Practical Hierarchy Of Needs Revised To Include Treehouses


Evolutionary psychologists have edited Abraham Maslow’s legendary hierarchy of needs to replace “self-actualization” with “parenting.” In response, we’ve created our own hierarchy of material needs — because who needs self-actualization or kids when you’ve got hand towels?

Writing for Miller-McCune (via the Times Idea of the Day blog), Tom Jacobs explains the rationale behind the update. Maslow’s old hierarchy — in pyramid form — “spells out the underlying motivations that drive our day-to-day behavior and points the way to a more meaningful life.” But according to Douglas Kenrick and his team, “our strongest and most fundamental impulse, which shapes our day-to-day desires on an unconscious level, is to survive long enough to pass our genes to the next generation.” As a childless person, I don’t buy that “all our achievements are linked in one way or another to the urge to reproduce.” But while Kenrick tries to link human behavior to animal urges, he’s forgotten one very human characteristic: the drive to buy. And really, even the desire to reproduce seems a little abstract when it comes up against, say, the desire for knives. Herewith, our hierarchy of material needs:

Food, Water, Shelter

Basic material needs are at the bottom of both Maslow’s and Kenrick’s pyramids, and we can’t argue with that. If you don’t get these, you’ll die.


You can definitely survive without a decent set of knives. However, if you can’t cut anything, you will end up making meals like a Gardenburger with a pile of sprouts and ketchup on top. I’ve been there, and it’s not awesome. Plus, if you have a knife you can stab an intruder.

Hand Towels

I’ve talked about hand towels before, but I’ll say it again: having these in your bathroom means you’ve taken care of the basics, and you’re ready to move on to stuff that, while not strictly necessary, definitely makes life less gross.


This assumes that you already have a computer, which, if we’re being strict about it, should maybe go between knives and hand towels on the pyramid. But there’s not that much space, and it’s important to recognize the kind of bullshit a printer saves you from. Sure, you might think you don’t really need one — and you don’t. But when you don’t have one, you’re that person who’s always bugging your boyfriend/girlfriend/roommate to print out “just a couple of pages” while they’re trying to do work. Or that person who pays a zillion dollars at a print shop and then spends an hour trying to delete your tax documents from their computer so that no one steals your identity. That person, let me tell you, is not having much fun.

Washing Machine

For a brief, shining moment in 2005-07, I had a washer and dryer. I could put my laundry in it, forget something, and then just run back in the bedroom and get it. No dragging my laundry basket down the street, no waiting for a dryer, no change machine eating my money — and it was all free. I dream of one day achieving this bliss again — and then, I promise you, I will feel self-actualized.

Espresso Maker

Intellectually I know that other people have this item, and even other people who are not insanely rich. However, it has always struck me as a kind of pie-in-the-sky thing I will never own, the Teddy Ruxpin of my adulthood (I still don’t understand my parents’ resistance to this adorable bear, and I still resent it). If I ever get an espresso maker, it will show not only that I have the money to buy a gadget that produces beverages with no nutritive value, but that I have the counter space for this gadget, and the time and wherewithal to clean what I imagine to be its many complicated moving parts. Also, I will be calm enough that I can drink espresso again.


I went through almost the whole pyramid before I remembered that some people — especially those who don’t live in cities — actually have houses. And if you had a house, you could have a tree near it. And if you had a tree, you could have a treehouse. A treehouse is something I always craved as a kid and never got, but even if you’re an adult, the idea has some appeal. A treehouse says you not only have a house, but another little house next to your house. I guess a poolhouse is like that too (and it means you have a pool), but poolhouses just remind me of sketchy hookups, crushed Doritos, and someone’s parents telling us to turn the music down. Treehouses, however, conjure up bucolic beauty and childhood dreams. Plus, a treehouse is in the sky.

Image source Miller-McCune.

Reworking Maslow’s Pyramid [NYT Idea of the Day Blog]
Maslow’s Pyramid Gets A Makeover [Miller-McCune]

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