But Do I Really NEED That?

The store was bright white and clean, every surface gleaming. The air conditioning was cold. I pushed the red plastic shopping cart leisurely down aisle after aisle, filling that cart with … what? With everything. Nothing. All of it. Then I arrived at the back of the Target store where there was a medical clinic, and I had a baby. Target seriously had EVERYTHING and made it all so easy, even childbirth.

And then I woke up.

I actually had that dream a few weeks into our Temporary Ticos adventure. I wasn’t proud of it.

One of our goals with this move was to live more simply. And here, sometimes it’s not a matter of choosing to live simply; it’s just the reality of living in a jungle.

I’d grown quite accustomed to the 24-hour Walgreens up the street, my Publix, my Target – each stocked with all the things I could need. And I needed many things. And if they didn’t have something, Amazon did, and my Amazon Prime status ensured the item would arrive in 2 days at my doorstep, shipping-free.

In Nosara, I can find what I need – doctors, medicines, good schools, friendly people. But not always what I want. Case in point…

Not long after we arrived in Costa Rica, Camille had an ear infection and wanted cotton balls to stuff in her ear after getting medicine drops. I dutifully looked up the word for “cotton balls” in Spanish to be sure I had it right, and added it to my Super Nosara shopping list.

At the store, I looked around but didn’t see any, so I approached an employee.

“¿Bolas de algodón?” I asked.

She looked at me like I had asked for a unicorn horn. She repeated the phrase back to me to be sure she understood, and then said, “No.”

I tried another employee.

“¿Bolas de algodón?”

The same puzzled look. The same shake of the head.

I had a moment of first-world panic: WHAT WERE WE TO DO WITHOUT COTTON BALLS?!

Well, we balled up some kleenex and stuck that in her ear. And you know what? It worked fine.

A box of children’s tylenol
I wanted to buy some children’s pain reliever too, and was pleased to locate a box of it in the grocery store. When I handed the box to the cashier, she asked in Spanish, “How many?”

Her question made me pause. Was this a language problem? I just wanted to buy the box of medicine. Then I realized it wasn’t a language problem but a cultural one – you don’t buy the whole box. You buy one pill at a time.

The same is true with mailing envelopes. I looked for a box of envelopes, but instead found a shelf of single envelopes for purchase. Did I really need a whole box? Well, in reality, maybe not.

A pizza cutter
After spending a week or so in my new kitchen, I concluded we needed a pizza cutter and added that to the shopping list. I scoured the Super Nosara and finally found one. The shiny utensil was almost inside my cart when I remembered to check the price. $20. For a decidedly no-frills pizza cutter.

I wistfully put it back on the rack, and decided a knife could keep cutting my pizzas and quesadillas after all.

A laundry basket
On laundry day I lamented not having a laundry basket, and moaned out loud about this to Lee. He responded with, “Well, we have this cardboard box.”

At first, I scowled. That seemed gross somehow, putting my clean clothes in a cardboard box to carry them out to the drying line. But then I thought a little more about it, and why not? So into the box went our clothes. And guess what? They weren’t ruined.

I began to learn the difference between want and need. I wanted a laundry basket. But I really just needed a box, and one that I already had.

Six weeks into our trip – six weeks of practicing contentment with what we had – and we went to Panama City for our visa run. We walked to dinner from our hotel, and on the way back noticed a large, brightly lit pharmacy.

We stepped inside and were immediately refreshed by an icy blast of cold air. I reached for a basket, but NO – this called for a cart.

It was like my dream. I bought dog shampoo. Bags for scooping dog poo. A pizza cutter. A food chopper. More sunscreen. Socks. Band-aids. Two boxes of Band-aids.

With every item that went into my cart, I felt a surge of pleasure. The joy of acquiring.

The pizza cutter was $4.99 for goodness sake. How could I NOT buy it? I NEEDED IT.

It was the same when we walked through a Panamanian pedestrian mall. I bought shirts for $2! I bought nail polish remover! Head bands! I filled my basket like a starving person fills a plate at the Shoney’s buffet. I kept looking around – what else could I buy?


I don’t consider myself addicted to shopping, but it was disconcerting how much pleasure I derived from it in Panama.

Back in Costa Rica, our bags much heavier than when we left, we stopped at a large grocery store on the way from San Jose. And I bought a plastic laundry basket.

Sometimes I feel guilty about my consumerist tendencies – it’s a process and I’m still growing. But I consider it progress that I wanted that laundry basket, but I knew I didn’t need it anymore. There is a freedom in that – in knowing I can do without.

This kind of living also helps us appreciate the little things. I was beyond delighted to find TWO packages waiting for us at the post office today – one from my parents and one from Boo.

We waited until Camille got home from school to open them, and each treasure was pulled from the package with squeals of delight. It was like Christmas morning, but not because Camille got a Nintendo Wii or a new American Girl doll. Because she got a box of quick grits. And tracing paper. And packets of lemonade powder.



Did we need them? No, but we sure wanted them. And we knew the difference, with thankful hearts.

2 thoughts on “But Do I Really NEED That?

  1. I often stop and realize just how much “stuff” I have that I don’t need!!! As I am getting “older” (not old though) I have had the urge to purge…so I am gradually getting rid of more and more “stuff”!!! And I’m trying to be much more grateful for what I have…which is everything I need (although not everything I WANT.) You are teaching Camille such wonderful, valuable lessons that will last a lifetime.

  2. We should all live, work, and travel to other countries just to see the difference in how the rest of the world lives. My few travels helped me to see other people through different eyes.


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