Needs vs. Wants

by Anne Heerdt-Wingfield


Take a moment and think about how often you have used the phrase 'I need' lately. What types of needs have you been describing? Are they needs along the lines of I need to run to the store or are they more fantasies like I need a Cadillac or a vacation in the Bahamas? We do have needs, real ones, for food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Plus the Second Order needs, the ones that help us continue to meet the primary physical needs. These are things like transportation, the tools for our jobs, training to earn money. In my very unscientific survey I have found that we are not talking about those as often as we are talking about conveniences, luxuries and fantasies.

So what are the consequences of talking this way about our desires, after all most of understand that we are not going to get all the things we are talking about? That can be summarized in the Three C's: Creativity, Cost and Compassion. First, Creativity. Anyone can say `I need a new car' , but it takes creativity to make the old car meet your needs or find ways to live without one. A recent example was when we moved into the house we are renting. It does not include any window coverings so we first assumed we needed to go buy mini-blinds for the whole house. Then it was clear that mini blinds for a rental house were a bad idea. So then we examined the true situation. We have a high fence so many of the windows don't need any covering. The bathroom was a true need while the landscapers were working in the back yard. The other windows could be left alone or covered with something completely different. We have so far spent under $50 and have a comfortable, if not a Martha Stewart, house.

The second C is Cost. Believing the `needs' we are repeating to ourselves not only increases our desires but increases our dissatisfaction with another option. One year we were amazingly broke at the holidays and stumped for gifts. After careful consideration we pared down our list to the people we wanted to get gifts for and checked our materials and skills. What we came up with was embroidered hankies. I stitched initials on muslin and my husband ironed and sewed the edges. We had some of our $20 left so we had our favorite poem copied onto resume paper at the copy store. I doubt we could have bought even one store gift for our money that year.

The last C is Compassion. As we keep on saying `I need' in the material abundance we lose sight of those who truly do need. We start to feel like victims because we have told ourselves we need so much and yet we don't have it. Yet others do need real things, such as enough food, good shelter and medical care. When we appreciate the abundance that many of us truly do have in the Western world we can then feel enough security to be generous.

Now we are left with the challenge of how to tell what is a need. I figure that a need is something that would cause more problems if I didn't take care of it. Waiting to change the oil on your car until the engine is burned up is a bad idea and very wasteful, but chances are the car won't be damaged if you don't run out and buy a Little Green machine to vacuum with.

Bring your needs down to the most simple elements to encourage your creativity. Instead of saying `I need cereal' in the morning, change to the most basic need `I need good food'. Now you are open to anything in the house instead of one limited and expensive option. A bowl of rice or leftover cornbread with jelly would be great in the morning too. And by systematically changing how you talk about your needs, wants, desires and fantasies, I know that it will make whatever material blessings you have more than enough.


Anne is an at-home wife and mom and homeschooler.

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