Posted by: Shanna Germain | 12/01/2009

Pg. 184: WantWantWant


Ran across this wonderful article this morning over at Zen Habits. David Turnbull writes about, “How to Want Very Little.” I really like the way he distinguishes between “owning little” and “wanting little.” I’d say that I have a lot of success with owning very little, but my ability to want next to nothing is not half as honed. At this point, it’s more of an “I want, I want,” refrain that’s followed by an “I don’t need, I don’t need,” refrain.

Turnbull says:

Sincerely wanting little is difficult. It goes against our firmly rooted desire for certainty, for ownership. To cut through this psychological attachment  requires more than step-by-step processes or following a list of tactics, it requires a shift in your thinking, a shift in the way you approach your day to day life and how you make decisions.

I think the first time I ever really thought about “want” was after reading Stumbling on Happiness, where author Daniel Gilbert talked about wanting for who we are now — and then getting the thing and not enjoying it. Why? Because by the time we get said object, we are a different person, with different wants.

I think about this when I’m craving something. I ask, “Is this something that a future me is going to want?” Of course, it’s an impossible answer, isn’t it? Because every decision changes me and I don’t know who the future me will be. But sometimes just the act of asking it is enough to remind me that I’m craving something, wanting something, yearning for something. And that knowledge makes, to me, a world of difference. Because if I do go ahead and attain said thing, then I’ve done it (hopefully) with some kind of thought behind it.

This past year, I will say that I’ve gone through cycles of craving things. I craved a lot of things when I was Scotland, mostly because I could not have them. Law of scarcity, or something akin to that, I suppose. I don’t crave many things at the moment, mainly because I don’t have access to them. I don’t have TV, so there are no ads to beckon. There aren’t any shopping places nearby, so window shopping does not tempt me. Perhaps the only time I’m tempted is online, because everything is possible via the Internet. But there’s also a stop-gap, at least for me, in that it’s not instant gratification. I have to wait for said object to arrive, and then I may not want it.

The truth is that living simply is not simple. In fact, it’s rather complicated. It’s a tangled jungle fraught with fears and guilts and desires. But then again, so is everything, I suppose. And I much prefer this jungle to the concrete one any day.

Far and fast, s.




  1. I’m quite good at owning little, but horrible at wanting little. People call me a minimalist now because I own next to nothing. However, I know that I’m not truly a minimalist because I see so much stuff I would love to have. I secretly day dream about all the things I could have and how they would look sitting amongst all the other things I could have. If I accidentally come across one of those pics of people with great personal libraries, I have to change my underoos (like the pics of Neil Gaiman’s home library that was going around last month). I love the feeling of owning nothing and being free of burden, but I thrive on the fantasy of stuff.

    I must say, I really enjoy this blog. Thanks for writing it. Anyways, future me wants a piece of cake right now. Present me hates to argue.

    • Ah, yes. Minimalist living, high-tag wanting. I know how that goes 🙂

      And thanks for the nice words, Shawn. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to seeing how your travels go as well!

      Best, s.

  2. @ shanna
    when i was younger there was a hole in my life..a hole which i had to fill constantly with stuff i bought …

    today its different..i dont buy much stuff anymore and i also give everything away pretty soon when i realice that i dont really need it…and i love the feeling of giving things away when i feel that someone else needs them more then i do…

    @ shawn

    those pics where awsome wherent they?

    • I know exactly what you mean, D. Growing up leaves us with less holes and less wants, doesn’t it? 🙂

  3. […] of stuff. I got to thinking about possessions and how much we want them from a great post over on Chapter 37. So I next got to thinking about the business end of having stuff, and had started to write up a […]

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