Cutting Back To 100 Possessions

In reading this article about how frugality makes you happier, I was struck by the opening anecdote about Tammy Strobel, who embraced living simply to the point that she decided to winnow her personal possessions down to 100 items.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.
Today, three years after Ms. Strobel and Mr. Smith began downsizing, they live in Portland, Ore., in a spare, 400-square-foot studio with a nice-sized kitchen. Mr. Smith is completing a doctorate in physiology; Ms. Strobel happily works from home as a Web designer and freelance writer. She owns four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots. With Mr. Smith in his final weeks of school, Ms. Strobel’s income of about $24,000 a year covers their bills. They are still car-free but have bikes. One other thing they no longer have: $30,000 of debt.

I am trying to imagine what it would be like to have 100 possessions. I am pretty sure I have well over 100 books–actually I probably have way more than 100 books–and that’s just one type of possession. I can’t decide if it would be a relief to have so few things or if it would be somewhat annoying. If you just have two pots, for example, and you cook as much I do, you’re going to end up washing those pots a lot.
On the other hand, the simpler things are, the more peaceful life is. And it certainly seems to be making Strobel happy:

Now the couple have money to travel and to contribute to the education funds of nieces and nephews. And because their debt is paid off, Ms. Strobel works fewer hours, giving her time to be outdoors, and to volunteer, which she does about four hours a week for a nonprofit outreach program called Living Yoga.
“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

The number 100 is completely arbitrary. Still, I have been counting things lately. Because I am remodeling my bathroom, I have been thinking of the perfect number of towels, the perfect number of sets of sheets, etc. What do you really need in life?
Anyway, I’m not cutting back to 100 possessions any time soon, but the article did encourage me to start another bag of things to give to my local thrift store.

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4 thoughts on “Cutting Back To 100 Possessions”

  1. I read that too, and was struck by how much stuff we have, even after our recent fire. Heck, I probably have 100 things on my cluttered desk right now.

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  2. It’s funny, I was just reading this article over on the NY Times site last night, and almost linked to it, but felt it deserved a more thorough reaction/reflection, which I didn’t have the time for.
    As far as the “number of things” conundrum, it’s probably a useful metric for chronic hoarders, but the implications of what counts as a “thing” immediately bothers me. If I buy a ream of paper for my printer, did I just acquire 500 new things, or 1? Is my printer one thing, or a combination of 2 ink cartridges and the rest. I probably have 100 utentsils in the kitchen—but do I count all the forks as 1 thing, or 6? I start envisioning a Scrabble-like rulebook for the quantification of things.

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  3. Weird, both of you are dealing with this in different ways, since Shawn’s house burned down and Justin is getting rid of stuff so he can travel around the world. I just dislike clutter.
    Justin, I had the same thought. The box of paper clips on my desk–one item or 60 items? Who knows…

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