Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Less is more

Buying things is so normal we're quite used to our homes being crammed with pretty bits and pieces, the latest gadgets, twenty handbags and a mountain of paperbacks. But suppose you were limited to just 100 personal possessions?

An American couple dissatisfied with their hard-working, hard-spending existence decided to take up the "100 items" challenge and drastically reduce their huge stack of belongings.

Tammy Strobel, who worked long hours for an investment business, was so unhappy being "caught in the work-spend treadmill" that she resolved to totally change her lifestyle. Her husband Logan Smith, a doctoral student, decided to do the same.

They gave lots of their possessions to charity. They got rid of their TV. They got rid of their two cars and bought bikes. They moved to a smaller studio flat with less room for stuff. Eventually they reached the target of just 100 items each. And they say they really do feel happier.

The sudden brake on spending has led to other unexpected benefits. They've paid off debts of $30,000. They have more money to travel. Ms Strobel has changed her job and works fewer hours. And she has time to volunteer for a non-profit organisation.

I'm impressed by their determination and their ability to change their way of life so radically. A houseful of stuff may be unnecessary but for most of us it's cosy and familiar and reassuring. The thought of losing practically all of it would be most alarming. Particularly the hundreds of much-loved books and the fabulous paintings and all the CDs that are virtually glued to my ears.

A smaller home would be hard to adapt to as well, now I'm used to so much space to stretch out in. Jenny and I would once again be tripping over each other and intruding on each other.

I suppose it makes a difference that we've never been the sort to keep up with the Joneses. We buy things because we genuinely want them and think they'll genuinely improve our lives. Which means it would also be harder to part with them. So we won't be taking up the "100 items" challenge just yet. Less is not yet more.

PS: Some brave souls have even given up their homes and now base their lives entirely on a few bits of technology like laptops, iPads and Kindles.

Pic: Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith

39 comments:

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm not to bad on 'things' but I really need plenty of space. I think very carefully before I make a purchase... but I can't do without the space. And space is very expensive.
Sx

Grannymar said...

That room looks very stark. Can you imagine it in a cold Irish winter? In the years on my own I have reduced my house contents but no way would I go that far.

nick said...

Scarlet - Me too. If I don't have enough space, I feel really claustrophobic and cramped. Would you believe, I lived in tiny bed-sits once upon a time! We're lucky to have got our hands on enough cash over the years to afford a house.

Grannymar - Very true, in an Irish (or British) winter a cosy, well-furnished home is very cheering. Those pokey bed-sits were pretty grim as well!

Liz said...

How does the 100 things thing work? Assuming you keep the bed then you need a duvet plus a cover plus a sheet plus pillow and pillow case - at least one of each - or does a bed with all its necessary bits count as one thing?

WE watched In The Air, the George Clooney film, recently and he lectures about living out of a backpack and it's the same sort of idea. Start off with all the essentials, then you add the extras then the unnecessary and so on until you can't move. So you have to discard lots. Very drastic but it did make me think about things like ornaments, especially those packed away in boxes that I inherited and don't even like but think I should keep. (But I haven't discarded them yet ...)

Nick said...

Liz - I was wondering that too. I'd like to see a list of the 100 items to check exactly what's included. A few dozen clothes and a few dozen kitcheny things and you wouldn't be allowed much else!

You still have inherited ornaments that you don't like? Take a deep breath, Liz, and give them to the charity shop. They can be passed on to someone who actually likes them.

Baino said...

I think they've gone to the extreme but after living in a holiday house a few years back I came home and decluttered. I realised half the things in my kitchen I never use and a whole heap of clothes I never wear , was a god year for the Smith Family I can tell you.

Nick said...

Baino - I had to look up the Smith Family! "A national, independent children's charity that helps disadvantaged Australian children by unlocking opportunities through education and learning." Sounds like a good cause. Interesting how you were suddenly inspired to declutter.

kylie said...

nick,
this would be one of my favourite subjects....

i'll be back when i feel more wordy

Nick said...

Kylie - Feel free. I wonder how many personal items you possess? And which ones you couldn't bear to throw out?

kylie said...

hmmm
i'm quite attached to my clothes and i have quite a few.
i like my shoes, tho dont have a lot, i like my bags but dont have a whole lot of them. there are a couple of bookcases full of books that i value but probably wouldnt miss, dont have a great number of cds and probably wouldnt miss them...

my 100 would definitely be used up on things to wear

Nick said...

Kylie - I imagine that's true of most women (and maybe plenty of men too). What about personal documents like passports, birth certificates, exam passes, bank statements etc? If they each count as one item, we're in trouble!

Wisewebwoman said...

Nick I'm with you on the space thing, I genuinely had a sort of mild case of claustrophobia as a child (too many people, too small a house, shivering and chilblains in Ireland)and I like some space of my own with a dose of guilt about the Third World.
As to 100 items, I've observed others make a similar type experiment and manifest a happiness I didn't think possible.
You gave me enough feed here to do a blog of my own as I'm falling into the justification of collection thing again and I resolved I wouldn't. Books and Itunes. Dishwasher? Ha!
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Interesting that you know people who've become happier after pruning their possessions. But it can be hard to throw away things cherished for years, even if in reality they just gather dust!

Wisewebwoman said...

Nick:
They took pictures of the 'stuff', it's all basically stuff. I'm not there yet but have done a huge amount of pruning in the last 10 years.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - I think Jenny and I identify "stuff", as opposed to things we genuinely treasure, pretty quickly. And then they're off to the charity shop pronto.

secret agent woman said...

I pretty frequently get into de-cluttering binges. But I hope to do a major reduction after the kids have moved off on their own. But the bikes-only thing would require little in a town that was bike-accessible - mine is not!

Nick said...

Secret Agent - This is it, many people need their cars because they live in remote areas or public transport is inadequate. We need at least one car in our household, even in a big city.

Eryl Shields said...

I rather like the idea of living in a large, empty space with nothing but a wood burning stove for warmth, but in truth I know I'd miss my Hello Kitty collection too much.

Nick said...

Eryl - Something else I had to look up! I hope you haven't tried the Hello Kitty fingernails. I think they'd make most domestic tasks undoable. The Hello Kitty assault rifle might come in handy though with any over-attentive males.

Maggie May said...

i think that is an awesome thing to do for many reasons, even if you just do it once in a life. a good experiment.

Nick said...

Maggie May - Indeed, how many of us would have the nerve to discard so many things without having second thoughts? Quite an achievement.

Megan said...

Yeah, not doing that. Although we could definitely do with some pruning around here. All the closets are full of boxes that have just been moved from closet to closet over the past few years...

Nick said...

Megan - Boxes that just move from closet to closet? Do you even know what's in them anymore? Uncle Harry's steamy love letters maybe?

Macy said...

Having recently spent an afternoon crying over old photos and concert tickets, I'm not sure how far you should aim to declutter to an arbritary number - why 100 rather than 93 or 110 things???
And are digitial photos and itunes (= one computer) cheating???
Damn the beancounter in me always wins out..

Nick said...

Macy - The more you look at that magic 100 items, the more puzzling it gets. Does it include ID documents, temporary possessions, shared items? You'd have to do a lot of fiddling and redefining to get it down to 100, if you ask me.

Terra Shield said...

I could never give up my books or my music... so 100 items are out for me. 100 categories on the other hand, might just work.

Nick said...

Terra - 100 categories, that's an idea. In fact, that would probably cover everything I possess, so I can carry on buying stuff with a clear conscience.

Rummuser said...

Nick, I am too old for new acquisitions and brutal when it comes to discarding useless stuff. I have simplified my life to the level where it would hurt if I were to discard anything more. I am the Jones that my neighbours have to emulate! As long as I can lump all my books as one item, I can comfortably say that I have less than 100 personal possessions.

Nick said...

Ramana - Indeed, we should all be copying the clutter-free Joneses, not the cluttered-up Joneses. Counting all my books as one item would bring me much closer to the goal!

Los Angelista said...

I should click on the link and read it but if the 100 things includes books... well then, I've already failed this one.

Nick said...

Liz - I would fail for the same reason. But I couldn't bring myself to throw out all my books and buy an e-reader instead. I just love the look and feel of actual books.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I considered it while reading your post but then I thought of my books, which number well over 100. I couldn't do it. But our living space these days is already quite small, and we only acquire things that fill a genuine need, even if that need is aesthetic. I do feel physically lighter when I take things to the Goodwill, though.

Nick said...

Heart - Books are the real stumbling block for us cultured types! Good that you regularly offload things to Goodwill.

Val said...

After selling our house in London and before buying our current one in Wales, my husband and I lived in a tiny rental cottage for a little over two months. Nearly everything was in storage - books, music, most of our clothes, etc, etc. After a few weeks we succumbed to a new computer as we found it difficult to cope without 'net access (and the local library ones were a pain) but apart from that we had very little and I've got to tell you - I loathed it. So - what 100 things would make life bearable? Certainly books, I missed them terribly. Music - I missed that too. I can live without a TV, but not DVD's as I like to be able to rewatch fave films. I don't know what else, but having experienced what to me is a normal life, I don't want to live one that isn't.

Nick said...

Val - I'm with you completely. There's so much stuff in our house I simply couldn't do without, like all the books and CDs and paintings and beautiful ceramics. No way could I go back to the sort of spartan bedsits I lived in when I was younger.

Quickroute said...

I was just about to post the 'living out of a hard drive' link but you stole my thunder - Damn You Nick!

Nick said...

Quickie - You can still use the link on your own blog. I don't think there's much overlap on our readership! We'll have to update that old phrase about living out of a suitcase. For suitcase now read laptop?

Kate said...

Hmm.... I downsized dramatically when i moved to this house - but i couldn't bear to be parted from my books - never get the time to read them now - but maybe one day.....

Nick said...

Kate - I couldn't be parted from my books either, even if they were all on an e-reader. There's something about the solid presence of books that's so appealing.