Need vs. Want

As the father of a 5 year old boy, I often find myself trying to make him understand the difference between what he wants (which, at this age, is almost everything, and then some), and what he really needs. I also spent some time pondering on this difference in the past few days, after my smartphone stopped working.

The needs from my point of view are simple and easy to identify – the things without which one would either die or go insane.

  • I need to breathe or I would die in a matter of minutes
  • I need to drink water or I would die in a matter of days
  • I need to eat or I would die in a matter of weeks
  • I need to sleep or I would die in a matter of days, maybe weeks
  • I need clothes and shelter from the elements so as not to get sick and I need treatment in case I get sick so as not to die
  • I need love and affection or I would go insane
  • I need to communicate or I would go insane – I once tried not to talk for a whole day, and failed (but this story deserves a post of its own)
  • I need to see people, to meet people, to socialize or I would go insane – even hermits who lived alone in the wilderness visited each other to see other people
  • I need to learn and to grow – I need to read, to educate myself, but how this is achieved is on a balance between want and need
  • I also need to bring something to the community. I need to work to make myself useful. I need to feel accomplished. But I certainly do not need to work like a slave and neglect my family and myself (nor do I want to, either).

Maybe there are a few other needs that I miss right now, but these cover the basics. The rest are wants.

I want that new shiny smartphone, with all the bells and whistles, but do I really need it? My old (non-smart) mobile phone covers my basic need to communicate with people just fine. I can phone them and I can text them. It does not have email, docs, fancy maps or distractions like games and the like, but those things can wait. It does have a basic agenda and a music player with a few hours of mp3 songs that I can (and do) use and a basic internet browser that I will not use unless it’s a major emergency (rarely is),  and for directions I can ask someone on the street (used this feature a few days ago and it worked just as well as it worked the last time I used it a few years ago before going too digital). I will try and reset my old smartphone so that I will be able to use it again, but I doubt I’ll get something fancier anytime soon.

 I want that new camera with better image quality and less noise and this and that but… but… seriously, I have two DSLRs and a pocket camera that have amazing capabilities and I know I am not even near using them to their full potential, let alone outgrow them.

I want a bigger and more economic car but the truth is we fit just fine our current one, which is still in good shape despite being 7 years old, and any economy the new one would bring would actually be offset for a long period of time by the difference in purchase price: I pay roughly 15€ per 100 km in fuel and drive about 10000 km / year. If the new car would burn a third of the fuel,  I would save about 1000€ per year in fuel. So the difference of 20.000€ in price would be offset in 20 years. When the maintenance costs with the current car will become too high, I will change it. If our family outgrows it, yes. But now, it fits our needs just fine.

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