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The Cult of Less
August 17, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

When all your information is digital, meals are takeout, and your daily wardrobe consists of a black turtleneck and jeans, what’s the point of having, well… stuff? Meet the ultra-minimalists, people who have decided to purge their possessions down to a hundred items or less.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (212 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is interesting.

But I wanted to be the first one to point this up:

from BBC article: “Mr Sutton is the founder of CultofLess.com, a website which has helped him sell or give away his possessions - apart from his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a "few" articles of clothing and bed sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment.”

Huh? You're cutting back on having too many possessions, but you have a laptop, and iPad, and a Kindle?

I'm certain this is one of those things for which Mr Sutton has a snappy and suitably tedious explanation which he happily trots out every time someone mentions it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:10 PM on August 17, 2010 [21 favorites]


Oh my fucking god do I envy these people. I tend to brag that I don't "need" anything but my laptop and my clothes and a few books (although now I have an eReader, so 95% of them are getting donated in the next move) but every time I look around, there is more and more crap in my room. Then I realize, I like having nice, fashionable clothes and I like having plenty of them. I like my iPod and my DS. I like my giant framed poster. And those "likes" grow more and more until I've filled an entire room with my stuff. Then I realize every single thing I own fits in a 10x12 room, and I am happy again.

...and then I remember I just inherited a two-bedroom apartment packed to the gills with all sorts of admittedly very nice things. Oh! The pains of the middle class!
posted by griphus at 12:13 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if, clothes-wise, it's possible to be an ultra-minimalist as a woman. I expect it would be FAR more difficult, with expectations of different wardrobes, especially if one is in in a business that requires one to dress up. (And makeup! I know a lot of ladies reject these ideas but there is a social cost to doing so.)
posted by NoraReed at 12:13 PM on August 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


"Grown-up is just a word that kids use to describe someone who is not having any fun."

Indeed.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:14 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ironically the more money you have the easier it is to be a minimalist because you can just outsource everything. There is an example of a billionaire (whose name escapes me) who lives in hotels, rents transportation, has very little material possessions.
posted by stbalbach at 12:14 PM on August 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


Uncanny, because I've been pulling a different set of threads for a potential AskMe question.

See also: this piece from the NYT, and the website of the main profile in the article.

The woman in the profile is also slimming down to 100 possessions, and noted another great challenge of discarding 10 items from your life each week (trash, recycle, donate, etc.).

She cites this site as the origin of her 100 possession challenge.

And there was also this recent piece in the NYT about people who slim down their wardrobe to the barest minimum--the headliner wore only 6 articles of clothing for a month.

I started my own 10 item a week personal challenge last night, and I think I've already hit the goal through a bunch of low hanging fruit that will be going to goodwill. I really hope to keep it up--I have way too much stuff.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:15 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: Huh? You're cutting back on having too many possessions, but you have a laptop, and iPad, and a Kindle?

We all have different things that are important to us which make no sense to others. I've lugged boxes around for years of books that I never read while getting rid of perfectly fine furniture, clothes and other much more useful things, which I got rid of in an attempt to have less stuff. I only get rid of books by giving them away and there are plenty I could never give away. And hey, an iPad and a Kindle have access to different e-book libraries, so each is a digital library of its own.
posted by Kattullus at 12:15 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Vincent: You serious? You're really thinking about quitting?
Jules: The life?
Vincent: Yeah.
Jules: Most definitely.
Vincent: Oh, fuck. What'cha gonna do, man?
Jules: Well, that's what I've been sitting here contemplating. First, I'm going to deliver this case to Marcellus, then, basically, I'm just going to walk the Earth.
Vincent: What'cha mean, "walk the earth"?
Jules: You know, like Caine in Kung Fu, walk from place to place, meet people, get into adventures.
Vincent: And how long do you intend to walk the earth?
Jules: Until God puts me where he wants me to be.
Vincent: And what if he don't do that?
Jules: If it takes forever, then I'll walk forever.
Vincent: So you decided to be a bum?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2010 [18 favorites]


Do none of these people cook?
posted by doublesix at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2010 [34 favorites]


His stuff is all at his parents house.
posted by Artw at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2010 [46 favorites]


This is what I don't like about "living simply." Nearly everyone thinks of themselves as living at the baseline of simplicity. Compared to most people in the world, or even most people in the US, these people's lives are very complicated.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


NoraReed--it's funny, but I was almost thinking it is harder to be a man with an ultra-minimal wardrobe, at least in a business environment. There is less opportunity to mix and match to create different ensembles. Pants are pants and a shirt is a shirt.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2010


I'm certain this is one of those things for which Mr Sutton has a snappy and suitably tedious explanation which he happily trots out every time someone mentions it.

Reading large chunks of texts on eInk is much, much more pleasant on the eyes than having to read it on a digital display, regardless of resolution. Trying to read a book on my laptop is a trial.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on August 17, 2010


From the "purge their possessions" link, in which the author lists his 57 possessions:

# Socks (about 10 pairs)
# Underwear (about 10 pairs)

By my count that's either 20 or 30 items, depending on whether you count a pair of socks as a unit. He also discounts all of his shared possessions such as the nebulous "kitchen and bedroom stuff." I also wonder about things like cleaning supplies and toiletries. I strongly suspect they're actually well over 100 items, even if you only half count shared items.

Anyway, these folks are bush league. Let me know when they go full on Diogenes.
posted by jedicus at 12:18 PM on August 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


Kattullus: “We all have different things that are important to us which make no sense to others. I've lugged boxes around for years of books that I never read while getting rid of perfectly fine furniture, clothes and other much more useful things, which I got rid of in an attempt to have less stuff. I only get rid of books by giving them away and there are plenty I could never give away. And hey, an iPad and a Kindle have access to different e-book libraries, so each is a digital library of its own.”

I think you're very right. I know that right after I posted that comment, I was thinking about how maybe you could say that the Kindle's screen is much better for book-reading (and it is) but I quickly dismiss that thought myself because, if I were cutting back on possessions, I would just go to the library when I wanted to read. But that's a personal thing, I guess; it's my own solution, but it might not be preferable for everyone else, even if it really led to fewer possessions.

In the end, it seems like a tough project like cutting back on possessions almost entirely requires you to be up-front about the fact that the few possessions you keep have to have really personal use. And they might not be practical or sensible for other people.
posted by koeselitz at 12:20 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Um... can I have your stuff?
posted by bondcliff at 12:20 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


He doesn't mention his chargers. Or his iPhone, which I'm sure he's got. Or his other iPhone, which he hasn't figured out what to do with after he upgraded....
posted by Artw at 12:20 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, they have shitloads of things, they're just dependent on one or two devices to access them all. Considering how easy it is to snatch a laptop case in a crowded area, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up all my stuff just yet.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 12:21 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


See also: this piece from the NYT, and the website of the main profile in the article.

The woman in the profile is also slimming down to 100 possessions, and noted another great challenge of discarding 10 items from your life each week (trash, recycle, donate, etc.).


To whit, the woman and her husband, both 30-somethings, quit their jobs in New York and moved to Portland, whereupon they started giving up their possessions.

When I read that piece I thought: these guys never, every plan on having kids.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:21 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


griphus: “Reading large chunks of texts on eInk is much, much more pleasant on the eyes than having to read it on a digital display, regardless of resolution. Trying to read a book on my laptop is a trial.”

Right, but as I said above, if I were undertaking the project of getting rid of as many possessions as possible, an ebook reader wouldn't be very high on my list of essentials, given the fact that there happen to be public places where you're allowed to read paper books for free.
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was a time when I could fit everything I owned into a 1967 VW Beetle and still have room for a passenger.

A return to that kind of minimalism is unlikely -- at least until I'm in the casket. But I could probably stand to dump some of this stuff.
posted by notyou at 12:21 PM on August 17, 2010


I don't know. I feel like there's a thin moral superiority thread running through some of this - "I'm rejecting our advertising-based culture of consumption!" - but this is difficult to do if you don't have money to begin with. The omnipresent MacBook Pro for media storage, the iPhone 4 for robust connectivity, the fancy bike, the takeout, the flexible jobs that require opportunity and education. The way the interviewed people talk about it, the lifestyle doesn't really encourage less consumption (no one is talking about having less music - just fewer physical discs) or even more thoughtful consumption. It's conspicuous and self-congratulatory, and a little annoying because it masquerades as virtue.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:24 PM on August 17, 2010 [128 favorites]


Right, koeselitz, although Sutton's specific goal revolves around moving things onto digital platforms, so his move to keep the Kindle isn't at odds with his philosophy.
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wanted to say, though, that it's pretty neat that the guy pictured in that link (Chris Yurista) appears to count as essential a small musical keyboard. I think that's really quite intelligent; it really can be essential, and I know that if I personally were to do this an instrument of some kind would be very high on my list.
posted by koeselitz at 12:25 PM on August 17, 2010


The ability to live a "minimalist" lifestyle like this is the new status marker for the moneyed and upper classes. I'm putting minimalist in quotes, because all of the outside support systems that allow someone with enough financial freedom to not have to worry about buying in bulk, stockpiling goods, salvaging and saving things, are anything but minimal.

I have been working with these current aspirational themes in my studio work for a while because I find the whole movement to be a particularly troublesome bit of slumming for people who don't know what it's like to live without because they don't have any other options.

We've got homeless tent camps on the side of of our palisades alongside ultra-modern minimalist loft-style condos. The ostentatious displays of sleek minimalism through the windows of the latter are a sharp contrast to the hoarding of any potentially useful cast-offs surrounding the former.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:26 PM on August 17, 2010 [31 favorites]


I could get rid of ten things a week if each issue of Family Handyman and each sock I will never wear again counts as an individual thing. Each dried-out pen? Each loose staple in the bottom of a desk drawer that I know will never get used, but isn't big enough for me to bother with? Printer driver disks for printers I haven't owned in 5 years?

Yeah, I think I'll pledge to do this, for a while, at least.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:27 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm.

If I go to the store and buy a video card, a couple of sticks of RAM, a CPU, a motherboard, a case, a monitor, a power supply, a keyboard and a mouse, is that ten things or one thing?

Now, if I took ten other things… say, a basketball, a hat, a telephone, etc. and put them into a box, does that count as one thing as well?

Which is to say, this idea sucks stupid ass.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:30 PM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Dammit, MoonPie.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:30 PM on August 17, 2010


It's conspicuous and self-congratulatory, and a little annoying because it masquerades as virtue.

I don't understand where this contempt is coming from. At the end of the day, the dude has less things and that is good. Meanwhile, the dependency on outside sources is good if the dependency is aimed the right way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with regularly piping money into local businesses to temporarily fill needs instead of acquiring possessions to do so.
posted by griphus at 12:31 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Where do they keep their weed?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:32 PM on August 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


For the last 21 months everything I use in my day-to-day life has fitted into (and strapped onto) a 70 litre rucksack and a 15 litre daypack.

I probably have about 100 individual items and whilst I have neglected to write a blog about this or start a cult (what was I thinking!) I must say it feels good on the few occasions I have been to a department store to know that I no longer need, or have to PURCHASE. It feels so liberating.

When I owned a house, I can now see that my entire life was devoted to accumulating shite. It's refreshing to realise that your world does not fall apart if you do not own a Homer-Simpson-shaped-bottle-stopper.
posted by jontyjago at 12:32 PM on August 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


It's conspicuous and self-congratulatory, and a little annoying because it masquerades as virtue.

Rather. This is another example of good taste as a fitness display for potential mates. I'm more impressed with people who live like this but don't tell everyone about it.

And bowerbirds. I'm really impressed with bowerbirds.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:33 PM on August 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of the YA novel The Gospel According to Larry, in which the main character has only 75 items.

I keep meaning to make an effort to pare down my things -- books, clothes that don't fit, knickknacks... perhaps that will be an end-of-summer resolution.
posted by cider at 12:33 PM on August 17, 2010


I am not a full-on hoarder but I have many books. It isn't a behavior so much as a trait of my nature. I have placed books in boxes and arranged them in my storage unit into a crude bed and slept atop them like a T. Rex guarding its kill. I adore tracking down a rare CD, only to find it is on sale somewhere in Poland, and importing it. I love all of it: figuring out just what media that song lives, then the slow search (sometimes over years) for it, and then that moment when I strike, and, better yet, to strike with a minimum of expenditure. Soundtracks are a particular weakness. Or to trace a film through its roots and then on to an unknown novel in another language from which it was only briefly translated. Or film, the efforts I have put forward for some odd little movie. The hunt! The acquisition!

I wish I had that personality characteristic, to simply let these items drift away amongst friends or garbage bins or eBay, but I am not sure who I would be without it.

Probably not a Ferengi, though.
posted by adipocere at 12:35 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


FORGET ALL THAT CRAP! I CAN'T GET PAST THIS:
In describing the series[Mad Men], Matthew Weiner has said: "We'd all like to be Don but actually we are all Pete."

Even me? Am I Pete? Oh god. Oh god. ohgodohgodohgod.
posted by ColdChef at 12:37 PM on August 17, 2010 [15 favorites]


Which is to say, this idea sucks stupid ass.

I'm pretty sure these folks would say it's the principle that counts, rather than some slavish devotion to arbitrary cut-off points, hence the ten pairs of socks as 1 item.

It certainly is a luxury, but one I've always wanted to be able to afford. Ever since returning from a long stint overseas with minimal stuff, to arrive at my storage locker with all my worldly possessions, realizing that I remembered little of them, and that had they gone up in flames in my absence... that would be perfectly ok. And then how quickly I became attached to all that stuff again.

But then I do feel weighed down by stuff. Especially large stuff. Owning stuff I can't lift bothers me.

It's conspicuous and self-congratulatory, and a little annoying because it masquerades as virtue.

Careful not to confuse these people's actual stances with what you may imagine Hypothetical Asshole John/Jane Doe's to be. Much like vegetarianism, there often seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to a kind of person who is not in fact the fellow standing in front of you. (excepting any actual evidence of assholery -- I haven't checked all the links yet)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:37 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Does he just have his friends come over and cook him meals and fix his bike and clean his place?
And I'm assuming he has the world's best landlord, because he never has to fix anything in his apartment.


also, ick: "This is why I live with less, because I’ve decided to stop consuming and start living."
posted by Theta States at 12:39 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't even imagine doing this. Sometimes I think my messenger bag is closing in on 100 items inside.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:41 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:41 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, for fucks sack...

Look at my six or seven electronic devices with a high degree of infrastructure dependance! I'm such a non-consumer!
posted by Artw at 12:41 PM on August 17, 2010 [13 favorites]


Connor ruined everything.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:42 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


also, ick: "This is why I live with less, because I’ve decided to stop consuming and start living."

Yeah, ok. That one's an asshole.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:43 PM on August 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


Huh? You're cutting back on having too many possessions, but you have a laptop, and iPad, and a Kindle?

Buying more gadgets always helps me cut down on possessions.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:43 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a luxurious kind of minimalism, for sure, but I won't fault someone for choosing to buy freedom instead of stuff.

I bet they're terrible hosts, though.

"Want to watch a movie on my iPhone?"
"Uh, no thanks. How about a board game?"
"Sorry, I had to purge those to bring my consumer score below 75."
"May I have a drink?"
"Sure, I'll just finish mine and wash my cup."
"I like your white walls."
posted by domnit at 12:44 PM on August 17, 2010 [40 favorites]


At the end of the day, the dude has less things and that is good

Is it though? I guess he thinks it's good for him, but beyond that who can say? Are 100 belongings better than 700? How about 105? I think that lifestyles built on a foundation of extremism are interesting but I think it's ultimately more interesting (and challenging) to practice moderation and temperance than asceticism and renunciation.
posted by hermitosis at 12:45 PM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


This must be a new version of 'minimalist' because it requires less sacrifice. If you had to pick just a few books to own that's one thing but owning 'just' a eBook reader isn't the same thing. You're just giving up physical possessions, not the digital equivalent. Have him pick just 2 movies on his laptop and delete the rest, I'll bet that will be harder than getting rid of the physical DVDs.
posted by pibeandres at 12:46 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know. I feel like there's a thin moral superiority thread running through some of this - "I'm rejecting our advertising-based culture of consumption!" - but this is difficult to do if you don't have money to begin with.

Of course, they are reliant on the uber-consumerist society around them to get them their coffee, warm their yoga studios, and provide them with endless novelty.

If they really wanted to be minimalist, they'd go "off the grid" and live off the land. Right now he's just the guy at Starbucks who carries way too much shit in his knapsack and turns it in to his home office.
posted by Theta States at 12:47 PM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Don't worry haters, if you do the 100-item challenge, I'll let you count your knee-jerk contempt and your misplaced bile as only one item. Whattaguy!

Personally, I have stuff that other people may need (old cell phones that could be donated to the domestic violence project that collects them, old eyeglasses that could be repurposed, suits that no longer fit that can go to (more slender) job seekers for interviews), and other things that goodwill could sell. Books that my friends can read. I've kept too much because I had the space and little inclination to sort through it. I don't like having it around, and I'd like to get rid of it in a way that helps other people.

Yes, there is an element of conspicuous abstention among the people who blog about their journeys to simiplicity, or the hipsters in the profiles. Hopefully, though, some people might rethink their habits and make a change for a less materialistic and wasteful lifestyle; a needed change, particularly in the U.S.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:47 PM on August 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


And that's the only thing I need is *this*.

I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game.

The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control.

The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches.

The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp.

The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all *I* need. And that's *all* I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one... I need this.

The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I'm some kind of a jerk or something!

And this. That's all I need.
posted by Aquaman at 12:48 PM on August 17, 2010 [38 favorites]


> Do none of these people cook?

With all that take out, think of how much waste they generate each year. Having a kitchen full of reusable gear is fare better than a mountain of cardboard and paper waste. But out of sight, out of mind seems to be their mantra regardless of the actual real implications of their actions.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:48 PM on August 17, 2010 [27 favorites]


The hate squad will have a hundred reasons to dislike any lifestyle trendy enough to be written up by a major news outlet. Dance, monkeys, dance.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:48 PM on August 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


At the end of the day, the dude has less things and that is good.

Why on earth is it "good?"

I like getting rid of things I'm not using as much as the next guy. Throwing out trashbags full of junk I don't need is my favorite part of moving. But I don't kid myself that there is any great ethical merit in doing so.
posted by enn at 12:49 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's conspicuous and self-congratulatory, and a little annoying because it masquerades as virtue.

Favourited so hard, btw.
posted by Theta States at 12:49 PM on August 17, 2010


From the BBC article: "The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches..."

Let's see how long he's able to keep pulling that one off. Seriously, if I had a friend like this dude who wanted to sleep on my couch in order to be minimalist, I'd charge his ass rent.
posted by reenum at 12:50 PM on August 17, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's refreshing to realise that your world does not fall apart if you do not own a Homer-Simpson-shaped-bottle-stopper.

OMG WANT!
posted by kmz at 12:52 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


From The Guardian article: "But for now I have to go to the neighbours. I threw it all out."

This minimalism movement sure seems to rely on those of us who still have material things to fill in the gaps for these people.
posted by reenum at 12:52 PM on August 17, 2010 [19 favorites]


Others have touched on this tangentially, but I think it's kind of silly to say that you have fewer possessions by getting rid of, for example, physical books and replacing them with e-books. Sorry, that's the same amount of psychic stuff. Maybe more, in fact, because it's really easy to let your digital stuff expand in your computer's attic. "I have less than 100 possessions! Good thing I've got 10,000 songs on my iPod and 1,000 books on my Kindle."

And speaking of that digital stuff, what about social networks, online news, and surrounding cruft? I've got a pretty bad blog/twitter/news habit, and frankly that generates more "clutter" in my life than any of my physical possessions. If the idea is simplicity or minimalism, it's not clear to me that you achieve it by trading the physical for the digital.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:53 PM on August 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


There are 2 main advantages that I see to having fewer possessions: less clutter, and less packing to do in the event that you have a change of address. But lots of things are useful to have. Vincent Kartheiser gave away his toilet, for reasons that he does not state in the interview, although giving away a toilet (unless it's because you're planning to get a new and better toilet) does not make your life simpler. In Vincent Kartheiser's case, he says that when he needs a toilet he visits his neighbors. If I really stretch things, I could argue that by adopting the toilet-free lifestyle he is giving himself more opportunities to get to know his neighbors - although I don't really know if he stays to chat after making use of the neighbor's facilities. However, there must be easier ways to get to know your neighbors. And the time will come when his neighbors won't be home (or won't want to be disturbed) when he needs them. So, unburdening yourself of excess possessions makes a certain amount of sense, but like anything else, it can be overdone.
posted by grizzled at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2010


Heh, appropriatelymostofthesepeoplearesingle.
posted by domnit at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2010


"The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches."

This is the quickest way not to be my friend anymore.
posted by Brodiggitty at 12:57 PM on August 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


About cooking: I've become pretty evangelical about cast-iron. I think I could do pretty well with a skillet, a spatula, a plate, and a fork, especially if I were just cooking for myself.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:58 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Getting rid of STUFF have been one if the most freeing experience in my life. Although I'm not nearly as fanatical as that, and I have way more then 100 items left.

But yeah its definitely a build completely on top of consumer electronics, getting a propper e-reader allowed me to recycle* all my books and i just went on from there.



*I decided that while not legal, torrenting books you already own and then recycling the hardcopies, was ok, morally.
posted by Greald at 1:00 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's kind of silly to say that you have fewer possessions by getting rid of, for example, physical books and replacing them with e-books. Sorry, that's the same amount of psychic stuff.

Doesn't sound like you're bothered by stuff if you think that's true. I don't feel the same whatsoever about having 1000 CDs as having 1000 albums' worth of mp3s. One's also easier to dust, and you don't stub your toe on it trying to get to the closet.

"Uh, no thanks. How about a board game?"
"Sorry, I had to purge those to bring my consumer score below 75."


Fuck that. If I can have 75 items, at least a half dozen of them are going to be board games.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:01 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


2 main advantages that I see to having fewer possessions:

It strikes me that the main "virtue" (for lack of a better word) of the exercise is that winnowing down one's possessions trains one to become less fixated on material goods and the race to accumulate more. In the NYT article I linked to above, this led the main subject of the profile to greater thrift, paying down her debt, downsizing her carbon footprint, and having more time for activities with friends and her husband, which dovetails with recent reported research about happiness coming more from experiences than purchases.

There was also a recent news story (where, I can't recall) about a lending club in California--i.e., person A needs to borrow a pair of hedge clippers, so borrows them from person B. The service kept track of how good a borrower or lender you were, like on eBay. Anyone have a link?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:03 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pfft. Amateur. I only have possessions.
  • Apartment
  • Car
Note: May contain numerous sub-possessions. I'm building a garage so that I can further reduce this list to one item.
posted by schmod at 1:06 PM on August 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


*two possessions
posted by schmod at 1:07 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently returned from four months in France, living out of a single hiking backpack. Nintey percent of my daily time revolved around a few small items that fit in an old camelback (read: very small) backpack: a netbook, a collection of pens, a couple notebooks (one for mathematics, the other for music, fiction, game ideas, non-fiction, etc), and an mp3 player. If we include my ukulele (whose case can attach to the camelback, but doesn't fit inside by a long shot), we probably get closer to the 95% mark.

I'm back in my usual dwelling, now, amongst many of the things I had left behind on my travels. I'm greatly relieved to be able to pick up a book and not have to worry about how I'm going to carry it, and I'm also very happy to have a functioning kitchen again and a small collection of games and people to play them with. Oh, and a real stereo. Switching between headphones and laptop speakers get fucking old after a while.

The idea isn't the cutting of distinctions as to what constitutes an item or not; indeed, if one were really concerned about quantitative measures, it would probably make more sense to specify a total volume of possessions one wants to cut down to, with a few exceptions for things like mattresses. Of course, the American obsession with extremist pedantry will give rise to comments such as, "Which is to say, this idea sucks stupid ass," uttered by the same idiots who cannot believe in middle paths, and who apparently believe that the space between extreme accumulation and self-annihilation is a vacuum. There are people who can't recognize that there is value in experimenting in the structure of our lives, or that any mode of living other than the lazy course into which they themselves have settled could possibly have any merit. These are the same people who never read Thoreau, but say that he lived near a town and talked to people during his experiment in minimalism, and thus Walden is just a pack of lies.

As I see it, the idea is to keep items with which I have a rich, meaningful interaction, and to give the other things to people who might have a better chance with them than I. The idea is to reduce to cut back the things which are merely fetters, and keep those which actually increase my appreciation of life. The line is flexible and self-determined, but it is all too easy in this industrial world to build piles of meaningless crap without any such reflection.

As we say at the cooperative I live in:
The Free Pile giveth and the Free Pile taketh away.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:11 PM on August 17, 2010 [26 favorites]


Yeah, I have to say that I like the principle of this. I don't believe I would follow the same execution, though. It's easy for me to say that, not having done it – I'm aware of that – but I've thought some about this myself.

Really implementing the sacrifice that a real commitment to poverty signifies would mean getting rid of a few more things. It's possible to live comfortably with just a few things, yes; but why hold on to those things? There are computers in public libraries; why keep your own? If you have friends, if you can find places to stay, there's no true necessity for these things. Ridding yourself of consumerist waste is a fine thing, but it's still possible to get caught up in possessions when you still have some.

What would it mean to rid yourself even of those few possessions? I think there'd be a lot of freedom to it. A friend of mine from New Orleans once told me: "Jeff, what you need is a good hurricane to sort all this junk out for you." I can see her point; and I should note that the person who told me that is someone I look up to in part because she lives very freely on this basis. She makes fun of me for paying rent, which she says is something to be avoided; one of her points of pride is that she's never paid more that $100 a month for a living space. Instead, she trades for most of what she needs; she does taxes for about a dozen people, and she keeps the books for a bookstore that lets her live in a room upstairs in exchange for that during the summer and most of the winter. Other times she's with her boyfriend in Cleveland, or staying with other friends in NOLA. She has just as rich and full a life as anyone else I know. She cooks great food; she has lots of friends in the market district who need a babysitter or a handyperson or some random help here and there, and she has a little garden on the roof that she's been working on with really good tomatoes. Most of her stuff can still fit in a backpack, and she's consciously kept it that way since she left in a crazy rush almost exactly five years ago.

This isn't a strained or extreme lifestyle by any means. But it's interesting to me that, technically, she really does have fewer possessions than the people in these articles about 'minimalism.' She uses other peoples' computers, or she goes to the library to get online; she borrows all of the books she reads. She does have some clothes, but she keeps the number down, and anyhow the supply is mostly from hand-me-downs she gets around the neighborhood and such.

Sometimes that seems very alluring to me.
posted by koeselitz at 1:12 PM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


The idea is that we need to curb our consumerism in order to focus on the important. This is why I live with less, because I’ve decided to stop consuming and start living.

...well, if you're constantly converting oxygen and sugar to supply ATP to your cells, I'd argue you're already living.
posted by zennish at 1:13 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


What counts as a possession? iPhone + charger + sync cable + headphones = 4 possessions? What if I broke my original headphones and had to buy new ones? What if instead of buying new Apple headphones I bought Bose QuietComforts?
posted by thesmophoron at 1:13 PM on August 17, 2010


I helped a member of my family become minimalist when she slipped into a coma, was being evicted while she was in the coma, and we had 3 hours to pack her stuff. That was sure cool.

Then there was the time I went all minimalist with only the stuff I could fit in a hockey bag and shove under the cot at the homeless shelter.

Eventually I married someone more well off than me. She was totally uncool and put an end to my materially sleek, futuristic lifestyle.
posted by mobunited at 1:14 PM on August 17, 2010 [10 favorites]


This 21st-Century minimalist says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.

He's cheating. Just because it's digital doesn't mean it's a non-entity. Digital clutter can be as maddening and life-consuming as physical material. I speak from experience, having emptied boxes of odd papers, only to scan them into my computer. Fewer boxes, more odd images and documents on various harddrives in perpetual state of almost-full.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:17 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches, paper bills with online banking, and a record collection containing nearly 2,000 albums with an external hard drive with DJ software and nearly 13,000 MP3s.

And your own toilet paper with other people's toilet paper that they have to buy at a box store so you can remain untainted by consumerism.

Or do you use pages from your Moleskine notebook?

Didn't think so.
posted by escabeche at 1:17 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Navin Johnson did this 30 years ago and he didn't need any fancy iPad or Kindle. Just an ashtray.

And a paddle game. That's all he needed.

And a remote control.
posted by condour75 at 1:17 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


from link: “The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches.”

Brodiggitty: “This is the quickest way not to be my friend anymore.”

Lots of people have similar reservations. However, my friend who trades for everything – she stays on a lot of couches – can bake a pie that will make you forget all of your reservations very, very quickly.
posted by koeselitz at 1:18 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's an awful lot of obsession over what you own. I like my knick knacks and prints on the walls and books on the shelves. Its comforting, its what makes my apartment my home (that and the cats). But I don't obsess over any of it. This obsessing over quantity strikes me as a sort of anorexia - where the focus is always less, less, less and not on anything else. I'd prefer to spend my mental energies enjoying what I have, and the people I can spend time with, and my job, and a million other things in the world. Not my 'stuff' and how much of it there is.
posted by sandraregina at 1:18 PM on August 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


"I picked out one rock, in the river, like a 650lb rock," he says. "A monster stuck between two other rocks. We were in the river and we got it moving but this guy comes out shouting, 'You can't take my rock!' I'm like, 'It's the world's rock!' And anyhow I needed it for my sink… but in the end we left that rock alone and we had to find another rock. We got a cool one."

Less minimalism and more nuttiness, really.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


So easy to keep the house clean, so easy to move, so easy to get (not make) food, so easy to get dressed in the morning. Lean living, a nice ideal, and quite achievable, if you have the money. Lean internet surfing though, that's a tougher challange.
posted by okokok at 1:21 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


What counts as a possession?

The person who inspired the main subject of the NYT piece I posted above made clear that he made the rules of his own personal challenge, and I note that "one" of his possessions was his library. This strikes me as overly convenient, as well, but I think at the end of the day, the "100 item list" is just a mechanism for producing a different kind of mindfulness about how one operates in the world. If it were me, I'd lump together everything necessary for using one item--so, iPod, cable, charger and headphones would be one item, just as "bike" would include the wheels and cranks and pedals and lock. But that's just me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


What about digital possessions? It seems to me that those are actually more spiritually and intellectually significant then 'real' objects. It is interesting that these people seek out a minimal existence yet insist upon keeping at hand the most onerous and intense media baggage.

I dare them to smash their hard drives.
posted by kuatto at 1:26 PM on August 17, 2010


I'll also add, as a cooperative housing person, that sharing stuff makes a hell of a lot of sense; one probably doesn't need more than one toilet for every five people, after all, and we can save quite a lot of water by showering in pairs*.

Most co-ops just have one (relatively large) kitchen, with a rotating cook schedule. This is a fucking godsend. You have one or two nights a week cooking, and every other night you know that there's a hot meal waiting for you at home. Sharing bulk food containers, shopping responsibilities, and cleaning responsibilities can lead to a kind of economy of scale where everyone ends up working less than anyone would individually. Sharing tools like kitchen ware, garden implements, bike tools, and so on also makes a pile of sense, and brings down the total costs of the community by quite a lot (so long as we can keep track of where all the stuff is).

So while the guy getting rid of the toilet _is_ ridiculous, if you're with people who are more than happy to share theirs, there's a kind of sense to it.



* - for the dense: that's a joke.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:26 PM on August 17, 2010


Hmm. I didn't mean to sound spiteful and it doesn't matter, of course, how other adults live their lives. I think that as a philosophy this kind of neo-minimalism is interesting, even. However, as presented in these articles it doesn't seem especially well thought out, and there are some interesting contextual class/privilege issues that seem to be glossed over.

I like my stuff, there's no doubt about it - though the last few years I've grown away from owning things just to own things, and instead focus on items that have value and meaning for the way we want to live, just like the interviewed people. In fact, that's what reasonable people everywhere do once their basic needs are met - except most don't think of it as a statement. That's just normal life, where everyone has different priorities and needs. It's like the cult of less people don't understand that there are people who don't have a lot of stuff because they can't afford to.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:26 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having less stuff always sounds attractive. But the example of kitchen equipment (which allows you to cook for yourself, saving money and improving your health) is just one example.

Another example is tools. I do pretty much all the repair and maintenance work on my home, and for that I need all sorts of tools - for woodworking, plumbing, electrics, gardening (I grow my own vegetables), tiling, and so on, not to mention all the different kinds of screws, nails, wire, tape and all the other bits and pieces. Now I could just rent a place somewhere and either call my landlord every time something needs fixing, or I could pay people to come in and do the work, but frankly I can't afford that option. Doing it myself saves money, and I get to learn how to repair and improve my home, which I consider a pretty valuable skill. I also get to eat much of my food within 30 minutes of picking, at least during the summer.

Yet another example: recreational activities. I know people who do fishing, weaving, woodturning, painting, golf, archery, cycling, rowing, sailing, climbing, beekeeping and so on. Now those people could conceivably hire some of the equipment then need as and when they want to engage in their hobbies - and end up with a one-size-fits-all beginner's version of whatever thing it is they need, because that's generally what equipment-for-hire is like. But implicit in most of these activities is that once you develop an interest, you get your own equipment, whether it's new or second-hand or whatever, and you choose the equipment which most enhances your ability to do whatever activity it is you enjoy doing. Adopting this kind of minimalist-for-the-sake-of-it lifestyle is pretty much as case of saying 'stop doing anything that requires equipment and play games on your laptop instead'.

A the root of it, pretty much any degree of self-reliance means you need stuff. This minimalism thing is really just a case of handing off all the stuff-intensive parts of your life to service industries, and requires a much larger infrastructure than the kind of life a person with a set of basic kitchen utensils and a box of tools would lead.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:27 PM on August 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


...my friend who trades for everything – she stays on a lot of couches – can bake a pie that will make you forget all of your reservations very, very quickly.

Whose flour is she using? Mine or hers? She can stay if she brings her own flour.
posted by Brodiggitty at 1:30 PM on August 17, 2010


Just stop buying new things!

Getting rid of stuff is approaching the problem from the wrong angle. If you have something in the first place, you've already failed. All the material and energy required to produce the thing have already been expended. Throwing it away just makes things worse, because a) it's waste we have to deal with and b) you're going to buy a new one if you decide you need one after all.

Giving it away helps, because you're preventing someone else from buying something new. But the very best solution is not to buy things in the first place.
posted by CaseyB at 1:30 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


So this basically works if you have friends who have a couch, so you can couch surf, so you can live the ultra minimalist lifestyle (while, presumably, using someone else's kitchen, bathroom, heat in the winter, electricity, etc etc etc.).
posted by contessa at 1:32 PM on August 17, 2010


In Vincent Kartheiser's case, he says that when he needs a toilet he visits his neighbors.

"Kramer!"

(
posted by iviken at 1:33 PM on August 17, 2010


Wow, I should stop reading that 'Far Beyond the Stars' blog, 'cause it's starting to piss me off.

Instead we’re slowing redefining freedom as a reality you can have right now, if you just stop consuming.

Destroy all of that crap the television told you to buy and never go to the mall again.

Because buying more isn’t the answer. Freedom is.


Sayeth the dude with a Macbook, an iPhone, a (black!) yoga mat, 200$ Frye boots and a 10$ moleskine notebook, connected to the grid 24/7 via his iPhone.

With all those pricy high-end items he's owning, isn't this 'movement' just redefining what's 'worth' owning? Dump your old Macbook, this one's got a bigger hard drive and processor. Dump your yoga mat and buy this one, recycled from inner tubes and flipflops. Why even specify what brands you own? Aren't you in the end still buying what someone's telling you is better?

C'mon. If you can afford something nice, that's fine. But don't sit there and tell me my pairs of ratty old Doc Martens from Salvation Army are keeping me from being 'free' because I don't have one pair of nice boots. The Docs were six bucks. I can't afford two-hundred dollar Fryes.
posted by zennish at 1:35 PM on August 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


[A]s presented in these articles... there are some interesting contextual class/privilege issues that seem to be glossed over.

What? In the New York Times? You're joking!

[At] the root of it, pretty much any degree of self-reliance means you need stuff.

One can instead construct an identity around us-reliance, sharing things and spaces in order to maximize their utility.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:36 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyway, the long and the short of this all is that it is obvious that clutter and unused stuff, often bought at marketing prompting, is not so great and people should work in streamlining their possessions (and not acquiring more than is necessary in the first place). But, any sort of fetishization of not having stuff is also not so great and is usually youthful folly. Any sane person can see the difference, but those seem in shorter supply of late.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:36 PM on August 17, 2010


Destroy all of that crap

Punk rock!
posted by Artw at 1:36 PM on August 17, 2010


one of her points of pride is that she's never paid more that $100 a month for a living space. Instead, she trades for most of what she needs; she does taxes for about a dozen people, and she keeps the books for a bookstore that lets her live in a room upstairs in exchange for that during the summer and most of the winter.

Newsflash - this is still paying. Just because you don't bother to go through the intermediary of getting paid for your work and paying rent, doesn't mean it's not paying rent.
posted by marginaliana at 1:37 PM on August 17, 2010


posted by ColdChef FORGET ALL THAT CRAP! I CAN'T GET PAST THIS:
In describing the series[Mad Men], Matthew Weiner has said: "We'd all like to be Don but actually we are all Pete."
Even me? Am I Pete? Oh god. Oh god. ohgodohgodohgod.


When you think about it, we'd all like to be Don who is actually Dick, but actually we are all Pete, who is a dick. So it works out.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:37 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let me know when they go full on Diogenes.

Do you mean Epictetus?

I find it telling that one can still own 100 items and be considered a minimal materialist. (It's also telling that they conveniently ignore things like silverware or light bulbs.)

I think it's ultimately more interesting (and challenging) to practice moderation and temperance than asceticism and renunciation.

Again, when 100 items is considered ascetism, we can see how any debated on materialism is usually framed.

"1 TB harddrive"

Any how many MP3 files are on that hard drive? ;p

It's awfully easy to not own any things when 1,000 CDs can fit (virtually) in my pocket on 1 device. Or what STV said (or on preview, what everyone said) better:

"Actually, they have shitloads of things, they're just dependent on one or two devices to access them all."

Where do they keep their weed?

"53. Sewing repair kit for clothes"

Having a kitchen full of reusable gear is fare better than a mountain of cardboard and paper waste.

To be fair, most of the "waste" I get from take-out (when I get it, which is rarely) is now compostable or recyclable.

Lastly, no one has mentioned yet that Vincent Kartheiser is a fucking fantastic actor. So I will. He's also pretty funny. If you listen to any Mad Men DVD commentaries, pick the ones with him.

Why on earth is it "good?"

That depends. Do you think that natural resources on this planet are unlimited? Do you think that shopping/material ownership is a behavioral problem for some people? Do you think that "mo money, mo problems?" Do you worry that multitasking leads to dementia? Is it possible to keep track of 10,000 possessions? What happens to our brains when we try to do so?

I think there are lots of potential benefits to downsizing your possessions. You'll never know yourself until you try.

A friend of mine from New Orleans once told me: "Jeff, what you need is a good hurricane to sort all this junk out for you."

I lost nearly everything I owned in an apartment fire. The only things I really missed were the personal mementos--letters and art. Oh yeah, and the foosball table. Oh, the foosball table!!

Really for real lastly, what kaibutsu said. If I could live in a situation where everything I need is shareable, I wouldn't need anything.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2010


It really seems like it's not so much that they fetishize not having stuff to that that they've really worked overtime narrowing things down to the fetishization of a few specific items.
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


from link: “The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches.”

Brodiggitty: “This is the quickest way not to be my friend anymore.”

Lots of people have similar reservations. However, my friend who trades for everything – she stays on a lot of couches – can bake a pie that will make you forget all of your reservations very, very quickly.


Nonsense. I can make my own damn pie. I can't make my own damn privacy with some pie-baker sleeping on my couch.
posted by dersins at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2010 [17 favorites]


The bikesnob has been all over this recently. He's funnier than I am.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:40 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 1:40 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I could do pretty well with a skillet, a spatula, a plate, and a fork, especially if I were just cooking for myself.

SPOON!

(and bowl. what, no soup for you?)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:41 PM on August 17, 2010


Johnny Cash as a Coyote: Clarity is the path to inner peace.
Homer Simpson: Well, what should I do? Should I meditate? Should I get rid of
all my possessions?
Coyote: [snorts] Are you kidding? If anything, you should get more
possessions
. You don't even have a computer.
posted by hot_monster at 1:42 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


But the very best solution is not to buy things in the first place.

Undoubtedly--but presumably you, I, and everyone in this thread has bought something at one point or another. So the point of the 100-item challenges would appear to be that, as one keeps an eye on one's goal, one is less likely to purchase new junk that one doesn't need.

Guys, lighten up. These people aren't heroes or villains, they're just some folks who think it would be better if they owned less stuff. Most people could use less stuff.

Not all of this is about itinerant pastry chefs sleeping on other people's couches and using your precious toilet paper. It's starting to sound like Terry Savage in here.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it would probably be more productive to focus on acquiring only things you really need, rather than just setting an arbitrary number. Lots of very respectable activities require more than a 100 objects to do properly (carpentry, cooking, auto mechanics, various kinds of art). That said, I've been weeding out my stuff for last 2 moves (1 bedroom house > 1 bedroom apt > 400 sqft studio) and I do like the feeling of not having a bunch of stuff.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2010


Most people could use less stuff. By which I mean most U.S. consumers.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:45 PM on August 17, 2010


Johnny Cash as a Coyote

That was Johnny Cash?! This thread has officially changed my life for the better.
posted by griphus at 1:46 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The bikesnob has been all over this recently. He's funnier than I am.

Curse you, bikesnob! I prefer to live in a reality where Manimal was only a fevered dream of fourth grade.

doctor_negative hits it. If you're a carpenter or a cook, yeah, you're gonna want some tools. Setting arbitrary numbers makes no sense.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:48 PM on August 17, 2010


*climbs atop mountain of bullshit items*

I WILL NEVER PART WITH--*looks*--THIS BAG FULL OF EXTENSION CORDS, RCA CABLES AND COAX, FOR EXAMPLE! *squeezes bag sweatily*

Seriously, I've got a lot of goddamn shit.
posted by Skot at 1:51 PM on August 17, 2010 [15 favorites]


That depends. Do you think that natural resources on this planet are unlimited?

No. I also realize that discarding things I already own does not result in the resources consumed in their creation being somehow returned to their natural state.

Do you think that shopping/material ownership is a behavioral problem for some people?

Yes. Gambling is also a behavioral problem for some people, but I'm not going to skip poker night because I'm not one of them.

I think there are lots of potential benefits to downsizing your possessions. You'll never know yourself until you try.

I've lived with almost no possessions and moved via Greyhound. Life is much less complicated when you have a certain minimal quantity of useful things than when you spend half your life trying to turn screws with pennies or open cans with a Swiss Army knife because your life is too "streamlined" to have the actual tools which humans have developed to perform these tasks.
posted by enn at 1:52 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've got a pretty bad blog/twitter/news habit, and frankly that generates more "clutter" in my life than any of my physical possessions.

I've got a hard limit on how many RSS feeds I allow myself to follow and I'm working on other digital clutter of that sort. Giving things to goodwill when I move is easy; getting rid of nonphysical stuff that takes up too much mindshare is much harder.
posted by immlass at 1:52 PM on August 17, 2010


I don't get the "digital clutter is still clutter" argument put forward by some here. The only thing that reminds me of how much stuff I have (see the locker anecdote I posted earlier) is seeing it. I can forget about the contents of a drive in a way that is impossible, given my means, to do with a room full of junk. I might like the feeling an empty drive provokes, but it's nothing to do with feeling unencumbered and everything to do with the potential for filling that space; pretty much opposing impulses.

Calling this out seems more like a "gotcha!" attempt to me than any kind of true observation from experience.

But tools, yeah. There's a category of objects that doesn't benefit from paring down, since it's all about contingency. Mind you, anyone with a large tool set is probably going to have some stuff they're unlikely to ever need. Not impossible, mind you...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:53 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you mean Epictetus?

No, I definitely meant Diogenes. At one point in his life his only possession was a wooden bowl, and he even threw that away when he saw a boy drinking with a cupped hand.
posted by jedicus at 1:53 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Vincent Kartheiser's case, he says that when he needs a toilet he visits his neighbors.

Hey, at least that's better than in Quor-Toth. The only toilets were pay toilets, and the fee was a percentage of your soul.
posted by kmz at 1:54 PM on August 17, 2010


Do "apps" count as possessions?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2010


Do "apps" count as possessions?

To some in this thread, probably yes. To me, no. As I mentioned up thread, though, each of the people I've seen striving to the 100 mark has been clear that it's their own definition of what 100 items that counts. Some people count all of their underwear as one thing. Others seem to count all of their books as one thing. Whatever floats your boat.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:00 PM on August 17, 2010


With all that take out, think of how much waste they generate each year.

That was my first thought. If you don't have utensils, a fridge, and a kitchen you're just creating more waste by living a 'take out' lifestyle. These people aren't living less, they're just shifting their garbage and items to restaurants and hotels, and in doing so are being a lot more wasteful and 'maximist' than the guy renting an apartment and cooking his own meals.

Owning only 100 items isn't helping if you're throwing out 50 items a day in plastic forks, styrofoam containers, bags, and other garbage.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:02 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Others seem to count all of their books as one thing.

Some of my one thing is in boxes, and some of it is still in storage.
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


With all that take out, think of how much waste they generate each year.

Owning only 100 items isn't helping if you're throwing out 50 items a day in plastic forks, styrofoam containers, bags, and other garbage.


This page describes the eating habits of the woman in the NYT article I linked to--she seems to rely on fresh fruits and vegetables from her local farmer's market, which she and her husband cook at home.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:07 PM on August 17, 2010


Even me? Am I Pete? Oh god. Oh god. ohgodohgodohgod.

People get all fluttery about how cool Don is, but the really, really great character in Mad Men is Pete. Writing someone cool who does cool stuff and all the other characters envy but who has a softer, artistic side, too isn't really that hard. It's been done before. But Campbell? Who else is that intensely uncomfortable around everyone and everything? Has Campbell ever said or done the right thing, or even something that made anyone around him feel better about anything? I can't think of a single instance, and I hope that never changes.

Of course we're all Pete. I've spent infinitely more of my life in uncomfortable awkwardness than brooding mysteriously, and I assume that's the case for pretty much everyone else.
posted by Copronymus at 2:08 PM on August 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


I bet they all leach Wi-Fi like crazy too.
posted by Artw at 2:11 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was homeless once. I owned two pairs of pants, six shirts, four pair of underwear, five socks (don't ask), a hat, and a jacket.

Those were the worst months of my life. I guess I missed out on the whole ethical purity of the experience, because it fucking sucked.
posted by grubi at 2:13 PM on August 17, 2010 [19 favorites]


I don't think this is about faux transcendentalism, elitism, the environment, etc. I think it's just a trend for many people who've decided to change their priorities from owning stuff to using stuff. I might love a particular book, but if I know I can always get a comparable edition on eBay or in digital format, I don't have to own it. I can rent a dwelling and defer much of the maintenance and risk of ownership to someone else.

It's like simplifying your code. You don't have to worry about storage space, organization, security, or the simple cognitive load of knowing something exists.

This list-making is a bit obsessive, but people are obsessive about stuff. This is the Internet after all.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:14 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course it's a Moleskine(TM). It's the perfect companion to the lifestyle equivalent of Bose speakers.

This guy's possessions are a laundry list of conspicuous consumption (all dependant on other people having many things, factories, infrastructure, etc.).

He's not a minimalist - that's just marketing. As usual, it's not really "The Cult of X" but "The Cult of LOOK AT ME".

Can you imagine writing this sentence, and not intending it to be parody?
Long time readers of this blog, and anyone who’s picked up a copy of The Art of Being Minimalist know that I’ve had a storied relationship with the personal possessions that I own and acquire.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 2:15 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]



Of course we're all Pete. I've spent infinitely more of my life in uncomfortable awkwardness than brooding mysteriously, and I assume that's the case for pretty much everyone else.


I'm running with the idea that Pete and Peggy are actually the same person.
posted by The Whelk at 2:20 PM on August 17, 2010


I read this post after returning from an Ikea shopping spree in which I bought a cartload of cheap picture frames which I plan to fill with prints of clipart found on the internet, and then hang them all over my house.

You know, for fun.

Minimalism is cute and all, but it just doesn't seem very fun to me. I don't just like, I love my towering bookshelf crammed so tightly with books it threatens to topple over onto my hand-me-down couch. eInk is really nice, but nothing can ever replace the feel of paper or the smell of bookbinding glue or the richness of real ink pressed into the yellowing pages of your favorite book of Robert Frost poems that you took from your parents house when you went away to college...

...I love my collection of acoustic instruments, my horde of half-filled notebooks, my board games, my croquet set, my old banana yellow Schwinn Continental, my collection of dusty grandpa hats, my rubbermaid bin full of old LEGO blocks, etc...

The point is I actually love my stuff. I don't feel like I'm living less because my house is cluttered. In fact I feel the opposite. My house is a curiosity shop, a wonderful place of inspiration and creativity.

Also, Ray Bradbury is my personal hero. Have you seen his office? Inspiring.
posted by jnrussell at 2:21 PM on August 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


A the root of it, pretty much any degree of self-reliance means you need stuff.

Basically, yeah.

There's (at least) two ways to approach non-trivial conspicuous-consumption ownership, this 100-thing, grasshopper existance, or be one of the ants.

I like having options, back-up plans and alternatives. When I fix a lamp, I don't throw out the old cord or fixture, it goes in my junk boxes, because, hey, who knows when I'll need a fixture. I straighten old nails. I keep off-cuts. I probably have that bike part somewhere. I make sure that both of our cars have cables, pull-ropes, signaling devices, lights and food for a couple of days.

We make our own jam and have a freezer full of cow. Our backyard right now is an explosion of tomatos and basil. We put things up and lay by bottles of wine for a few years at a time.

I went through my diogenic phase: I moved at least 23 times between 18 and 25. All my stuff did fit in one car. I hated it. I had no spares and and had to run to the store to fix any damn thing. My cookware was crap and I had no power tools. Not even a frigging work bench.

I'm an ant and honestly, I never want to go back to being a grasshopper.
posted by bonehead at 2:22 PM on August 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


My vast increase in possessions since 1994-5 (my homeless period) has been part of my overall self-improvement. Now that I have a nice TV, a great car, and persistent Internet access, I will always be sure to avoid a relapse into "itinerant minimalism".
posted by grubi at 2:22 PM on August 17, 2010


"Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain." -- Thoreau, Walden

The thing I wonder about is what these people would do if their precious digital storage units got vaporized or the data on them got deleted. The BBC article speaks of suicidal ideation among those who cannot retrieve their lost data. Not that I'm laughing about it, because come to think of it, the more time goes on, the harder it is to separate the data in the cloud from the identity of my self.
posted by blucevalo at 2:28 PM on August 17, 2010


Admiral Haddock: There was also a recent news story (where, I can't recall) about a lending club in California--i.e., person A needs to borrow a pair of hedge clippers, so borrows them from person B. The service kept track of how good a borrower or lender you were, like on eBay. Anyone have a link?

I don't know about that story but I've lived in places where they have community lending toolsheds, and there's at least one website that facilitates that kind of sharing wherever you are (U.S.).
posted by headnsouth at 2:30 PM on August 17, 2010


And I'm assuming he has the world's best landlord, because he never has to fix anything in his apartment.
Hmm, I've never had to fix anything in my apartment.
Don't worry haters, if you do the 100-item challenge, I'll let you count your knee-jerk contempt and your misplaced bile as only one item. Whattaguy!
Yeah I don't get all the hate. Having more money makes it easier to do this for sure, minimalism is a luxury, but as an aspirational luxury it's kind of cool. I know I have tons and tons of crap and living with just a few items would be pretty cool. I don't really cook either. But i have a bunch of junk I need to get rid of. Having all that junk, in a way, is a burdon. I can't just easily pack up everything and go, and being able to do so would be cool.

Figuring out the environmental footprint is a difficult. If you buy a bunch of disposable stuff on-demand, it's not good. But it is something you can practically do. If you need a screwdriver you can buy one and throw it out instead of throwing it in some drawer, potentially for years.

but the real value, in my eyes is beating 'consumer culture', which I find kind of obnoxious. People's lives aren't really improved by buying all this crap.

Complaning about them not counting digital goods is ridiculous.
He's cheating. Just because it's digital doesn't mean it's a non-entity.
Yes it does. By that metric we would all 'posess' the entirety of the free internet. Every wikipedia article, blog post, photo on flickr, etc. Just because you pay for something doesn't change it's nature, and what about stuff he pirates? Besides these days companies make a big deal about how you don't really 'posess' the download, you only have a license for it's use.

Trying to divide all the bytes on your hard drive into seperate 'posessions' is absurd. And digital objects have none of the downsides of physical objects.
This minimalism movement sure seems to rely on those of us who still have material things to fill in the gaps for these people.
Well, in theory a bunch of them could get together, and pool 'rarely used' items.
Whose flour is she using? Mine or hers? She can stay if she brings her own flour.
Jesus, how cheap are you?
posted by delmoi at 2:33 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think any of these people are minimizing their possessions to denigrate or devalue the life experiences of people who have struggled with homelessness, poverty, or want. It's meant to be a reality check for people who have more than they need and to recalibrate thoughtless consumerism while reprioritizing non-acquisitive behaviors. Obviously, this is related to the abject horror that is the economy right now, but hopefully it lasts.

People who want to have more stuff: you are OK. People who want to have less stuff: you are OK.

headnsouth--that site looks about right. There's only a few people around Boston, but hopefully it will expand!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2010


I don't know about that story but I've lived in places where they have community lending toolsheds, and there's at least one website that facilitates that kind of sharing wherever you are (U.S.).

Huh? Y'all don't have tool libraries? How else would I till?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:37 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whose flour is she using? Mine or hers? She can stay if she brings her own flour.
Jesus, how cheap are you?


Look, if she's going to be staying there indefinitely, is it unreasonable that she contributes something? And lemme tell ya, "pie-making" is not an effective way for the host to pay the increase in electricity.
posted by grubi at 2:41 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the first article:

It says much for Vincent's acting abilities that I watched the whole first series of Mad Men without realising he had also played the shark-jumping Connor in Buffy spin-off, Angel


Oh, my god! How did I not see this? do people really hate Pete that much? I've tried to dislike him, but I can't. He just seems so...young.
posted by frobozz at 2:43 PM on August 17, 2010


I would like to introduce the minimalists in TFA to this guy. I am sure it would make a great conversation.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:46 PM on August 17, 2010


Sorry, this guy.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:47 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was going to make a long comment in this post, but then I decided to cut back and just do with links to two earlier topical comments.
posted by weston at 2:49 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is meaningless because consumerism isn't about owning things, it's about generating imaginative emotional experiences. You buy a bunch of gardening tools because you love the fantasy feeling of gardening - it's peaceful, you're in touch with natural rhythms, etc. That's fun for a while, but eventually it's not so captivating, so the gardening tools get stuffed into storage, sold at a garage sale or on craigslist, given away or just throw out, like dozens of other hobbies that lose their appeal.

One of the bloggers says "a good minimalist always has an outbox". Why not just say "a good consumer always has an outbox" instead? If we're not constantly getting rid of stuff, there would be no room for new stuff -- it's an essential part of consumer capitalism. Owning things makes it difficult to get rid of them, you end up with a house full of boring junk that you're not interested in any more and you have to find some way of getting rid to make room for new experiences. Minimalism gets rid of this problem - by owning less, you can cycle more rapidly through consumer experiences and find more satisfaction in your lifestyle because you are changing it more rapidly. Bored of your books or music collection? It vanishes in seconds leaving plenty of space for new stuff, sorry, new "experiences".

This is the acceleration and intensification of consumerism, not the antidote, especially when you consider the values that these minimalists appeal to explain what's good about it. Less stuff equals more passion, vitality, growth, creativity, living life to the fullest, freedom, bliss, unlocking your deepest desires, self-actualization, etc. In order words, they evoke the very same quasi-spiritual hedonic values and definition of the Good Life that advertising bombards us with on a daily basis. The obvious problem is that even if for you, minimalism (and even if that includes minimal experiential consumption) is how you achieve that, everyone is different. For some, filling up landfills as rapidly as possible might be their deepest, most satisfying way to live their life -- it's their choice, you aren't going to take away their choices, are you? Since that's the ultimate horizon of human meaning, daring to question that is the ultimate affront, it's a sacred right that trumps even the fact that realizing those desires requires widespread exploitation, poverty and ecological destruction.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:49 PM on August 17, 2010 [14 favorites]


from link: “The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches.”

Brodiggitty: “This is the quickest way not to be my friend anymore.”

me: “Lots of people have similar reservations. However, my friend who trades for everything – she stays on a lot of couches – can bake a pie that will make you forget all of your reservations very, very quickly.”

dersins: “Nonsense. I can make my own damn pie. I can't make my own damn privacy with some pie-baker sleeping on my couch.”

Brodiggitty: “Whose flour is she using? Mine or hers? She can stay if she brings her own flour.”

*sigh* Well, that's true. You've both claimed the right not to share anything with anyone else – you don't need to give up one iota of your own comfort and false sense of security to evil, pie-baking interlopers who would sleep on your couch 'for free' and all that.

But for all your bluster about privacy – and in a thread about minimalism and cutting back on possessions, no less – methinks you might give a thought to selflessness and to detaching yourself from material items. Sometimes privacy just doesn't matter any more. That's what my friend meant when she talked about Katrina – the point is that you can spend all day trying to build up your own sensation of insulation from the world and society around you, but in the end, there is nothing about all these material things you surround yourselves with – homes, beds, and yes, even couches – that is actually permanent. Our moment in history has brought this home to us more palpably than any in recent memory, I think – banks, retirement funds, even physical dwellings are swept away in a few minutes, and we have to pick up the pieces. And when that happens, no matter how much we insist on the sacred nature of property rights or the importance of earning your own way... all of that melts away, and we're left with nothing but ourselves, our skills, and the relationships we've cultivated with others.

And believe it or not, there just might be something you can gain from a heightened interaction with other people in society and an increased willingness to share and exchange what you have with others. Something more than a pie, anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, if she's going to be staying there indefinitely, is it unreasonable that she contributes something? And lemme tell ya, "pie-making" is not an effective way for the host to pay the increase in electricity.

No one is installing mendicant hipsters in your house in exchange solely for pies. This is a silly strawman.

Quoting from the NYT piece:
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.

As I posted above, they cook a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers' market. They ditched their cars and now ride bikes.

I'm not sure why this seems so terrifying to people.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:50 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the most annoying thing about this, aside from the freeloading and snobbery, is that the things they do own are not designed to last.

You can buy one hammer and use it all of your life. My truck is 42 years old and works fine. Good kitchen utensils will last your lifetime. Books likewise. My wood lathe was manufactured in 1880, for Pete's sake. It lacks features but it does its job. Lots of stuff is essentially timeless...buy once (used!) and use forever.

All of the essential items these people own get replaced every year or two. iPhones? Laptops? I would be much more impressed if these people said they were going to own 100 things for the rest of their lives. How many slots would they have to allocate to keep their phone trendy? Would they wear a single pair of boots for a decade? (I hate shopping for clothes, and the Docs have lasted.)

I have piles of stuff, mostly books and tools. But the most infuriating stuff I own is gadget-related...computers, phones, everything electronic. I have a closet full of what amounts to toxic trash, phones which died after a year, computers too clunky to run modern software, dead hard drives, printers which no longer print. I make my living working with the stuff but the resources they require to build and the super-short shelf-life are horrifying.

I feel it's far worse to own a few frequently replaced things than many "permanent" things, from a "what's my footprint" point of view. Not owning a bed or a toilet while owning or renting a home aren't anything but a sign of mental illness. Why have an apartment at all? Hotels have beds and toilets. Madness.
posted by maxwelton at 2:52 PM on August 17, 2010 [20 favorites]


Where do they keep their weed?

You think he needs an iPad AND a Kindle? One of 'em is hollow.
posted by chundo at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2010


And lemme tell ya, "pie-making" is not an effective way for the host to pay the increase in electricity.

I accept payment in pies.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I always get a little rush when I daydream about being that sort of guy, living in an almost empty apartment, because I tend to live in these little clutter cycles, where my two-room apartment oscillates between a cool state of mostly-openness and a teetering-piles-of-books state, where I'm navigating pathways. Lately, in the middle of my third major career change in six years, I'm in the latter state, so I think simple thoughts of taoist emptiness...except, well, I did this one before.

Thirteen years ago, I was offered an obscene amount of money to temporarily transfer from where I was working in Maryland to Atlanta for a project that was set to run for 6 to 12 months. I packed up my apartment, sublet it to a woman who would eventually have seven people and forty thousand cigarettes living in my two rooms, and headed south.

This was it. This was my best chance at achieving glorious zen perfection.

I left my old Citroen in front of my apartment in Maryland, packed up my Mac SE/30, my sampler, some effects units and MIDI gear, my beloved AKG headphones, a CD walkman, and 100 CDs in a floppy folder case, along with basic business clothes, some personal notions, two plates, two bowls, two glasses, two mugs (well, you get the point) and some basic pots and pans. I took one book, the Keyfax Omnibus Edition book about synthesizers, which was essentially a picture book of synth porn for nerds like myself.

I left my dog with my parents, and had no idea how much that would do me in.

At first, I lived in a crappy long-term hotel, just off Ponce, in which I lived as a sort of male hillbilly version of Eloise. It sucked, except that there was a giant doughnut factory on the walk between the crappy hotel and the Marta Station at North, with big windows that let you watch the doughnuts being made.

I'd never lived in a city, and I felt pretty urbane. Prostitutes had regular screaming arguments under my window, which made me feel like I was enjoying a nicely-gritty existence, and if I walked ten million miles up Cheshire Bridge Road, there was a bear-friendly bar. I got to ride the subway, and walk three million miles to the Varsity, and I had nothing but my whistly happy-go-lucky self for a few weeks. There was even the gayest shopping center in the whole universe, if you walked a million miles and took three buses, and you could get gay-themed rainbow-dyed bread or have a burly gay guy with a tattoo of what appeared to be wolves fucking flirt with you while you tried to buy tools at the hardware store.

I found an apartment at 13th and Crescent, a nice studio that was all open and glossy-refurbished, right down to having a roach polyurethaned into the floor. I bought a futon and carried it home on a subway train, two buses, and down a long, draggy slog from Peachtree, and looked around at all the nothing there, except for my picture book on the kitchen breakfast bar, and felt pretty urban hip and modern.

Once I was settled, I got my partner of nine years on a train, brought him to Atlanta, and we set up like Japanese monks. It was gonna be great, all that freedom, with our materialism obliterated. Hell, we didn't have a TV, but we lived over a nice little bar/pizza joint with kooky regulars, and there was a cheesy gay bar just up the street, where Margaret Mitchell got run down by a cab, and man, oh man, did Atlanta have great restaurants all over the place.

Except, well, that's all well and good, until you guys are up at eleven o'clock, can't sleep, have nothing to watch, and I just had the one book and...well, the minimalism started to slip away. I bought a clock radio so we could listen to NPR. We gave up trying to eat standing at the breakfast bar and bought two bar stools, which we had to hand-carry from a Target that was seemingly on the other side of Atlanta. We got library cards to avoid a murder-suicide, and we'd hole up to read, me in the tub in the bathroom and him curled up on the futon.

The summer came, and Atlanta in the summer is a hot frying hell. I had to start drinking powdered milk because it was impossible to get a jug of milk home from Ansley Square without it turning into bubbly limburger on the three line public transportation. My mate would go out, every other night, but I just turned up the AC and hid. It was a million degrees and Atlanta has pollen counts that just seem like a joke, until you find everything in your place is coated with a yellow haze.

Being cosmopolitan and eating out didn't work well, either. Apparently, my mate was not inclined to eat Thai and Jamaican and Indian and New South Cuisine night after endless night. Even with my salary doubled, I felt sort of dirty spending so much on meals, too.

A sullen, frustrated silence skidded lumpily into the apartment.

I gave up, took the subway, two buses, and a long, long walk to buy a cheap TV at that mall that wasn't Phipps plaza, and carried it back the same way. We got TBS very well, because the broadcasting antenna was almost outside our window, but everything else was fuzzy. I developed an ironic interest in Family Matters and Urkel, to my mate's horror. I'd also forgotten to make any provision for porn, and had to content myself with pro wrestling, which isn't nearly as good.

When Versace was shot, a coworker and I jumped on the subway, two buses, and took a long, long walk to Phipps Plaza to stand around the Versace store looking stricken in hopes of getting on TV, but she was black and I was fat and you just don't point a camera at a black people and fat people in Atlanta when you're at Phipps Plaza. It's marketing, apparently.

Other than that, there wasn't much fun to be had. I missed my dog.

I saw Austin Powers forty-five times, because it was an excuse to get out of the minimalist paradise of my apartment. I tried to get out and revel in my faggotry, living as I did in the gay mecca of Midtown, but I don't like to drink and don't like hanging around with wealthy white people with abs, so that didn't work out. In fact, I was really starting to feel pretty anti-gay after being surrounded by gay. I would sit on the kitchen floor and try to meditate the angry feelings away, but the air conditioner was too loud and we had mice that would run over your ankles while you sat there, until you'd hear them snap in the trap.

I did my walking meditation, heading up to 13th and then west and west and west until everything turned all industrial and scary, and then I'd walk back, stopping at the Silver Skillet for country ham with red-eye gravy. I'd take three buses and walk forever to go to Little Five Points, but I wasn't self-consciously weird enough to make friends out there, and I'd take two subway rides and walk forever to go to the giant spectacle of Your Dekalb Farmer's Market. I saw Aphex Twin play at some place so far out of range of public transit that I had to stop and take a nap on the way home.

Shit, why didn't I bring my fucking car to this city?

Hell, a bicycle would have worked, but you know, material things are bad.

The guy at the counter at the Jamaican joint in the weird Rio Plaza called me "batty boy," as if I wouldn't know what he meant, and a car full of guys called my mate and I fags while we were out on our street and night fell. I rarely went out, except to go to work or the store, for the rest of the summer. I had my Mac, my music, and that one book, and a library card, so I wouldn't go crazy, and I was supposed to feel liberated, but it was hard not to feel like I was living in a flophouse room in some firetrap vagrant's motel.

The project manager of the partnering company on my job site embezzled five million dollars and disappeared, and with that, I packed up my equipment, shipped it back to my job, packed up a single bag, and headed for home. My partner stayed behind, and when I saw him next, he'd managed to turn our little empty nest into a pretty nice little nest.

When I got home, I washed the cigarette stench out of my apartment, unpacked my boxes and boxes of books, and just sat there, with hundreds and hundreds of books around me, just taking in the scent of books, of old paper, and the way they felt, and the heft and sound they made when you opened them. I unpacked my boxes of useless things I'd collected for years, touching them like a heroin addict with his hardware, and my life unfurled from boxes in the basement of my apartment like a tattered, foul-smelling battleflag, and I was home again.

So I live in clutter, off and on, and still, sometimes I daydream about emptiness, because it's been long enough that I've almost forgotten how cut off I felt, back there in a foreign city, with just my wits and my enthusiasm to carry me. Turns out you have to charge those things up like batteries, or at least I do, in the security of a dumpy little packrat's nest, and I have grasp of a particular turn of phrase from Harold & Maude.

Harold tells Maude that she's upsetting people, always stealing their cars and such. She replies that "some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things. I'm just acting as a gentle reminder, here today, gone tomorrow so don't get attached to things. Now, with that in mind I don't mind collecting things. I've collected quite a lot of stuff in my time. Yeah, this is all memorabilia, but it's incidental, not integral, if you know what I mean."

I'm sure I'm not quoting that verbatim, but the key is incidental, not integral. Is this stuff me, and does it make me who I am, and define my morals, my goals, or my being, or is it just incidental to this lifelong trip around the sun? It seems like the drive to unload what we feel is false or complex or unworthy about ourselves and our material sphere is rooted in a sense that we've allowed these things to become integral to us, but that's just a belief that we make real by endless reiteration, a faith that gives us no solace. You can give away all the stuff in the world, but if it's the stuff you believe about yourself that's the real problem, you'll solve nothing.

Incidental, not integral.
posted by sonascope at 2:55 PM on August 17, 2010 [66 favorites]


Can you imagine writing this sentence, and not intending it to be parody?
Long time readers of this blog, and anyone who’s picked up a copy of The Art of Being Minimalist know that I’ve had a storied relationship with the personal possessions that I own and acquire.


Not to mention that he is SELLING SOMETHING. A POSSESSION. He is financing his possession-free lifestyle by selling things to other people. just shut up, jerk. my brother lives in a co-op, probably does own less than 100 things, and I can fuckin guarantee he didn't need to read your book to figure out how to do it. and I can also guarantee that his lifestyle of sharing, recycling, and trading makes his life a lot simpler than yours. and he doesn't need to lord it over anyone else. he just does it because that's how he lives.

I drank a lot of coffee in a lot of different cities. Stumptown (Portland), Blue Bottle (Oakland), and Ritual Roasters (San Francisco) rank high on my roast choices. Intelligensia in Chicago doesn’t even compare, sorry guys.

SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. I've had Blue Bottle, and while it is very excellent coffee, Intelligentsia is also very awesome. People are allowed to like different things.

Please take some of your 'things' and shove them up your butt to reduce your count.
posted by ninjew at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not having a lot of possessions is, for me, how I can afford to have time to do what I want.

I don't highly value "possessing" stuff. I want a clean, minimalist home of high quality, and the ability to up and leave it behind fully-furnished, the stuff I ultimately care to possess fitting into a small storage locker. Swap for a house somewhere else, go live in another hemisphere for a while.

Why would I want to tie myself down with mere *stuff*?
posted by five fresh fish at 3:03 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Incidental, not integral.

One of the best comments I've read on MeFi. Thanks.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:15 PM on August 17, 2010


I am not a full-on hoarder but I have many books. It isn't a behavior so much as a trait of my nature. I have placed books in boxes and arranged them in my storage unit into a crude bed and slept atop them like a T. Rex guarding its kill.

I like your style, dude. I am not quite a minimalist to the degree of these austere types in the article, but I have lived almost my entire adult life in spaces ranging from a single room to a small one-bedroom place. I recently moved into a house and having packed everything I owned into a single van, I can tell you that books are the bulk of it, with DVDs occupying a significant minority of the boxes I moved with.

Over the years I have had more than a few people (especially internet people) tell me that I am foolish for this, that I should discard all of these and go for a bunch of e-books and mp3s and a big hard drive or just go to the library.

My favourite author has written around eighty books, both novels and short story collections. At the moment almost all are out of print. I own probably sixty or seventy of these books, all but about a dozen of them the result of years of assiduous searches through used book stores on three continents in four decades. Of the eighty books, eleven have been published as e-books, and my local public library has five of his books on its shelves (ironically, this is the same library system that fed my teenaged love of this writer: a quarter-century ago or even five years ago, they had about thirty of his titles). What would I gain by cutting myself off from access to ninety percent or more of his bibliography?

Likewise with the DVDs: I am told to just torrent this stuff or go to Blockbuster like a normal person. Assuming I am interested in things beyond Hollywood and uninterested in illegaly downloading shitty copies of these things (and let me tell you, most of what I woild like to see is not out there according to torrent enthusiast friends), what are my options?

I can only assume that the people who reflexively go for the library/e-book/torrent solutions are people who subsist on a diet of Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Pirates of the Carribean.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:17 PM on August 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


For alleged anti-materialists, there seems to be a big attachment to luxury goods. I mean even mundane stuff. I saw this item on the "Everything Kelly Sutton Owns" link:

Marimekko Towel $52 keep!

A $52 towel? The last towel I bought was $12 and that was in 1996. Most of my towels are like 20 years old, maybe more. I may own a lot of crap, but I would never waste money on a $52 Marimekko towel.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:29 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can only assume that the people who reflexively go for the library/e-book/torrent solutions are people who subsist on a diet of Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Pirates of the Carribean.

The unspoken alternative, of course, is not to accumulate books or movies in any medium. Some people (and I'm not calling you out here ricochet) are reacting as if someone is going to come in and take your stuff away. If you've got stuff and like it, keep it. When I finish a book, I give it away. I don't want to amass books, and I've purchased one movie in the past two years (with Netflix filling my other needs). Nonetheless, astute readers of the Green may note that just today I was looking for storage suggestions for art I can't find places to display.

So, keep your books, or your movies, or your bikes, that's cool. If other people don't collect the same things, and it's easier for them to do without, that's also cool. We don't all like the same things.

Ditto for expensive towels; presumably, we all have treated ourselves to indulgences that others don't comprehend. Person X may have overspent $40 on a luxury towel; person Y got the metallic paint on their car; person Z bought a videogame. I'm not sure it makes much of a difference in the end.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:35 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I could never in a million years survive with only 100 things. I mean, if I lost everything I owned in a fire, I wouldn't instantly keel over, but I wouldn't be happy either.

The past few months I've been on a de-cluttering, cleaning, organizing binge. I've made a lot of progress but have a long way to go, too. I do wish I owned less, but not to the extreme exemplified by these guys. It's not that I look down on them, or feel any hostility to them, but I really can't fathom not having certain categories of things around me. And that's aside from the fact that I wouldn't be happy with far less than 100 items just as a matter of usefulness as well as decor and homey-ness. I like books and art and interesting lamps and games and kitchen gear and jewelry and clothing and shoes. My challenge is making sure that I use what I buy, and donate or recycle when I stop using them. I'm trying to shed the habit of assigning sentimental value to everyday goods, and to some extent I'm succeeding.

Aside from my learned/ingrained pack-rat tendencies, it's difficult when you have a loved one die, and the things they have given you become infused with a meaning beyond their usefulness. My mom passed away and I've struggled to purge things she has given me that no longer fulfill their purpose, from tupper-ware sets, pans, and towels to blankets, lamps and rugs. Slowly I'm giving myself permission to let these things go once their usefulness has expired, knowing that other things I will retain. An old diary, a hand-crocheted blanket, photographs, a jewelry box.

I'll never be down to 100 items, nor do I strive to be, but I hope to achieve a middle ground where the items around me are useful or sentimental, and my living space is clean, well-organized, and brings me a sense of peace and happiness. Everyone has their own needs to tend to, and for me, that would be ideal.
posted by JenMarie at 3:43 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: “I can only assume that the people who reflexively go for the library/e-book/torrent solutions are people who subsist on a diet of Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Pirates of the Carribean.”

Er... interlibrary loan?
posted by koeselitz at 3:49 PM on August 17, 2010


Hmm. If I was really only going to have 100 things, one of them would be a towel, and it would certainly seem like a good excuse to get the best damn towel I could. (this is not the imaginary distinction some people might think; I grew up in a household with certain... values, and one of them was to have the thinnest goddamn towels possible, because any thicker would mean longer to dry)

That said, at $52, it would have to be some kind of amazing towel. I splurged on the biggest, softest, thickest towel I could find and it was $16. Not that I don't agree with Admiral Haddock -- I'm sure I've spent money in ways on other things that people find incomprehensible. I'm just not sure what a $52 towel would look like. Soaked in Goldschlager, I suppose.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:49 PM on August 17, 2010


Due to Stupid Visa Crap, I got stranded in another country for a year, living out of a single suitcase I had only packed to last me three weeks.

It was often annoying and restrictive, but quite doable.

By the time I got back, it had been so long I had forgotten about a lot of my stuff, without even realizing it. It was bizarre - I had somehow acquired overnight an apartment furnished by someone who knew me really well and knew exactly what I liked.

I spend days making the most amazing discoveries, sometimes even squealing in delight - OH WOW! I always secretly wanted to try to build my very own XYZ, and here are all the parts I need to do it - just lying here just waiting for someone to pick them up and get started! The tools as well! It's like somebody knew!

It was a spooky awesome of a hundred times the power of Christmas.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:53 PM on August 17, 2010 [33 favorites]


Hehe. Yeah, I didn't end up describing that aspect, -harlequin-, but I went through exactly the same experience. It's wonderful forgetting about all the great stuff you've picked out over the years. Nobody will ever know you so well.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:55 PM on August 17, 2010


The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends' couches

I came up in the rave scene. NEVER hire a DJ with no fixed address.
ske-e-e-e-etchy...

(and never let a DJ sleep on your couch!)
posted by Theta States at 3:58 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Due to Stupid Visa Crap, I got stranded in another country for a year, living out of a single suitcase I had only packed to last me three weeks.

I am sure I speak for the thread when I say that this demands some expansion.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:17 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


God damn it sonascope are you gonna share your metafilter Cheat Codes with the rest of the class?
posted by The Whelk at 4:18 PM on August 17, 2010


I've several times moved several thousand kloms to relocate. The first time, I was very young and headed off to Europe with a backpack. After a while in Holland living in migrant worker camps and being driven in trucks to fields to pick tubers from the ground, I ended up living in a tent beside Dachau for a few months. My only book was Knuth Vol 1 (seriously, it takes that long to get through that damn thing) and I definitely spent a lot more time looking around me at, you know, the world. That was refreshing, but my first night in a bed was amazing! Living in a covered, permanent structure after that and accumulating possessions after that was nice. The next time I moved halfway across the world and arrived with a (large) suitcase. I spent more than a year with nothing but stuff bought new. It produced a strange feeling of lifestyle remodelling, new tastes and old tastes merging. Then all my crap arrived (it was a on a very slow boat). And I re-integrated it all in a kind of lifestyle archeological reimagining. Another time, I headed off for school, leaving behind all my possessions and a wife. That produced the by-now familiar and refreshingly cathartic sensation of detachment, but it was a relief to finally get my stuff and my wife back. I think you remain the same person with stuff or without stuff... it's just that at some times you have more stuff than at other times. The sensations it evokes, finding yourself un-surrounded by things, is an interaction between psychological versions of the imagined self, ego fulfillment, and the weird neurobiochemical sensations of new-stuff novelty mixed with the former familiarity-now-becoming-unfamiliarity experienced memories and realised loss of the old-stuff.
posted by meehawl at 4:39 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Saying "I don't need anything but my laptop" is a little like saying "I don't need anything but this enormous library."
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Have you seen my seashell collection? I keep it on beaches all over the planet."
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


I am sure I speak for the thread when I say that this demands some expansion.

My work visa & immigration needed a complicated renewal (and if that failed, a switch to a different type). The immigration system required I be out of the country while this took place. We expected it to take a couple of weeks, but instead they stringed us along. We'd paid expedite fees so they were required to give a response within two weeks rather than just ignore us for months, but their method was to take the money and ignore us for months anyway, by means of waiting two weeks, then dash off an information request for some irrelevant detail about me, because that way, it's not them being late, oh no, it's our fault for failing to provide sufficient info about the price of fish on Mars).

That plus other immigration system slowness meant that two-week intervals accumulated over time turned into a year. So I couldn't even apply for a proper job during that year because I was perpetually two weeks from leaving, so I ended up doing menial temp work to cover the rent on an apartment I wasn't allowed to live in.

(It also helped me see illegal immigrants as an entirely rational and sensible response to the inane Kafkaesque US immigration system. I had naively assume that if you play by the rules and abide by the law, US immigrations will play by the rules and abide by the law too.)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:07 PM on August 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


If I could live in a situation where everything I need is shareable, I wouldn't need anything

You'd pretty much need to have at least something your friends wanted to borrow occasionally.
posted by tangerine at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2010


Saying "I don't need anything but my laptop" is a little like saying "I don't need anything but this enormous library."

Would you have a different reaction if one were to say "I don't need anything but my library card"?

There are lots of "gotchas" in this thread. At the end of the day, the collected works of Shakespeare is, indeed, only one book. An iPod with 10,000 songs on it is still just one thing.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2010


Those who have read this far down in the thread might be interested in Peter Menzel's Material World: A Global Family Portrait, which contains portraits of statistically average households from 30 different countries, along with all their worldly possessions.
posted by twirlip at 5:22 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


+1 for sandregina. I think you've identified what's been getting at me about this. Becoming preoccupied with reducing one's personal inventory has as much to do with commodity culture as anorexia has to do with food and fat. Being obsessed with eluding something isn't the same thing as being liberated from it, so a lot of these claims of living a "consumerism-free" life rings hollow. (As some have already pointed out upthread, these claims seem even more hollow when it becomes clear that these folks survive by shifting the responsibility of ownership to their social network.)

p.s. Is there another term we can use for this "ultra-minimalism"? I'm really fond of minimalism as a visual and sonic aesthetic, so I feel weird making critical comments about something with the word "minimalism" in it.
posted by LMGM at 5:25 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


consumption outsourcing?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:42 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


minimalisn't.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:12 PM on August 17, 2010


The concept is something I've been really interested in. I'll be moving for the second time in three months this September and I found that as I was packing, moving things into storage -- that there was so much that was completely non-essential and I could really do without. It echoes the sentiment that Durn Bronzefist expressed earlier that there is so much I wouldn't miss. It's my goal that with this next move, I leave with half the "stuff" that I came in with (furniture excluded), and I think I might actually succeed there.

Armed with a Fujitsu ScanSnap and my laptop, I've digitized roughly a thousand documents and a wee bit over ten thousand pages that allowed me to ditch an entire filing cabinet of stuff without really having lost anything. It's OCR-ed now, so it's even better. In that sense, I think that technology really can help to create a less-cluttered lifestyle.

But, as to the article at hand, statments like "...this is why I live with less, because I’ve decided to stop consuming and start living" are so asinine it almost invalidates the principle. Also, the people advocating it really need to tone down the elitist aspect of it. It's refreshing to simply get rid of stuff and acknowledge how much crap you have doesn't comprise who you are.
posted by cgomez at 6:27 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


For those of you out there who, like me, find some appeal in reducing the amount of crap you have without the attention whoring and high cost "simplicity" may I suggest Unclutterer and the ATAD Challenge therein. Related to ATAD is 365 Less Things.
posted by MikeMc at 6:28 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't get the "digital clutter is still clutter" argument put forward by some here. The only thing that reminds me of how much stuff I have (see the locker anecdote I posted earlier) is seeing it.

If you use your computer all the time, you may well see all that stuff. A ripped CD that you constantly skip in your media library is still clutter, even if the physical object is no longer cluttering your shelf. Too many RSS feeds/twitters/tumblrs/Facebook friends to keep up with means you can't get to the important stuff in your social media: updates from the people you most want to hear from. If you can't find whatever's important because you have too much of whatever it is you're looking for, you're living with clutter. The receptacle can be a purse or a locker or a hard drive, but the principle's just the same.

Becoming preoccupied with reducing one's personal inventory has as much to do with commodity culture as anorexia has to do with food and fat.

I agree completely with this statement.
posted by immlass at 6:37 PM on August 17, 2010


The ultra-minimalistic lifestyle works well for hardcoregeeks. 100 items is too many in his books. This is what his day looks like.

(The gamer's day starts not in the morning - but after work. After the sun has gone down. When he can Hunt)

1) After work, grab a quick dinner at a restaurant- do you seriously think cooking for 1 or 2 persons can be more efficient (resourcewise) than a restaurant that mass produces for hundreds?

2) Get home take a shower and change into your pyjamas - you don't need casual clothes because you don't intend to see anyone the rest of the night.

3) Play World of Warcraft / Starcraft 2 because that is the only thing entertainment you need.

4) No food in the apartment, or any utensils. No entertainment other than a desktop. You cannot afford distractions like food, drink or tv. You are either gaming, or you are resting and preparing to game more.

5) Fall asleep on a mattress. You don't need a bed or bedroom, even, because you're obviously not going to be having sex (yet more distraction). Next morning, get up, eat your breakfast on the train on the way to work.
posted by xdvesper at 7:09 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well like most of you i think these peopel are wankers who haven't really thought this shit through, and are going about this all the wrong way. i won't echo waht you've already said, but rbiefly outline another criticism (no in fact two).

First, smaller point - these people don't have kids. If/when they do, this idea will get thrown out - so it's a 'lifestyle', not a life.

Second, more serious point, and relting to the points about cooking and fixing your own stuff and getting a life from having quality items and the skill to use them rather than quantity, these people are all renters (at best). They appear to treat place as some abstract, like they can float through affluent society and not develop tangible, meaningful connections to a location. For me, having a garden which I have nurtured and am nurtured by, having a familiar bit of bush nearby, developing a relationship with my country, is far more profound, interesting and meaningful than being able to leave somewhere at a moment's notice.

peoplea re different and that's good, but I get a sense that these people are all front, no back, are shallow and unconnected. They may get a great sense of ease and relief when they go back to their parents hosues, but they're doing nothing to try and make similar sorts of connections for themselves for the future.

But maybe I'm reading tooo much into it.
posted by wilful at 7:39 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, at $52, it would have to be some kind of amazing towel. I splurged on the biggest, softest, thickest towel I could find and it was $16.

I'm not really into spending a lot on textiles, but $16 is a pretty cheap towel. Well made towels and sheets are pretty amazing.

I'm not familiar with the brand mentioned upthread, but a decent high-thread-count towel made with Egyptian cotton is .. well, here.

And if you think there's nothing different about such towels, then you have never tried them.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:40 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


On that towel link, I see premium quality towels at $45 for a six piece set.

In a sense, I suppose you could make the same argument as people make for cars. Any car will get you from point A to point B. Perhaps a better car might be safer, or might make you look good.

And in the same way, any old towel will dry you off. And.. um... that's it. It might be pretty, but sits in your bathroom where nobody sees it, you only see it yourself for a few minutes a day. A luxury towel won't get you any drier. Maybe you want a status symbol towel to be seen in public. Perhaps I can interested you in a Prada Beach Towel for only $260?
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:51 PM on August 17, 2010


On that towel link, I see premium quality towels at $45 for a six piece set.

Just because something is advertised as being "Egyptian cotton" doesn't mean it's great quality.

Are you familiar with high-thread-count sheets? Same idea. The really good ones are pricey. They also last a long time.

Anyway, there is a difference, but it makes no difference to me if you believe me or not. I don't have such towels anyway, but man I sorta do want them once I can afford them.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:57 PM on August 17, 2010


BTW, I don't care about Prada or other labels. That makes no difference as far as quality.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:57 PM on August 17, 2010


A luxury towel won't get you any drier.

I'm here to tell you, that's just not true! Up until a few months ago, I would have agreed with you, but my partner bought $50 towels and they're ... much better. I made fun of him for a whole day - until I showered. Those are some goddamned nice towels. They dry you with the slightest touch, practically, and feel dry themselves when you're done.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:59 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those are some goddamned nice towels.

And yet, your body was just as dry from the cheap towels as the expensive ones.

I think people are missing my point. Getting rid of crap is not going to achieve a goal of non-attachment to material possessions, if you just replace a large quantity of cheap goods with a small quantity of expensive luxury goods. This is not "living simply." I would argue this is actually becoming MORE attached to your possessions. In any case, much of this uber-minimalism strikes me as "spiritual materialism." These people think they're leading nobler, more spiritual lives than us, and are not just proud of it, they're bound and determined to rub your nose in it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:08 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Marimekko is a designer fabric company. It's not a good towel, it's a pretty towel. I mean, I'm sure it's a good towel and all, but it's not $52 because it's a good towel like me & my monkey found out, it's because it's Marimekko.
posted by mendel at 8:17 PM on August 17, 2010


Yeah, but I have to wonder... given the demographics of the people mentioned in the article, how many of these ultra-minimalists still have all their childhood crap boxed up in the basement of their parents' house?

Seriously, though, I think I have 100 items just on the surface of my desk. Let's see: scissors, ruler, a handful of pens, notebooks, stapler, answering machine, book of card games, stamp collection, camera, dictionary, field guide to North American Trees (Western Region). I remember what it's like to not have a stapler, instead having to pry out staples from old papers and push them through the corners of the pages I'm trying to staple, and it's a lot of no fun, and I can't imagine multiplying that by the 1000 other useful items I have in my house that I don't want to get rid of.

I've lived with 100 items or less, lots of time, and so have most of you. It's called travelling, and yeah, it can be liberating to have with you only what you can carry, but it's hard to live like that for too long. My limit is about two weeks.

And as mentioned up-thread, good luck on the minimalism when you have kids. Or when your parents die and you inherit all of their stuff. Sure, the plastic beer steins and creepy kewpie dolls can go to Goodwill, but the quilt that your great-grandmother made for your mother when she was a baby, and the gold earrings that your father gave to your mother on their first Christmas together, and the guitar that your Dad taught you to play? It's going to be tough to get rid of those.

That said, none of these posers can compare to Jack Reacher (a fictional character who travels with only a folding toothbrush and an expired passport; he buys new clothes every few days and in his spare time he solves crimes. Of course.)

That said again, I admit to the value of reducing possessions. I've been trying to bring down my books to just those that can fit into my one large bookshelf, and it's interesting to see how I make the choices. I like the idea of ending up with a certain limited number of books that are really important to me, that I use often, and that I can't easily replace. Of course, I usually cheat by bringing the other books to my office.
posted by math at 8:33 PM on August 17, 2010


I'm starting to think that "I'm a minimalist" is this century's "I don't own a television."

I mean, I'm a ferocious declutterer, I keep to a ridiculously tight budget, and I live comfortably in a 400 square foot home without using any form of off-site storage. But I'd never call myself a minimalist because it just sounds so smug and self-satisfied.
posted by ErikaB at 9:15 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


In the early 90s I ditched everything except what I could fit in my 10th-hand backpack and hitchhiked across most of Canada, from Vancouver to Ottawa. During my 8 months in Ottawa I gained a few items but was still able to fit everything in my backpack for the flight back. These people are amateurs and annoying.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 9:34 PM on August 17, 2010


I'm starting to think that "I'm a minimalist" is this century's "I don't own a television."

Don't fret, those people haven't gone away. A bunch of them are here on MetaFilter just champing at the bit to say "is this something I would need a television to understand?".
posted by cgomez at 9:44 PM on August 17, 2010


It's a question of having time and energy to get rid of most things strategically. It's also very helpful to be well-off, then you can get rid of a lot of relatively cheap things with the idea that if you really need one of them, you can go and buy it. It's very true that poor people tend to hoard out of fear.

I think it's a extremely useful to make a habit of going over a few place semi-daily and throwing out stuff that's not needed, and sort and move things out of the way semi-weekly. When things are sorted and put in place, it feels like you have cut your possessions in half.

It would be really great if all rooms had wall-length closets with sliding doors: all the unneeded things could be stored away and yet fairly easy to find, it would be easy to clean the room and it'd look much more spacious.
posted by rainy at 9:55 PM on August 17, 2010


So, these people are still keeping score of their possessions. Their only difference is they score more like golf rather than football, ie less is better. Seems like essentially the same thing to me.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:56 PM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not the items you own that count.

It's the items that own you.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:43 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I throw out those 43 folders then I'm good for a month.
posted by furtive at 10:45 PM on August 17, 2010


anybody need a fake moustache? ... magic glasses? ... punky brewster doll? ... sand?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:12 PM on August 17, 2010


As many have noted, these aren't ultra-minimalists. These are ultra-dependents. They are dependent on a huge infrastructure - restaurants, wireless carriers, power grids, mass transit systems - to perform even the most simple of daily tasks.

Sure, many of us do likewise. But few of us are so constrained by these - they are convenient options, not requisites. If our favorite all-night diner was closed overnight, most of us could manage to chop some boiled potatoes into milk & butter & salt & pepper, or even to heat a bowl of Campbell's soup.

It's an interesting concept, but it implicitly requires a constant level of support from the available community. Off-the-grid people impress me far more, and in my book, are living "simpler" lives.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:35 PM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


All through reading this, I keep thinking about a pivotal scene in a fantastic movie I saw a while ago called Ostrov. In it, an old monk who tends the furnace at a monastery is visited by the abbot for an evening. During the night, the old monk throws the abbots prized possessions – a pair of boots and a blanket, both gifts from dear old friends – onto the fire; the abbot is immediately hurt and upset, and very much disturbed. When the abbot asks the monk what he's doing, the old monk says: "I'm saving you from satan."

There was something fantastic in that for me. Something very true, too. A few people here have commented that cutting it down to forty, to ten, or even to five possessions misses the point; I agree. The question is really: what would any of us do if suddenly we were deprived of our most prized possession? The one thing in the world we cared about most? That we're most attached to?

Attachment to things is so casual in our society. It's such a common thing. Without even thinking about it, we take great comfort in a whole host of things that will always be there when we want to look at them and touch them. Sometimes I think that growing up as a human being means learning to let all of these things go. I think that's what the vow of poverty is supposed to signify: a willing detachment from things.

In many ways, modern society is supposed to be a kind of middling mediocrity that makes room for everybody; that's especially true here, where we've convinced ourselves to swallow all sorts of clearly false premises about property. Property cannot, for one thing, be a right; it's easily and often denied us by nature, which destroys much property, and yet we act as though it's owed us. In fact, most often it's us who owe the people around us. Property is just a way we have of ignoring that fact so that we can remain comfortable and so that we don't have to confront other people.

What would it mean to let go of property completely? There have to be ways to do this: to enter some sort of service, to join the Armed Forces, etc. There are still Monastic rites. I have to say that I find that very attractive.
posted by koeselitz at 12:56 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh. If we're onto monks and such, then:
Sacrifice is never easy. Until the decision is taken it seems almost impossible. Not physically impossible but requiring an act of will that we refuse to make. Once a wealthy lady in one of Ouspensky's groups, about 1923, said in the weekly meeting that she wanted at all costs to be free from herself and asked if she could do anything about it. Ouspensky asked her to name some possession to which she was particularly attached. "Yes," she said, "I have a Dresden tea set that belonged to my grandmother and is still intact." Ouspensky said: "Break one of the cups and you will know what it is like to be free." Next week she returned in tears and almost hysterical saying that she had tried a dozen times and could not bring herself to do it. Ouspensky's dry comment was: "So you see this desire for freedom is not worth one cup." His purpose was to show her what she could not do, not to make her ruin her tea set

J.G. Bennett, Transformation
posted by Grangousier at 3:02 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]




I find a lot of my decisions about what I need and don't need are being made by natural forces. I live in two rooms, but I've got a little space in the basement of my apartment building (I'm the building super) where I keep boxes of books, family items, and various things I've collected that I don't use on a day-to-day basis.

It's a hundred year-old converted house, sitting on a massive cut stone foundation, and it leaks. I don't mean little leaks, either, but great gushing gouts of water that come with every heavy rain, and as the caretaker for the place over the last twenty-two years, I've built up drain channels on the floors that feed the four sump pumps, and it's a system that requires a lot of attention and maintenance. Every time I get a little behind, a channel will silt up and flood the place, or a sump will break its outflow pipe and sit there in an endless loop, happily spraying the basement like a firehose. I'm tuned in to the place, though. I can diagnose a problem with a pump in my sleep, waking to snap into instant superintendent mode, rushing down and wading through the frigid waters to pull a pump up from the mud and clear an impeller.

I've had a lot of really gut-wrenching losses over the years. Even with preparation and a careful design of the storage areas down there that leaves nothing within a foot of the floor, things happen. I came down once to find the box containing my father's collected QSL cards from decades of ham radio swamped in the water, after having toppled off a high shelf. I sloshed through the water and carried the box up to my apartment, where I laid dozens of wet, mildewed, ruined cards out to dry. When I found the treasured card he'd gotten from King Hussein of Jordan, with its elegant script stained blue-black with mildew, I just sat there on the floor and cried, living out my father's death all over again.

Over the years, I've played a game against the water, but it always gets me. I move a box of my diaries from middle school to the driest, safest, never-been-floodedest part of the place, and go down to do laundry to find that a water pipe's sprung a pinhole leak (a regional scourge for a few years, thanks to a change in water company chemistry) and has spent a week spraying into that box. I find a place completely clear of any water sources whatsoever, and a tenant's cat manages to knock over an entire aquarium, which then flows sideways, and down, seeking out the lowest point IN MY STUFF.

I move a few items out to West Virginia to the quiet safety of my cabin, and get a call from a neighbor up there saying, "hey, Joe, I hate to tell you this, but that storm knocked a tree through your window," and what window is it?

I have to laugh, really. I always retell the old taoist parable that tells of an old man (or monk, in some versions) who accidentally slips into river rapids crashing around huge rocks. Another man, on the banks, runs after him, fearing he's certain to be killed in the churning wash, but in a clear stretch of the river, the man just steps out of the river, calm. When asked how he survived, he says "I go down with the water and I come up with the water. By surrendering to the greater force of the water, I let it carry me to safety." I tell that tale, and I forget, sometimes, that you don't have to be swimming in the water to be faced with its superior power.

What's really important to me?

Do I honor my father by hanging onto every single thing that holds his handwriting, or is that just stuff, just palliative trinkets that I really don't need because what was amazing about my dad is still with me because it's in me--in my character and my curiosity and my predilection for constant, silly adventure? I have the notes my father made while he was deciding whether to buy the demonstrator Volvo 144 at the dealership back in '69, and his meticulous notes on the dissolution of his collapsing employer, General Computing, which detail his thinking in the process that let him to start his own business.

I'm a hoarder with a curatorial bent, a trait exaggerated by my venture into being a teen survivalist and my adult lurch into being an information archivist, so I've mentally accessioned all these little scraps in a collection that, on some garish narcissistic level, I must expect will one day be useful to my biographers.

It's all just stuff.

Really, it's all just...stuff.

You lose it and it hurts, like a part of you slipping away, but it's just stuff. It's a part of us because we're toolmakers, as a species, and because those tools are a part of the greater us--the cyborg us that's enhanced by things like bicycles and spectacles and computers you can carry in your pocket, but it's still just stuff. We can relax and love our stuff and get comfort and succor from our stuff, and still be okay with letting it go when it doesn't make sense to hang on.

There's just this balance out there, and it's set at a different point for different people. Some people have their stuff-thermostat set pretty low, and can pick up and move on an impulse, packing their car with everything they need, and others have the relics of lost loves and family to keep them curating, managing unmanageable collections that they need to keep them whole and sane in the face of loss. When we get out of balance, things go awry.

You get robbed. They take everything and break everything else.

Grandmother's wedding ring. Mother's cut glass punchbowl. No.

You collect and collect and collect and you find you can't find a place for a new shirt in your closet, because you've obsessively collected manual typewriters and packed the closet so tightly it's almost solid with tweed cases for Olympia SM9s.

They're gonna find me dead under a stack of typewriters.

Well, the typewriter one is me. I was digging around in the closet the other day, and it occurred to me that I don't need twenty-seven manual typewriters. Hell, even if civilization collapsed altogether and I had to heroically restart the literary world single-handed, I could get by with two or three. I'm on the wrong side of that balance, of utility to novelty, and I rationalize why I need twenty-seven typewriters, but it's largely sentimental and a collection borne out of a fear of poverty. I really only write with two or three of them, but it's hard to let them go.

When I've got free space, it's a harmless diversion, but the dog is being one of those natural forces, a selective little book-wrecker who has the most uncanny ability to find a signed first edition of JG Ballard's High Rise in a stack of books that are stacked on the floor because I have nowhere else to put them.

I should put that somewhere more secure.

Umm, like the closet, perhaps?

There's that balance, and because I've made the choice to stay in my two rooms, it's a balance I have to manage often, weighing my curatorial hoardiness against my love of not tripping over stuff or finding the chewed-up cover to the copy of Life, The Universe, and Everything that I found in a local library book sale that turned out, insanely, to be the actual copy Douglas Adams carried with him on a reading tour, full of handwritten notes in the margins and credit card receipts in his name for hotels and rental cars (for the record, that's my nightmare scenario for the purposes of illustration, and the book is comfortably ensconced in an acid-free sleeve in an archival book box).

What's important? What's less important?

What could you give up? What do you want buried with you?

I think, and I'll readily concede I think this in part because it validates my belief, that you really just need engagement, and to be awake in your decision-making process. When it comes down to moralizing our material choices, like what we've done with food and money and sex, it all lurches into an endless, insoluble struggle between puritans and anarchists, with everyone losing ground.

When we're luckiest, it starts to rain at exactly the wrong time, when we're vulnerable, and as the waters rise, we have to wake up and really see what's around us, and where we fit into the bigger picture. It's not always the happiest moment, but it's always better to be awake and alive than it is to surrender our choices to old habits, new puritanical purges, and anxiety-driven reflexes that contradict our reason.
posted by sonascope at 7:24 AM on August 18, 2010 [21 favorites]


Dude, there's this technology you should hear about: it's called "plastic bags.". Many of them are absolutely waterproof.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:18 AM on August 18, 2010


> Oh. If we're onto monks and such, then

Actually, Ouspensky was a proponent of the Fourth Way, which was a spiritual path within normal live and eschewed asceticism and monasticism. That little vignette not withstanding, he didn't encourage his followers to renounce anything other than their own illusions.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:40 AM on August 18, 2010


life
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 AM on August 18, 2010


Also, this is a SLYT, but it's something I thought of when I first read the article:

Patsy and Eddie visit Max and Bettina

Whenever I really get the minimalism jones, I can't help but imagine myself in that white room, looking for a white box. It is the new millennium, you know.
posted by sonascope at 9:43 AM on August 18, 2010


I'm running with the idea that Pete and Peggy are actually the same person.

Pete and Don are the same person.
posted by speicus at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


such contemptible naievete, such crass cognitive dissonance... these people truly understand nothing about the word "minimalism"... or "consumption"
posted by tehloki at 4:40 PM on August 18, 2010


but... they're all yoga masters!
posted by Theta States at 6:02 AM on August 19, 2010


I'm running with the idea that Pete and Peggy are actually the same person.

Pete and Don are the same person.
posted by speicus at 10:20 AM on August 18


Thanks, that needed pointing that out. I'm surprised by all the articles/reviews about Mad Men that compare and contrast Pete and Don when in fact, they are the same. Pete just hasn't figured out how to act cool yet.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:17 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, I guess I'm one of these people! Since I'm traveling (er, moving) to England, I've been carrying everything I own* with me. I sold everything else before I left. Inspired by this post, I took inventory. I'm carrying 75 things. That's it. I feel so justifiably pretentious and smug now. I may even go to a yoga class later.

*(except for 4 boxes of books and 2 surfboards, which will likely remain in California forever)
posted by iamkimiam at 8:55 AM on August 20, 2010


I used to live pretty nomadically but kind of settled down as I hit my early 30s. There's nothing like having to pack and move your stuff yearly to keep you motivated about not accumulating stuff. Having little disposable income also helps. I moved for the first time in 4 years this last weekend and I was forced to face the fact that Crap Mountain appears to be growing uncomfortably. I have newfound motivation for digitizing the cds/dvds and freecycling them. I draw the line at paring down the wall of LPs no matter how damn heavy they are when carried up two flights of stairs.

OTOH, these people remind me of my very worst Adbusters/culture jamming proselytizing days--much of which can be found in my MeFi history no doubt. I strongly agree with their basic premises and still these linked profiles rubbed me the wrong way. More "under the bushel basket" and less smugness please.

Also, secure your own crapper. Visiting the neighbors' every time you have to pinch a loaf is not any kind of kosher. Seriously.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fair warning: I haven't read through this whole thread. But I thought I'd share a recent experience with this, as it might offer a perspective that is alternative to how these individuals are being thought of here.

If this is the extreme version of a cult, I was a follower of its more moderate cousin, such as can be found on Zen Habits and Unclutterer. But, interestingly enough, I started getting truly interested in it while I was unemployed.

For me, when I was at my most financially unstable, it actually was a comfort to declutter. It helped me feel as if I was more portable, and giving constant thought to the question of what I truly needed -- as opposed to what I merely wanted, or what simply made me more comfortable -- reduced the requisite level of my sustainability. Reducing that level was a comfort because in a situation where income was proving so difficult, it was something that helped me feel as if I was exerting some form of control over my monthly sustainability.

I suppose I present this to you as a counterpoint towards the representation of minimalism and decluttering as solely a luxury trend. To me, it proved most valuable to me in quite the opposite circumstance.
posted by WCityMike at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fezboy!: Also, secure your own crapper. Visiting the neighbors' every time you have to pinch a loaf is not any kind of kosher. Seriously.

This makes me think of Vincent Kartheiser (currently Pete on "Mad Men", formerly Angel's son), who's 'decluttered' to such a degree that he doesn't have a toilet.
posted by WCityMike at 10:01 AM on August 21, 2010


This makes me think of the first article linked in the FPP! ;-)
posted by iamkimiam at 11:38 AM on August 21, 2010


iamkimiam: This makes me think of the first article linked in the FPP! ;-)

DOH! ( ← minimal d'oh )
posted by WCityMike at 11:47 AM on August 21, 2010


Haven't read the thread yet, but I read a short article about this the other day. My thoughts:

1) What happens if you lose your Kindle, or want to read books that are out of print?
2) What happens if you want to have children, or move in with a partner? Difficult lifestyle for two.
3) Anyone who says things like 'I really recommend the iLife' is a twat.
4) Paul Carr is a twat.
posted by mippy at 5:24 AM on August 24, 2010


"May I have a drink?"
"Sure, I'll just finish mine and wash my cup."
"I like your white walls."


Oh oh oh! Reminds me of this. I'm a grown adult - I want to take my meals at the table, or at least on a sofa.
posted by mippy at 7:11 AM on August 24, 2010


Oh, wow, mippy. That's a bizarre list. She ought to add "houseguests" to the end of it.
posted by griphus at 7:51 AM on August 24, 2010


can only assume that the people who reflexively go for the library/e-book/torrent solutions are people who subsist on a diet of Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Pirates of the Carribean.

I had this discussion when being helped to declutter before my last move.

"Let's get rid of this book."
"But it's out of print! I can't get that again!"
"Well, if it's out of print, it must be shite then, and you can get rid of it anyway."
posted by mippy at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2010


Things she doesn't own:
70. Treadmill – If I wanted to use one, I’d go to the gym.
71. Exercise bike – Same as above.
72. Hand weights – Same as above.
73. Video game system – We’re not into video games.
74. Board games – We’re not into board games.

These are the kind of people where you go over there to hang out and they just want to show you websites on their laptop.
posted by Theta States at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


OK, so I was serious--10thingsaweek. I've been taking pictures for a few weeks, but just got them all posted today. I hope to keep this going for a year (home and office), but we'll see how I do; do I really have 1000 things I can do without (and do I have the wherewithal to take and post photos of it all)? We'll see.
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:04 PM on September 3, 2010


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