Wanting to Want

In my younger, more acquisitive years, I had a problem with “wanting to want.”

I subscribed to several magazines, and would page through them for ideas on new clothes to wear, new beauty treatments to try, and new things to decorate my home.

I received a mountain of catalogs each month, and would scour them for products I never knew I needed.

I would stop by the mall on my lunch hour and browse the racks, waiting for something to catch my eye.

The cycle went something like this: a particular gadget/outfit/book/decorative item/piece of jewelry would capture my imagination; I’d spend a few days or weeks wanting it; I’d acquire it; and then I’d look for something else to want.

Where did that leave me? With too much stuff and too little money. Not to mention a lot of time wasted that could have been spent on much more productive pursuits.

When I embraced a minimalist lifestyle, wanting to want was one of the first bad habits to go. I attribute this change in attitude to the decluttering process—after spending countless hours and much energy undoing my consumer decisions, I had no desire to start the cycle again. I canceled my magazine subscriptions, removed my name from all catalog mailing lists, and never set foot in a mall unless I absolutely had to.

When I stopped wanting to want, I experienced a wonderful feeling of lightness and freedom. The pressure to look for, research, desire, save for, and shop for new things was suddenly removed from my life. My stress decreased, my free time increased, and I became a happier person as a result.

In fact, after some time, I could once again look at magazines, catalogs, and stores—but with a completely different perspective:

“How many things are there which I do not want.” ~Socrates

I no longer saw a stuff-packed store as a treasure trove or minefield, but rather an unappealing (and sometimes overwhelming) place of excess and waste.

Such a change in thinking, of course, is easier said than done. Unfortunately, in our consumer-driven society, wanting to want is almost ingrained into our psyche—and reinforced every day by the countless ads, commercials, and marketing messages we see. It seems like everyone wants us to want something, and will go to great lengths to spark that desire.

How do you resist it?

Ignore it. In the beginning, it’s easiest to simply tune out the ads, commercials, and other temptations—which may mean turning off your TV, giving up magazines, avoiding retail websites, and not shopping for entertainment.

Analyze it. Recognize the techniques that marketers use to get you to buy—like making you feel inadequate or insecure, and positioning their product as the cure-all for your problems. Once you understand their tactics, you’re much less likely to fall victim to them.

Subvert it. Here’s where my love of consumer disobedience comes in! Do like Socrates, and take pleasure in discovering all those things you don’t want. Stick it to the man, and keep your hard-earned dollars out of the hands of big corporations.

If you’d like to reduce your clutter, save more money, and gain the time and energy to pursue your dreams, the solution is simple: stop wanting to want. It’s a tiny piece of advice that’ll transform your life!

Have you ever found yourself “wanting to want”? Do you consider retail environments a temptation or a turn-off? Please share your thoughts in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

86 comments to Wanting to Want

  • Love this post. I have not had a TV for many years and I sometimes feel like I live in an alternate universe. I hear my coworkers and family talk about the stuff they want and I jeep saying to myself “I don’t want that… I don’t want that…” I work in a busy downtown full of department stores and it’s fun to walk around and observe the excessive consumption around me – sort of like an alien observing another species on another planet!

  • Shawna

    I need to remind myself constantly that I don’t want the latest clothing. Every morning it seems I tell myself “I have nothing to wear” as I stare at my full closet. It’s hard, especially when I go to a private college and it seems everybody has more money than I do, to tell myself I look fine in what I am wearing. So I struggle to find perfect fits that look great and I end up wasting money on clothing I’m not entirely happy with.
    One thing I did though, was get rid of my TV. I found that the more I looked at what the stars were wearing (and the commercials wanted to sell) the more I wanted. It’s a bit easier now to tell myself I have enough and I don’t want to buy more.

    • Jason Davis

      Hi Shawna

      Reminding yourself constantly not to want things means you attention is usually elsewhere. This is the ego.

      The TV is a tool to allow the ego to expand and rest in control of the mind. That was your best move in your whole history of your existence, getting shot of the TV.

      When you talk to yourself in your head, it is your ego. Try this if you wish to regain control of your mind totally.

      Each time you start talking to yourself in your head, find a way psychologically to stop the words. Distort it with your mind so it makes no sense. It might take some practice and at first you seem quite busy in the mind. Try it a few times every day first. Then try to up the pace.

      It is ‘only’ mental effort and awareness required. I’m not asking you to build up a sweat or anything. As you get good at it. Set times where you ‘do’ think with words. That way you will still remember what you ‘need’ to instead of merely ‘want’ to. Something happens to the mind. SPACE. Room for more of the right action and deed, which actually stems from us on a second by second basis. Goodness. Pure action but from the pure source. Without the ‘what can I gain from it’ psychology. It is immensely empowering.

      When feeling emotions too, observe them without judgement, that is to say, try not to speak words in your head about things you are feeling. Watch them vanish instead by observation without words.

      You know what you need to do instinctively without chatting to yourself about it.

      Be aware, your ego will make some random wants or cravings possibly even fears. Observe it all.

      And if you all try it and it works, pass it on to someone you love. That way, the meek really will inherit the earth…by yourselves, one by one.

      • Jason Davis

        This is the absolute truth from every religious system we have ever invented. We have just confused the whole thing with systems of rambling bishops and books. Meditation methods and belief systems based around pagan myths and rituals, or neo-pythagorean fascinations and Kabalistic confusion. You have been misled.

        All of the mindless inputs we have ever created have done nothing but ruin our awareness by leading us astray with myth and mindless self-desires and greed, and methods of repenting via religious payoffs and self rebuke.

        It is past time to change, peacefully, by yourself.

  • Taryn

    I home educated our children from 1985-2011. Except for 2 of the 6, they all went to high school and college. I subscribed to only 2 home education magazines(home-school.com) during those years and would only order out of 4 or 5 catalogs(Abeka,Christian Liberty Press, Rod & Staff, keepersofthefaith.com,etc.). I belonged to a large support group one year and a large co-op for another year with annual Seton Testing. Now our grandchildren will start home educating. I can advise my daughters-in-law how to home educate the minimalist way. With my last child I enjoyed giving things away every year. I presently have a small bookcase instead of the two huge ones we had. I don’t own any DVDs,CDs,educational games,etc. anymore. I don’t subscribe to any catalogs or magazines.

  • […] Minimalist wrote a fantastic post on this topic called Wanting to Want. I read it often as it resonates deeply with […]

  • dreamsareality

    Four Boyfriends


    Once upon a time there was a girl who had four boyfriends.

    She loved the fourth boyfriend the most and adorned him with rich robes and treated him to the finest of delicacies. She gave him nothing but the best.
    She also loved the third boyfriend very much and was always showing him off to neighboring kingdoms. However, she feared that one day he would leave her for another.

    She also loved her second boyfriend. He was her confidant and was always kind, considerate and patient with her. Whenever this girl faced a problem, she could confide in him, and he would help her get through the difficult times.

    The girl’s first boyfriend was a very loyal partner and had made great contributions in maintaining her wealth and kingdom. However, she did not love the first boyfriend, although he loved her deeply, she hardly took notice of him!

    One day, the girl fell ill and she knew her time was short. She thought of her luxurious life and wondered, ‘I now have four boyfriends with me, but when I die, will I be alone.’

    Thus, she asked the fourth boyfriend, ‘I loved you the most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you. Now that I’m dying, will y ou follow me and keep me company?
    ‘No way!’, replied the fourth boyfriend, and he walked away without another word.

    His answer cut like a sharp knife right into her heart.

    The sad girl then asked the third boyfriend, ‘I loved you all my life. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?’ ‘No!’, replied the third boyfriend. ‘Life is too good! When you die, I’m going to marry someone else!’ Her heart sank and turned cold.

    She then asked the second boyfriend, ‘I have always turned to you for help and you’ve always been there for me. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?’

    ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you out this time!’, replied the second boyfriend. ‘At the very most, I can only walk with you to your grave.’
    His answer struck her like a bolt of lightning, and the girl was devastated.

    Then a voice called out: ‘I’ll go with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.’ The girl looked up, and there was her first boyfriend. He was very skinny as he suffered from malnutrition and neglect.

    Greatly grieved, the girl said, ‘I should have taken much better care of you when I had the chance!’

    In truth, you have four boyfriends in your lives:

    Your fourth boyfriend is your body. No matter how much time and effort you lavish in making it look good, it will leave you when you die.

    Your third boyfriend is your possessions, status and wealth.When you die, it will all go to others.

    Your second boyfriend is your family and friends. No matter how much they have been there for you, the furthest they can stay by you is up to the grave.

    And your first boyfriend is your spirit. Often neglected in pursuit of wealth, power and pleasures of the world.

    However, your spirit is the only thing that will follow you where ever you go. Cultivate, strengthen and cherish it now, for it is the only part of you that will follow you to the throne of God and continue with you throughout Eternity.

  • Pat

    I’ve noticed lately that I dont want anything any more. What a wierd unusual feeling. Kind of hard to get used to but ok feeling. I used to always want something. Then after i got it Id want something else. I started using the library and now i dont even want to buy books! Wow! This post has really helped me accept how i feel now. It could be mistaken for depression I think. But i just say to myself: wanting to want. What an enlightening post!!! Thanks so much.

  • Jason Davis

    I love this. A while ago I cut myself off from TV, Books, Magazines, Reading anything on the internet, Socialising THE lot… TV, news and music was first about 4 years ago. I stopped buying stuff about 3 months ago, that I didn’t actually ‘need’.

    Recently I was trying some hypnotism for awakening the third eye. I heard the first 30 seconds which was about calming the breath and starting to slow down. I suddenly remembered I had left the door open for some reason and got up to shut it in case a cat got in and jumped on me. When I lay back down, I was about to put the headphones back on when I could feel an almost laughing sensation in my stomach. It made me smile uncontrollably. It then started to spread up to my solar plexus and then under my chest cavity. I was in a state of bliss. 100% present with myself. Psychologically and spiritually one. I ‘know’ the sensation would have travelled up further to my head, but was too much in bliss in my heart to let it move.

    It is up to you to chose between being a mindless demon with wants, fears and dislike, despite being awake physically….and a sane human-‘being’. It is time to stop wasting your awareness and brain space on want and fear. Turn the junk off :D

  • Jason Davis

    It is how ‘they’ ‘have’ ‘you’.

  • Fidi

    I remember as a child and teen, every time a received money as a birthday present etc., the first thing I thought about was “what to spend it on”.
    Not “to spend it on something I have wanted for some time” but how I could spend that money in the fastest way.
    Then I went on a shopping spree and bought exactly so many books (mostly) that the given sum was spent completely.

    I am still sometimes in that line of thought, looking for “what to buy next” without even having a special desire (i.e. browsing for new cookbooks on amazon that I only want after I have found them, not vice versa. It’s “Oh, Williams Sonoma released a taco book, how about that!?” – it’s not “I want a book with taco recipes”.
    Okay, mostly I want the food photos of a certain photographer, Erin Kunkel in this case – but I am not especially looking for taco recipes in this case.
    Which means, of course, that later I will buy tacos etc. that I would not have bought without the purchase of that book…

  • Tina

    When I get a gift card for a store, I wait for the end of season clearances. Or I wait until I need something like shampoo and buy a small bottle of a fancier brand than I would normally buy. There is so little I need that a gift card usually lasts for months of entertainment.

  • Tina

    I am wearing a pair of my 50 cent earrings. I buy things at thrift shops, garage sales, and rummage sales. Once in a great while, I buy something at an end of season clearance sale. I just got rid of some costume jewelry I hadn’t been wearing. We went to a big affair at our temple. Over 1000 people were there. Most people wore slacks and costume jewelry. I can’t imagine who is buying all the fancy clothes and expensive jewels.

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