Needs versus Wants

Wants versus Needs: Determining the Difference
A guide to living green and living clean in today’s world

By Debra L. Karplus

You barely stayed awake during that Introduction to Psychology 100 class back in college, but you can still visualize the Maslow Triangle. In 1954, Abraham Maslow presented his hierarchy of human needs that is still used today. At the wide base are the physiological needs that everyone needs such as air, food, water, sleep, and homeostasis. At the next level, Maslow states that people require safety which includes health, employment and security. The next level identifies human nature to require love and belonging. Esteem is a requirement at the next level. Finally, at the tip of the triangle, is self-actualization. It seemed incredibly logical, but you never made any connection between Maslow’s findings and your own needs. That semester you were going through a messy relationship break-up and had a nasty case of bronchitis that lingered.

Back in junior high, you learned about the food pyramid which has been revised many times since then. It identifies your body’s daily requirements for eating grains, vegetables, fruit, and oils, foods from the milk group, and meats and beans. You crammed for this test as you munched on bags of salty pretzels and liters of caffeinated soda. You ultimately aced the exam. The food pyramid looked neat and tidy and made good sense, but it had no impact on your own eating habits.

Until a of couple years ago, before the economy became shaky, buying whatever you wanted was so easy. Investments almost promised positive results and there was always something new you needed, such as a faster light-weight computer or a trendy new pair of shoes. When the Dow started slipping in 2008 and return on investments plummeted, while efforts to go green accelerated, people began to re-evaluate when they truly needed go get through their day.

Some people of all ages, denominations, and demographics, all over the world, celebrate a Sabbath day every seven days, on the weekend. Professors often go on sabbatical, taking a break each seven years. Taking such breaks from daily lives is restful and helps gain perspective on what matters. Schedule a day when you will not be at work to go through your entire day with only the necessities. You might learn more about yourself and what you actually need, necessary for survival, versus the things you want that perhaps make life more interesting and fun, but that perhaps you can live without.


Cancel coffee. Would you really be mourning that morning mocha? That five-dollar- a- day habit becomes a fifteen hundred dollar a year expenditure. You do the math. If you can’t start your day without that java, then buy a big can of the generic coffee at the discount store or supermarket and after it is brewed, flavor it with vanilla or cinnamon. Drink it in a cup from your favorite morning coffee spot. The folks at work will not know the difference and neither will you.

Cool it on the cable TV. Why pay for many more channels than you need? Most of them are not things you would ever watch anyway? Spend your evenings interacting as a family, helping with homework, playing board games, doing a group project, or reading.
Could you function if you were to sell your cell phone? Most families cannot imagine life without their cell phone. But take the time to calculate how much your cell plan really costs. Maybe you don’t need so many phones or so many “free” minutes.

Compare using cursive writing instead of the computer. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone, such as your grandmother? Email is handy for confirming the time of tonight’s soccer game, but people of all ages still enjoy getting a letter the old fashioned way, via the US Mail, that someone hand wrote. Try it. You may be surprised at how much pleasure it gives.

Change using the car and instead use a backpack to haul your cargo by bus, bicycle or on foot. Sure, it’s handy to hop in the car and drive to the grocery for a head of lettuce. But, if your feet provide the transportation via biking or walking, you save money, avoid polluting the air, and get some exercise too. You might even find some therapeutic psychological value in this slower pace.

Avoid costly cosmetics and create a beautiful inner you. When you visit any online or retail store, you will find a myriad or products for women and men intended to make your appearance “more desirable”. Why not make peace with the hair, face and body you have, and relish the streak of gray hair or well-deserved age lines.

Needs and wants vary from person to person depending on many variables in your own life. Most people don’t have the luxury of not working. Many jobs require the cell phone and the computer, for example. Get serious with yourself about what’s really important and life may take on a whole new more genuine meaning.

This article by Debra Karplus first appeared on Debra Karplus, freelance writer and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


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