For some people, this question is challenging to answer. They think "Oh, I just couldn't live without my iPhone." Perhaps they are correct. Perhaps they can't. They have so normalized wants as needs they can no longer tell the difference. But for me the answer is simple. I ask myself, is this something I can live without? If this thing did not exist would I die? This post by Sean Patterson sparked my response. I didn't read what he wrote until after writing my own thoughts but it seems we agree.
Needs are those things that I literally can't live without. Needs are those things that if I did not have them I would die. Here is a short list.
That last list item is very dependent on satisfying the first four. Without food, air and water I cannot sustain my body. I would die. Without oxygen within minutes, I would pass out. Shortly after that, I would be brain dead. Dead like in ... dead.
A healthy well-hydrated human being can survive a few days without water. A healthy human being can survive a few weeks without food.Either way, without food or water, you will die; often in a most painful way.
Humans are mammals. Mammalian bodies can self-regulate temperature. Still, humans prefer warmth over cold. Without shelter from the elements we succumb to fatigue, health deteriorates and we soon perish.
Health is affected by access to enough nutritious food and clean water to sustain the body, clean air and suitable shelter.
These are the things I need to thrive. Remove any one of them and I die.
But some people confuse wants for things non-essential to these five things as needs. I all too often hear people say they need a new car. Or they need a new computer when in fact they mean want. Get your shit straight. Those are not needs. You won't die if you drive an older car. You won't die if you don't own a computer.
For my wife and me, these five needs are the most important needs. We focus most of our income on ensuring those needs are met in the best way. We buy whole nutritious foods; mostly organic. We avoid many packaged goods. We have a water filtration system in our kitchen and attached to the fridge. We encourage our kids -- and we do the same -- to drink water instead of soda. We do our best to avoid polluting the air. I think we have adequate shelter. It's large than what we need but given where we live this is what's available. We do our best to maintain healthy habits especially since both of us have chronic illnesses1.
We have what we need. All else is just want.