After reading Dave Bruno's book The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul, I have been looking around me trying to decide what 100 Things I would take with me if I were inclined to move (which I am not) and what I would leave behind.
Mr. Bruno is a late-30-something-year-old entrepreneur turned digital marketing director for a university. He is married, has three daughters, keeps various pets, and lives in San Diego. He discovered one day that he was 'stuck in stuff'. He couldn't find anything on his desk or in his closet. There were four junk drawers in the kitchen. His garage was full to the rafters with everything but cars.
So, in the midst of all this chaos, he came up with the idea of paring down his personal possessions to 100 things and living with those things for one year.
This wasn't really a gimmick. It was to be a way of breaking the chains of American consumerism that tightly bound him. It was to be his way of stopping using shopping and buying things as entertainment.
At one time he owned his own business. He sold it when he realized that successful entrepreneurs never rest and that such a relentless life wasn't for him. He compares that 'more is better' thinking to our unending quest to buy things.
He writes: The expectation of the consumer in American-style consumerism is to buy and buy and buy some more. The expected route for a small business in American-style capitalism is to grow and grow and grow some more. The anticipation is the same as well. Both the shopper and the entrepreneur behave as if there is an end goal of contentment. But neither ever quits striving for that satisfaction. There's always a little more stuff to be had. There's always a little more profit to be had.
His personal challenge became a 'movement' when he began talking about it and writing about it. Others joined in with their own challenges.
Here is how it worked for him.
He made the rules of what counted as a 'personal possession' and what didn't. So the bed he shared with his wife and the kitchen utensils and the shower curtain and the family's books and anything else that was used by all in the household didn't count. What did count were his wedding ring, wallet, watch, toothbrush, his desk and desk chair, his cellphone, laptop, his clothes (he counted his jeans and shirts and shoes as separate items but lumped his underwear and socks together as one), 16-year-old Subaru, his camping and hiking and surfing equipment (all of which took up at least 20 if not more things on his list), his pen, blue mechanical pencil and journal, and a few basic tools.
It was fascinating to read how he made the decisions on what to keep and what to let go of. He sold, donated, and tossed. He didn't just pack away his extensive collection of woodworking tools - the hardest to part with - for a year. He sold them all. He sold his guitar and his SLR camera and his model train collection and rock climbing gear even though it was painful to do so.
He writes that after purging himself of these things, I was free to appreciate these former interests of mine rather than worry about not participating in them. The 100 Thing Challenge proved a handy way to get rid of stuff that was never going to fix my past or make me someone that I was not.
Mr. Bruno does make it through the year - from his 38th to his 39th birthday - with his 100 Things. Occasionally he would get rid of one thing and replace it with another. It is fun to read the reactions of his family and friends and strangers to his challenge. He has some thoughtful observations about American consumerism and why we are so enamored with malls. He ponders the pursuit of having the perfect, heirloom pen and the fantasy that owning it held for him. And about how little we really need to be content if we will just stop and look around us at what is really important.
He asks: Is a sunset more beautiful if you are wearing the right brand of clothing when watching it?
This is the message of America-style consumerism. My human life is not enough. There are purchases upon purchases that will transform me into something more than what I am.
So I am back to thinking about my 100 Things. Of course, when you live by yourself everything you own is "personal." But what possessions would I take with me if I were to move to, say a furnished apartment in London for a year? I am not sure I could come even up with 100 things. I don't hang on to much stuff anymore. I don't shop for entertainment. What I do have, I use and enjoy. But Mr. Bruno's book sets out a proposition worth pondering. It has made me take a closer look at what I own and what I think I couldn't live without.