Wanting Versus Needing
While my daughter was at home for Spring Break, one of her most frequent refrains was “I need this” or “I will die without that”. As a parent one of the things I tried to teach her was the difference between needing and wanting. Sadly, after hearing these comments again and again I’m convinced that in this regard I failed as a parent. What was interesting though is that after I dropped her off at school I picked up Sanjay for another road trip and during our drive, we also discussed wanting versus needing in the hobby.
This conversation developed from our concern about how expensive some things had gotten and how we were lucky as there really were not a lot of “new” things that we needed. However, like my daughter, there were still a lot of things that we wanted. So maybe I have been a poor example to my daughter about wanting versus needing, as despite my now having six tanks that are pretty full of both fish and corals, there are still lots of things that I want to have, but don’t really need.
Equipment To Avoid Disaster
So what is it that we need to have to be happy in this hobby, or is this hobby such that there is always a wanting? As I discussed last year, to me and many others, this hobby really does have some addicting aspects to it. But it is not just the corals, fish or latest equipment that we need/want there is more to it than that.
As most of us know part of the reason we may want some things is that many of us feel that our tanks, true or not, are always close to the edge of disaster. Far too often, when I thought my tank was doing well and things looked great I would come down one morning and see a fish dead or coral bleached when the day before they showed no signs of distress or impending death in any way. And I know others have had this happen as well.
As a result, I think some of us want equipment that will make us feel confident that our tank will be as stable as possible and the likelihood of major meltdown will be minimized or reduced. So for me, while I have lots of reliable equipment, recently I have gotten some new pieces to try and fill the “need” I had so that when I am gone I am comfortable that my tank will be safe. As a result, I have added a new calcium reactor, as well as the KH Guardian to monitor my main tank’s alkalinity and have upgraded the lights and water motion.
None of these upgrades really filled any specific needs, but rather were my attempt satisfy my wanting my tank to be as stable and easily monitored as possible. I also added a second camera so that not only could the tank be watched from anywhere, but now the whole room including the other two tanks can be watched as well. Again this did not fill a need as much as my wanting to be able to check everything for peace of mind.
Is It Necessary
Having all of this great equipment is nice, but is it really necessary, or am I again just thinking that something I want is really something I need? I know that many of us are constantly trying to convince our significant others that we need something and don’t just want it, so what is the difference? In my travels, I have been fortunate enough to see many tanks. Some have enough equipment on them that they are more science project than aquarium. Others on the other hand, have minimal equipment and are just as successful.
So this again makes me wonder what is really needed to have a successful tank. Obviously the first thing is a tank, but even this is not clear in terms of what one needs. First it can be glass or acrylic, which I can’t believe anyone still chooses. I say that as I have yet to see one that over time did not scratch in some way, but it is lighter and can have more clarity. After that it is size. Do you want a nano tank, a moderate sized tank, or something that fills a room? While this may be a simple choice initially, one of the things that I see time and time again is that when people start off with something small or reasonable, once they become more successful and the tank is filled they then move up to bigger and bigger tanks.
As someone who progressed from a 120-gallon to a 1200-gallon tank over seven quick years, I am pretty confident in saying getting a bigger tank is not due to need, it is only due to want. Also filling this want did not make me any happier, knowing this I am happy now with my 300-gallon tank, the other five tanks not counting.
Simple Soft Coral Tank
So if you can find a tank of an adequate size to fill your need for hopefully a long time, what other things will you need to also fill your needs. In this regard you can keep it as simple as you want or you can go totally crazy. Again it is deciding between what you want and what you need. From my perspective, most of your needs will be filled if you get a sump, as hopefully your tank has an overflow, a return pump, a flow production device of some type, a protein skimmer, heater, lights and live rock are the equipment you will need.
This is really all you need, if you just want a simple tank with soft corals and anemones or even lps corals and a few fish. I currently have one tank with just these pieces of equipment and it provides a great deal of enjoyment, as it is the tank I spend the least amount of time working on and get the most reward from in terms of time spent on it versus how much time I have to enjoy it.
But if you want to move up to a tank dominated by sps corals then your needs increase and you will then need to add a means for adding calcium and alkalinity, such as a calcium reactor or dosing pumps. You will also need better lighting as well as stronger water flow to keep these corals thriving as well. While a successful sps tank is indeed a sight to behold, I think some hobbyists would be just as happy had they gotten a soft coral tank to start with instead and stuck with it.
Unfortunately, I have come across a number of hobbyists who when they got into the hobby they immediately started with an sps dominated tank and jumped right over the step of keeping soft or other easy to keep corals. When I asked them about this they said they did this because of the colors of the sps corals and because of this they “needed” to have this kind of tank in order to be happy.
It has also been my observation that many of these hobbyists who needed to start with an sps tank never reached a true level of success and because of this got out of the hobby rather quickly. So in this regard I think their thinking they needed to have an sps tank got in the way of wanting to be successful, which I think is more likely had they started off with soft corals.
As I said, this hobby is very good at driving one to think they need every piece of equipment to be successful, especially in terms of how much new equipment comes out every year. However, as most of us who have been in the hobby realize, most of this new equipment is only incrementally better if at all from the old equipment many of us have been using for years.
While, I realize I am a tinkerer who loves to try the new equipment as it comes out, I have also come to realize that for the most part much of this new equipment is not significantly better than the old equipment I was using. Because of this, I no longer impulse buy out of need, but I now wait until I can control my wanting something until I can at least get some feedback from others before I get it. This has dramatically reduced my spontaneous purchases of equipment to that equipment that I really do need.
However, I must admit that I am still working on controlling my thinking that I need a specific coral frag or fish when the reality is I really only want it. And this “needing” something that looks amazing online or at a frag swap or show is still not really something I or many of us can control. Let’s face it, how many of us really need a $1500 frag of new hot Acropora or $2000 for a mushroom?
While I realize that most of these are bought with the intention of growing them our and refragging them to get one’s money back or make a profit, but for those of us who just love beautiful corals there really is no need, only a strong want. When viewing Sanjay’s tank or my tank where there are a few of these corals mixed in with others with no name it really is difficult to tell the named corals from the unnamed in terms of the health, color or overall beauty of the corals once they have grown beyond being frags and into reasonably sized colonies.
In fact, some of the named corals in both of our tanks look kind of blah once they have grown into big colonies. At least that is our opinion. While they are still nice looking, once they have grown into a colony it is often difficult to really notice how differently colored the polyps are or that the rim of growth is a unique color or even that the corallites are different. Because of being able to see these named corals grow over time and what they look like as full-grown colonies, I now am only getting ones where I can see what the mother colony looks like and unless it is as colorful as the frags, I am now able to keep from thinking I need it and have to have it.
Need versus want is a curious thing where much of the economy is driven by impulse buying and marketing forcing us to think that the latest thing is always better and will give us happiness. While I admit that I have succumbed to this quite frequently especially where this hobby is concerned I now have come to the realization that happiness in the hobby has not come to me by getting the latest piece of equipment or named coral but rather from having a tank that I can back at and enjoy or from hanging out with my friends in the hobby and discussing our latest success or all too often failure.
While I still have my “want” list of fish and corals I would love to have, for the most part they no longer consist of only holy grails in the hobby, but those still are a big part of my list. Fortunately I now realize I no longer need them to be happy, but I do want them. I also must admit that my want list is still longer than Sanjay’s list. However, I should point out that Sanjay’s “want list” while smaller than mine is pretty high end as he still desires the ever elusive Gem Tang as well as a mate for his now 8”+ Lennardi Wrasse. So considering what we both want, I’m sure these lists will keep us going for a while at least.