Thursday, 11 August 2011

Needs and Wants

I thought long and hard whether to buy this skirt at Salvation Army. I absolutely love the fabric (it is gauze, and the print is beautiful) but there is an awful lot of it, and the length is a little weird. I asked myself if I needed a new skirt (no), if I could think of at least five different ways to wear it (yes, easily), if I could take it from one season to the next (yes, gauze and all), if the colour was right for me (absolutely), if the price was acceptable ($4.99 - not bad). And then I came back to the question of need. When I posted the picture of the pretty Doc Martens a few days back, asking if I could have them, Mette asked me if I needed them. Ever since, I've given some thought to the idea of need.

So no, I didn't need a new skirt. I don't really need anything, because I have plenty of clothes. And it doesn't stop there, because need is a weird concept. If you really think about it, we don't really need much at all. Can anyone really justify needing two pairs of jeans, or more than two pairs of shoes? We don't really need TV, books, or the internet - we can easily survive without them. We don't really even need music or art, and we can cope without family, friends, or love. There might be consequences if we decide that we don't need to pay taxes or obey the law, but we can actually choose over all potential needs we might have. The more I think about it, need is a pretty vague, empty concept in our comfortable, privileged Western lives.

As you can tell, I bought the skirt. No, I didn't need it. I chose to want it. I guess for me anyway, the concept of want is easier than need. I am not talking about just caving in to any random want (we all have many, don't we); I mean that getting to the bottom of want is a little more complicated and demanding. Want requires the person to go through an intellectual process of justification: Why do I want this? Do I want it badly, or just a little bit? Do I really want this, or something else entirely? By definition, there is no going around in circles around the question of need: either you need something or you don't. You can't really need something a little, or a lot. Need has an in-built justification in it, and we don't stop to ask questions about what need really even is. Come on, be honest, how many times you've thought that you needed a new pair of shoes when you actually had 20 pairs in the closet already? Or what does it mean when we say that we need a new winter coat? Does it mean that we are shivering out in the cold, or that our old coat looks worn and unfashionable? In our world of plenty, to talk about need is a bit of a cop-out. I guess the challenge, then, is to keep our wants in check. It is important to keep asking questions. The questions we ask ourselves will define our actions.

I am wearing a second hand top and a much-wanted skirt from Salvation Army, and yes, once again, the Fluevog boots. They are the best! Speaking of the best, cats are it:


Shey said...

oh hehehe that cat is so cute! You look great and I like how you've been wearing those boots with skirts. Today I finally made a trip to the thrift store, this PMS is killing me I tell you! I didn't need another dress because I have A LOT of them in my closet already, I wanted it but not too much, and yet I refused to leave empty-handed and I bought it for under $2 bucks, I didn't need it and I really didn't LIKE like it at the store because I could not try it on but I decided to bring ti home anyways, once I was able to try it on I knew I made the right choice, so I will enjoy it. I hope you enjoy your pretty skirt too!

Anonymous said...

I really like your analysis of the difference between want and need. Sometimes my husband and I amuse ourselves with a fantasy of unloading all our stuff and becoming gypsies in our old age. Sometimes a thought I ponder is whether it is possible for all the people in the world to have the same stuff as I want. I think that is a sort of Kantian idea.

metscan said...

In my comment to you: Do you really need them, I used the word" need " loosely.
Want is indeed something different. Want is a feeling. Some control this feeling better than others, for different reasons. Should this feeling be controlled?
If you can afford your " wants ", why not want? If you can´t, then definitely you should learn to control the feeling of want.
Wanting and buying a lot of something could be analyzed as well. Since wanting is a feeling, what is the emotion behind it?
If you could figure this out, would it enable you to control your " wanting " better? That is, if you at some point wish to control your purchases..

The Waves said...

Shey: oh I can relate to combating PMS with shopping! I've done it so many times! And lots of women do it. :)

Terri: I know the feeling of "going gypsy". Every once in a while I think that I could give up all of my possessions (except my husband and kitties, although I guess they aren't really possessions, but privileges) and be uplifted somehow. But then again, I'm a collector at heart. I'm sure I'd survive, but I'd be doing something that was deeply against my own personality.

Mette: I knew that you weren't referring to need literally, but after giving it some thought, I got to pondering about the idea of it, and how often especially women justify their buying with need, when they are actually talking about want. So the two concepts have become intertwined, and only one of them (need) has the in-built justification to buy in it. Indeed, want is a feeling, and it is difficult to control. I agree that a lot of soul searching must be done to understand why we want things and why things are important to us in the first place. I think I'm still trying to figure my reasons out! :)

Charlotte Holmes said...

"Do I really need this?" is not a bad question to ask yourself when you're out shopping. I think it's a good precursor to "Do I really want this?" Both are caution lights: Think before you buy.

Sometimes I wish I were one of those women like Mette, wearing only a few carefully curated colors displayed over a small wardrobe of completely exquisite clothes.

Since I will never BE that woman, I think your solution is the next-best thing. Once you buy it, enjoy it fully, no guilt. You're supporting a good cause by thrifting, look at it that way. Every dollar spent goes back to the charity!

metscan said...

Waves, ok, I´m with you. If I may, I would like to reply to Charlotte via your blog?
Charlotte, awfully kind of you to give such praising feedback to me. Naturally I feel unworthy of it, especially, as I am way too hasty making my picks. The part, concerning a small amount of clothes, is true though. Thank you.