Wanting Everything is (Almost) the Same as Wanting Nothing

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” - Aristotle

I have a six-year old daughter. She’s lovely and fun and friendly and intelligent. She adds priceless beauty to my world.

She also loves collecting things. And by things, I mean everything. When we are at the park, she collects rocks and flowers and sticks. When we walk through the store, she points out everything she would like to own.

Typically, when she wants something at the store, we say, “Maybe you can put it on your Christmas list.” The problem is, she always does. In fact, nowadays, she doesn’t even tell us she’d like to buy the item… she just starts with, “I’d like to put this on my Christmas list.” Needless to say, her Christmas list has gotten quite long. As a result, I keep telling her, “You should decide which things you really want on this list and take off the rest. Otherwise, you’ll end up being disappointed.”

I know how Christmas works. I know her parents and grandparents will be forced to make decisions about which items on her list to actually give her. Simply put, she can’t receive everything she has written down. The resources are not available to purchase every single thing on the list (and thank goodness).

Because I recognize the reality of Christmas morning, I can see the coming disappointment. Surely there are some things on her list she wants more than others. But if the gift she wants the most is stuck in the middle of everything else, her chances of receiving it diminish dramatically… she’ll likely end up with something different instead.

But this is not a post about my daughter’s wish list—or even Christmas. It’s about something bigger. It’s about something even more important. It’s about my life… and it’s about yours. It’s about realizing what is most important in life and removing the distractions that keep us from it.

Because I fear, too often, I make the same mistake as my daughter. I desire too many things. And I am reminded again of this important truth:

Wanting everything is (almost) the same as wanting nothing.

When our desires run unchecked, our list of pursuits grows. And too frequently, the most important desires in our lives get lost in the shuffle. The more we pursue at any given moment, the less likely we are to achieve any of them. Consider how…

  • the desire for comfort or pleasure contradicts our search for growth.
  • the desire for worldly success interferes with our opportunity for significance.
  • the desire for wealth keeps us from accomplishing generosity.
  • the desire for material possessions limits our ability to live out our greatest passions.

We would be wise to limit our desires—to keep our pursuits focused on the most important and most beneficial to our lives and others. Then, each of our limited resources could be wholly directed toward them. And the opportunity for their accomplishment would increase dramatically.

May our desires be few—but well-placed. Because wanting everything is almost the same as wanting nothing.

And what I really want to do right now is give my daughter a really big hug… which I hope is also on her list somewhere.

Image: Pranav Bhasin

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is an excellent post. I like to always think of boundaries from having been a dog trainer. If you set up solid boundaries, you can concentrate of what’s inside and master those thoughts and impulses. It’s when there are no boundaries, you have too many issues (many out of your control), that you can’t address them all. I think you are right too about desires. If you have too many you do injustice to the ones that matter the most. It doesn’t mean your boundaries can’t expand in time — but only after you’ve succeeded (or made peace) with what’s within your current parameters. I believe we grow when we step outside our set boundaries — but unless you have them as markers to begin with, how do you know which direction to take to expand them?

  2. says

    Hey just discovered your blog very interesting. I took a different route to minimalism getting rid of almost all my possessions, and becoming a Van Dweller on my 3rd year and love it looking forward to reading more Thanks

  3. says

    Part of my minimalist approach has become kind of religious. When I am thankful for what I have daily, what I have becomes enough. Don’t get me wrong, there are still things that I’d like to have, but what I have is enough.

  4. says

    New to your blog and while I really love it, I’m going to actually coment on the daughter thing (assuming that it wasnt a made up metaphor and that you will not be offended). Start a tradition if you have not and reinforce. Santa has sooo many children to visit that he can only bring ………presents for each little girl and boy. Mommy and daddy will give four presents, each grandma/grandpa will give one, and remind throughout the year. HOld the grandparents to it. If daughter is old enough to shop for mom and dad, perhaps make a list of the things you would like-and share with you that you will only get ………..from the list. Youre going for real world satisfaction here as opposed to dissapointment.

  5. Kristin says

    I am enjoying your posts. I know this post is about more than Christmas, but I agree with Barb. Little kids have a hard time with minimalism. We told our son, who is an only child and it is easy to overbuy for him, that he gets three gifts for Christmas because Jesus received three gifts from the Wise Men. Made him really pare down to what he really wanted. We told them that other families might do things differently, but that is how we did it. He has never really questioned it. Now, at 12, he really thinks about his list and what he really wants. We also clean out no longer enjoyed things and give them to others who would enjoy them.

  6. says

    This is so true! It is like collecting things and ending up with a cluttered space.

    People are living with the feeling that they will need this or that sometime during their life. We collect things that we thing we will need someday, but it ends up that we never use them.

    I like the Christmas list aproach you have taken with your daughter. I think this educates her in being selective. With age she will realize it.

    When I was a kid and I wanted something, I had to do something instead to deserve it. For example, I wanted a bicycle and my father gave me two books of 500 pages to read. He told me: When you end up reading them, I will buy you a bicycle.

    I was mad on my father, but know I understand that this educated in my that I don’t need to consume more than I deserve or can make on my own.

    Thanks for the post!

  7. says

    Thanks for the post. As a father of daughters myself, I can relate. I think what you’re trying to get at here is that desires can be neutral if they are grounded in a philosophical or spiritual value system. Without the system, they can overtake you. I suppose the key to be honest about what we desire and then act appropriately.

  8. says

    I also have a 6 year old daughter. She’s been watching us purge all the useless stuff from our home for the past year and a half, and this month she finally had a break through of her own. We were having some discussion about her room and her most favorite toys. She had so many toys that her room quickly turned into a disaster any time she and her cousins played in it. We talked about my childhood room and how mess it was because I had too much stuff. We talked about cleaning out all the toys that weren’t here favorites.

    At one point she said to me, “I want to have LESS toys than my cousin.” It was a major breakthrough for her to finally make the connection that by having less things she would have more space to play with the things that are her favorites. She’s realizing that less is more.

    We’ve practiced the “put it on your Christmas list also.” We don’t really write the stuff down though unless we know she really wants it (as opposed to just wanting it in that moment.) Her toys are finally down to a managable level, so I’m interested to see how Christmas goes with the extended family buying her gifts.

  9. says

    It’s all about making choices, which is important to teach a child so she doesn’t end up being a disappointed adult. Whether your choices involves material things or time commitments, you’re never going to have/get/do everything. Thanks for the reminder, Joshua.

  10. says

    This post reminded me of another you wrote about limiting our curiosity. Both spoke to me. I have so many things I want to accomplish, and I love to learn. I’m naturally curious and creative and want to do EVERYTHING. That’s why Pinterest is such an addiction for me. I’m collecting all the things I will do someday. It has become a new form of clutter in some ways. I need to learn to be more intentional with my pursuits though, or I will live in constant frustration and distraction. I’m also trying to remember to be at peace with whatever season of life I’m in and to save some desires, curiosities, and pursuits for later seasons. : )

  11. says

    Joshua,

    This is exactly what I’m working with right now: “It’s about realizing what is most important in life and removing the distractions that keep us from it.” I appreciate the incisive reminder and perhaps should have this carved into my forehead!

  12. says

    Excellent post, thanks for sharing! You perfectly bring to light the contradiction our multiple desires often bring into our lives. We definitely have to focus on the most important not to drive ourselves into a dead-end.

  13. Ashley says

    Great post. It’s always easier to recognize things in hindsight. When I think about my own desire for THINGS at Christmas, even just five years ago, the list was lengthy. Now after two kids and with great efforts to live a simpler life I am content with just time with my family. Truly. And I look upon my old desires as so superfluous. Life is fuller without all the fluff.

    I’ll share another idea for Christmas lists for kids. Have them fill this in:
    I want____.
    I need ____.
    I’ll wear ____.
    I’ll read ____.
    And I would be REALLY happy if I got a ____.

  14. says

    thank you for posting about your kiddo!! i often wonder, as an aspiring minimalist, how other minimalist families function. it’s a relief to hear i’m not the only one with kids who want. :)

    & on the topic of christmas, we also ask our kids, when “the list” comes up, what they’d like to GIVE. that’s the direction we really want them to go anyway. . . .

  15. says

    I thought I’d take a look around the internet to see what other minimalists are out there like me and found your site. I really enjoyed reading your post.

  16. says

    I’ve been reading awhile but have never commented. While I am far from a minimalist I want to say thanks for inspiring a lot change in the way I view “things” and the part they play in my life. What an awesome post. Sometimes I find myself in that place of struggle between wanting too many things and desiring less. The battle is intense. It may sound simplistic but I find when I go to the mall is when I start wanting all sorts of stuff and forgetting what’s the important. So I remove the distraction of the mall if I possible can.

  17. says

    I love this post! I was recently at the mall with my three daughters aged 13, 11 and 6. My 6 yr old was mesmerized by the whole Santa scene and wanted to join the line of kids waiting to visit with Santa. My older daughter told me later that her little sister said that when Santa asks her what she wants for Xmas her answer would be snow! What a wonderful thing to ask :)

  18. says

    Great post!

    Back when I was a big-time consumer, I found that there was a massive temporary effect that occurred from purchasing things, I mean, I had an emotional-connection to getting something new. I’ve come to realize now that it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the week after where you regret buying something new, less is definitely more.

    People in this day and age just want more, they want new, and they want it NOW. If only there were more people like the readers of this blog and also the author who are generally content with what they have.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  19. says

    Wow, this is timely! I just posted on my own blog about the problem of the holidays coming up vs. our desire to have less stuff. It’s true, kids seem to be natural-born collectors. We’re really trying in our household to strike a balance and show them what is truly worth having–and most of it costs nothing.

    Happy to have discovered your blog–interesting reads!

  20. Pam says

    GREAT article, and also GREAT responses. This will give me ( a newbie to Minimalism) a lot to think and ponder about. So happy that I found your blog!

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