If you had to pick one major appliance in your home to live without forever, which one would you pick? The dishwasher? The microwave? Maybe the television?
Increasingly, we cannot imagine doing without any of these things. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked the public whether they view a list of consumer products as necessities or luxuries. They found that the number of things we can't live without has grown over the last decade.
Topping the list are cars and clothes washers, which 90% of us consider necessary. They're followed by ubiquitous home appliances such as the clothes dryer (83%), home air conditioning (70%), microwaves (68%), and televisions (64%).
Many of these labor-saving devices have been around for ages, but only in the last decade have many of us come to view them as necessities, and not luxuries. Witness the microwave, which roughly a third of people viewed as necessary a decade ago. That number has now doubled. Even the humble clothes dryer made leaps and bounds over the last 10 years, with 21% more of us describing it as a device we cannot do without.
Although they were still too novel a decade ago to be included in the survey, 49% of us already say cannot live without our cell phones. About the same number of people could not stand to be parted from their home computers. A tiny 3% of people even described their iPods as a necessity!
If we're honest with ourselves, we might step back and question whether any item on this list is truly a necessity. All go beyond the human need to have food, water, and shelter for survival.
Of course, whether something is necessary or a labor-saving luxury depends on your situation. A car is certainly a necessity for anyone who lives away from the town center without access to public transportation. How else can you get access to that ultimate necessity, food? Having had to wash my own clothes by hand for several weeks during a study-abroad experience, I'm definitely putting a clothes washer on my list of necessities. But, truth be told, I could go to the laundromat. (However, if I did so, I'd need a car.)
Why ponder this question at all? I can tell you that my short adventure in washing clothes by hand happened more than a decade ago, and I still haven't forgotten it. I thank my lucky stars for the beat-up machine in the basement every time I think back on it.
Thinking about whether you consider your car a necessity or a luxury can help ward off the temptation to escalate your needs. Sure, you need a car to get to work to provide income for your family. Then you decide you must have power locks and windows with kid-safe features. You'd really like to have a CD player to listen to something other than the news during your commute. Before you know it, you've thrown in leather seats, a DVD player, and a navigation system. After all, you need a car, don't you?
It's interesting, too, to ponder how we've turned televisions from a novel distraction into a necessity. As the survey report said, we all know that necessity is the mother of invention. But, it appears the opposite is also true. Invention is the mother of necessity. Who knew they needed an iPod before one had been invented?
Do you really need something just because everyone else has one or wants one? That might be why 5% of people said they needed their flatscreen TV. I'll bet you can look around your house and find plenty of examples of things you needed that now sit around gathering dust. (I have multiple exercise videos and a yogurt machine that fit that bill.)
When you're tempted to upgrade your old color television to a high-definition plasma model, remind yourself that you may not need either one. You also may not need a faster home computer, a cell phone with a camera built in, or a microwave that doubles as a convection oven. And once you have them, you may not know what to do without them.
Motley Fool Green Light knows all about temptation. Trying to live below your means and resist the urge to splurge? Get the support you need by taking a free trial today. You'll get lots of help for your personal finances, and save some money each month to boot.
Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple has finally entered the era of microwave cooking and finally understands what all the fuss is about. She welcomes your feedback.