Why We Want the Things We Want

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why it is we want the things we want. In the material sense and also in the life sense. Wanting what everyone else wants is the basis for trends and perhaps is used (albeit inappropriately) in our society to gauge social status.

Why is it that so many of us are prone to look around and want what everyone else has?

I’m particularly prone to getting fomo, the comprises, and wanting the same things everyone else seems to want. It’s something I really dislike about myself. I’d make a terrible hipster.

I pondered this one day last week as I walked to work in a sea of Herschel backpacks. Have you seen them? They are nothing fancy. Nothing about them seems to make them worthy of being double the cost of a Jansport. And yet they’re the backpack to have these days (if you’re the backpack wearing type – which I am). So naturally, I want one. But really…WHY?

And that alone is why I haven’t bought one. I can’t figure out why. Am I so content going along with what everyone else has, wanting what they want, doing what they do? It’s a whole new level of basic (Are we still saying basic? No? Meh).

It got me thinking a lot about engagements, weddings, and other life events. I don’t know if this is true of everyone but in our friend group there was a several month span where nearly everyone got engaged. I like to think it was because we’d all been dating similar amounts of time (i.e. since after college, about 4 years for most of us at that point). But was it really because everyone else was doing it? Did we all just look at each other and think, well if they did it, we should too?

That’s not the reason we got engaged or married. I know it isn’t (it was the whole, I love N and feel sure I always will thing). But still, if we’re all floating in the same river, are we being pulled in the same direction?

How do you know if you want something because you want it or because everyone else has it?

I want to buy a house. I know I do. I also know that I feel a sense of urgency that I wouldn’t feel if we didn’t have friends who owned their houses. The fear of falling behind or having to listen to another lecture about how renting is just “throwing your money away” makes me want to stalk Zillow like a mad woman, lusting after homes that realistically cannot be ours right now.

The same goes for babies. I have several friends who are pregnant right now. My best friend is due any day. I won’t deny that I feel that pull. But I also won’t bring a tiny human into the world until we’re 100% (okay, 95%) sure that we’re ready and want a baby because we are prepared to raise a good human and not just because everyone else is having one.

I think this extends to travel too. As I look at friends, bloggers, and instagrammers who travel the world, I feel the pull to travel. But is it because I really want to travel? Do I want to see that place, have that experience? Or is it because it’s what I think I should be doing. It’s what I think I should want. After all, won’t I appear more worldly, be viewed in a more positive light by others if I’m well-traveled? If my social media is plastered with stunning photographs from around the world? This isn’t reason enough. What if I (*gasp*) just want to stay in Philadelphia for a while? Visit family more. Spend time with the people who are important to me. In the moments of envy I try to step back and think…where do I want to go? What do I need to see of this world to feel like I’ve lived a complete life?

I think it takes a lot of introspection to decide why you want the things you want. I’m trying to do this more lately, especially as we try to save money to make that house thing happen. Do I want this item because I need it? Does it bring me joy? I’ve never read the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that the whole “does it bring me joy?” thing comes from but I feel like that question alone is pretty helpful. It’s about material possessions, desires, and appearances but most importantly, it’s about figuring out what you value.

So for now I’m using the free backpack that I got from work, plastered with the hospital logo. We’re buying less and being cautious about our choices with material things and life things. We talk things over more and ponder our end goals. I think it’s brought us closer. I want to know that I want the things that I want because I want them. Not because of what other people have but because we’ve made conscious, thoughtful decisions.

p.s. I hope this post came across as kind of a “Nadine ponders something via the internet” (was it…dare I say it…how blogging used to be?) and not “douchy blogger gets up on her high-horse or tries too hard to be deep”. My fingers are crossed that you saw it that way.

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  • Bri Bliss

    So two things… my mom gave me the book The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up as a “joke.” Except it wasn’t really a joke, because our house leans less towards tidy & more towards we have kids who actually live here. I did read parts of it, and I have to admit that sometimes less is more. We donated two LARGE bags of toys & clothes right after Christmas. The house was just full of stuff & it was killing me. Do I miss any of that stuff? No.

    Second, I’m the worst at wanting things just because everyone else has it. It was far worse before I had kids, because I had more disposable income. Now that we pay for daycare, dance classes, etc. it’s easier to say no to a Tory Burch bag or the latest pair of Lululemon leggings. I promise. It’ll get easier.

    And I guess this is three things, but I’m so glad you’re back. Missed you.

    • Thanks so much, Bri. I think I do a pretty good job of being a minimalist but I still struggle with wanting what everyone else wants. Without kids, we have the disposable income but keeping your eye on the big stuff (like saving for a house) is a challenge when the little stuff is right in front of you. I’m pretty good at walking away from things I don’t need, I just lust after them later.

  • I totally get this feeling. I think I’m lucky for having grown up with less, I can look at things like that backpack and ask the same question, why Should I have that and how would it actually benefit my life? I have done without so many things over the years, and sometimes it was hard, but I really feel like it has given me a stronger idea of what I actually want from little things to larger life decisions. I still get that pull, mainly to travel as much as so many of my friends are, but then I ask those same questions and it helps me remember what actually makes my life full. For me it is settling down, with kids, and a farm, not traveling, even though it would be totally fun, I know I’d really miss the other stuff, and we can’t afford both. PS: I think we need more posts like this. You know with feelings and thoughts, not just sales and how tos.

    • I don’t know how so many people seem to do both – settle down and get the house/kids and travel too. I really don’t. Because we both have good jobs and there is just no way we could be traveling internationally on a yearly basis and saving for a house. I think living in the city makes you automatically more careful about what you buy because there just isn’t the space. We have the smallest closet so anytime I buy something, I get rid of something else. At this point, I’ve got a pretty functional closet of clothes that I consistently wear. We are kind of forced to have less because we have less space. I think it’s a good thing.

  • Lauren Harrelson

    Had to google ‘herschel backpack’ 🙂

    • Well huh…maybe it’s a Philly thing? I can’t imagine that it is though cause they are sold at Urban Outfitters all over. Who knows. I’m still rocking my free backpack haha.

  • I get this way a lot. I see cool things other people have and think I need to have it too. I’m trying to do better about it, especially in 2017. Big changes for me this year.

    • It’s hard to not compare yourself to other people, especially in our world of sharing on social media. I guess back in the day, you couldn’t really see what everyone else had so literally, the way we do now.

  • And I too googled Herschel backpack. Ha!

    • Once you googled it, did they look familiar? I swear they are everywhere here.

  • For me it was a Longchamp. I really love bags in general, so it wasn’t a stretch, but I had never even heard about them until I saw it on a blog. Suddenly, I kinda wanted one although I didn’t act on it. In fact, I had to google it to remember the name!! But the desire was there just because I saw it on a blog. We are sheep I tell you. SHEEP!!! I think it’s a natural thing, but I don’t know why.

    • I totally had a Longchamp phase as well! I talked about it so much and went back and forth a million times that my best friend finally bought me one as a gift. They aren’t anything too special, design wise, but everyone had one and I wanted one too.

  • This was totally Nadine ponders something on the Internet, and not being on a high horse. So, no worries. And don’t you miss how blogging used to be? I know I do. Anyways….

    Yes. I feel like this a lot. With me, it’s books. (No surprise there I’m sure.) But with being on booktube and I see all of the books people are hyped about I’m all “I NEED THE BOOK TOO!” But when i really look at it… do I? Do i really? Or I see cute outfits on Pinterest and I’m all “yes, I need the thing” but I don’t really need the thing. I don’t even wear the things I’m seeing! Why would I want it?

    • See I don’t think it’s really that bad with books. Like, what’s the worst that can come of that? You reading more and being more cultured. I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself about that one. I’ve accepted the fact with clothing that I’m just a more simple girl. I like buying quality staples and making sure everything in my closet can be worn with lots of things. It’s still hard to see the fashion bloggers and whatnot looking all decked out every day. Like, where do they keep all that stuff? My closet is teeny tiny!

  • Emily

    This post was so refreshing. I feel like I needed this, thank you!

    • Thank you for reading!

  • This is so true, I have to be conscious of it a lot and I think it makes the things I do buy better because they really are what I want, not just because I saw them somewhere.

    • My strategy lately has been to make a list in my phone of things I really want – a new hair dryer, a pair of clogs, etc. If it’s been on my list for over a week AND I find a really good deal, I’ll go for it. But I try to avoid impulse buys.

  • I’m the same way, there are a lot of items and things out there that hold the same purpose but are set at completely different values. We see others wanting it, and that creates an idea in our mind that we want it too. It’s a weird cycle. I’m trying to breakaway from it myself. But it’s definitely a topic that we all can reflect on and learn from it.

    McKenzie | maybemckenzie.com

    • Absolutely. I try not to get too caught up in it but we all have our moments.

  • I feel the same way about a lot of things, but I sometimes find it even more frustrating when people almost EXPECT us to want something. I haven’t moved far away from my hometown. Bigger city, sure, but just a half hour commute away. People seem to want me to want to move away. (That sentence doesn’t sound right, but I think you get the idea.) It’s like, I’m 30! There are big things out there! I’m settling if I don’t move away! Don’t be so scared! And I get that. I do. I get the idea of moving to a new state or whatever, but at the same time… It’s not that I’m scared to move away from my home. I have a job I love, and I’m close to people I love. Why would I throw that away just because other people think moving far away is a good idea? Have I missed out on a grand adventure? Possibly! But why should I feel bad about being happy where I am?

    • You shouldn’t. I think our culture really values individualism and people “finding themselves”. Sometimes you don’t need to move away or travel extensively to know who you are. If you value your family and the community you’ve created, that is more than okay. You didn’t have to move away or do anything outside the box to figure out what you value. You already knew.

  • It’s this kind of post that makes me love your blog. Sometimes I feel the instant urge to buy things I don’t really need, just because they look pretty on other people (or, they look pretty in a photo). This post is such a great reminder.

  • There’s also a part of The Happiness Project where Gretchen Rubin talks about how she has to “Be Gretchen” and she spends time trying to figure out that even though other people really want to travel, she might be more of a homebody, or some people really want to read all these adult books, but she really wants to read young adult books. Definitely easier said than done though. Definitely need to spend some time working on that myself.

  • Love posts like these! We just bought a house and there have been some things that I’m wondering if I like something because it’s my style or because it’s trendy. Taking things slow and waiting until I feel confident.

  • I just had this conversation with some friends at kids. Almost all of my friends in relationships are pregnant – there must be something in the water. We are not ready to have kids but my husband asked if I feel left out. And honestly, I kind of do. All of my friends are sharing an experience and I’m on the outside. But then I remember what that experience is and remember that I (we) are in NO WAY ready for that.

  • You hit the nail on the head. I feel as a society that we often think things that are on trend you gotta have but at the end of the day, does it even add any value to our lives? Probably not. I wouldn’t want to do things just because others are doing it. That just makes me feel sad because I’m not well traveled, don’t have the latest and greatest and that’s ok. I rather spend time with family/friends and make my own memories where I can, instead of thinking about what I’m missing. Great post Nadine! Love that you’re back 🙂

  • SO well-said, Nadine! It seems like a lot of things are happening at once for a huge number of people and it totally makes you question where you are in life. I definitely think it’s important for us all to focus on our own timing + making sure it’s something we want instead of just FOMO!

  • Nadine…this is a great post and I’m so happy you’re back. I missed your voice…it’s refreshing in this blogging world that’s full of fluffy non-posts and how-tos. The how-to is good every once in a while, but substance is something I crave.

    also herschel backpacks are bullshit.

  • Thanks for the post Nadine. I can’t agree with you more… I had the similar realization awhile ago, that I didn’t want a life that everyone else have or aim to have or expect me to have, but felt embarrassed to say it out loud because I am afraid of all the “judgement” I’d have to deal with personally and professionally. Some recent changes prompted me to come out of that closet and now I’m exploring the life that I want to have. It’s a little scary but so far so good. One very liberating change: I stopped wearing make up. Amazingly good for the skin, and really cut down on all the spending that goes with it. 🙂

    sharon | robe and slippers

  • Smiley Lazy Mama

    I just found your blog and so glad I read this post. I was just thinking the same thing.
    I’ve been really wanting so many stuff recently and I was wondering the same thing. I want to have less stuff, yet I want so many things that other people have. And this post is such a great reminder. Thank you for great post.

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