Sustainable Shopping

The Difference Between Needing and Wanting

Now a college graduate and soon to be Massachusetts resident, I have begun to consider the magnitude of my transition. Moving to a new place, to a new apartment, with new people, scares me. My comfortable college home so quickly evaded me that I barely had time to say goodbye, forcing me to look toward my professional career–and my first official move.

“Man, I need a lot of new things,” I remember thinking, shortly after accepting my position. “How do I furnish an unfurnished apartment?”

This thought process, though not entirely uncommon, led me evaluate my roll as an American consumer. Do I really need towels of every size and knives for every occasion? Do I really need a blender and a coffee maker and a set of color-coordinated mixing bowls? Or do these items simply represent convenient purchases, a way to fulfill a “first apartment essentials” checklist?

Perhaps my frustration with American consumerism is interfering with my judgement. Yes, if I were a coffee drinker, a coffee machine would warrant a place on my counter. And yes, a knife collection would make meal preparation more seamless. But as I sort through my checklist, I cannot help but wonder if somewhere, in this twisted system of over-buying, we have misconstrued the difference between needing and wanting, between essential and convenient. What’s the difference?

I see needed purchases as do-or-die items. I need a roof above my head for protection; I need basic cooking supplies to cook meals; I need clothes to cover my body. But I do not need a 46-inch TV or a Bluetooth Phone dock. These items are not wrongful purchases, by any means, though they teach us that we use the word “need” too often and “want” not enough. No, I don’t “need” lots of things before I move. I will survive without a comfortable couch or an LED TV. But responsibly and sustainably, I want to live a simple life, allowing a balance of purchases to shape my new apartment. I won’t “need” everything I buy; but I will distinguish the difference, ensuring that my wants do not become needs.

“Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?” (Chuck Palahniuk)

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