We Buy Too Much - A New Perspective On Needs

photo by cck

photo by cck

Are you at home, sitting in your favorite room? If not, print this post out and stop reading it until you are there. If you are a rebellious person like myself and refuse to do so then I must ask you to take just a moment before continuing. Before reading the next paragraph, close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are sitting in your favorite room at home. It might be your beautiful kitchen because you love cooking or your living room where you are able to spend precious moments with your family. Once you are there physically or mentally, and only then, continue reading below.

Now that you are in your favorite personal space, take a moment and look around. What do you see? You are likely in a room with two or more walls, sitting in your favorite chair at a table or on the couch in front of a television. What else surrounds you? You have some cabinets, shelving units or a bookcase. What is on or in these storage units? You are surrounded by your belongings; you have appliances and dishes, books and magazines or maybe computer and stereo equipment. Look closer, focus on each individual item that you can see, think about every object in the drawers or cupboards. Consider the dozens of handheld tools and utensils if you are in the kitchen. Ponder every knickknack or accessory on the shelves of your living room. Contemplate the scores of programs and peripherals that you have acquired.

Could you easily come up with a number that represents each individual item you own in this room alone? Can you recall the last time you used every item you have in the room?

How difficult would life be if you suddenly lost everything in the room. Could you survive without them all? What is the absolute minimum you require to live and fulfill your responsibilities?

If you are sitting in your office, an office you use to generate your income, your answers to these questions will be much different than someone else’s. If you are in the kitchen there are necessities for sure but there are also the unnecessary no doubt. In a living room the list of true needs may be much smaller than an office or kitchen.

If you had to replace the contents of the room and if you had an unlimited budget you might be inclined to replace everything. But take these questions seriously, what is the absolute minimum you would require, what do you really need?

At home, I have a PC with speakers, a multi-function printer, two surge protector outlet strips, headphones, microphone, a stack of programs, “piles” of papers, books and assorted other items. Yet, when I travel, amazingly, I find I can accomplish virtually the same work with a laptop, cord and air card. In the living room we have shelves filled with books, photographs of family, several pieces of art or blown glass; only the pictures of the kids or relatives are truly irreplaceable. The kitchen holds a lifetime of acquired gadgets; the vast majority is rarely if ever used. What is really necessary could be as little as a dish,bowl, fork, knife, spoon and glass for each person along with a couple pots and pans. Microwaves, toasters and blenders are nice but not truly necessary.

Humans have become animals that have created their own ecology of consumerism. Do we really need all this stuff? We all know the answer, but be patient while I challenge you a little further with a tale of this weekend’s visit to my 95 year old Grandmother.

Grandma was born, we think, in 1914 to a poor family in Texas. She was one of 13 kids and among the younger of them. Her mother passed away at the age of 52 leaving the kids and her father in a two bedroom home that he had built himself. She expressed thankfulness that her father was always able to provide for them.

The kids would sleep three or four to a bed. To fit better, they would sleep head to toe.  She always had a least two dresses that hung on a nail on the wall. Each year just before school started they would get a new pair of shoes. If they wore or developed a hole, her father would mend them or attach new soles made of thick hardened leather.

Every day they had something to eat and sometimes they would even get meat. Beans, biscuits and gravy were the staples that sustained their family. Each day from a young age Grandmas job was to mix the biscuits. She sifted the flour (“to get the things out that shouldn’t be there”) added the buttermilk, baking soda, baking powder, a little lard and a pinch of salt. She would work that dough by hand pinching it out and flattening individual biscuits to be cooked. During harvest they would supplement their diet with vegetables that they grew in their garden.

On occasion her older brothers that would work in town building roads or on construction projects would surprise the family with 3 or 4 loaves of bread. “Oh what a treat” she said the bread was. A time or two they were blessed with cake. As she put it, cake “was really special”; but they rarely had cake.

Imagine getting through life with just two sets of clothes, wearing the same pair of shoes everyday of your life or eating bread so rarely that you see it as a treat. It wasn’t that long ago that this was more the norm than the exception. Our Grandparents and Great Grandparents not only survived but thrived. Amazingly they were even happy and felt blessed for “all” they had when compared to today they had nothing.

Have we become desynthesized by our life of consumerism? Have we lost sight of the real difference between needs and wants? Should we be wasting our financial resources on acquisitions of stuff that we rarely if ever use?

Is it possible to change your perception of what you need and what you want? Can you learn to live with less?

“Awareness” seems to be a common theme with learning and developing. Whether it is personal finance or personal development, learning to do something new or something different begins first with awareness of the opportunity. If we become aware that we overspend and if we remain aware that we need not buy things that are not true needs, maybe, just maybe we can keep more of what we earn.


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