Sana Naz, a student of Professor Jamie Olson at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, “Growing Up in a Kenyan Slum Taught Me the Real Value of Stuff,” by Simon Okelo, a story about learning to live with less in the midst of abundance. She is our college winner for the Fall 2013 writing competition.
Writing prompt: Simon Okelo, who grew up in Kenya, had to relearn what “enough” means. He came to appreciate the volume of options at Costco, but practiced restraint to purchase just what he needed. Imagine that you simplified your life. What things would you choose to pare down or get rid of? What might change for you? What might change for society if other people did this?
Need or Want
There is a thin, delicate line that distinguishes needs from wants, and for most of us the line is blurry. The field of wants is so enormous that once a person enters it, the abundance of choices engulfs the person. The secret of a satisfied life is to choose what we need, not what we want. In the YES! Magazine article, “Growing Up in a Kenyan Slum Taught Me the Real Value of Stuff,” the author Simon Okelo genuinely knew the satisfaction of buying things with his own hard-earned money. For a person like Simon, who later moved to America with his wife, it was very easy to be lured into a buying frenzy upon seeing rows of beautifully displayed items in the grocery stores. Simon’s control over his spending is very inspirational for me because he maintained his thrifty purchasing habits even when he had the power to buy lavish things. He achieved the real art of spending money by examining his needs, not his wants.
Simon’s feeling of amazement upon seeing thousands of affordable items in Costco is very similar to my personal experience when I came to America. In my country of Pakistan, the grocery stores are filled with things stuffed in small packages that can be consumed in a short period of time; they also have very few sales promotions. When I first went to the American grocery stores, their fascinating offers and variety of products drove me to impulse buying. Filling my cabinet with things I actually didn’t need made me recall my simple consumption habits in Pakistan. I looked into my overflowing cupboards and thought that the food dumped in there might be priceless to those who are suffering from hunger. This realization was the turning point of my purchasing habits in America. Paring down my wants and buying just what I need gave me the highest level of satisfaction. Unlike those who are struggling to fulfill their basic needs, for me, simplifying my life is a way of being thankful for being able to have enough of everything.
Just like Simon’s beloved pair of brown shorts, I also had few clothes when I was in my country. But when I came to America, my closet and dresser started filling up with clothes that seemed attractive at the time I bought them. In less than six months shirts, cardigans, and jeans got buried under newly purchased clothes, and I soon forgot about the old ones. This impulse buying continued until one day I saw piles of clothes stuffed in my dresser. I asked myself, “Do I really need all those items?” I realized they could be useful to someone else, so, I gave some of my unwanted dresses to a used clothing store.
The same can be said about food. Buying food just because it comes in fancy packaging is not a wise decision. Buying unhealthy food in fancy packaging is even worse—it’s like buying poison. I shouldn’t spend money on food I don’t want to eat or food that is unhealthy for me. It’s better not to buy it than to put it in my refrigerator and let it—and my body—go bad.
As individuals, it may seem like an insignificant act to cut down on our wants, but, as a whole, our collective effort can make a great impact on people who are living below the poverty line. A simple reduction of our grocery lists might contribute to fighting hunger all over the world. There is a broader aspect to this little effort of paring down our wants, which may help those who can only imagine buying what we don’t even care for. In the words of marketing and business, if the demand increases, the price goes up. We, as consumers, are the people who actually set the demand for anything that is available on the market. If we all put our efforts towards limiting our purchasing habits, we can cut down the demand for goods that are wanted, but not necessary. With this effort we can help reduce the price of goods, and make them affordable to those who are struggling.