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Need or want? What’s the difference? And which is more important?

My sisters and I have always had a joke…well, I say always. But in truth, it has to have started at some point round about the early 90s. I know that because I was, in all probability, a teenager at the time. Like most of our jokes and rituals though, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how, where, when or why they began. The point is, that they stuck around. And to almost anyone who isn’t a Gordon girl by birth, they mean nothing.

I digress. The joke I was trying to share was about needing something or wanting it. It’s not so much a joke. It’s really more of a habitual saying; something we use to encourage one another to be kind to ourselves every once in a while. It won’t translate in writing, so I will leave it at that for now. I’m going to explain why I’m suddenly considering so carefully something I’ve been saying as a reflex response for over two decades.

At the end of half term, I decided to take myself off to the ice rink. I hadn’t really switched off or wound down much over the break, and my head didn’t move far out of work mode. That’s the trouble with all the hat juggling – it makes school holidays the perfect time to catch any slippage and spin a few extra plates to keep everything ticking over, and prepare things for the coming half term. I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t want things any other way. But it’s a fact that self-employment and fingers in lots of pies teamed with full-time school employment don’t make for a restful life. Even when the school clock switches off.

I vowed, when I learnt to figure skate for the Doni-Ice fundraiser in 2012,  that I wouldn’t let my newly acquired skill and passion fall by the wayside. I am ashamed to say that I haven’t skated in over a year. There’s always a reason why I don’t make it to the rink: it’s expensive, I’ve got lots of planning to do, those essays need marking…in other words, I really don’t need to go!

I’m positive I’m not alone. Count up how many times you have fallen into a trance in the Starbucks queue, drooling over some sticky gooey cake or other, telling yourself that you’ll just have the skinny cappuccino because you really don’t need the cake. Ask yourself how frequently you walk through House of Fraser (substitute for name of favourite store – mine’s actually White Stuff) circling the same section of rails for far longer than is needed, clutching the pair of jeans that fit like a glove, but arguing adamantly with yourself that you should put them back because you just don’t need them right now. 

I’m sitting doing it as I type. While I was getting my clothes out ready for work, as I lay them out in the spare room for my quiet early routine, I noticed I hadn’t taken the label off my new sweatshirt yet. Why? Because there is still every chance that I will lose to the buyers remorse gremlin in me, and succumb to the voice that says I really didn’t need another jumper. I didn’t need that 1 o’clock in the morning rice cake snacking session. But I was hungry and I ran out of time for dinner, so I had it. I didn’t need to buy myself a new vegan chocolate spread either. And I most certainly didn’t need to open the jar the other day, and plunge it with a spoon.

So why are we so pre-occupied with what we need? And what even constitutes need? If something gives us happiness, satisfaction and pleasure, no matter how short-lived, isn’t that enough to say we needed it?

To come back to the ice skating, I didn’t even make it onto the ice the other day. I got there and the queue was pouring out onto the street. I took one look at the heaving mass of off-school youngsters, clocked just how much extra time waiting would add to the time I was already losing from my day, and I promptly marched back up to my car and went home. Because I didn’t need to give up so much of my day to doing something I love doing. I’m emboldening that because I realise, as I type it, how ridiculous it sounds.

So yes, need and want are two entirely different things. There are certain things I need to do, or need not to do, to keep my Crohn’s disease at bay. But there is a list at least six times as long, of things I want to do, just because I can!. It’s ok to want something that might not do us good, just as it’s ok for us to want to meditate and shake the weariness of the day. While there are very few things in life that we 100% need, it doesn’t mean their value is in any way compromised. In fact, my beautiful maternal grandmother used to have a saying that she shared with us frequently. It too, must have started somewhere.  All I know, is that it goes like this: A little bit of what you fancy does you good. 

She was wise as well as beautiful, my Grandma. And it’s true. It’s time to start thinking less about what is needed, and more about what is wanted. It’s time to accept that we are worthy of our wants, and to indulge those is more a case of survival than it is a…well…an indulgence.

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