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Tough Transitions

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What do we really need, other than food, water, clothing, shelter and oxygen? Last year, the Pew Foundation released findings from a poll where 91 percent of the respondents said they needed a car, 49 percent need a cell phone, and 5 percent need a flat-screen TV. Listener Cheryl Spahr lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and teaches a class at New Life Community, a transitional housing shelter, about needs and wants.

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Needs Versus Wants: Cheryl Spahr

The way that I do it is, they get five different-colored Post-it Notes. And there are six of each Post-it. And they write down on those Post-it notes what their wants and desires are in the different categories. Then I say to them, "OK, take away three." We do that, so in the end they're left with 15 Post-it Notes that are left out of the original 30.

Every once in a while, we have couples in the program. Most often, it's a single individual that's there with their children. When it's a couple, what you see, the interaction of the couples is, they're writing this down, and they're looking at each other's Post-it Notes and they're looking at what they've written down and they're looking at what they take away. You have a lot of neat conversations going on between the couples about what they're saying about each other. A lot of times you're so busy with the kids and just life, and we're just so busy, and you stop talking about those dreams and desires that you have for yourself and your family.

When I am taking away the 15 Post-it Notes - the three-at-a-time Post-it Notes - I often feel guilty at the fact that I'm asking them to give things up . . . and to give up these kind of wants that they have or dreams that they have. Because they have so little already. And to say to them, "OK, let's take away all these wants and get down to what your needs are." It's hard, because I feel like they already have so little.

It really helps them to narrow down what's important to them. If you have some money that you've now set aside and you've saved because you're working now. Once you've been able to provide all the coats and the things that you need for the kids for the winter, then move on to another Post-it Note. Move on to something that you maybe set aside as something that you didn't have to have, and that you felt that you could live without. Because now you've attained one of the things that was a goal for you. And so you can take the time now to maybe go after some of those other goals that you've got.

More stories from our Sustainability series


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