The Myth of “Must Have”

mythical unicorn. once again the new lists of “must haves” are starting to appear.
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The turn of seasons is upon us, and once again the new lists of “must haves” are starting to appear. Magazines and posts are quick to tell us about the gadgets, clothing, apps, toys, accessories, and tools that are absolute necessities for the coming months. Conveniently, most of these pieces are accompanied by links or store names for easy acquisition.

Intellectually, we can acknowledge that owning these belongings is not necessary for a satisfying life. Nonetheless, there is a not-so-subtle implication that failure to obtain these items will result in a life that is somehow lacking. Lists like these tempt us to start looking around, second guess ourselves, and even buy things we don’t like just because “they” told us to.

In preparing this post, I trolled around a bit to see what things I supposedly can’t live without this season.

“10 Things Every Woman Must Own”… a striped shirt and a leopard scarf

Personally, I don’t like stripes, especially horizontal ones, as I think they make me look short (which at 5’3” isn’t the look I’m hoping to achieve). A leopard scarf might be fun, but I’ve lived much of my life without one. As far as I am aware, I’ve never lost a client or missed a great opportunity because my scarf was plain black.

“12 Make-up Bag Must Haves” … on-the-go eye makeup remover

I have to admit I didn’t know these existed. My routine is to put my make-up on in the morning and then take whatever is left off at night before I go to bed. I’m guessing these are for women who have more of a nightlife than I.

“31 Things Every Man Should Own”… a cast iron skillet

I don’t want to generalize, but I imagine most men do not own one of these. Not to take away from their utility, as they are quite versatile and even add a bit of dietary iron. But to imply that this is one thing that is a “must” for a man seems a bit of a stretch.

“Back To School “ Haves”… whale shaped paper clips

Granted, there are things which students need when they head back to school, such as paper, pencils, pens, a backpack, notebooks, and folders. If the budget allows, it can be fun to go shopping at the beginning of the year and buy a few fun items to ease the pain of folding back into the daily grind of homework and studying. Animal-shaped paper clips are more of a might-be-nice than a “must have” for succeeding in school. Given the cost of school supplies today, no parent needs to feel guilty if he/she isn’t picking these up.

“12 Things Every Home Should Have” … candles at every meal

As it happens, I love burning a candle at dinner. I started this tradition as a New Year’s Resolution, and I’ve loved keeping it up. But I don’t burn candles at breakfast or lunch when I’m focused on the day’s tasks. Furthermore, some people aren’t even supposed to burn candles in their apartments for safety reasons. If you like candles, great. If you don’t, also great. This one is about what you enjoy and where you want to spend your money.

“20 Awesome Office Must Haves” … clip-on cup holder

While it might be nice to have a cup holder that clips onto the edge of your desk to hold your cup of java, I struggle to consider it a “must have.” For most of history, a spot on the desk (and maybe a coaster) have worked pretty well.

“24 Must Have Christmas Toys For Children” … Skate and Sing Elsa™

I loved the movie “Frozen.” The music, animation, and story were all wonderfully done. At the same time, I imagine there are a few Moms out there who aren’t excited by the prospect of yet another toy that sings “Let It Go.” I’m inclined to say that there is no such thing as a “must have” toy; kids will play with whatever is around. Do they want the toy? Maybe, but that is different from being necessary.

“Top 10 Latest Must Have Tech Gadgets” … universal remote control pillow

While the idea of a pillow that also functions as a universal remote control is kind of cool, I don’t think it is required for television viewing. In fact, were I to get the pillow, I would feel like I needed to worry about whether the fabric matches everything else in the room, which is just another layer of complexity. On the plus side, I guess I would be less likely to lose track of it!

*     *     *     *     *

The purpose of this post is not to bash marketers or journalists. Like all myths, these lists can be fun to read and think about. The point is simply this: very little of what the media puts forth is actually a “must” for a full life. Admittedly, there are products and services we truly need to live and function. Nevertheless, it is smart to be mindful of the motives behind these persuasive posts, and to feel at peace investing money only in those items that we deem personally worthwhile.

Do you tend to read the “must have” lists? Have you ever regretted a “must have” purchase?

34 thoughts on “The Myth of “Must Have””

    1. It takes a bit of courage to wear leopard, right Janet? I don’t mind the fun of the lists, but I cringe to think of how they might make anyone feel that their life is “less.”

    1. Love that saying about Merlot and email! Waiting a day or two before buying anything is always wise. It takes away that impulse response, which is just what marketers are hoping to take advantage of!

  1. So true, there are some items that they say are a must have but they really are not. I hope when people see these products they ask themselves, is this really necessary?

    I am a gadget girl and love to read these “must haves” posts. But, I do understand that I don’t need them. I bet these posts are not good for individuals that are shopaholics.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Tips To Help Your Parents With Legal DocumentsMy Profile

    1. Yes, exactly. They can be damagingly persuasive to those for whom shopping is a compulsion. It seems to me that the true “must haves” rarely warrant an article or Top 10 list.

    1. Ok, you have me laughing about your husband his cast iron skillet! Good for him – they really are a great tool. I’m not sure my husband would know what a cast iron skillet is, and if he did have one, he would probably put it in the dishwasher and ruin it LOL!

  2. So true, Seana! I really cringe at a lot of commercials and ads because they make us feel less-than if we don’t have or do XY and Z. We have to learn to take it all with a big ole’ grain of salt

    1. Exactly, Andi. That can be hard to do when we feel insecure. I wish I could just climb into people’s brains and whisper, “you really know what is important to you!”… and free them from worrying about what others say.

  3. Great post, it is so very true. We are intelligent people we can pick and choose what works for us in our own life. Implying we must own or have something is our media world once again telling use we are less than if we do not own something, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Thanks for writing this post 😉

    1. Exactly. I think we know better than anyone what we want and need. These may be fun for inspiration, but that is something far from a “must”!

  4. I’m cantankerous enough to *not* purchase “must-have” items just because some says I should. I’m a big believer in waiting a day before any purchase and only shopping with a list (and sticking to the list). I’m still chuckling about the remote control pillow. (shaking head)

    1. I love having a list as well… the list is made in a moment of clear intentionality, not the emotionally reactive state I may experience when encountering a jazzy display!

  5. Hilarious! I love that you have shown us how exaggerated our needs have become. While we have basic needs, taking these to extra lengths made me think about how shallow we are and how much we need connections. Thank you for putting our needs in perspective.

    1. You rarely see a “must have” list that talks about water, human connection, shelter, etc. It is basically marketing… which is fun, but definitely not a necessity! Just good to have that “this is trying to sell something” voice in the back of your mind, right?

  6. I’m totally ignoring all the “Must Have” ads because the LAST thing I need is more STUFF in my house. You would be very proud of me, Seanna—-I have cleaned out close to 15 bags of junk from my hosue these past two weeks (all sent to the dump) and the rest of the stuff I have is in storage for a big garage sale we’re hosting next weekend. Whatever doesn’t sell will be donated and GONE. YAY!

    1. 15 bags??? That is amazing, Marcia. You must feel so much lighter! I have been working with a client who is trying to do the same thing, and every time we finish a session she just seems more joyful. There really is freedom through organization. Way to go! Hope your garage sale is very successful:)

  7. Universal remote control pillow?!? Whaaaa?? I wish you included the link to that one. That might be just a must see and not a must have for me. The wacky things people come up with and deem a necessity! A post just came through my FB feed about needed items for a Syrian refugee family in the community and *surprisingly* none of these things were on the list…

    1. Exactly! I can only imagine how a needy, refugee family would respond to such posts. I have thought in the past how a family fleeing persecution and facing hunger would feel just to walk through Costco at peak time and realize that the samples are free. Anyone who has basic needs met is lucky indeed!

  8. Great post Seana! You definitely opened our eyes to see the difference between want and need. Most people think they need the “must-have’s” that the media (digital, TV, and print) suggest we purchase, but in reality it’s just want. A want of the latest and greatest that usually just ends up in a pile somewhere, forgotten after a few uses. Hopefully your post will raise better awareness and encourage people to really think before they buy!
    Liana George recently posted…The 2 essential back-to-school organizing tips you may not have thought ofMy Profile

    1. The pile that sometimes you and I are brought in to help deal with, right Liana? We are so vulnerable to slick marketing and carefully crafted appeals. Furthermore, when we see others taking part in the latest trend, we feel that we need to hop in… even if we can’t clearly articulate why. Something to chew on, anyway:)

  9. LOL at whale-shaped paper clips 😉

    I pretty much call these my “wishlists” as I don’t really have must-haves, although I do have guilty pleasures like paper stuff – notebooks, post-its, artsy stuff that can accumulate very quickly!

    1. I think it is fun to buy and enjoy the stuff you really love. And also to feel free to not purchase any items you don’t want… no matter what anyone says. Cute as they are, I’m not sure whale-shaped paper clips would even be easy to use!

  10. I love technology must have lists. My budget doesn’t allow me to have everything on the list, but they are fun to peruse for the latest innovations and get recommendations on tried and true products.

  11. I don’t like scarves much so I’m out for that one! I love your trolling about what we should have. I could never imagine taking my eye makeup off midday?? Why??
    Cassidy does love his cast iron skillet..
    People still use paperclips??
    Our school provides school supplies. I go very minimally on things! They do get new school shoes, of course, because of summer growth spurts!
    Tamara recently posted…Bottersnikes & Gumbles: And Our Snuggly Family Reunion.My Profile

  12. Seana what a refreshing post. We are bombarded every single day with such an array of products and over stimulated with things we must have. It is nice to take a look at all this nonsense and to say let’s step back and think this thru. I remember when I had my sons many years ago I went out and bought every single baby gadget and then some. A few years later we moved to Greece where none of these things were available and we got on just fine when I had my girls. So all this necessity is really artificial. I also try to reuse and repurpose as m much of what I have instead of falling into the consumer trap. Thank you for your humor but more importantly for your message.
    Mary-the boondocks blog recently posted…Sweet Inspiration Link Party #25My Profile

    1. I also “overbought” when my girls were little. It wasn’t until we had to move into temporary housing, and each girl could only bring one box of toys, that I realized my mistake. The girls really didn’t miss the stored toys at all, and I learned that I had been as much a part of the problem as they had. Thanks for the comment!

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