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Needs vs Wants, American Style

Struggling to make ends meet after drug addiction, a prison sentence, or managing on a monthly Social Security Check — I have worked with a diverse client base distinguishing between needs versus wants. My own personal belief system has been impacted as a result and I have evaluated my own personal needs and wants.

A need is a necessity for survival examples would be food, shelter, or water. A want is something you would like to have but do not need, a new car, expanded cable or a new pair of shoes. I found that at the same time that I was talking to clients about needs versus wants in session, I was also aimlessly walking into stores and spending $40-$50 a week on unnecessary items I didn’t need, to fulfill my own loneliness.

I worked across the country from my family and an hour away from my home in Central Texas. Friday nights I would wander a chain store and buy a pair of shoes, a scarf, knee high socks, or a new workout top. I considered it “my reward” for making it thru the work week. This shopping trip became my Friday night ritual.

After months of this I noticed more tags in my closet, items unused, and a box of clothes I hadn’t worn. The purchases no longer felt like a “reward” for my hard work, but a burden to organize or give away. I realized that I didn’t value these items, they were unworn and unused.

Not only were they unnecessary but they didn’t align with my value system. I was purchasing things to fill my emotional needs and this accumulation of material goods never filled the emptiness. How often do we spend time, energy or money on things or people who do not align with our value system or meet our emotional needs? I had created a pattern, one that never did make me happy.

So I made a conscious choice to no longer buy any clothing-related items for 6 months. I had a closet full of accessories and clothes that had gone unworn. I became creative with my wardrobe and actually enjoyed piecing together separates. I spent more time at home and saved money.

I found that making a simple decision regarding this Friday night ritual and my clothing impacted multiple areas of my life. My needs are met. I was wasting time and energy on unnecessary items which began to burden my life. I turned off my cable, began to eat at home more frequently, and reduced my cell phone plan.

I suddenly found time in my schedule to spend with friends, family and at home. I was engaging in real, not virtual relationships, with others and with myself. How often are we too busy to meet with a friend or take a class because we are living the American lifestyle/dream? I walked, wrote in my journal, learned how to decorate cakes, and took a few additional yoga classes. I found peace in my efforts and through this conscious choice began to fill the loneliness I felt in my heart, with healthy activities and quality relationships.

As a counselor I learn not just from books or college classes, but from my clients. I am grateful for the lessons I learn and how my own life is impacted in such a positive way from basic human interactions. I still shop, spend extra money here and there, but my needs are met. I now choose to interact with nature, friends or family over a shopping trip or a cable television show.

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Needs vs Wants, American Style

Elizabeth Grasher, MS, LPC, LMFT

Elizabeth Grasher, M.S., LPC, LMFT, is a counselor who has worked in a variety of settings including juvenile detention, non-profit drug and alcohol and outpatient practice. She assists clients with relaxation and mindfulness techniques and also practices them herself.

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APA Reference
Grasher, E. (2018). Needs vs Wants, American Style. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Jun 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.