I NEED that!

I NEED that!

With the holidays coming up, it’s easy for everyone to confuse needs and wants. I sure do this every time Christmas rolls around and my parents and husband ask what I would like for Christmas. “I really need those Vineyard Vines sand colored boot cut cords!” “I really really need eyeshadow primer!” “I could most certainly use caramel colored riding boots…” And it’s certainly not just around the holidays. Any time I go grocery shopping, I think to myself, “I really do need Ghirardelli semi sweet 60% cacao chocolate chips!” It seems like my list of things “I really need” is never ending.

Others have had this issue in the past… This problem is literally as old as time itself. I’m sure there were cavemen who were thinking to themselves, “Wow could I really use a bone handle on my flint knife just like Bob’s. His is so fancy.” We look and we want and that just about summarizes the whole of human history. Wanting the newest iphone is not a new problem.

Even though it’s not new, confusing needs and wants can lead to a lot of difficulties and one of the most obvious signs is shown in the things we buy and the things we end up storing and ruining our budget on. This is such a central concept to micro living that I have absolutely not taken to heart. I end up thinking about the reasons why I’m poor the week before payday, because I hope that maybe this pay period will be different. Maybe I won’t be scrambling to make red beans & rice for dinner because my budget is stretched so thin. And maybe I wouldn’t have to clean out my closet as often of things that I thought I needed at one time and then realized I would never actually use them.

This is not really a question of why we covet and why we want the things we want when we want them. This is more a question of how. How can I put a cap on all the things I feel like I really “need?” How can I prevent future problems and always feeling like I never have enough? It’s not really “why are we discontented?” but “how can we be content with what we already have?” If we can answer these questions, we can go a very long way toward relieving some of the money and clutter stress we might have.

Here are some things I’m taking to heart lately:

1) Break it down – I love this pbskids snippet of advice. It breaks down this subject into easily understood questions and answers to determine what you need vs. what you want. It might be advice for kids, but I think it gets to the root of the issue and explains it simply and quickly. Making a list of things that are actually needs vs. things that you want is so easy and helpful. Needed things: nutritious food, a place to live, a warm winter coat, a good pair of shoes and transportation. Wanted things: designer jeans, toys, candy, video games, a snowboard. How sweet and to the point! And notice it says a “good” pair of shoes, not a stylish pair or an on trend pair. I’m going to make a list this afternoon of the things I really need (which will likely include that list) and the things I want. I’m about 90% certain my list of wants will tower over my list of needs. It’s great to be aware of that when I think about the next great thing I want to buy.

2) Avoid temptation – This may sound religious or preachy, but it’s just a fact of human nature. If we put ourselves in situations that are unhealthy for us, we are bound to do unhealthy things. One of the greatest things to come out of getting rid of cable four years ago is that I want SO few things that I see on tv. The only advertisements I really see are for cars I’m not interested in and pharmaceuticals I don’t use. That makes life much simpler. I definitely put myself in the way of temptation online though. Pinterest is a website where you “pin” things on a virtual bulletin board for style inspiration or ideas for crafts or recipes (most of what I see and pin myself). But I’ve recently categorized a whole section for a Christmas list and my “style inspiration” board is less about inspiration and more about what I would love to buy someday. Some people bookmark things online that they like and others clip things out of magazines and put them on a real bulletin board. I’m not saying that this is bad in and of itself, just that I am much more tempted to want things if I’m exposed to them. I’m also highly susceptible to magazines. Not the ads because they are obviously ads, but the content. “5 Essential Items for Fall” is just as much an advertisement as the Olay ad on the facing page. I try not to spend too much time reading magazines that have little content and offer little real information because of this, but this is an almost insurmountable weakness of mine. And one I need to keep a close watch on! And avoiding browsing in Target is another way for me to cut down on all the clutter (mental and otherwise). It’s so fun, but if I stick to my list and get only what I need, I can usually save at least $20 on random impulse purchases.

3) Alternatives – make a list of other things that make you happy that don’t require purchases. These things for me are taking my dog for a walk, challenging myself to cook with only the things in my cupboard, going for a run (though I really could use some new running shoes…), watching tv shows set in the past (I’m just not that interested in buying highball glasses for a 10:30am drink) and visiting with friends. Taking community ed classes is another way for me to stop focusing on all the things I want. Sinking myself into Jane Austen books and doing homework has been a good way for me to ignore all the little things I desire for myself. Practice contentment with the things you already have.

4) Stop asking! I really can’t express how much this needs to be addressed in my life. I sometimes have to consciously not ask for things for an entire day just to see if I can. I’m always asking my husband for this or that like new hair styling products or another pair of shoes. In girl world, this can just be a way of communicating. “I really need a good liquid eyeliner!” With ladies, this is a jumping off point to talk about fun makeup techniques and share ideas. With my husband, it just sounds like another item on the laundry list of things I could spend money on. And because he’s sweet and thoughtful, he gets stressed out when he can’t provide every little thing I could ask for. I think I’ve fallen into this pattern with my parents too, because as a kid, I was really used to having to ask for everything and having them be the only ones who could provide it. There are so many other things I could talk about (Kim Kardashian, elections in South Africa, the Browns, how to bleed break fluid in my car). I don’t need to talk non stop about what I’d do with a million dollars.

5) Get inspired – Perhaps you could make a list of books at the library that you’ve always wanted to read. Post that list on the fridge and every time you want to buy something, you could distract yourself with a long Russian novel. The list I mentioned above of all the things you love doing that are free or already within your reach? Slip that into a catalog or magazine. If quotations really keep you going, find a great one from Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain that keeps you grounded and out of stores. If you do pin things or have a bulletin board, get inspired by simplicity and post pics of perfectly uncluttered, clean living spaces. Cut off the bottom portion where they list prices or where to buy. Daydream about delicious new recipes you could make with the things you have on hand. Start a gratitude journal and write about the things you already have that you’re grateful for.

As for me, my inspiration comes straight from the Good Book:

1 Timothy 6:6-7
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

I’m going to work on my lists now and step away from the computer (or at least from pinterest!). I feel like I’ve left out a bunch of good ways to avoid envy… Since I tend to be a bit long-winded, I’ll end it there and hope that your comments on FB, twitter and in the comments section here will fill in the gaps!

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