When the Line Between Need and Want Gets Blurred (and the preposterous numbers of ways to use a stick blender)

They say necessity is the mother of all invention.

After our first 6 weeks of traveling, I’d have to say that living and traveling internationally has proven that true time and time again.

For example, take our first rental apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It contained one lone frying pan. With its oddly warped and convex bottom, there was no way to keep it flat on the burner, and thus, no way to heat it evenly (or hardly at all).

Enter the urgency of four small hungry mouths and a mildly culture-shocked mom who hadn’t yet figured out what healthy foods she could buy for her family besides eggs. I needed that pan.

My darling 8 year old daughter and I came up with this solution. Elegant? Not so much. We did, however, manage to cook and eat our eggs. There were no kitchen utensils beyond a wooden spoon with a flat edge, so it rapidly became our stirring spoon, spatula, flipper, and any other use than popped up in our culinary adventures.

Actually managing to feed my children meals, plus walking around a big city all the live long day, equals dirty clothes. Times six people. With no washing machine.

I did eventually learn the correct Spanish phrases for having my laundry washed and dried at the “lavandero” when we moved to our next apartment, but this first week was about pure survival.

So, I rolled up my (imaginary) sleeves and got to work, soaking and scrubbing and wringing out our clothes in a tub with scalding water (the only kind that came out of this particular faucet).

No dryer? No laundry line? No problem.

Some ingenious traveler created these stretchy, portable laundry lines, and so we brought two along with us. Using the outdoor furniture on the patio, and some pillows and baskets to weigh them down (after we sent a chair flying when the thick elastic band snapped back), we found a way to lay our clothes out to dry.

After my first roll-on stain remover ran out, I could only find refill bags intended for pouring into a spray bottle. Except that I don’t have a spray bottle.

Undaunted, I just poured it into a cup, and used my empty roll-on applicator to dip into the cup, then spread it on the clothes. Why not?

Toast is a staple in our family, and yet the house that we’re renting for a month had no toaster. What to do, what to do?

Frying bread in a pan, camping style. Works for me.

In the midst of an incredibly massive natural amphitheatre, carved out of striking red rock, our kids play on the ground with some friends. With dirt. Who needs toys?

When you don’t have real toys to play with:

  • You make forts out of extra sheets and dining room tables
  • You discover a fold-out bed and turn our stairs into the slide of doom
  • You give the baby random tupperware and non-dangerous cooking utensils from the kitchen
  • Your children decide that cleaning the house is a fun game, and pretend to be housecleaners and be paid in pesos (no joke- this is for real, and don’t you dare tell them how much a peso is really worth)

Kepler’s preferred place to sleep… snuggled up in Mommy or Daddy’s arms.

Sleep time also poses its challenges, since our “backpack” style of travel didn’t afford us the luxury of bringing a portable baby bed along.

Kepler is learning flexibility at a young age. So far, he’s slept in a bed with us (not our favorite option), on a twin mattress on the floor with pillows around it, on a couch where we removed the cushions and made a little bed inside (wish I’d taken a picture of this one- it worked better than it sounds), on a regular twin bed at a hotel, in a queen bed with his big sister, and currently in a borrowed Pack’n'Play from a missionary family who lives in the city where we’re currently staying.

I haven’t loved all of those options, and no, neither has he. We realize that these are temporary situations, though, and try to make the best of them. Is not having a proper baby bed each night an excuse to stay home? Or something to get worked up about? I’m finding that it’s neither, and mothers all over the world send their babies to lullaby land without the benefit of Graco bassinets or dark cherry stained wooden cribs.

Making do with what you have isn’t really all that bad

One of the primary areas in which I’ve been relying on my creative juices is with cooking.

Cooking is a joy for me. I love coming up with inspired recipes, finding clever and delicious ways to use up bountiful produce in season, and cleaning out the odds and ends I find in my fridge to avoid unwanted science projects and tame our grocery budget.

When the foods around you are unfamiliar, however, and buying the right thing is made more complex by a lack of language ability, something that can usually be a pleasant chore can quickly turn into a burden.

My first grocery shopping trip in Buenos Aires.

I’ve had days of victory and days of utter frustration in my campaign to continue feeding my family real, whole foods, no matter where we are in the world.

If there’s one incredibly good thing that comes out of that frustration, it’s an increased drive to let the necessity of eating wholesome meals be the fuel behind my ingenuity and perseverance.

And in that spirit, I find myself:

  • Creating simplistic granola bar and homemade cereal recipes, not with what I’m used to using, but simply with what’s available.
  • Making smoothies (and about 47 other things) with a stick blender, a tool I’ve always thought marginally useful until I was faced with cooking sans food processor, blender, good knives, hand mixer, etc. I *heart* the stick blender in our current house. Not to mention, using it to grind oats into coarse oat flour. Awkward, but possible. Sure, our pancakes turned out denser than usual, but I found a way to make gluten-free pancakes that my little girl could enjoy.
  • Seasoning our meals over and over again with the basics that I have easy access to — salt, garlic and onions, olive oil and butter, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and one package of Provencal herbs that has made it’s way into too many dishes to count.

The lessons learned when we don’t have the things we’re used to (or the ones we think we need) are vital. So often during this trip, I’ve found myself racking my brain for clever ways to make do with the things I have available to me.

The miraculous result? Realizing I can get by just fine with what I have.

All of our worldly possessions, for one year, for six people.

As it turns out, I don’t need as many things as I thought I did.

Need.

It’s one of those funny words that we say thoughtlessly with little concept of what it really means.

I need a new dishwasher. I need a Vitamix blender. I need a coffee. I need a new shirt. I need raw milk. I need a new car. I need a bigger grocery budget.

Do you really? Do I?

Sure, those things are nice to have. You might find them particularly useful, pleasant or beneficial. They might make life easier. Some of them could genuinely feel like needs at times, and yes, sometimes they might be legitimate, honest-to-goodness needs.

One useful piece of advice I’ve heard is that if there’s something you want to buy, wait for a month and see whether you still need/want/care about the item in question.

Most of the time, we’d likely come to the conclusion that these aren’t so much needs as things that we want, we desire, we’ve convinced ourselves that we need to be happy, more efficient, a good cook, a better parent, an attractive woman, or whatever the case may be.

Relishing the simple task of hanging laundry out to dry.

I don’t want to get all philosophical and deep on you (or is it too late for that?). What I will say is that this year of traveling is confronting my so-called “need” for things on an almost daily basis.

(Sidenote: If you want to kick your own butt in the whole needs vs. wants debate, read the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess while traveling the world. Ouch.)

When I’m being honest about it, I need far less than I would prefer to believe that I do. Need is such a relative and ambiguous term, and our wants creep in so stealthily until the distinction between need and want becomes smudged and smeared and so mixed up that we can’t make out the black from white, but only a blurry mess of gray.

I don’t need perfect kitchen utensils and appliances. I don’t need the ideal baby bed. My kids don’t need a room full of toys and gadgets. Our tastebuds and stomachs don’t require a pantry and fridge with an endless array of ingredients and seasonings.

Just the other day, my husband was telling me that traveling like this was a superb way to stop caring so much about all of our stuff. I would have to 100% agree with that smart man I married. Only 6 weeks into our year-long travels, I feel like my grip on things is loosening at a surprising rate, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Need vs. want… how do you discern between the two? And I’d love to hear stories of creative solutions you’ve used in order to make do with what you had!

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. What a fantastic post! I think you are spot on with the distinction between needs and wants and how they seem to blend into each other.

    We are planning an o/s trip next year, 6 months in the US, including about 3 months road tripping & camping, and the rest in one place. And I am hoping that learning more about the difference between our wants and needs will be a big part of it. Starting with packing up our house either to rent out or have a house sitter – I’ve already started talking to the kids about what they will care about enough to pack away (in limited space) and what they would rather sell/giveaway/toss.

    But travelling and getting by with what we have – that will be a much bigger eye opener I think, and the road tripping part of it in a different way to the staying-in-one place part. It’s always amazing when you are camping to realise how little you need in the way or creature comforts or just Stuff to be happy – but doing that for a few days is different to a few months.

    Anyway, thanks for your thought provoking post. I will be very interested to read more as your year goes on.

  2. Three days ago, I read this article. Since then, it’s come to mind each time I think about something I “need” that I don’t have.
    Yes, that’s right! I don’t really need it.
    Thanks for the reminder to hug my girls, love my man, be thankful for what I have, … and enjoy LIFE.
    Many, many thanks, Stephanie.

  3. When we first moved to China our apartment didn’t have a sink (either in the “kitchen” or bathroom) for over a month. It had a shower and a toilet, but no sink, so doing dishes in a wash bucket in the bathroom it was. And I learned to make granola in a rice cooker, bread and birthday cake in a crock pot, and pizza in a wok. Totally thankful for my too low kitchen sink and tiny toaster over that heats unevenly now.

    Wouldn’t trade the lessons learned for anything though. One of the best I’ve learned is home is where my family is. :)

    Hope you have safe and joyful travels.

  4. This was a great post – thank you. I’ve been contemplating logistics of taking my family abroad next summer but – what do you do about carseats? Do you just stick to trains and buses instead of taxis or rentals? It doesn’t sound like it matters in Argentina for you but will it be a problem when you start going thru Europe?

  5. Stephanie says:

    How inspirational! How brave you are.
    My husband and I used to do 18th century reenactment and would spend alot of weekends reenacting armies on the move authentically ie without modern conveniences. Those short times taught me alot about myself and how much I (needlessly) depend on 21st century “stuff”. But I applaud you committing to it for a whole year. Best of luck and keep writing.

  6. It’s so ironinc that a friend would forward this blog post to me today! On the drive into work this morning (hours before I read this post) I was thinking about the semester my husband and I took our 6 year old and 4 month old to live in a tiny Italian village. We had a 3-burner stove, a toaster oven, and a tiny fridge in our little corner of the living room designated as the kitchen. We lived with so very little STUFF. I was wondering this morning if I was able to do that because I knew that all my stuff (my lovely wedding china, my assortment of pretty serving dishes, my Burberry loafers) was waiting patiently in our home for my return to the US. Or was I able to do this simply because I don’t need so much stuff after all? I’m still not sure, but I know this. I am certainly able to live with less for short bursts of time – a semester, a 6-week mission trip, a summer in London. Could I do it forever? Probably not yet.

  7. I love all these updates and the pictures! :-) You are SO brave, Stephanie!

  8. Stephanie, I loved this post! It’s so neat to see that you’ve been able to make due and at the same time appreciate the things you do have, like that wonderful immersion blender :D Sweet blessings, friend!!

  9. cindredm says:

    excellent discussion! Especially amongst those that do already strive to lead simpler lives- until we force ourselves into a situation that requires we ‘really’ live with less, we probably are living with more than we need than we think we are.
    As a sidenote: except in western cultures, most babies sleep with their mothers. I find it particularly frustrating when people assume that co-sleeping will create dependant/needy children. Our infants/children are already dependant on us, our role is to guide them into independence as they develop and grow.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing! It really does put things into perspective when you are put into a situation that requires real needs and not the would like to needs. Wonderful how God provides for both. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences, they are challenging to me.

  11. rachel joy says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I’m amazed at what your family is doing! I just had a nice visit with our mutual friend Renee!

    I just heard about this portable travel baby bed, the PeaPod, and was amazed, wishing I’d had it with my little ones. It sure goes down small, but not sure if it’s small enough for what you need … http://www.amazon.ca/PeaPod-Lite-Travel-Bed-Tangerine/dp/B004B1OYK6

  12. This brings back so many memories of our family’s years of living all over the place in Costa Rica.
    I “made do” a lot and it was very frustrating at times but excellent preparation for my life as a mama on a very tight budget later on in the US and even now as a mama of many with a slightly less tight budget…

  13. Jennifer K. says:

    Thanks for sharing this…really touched me (especially the picture of “all your worldly possessions”)!

  14. I just finished reading 7 as well and it has definitely got me thinking. I think a good perspective that my husband frequently reminds me when I am complaining or over-analyzing is that he will say, “I think that’s a first-world problem!” If it’s a first-world problem, like what color should I buy, then it’s probably falling into the want category.

  15. Wow! This post has given me a lot to think about. I thought I was doing good at paring down our “needs vs wants” but now I think I could do better. Thank you!! :)

  16. Bethany says:

    http://rollybrook.com/kitchen.htm was something I looked at when preparing to travel to Mexico for a week & cook on our own. I don’t know how many of the regional terms would be helpful for you, but perhaps it’s a place to start?

  17. Great post! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.

  18. Tricia Kolsto says:

    I cannot begin to tell you how much your blog blesses and inspires me.

    Thanks for you and your family!

  19. I so resonate with this post! I lived in South Korea for 3 years. Met my husband there. Lived in very small square footage with very few personal effects. When we left Korea to return to the States, we owned nothing (we left everything behind)… and it was awesome. Our honeymoon we backpacked in Eastern Europe for a month. Now that we’re back in the States, we still don’t own a home – intentionally – should the Lord want us to move yet again. Isn’t it great when stuff doesn’t have its grip on you?!

    Praying you find complete freedom from the shackles of “stuff” on this trip!

  20. I would love to hear all the ways that you used your stick blender. I just (meaning yesterday) received one for my birthday and have no idea where to begin to use it. It came with a whisk and chopper attachment. Would you ever do a whole post on it? Thanks.

    • This post is super relevant to me. I have had a big struggle with want versus need since my move to New Zealand 2 years ago. I thought my food and personal goods choices wouldn’t change that much…but they did! There are many less options (and less cheap options here!). I am a spoiled American for sure!
      Thank you for writing this post. I get the most stressed out about my children: cheepo used beds, having enough toys and wanting better wholesome food. It’s encouraging to see you do it with less! It reminds me I need to relax and let God provide for our true needs!!

      • whoops, meant to post this in the general section, Kelly! But, anyway…I immigrated with my stick blender – that’s how serious I am about it!! (I only brought clothes otherwise).
        And to think that I had no idea what it was 4 years ago when I got married! Someone gifted it to me and I RETURNED it! Haha!

  21. I really like this. I used to find this same thing while backpacking in the mountains (hiking and camping). I had everything I needed in my backpack. It helped me focus on what was really needed.

    I am in a situation now where we moved and we no longer have things we used to have. I used to own a house, now I am renting. Granted, its a really nice rental place, even though its not what we prefer or are used to. Things like my dishwasher, big counter space, clothesline, backyard of our own (we now just have a small shared grass area that we can’t put anything on), large storage shelves and space for it, are no more. But, we have MUCH more than we need and we could do with much, much less. Its tempting to focus on the “used to have” and miss the blessings of what we do have. But its also made me feel like I have to be way more creative. Less counter space means my dirty dishes get stacked in a plastic dish basin, so I can easily remove it and use that space. We’ve gotten rid of stuff (and more is needed to be gone through) even though I already got rid of lots. We are working on the no yard thing. I want my children to be able to play unstructured outside, so I have been racking my brain for creative ways to do this with no yard but just that small grass. We do have parks, another blessing.

    All this has taught me, too, that its about choosing (yes, choosing even when I don’t want to at first) attitudes, (again and again until it becomes normal to do so) focusing on the blessings and realizing that we are actually very blessed.

    Thank you for sharing this. It is very encouraging.

  22. Christi says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for bringing things into perspective by sharing your experiences!

  23. I am extremely humbled. Thank you

  24. What an awesome post! It sounds like you are learning more than you probably ever dreamed of when you set out on this journey! I’m still jealous! Thanks for sharing your insights! You are right on! All I need is the people I love by my side, the air in my lungs, some clothes on my back, access to food. I think the rest we could figure out just fine! God bless!

  25. “7″ will rock your world even if you are not traveling. :-)
    Blessings on the journey!

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