This phrase didn't really mean all that much to me until recently. I'm sure you're familiar, but just in case, it's a phrase that suggests that in order to reach and maintain a certain class or standard a person or family feels they need to have everything their neighbor(s) possess. It's not something I ever thought I was concerned about before.

Sure I watch my neighbors occasionally to see what they're up to, but not with any real envy or longing - just out of curiosity and maybe irritation. If you can see and/or hear your neighbors all the time then you know what I'm talking about. It's like having relatives over all the time and no way to send them home.

So I'm pretty much used to the neighbors we've had since we moved in about 6 years ago. Some are more annoying than others, but each one is predictable so I can do what I have to do to mitigate the irritation.

  • Think the loudmouth behind us who watches football on his back porch until it gets too cold and yells for every first down.
  • Think the neighbor that refuses to use a leash on his dogs and then can't understand when I get upset when they run across the street into my yard and aggressively approach me and my dogs - who are on a leash by the way.
  • Think the neighbor next to us who uses their garage as a family room and sits there and stares at us when we're outside in our back yard.

These are minor irritations if I'm being honest and mostly only happen in the summer and early fall. And like I said before I've learned to adapt so they don't bother me as much anymore.

But then someone new moves in behind us and one house over...

Now I should probably mention that in our little neighborhood each of us has about an acre of land so it's not like we're right on top of each other. For the longest time we had trees, bushes, and undergrowth between us and the neighbors behind us and on one side.

Then the new neighbor and his family buys the house behind us and one over. They're not directly behind us but the corner of their property meets ours and we can see into their yard. It was February when they moved in so there wasn't much action outside since it was still cold outside. So far so good.

I guess it all started in May or June but I didn't really start paying attention until July. I'd sit on my back porch in the evening - you know, trying to relax. And there was the guy running around his yard like a mad man cutting down trees with a chainsaw. My favorite, though, was when they decided they couldn't dig a tree stump out of the ground so they poured what looked like lighter fluid on it and lit it on fire.

They were burning that tree for days... Now it's their fire pit.

This has gone on for months now and they've done an excellent job of clearing their backyard. So much so that we now have a clear line of sight into their backyard and every gathering they have. I'm assuming it works both ways.

My favorite, though, was when I was lamenting the loss of privacy a few weeks ago and their toddler broke free from the mom. He ran from their property into ours - since there weren't any trees to impede his progress anymore - and headed straight for the street in front of our house. I had to laugh because the mom was really booking it to catch up with the little guy.

It wasn't long after the new neighbor continued his clearing efforts - all after 7 pm - that our neighbor directly behind us decided to clear away all of her trees, bushes, and undergrowth. She is older so she had to pay someone to do it and build a deck on the back of her house early in the morning...

This is when the phrase "keeping up with Jones's" popped into my head. We've been here for 6 years and she had never touched her yard. Now all of a sudden she needs to have a clear line of sight into our backyard too?

Okay, okay, I'll admit that their efforts probably have nothing to do with me and my yard. They probably never, or almost never, give us a second thought. But you have to admit the timing is a bit strange. Now, on top of that, I'm tilling the ground in my yard to create a garden bed to transplant some bushes to create a living fence between us and them.

So it makes me wonder if "keeping up with the Jones's" is more about a chain reaction of events. I'm sure there are some people out there who are jealous when their neighbors get a new car or toy or deck or whatever and want that for themselves. But I can't help thinking it has to do more often with a person's need to mitigate change and not jealousy.

Say a neighbor builds a new deck that allows them to see into a neighbor's yard more clearly. The next thing you know the other neighbor is building a fence. Not because they have to outdo the neighbor, but because they want their privacy back.

Then the next thing you know the neighborhood you live in is looking better than ever. So I'm left wondering if "keeping up with the Jones's" is all that bad...

Published by Cathy Langer