As a minimalist, I own more than you might think.
Although this essay is a somewhat parodic interpretation of my friend Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge, it is not entirely about “counting your stuff.” Rather, I’d like to touch on the idea of being conscious about what we do own by appreciating what we already have.
Other minimalists have taken the counting 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, and Nina Yau and her very impressive 47 things.
But if minimalism were a game in which the person with the fewest things wins, then you can consider me a loser before the opening bell. I have no desire to live with only X things. But, just for fun, let’s pretend to count my stuff together.
Ready. Here goes.
Unlike many folks who count their possessions, 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 and pepper shakers, cooking utensils, and even that metal thingy in the shower that holds shampoo. I even counted 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.
But, of course, just like some of our aforementioned counting friends, I cheated. Yes, I cheated by grouping many things into sets: My underwear counts as one thing, right?. My clothes hangers are only one item—obviously. And food, yep, that’s one item, too, because, fuck it, why not? Books? Yeah, let’s count those piles of books as one thing. My game, my rules.
Let’s be clear, I don’t plan on owning 50 or 100 things, and while I started this experiment as a joke, I also wanted to count my stuff so I could, in all honesty, get rid of any superfluous or unused items. As I started counting, I discovered that when you write down everything you own, it puts everything into a different perspective and helps us realize we can jettison so many things we don’t use but we’re holding on to just in case. After getting rid of tens of thousands of items last year (2009), I ended up counting 288 items today (December 2010).
Does 288 not sound very minimalist to you? Me either—especially because I cheated! But I challenge you to count your stuff (and be honest when counting it). I bet you have much more than you think (according to the Los Angeles Times, the average American household has more than 300,000 items in it).
With only 288 items, my apartment looks like this:
By the way, my place 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 a list of my 288 items—everything I own. (Note: I originally wrote down every signal item individually, but it made for a very long and boring list. So, for the sake of attenuation, I shortened the categories by adding a count with examples of items underneath each category.)
Life Tools & Accessories. 33 items, including my car, guitar, books, hairbrush, toothbrush, etc.
Consumables. 5 groups of items, including food, cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, office supplies, and paper goods.
Kitchen Items. 19 items, including pots, pans, utensils, coffeemaker, toaster, oven mitt, etc.
Bathroom Items. 6 items, including my bathroom scale, rugs, trash can, shower caddy, etc.
Electronics. 10 items, including my BlackBerry, MacBook, Printer, iPod, etc.
Furniture. 18 items, including my bed, couch, coffee table, desk, chairs, etc.
Decorations. 14 items, including decorative plants, artwork, digital picture frames, wall clock, etc.
Casual Clothes. 79 items, including jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, button-down shirts, etc.
Dress Clothes. 50 items, including suits, ties, dress shirts, etc.
Clothes (Miscellaneous). 58 items, including shoes, socks, underwear, belts, gym shorts, coats, 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: everything serves a purpose or brings me joy. There is not a kitchen utensil or piece of furniture or article of clothing that I do not use regularly. What 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, it’s all in one convenient place—not sitting in some storage container somewhere—which means I don’t have to unpack my “cold-weather clothes” in the winter or my “summer clothes” come May. How awesome is that.
Most important, I’m not attached to any of my possessions. Sure I have a favorite pair of jeans, a favorite pair of shoes, and a favorite teeshirt—but those items don’t define me. I’m not attached to these things, which means I could get rid of any of them without being upset or experiencing some sort of deep, existential loss. After embracing minimalism as a lifestyle, I now know that I am not my blue jeans or my furniture or my cooking utensils.
I’m certain this list will change over time. Next month I might own 284 things, and then 285 things the following month, and then maybe I’ll have 190 things sometime next year—who knows. I still plan on getting rid stuff if it’s not adding value to my life, but I don’t plan on updating my list every time I get rid of something. Rather, this list is a point of reference for me—an inventory of my life for December 2010.
Again, the ostensible subject here—counting your possessions—is not the true subject. Counting is not the point. The point is that taking a physical inventory of your life, albeit a bit silly, is eye opening, and it helps you get rid of unnecessary items so you can appreciate what you do have. I truly appreciate what I have now, even though I’m not attached to it.
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