Most of the things we purchase in life can be categorized as either a "need" or a "want."
I need water.
I need food.
I need sleep.
I need a roof over my head.
Compared to, say...
I want to drink wine.
I want to eat cheeseburgers.
I want a Tempurpedic sleep number bed.
I want a Spanish style or mid-century in Silverlake with a pool, Jacuzzi, Meyer lemon trees, space for a sizable vegetable garden, and views of the Hollywood sign.
But you can't always get what you want, or so they say.
We live in a consumer wasteland of a civilization. The line between what we want and what is actually needed is more blurred than ever. Like Veruca Salt, we want the goose that lays the golden egg and a bean feast. Don't care how, we want it now.
And that said, there's absolutely nothing wrong with buying things that make you happy, even if you don't really need them. Life's short and most of us aren’t living on a hippie commune. There's nothing wrong with a good "treat yo self" once in a while. You're worth it.
For the last few years I've tried, and sometimes succeeded, in pausing for a moment to differentiate a need vs. a want when I'm deciding whether to buy something. To think about my motivation for buying something. It's never easy.
I'm an Amazon Prime member, and the free two-day shipping along with generally cut rate prices leads to many temptations. Do I need the new sleeveless navy running shirt, or is that a want? Do I want the California flag luggage tag, or is that a need? Is it even worth my time considering the question or should I just get them both because they’ll make me happy?
Those are both actual items I did and didn't purchase, and I still can't totally answer the need vs want question for them. Life isn’t black and white - it’s gray that way.
One reason I enjoy camping so much is to test the limits of my internal need vs. want debate. When you strip off many of your daily comforts and live simply, plainly, unambiguously, need starts to hold a lot more weight than want.
Storage space is limited, and you have to carry things back and forth from car to campsite, so you start to prioritize. The things you don’t need become clutter. Other items become requirements. Each time I’ve camped I’ve whittled my pack down, getting rid of the silly camping toys in order to save space and energy for the tools I actually need.
I’m about ready to dabble in actual backpacking, carrying everything you need on your back, so this thought process will become that much more important.
The difference between camping and our everyday life is, of course, quite stark. There’s a lot more room for wanted, but not needed, items in the modern world. But the lessons of simplicity you gain out in nature are still just as relevant.
The task of thinking about what I need vs what I want helps me prioritize my life. It gives me a better appreciation for the things I already have, the things most of us have that make life easy, comfy, and fun. Beyond “things,” it helps me to better appreciate life, a lesson I hope to remember the next time I think my charmed existence is going so terribly that I literally can't even.
When you’re about to buy something, think about it… is it a “need” or a “want?” Notice how that simple activity makes you see your world in a new light.