Need versus Want

In Hawaii our horseback guide and I talked extensively about sustainability, self-sufficiency, and living off the land. She brought up the difference between want and need in perhaps a more serious way than most of us think about the two. She lives in a rainforest valley in a very wet environment, and she told me, “I WANT rubber boots because my feet get cold and wet, but I do not NEED rubber boots.”

I bought a new pair of rubber rain boots this past spring simply because it rains here sometimes and I want to look stylish protecting my feet from water when I leave the house. Her statement gave me some weighty perspective on need versus want. I do not NEED the new rain boots I got. I thought I did. I told myself I needed them because my older boots had cracked and my feet had gotten cold and wet whilst packing my car in a rain storm last winter. But in the true sense of the word, I WANTED those boots. I didn’t NEED them.

What do we truly need to survive? Not to look presentable at a job, not to be even more comfortable, not to relieve boredom, but to survive? Not much: food, water, shelter. In contemporary American society, many of us are so far removed from basic necessity that we begin to confuse the extraneous with the essential. It’s been a journey this year reducing our possessions and I’m still working on it. I’m also going to consider future purchases even more carefully. Do I truly need something new, or do I just think I want it? Is this extremely important to me, or simply adding convenience?

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