Want, Need, Wear, Read…. and Give


I’ll be  honest with you: when it comes to parenting tips and trends, I’m usually 12-steps behind. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got TONS of parenting philosophy. But the practical implementation of that philosophy often eludes me. While I’m arguing for the benefits of shaping children to love nature, my husband plans the hike. While I’m crafting a perfect apologetic for why we must teach our children to value beauty, my husband takes them to the art museum and guides them through their own first self-portraits. I’m great with cuddles and snuggles and food; he’s the go-to guy for books and puzzles and games.

This introduction explains why I’m finally, only now, discovering the gift-giving paradigm of “Want. Need. Wear. Read.” Apparently, many of you more proficient parents are at least aware of it, if not using it yourself. The basic concept is to help simplify Christmas for children. Instead of making a Christmas list of everything they could possibly want, they pick one or a few things for each category.

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
Something to read.

The genius of this paradigm is not that it limits the number of gifts or imposes a financial cap; the genius is that it helps children sort through the chaos that is their own desires. It gives them a mechanism for cutting through consumerism by teaching them them to prioritize and limit their choices. It frees them from the tyranny of lust. 

If you’ve ever seen a child poring over a Wish Book, you’ll know precisely what I mean.

In our house, it begins the day the Target toy catalog shows up in the mail. Initially there’s the fighting over who gets to look at it first and then for the next week, it’s all “Oh, Mommy, I want this” and “Daddy, I NEED this” and “I HAVE to have this $75 plastic bracelet-making loom that I didn’t even know existed before today!!!!!” And the worst of it all is that my children actually believe that they need these things because they feel like they do. (There’s a reason my husband calls these Wish Books by the less than polite appellation of “porn for children.”) By the time it’s been in our house a week, I’m ready to call off Christmas gift-giving altogether.

How about an orange, a peppermint stick, and a penny in your stocking, kids?

Really, though my children are no worse than any other. It’s simply that they are children. They are immature. And part of that immaturity means not knowing how to navigate their own desires. Our job as parents to help them learn to sort through the chaos, to learn how to resist making decisions on impulse. My husband and I do this in different ways including not making impulse purchases ourselves and guiding them through the marketplace. The Federal Trade Commission‘s got nothing on the Parental Trade Commission.  In the sub-economy of Andersonia, all trades, purchases, and requests for subsidies undergo thorough review and sometimes even include a waiting period to help the child in question determine whether or not this is truly a “neeeeeeeeeeed.”

So when I first heard about “Want. Need. Wear. Read,” I was intrigued. Here was a practical way to apply the philosophy that I was pursuing. The one weakness is that it doesn’t emphasize the giving that is essential to any good economy. So after a bit of tweaking, I give you: “Want. Need. Wear. Read…. and Give.”

I couldn’t find a template that I liked so over Thanksgiving, I worked this one up on a free site. You’re welcome to use it yourself if you’d like and can download the template here. Like any application, “Want, Need, Wear, Read” is not intended as a hard and fast rule but as a guideline. But in the midst of the excess and materialism that has become Christmas, I think it’s one that even my children will welcome.


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