Here we are in the year 2021, in one of the most educated countries in the world, and yet, most Americans struggle to understand that there is a difference between the very simple words want and need. I’m not going to bore you with the dictionary definitions. If you’re here reading this, I presume you already have a pretty good handle on the topic. Minimalism is, after all, an assessment of our wants and needs and a reduction of both.
If you’ve been around this blog a while, you know that one of our biggest challenges has always been in conveying the “why” of our lifestyle to our families, at least in a way that they can understand. It’s not because we lack the words or the data to back us up, so I can only assume they (still) feel our choices are somehow an affront to their own beliefs. Which they are not. We’ve been frugal, dumpster-diving, low impact/zero-waste, seize-the-day minimalists for nearly a decade now and never once have we shoved it down anyone’s throat. But, alas, the same cannot always be said for the reverse.
Before you continue reading though, I feel the need to add the following disclaimer: Please know, we are not here to condemn anyone else’s choices. You may feel differently about what I’m about to say, and that’s okay. We respect that everyone is unique and different. We also know that not everyone comes from a dysfunctional family and that some of the following conversations and gestures would be viewed differently if we did not. In fact, we have friends who lovingly gift their children things all the time, including some of the very things we mention below, but those gifts don’t carry added weight, and more often than not, the child is a part of the decision making process. We love our families; they are not evil people, but they are also not always well-meaning either. Every gift has strings. Every lecture is a way of putting us in our place and making us feel like the dependent children they still think we are. And lately, we’ve been lectured a lot. So much so, that we feel like we’re been slapped around in a circle by their interpretation of what we need in our life, and we wanted to talk it out just a bit…
We do not NEED a new pet. Nor do we want one, at least not right now. We loved Caesar (and Missy Dog, who passed in 2015) and we were saddened by their deaths, but long ago we decided that we wanted a break from pets when they were gone. Both of these amazing little creatures were gifts, and though we received much enjoyment from them over the years, they were not a responsibility that we chose. They were a responsibility that we accepted and fulfilled to the best of our ability, as one often does when they receive the gift of a pet, but let’s be clear, they were nonetheless a responsibility. Since Caesar passed in January, we have thwarted three attempts to give us another pet. Please, keep your pets! We will admire them and cuddle them when we visit, but we will not be bringing one home to live with us. And folks, seriously, please don’t give pets as gifts! You may think you are doing something sweet and filling a need you perceive someone else to have, but what you’re really doing is giving someone added responsibility. It’s unfair to the person and in a lot of cases unfair to the pet.
We do not NEED mementoes of Caesar’s death. I worked in marketing for the pet industry for nearly a decade right after college, so trust me when I say – pets are a booming business! From the time you bring them home to the time they depart, there’s almost no end to the stuff you can buy for them, and no end to the costs that you can incur because of them. We knew Caesar was at the end of his life. He was 18 years old and had lived with thyroid and liver problems for 2 years longer than the vet originally thought he would. We did not know he’d be ready to go on a Sunday morning, when no vets were open to help ease his suffering though.
After some searching, we found a mobile vet that was willing to drive the 20 minutes from Nashville to see us at home for a fee of $500 (which we declined) and an emergency vet in Nashville that was willing to see us immediately if we made the drive. When we arrived, we were offered a plethora of upgrades, which, to this very moment, still has me perplexed. Where does one even come up with the idea to upgrade a death experience??? Needless to say, we declined the private ceremony and having his ashes placed a keepsake box. and left with empty hands and an empty wallet (to the tune of $260.50).
When we arrived home, instead of being greeted with tissues and condolences, we were asked why we didn’t get Caesar’s ashes. We went over all our reasons – the ashes aren’t Caesar anymore, we have lots of memories and photos, etc., but the only thing anyone heard us say was, “that would have been $300 more”. It was at this point that our family decided that we “must be broke” (once again). So, not only did we get offers to pay for Caesar’s private cremation but we got a lecture on how we should have been better prepared for such expenses. Not the vet bill, mind you, the cost of the ashes! Seriously folks, there’s no need to prepare for such expenses, if you don’t want them in the first place! Caesar is gone. Dusting his ashes every week is not going to make him any less dead, nor is it going to make our memories of him any fonder.
We do not NEED a second car. Just when you thought this whole post was going to be about our dearly departed cat, turns out, we had to have this conversation too. Let me start with a little history. For a long time when I lived in Denver, I didn’t even own a car. I rode a scooter in the summer and took a bus to get where I wanted to go in the winter. It was only in 2010, when a friend offered to sell me her one-owner Toyota Celica for $400, that I got a car. When Angie and I moved in together, we decided two cars was one too many for our eco-loving lifestyle, so we sold the Celica. Fast forward several years and we still only have one car. That’s all we need, and we don’t even need it all the time.
This week, we were offered the opportunity to choose a brand new vehicle for free. We turned it down. This is the second time we’ve done this. Not only did the family member making this offer think we were nuts, so did a lot (ok, most if not all) of our other family members too. Several folks begged us to reconsider, saying, “BUT YOU NEED a second car!” When I asked them why though, not a one could give me a reasonable answer.
We do not need another car to insure, another car to maintain, another car to sit in the parking lot 154+ hours a week, another car to increase our environmental impact. I get that a lot of people would jump at this offer but that’s not who we are. We thought about buying our current car for two years before we did it and we paid it off in just two months. There’s a bit of pride in ownership that’s tied to our car and neither of us wanted to sell it to accept the other car, nor did we want two cars. Call us crazy, we’re okay with that.
There’s nothing wrong with gifting something to someone, provided they want the gift. If they don’t, we all need to learn to be okay with that. People shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into taking something they don’t want in order to please the gift-giver, nor should they feel defensive, frustrated, or downright crappy when they refuse. Because we don’t want the gift, does not mean that we don’t care about the giver. It simply means that we’ve made choices for our own life that don’t include the things that they are trying to give us. But…
There are some gifts we will never turn down. Give us a little time from your day, a warm hug, a good laugh, a bit of encouragement, a shared meal, or even just a smile. That’s all we really want, not your stuff or your money (or another lecture, please!).