Feb 132012

One of the hardest habits to break, even after you’ve gone full blown minimalist with your lifestyle, is buying stuff. Despite the fact you may have cleaned house and are down to the necessities of life there will always be times where you will be tempted to buy things. It’s the nature of our culture. Our whole economic system is based on buying and selling. It’s called capitalism and there ain’t a damn thing wrong with it….as long as you are able to keep your buying habits under control.

When it comes right down to it, we buy stuff based on two main factors…need vs. want. We need certain things in our lives. Things like food, shelter, clothing, or medical needs. Things we want are in a different category. They may not be things we need, just things we desire because they may satisfy some perceived want in our lives. For example:

I need food. I know, it’s a bad habit, eating. I tried going without once. Longest 15 minutes of my life. Bottom line, I need food. Now taking that a step further, I want to go chow down every night at the raw bar on some lobster, with a side of shrimp, some fritters, (conch, not you know what), and a big slice of key lime pie. I don’t need to eat all that, I just want to. Economics dictate I will stay with what I need, not what I want.

I want a new iPad. The next generation iPad is due out in March and I want one. Do I need it? No. The one I have works just fine. But because I use an iPad all the time, because I write a blog on using the device, I want one. Will I get one? Most likely yes. Depends on my economic situation at the time and how many whiz bang features the new model has. And I can subsidize most of the cost by selling the old iPad. Is it a smart move economically? Probably not. Most purchases that are based on want are not financially sound.

Not all purchases are as black and white as need vs. want either. I need a new bicycle. Well, actually I need to either repair or replace my current ride. Now I can, if I had to, go completely without a bike. It is doable. I can use the bus service, walk, or take a taxi in a pinch. But I prefer a bicycle. It doesn’t cost hardly anything to ride, I enjoy it, and it’s healthy. Is this purchase a need or a want?

What you don’t want to be doing, especially after spending years downsizing is to fall back into the old habits of consumerism. You can easily make the mistake of turning the wanting of something into a false sense of need. Somewhat like I am doing with the iPad. It may take some training, willpower, and practice to break those habits. And don’t feel like you’re alone. We all go through it.

As you’re sitting there wallowing in your new found life of minimalism you’re going to experience a bit of nostalgia for some of things you used to have. Looking at an empty closet or shelf may tempt you into thinking that something needs to go there. You may get the feeling that perhaps you downsized a bit too much and you now need to replenish what you got rid of. Well, no, you don’t. Before you grab your wallet and head for the mall stop, sit down, and remember why you chose a minimalist lifestyle in the first place. Remember the clutter, the mess, the stress of dealing with all your crap. (Yes, Ms. Tammy, crap.). Remember the problems you had just finding stuff, or how much of a pain it was to move, or how hard it was just to keep track of everything. How do you feel now that you got rid of it all? Relieved? Calm? Is there a sense of accomplishment in there someplace? You downsized for a reason, or several. Don’t let a perceived need ruin it all.

Take the time, sit down, and create a list of your basic needs in life. Your real needs. Food, shelter, etc. These are your priorities in life. The stuff you cannot live without. Be honest now. Don’t equate luxury or comfort with need. The basics are the basics. What is the minimum you can get by on in life and still function?

Next create a secondary list of needs. Here you can increase the comfort level a bit. Some furniture for example, or clothing of a higher quality. This secondary list gives you some wiggle room. You know what you absolutely have to have based on the first list. Now, can you upgrade based on this secondary list. Will the needs of this list satisfy the requirements of the first list without compromising your lifestyle? In other words, that yurt out in the forest would satisfy my needs for shelter, but the efficiency apartment with running water and ac near downtown makes a lot more sense.

Lastly list out your wants. What do you desire now that you have downsized? If you are like me your wants have become less material and more life enriching. For example: I don’t desire another car, but I would like to do some travel someday. Perhaps ride around the country by rail, or sail a boat up and down the east coast on the inter coastal waterway. You’ll find that the longer you go without all the material possessions you had before, the less you’ll miss them. And the more you’ll be looking forward to doing all those things you wanted to do with your life but couldn’t because you were bogged down by possessions and debt. Breaking down things into needs vs wants helps give you a clearer vision of where you are going in life. And it will allow you to prioritize what’s important.

As for smaller stuff here are a few tips…

Don’t go shopping just for something to do. I mentioned this one before. Impulse shopping is one of the more expensive and wasteful ways to accumulate a bunch of crap. Don’t go shopping unless you have specific things in mind to get. Buy only those things you set out to get and nothing else.

If you are using cash, only take enough to cover what you need. That way you won’t be tempted to buy something you don’t need.

Take advantage of sales when they happen but only for stuff you need. Don’t go buy something just because it was on sale or seemed like a good deal. If it fills a need fine, if it’s just a want, pass on it.

Never allow peer pressure or fads to coerce you into buying something you don’t need. Just because everyone else has something doesn’t mean you should have it too. Remember your list, need or want.

If you are doing the 100 things challenge or staying within a set number of possessions then don’t add something unless you get rid of something else.

Obviously none of these suggestions are rules set in stone. They are simple exercises to help you stay on course with your minimalist ideals. Remember you are trying to break the habit of excess consuming. For some people it’s easy. For others, it may be as tough as trying to stop smoking. The biggest thing is to differentiate between what you need, and what you want. Once you are able to make that distinction then minimalism becomes much easier. And life becomes a whole lot more enjoyable.

Less is more.

Capt. Fritter

  2 Responses to “Need vs. Want”

  1. You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.

    – Eric Hoffer