Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thinking About Things

Things. They're on my mind.

First, there was Bill O'Reilly's insanely racist rant where he lamented the end of the "white establishment" and the rise of a group of voters who want things.

Then there is the fact that I am hoping to sell my house, and that requires me to de-clutter, pack up, and generally get rid of some of my things. 

Finally, I stumbled across this article in which a woman attempts to simplify her life by getting rid of most of her things, leaving herself with only 100 possessions. This includes all of her clothes and her personal toiletries!

Here's how I'm reflecting on all of these things together. First of all, the "things" the people Bill O'Reilly's talking about want are not the same as the "things" that I need to get rid of. These people want (and need) things like food, health care, and marriage equality. This is in no way the same as my boxes full of clothes I haven't worn in a year or the various knick-knacks that have accumulated in every corner of my house. The things of O'Reilly's foes are things that matter to me. I don't want my world to be cluttered--literally and figuratively--with so many of these other things. I don't want to open drawers filled with chargers to mystery electronics. I don't want to fear for my life each time I try to walk through my daughter's toy-strewn bedroom in the dark.

I'm honestly not even particularly attached to all the things that fill my house. I'm not big on clothes and fashion, so rotating a few staples through my wardrobe doesn't fill me with fear. I don't need a lot of jewelry or shoes. I don't get very sentimentally attached to objects and would rather just keep my memories by journaling about them or taking a picture. I'm not particularly crafty, so I don't have collections of scrapbooks or a need for any complex project tools.

Why do I still have so many things?

Looking at that woman's list of 100 things filled me with awe. There is no way--no way--I could whittle my possessions down to that small of a list. For one thing, I probably have a thousand books. I'm not exaggerating. I have eight bookshelves in my house. My "Someday House" board on Pinterest is filled with images like this one:

Even though I am a recent Kindle convert, I can't imagine my life without physical books in it. They are not mere decoration. While I can't promise you that every one of the thousand books gets opened on a regular basis, I do turn to that collection very, very regularly, and I can never tell which one of those books is going to be the one I need. I do occasionally pare down the group by donating some, but I can't imagine reducing it to even two bookshelves worth, let alone so few books so that I would only have 100 total things.

Another group of things I couldn't imagine doing without would be my media collection. I have a lot of movies and CDs. Again, I'm one of those hybrid technology adapters who has both physical and electronic versions of media. I've cut cable and am watching many television shows via Amazon or Netflix, but I still don't have an iPod dock in my car, so I listen to physical CDs on the road. I still turn to my collection of DVDs on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Technology has expanded my options, but it hasn't de-cluttered my world.

Finally--even though I said I wasn't very fashion-forward--my clothes would make it difficult to get under 100 things. I play too many roles. I need gym clothes, work clothes, professional clothes, and casual clothes. As a community college teacher, I don't want to be too formal at work, but as a young teacher, I don't want to be too informal. That means that the clothes I wear to work don't really double as casual clothes or professional clothes. That also means I have to have different shoes for each of these things. Plus, students notice if you wear the same outfit over and over again.

The downsizer who did the 100 things list mentions that she cycles her clothes through seasonally, so that she only has 100 things out at a time (she uses three-month benchmarks), but I live in Missouri. Right now, it is 70 degrees outside. Tomorrow it is supposed to snow. I am not kidding. I can't be driving to a storage unit somewhere every time the weather does something crazy. Layering: the way of the Midwest.

Even though I don't think I'll be getting my earthly possessions down to 100 anytime soon, I do think that having this reflection on things will help me as I'm packing up the house. There are a lot of things that are simply taking up space. I won't need them. I don't use them. I probably won't even remember them once they're gone. Hopefully I can keep that in mind as I dig into this project.

What about you? Are things a big part of your life? What possessions would keep you from meeting the 100 things challenge? How much do you strive for simplicity?


  1. I really admire those who do the 100 things challenge, or my friends who are living in a tiny house (120 square feet for 2 adults and 2 cats). I am not wanting that lifestyle, but I appreciate it. I try to incorporate that as much as I can; I purge my clothes often if I am not wearing them, and I do not buy things that aren't functional. I am not stuck with a lot of decorative-only items. (i.e. I don't buy stuff just to fill shelves.) I think everyone is a work in progress, but my husband and I are trying very hard not to accumulate stuff. We don't buy a ton of stuff (even from the one spot at Target) for each holiday, so there are no tubs full of crap that sit in the basement for most of the year. We love what we have and we use it.

    But, like you, I will always want to have books around (but that counts for cool decoration too!), and some other things are non-negotiable, like clothing for the different roles I have, as you mentioned. We tried very hard not to overbuy kitchen gadgets, and use elbow grease to make and clean things instead of machines and chemicals (when possible).

    As this comment is getting long enough to be a blog post, I will wrap it up by saying that I do want to work on simplifying by way of having one thing at a time and using it until it's 100% done. For instance, I have one expensive/warm/heavy duty winter coat that I wear. If something went wrong with it, I will try to mend it. But I have like 4 fall/spring jackets, and I got them cheaper and am not as invested. I tend to give those to Goodwill and get more pretty easily, when in reality I probably only need one. The same could be said for hoodies, pairs of gloves, hats, purses/bags etc and yet I have multiple of each of those. So when people like my friends in the tiny house tell me about the concept of having ONE sweater that they wear when the weather calls for it, replacing it only when needed, I strive to match that utilitarian attitude.

    1. 120 square feet! That's amazing! I would need a big yard or a close park, though. I completely agree with you about utility. I want items that have practical use.

      I really need to work on buying things for quality and seeing them as an investment. I am particularly bad about this when it comes to items that I don't use that often. Every winter, I have to buy a new pair of boots, and I always buy cheap ones. Of course, they're worn out by the time the next winter comes. If I would just invest in a high-quality pair one year, I'd have them for a long time, but I never manage to get that logic into the equation when it's time to actually buy them.

    2. Yes! I grew up shopping at Target and Payless for shoes and it took me a long time to break those habits and opt for sturdy, long-lasting but expensive shoes (especially at places like REI with a guarantee, it's worth the money in the long run). I have good boots, a good coat, etc. But then I am weak when it comes to other things :) Especially when I have a dog that likes to eat gloves!

  2. While I don't think I could scale my house down to 100 items, I can think in terms of what I would take if I had to choose only 100 items from my house. Interesting how there is a difference. I look at clothes and books as being replaceable even if I wouldn't part with them unless I absolutely had to do so. So I blogged about it

  3. Just 100 things huh? That's pretty strong for her. I don't think that I can do that anytime soon too but it's definitely a challenge I'll want to do someday.