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Wants vs. Needs

March 14, 2012

If there is anything being in Haiti is teaching me it is the difference between needs and wants.  That lesson has come in spades.

I thought I needed electrical power.  I spent a lot of money to get it with very minimal return so far.  But I have learned that in reality I did not need it, I wanted it.  Now even when I have it, I use very little.  I do not use my fans; that may change as the weather gets hotter.  Living on the beach I get ocean breezes most days and the air is cooler.  I seldom use my lights.  I find myself getting after my visitors for using them.  My oil lamps are all the light I need for just about everything.  My flashlight serves as a supplement.  I told myself that I needed power to charge my laptop and my phone.  The reality is that on weekdays I come home from work with my laptop fully charged and I can do what I need to do at home most times before it runs out.  I can charge my phone at work once every couple of weeks and that is ample.

Water I do need, but I have learned to deal with days when I have no supply.  I keep about 10 gallons on hand so that I can “shower” and do dishes.  Living on the beach I can just go for a swim and then rinse off with a gallon or two.  Everything else water related can wait for the supply to return.  And I haven’t even begun to use my well; if I find I need it, I will have to buy a bucket and some rope.  As I use a water filter, I almost always have several gallons of drinking water on hand.

I would love to have refrigeration, but that is not a need.  I have learned not to desire things that require refrigeration or to buy them and use them immediately.  On occasion I buy ice to keep things a day or two.

I really have no desire for a vehicle.  I have thought about getting a motorcycle at times, but I am perfectly content riding tap taps.  I used to take moto taxis at times, but I have become too miserly to pay the higher fare.  The convenience is a want not a need.  It would be nice to be able to get to Port-au-Prince occasionally and to travel a bit, but again these are wants, and I can find ways of travelling that do not involve owning a vehicle.  I have also learned to walk a great deal, something that I know is very good for me, but that most times I avoided in Canada.

I love the market, but most times now I find I look a lot and buy very little.  I limit my purchases to things I really need.  My desires have declined a great deal.

I use my telephone little, especially for long distance calls.  I have learned to rely on email and Skype, although call quality is often pretty poor.  Many conversations start on Skype and finish via email.

As I eliminate what I only desire, I find I need only part of the small income I have to live here.  Occasionally there are large expenditures that require I supplement that, but they are becoming less frequent with time.  Looking back, most of what I did spend was on wants.

I have adapted my diet to living here.  I have moved away from Canadian style food almost entirely, living on a Haitian diet for the most part.  Food has become about nutrition and not about satisfying my desires.  As a result I eat far less and am, I believe, healthier.  My weight has dropped to a level I haven’t seen in years.  That, however, has generated a need.  I am having to build a new wardrobe.

I don’t want anyone to think I have no wants that I still gratify.  I have many.  I love my premium tea.  I love butter on my popcorn.  I love to make myself something really delicious once in awhile.  I have a weakness for Coke that being able to buy it for about thirty-five cents for a liter bottle doesn’t help.  And I am known to indulge my craving for a chocolate bar occasionally.

Although I consider my laptop a necessity, it also serves as a major source of entertainment, providing me with movies and eBooks.  Much of what is in my house is about comfort and convenience and not necessity.  But I am less and less likely to give in to desires for things.

In reality our real needs are very, very basic.  All I have to do here to realize that is look around at my neighbours.  We need shelter.  For those of you in Canada and other areas with more severe climates, that is more pressing than it is here, and requires far more than it does here.  We need food, but really only enough to maintain our health.  That doesn’t include premium double chocolate chip mocha ice cream.  We need water, but it doesn’t have to come in a plastic bottle.  We need clothing (again much more in Canada) but it need not have designer labels and it need not fill a walk-in closet.

We need a bit more than just shelter, food and water, and clothing to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy.  But I am not about to get into a lecture on Maslow.

All this has nothing to do with any earthshaking spiritual revelation.  I am not suggesting anyone, myself included, should not want things.  Life is meant to be lived, not just survived.  But I have had a gradual realization that most of what I have spent my money on in the past had nothing to do with what I really needed.  It was all about wants.  I really knew this all the time, but the mental gymnastics needed to turn wants into needs are so well practiced.  To satisfy those wants I spent a great deal of time working to have the money to buy things.  And that often came at the expense of what is far, far more important than any want I ever had—my relationships with God and with others.

If I had it to do over again….

What I want is what I’ve not got
But what I need is all around me

from Jimi Thing by Dave Matthews Band

Lord, open my eyes to what is all around me and teach me to be grateful for it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bryan permalink
    April 27, 2012 3:50 pm

    Just stopped by to see what you’ve been up to and read this article. What a thoughtful, convicting, interesting, encouraging post. I’d love to talk to you on SKYPE sometime to catch up again. Buzz me when you’re on sometime.

    God Bless.

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