Needing Less Doesn’t Make Us Better

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I have a difficult history with houseplants. I want my home to be filled with healthy green growing things. I want to be knowledgeable and attentive in my care for them, giving them exactly what they need to thrive.

In the past, that hasn’t been the way it’s gone.

I used to fall in love with the inexpensive plants in the displays near the checkout lanes. I’d bring my new little friends home, totally disregarding the fact that I had no spaces that could provide anything close to adequate light. Before long I’d be forgetting to water them for months on end.

The more distressed my plants looked, the more I ignored them.

Some hung on for a very long time. It’s amazing how much neglect they could endure. At the same time, not being quite dead yet is not necessarily the same as being fully alive.

Sometimes I wondered why I could never seem to get better at caring for the plants that I very much wanted. There are probably plenty of reasons, but eventually I gave up and told myself I was not allowed to buy any more plants. I believed I was not the kind of person who could have them.

It’s not just plants that I’ve historically struggled to care for. I’ve been noticing how often I tell myself, I shouldn’t need that.

Of course there aren’t that many things that I absolutely need to survive and it’s important to acknowledge that in many areas I have so much more than I need. But somewhere along the way, I’ve learned to equate needing as little as possible with being a better person.

I don’t judge plants for needing sunlight, water, and nutrient-rich soil, even if I often fail to provide those things. I do, however, judge myself for having very human wants and needs.

I want my space to be beautiful…I shouldn’t need that.

I want to know that the work I do makes a difference for someone…I shouldn’t need that.

I want to know that I am valued and loved…I shouldn’t need that.

I want to do things that are fun, creative, and playful…I shouldn’t need that.

I want time to rest, process, and integrate what I’m learning…I shouldn’t need that.

What I’m really saying to myself when I say, I shouldn’t need that is that it’s not ok to want more than the bare minimum. In other words, it’s not ok to be human. Part of being human is having wants and needs. We’re not bad for wanting something more.

Denying myself anything I don’t absolutely need doesn’t make me in to someone I like better. Mostly I end up feeling small, incapable, defensive, tired, and lonely. Having hope of fulfilling at least some of our desires is part of what we need to thrive.

Of course, there are different levels of needs and we sometimes hold out for perfect circumstances as a way of avoiding something uncomfortable. We don’t necessarily need the house to be spotless before we can devote time to the things that really matter to us. We don’t actually need to know that our opinions will be understood and approved before we speak up. We may not need to have expert-level knowledge and top-of-the-line tools before we can try something new.

There are things we do need in those moments, but it’s not always what we think.

More helpful are things like integrity and courage and a trust that we’ll be there for ourselves no matter what. We need to give ourselves space to process what we feel and permission to be a beginner. We need to know our inherent worth and honor the deep desires of our hearts.

As I write this, winter is approaching. Winter is always a harder season for me and knowing that many of my favorite places will be closed this year makes me dread it even more. As I think about the dark, cold, dreary months ahead, I feel that longing for houseplants rising up again. And again I hear that voice inside me saying I shouldn’t need them.

In a sense it’s true. I can get through the winter whether or not I have plants. But it’s also true that having plants will bring more joy and beauty into my life. It’s an opportunity to learn to pay attention and take care—both of my plants and of myself.

I decided that I would give myself one more chance with plants. (My husband suggested that I could give myself more chances than that.) I ordered a few plants, paying careful attention to their light and care needs. I even repotted and relocated an old plant that hadn’t shown any signs of new growth in years. It’s so exciting to see new leaves poking out after just a short time of renewed attention.

As I learn to check in with my plants to see how they’re doing and what they need, I’m practicing doing the same for myself.

Both my plants and I can get by through imperfect conditions, but needing less doesn’t make us better. The same is true for you.

  • What do you think it means about you to have needs? What about wants?
  • Where do you tell yourself, I shouldn’t need that?
  • Is there anywhere that you’re holding yourself back? What do you really need in those moments?
  • What is something you’ve been denying yourself? What might it bring into your life? Are you willing to try to let yourself have it?