Question the defaults

If something is a default, question why that is. Many people find defaults to be the safe choice. “Everyone is doing it, so I probably should to.” It’s that social proof we see on sites. A product has 700 reviews and everyone is talking about it. It’s the safe choice, but is it the right one?

Ever since I was young I’ve questioned defaults and common practices. The big ones being religion and spending money. These are two things I still question today. But I’ve always had that habit of going against what everyone else did, because I wanted to be different and I hated doing what everyone else did.

When everyone wanted to go to football games on Fridays in high school I didn’t want to. When there were pep rallies, I skipped them because everyone was going. (Could be that I also just don’t like big groups of people)

But, there are still many things which I didn’t question and probably should have: Going to college right after high school, needing to get straight As in middle school through college, having a prestigious job, getting a job that pays a lot of money no matter if I like the job or not.

It’s interesting to look back on life and see all the missteps I took and how much my thinking has changed. Even just a few years ago I had a different mindset than I do now.

Stopping to question defaults is a good way to think for yourself rather than how it seems everyone wants you to think.

One example for me is spending money on a big house. Most people get to a certain age and figure they’re around that time to settle down, but who says so? Then they figure the next move is to get a house. But why do they need one? They also want to get a decent-sized house and were told they could afford a $300,000 mortgage. But do they really want to be paying off that mortgage for the next 30 years?

For a lot of things, I opt out of the defaults because I don’t like doing what everyone else does. I don’t like to buy things, I am extremely frugal, I’m content having a 500 square foot house. So for me, buying a typical home with a mortgage is something I just don’t plan to do, it also sounds like an expense I don’t want to have.

There are so many other defaults that should be questioned:

  • Marriage
  • Needing a car
  • Watching TV
  • Social media
  • Buying certain clothes

Something I try to think about is: Am I doing this for others or for myself? This is especially true when it comes to clothing. I rarely buy clothes unless I really need to. Many times I find myself looking at shoes or clothes in the store and thinking “Do I really need this?” and 99% of the time the answer is no. We like clothes because they make us feel good and they are a signal to others. And that’s typically why many of us want to buy new outfits. The most recent thing I bought was a pair of sneakers for a month-long trip. Did I by them to show off to others? No, I bought them to have comfortable shoes for walking around.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to buy stuff, it’s ok to buy things like new shoes so you can feel good. Just acknowledge why you’re doing it and realize when it’s counterproductive. I mean that in the sense of buying something you don’t really need when you don’t have the money to do so.

I find that many defaults revolve around big sums of money:

  • Going to college
  • Going to grad school or getting an MBA
  • Buying a nice car
  • Having a big wedding

These are many of the ways that people can go into debt. College is still a default for many high school students, as it was for me 8 years ago. But if you ask many of the students paying down big loans if they ever questioned going to college, the answer is probably no.

My mom would be mortified if I told her I wanted a 500 square foot house. She thinks I need to spend $100k for a down payment. I used to want a huge house. When I played the Sims I always made the house as large as the lot. Now, I realized I just need a small space to live comfortably and would rather spend the money I save on other things.

I hope I don’t sound preachy or coming off like I feel that I’m better than others because I don’t buy a lot. The point is to rethink things you thought were necessary.

Tldr; If something seems like a default, take some time to question why that is and develop your own opinion on it.