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Are Your “Needs” Really Wants?

by Miranda Marquit

My younger brother just bought a smartphone. He’s very excited about it. He had another cell phone before, but it just wasn’t doing it for him. Does he need this smartphone for business? Is it helping him get ahead in any way? Not really. He works part-time at a fast food restaurant while attending college. Nevertheless, he “needs” the smartphone for some reason that remains a mystery to me.

The Transformation of Wants into Needs

My brother’s situation has me, once again, pondering how things that were considered luxuries years ago are now considered needs. People in our neighborhood find us strange because we only have one TV in our house, rather than two or three spread through various bedrooms. And, even though, I know at some level that the TV is a want, I still sometimes find myself thinking about it as a “need.” As in, if our TV broke, we’d “need” to go out and get another one. Immediately.

The same could be said of cars, microwaves, laptops and a host of other consumer items that we are familiar with. Thanks to easy credit (in the past more than now), and the way consumer goods have become more widely available to more people, we have conveniences that our grandparents would consider luxuries — and we take them for granted. In fact, we believe that we would experience a severe drop in quality of life without these items. But it’s important to remember where to draw the line. When push comes to shove, and you have to make hard choices, you need to able to tell the difference between needs and wants.

How to Tell if Something is a True Need

Of course, the next step is to figure out what constitutes a true need. Some of the criteria you can use to judge between needs and wants include:

  • Does it provide shelter?: One of the fundamental needs for survival is shelter. Your home is a need. However, you need to figure out whether or not you are taking it too far. A house that is too big for you, and costs too much to afford, starts to cross the line into a want.
  • Does it provide food?: We all need nutrition. Buying food is a need. A way to cook food is a need. However, if you have a perfectly serviceable stove, and you can’t afford an expensive microwave, you have your need covered — even if it is a little less convenient.
  • Does it provide clothing?: Clothing is another necessity. But, like so many other needs, it can get out of control. Consider whether or not you “need” designer clothes or other similar items. How much clothing do you need? A whole closet full of things you don’t wear very much is more of a want.
  • Will it help you earn a living?: Another consideration is whether or not it will help you earn a living. Because my living consists entirely of writing online, an Internet connection is a need. If you don’t have access to reliable public transportation, you might need a car to get to work. But make sure that you understand that you don’t really “need” an expensive car.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the conveniences of life — if you can afford them without going into debt. However, it’s important that you recognize lifestyle inflation for what it is and not confuse these conveniences with needs.


Published or updated May 13, 2011.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon

Well said, Miranda. The treadmill of consumption is a slippery one indeed. More often than not minimalists seem to have more fulfilling lives than those who amass frivolous “wants.” Being in debt over material objects is not only dangerous, but burdensome!

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2 krantcents

Stay strong! Peer pressure is alive and well. I went through a little bit of that regarding my 16 year old car. I can afford a new one, but it is not necessary.

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3 Ruchika

yeah.. peer pressure affects lot of things in our life.. very interesting article!

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