Green Living Principles: Need vs Want

Via on Jan 20, 2011

Before organic cotton and farmers’ markets, before composting and bicycling, before telecommuting and alternative energy, we must deeply consider our needs and wants. The distinction between a “want” and a “need” has become ever hazier in our culture. In the end, we have more stuff, less money, and are none the happier for the experience.

For parents, teaching your children the difference between a want and need is a vital part of your biological duty. For others, here’s a bit of review:

A need is something you must have in order to survive, i.e., food, water, and shelter. Today, we can add employment, transportation, basic clothing, and possibly health care.

A want is entirely optional, something we may enjoy having, i.e., fancy clothing, sugar, electronics, jewelry, fast cars, a DVD collection, and video games (just to name a few).

I’m not going to be a massive killjoy and say that you can’t have some of these things—many of them are just plain fun! The key here is determining what you need first and making sure that it is provided for you in a sustainable way. After that, a few indulgences (which can also be sustainable) can be embraced.

The next time you think of buying something, ask yourself:

Can I live without this?

Will I physically die without this?

Will I go into debt to buy this?

Living with less = good; debt = bad. These are simple equations for healthy, eco-conscious living.

A common issue today is that we just don’t have time to stop and think. When was the last time you thought about what made you happy? Why did you stop enjoying that long-forgotten hobby? Our species is known for its adaptability. Take away your cable TV & you will soon find a bigger world of pleasures and amusements in your home, your library, or your community.

We think we don’t “have time” to partake in the simple enjoyment of reading a good book, cooking a flavorful meal, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Humans do not need constant stimulation or instant gratification. Our spectacular advancements over the past 200 years have afforded humans many luxuries. The question lies with which of said discoveries have advanced our well-being, and which are holding us back from our personal accomplishments.

Has watching TV really made you happier, healthier, and more informed? Many of us are out of shape, addicted to eating junk food, and more worried about the world than ever. With any invention, there is the risk of turning it into something harmful.

A former shopaholic and media addict, I ran up nearly $30,000 in credit card debt, developed serious depression, and was 40 pounds overweight before I turned twenty-one.

My treatment? A culture diet: less TV, less processed food, less exposure to advertising; more books, more moving, more time outdoors.

The results? All positive: I’ve lost the weight, paid off over half my debt, stopped taking my psychological medication, and regained over twenty hours a week for my own pursuits. If I can do it, so can you.

It all begins with one simple question: What do I need?

(The answer? Nothing that Mother Nature doesn’t need.)

Adapted with permission from 48 Things to Know About Sustainable Living by Victoria Klein ©2010 by Victoria Klein.

[Photo Credit: debaird]

About Victoria Klein

Introduced to Yoga in 2000 at a gym in Connecticut, my personal practice has taken me through a crippling post-high-school era of depression and anxiety, 3 cross-country relocations, + the general rollercoaster of life. In 2012, I fulfilled a major item on my bucket list by graduating from the True Nature School of Yoga 200-Hour program in Oceanside, CA + eagerly began teaching as an RYT 200. In 2013, I've continued my dedication to education by taking True Nature's 500-Hour program, progressing toward the RYT 500 designation. Also a professional freelance writer since 2005, my first book, 27 Things to Know about Yoga, was published in 2010. I previously worked the front desk at the well-known Yoga Tree studios in San Francisco + in the production department at Yoga Journal Magazine. In my spare time, you’ll find me cooking, running, taking lots of pictures, being a Marine Corps spouse, and infusing Yoga into my entire life. My Yoga classes are a dynamic blend of effort + ease, sweating + relaxation, with numerous opportunities + options given to make each individual class easier or harder, depending on how you feel that day. As a teacher, I strive to help my students find clarity, compassion, + patience, both on + off the mat. FYI: you should join my newsletter so you don't miss any of the fun! You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, + Pinterest!

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13 Responses to “Green Living Principles: Need vs Want”

  1. yogiclarebear says:

    Thanks Victoria, this was timely for me, as my husband and I just moved. As we "fill up" our new space, we "need" to ask ourselves these questions! Thanks for the reminders and outline.

    • Thanks for the comment, Clare & I'm glad you enjoyed the post :) My husband & I will be moving this summer, so I've been given the task of going through & packing everything (he's in the military & won't be here). There's no better time than before a move to decide what's really important & worth bringing. I can be tough when you get to a new place & need to get new things – it's easy to over-buy – and that is something he & I will both have to be conscious of (and you & your hubby, haha)

  2. Jill Barth Jill Barth says:

    We “don’t have time” because our minds are maddened dervishes most of the time. Thanks for the BE STILL reminder.

  3. This want vs. need concept has become crystal clear to us in the last few years since my hubby got laid off in Dec '08. And we are grateful for the perspective! I do feel a twinge of jealousy when I hear about someone flying off to a warm vacation, tho. Tonight's wind chill warning: minus 20-29. Ugh!

  4. Thank you for the comment, Pam :) I am glad that you have take the personal initiative to rummage through your belongings & elect to live with less – I find it to be very cathartic :)

  5. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Thanks for the tough love, Victoria! I especially like: "When was the last time you thought about what made you happy? " As Krishna Das says, "If you aren't doing the things that make you happy, how are you going to help anybody?" We allow the world to tell us what we need, instead of asking ourselves.

  6. ijuliarose says:

    So, the question for a writer is, "Do I need this book?" More importantly, do other people NEED to buy my book? As an aspiring writer I ask myself that a lot.

    • I do the exact same thing – glad to know I'm not the only one :) The world is overwhelmingly full of information these days, but as a writer, my job is to make things as straightforward as possible, while also inspiring a sense of purpose & pride in the lives we live.

  7. [...] my previous post, I shared how my elected separation from massive doses of modern media helped me lose weight, [...]

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