in return.

An Enviable Outlook

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could walk into a beautiful home and just appreciate its beauty without it being a referendum on you? Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could host your friends without fear they’ll judge you for your home (or be envious of it)?

When we envy, we rob ourselves of the chance to be happy. Minutes, hours, years that could have gone into our happiness instead was spent in unproductive thoughts. Let’s free ourselves to enjoy one another’s company, without envy in any form.

(Have you experienced house envy?  What do you do about it?)

Tired of envying others?  Ready to achieve your own dreams?

We all have dreams of this beautiful house.  Then we have the reality of our credit card bills or our income that tells us that we’ll never get there.  So we just envy.

I grew up poor and all I did was envy others who had nice things.  I didn’t want to keep living my life like that.  So I had to figure it out.  Along the way, I learned what was important.  I want to share with you what I learned.

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Would you like to finally stop the house envy and start making your dreams a reality?  Give it a go!

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(*In honor of our friend and Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper whose book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries is officially published as of today! Newsweek just named it one of the week’s best new book releases. Get yourself a copy here. Kory, we’re thrilled for you!)


  • Chaney March 14, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Such great words of wisdom! House envy is real, but it doesn’t have to be our reality. Thanks for that reminder today!

    • JT March 14, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks Chaney! Also, thanks for being a part of lessening my house envy by solving my bedroom problem!

  • Cyndy March 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks for another great article! I love the new room and closet space. Do you really only own one pair of shoes and your wife has only 4 pairs? 🙂

    • JT March 17, 2017 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks Cyndy! We have more shoes than that. They are just in our shoe baskets downstairs. Although the idea of having 1 pair sounds really amazing! I’d love a shoe for all seasons and styles!


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