I recently came across an interesting survey about the recession causing necessities to become luxuries. One thousand and three people were asked to answer the question “Do you think this item is a necessity?” about twelve specific appliances and services. The answers turned out to be surprisingly different from the answers in a similar survey taken in 2006… “the year before the recession set in and marked the outer limits of America’s housing bubble.” It’s important to remember that for the previous ten years, the percentage of people who ranked these twelve appliances and services as necessities had been steadily increasing.

Not so in the more recent survey.

Those appliances or services that have already been around for decades or more… what the survey calls “old-tech” and “middle-aged” items… have all dropped in the ratings, with fewer people thinking of them as necessities this year compared to the previous surveys.

  • Microwave oven… decreased 21 percent.
  • Clothes dryer… decreased 17 percent.
  • Air conditioning at home… decreased 16 percent.
  • Dishwasher… decreased 14 percent.
  • Television… decreased 12 percent.
  • Cable or satellite television service… decreased 10 percent.

More of the road past our house

By contrast, the so-called “new-tech” appliances and services remained essentially unchanged (within the 3.6 percent margin of error) in the necessity ratings.

  • Home computer… decreased 1 percent.
  • Cell phone… stayed the same.
  • iPod… increased 1 percent.
  • High-speed Internet service… increased 2 percent.
  • Flat-screen television… increased 3 percent.
  • Automobile… decreased 3 percent.

The one exception to this trend was the very “old-tech” device… the automobile… which “retains its pride of place at the top of America’s list of everyday necessities.” Despite economic conditions, apparently Americans continue to see their cars as a necessary part of life, not as a luxury.

Surveys like these can only hint at what is behind these decreasing percentages. Has television’s ranking decreased because people are watching less television or because they are switching their viewing habits to the Internet and their smart phones? Is the decreased use of appliances like dryers, dishwashers, and air conditioners for economic reasons or part of an overall attempt to reduce energy consumption?

I’m thinking that if we had been interviewed for this survey, some of our necessity/luxury choices would seem to be influenced by the recession, when in reality we made decisions based on other, different considerations. We have never owned a microwave (I don’t like the concept), and we have always lived without an air conditioner, so there have been no changes there. We rarely use our clothes dryer and dishwasher now, not because of the recession, but because of our efforts this year to reduce our carbon footprint by lowering our energy consumption. We replaced our tube television with a more energy-efficient flat-screen LCD television because of the switch to digital broadcasting this spring, not because of the recession. When we discovered that the hills surrounding us blocked any reception of the over-the-air digital signals, we continued our subscription to a satellite television service… but now that we have broadband, we finally do have other options. We need several computers for our work, so computers are definitely a necessity for us… again, there has been no change except we have recently upgraded from desktop computers to laptops. And we have the same cell phone we’ve had for years… we have no cellular service here, so the only time the cell phone is used is to keep in touch when one of us is away from home. Nobody here has ever owned an iPod, but I do have an Android tablet which I mostly use for reading books. There is no hope of public transportation, so a car has probably always been our number one necessity because we live too many miles away from “civilization” to be without one. (So I guess only two of the twelve are real necessities for us, the computers and the car.) It surprised me, though, that most of our “answers” would make us appear to fit into the “reduced necessities” trend.

So how about you? Which of these twelve do you feel are still necessities… have any of these twelve become luxuries in your home because of the recession… and where do YOU fit into this trend?