What fills your want/desire/need space?

by Kristin on January 24, 2011

in Love, family & community

Photo by Rata Fernandez

I need new jeans.

I need my own ice skates.

I need a new zipper binder. See—mine has a rip.

A 12-year-old, as it turns out, has all kinds of needs. As a parent of ‘tween girls, sometimes it can feel like pointing out the difference between “needs” and “wants” is a part-time job. In some respects, it’s just a matter of semantics—a way of teaching them about the specificity of words and the importance of choosing their words carefully.

In other ways, though, it’s all about helping them put things into perspective. When we think we need something, there is always room to follow with the question “Compared to what, or whom?” Do we have a modest amount of clothes, or an abundance? Was our vacation last summer minimalist or extravagant? Is having to share a laptop with two siblings a hardship or a privilege? It all depends, of course, on how you look at it and what standard you hold up to it.

Compared to what?

My own struggle with wants

As an adult, I have to admit that I need those same lessons and reminders every bit as much as my kids do. I have what feels like a pile of need in my gut—longing, reaching, striving, and feeling sorry for myself. I’m just more adept than my kids at knowing how and when to express all of those wants/needs.

Last week I read the blog post “The Quiet Desperation of Need” on Scoutie Girl Blog, a new favorite of mine. In the post, Tara shares her journey with jobs and work, needs and wants, and tangible and intangible rewards. At one point, she writes, “I thought I wanted more money. And wanting money is ‘not okay.’”

Eventually, Tara was able to sort through the difference between her desires and needs. As it turns out, some of the things we think we so desperately want are not that important, and some of the things we long for but downplay (maybe out of guilt) really are important—maybe even things we truly need. Here’s how she puts it:

After Lola was born, what I needed was a way to stay home with her. What I needed was an outlet for the creativity that I was rediscovering. What I needed was a career that let me reach my full potential. I felt that need with the same longing I have for clean air and good food.

Sorting through the “why” behind the need

After reading Tara’s post, I couldn’t help but think about my own greatest desire at this point in my life: a bigger home. I have been all over the emotional map with this desire. Sometimes I feel guilty about it: My life is so blessed, we have a comfortable home, why do I want more? Other times I feel a sense of almost desperate indignation: We work hard, we don’t live lavishly or want anything extravagant. Is it too much to expect that each of the girls could have their own bedroom, or that all five of us wouldn’t have to share one bathroom?

Tara’s perspective helped me re-frame all of this in a way that feels much healthier, and less extreme. It’s not about guilt or entitlement. It’s not about money or what we do or don’t “deserve.” It’s about who we are, what we care about, and what kind of life we want to build. I responded to Tara’s post with this comment:

[Your post] helped me to think about what exactly I wanted, and why. I didn’t want a big home just to have a big home, like a status symbol. I want a bigger home to enhance the things I love most about my life: family time, inviting people in, hosting meals, having a guest room for people to comfortably stay. I want my girls to have some autonomy and not have to share a bedroom. I want all of us to get along a bit better because we’re not fighting over the one bathroom. :) I want a space devoted to writing, sewing, and creating. And I want a bigger kitchen, with enough room for our whole family to prepare meals together. Thinking through those things makes me see my want for a bigger house differently.

And this whole thought process has helped me discover a new way to help our family—kids and adults alike—organize priorities, set goals, and gradually build a life that’s better in the right ways, for the right reasons.

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  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    I like the idea of rethinking wants and needs in terms of “who we are, what we care about, and what kind of life we want to build.” For example, I willingly chose to work for a nonprofit organization, knowing that I would make less money, which brings certain about certain necessities (like budgeting). I know, logically, I have everything I need, but there’s still plenty that I want, but can’t have (or, at least, feel that I can’t have). As you and Tara discovered, it’s about rethinking how we approach those “wants.” I keep reminding myself that I probably wouldn’t be happier if I had the things I wanted if it meant having a job I didn’t love.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    In a sense, your post is helping us think of our priorities and ultimately our calling in life. What is directing us? You’ve got me thinking: Do I want a larger apartment for the status symbol or because I think I can actually do what God has called me to do in it? This is a very helpful post that hits on a real day to day struggle we all hit. Thanks for sharing this wisdom with us.

  • http://rvreyes.com/RVR_designs/Welcome.html Raquel

    Funny the universe churning themes up

    I have moved from want to need. I wanted my creative life back and complained about it for a long while. Only when it became a need did I act on manifesting that life.

    Here is one of my blog post about need.
    http://blog.rvreyes.com/2011/01/22/you-need-me.aspx
    This year 2011 my blog is a chronically of my turning that want into a need.
    Viva la Vida
    http://blog.rvreyes.com/page/2.aspx

    Kristin I love how your posts connect with my life, thoughts, needs & wants! Thank you for your thoughtful writing.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Meredith, your choice of work is a great example of what I’m trying to get at. There’s always that give and take—making choices, accepting consequences, seeking balance.

    ed, exactly. Somehow we have to understand our calling—who we were created to be—and then understand what we really *need* to fulfill it. Sometimes we’ll go through phases where we just *think* we know what we need, which is why it’s probably good for us to struggle along without for a spell, giving us time to work through it, past the veneer.

    Raquel, the universe does seem to churn up themes, doesn’t it? I love how things started happening/changing when you shifted from a “want” mindset to “need.” Part of what we need to do, I think, is figure out our own personal definition of “need.” That sort of trips me up, because there are the “basic life needs” like food and water—the ones that we’ll physically die if we don’t have—and then there are those things we need in order to use our gifts and feel like ourselves. If those needs aren’t met, we might not physically die but there’s a slow emotional/spiritual death that can occur. (Looking forward to reading your posts!)

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    Love this. It’s so easy to worry so much about self-sacrifice and what have you that we completely lose ourselves, and I don’t think that we help anyone when we do that. We have needs and we have wants and heck, even our selfish wants aren’t necessarily BAD. They can BECOME bad if we choose to constantly put ourselves first, but the wants themselves are neutral, IMO.

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