Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life

Standard of Living vs. Quality of LifeEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about organization and about the things we value.

Summer may be a glorious season to sit and relax and soak up some sun, but I can only relax in small doses. To me, summer screams, “organize your house!”. Summer offers me a much-coveted stretch of time to finally accomplish some major housecleaning tasks. My children do not understand why a guest room which has been used as a storage room for the last two and a half years is now assigned the This Must Be Defeated Or the World Will Come to An End status, but that’s just how I am in summertime. I figure sun covers over a multitude of obsessive behaviours.

And so it is that for the last week my girls and I have rooted through boxes and jewelry racks and shoe racks and even the laundry room, shooing dust out of places I didn’t think it could accumulate, and relegating many long forgotten treasures to the charity pile.

As I gaze at this ever-expanding pile by my door, it occurs to me that each item there represents not just money that I once parted with, but time. We perhaps do ourselves a disservice when we value things only in terms of money. Sure that restaurant dinner out for four was only $65, but if you consider it by amount of time spent working, it takes on new significance. If you earn $13 an hour after taxes, that dinner out represented five hours of your life. Was it worth five hours?

When my oldest daughter started working full-time last semester she began to count things in terms of hours. That new hair straightener? Four hours. That’s worth it. That new dress? Not so much.

Little purchases can add up, but it’s perhaps the bigger choices of how we will spend our time and our money that set the tone for our lives. Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about our standard of living and not enough time worrying about our quality of life. We tend to measure things in terms of monetary value–we aim to earn the most income, have the nicest home, and accumulate more gadgets.

Yet when we make those choices, we’re simultaneously choosing to work harder and to be away from home more. Quite often standard of living and quality of life are trade-offs. When our children were small, for instance, my husband and I chose for me to stay home, even though it meant we rented an apartment, didn’t own a car, and bought everything second hand. We didn’t have a high standard of living. We did have a high quality of life.

Life is ultimately a choice–a choice of what we will value, and what we will sacrifice. If we choose to spend more time with our children, that may mean a much smaller home. If we choose to work for more vacations, a bigger home, or a summer cottage, it may mean less time to pursue hobbies, or simply to relax.

My fear is that too many of us get caught on this conveyor belt and we don’t realize we can make a choice to get off. There is no law saying that we have to keep accumulating stuff, keep earning more money, or keep buying the latest gadgets. We are allowed to choose what we will value.

Personally, I really value the chance summer offers to reorganize my life and drive my children crazy. It is a blessing. I just hope that this season reminds me that what I really want in life is more time–time with family and friends, time to knit; time to serve. And I can do that without as much stuff.

You can find Sheila cleaning house at

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  1. I used to do the same thing when I was working at an hourly rate. I would ask my wife “Is this worth me being out of the house for an extra x hours?”

    Now, it’s “do you want this, or do you want to be able to feed the kids/pay for curriculum next year/go on vacation/have Christmas presents”

    We’ve also been looking at things in terms of how much enjoyment we’ll get out of it.
    $150 event that last 2 hours = $75/hour of enjoyment (maybe a bit afterwards talking and/or remembering, but it fades fast).
    $100 dinner out with family = $100/hr of enjoyment (plus nourishment)
    $3000 for a pool that lasts for 5 summers = $3000/(10 weeks of summer? * 10hrs/week swimming? * 5 years?) = $7/hr of enjoyment (plus maintenance) much better deal! (Luckily, our kids are still small enough to be OK in a $200 pool, so that’s even better, but I know the bigger one is coming…)
    Jay Dee – recently posted…You Are Not AloneMy Profile

  2. melissa says:

    What a person values is very personal as well and is going to be different from person to person. None of us have a right to judge what another person values and then view ourselves as better than because we think we value the “right things”. For instance, I work full time outside of the home…I know some people would say that is the problem right there but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what God wants me to do, so I value my evening time with my family that much more. Because I value my evening time with my family there are times when I would much rather go out to eat and let someone else prep, cook and serve the food so I can just sit around the table enjoying my family for an hour or so then to spend 45 minutes in the kitchen alone prepping and cooking before I get to enjoy maybe 20 minutes around the table with them. Eating out to some people is a waste of money but in my situation preparing and cooking a meal is often a waste of time I would like to spend with my kids. We love that time together as a family when we have no choice but to focus on each other. Most people would not view eating out in terms of time gained rather than money lost but we do. Now, we don’t eat out every night but we do eat out at least once a week and we enjoy that time together. It’s so important to have priorities but priorities are for self and one’s own family and should not be placed as a standard of judgement on everyone else.

  3. Sheila,

    YES! YES! YES!

    We’ve traded standard of living for quality of life 😀 (12 and 23 year old vehicles, vacation = camping, etc) But I’m home with my kids. We’re together. We do chores together, we play together. It’s an investment in people rather than things (or services).

    Keep preaching it, Sheila. People need to be reminded that everything is a choice.

    Julie recently posted…All That and a Bag of ChipsMy Profile

  4. I agree with Melissa that it’s very important (and tricky!) to not let our own priorities become a grid through which we judge the goodness of other peoples’ life choices. And when we really live out our priorities, and believe they are the best things we can be doing, it can be incredibly hard not to let a combination of envy and self-righteousness (on the bad side) and concern for others (on the good, if often officious side) make us judge those whose choices look different from ours — I speak from my own experience of my own mind here. However, the gist of this article just makes my heart so happy. It is so important to not get gridlocked into a pattern of “this is how life goes, these should be my priorities, etc.” and instead to really prioritize what matters to you — even if that makes life look different than the “norm” we perceive. We don’t have to upscale things that just don’t matter. And the things that do matter, that are worthwhile investments to us, we can spend our time and money with them. And that will vary from family to family.

  5. Butterflywings says:

    Love this article, but I also love the comment to choose what we will value. Because we shouldn’t judge others for what they choose to value.

    There seems to be a big condemnation in certain circles about buying a bigger house. Even amongst my friends and family I have dealt with criticism for wanting a bigger house but hubby and I are in the situation where we live in a city where it’s cheaper to buy than rent (particularly with larger places) and at the moment, we have the three of us living in a two bedroom plus tiny study (which hubby needs to work and for his sanity) with a baby on the way. And I know it’s ok for kids to share a room (I shared with my brother for about a year after my little sister was born while my parents did renovations to enlarge the house) but I don’t think a 12 year old and a baby can share, realistically there isn’t any room in my daughter’s room anyway.

    I wish people would stop judging us because we value space for our children to do things in our home. Yes it means I have to return to work and it means I’ll have to keep working after the baby is born because I don’t qualify for maternity leave. But I consider this a necessity for our kids. We value it and I wish people would accept it.

  6. Thanks for the great post! My family just moved out of a 3-bedroom apartment, where my two girls shared one room and my brother lived in the other. It was cramped! There were toys everywhere! My kitchen was the size of a closet! But we were able to save a ton of money so that we can soon buy a home. I am a stay-at-home mom and to me that is the most important thing my kids need. They don’t need a bunch of toys or a big house; they need their mom and dad. There are definitely times when both parents need to work, but I have a lot of friends who choose to work outside of the home — rationalizing a whole host of wants as needs. There are a lot of things we can cut out of our budgets that seem to be “needs” nowadays. For example, our family gets by without smartphones and expensive data plans or cable, plus we’ve only had one car for about 4 years. We definitely have to ponder and pray about which things are worth our time and effort and which things are best done without.

  7. This is such a great reminder Sheila – to me as well, quality of life is something I desire, although standard of living can get in the way a lot. I want to be able to spend more time with God, and with my family. I want to be able to crochet and learn to sew for my Etsy shop without feeling like I’m not doing a gazillion other things I have to do. May we all slow down a bit this summer and just have some quality time in our lives! :)
    Nicole recently posted…Small Market Bag, Crochet Produce Bag, Catch All Bag, Diaper Pouch, Mesh Bag, Yellow by CraftyBeardsMy Profile

  8. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, as I prepare for marriage. I would like to have lots of money because I know there is so much that I can do, and so much we can do for and with our kids when we have lots of money… but on the other hand I want to be emotionally and physically available for my husband and my children. If I’m too tired from work everyday who will be there to encourage and strengthen those that God has called me to encourage…
    Well… I know there is a season and time for everything, so I’m sure God will help me as the seasons change.

    Thank you for sharing this post.
    Osayi recently posted…Devote yourself to PrayerMy Profile

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