I did it. I counted everything that I own down to the last screwdriver in the tool kit that my dad gave me to the inhaler resting idly in my closet that I never use, but keep for the possibility that my asthma will come back and I find myself gasping for air on the carpet.
Why would anyone count all of their items, though?
The idea of minimalism has caught my attention. In a nutshell, minimalism can be defined as a simpler way of living through one’s detachment from their possessions as well as the excess in life, thus freeing up more time, energy, and resources to concentrate on what one would consider the most essential to their health, happiness, and overall well-being. When referring to excess, The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, propose a re-prioritization, a reorientation of our values.
This idea of simplification is seen in the five areas of life identified as needing our most attention–health, relationships, passions, growth, and contributions. Focusing on the chapter on relationships, for example, they are organized into three tiers: primary, secondary, and periphery. The primary tier consists of our most intimate relationships (life partners, immediate family, and our closest friends), the second tier–still close relationships, but those that “should only receive your time and attention once your commitment to your primary relationships is filled” (60). Finally, your periphery relationships include those whom “you care about, people you wish great things for, but they are also those who consume the majority of your precious commodity–your time” (58).
Perhaps I have not set up a convincing argument yet for adopting a lifestyle of minimalism, but in support of Millburn and Nicodemus’ advice on relationships, think about the people in your life whom you always tell yourself you should be spending more time with, whom you find yourself wishing you could make a bigger part of your life. The idea of organizing our relationships into categories is not to place labels on friends, acquaintances, family members, and lovers, but merely to examine and identify which people in our lives deserve more of our attention. Perhaps there are negative relationships in your periphery preventing you from building a stronger relationship with someone whose time you really value.
Minimalism, from what I have come to understand, is concerned with the idea of living intentionally–intentionally dedicating more time to the pursuit of a personal interest, more time to the relationships in our life that matter most, and less time on the superfluous and restricting things in our lives, such as our possessions.
Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet (1971), one of the first and most prominent books to examine the American Diet and its effect on the environment, wrote: “Freedom is ‘elbow room’: our capacity for self-defense, our success in fending off the intrusion of others. And what better defense than material accumulation? After all, the more we have, the freer we are from dependence upon others” (xxi). In these lines, Lappé refers to our “atomistic nature . . . [a] moral universe ruled by the laws of interest” (xxi). One could say that our obsession with our possessions is irrationally-bound to our concept of freedom, and that by losing our material possessions, our freedom becomes severely restricted. It is this misguided fear, however, and the undeserved attention we give to things, that rob us of our precious time, energy, and resources.
Minimalism aims to shed these restrictions, both the materialistic and non-materialistic. It is, at its core, a reorientation of our values, freeing us to what is truly the most essential to live a meaningful life.
Thus, I have counted my things, thanks to Lina Menard and her 203 Things List. Menard runs the This is the Little Life blog, as well as designs and constructs homes for PAD (Portland Alternative Dwellings), a tiny house building company based out of Portland, OR. Her blog is fantastic by the way, and I highly recommend following the link if you are at all interested in great writing and learning more about the Tiny House Movement.
Here are My 166 Things (google docs as the edges are cut off):
|1||backpack||accessories||blue Mountain Hardwear school backpack||1|
|1||electronics box||accessories||contents: laptop/phone/iPod/camera battery chargers; cell phone, iPod mini, Canon digital camera and SD card; My Passport back-up drive, headphones||11|
|1||handkerchief||accessories||blue handkerchief with paisley design||1|
|1||hanna’s bowl||accessories||clay, wood-fired, amber and grey bowl||1|
|1||hp laptop||accessories||hp laptop||1|
|1||laptop case||accessories||grey laptop sleeve||1|
|1||scarf||accessories||black H & M scarf from France||1|
|1||tool bag||accessories||screwdrivers, pliers, renches, flashlight, measuring tape||17|
|1||toiletry kit||bathing||contents: electric razor w/charger, deodorant, aftershave, cologne, hand lotion, nail clipper, tweezer, chapstick, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, comb, coffee cup, soap, soap dispenser, shampoo, shampoo dispenser||18|
|3||towel||bathing||brwn towel, blk. and grey towel, REI orange camping towel||3|
|1||washcloth||bathing||REI bl. quick-dry towel||1|
|1||bicycle||bicycle||road bike (pannier, rack, lock, helmet, car rack, pump, horns)||8|
|7||athletic clothing||clothing||running shorts (5), reg. shorts, socks (7), cold weather wear (craft top & bottom, sugoi top, 3 pairs SmartWool socks), swimming (bottoms, goggles, 2 caps), 5 tops||28|
|3||boots||clothing||Dad’s leather pull-ons, winter boots, work boots||3|
|6||formal dress||clothing||pants (2), shoes, belt, shirts (2), socks (1), suit and pants||9|
|3||gloves||clothing||leather, winter, H & M||3|
|1||hat||clothing||cream-colored, knitted winter hat||1|
|1||heavy flannel||clothing||blue and white||1|
|3||jackets||clothing||LL Bean, Mountain Hardwear, Kirra||3|
|4||pants||clothing||cords, jeans, pants||4|
|1||rain gear||clothing||rain coat||1|
|7||shoes||clothing||LL Bean, Tevas, Salamon, Saucony (2)||7|
|14||tops||clothing||t-shirts (6), long sleeve shirts (8)||14|
|1||undies||clothing||1 week’s worth boxers and socks||20|
|1||pot||cooking||cuisinart stainless steel||1|
|2||reusable grocery bags||cooking||1 Trader Joe’s bag, 1 chico bag||2|
|6||tupperware||cooking||3 leftover containers, 1 cereal box, 2 ingredient containers||6|
|1||eating utensils||eating||3 bowls, 2 spoons, 2 forks, 2 knives||9|
|1||travel mug||eating||travel mug||1|
|2||water bottle||eating||Nalgene, biking bottle||1|
|1||camping box||camping||contents: 1 bowl w/lid, meal kit, swiss army knife, head lamp, travel pillow||6|
|1||compression sack||camping||REI stuff sack||1|
|1||pack||camping||75 liter Gregory Baltoro||1|
|2||sleeping bags||camping||Lafuma 40*, Lafuma 50*||2|
|1||tent||camping||tent (collapsable poles, stakes, rain flap)||1|
|22||books||entertainment||leisure, french (3), reference books (span/fren/eng dictionaries, fren textbook citation manual, french grammar books (2))||22|
|1||CD/DVD case||entertainment||cds and dvds||20|
|4||craft box||entertainment||hemp, colored pencils, packaging tape, thumb tacks,||4|
|3||cross country equipment||entertainment||skis, poles, boots||3|
|9||decorations||entertainment||Tibetan prayer flags, star from Germany, framed picture from UT, Hanna’s painting, cork board, Eiffel Tower photo, Typhoon music poster, Hanna’s letter, Pam’s box||9|
|3||journals||entertainment||moleskin, blank, India pocket journal||3|
|7||letter box||entertainment||letters, postcards, a cd, keepsakes, etiquettes (3)||7|
|1||paint box||entertainment||box, brushes, paints, mixing wheel||4|
|1||sketch book||entertainment||sketch book||1|
|1||book shelf unit||organization||black book shelf unit||1|
|1||clothes hamper||organization||pink clothes crate||1|
|1||coffee table||organization||circular, red table||1|
|2||desk cups||organization||black and white, Hersbruck cup||2|
|1||door hanger||organization||door hanger||1|
|1||drying rack||organization||drying rack||1|
|1||letter sorter||organization||letter sorter||1|
|1||plastic bin||organization||1 lg. rubbermaid bin (storage) w/lid||1|
|1||waste basket||organization||waste basket||1|
|7||school supplies||school||folders (4), notebooks (5), 3-ring binders (3), set of pens/pencils, scissors, ruler||7|
|1||bed||sleeping||mattress, box spring||2|
|1||bed sheets||sleeping||set of twin bed sheets||1|
|1||blanket||sleeping||green wool blanket||1|
|1||pillow||sleeping||pillow and case||1|
Counting was a bit difficult, I found out. At times, I was not sure whether to group certain items together, or whether to count each separately, such as every pack of dental floss, or each sheet composing my bed set. The number found on the left (166) tends to group those items together as being one thing, and the number on the right (294) is a more exact count, tallying each item individually. Another thing to keep in mind is that my cooking items consist mainly of my one pot because I can afford to only have one pot sharing a kitchen with three other housemates. This list would be much larger if I were living alone, like Lina.
I encourage you to think about what you have, if not take the time to do a little inventory. You’d be surprised at how much of your things go unused, things that could be donated and passed along to someone who could make good use out of them :)
Lappé, Frances Moore. Diet for a Small Planet. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971. Print.
Millburn, Ryan Fields, and Ryan Nicodemus. minimalism: live a meaningful life. Columbia: Asymmetrical Press, 2011. Print.