Needs vs. Wants

by Christy Gualtieri

Wants versus Needs

My son has suddenly become very needy.

“I need that ball,” he tells me as I steer the shopping cart at the grocery store past the aisle containing a large cage full of inflatable sports balls.  “I need that balloon,” he says as we check out.  “I need my Goldfish crackers.”  And I know, as most parents do, that my child does not need these things, he wants them.  I know this because I know he has lots of balls at home to play with already; that balloons don’t fill any particular human need; and that although Goldfish crackers are a food, there are plenty of other foods he can consume to keep him alive.

But to him, the line between needing something and wanting something is very thin.

I laugh about it because it seems so obvious to me, but every so often, I find myself needing to check in with my own thoughts and desires.  Do I need something, or do I want it? Sometimes the answer isn’t so easy.

I guess it depends on the circumstance.  There are days when I long for a “day off” – a few hours just to myself, when I can catch a nap or a coffee out or a trip to the library by myself, sans kids.  Do I need this? I certainly want it; and I can justify that I need it because if a stay-at-home mom doesn’t get days like these every once in a while, I can pretty much guarantee that there will be negative consequences.

But then I think about the Hot New Thing – a phone that’s just been released, for example.  Do I need it? Nope – my phone works just fine.  Do I want it? Of course.  But why do I want it? Will it make my life easier, or will I appear to others to have it all together because I just happen to have it?

Getting real with ourselves can, in the long run, help us to make better decisions.  It can also help us understand where we are and where we want to be.  If we want to make better financial decisions, measuring our needs vs. our wants might help us to do that.  If we want to make better relationship decisions, thinking about what we need in a relationship (stability, humor, love) vs what we want (our significant others having certain physical attributes, for example) might help.  And so on, and so on – it can apply to any area of our lives.

If you’re just starting out, the easiest way to do this might be to make a physical list, in something like a journal or on a sheet of paper: write your goal at the top of a page, then write what you want on one side, and what you need on the other. But checking in with yourself can also happen mentally – standing in the checkout line, for example.

I think it’s important to note that wanting something doesn’t automatically make it a bad thing.  We all have wants and desires, and I am a firm believer that giving yourself what you want from time to time is a good thing.  Does my son need Goldfish crackers? No, he doesn’t, but they’re fun and a nice treat, and they make him happy, so I give them to him every so often.  He doesn’t get them every day, but he does get food (a real need) every day to help him grow and thrive.

The balance is what’s most important, and it’s hard to always keep our balance.  I hope this exercise in determining that balance in your life is helpful!

Until next time, be well!


Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

4 thoughts on “Needs vs. Wants

  1. Thanks for checking out my blog! It can be so easy to hold on to extra things, but is starting to get easier for me to clean out the excess.

  2. “Getting real” with ourselves by measuring needs and wants and how they influence the fragile balance of who we are, is definitely a challenge – but well worth the effort. Thanks for your comments and many great tips on the the subject in your post “Living With Less.” Keep up the great work!!

  3. Trying to get into the habit of questioning ‘needs’ vs ‘wants’ is hard, but will pay off! I recently blogged about getting rid of excess stuff. If you have a chance, check out my post on living with less at 🙂

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