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The 100 Thing Challenge

Robert Downes - August 16th, 2010
The 100 Thing Challenge
If you’re into the ‘less is more’ lifestyle built on simplifying your life, you’ve probably heard of the “100 Thing Challenge.”
If not, then now’s your chance to have one heck of a garage sale this weekend.
The idea is to get rid of all of your possessions except for the 100 things you can’t live without for an extended period of time -- from 100 days to a year.
Blogger Dave Bruno (www.guynameddave.com) came up with the idea and has charted his progress (perhaps “regress” is a better word) online and in a soon-to-be-published book. He’s been feted in Time magazine as far back as 2008 and apparently has plenty of disciples who are busy ditching the clutter in their lives.
Bruno was motivated to reject consumerism not out of any strong belief in the so-called simple living movement, but by his Christian values:
“I am a Christian and feel strongly that a 100 Thing Challenge fits well with a Christian understanding of what’s most important in life, loving God and loving other people,” he writes on his blog. “And I suspect that living for an extended period of time outside of the soul-numbing habits of consumerism will spark a bit of the spiritual in pretty much any person. But a 100 Thing Challenge does not have to be religious.”
Amen, brutha’. If you check online you’ll find Bruno’s list of the 100 things he’s chosen to keep, including three Bibles, a mechanical pencil, wallet, iMac, MacBook Pro, cell phone, desk lamp, camera, backpack, tent, running shorts, seven t-shirts, etc. Turns out you can still own quite a pile of stuff, even if it’s only 100 things. Bruno fudges a bit by counting 10 pairs of underpants and six undershirts as one “thing” each, but otherwise, he keeps a pretty tight kit.
Closer to home, many of our recent ancestors owned very little of the junk we have piled up everywhere today. In his excellent book of local history, “Who We Were, What We Did,” Traverse City author Richard Fidler notes that 42% of persons living in Grand Traverse County in 1904 reported being “boarders” without property. “Many were retail clerks, laborers, students, and teachers,” Fidler writes. “For the most part, their scant possessions could be contained in a packing trunk. Though most could escape starvation and the cold, there were few amenities in their lives.”
Beyond simple poverty, getting rid of your possessions has long had religious or aesthetic overtones. Buddha, a prince who ran away from his earthly kingdom to become a holy man, set the 2,500-year tradition for his monks to own only a robe and a wooden bowl for begging food. And upon his death, the possessions of human rights champion Mohandas Gandhi could be counted on the fingers of his two hands: he owned two dinner bowls, a wooden fork and spoon, some porcelain monkeys, a diary, prayer book, watch, spittoon, letter openers and two pair of sandals. Gandhi also famously owned a spinning wheel to spin the cotton to make his clothes.
Some folks are finding the simple life to be a good way to go, especially during the recession. Last week, the New York Times wrote of a couple who got tired of being on the “work-spend treadmill” and decided to get off. Tammy Strobel (who was earning $40,000 per year, but was unhappy with her life) and her husband Logan Smith donated most of their belongings to charity, eventually giving up their cars as well. Today, they live on $24,000 per year in a 400-square-foot studio in Portland, Ore. and claim to be much happier. They are no longer in debt to the tune of $30,000, and spend what money they do have on experiences, such as travel.
As someone who enjoys traveling to the point of addiction, I can relate to that. My wife and I drive a couple of 10-year-old vehicles and I often reflect that people who buy cars on time payments are coughing up the equivalent of a round-trip ticket to San Francisco each month, year after year.
Well, each to their own. For some, the simple life is getting to be a matter of economic privation, rather than a lifestyle experiment. And needless to say, if everyone stops buying all of the consumer goodies that make the world go round, we’ll soon have the economy of the cave men to deal with.
It makes you wonder though, what will Dave Bruno do with all of his money once his book comes out? It’s sure to be a bestseller. And as a wise man once said, money is like manure: left in a pile it raises quite a stink, but spread it around and it makes things grow.

 
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