March 30, 2012

The 9 Basic Needs

In the same spirit as our Family Mission Statement and Family Rules, I want to share an exercise that we completed to redefine our basic needs.

Perhaps like many of you on the journey to your best life I've been striving to "simplify". To  do away with the clutter that threatens clarity and that steals my time and energy.  Whether the clutter is literal stuff filling up the space that we live in and work, empty or superficial relationships, processed and factory farmed foods, or busy routines that leave us exhausted and wanting. We aim to experience more of the good stuff in life and pursue as priorities only that which brings more joy and meaning to every day. 

One step to gaining clarity is to distinguish our needs from our wants. When asked to define my basic needs, I had only ever considered the literal basics of food, shelter, and water, which wasn't very inspiring. Of course we need those, and we have them. So what now?

Andrea from Frugally Sustainable wrote a blog post Redefining our Wants Versus our Needs as part of the 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge series that she created. In the post she paraphrases Donella Meadows from her book Beyond the Limits, and shares examples of how we might reframe what we really need.

  • You don’t need a bigger house or car, you need respect.
  • You don’t need the newest cosmetics, you need to feel attractive.
  • You don’t need a closet full of clothes, your need variety and beauty.
  • You don’t need electronics (i.e. TV’s, gaming systems, stuff with apple logos, etc.), you need something worthwhile to do with your life.
  • You don't need material things, you need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgement, love, and joy.

She goes on to ask, Could it be that our longing to feel satisfied is leading us to all the wrong places? Through all of time and in all cultures these needs are universal:

clean water
shelter from the elements
intimate relationships
participation in a community
the ability to create
insight into self

I considered these nine basic human needs and wondered how the list might translate to my own life.  What would it look like for Andy?

We spent some time expanding each category to encompass our values and interests. I focused especially on the Intimate Relationships category and defined in detail, by name, the individuals that I want to comprise my tribe. I omitted the full list here, but paring down my social connections was necessary and the result is that the small amount of time that I have to share with others is directed at those relationships that I really care to invest in.

Here it is, our version of the 9 basic needs (my content is above the line, Andy's below):

Simple, right?  Obvious, maybe. What I love about our list though, is that the 9 basic human needs serve as a compass when we're given an opportunity to make an investment of time or money. These items we identified are what bring authentic happiness to our lives. These are the elements that are truly worth spending our money on.  It helps us to know how best to allocate our time.

And it really does work. How would you redefine your 9 Basic Needs?


  1. If I had to share a heart with the same pulse or the same mind with exact thoughts it would be with the author of this post ;-) A simple, balanced life is a deep longing and being honest to oneself and letting go of what weighs us down is a test in self discipline and perseverance. Jotting down these basic needs make perfect sense coupled with your family/community that make it all worthwhile...distance sucks though! I feel a tug of war with you! Really wanting time to build a sense of community with you as well... but when thinking rationally understanding that we are essential where we are to our families and local communities. But hey...we can channel our nomadic ancestors who did a lot of roaming around
    anyway ;-)
    My off the cuff nine basic needs in conjunction with yours in terms of order:
    1. Physical nourishment that doesn't encourage growth of disease or affect my mood by extremes
    2. Sense of belonging to my nuclear family and understanding my purpose/contribution within it and sense of purpose/acceptance by the community at large
    3. Time invested in nurturing meaningful relationships (close/distant/extended family)
    4. Mental Health- Continuing education/never being restricted of access to information
    5. Physical Health- forms of excercise, ability to explore nature without too many boundries/borders/restrictions
    6. Time invested in fostering skills and creativity
    7. Spiritual Health- ability to freely explore connection to God, earth, others and questions over life and death
    8. Sexual Health (have't thought this one through...but I figured sex (satisfaction) should be part of my nine basic needs.. ;-)
    9. Freedom from oppression, tyranny and cruelty from my own life and those connected to me

    Ultimately, I want to live a compassionate life- one that produces the ability to pay it forward. The biggest challenge I face is how not to sacrifice my nine basic needs and yet somehow make other's needs as equal to or higher than my own, also known as MOTHERING.

  2. Quickly, in terms of getting rid of actual physical stuff I am really embracing a less materialistic more frugal/ meaningful acquisition of belongings lifestyle. I know I've hit the danger zone when I've allowed my baby to be effected by so much commercialism that she actualy picks through the weekends store flyers and shows me what she wants. AT not yet 3!!!!! "Mama I want these chocolate bunnies and this makeup for easter, ok?" What a wake up call! My daughter is acutely aware of her stuff and getting/buying more. My biggest challenge ahead is the research and application of how to stop the consumer trend in me and in my home.

  3. Heidi: We always know to where find each other. Distance makes the heart grow fonder!

    I like your number two especially. Bringing children into a household changes the dynamic for everyone, but as the mother I feel that maintaining my identity has been a particular challenge. If I think of myself as a family resource my contribution has shifted tremendously and finding the balance that works for me and works for everyone else is something that I am continually working toward. Your point also makes me think of my original nuclear family (my parents and siblings) and how our dynamic has changed since I became a mother and what my role is now as it relates to all of them and our relationships.

    Seven and eight strike a chord as well. Spirituality is something that I would like to explore more. I feel like I'm practicing my spirituality through all of the ways that we choose to live, but exploring death would bring me more peace. As for sexual health, no need to convince me on that one at all!

    I think that the nine basic needs are not so much about frugality, although they can be, as they are about living authentically. Choosing not to give in to social pressures to acquire or buy or consume things for the benefit or sake of other people's ideals and approval. Consume the things that are important to you and that make your life better, more comfortable, more enjoyable, that buy you time and energy to pursue your nine basic needs!


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