Ha, sometimes the timing of the universe frightens me with its synchronicity. After my post yesterday about wishing I could have a Dumpster Day in my own life, a time to stop and get rid of everything I don't need, clean everything I've got, and put everything back in its place, I came across this article in this week's TIME magazine called "The 100 Thing Challenge." It's about a guy named Dave Bruno who is trying to fight our consumer culture by whittling down his belongings to only 100 things. After reading the article, felt like I understood the why of the decluttering challenge, and why others around America are feeling inspired to do similar challenges. "Organizational consultant" Peter Walsh is quoted in the article as attributing people's desire to get rid of stuff to their desire to get some control over their lives, "even if it's just a tidy kitchen counter." (The online article, btw, has a photo of a really cluttered kitchen counter. Despite your suspicions, it is not mine.)
I get it. I want to have control over the stuff that sometimes feels like it is taking over, too, and I have already said that mainly my husband and I limit our consumerism. We really don't have as much stuff as a lot of people. Still, it weighs us down.
I remember when David and I first left on our westward adventure, how good it felt to get rid of everything we couldn't carry in the trunk of my car. Granted, it was a 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, and the trunk was massive. Still, all we had for a year or so was what could fit in that car. It was pretty funny when we finally stopped and moved into the four bedroom house (briefly) with the two roommates, and we unloaded all of our stuff into the house for about a week before the roommates arrived. There was all this wide open space, and our little camp chairs, our sleeping bags on the floor, our single candle, our one beautiful rug. It felt good, and clean...and a little bit ridiculous, if you want to know the truth. Like when we had to sweep our huge living room floor with a little hand brush and dustpan that we used to brush pine needles and such out of the tent. Or when we sat cross-legged on the floor of an expansive dining room, eating rice out of a shared camping pot with a stick David carved into a spork.
My first reaction to the article, though, was a little misled. I believed that this guy was actually trying to only own 100 things (that is sort of what the article says, that he was the beginner of a "grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.") So I started making a mental list of my essential 100 items, while I was jogging on the elliptical machine:
1. My house. That's my hugest possession, though maybe it doesn't count since I don't really own it yet, and won't for what seems like a billion years?
2. My van.
3. Our other car, Zoom-Zip. (Due to my husband's weird schedule and the absence of buses during that time frame, the only way we could narrow down to one vehicle is if I were able to wake up both boys every morning at 3:00 am and drive David to work, then he would have to take a bus to my work, pick up the car, and drive to daycare at noon to get them.)
4. Then I thought, so do I have to count two carseats as possessions? I own them.
5. I live in northern MN. That means I need at least three coats for the different weather, two hats, at least three pairs of mittens/gloves, warm boots, dressy boots, fleece pants, snow pants, neck gator, snowshoes, you know. Does "winter gear" count as one thing?
6. Oh, shit, I got to books. Sorry, game over. I can't even limit myself to 100 books in each room. I can't even limit myself to 100 journals of my own writing! This was my weakness when we went out West, too. I can recall David physically restraining me in a bookstore in Jackson Hole, our first rare trip out of the wilderness and into a real shopping environment.
So then, as I was pondering whether the gym membership was a possession (yeah, I think so), I started wondering if this whole idea was even a good one. I mean, isn't there something to say about owning things and using them right up to their limits? I mean, hanging on to the stuff and reusing it as much as possible. You look in the closets of old people who have lived through the Great Depression, for instance, and you're likely to find all kinds of things saved in bundles and bins, things that can be reused. Drawers full of twist ties, cardboard from panty hose packages, recycled greeting cards. Isn't it better to hang onto things, so we don't have to buy more later?
Take my bicycle, for instance. Now, later on in the article, another person modifies the challenge to just getting rid of things you don't use daily, never mind the number. OK, sounds a little more reasonable. But even accounting for the winter months, I haven't ridden my bike for several years, since becoming pregnant and having the second kiddo. So yes, I could get rid of my bike, saying well, I'm not using it, so it's just extra stuff. However, I'm pretty sure that I will love riding my bike once again when I don't have to figure out how to transport two small children on the back or in some kind of trailer (that I'd have to buy) or whatever. Like maybe in a few years when they're riding their bikes. (Helmets? Separate possession?) In that case, I'd have to be a bigger consumer by buying another bike.
Another case in point is the espresso maker. Haven't used it in a really long time, 'cause well, it's a wonderful treat that takes more time than I can put into right now. Plus it's really hard to operate with a toddler monkey hanging off my hip. But there will probably be a time in the future when I can see David and I having the leisure time to cuddle up with some homemade mochas. And I'm not going to buy another machine (especially since this one was a gift I got in 1997--now that's getting some use out of it, right?)
So, with all these questions, I finally visited this blog, which is the guy who the article was based on. He clarifies there that it's about personal possessions, not things like furniture and vehicles. He also completely excludes both books and filled journals. Now I'm back in the game. Also, it's only things for himself, so I don't have to count the car seats or kids' bike helmets. I'm also quite relieved to find out that he lumps some things together like underwear and socks! I mean, gross. Then I'd just have to be a crazy laundry soap consumer. Or else really stinky.
I noticed that Dave Bruno has nothing on his list like toothbrush, hairbrush, contacts, glasses, maybe a little shampoo, lotion, etc. Did he count those as shared possessions (ew, toothbrush)? Or just not count them at all? I was a little humbled by the fact that I probably use 100 things just as personal care products, and I'm not even a girly girl, Sex-in-the-City type. Well, next week when I have the boys in daycare for a couple of mornings, I guess I'm going to have to get together my Goodwill boxes. There is some junk here that needs to go away, but I still don't feel that 100 things is enough for me.