I Don't Need Anything
We need things.
Food is a thing we need. Also, air. Shelter is great to have, and ideally some kind of privacy, as well.
What we don't need is a brand-name pair of leather gloves. Or a high-end laptop. Or a new phone. These things are nice to have, certainly, particularly if you really like the look of the gloves and they go with everything else you own, but you don't need them. You will persevere, you will live another day should you continue to exist fancy leather glove-less.
It's been heartening hearing an increased and increasing chorus of anti-compulsory consumption messages each year during the holiday season. People of all ages are questioning the default supposition that 'holiday' equals 'spend more just because.' People are recognizing that we don't need to buy anything to show someone else we care, and we don't need to increase our stockpile of possessions to be happy and fulfilled.
What I'm hoping to see more of soon is this same attitude carried over to the rest of the year. To focus on what's most vital during the holidays is like passing on having a beer during the office holiday party after binge-drinking for 364 days: you're dodging what's perhaps the most obvious risk to your intended sobriety, yes, but you're not going to notice as many benefits because of how all those other months have been spent.
Symbolic gestures are important because they allow us to express something we believe in, and over time adjust our lifestyles, our habits, and to fall into greater sync with those ideas. Consuming more intentionally during the holidays is a symbolic gesture. Consuming more intentionally in general, the rest of the year, is a lifestyle choice. A major pivot.
But how does one make that change? It's relatively simple during the holidays: when people ask you what you want, you just tell them that you don't need anything. You're good.
The same can work the rest of the year, I find. When I feel the twitch, that little creeping desire to peruse the web for something fun to buy, the urge to acquire something I know I don't need but that will give me a brief surge of pleasure, I tell myself what I tell friends and family during the holidays: "I don't need anything."
As I mentioned before, we do legitimately need things. Food. Shelter. Privacy. Kindness. Love. These are core-level pursuits worth investing in, and if you don't have them, move in that direction. Ask for help. Get yourself situated, because acquiring these fundamentals can result in a massive change in one's mental and physical well-being.
The same cannot be said of those leather gloves. Or that new phone. These are things that may be nice to have, but you don't need them. To need something is to be unable to continue existing without them. You want them. And that's okay, but recognizing the difference between these two words is empowering.
Needs should be met as soon as possible, and by whatever (within reason) means possible.
Wants should be added to your life periodically, but should be second-tier concerns, after your needs.
I hear from people all the time, telling me that they want to travel more. They want to take time to write. They want to pursue some dream of theirs that has always seemed just out of reach.
I would argue that some of these goals, these dreams, are actually needs. They're things that drive us and guide us, and that we all too often relegate to second-tier status. We cannot travel not because we have no money at all, but because the money we do have is being spent on wants; those gloves, that phone, a Netflix subscription. These wants aren't inherently bad things to have, but they're do get between us and our needs. The things we supposedly want more than anything else is pushed further and further away because we 'need' fancy gloves more than the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.
When you feel that twitch, when you feel the compulsion to acquire, ask yourself if you really need that thing. If you're good, if you've got your food, your shelter, your basic necessities, tell yourself, "I don't need anything." Allow yourself to take that moment to mentally sort through where this potential purchase fits in your life, whether or not it will make you as happy as that trip overseas or that week away from work during which you plan to write.
Ask yourself if you're consuming to consume, or consuming to sustain. If the latter, go for it. If those gloves will truly add something to your life, and they're not standing between you and something you want even more, sucking up the resources you could be spending on something vital, buy them. Enjoy them. Revel in the purchase.
In many cases, though, there's something far more satisfying just over the horizon. And though the temporal glee associated with buying something can give you a little hit of well-trained Pavlovian pleasure, recognize that feeling for what it is, and remember that you have the power to sort the vital from the unimportant year-round.