Modern Day “Needs”, which Really Aren’t

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It's easy to look around you and decide that you "need" to have something because you see it everywhere. Here are a few things that the modern day “needs”, which really aren’t.

At what point does something go from being a want, to being a need? For most of us in North America (or other parts of the Global North… poor Australia and New Zealand, always left out of the monikers), we are well above the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  (And no, the picture making its rounds on the internet with Wifi drawn in as the very bottom level does not make it a base necessity.)

If you are unfamiliar with Maslow’s hierarchy, here is a picture of it:

The gist of it is until the basics are sorted out (Physiological = food, shelter, water, sex, sleep, etc. Safety = health, body, property) they are our only focus in life and we can’t even begin to contemplate additional things, or “first world problems” as they are frequently called on the internet.

However, from our vantage point toward the top of the pyramid, it becomes easy to redefine what we see toward the bottom, from our well-off location on top. We view everything through a lens of our own experience, from victor’s history, to the politicization of space. When it comes to our own lives, it’s easy to view things as needs, not wants. Here are a few of those things.


In my life, I consider dishwashers a need. They are an essential component of maintaining marital bliss, or at least something which approximates marital bliss. They are frequently on the “must have” list when it comes to apartment hunting and house buying. I hope everyone has been forced to experience the pain that is not owning a dishwasher. It makes you appreciate them so much more when you do have one.

Dishwashers are a time saving machine, but not a necessary machine. If yours breaks, let it stay broken, unless you truly have the money. If you replace it, you need to bust a move making sure that the time saved on dishes is time spent side hustling to pay for the new dishwasher. My friends’ parent’s dishwasher broke and they spent months using it as a drying rack (they make excellent drying racks), because four out of five family members were in post-secondary education at the time. It’s possible. Dishwashers are a want, not a need, no matter how you self-justify.


While some eschew microwaves purposefully, the rest of the population tends to view them as a necessity. That’s not the case. I don’t know what else to say here, other than you can survive just fine without a microwave.

Cell Phones

“I’m waiting to hear about a job.” Does NOT justify a cell phone as a “need.”

Most people, who are also waiting for a job, cannot affix themselves to a phone 24-7, either. They have part time jobs, or volunteering, or kids to take to school, or exercise time to take care of their body. Employers know this. They leave voicemails. You don’t NEED a cell phone, they’re just nice to have.

You don’t even need to have a phone, actually. You can get a direct line that goes to a voicemail box, online. Use that as your phone number, check your messages, and call back using Skype or Google.

I’m not saying that I would willingly give up my cell phone, but I am saying that I know it’s on the chopping block, should it ever need to be.


Did you know that you can get along just fine without a computer? There are many places that you can access the internet, without having to own your very own machine. There are senior’s centres, community centres, job centres, libraries, schools and internet cafes, to name a few. Yes, you can survive without a computer. I have gone months without having a computer in my possession, while traveling. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even know when I would next be able to find one. If you already know where you’ll find one, you’ve got a great advantage.

I also had lots of friends who didn’t have a computer for first year university, or for months upon months while on exchange in later years, even people in graduate school.  No, I didn’t go to school “when you didn’t need a computer.” We had to use computers, constantly.

If your computer breaks while you’re broke, it sucks. But you can survive and make do.


So there you have it. Things we think we need, but truly can survive without. Some people think of washing machines and dryers the same way.  When you strip away all of these types of things, that budget that refuses to balance magically gets a lot better. Cut, cut and cut some more, it’s all doable.

What do you like to consider a need, that is truly a want? 

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  1. says

    My husband and my first apartment together didn’t have a dish washer, and yes we were able to get by but having one in our new apartment cuts the hubby s dish washing time more then half leaving more time to be with each other out of the kitchen so we really appreciate it now :)

    For us since we don’t have a landline, a cell phone is a need, BUT a cell phone NOT a Smart Phone. Our smart phones we currently have are definitely a luxury we pay the price for, and hoping to snag a better deal this month on mine!

    As the computer is apart of my blog business and now shared with my husbands growing photography business it’s now a need for the jobs too, but I agree I know so many house holds where EVERYONE has a computer/smart phone/tablet/tv each and it’s ridiculous!
    Rebecca @ Livewellthirivemore recently posted…Strawberry Freezer JamMy Profile

  2. says

    I actually need my cell phone because we don’t have a landline at home. My parents never check their email and only seem to call me, so I consider my cell phone a modern day need.

    My parents never had a dishwasher growing up and still don’t. Now that we have one in our house, I consider it an angel sent down from heaven. Such a great time saver.
    MakintheBacon recently posted…Increase Your Travel Experiences With An Aeroplan CardMy Profile

  3. says

    As the world changes around us, things that used to be “wants’ become (or seem to become) needs. Even something as basic as a car… seems like a “need” in today’s world but there was a time when the human race didn’t have them and it survived. You would find a job closer to home, and things just took longer. Even today, with public transportation there ARE ways to get around not having your own car. It’s all a matter of convenience and efficiency!
    Brock @CleverDude recently posted…Using The Power Of Social Media for GoodMy Profile

  4. says

    On your list I only need the computer. I could use one of the old ones I gave to the local school but they really are old and slow, and no computers means a smaller income, probably losing the price of a computer in the first month of being without, so not worth withholding the purchase.
    On the other hand I don’t need a car or a big house and many other things people can’t live without, I’d say the computer is the only real-fake need.
    Pauline recently posted…How to get into Harvard Business SchoolMy Profile

    • says

      Yup – when you make your living on your computer, it definitely becomes much easier to justify as a true need. In a bind, most people could get by for a little bit, but when it’s tied to your income it’s much harder to do without.
      2 Parents and 2 kids each having their own computers, though? Or when you are truly skint broke. A computer is a luxury item.

  5. says

    I have only had a dishwasher once in a former condo of mine and I barely used it. I grew up without one and actually don’t mind doing the dishes. Great reminder that much of what we think of as absolute needs truly are not. They are convenient for sure but we could find alternatives if we wanted to.
    Kassandra recently posted…Is Your Spare Room Costing You?My Profile

  6. says

    When I buy something nowadays, I always ask DO I NEED IT? Inevitably, the answer is always no. Because it really isn’t a need. Even when it comes to food because our fridge and pantry is STOCKED. All my needs are covered (especially as I’m living in a first world country and using a computer) but I must admit… I DO LOOOOOVE my cellphone and computer. LOVE. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE.
    The Asian Pear recently posted…The Little Joys in LifeMy Profile

    • says

      Nice! I haven’t lived without one for any great length of time, I think it would take some adjusting at the beginning, but I know that it is absolutely, 100% doable.

  7. says

    Oh man, pretty much all of these. We don’t currently have a dishwasher in our rented apartment, and while that does make me realize it isn’t a necessity, it’s one heck of a perk.

    I say this frequently, but I wouldn’t be a very good researcher/scientist if it wasn’t for online databases. If I had to go to the cards and actually look up the abstract, find the hard copy, skim the hard copy to make sure the abstract was telling the truth and it was actually relevant, then photocopy that hard copy, and pray that it really was useful… well, I’d be an accountant :)
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