Distinguishing Needs & Wants

Distinguishing Needs and Wants


What’s the difference between a need and a want. And does it matter? I want this, I need this. I have to have this. If I don’t get this, I’ll die. #needthis has 300k plus posts on Instagram. It’s a bit fuzzy, you get the picture.

I’ve been there. Perhaps we all have in some form! For me, it was when the Pixel 3 came out this past fall. I want it. No, I need it. Having just upgraded to a Pixel 2 a year prior, it seemed a bit much to upgrade again. I asked myself, do I really need the next new phone? Do I really need a phone, really?

In my everyday speaking I’ve completely collapsed these two words “need” and “want” into the same meaning, and I’m afraid this has disempowered real needs.


On a spectrum or completely separate?

Years ago I product managed a college application program for Chinese students. We brought 40 Chinese students aged 13-17 to the US to look at colleges and learn about the US college admissions process and requirements – far different from those in China.

One of the goals a teacher had suggested was making a list of needs and a list of wants, where needs were absolute must haves and wants were those “I can live without”. This is pretty common when making a college list, and a great way to put things in perspective.

As I thought about it, I’d say I need to have a school with a robust study abroad program, that requires students to study a foreign language, and good food in the dining hall. I want newer dorms and free parking on campus. You get the idea.

This makes some progress in ranking a need to a want, yet by keeping a need and a want on the same spectrum it seems to robs the word “need” of its real power.


Does this matter anyway?

Language has real power. Consider Helen Keller. In her autobiography she writes that she didn’t become fully conscious until she understood and got language. “Until that day my mind had been like a darkened chamber, waiting for words to enter and light the lamp, which is thought.” It’s in language that we make all our decisions and have our own internal thoughts about what’s important day to day. It’s in this frame that I argue considering the meaning behind the word is essential.

Don’t worry. I am not challenging you to eliminate the word “need” and use it only if it’s a real need. That’s pretty extreme. I only ask that we recognize it when we say it — is this really something we need?


What’s Next

It’s with this in mind that I started NeedvWant.com. Vote on products that walk that fine line between Need and Want. Yes, it is true: you probably most definitely don’t *need* anything on this site. But that doesn’t mean you can’t want them…

I’m pledging 10% of gross profits from NeedvWant to one of the three following areas. We’d love to hear from you on where you think the greatest need is.



A protected and enclosed place to call one’s own. A home. Providing a roof and address for homeless in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s with an address that people can feel safe to pursue living a life rather than just surviving.



A warm meal that will make sure those that are hungry are fed. A full belly to focus on other things in life rather than just surviving.



Access to clean and sanitary drinking water that is not polluted. Supporting efforts for advocacy and action in South Central Los Angeles. Many Americans take for granted that the water coming from their tap is clean and potable, how would your life be different if you could get sick from it?


Follow us as we dig into the organizations that are working on fulfilling these needs, how everyone can help out, and how we’re making an impact.