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100 things

I have too much stuff. This is not some blindingly new realization for me; I’ve known I have too much stuff for an awfully long time. But I’ve noticed that my discontent with owning too much stuff has been growing, day by day.

This feeling has been exacerbated by the movement of all my now-grown children to homes of their own because, surprisingly, when children move out most of their stuff stays behind. And it grew exponentially when my brother Joe moved in with me, and his stuff was added to my own.

Seriously, I can’t find anything in the kitchen cupboards anymore without a dozen things falling out on top of my head.

I have slowly been purging myself of ‘things,’ but slowly, I must say, is the operative word. Even after purging, I still have too much stuff.

Misty, in support of my new interest in owning less, let me know about the “100 Thing Challenge.” The “Guy Named Dave” says it’s his way to “fight American-style consumerism and live a life of simplicity, characterized by joyfulness and thoughtfulness,” and others have joined in his quest to pare possessions down to only 100 things.

The first thing I noticed about this challenge was the numbers of exceptions to it. Very few people, it seems, truly want to take their ownership level down to a mere 100 things.

Guynameddave himself (his name is Dave Bruno, by the way) limited his challenge to “personal” things. Because he has a family, he exempted from his total items like  furniture, dishes and tools. In addition, his 100 thing total includes some “groups” of items that are only counted as one: things like socks and underwear.

This seems a little disingenuous, but I can sympathize. Despite my own growing dissatisfaction with stuff, when seriously considering the 100 Thing Challenge the first thing I exempted was my books. I probably have a couple of hundred, I thought, and not only was I not particularly interested in paring that amount down (I already purged my bookshelves this summer), I also wasn’t willing to forego ownership of things like shoes in order to keep my books.

Out of curiosity, however, I counted my books, and came up with an astounding total of 731, which I guess means I’m no better at estimating numbers than I am at estimating sizes. It makes the thought of limiting things (except for books) in my house to 100 an even bigger challenge than I thought.

But I’m up for it.

Honestly, the decision to exempt books (to exempt anything, actually) means I and just about everyone else joining in have failed the 100 Thing Challenge; but that’s okay. There is value enough in simply taking the effort to decide what, specifically, we feel we need to own in life.

My mentors in this process are not the others around the world who are also taking a second look at their consumer habits, but are, instead, my own ancestors, who seem to have managed to live with an amount of ‘things’ that would have most of us screaming “poverty!” today. I get to know their habits because some of them left behind wills that listed exactly what they owned, and very few approached the 100 Thing level.

For example, my great-great-great grandfather John Huland, whose last will and testament listed the following: one yoke of oxen, seven head of cattle, iron tools various kinds, (2) drawing guns, Log chain, one woman’s saddle, casting, pewter, earthenware, peppermill, warping spools, slate, one flax wheel, two small chests, one gun, one hand sifter, three bedsteads and furniture, one grind stone, one small saw, three heady howes (I have no idea what that is but I’m thinking it’s probably three hogs), two head of sheep.

That’s it. If I counted correctly, that’s a grand total of 30 things plus the ‘groups’ of casting, pewter, iron tools and earthenware.

No matter what I do, I’m not going to come close to that. And it’s already pointed out to me another exemption. Cats. I’m not counting the cats.

Anyway, compare Grandpa John’s total possessions with just my kitchen, where I counted an astounding total of 578 things and that doesn’t count consumables.

I’m starting my current paring project with the kitchen for two good reasons: one is the aforementioned inability to get anything out of the cupboards, and the second is that I’m beginning this process right around Thanksgiving dinner, which should highlight the absolute maximum amount of dishes I could possibly need.

I suspect 578 things in the kitchen is probably on the high end of the ‘need’ scale, especially when these things range from the never used (chafing dish, electric ricer and 26 saucers) to the rarely used (nine ramekins, electric griddle, stovetop popcorn maker, turkey roaster, waffle maker), to the over-the-top just in case category, which includes five (yes, five) spare carafes for the two electric coffee makers. There is no way in hell I could possibly ever need or use what I own: there’s 12 pie pans (when am I ever going to bake 12 pies at once?) 15 vases, 19 casserole dishes and 18 mixing bowls. 

Lucky for me (though unhappily, I must say), David’s mom is moving to Reno so a big yard sale is coming up. And for the stuff that’s “just too good” to get rid of, well... prepare yourself kids, ‘cause mama’s cleaning house.

Next month: my closet.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

editorial, genealogy, consumerism, possessions, 100 Thing challenge, John Huland

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