I own more than you might think.
This essay is probably just my involuted interpretation of Dave Bruno’s The 100 Thing Challenge. However, it is not about “counting your stuff.” Essentially it’s just a parody. But it’s also about being conscious about what you own, it’s about having only things you frequently use, and, ultimately, it’s about appreciating what you have because you have less stuff.
Other minimalists have taken this challenge to the extreme, among these brave souls are Colin Wright and his 51 things, Leo Babauta and his 50 things, Tammy Strobel and her 72 things, Nina Yau and her very impressive 47 things, et al. There are also brave minimalists like Joshua Becker and Sam Spurlin who don’t really participate in counting their stuff, possibly because this game of counting your stuff is implicitly competitive. And, to be clear, if I were to treat this as a competition, it would be a losing proposition for me (viz. my entry into such a competition would be like Manute Bol trying to play ice hockey—I would not win).
That said, I’m setting down my basketball for a moment, and I’m lacing up my ice skates.
So, unlike many other people who count their stuff, I literally counted everything I own, including things like the clock on the wall, my toothbrush, photo frames, my solo oven mitt, the trash can under the sink, salt & pepper shakers, cooking utensils, and even that metal thing in the shower that holds shampoo. I even counted the items that other people leave off their lists—my couch, chairs, dining table, and other furniture—because they are considered “shared items”; I live by myself so these things needed to be counted. I did group some things into groups (e.g., my underwear, clothes hangers, food, etc.), but I only grouped things when necessary (N.B. the only thing I struggled with grouping were my books. I don’t own a ton of books/novels—I got rid of most of them this year—but I grouped the ones I still have because they all fit on my little coffee table, and I’m a fiction writer, so I use them as references quite often).
Let’s be clear, I don’t plan on owning 50 or 100 things. So, why count your stuff then? you might ask. Good question. Because I’m crazy, perhaps. That and I wanted to count my stuff so I could get rid of superfluous or unused items. I discovered that when you write down everything you own it puts everything in a different perspective and you realize that you can get rid of so much stuff you don’t use. After getting rid of over 2,000 items over the last year (yes, that’s right, over 2,000 items), and another 100 or so items while making this list, I ended up counting 288 items.
Does 288 not sound very minimalist to you? Well, I challenge you to count your stuff (and be honest when counting it). I bet you have much more than you think. With 288 items, my apartment looks like this:
That’s my place: a minimalist zero-bedroom apartment. And, by the way, it always looks this way. I didn’t have to clean it up to take this picture (another benefit of minimalism: less stuff to clean).
Below is my list of my 288 items. This is everything I own. (I originally listed every signal item, but it made for a very long, boring essay. So for the sake of attenuation, I shortened the categories by adding a count with examples of items underneath each category. Also—and I’m beating a dead horse here—the list is not the point.)
Life Tools & Accessories
33 items, including my car, guitar, books, hairbrush, toothbrush, etc.
5 groups of items, including food, cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, office supplies and paper goods
19 items, including pots, pans, utensils, coffeemaker, toaster, oven mitt, etc.
6 items, including my bathroom scale, rugs, trash can, shower caddy, etc.
10 items, including my BlackBerry, MacBook, Printer, iPod, etc.
18 items, including my bed, couch, coffee table, desk, chairs, etc.
14 items, including decorative plants, artwork, digital picture frames, wall clock, etc.
58 items, including shoes, socks, underwear, belts, gym shorts, coats, etc.
79 items, including jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, button-down shirts, etc.
50 items, including suits, ties, dress shirts, etc.
That’s everything I own. 288 things. Count them if you’d like. The nicest thing about creating this list is that I actually use everything I own. There is not a kitchen item or a piece of furniture or a article of clothing that I do not use regularly. It’s an amazing feeling.
Yes, I know I have plenty of clothes, but rest assured, I wear every article on this list. And believe me, this year I got rid of five car loads of clothes (no exaggeration) that have been collecting dust in an old basement and piling up over the last decade. All of my clothes now fit nicely in my closet and everything I own actually gets worn, plus everything I own is in one place and not sitting in some storage container somewhere (viz. I don’t have to unpack my “cold weather clothes” in the winter or my “summer clothes” come May).
Most importantly, I’m not attached to any of my possessions. Sure I have a favorite pair of jeans and a favorite pair of shoes and a favorite T-shirt, but those items don’t define me. I’m not attached to these things, and I could get rid of any of them without being upset or experiencing some sort of deep solipsistic loss. I am not my blue jeans or my furniture or my cooking utensils.
I’m certain that this list will change over time. Next month I might have 284 things, then 285 things the following month, and I might have 190 things next year, who knows. I still plan on getting rid of things if I’m not using them. But I don’t plan on updating my list every time I get rid of something though. Rather, this list is a point of reference for me, an inventory of my life, a snapshot of the moment, a tool to help me maintain my minimalist lifestyle. And I’m making a conscious effort to not purchase anything anymore unless I need it (i.e., food, hygiene products, etc.).
Again, the ostensible subject here (i.e., counting your possessions) is not the true subject, it’s not the point. The point is that taking a physical inventory of your life is eye opening, and it helps you get rid of unnecessary items so you can appreciate what you do have. I really appreciate what I have now, even though I’m not attached to it.