January 20, 2011

Green Living Principles: Need vs Want

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]
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