Redefining Need In The Age Of Conservation.


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What exactly do we all need to live? Is it 4 televisions, 3 cars, a 4,000 square foot house? Multiple yearly vacations to far away lands? Piles of cheap plastic doo-dads from China? As the earth slowly heats up because of our emissions and our the stops coming out of the ground, people are starting to think about what they actually need rather than what they just want, and I think it is great that we will be able to participate in this life-changing redefinition of need vs. want.

I really enjoy my things, don’t get me wrong. And I used to have much more of them and like them even more! But over the last couple of years I have stopped seeing any real importance in most of it, instead trying to focus more on our lifestyle and what we do in our spare time. I have now gone without a car for 1.5 years, which is something I never thought I would do. Sure, it’s a pain sometimes – but not as much of a pain as having another car payment, another insurance payment, another thing to maintain. I am sure I will have to get one someday soon when we move out of the center of town, but for now I am OK with being carless, even in this rural area. Not many people think they can live without a car, but it is easier than you think it is – especially in a big city. But this is just one example of choosing need over want…I would love to have a nice new car. But I don’t need one, so I go without.

I used to think I needed to make a ton of money to be happy, but have slowly changed my thinking so that money is not what is important – it’s what I do with what I have that is important. I don’t care to make a million dollars a year as all it will do is buy me more stuff. I just want to be comfortable; that is all. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my pantry, a car to ride around in, my health (now, finally), a loving wife, 1 television, 1 DVD player, a computer to do my work on, and enough money in the bank to live a comfortable (but not extravagant) life. What more does one really need? Not much really – and that’s the difference between need and want. There are lots of things I could convince myself that I want, but very few of them are actual needs. It took me a while to get to this point, and I am still not 100% innocent of “wanting” things I don’t need. But I think more and more people will start thinking like this as concern for our surroundings grows, and that’s a good thing.

What do you go without even if you have the means to have it? What choices have you made in your life that have redefined need vs. want?

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  1. When Jim and I decided to hit the road in our RV fulltime, we had to prioritize what to toss, put in storage, or take with us. We got rid of a lot, and stored what I thought was very little at the time, and important to our future home.

    But since I’ve had over a year to think about that stuff that we pay a $200 bill on every month, I know that we should’ve gotten rid of a lot less stuff. I don’t even know when or where we will settle down again, so that bill is incredibly annoying. I’m being kept up at night because of “stuff”!

    We live in such a small space in our RV, and we’ve learned that need so very little. There have been times recently when we were around friends with much larger RVs, and I’ve been tempted to want a bigger one too. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I would just fill a bigger RV with more crap. So forget it, we’ll make do with our little 24′ trailer, and keep things very simple. Life is good this way.

  2. Rene, you should have gotten rid of less stuff or more stuff? Sounds like you meant more stuff, but wanted to be sure.

    We are struggling with getting rid of stuff while still keeping our “life” available to us. It’s a battle!

  3. I can relate to this. I think that wanting less “stuff” is a process and an evolution in thinking. It doesn’t happen overnight.

    I have a friend whose garage is filled with the possessions of her mother, who moved in with her many years ago. They have never gotten around to sorting through all that stuff. I don’t understand my friend’s lethargy and generally apathetic attitude about this, but she’s like that in every aspect of her life.

    Some time ago, her microwave oven died. She knows that her mother has a new one buried somewhere in that pile of stuff in the garage, so she won’t spend the $ to buy a new one, but for some reason, she hasn’t found the motivation to look for the one they do have!

  4. Thank you! This post is excellent and something I’ve been talking and thinking about a lot lately. I don’t desire to be a millionaire, I don’t desire to be in a job that doesn’t fulfill me–as long as I have enough, as long as my basic needs are covered, and I am contributing positively to the world I can be happy.

  5. What a great post! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It seems like it’s still not a very popular life philosophy though… But it seems like the number one best way to give back to the world, by taking less.

    My parents have already accumulated a lot of stuff over their lives, and have just inherited even more from my grandfather who passed away. We used to have a catering business, so we still have all of the equipment from that as well. We currently have two storage units and a house full of stuff.

    I really want to spend my time home from college this winter helping them try and get rid of the clutter in our home. It’s really suffocating and I think it gets my mom down a lot. They’re going to be building a new house next year, and I hope a lot of junk is removed in the process.

    What I’d really like to change though is their philosophy on consumption. They do seem to just buy a lot of things they want but don’t need, and if that never stops then neither will the clutter.

    I hope when I have a place and income of my own I can commit to a needs-only lifestyle!

  6. I so agree with you all. I don’t have a storage unit, but my sister does, and I have some stuff in there too, along with her and her family. I use to have a big desk, like for an office, and it was too big for her to use. So we donated it to a friend who runs a shelter for women of domestic abuse, and their children. I get and save for a lot of family, gifts, items for the give away, after the memorial dinner. We dinner to feed the people who come, and than have a give away of items. We have the year between when the family member died, and the 1st anniversary of it. I use to think everyone had two nights of wake when someone dies, but I found some don’t do that. Right now I am saving for a grandma and aunt. Also for a naming ceremony, which is done at a powwow, for a grandchild. My place looks like storage room right now.
    Good luck with your having less venture!

  7. One of the greenest things we can do is to just stop buying more and more crap, particularly brand new stuff — and pass along stuff we don’t use to those who would so that they buy less new stuff. And while people complain about how much it costs to go green, this is also one of the most frugal things you can do!

    My husband and I really started to turn frugal a year ago last January when we started actively tracking our finances. Since then, we’ve bought so much less stuff and given away or sold a lot more! And you know, we haven’t missed a thing! Our house feels so much more spacious, there’s less stuff to worry about fixing/cleaning/moving/etc., our finances are looking much better, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that our negative environmental impact is much, much less.

  8. Kids toys. We are flooded with gifts for christmas and birthdays, and most of them never even get played with. My kids would rather just sit on the floor and play with me. Things that are (so far) timeless with them and used over and over are costumes for dress up, bicycles, books, and balls to kick around. They really just want to spend time with me.

  9. “I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my pantry, a car to ride around in, ”

    Wait, I’m a little confused. I thought you got rid of your car?

  10. Since you are insistent on getting to the bottom of this post that was written 14 months ago, I have since A. gotten divorced and lost my car and B. moved away from there. Are we settled?

  11. WANT LESS, GIVE AWAY what you don’t use to someone who can use it, and BUY fewer things that are made by sustainable US companies who treat their employees like family…this flies in the face of American consumerism, which tells you to buy until you have no money left. There is genuine freedom in giving up one’s belongings and living with less; Thoreau got it right. The old tend to hold tight to their stuff, bequeath it in wills and make quite a fuss about who will get the china versus the pewter bowls, but the newest generation of 20 year olds travels a lot and sees stuff as the BURDEN it REALLY IS.

  12. I live a similar lifestyle, David! I spend little, so I don’t have to work 40 hours a week. I spend my extra time getting exercise, being out in nature, and enjoying the world. I share a car with my partner and I walk and ride my bike to commute around town, which is way more fun than driving. Of course, there are compromises to a simpler lifestyle, but its totally all worth it. Here are a few changes that I’ve made that others can make too:

  13. Rosanne who are you kidding? 20 year olds buy more stuff than anyone I know, and the reason they don’t make wills and bequeath all their stuff is because people don’t tend to write wills or expect to die at 20.

  14. I’ve never had a car, or a tumble drier or a microwave, our tv is ancient, I buy everything second hand (though i do admit to a rather excessive second hand book habit) always holiday in the UK, it really is easier to go without than most people think, and really is it actually going without?

    1. It all depends on circumstances, really. Where I live I couldn’t go without a car, and many people in rural communities couldn’t either. So that would be “going without”. But all the other crap that we buy, well, it’s definitely not “necessary” !

  15. Several factors have pushed me to anticipating less stuff over time. I moved out of an apartment and into a house with a fellow enviro studies major, causing me to pare down my belongings for the move. Attended a Q/A with Julia Butterfly Hill here at FGCU on Earth Day and came out of that a vegetarian, a conscious consumer and a satisfied ecologist/environmentalist. The town I live in makes having a car a near-must have (biking is possible, but Florida weather is hoooootttt and the city is spread out). Every little bit helps, I dont decorate much for instance, but would rather have a clean, bare surface, or even better, no surface at all. I depends on your priorities, I dont need priceless china on display for all to see and for me to dust off maybe once a year to use and clean the rest, but some might. It’s just sad that so many people here are ignorant or cynical towards caring for the only planet we have, I just do what I can to cut my costs.

  16. Nothing wrong with making money. It’s how you make it that matters. Do you do it ethically? Do you make a profit without causing suffering to people, animals and the Earth?

    When we let go of human greed and step back from the rat race, we realize what’s truly important in life. You lose stress and gain free time. Time you can use to give back and do good deeds.

  17. The amount of stuff is int he eye of the “beholder”. Life has many stages. When I was in college I could move all my possessions in the trunk and back seat of my car, a spacious 1968 Mercury Monterey. Now I would need several. I have thrown out things I wish I’d kept and kept things for NO good reason. Needs are a mercurial thing to define. City folks who have access to more shared resources can get by with less personal belongings. We moved out of the city and find we need more things “on-hand” to keep things moving along. Don’t just throw it away like all the organizing and “decluttering” magazines tell you. Try to donate. Try to repurpose items and complement those who do. There is no set “needs” to be met. Trying to define that for anyone but yourself is foolish and grandiose. Make sure Your house is in order before you start pointing fingers at others. Then ask yourself if you are depending on someone else to HAVE something if you need it? Interesting site.

  18. Lots of great points here. I especially like what Cheri says about not just throwing things out but repurposing them or donating them to somebody who can use them. The organizing and decluttering people are thinking mainly about their own space rather than our impact on the planet. Filling up landfills with wasted items that could benefit somebody isn’t a good idea. In these difficult economic times, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a return to the resourcefulness of our parents and grandparents who lived through the depression and knew how to get all possible use out of things before disposing of them. Waste is a terrible thing when there is so much want in the world.

  19. I Have an agreement with my wife if she wants to bring anything into the house (stuff) two things have to go out. Having said that -can anyone come over and help me throw out all the stuff in my basement?

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