Conventional wisdom counsels to differentiate between needs and wants – clothes vs designer clothes, a place to sleep vs a fancy house, transportation vs a luxury car. It’s a good exercise as it helps us become aware of our consumer habits. In materialist culture, we learn to want things to the point where wants feel like needs. “I have nothing to wear, I need to go shopping.” “I have no place to store this stuff, I need a bigger house.”
I was baffled until I read on: “Needs and wants are different in degree, not in kind.” In other words, there are degrees to meet basic needs like sleeping, from
- sleeping under open air
- living in a tent
- living in a shack
- living in a car
- sharing a room
- sharing an apartment
To having your own small house, to having your own big house. Fisker’s list is longer, but he points out that “on this scale there is no demarcation of when a need becomes a want” (99).
There are similar lists for all basic necessities, ranging from pretty much no cost to extremely high cost. The degree of comfort or acceptability in each case varies for every person. But it’s flexible – hedonic adaptation, baby. Minimalist muscles get stronger.