Extreme Minimalism

I’ve drawn an unusual amount of attention to my minimalism project this week. First, Dan Patterson of ABC Radio News interviewed me about my 15 things. Dan is one of those amazing interviewers that you wish you were just watching instead of getting interviewed by. Each question was eloquent and succinct. Then came my answers. I think I did a pretty good job; it was fun to do. The interview has become one of their most popular posts ever. Interesting to see how minimalism connects with people.

Then came a post by Scott at LaughingSquid, which really showed me the power of Tumblr. Its community makes me want to switch over completely (but then I would have to make gifs all day and play in meme culture, which doesn’t sound too bad).

That night I had drinks with someone who had seen the story (on Reddit, which I can’t find), and I realized the story had spread.

Alex Hillman let me crash on his couch after a panel last week on Rethinking Shelter at P’unk Avenue. After a cheesesteak we talked a lot about his kick-ass new project on co-housing that has me jumping up and down hoping for the best. I asked him to take a picture of me (for ABC Radio News). Here’s the shot:

Here is me with everything I own.

The winning caption in a contest is “floordrobe.”  This shot caused some more coverage with LifeHack and a few others (thanks!).

The first question someone asks me when I tell them about the project is “How do you define something you own?” Great question, but that is a lie. The first question is always “Do you do laundry? How many pairs of underwear?” I’ll never get a stranger’s obsession with my knickers, but that is *always* question #1. Question #2 is the “What do you own?” countdown, which is both fun and annoying to answer.

I don’t have a permanent address or a second pair of jeans. Forgive me if I don’t want to answer it, but it takes a bit of emotion to go from an overconsumer to a minimalist, and perhaps even more emotion to think about it all the time. When I get up in the morning, I wear what is clean. That is my thought process. Then I’m out the door. When I am asked about what I own, I have to think about it deliberately. Imagine everything you own? Name it. Longer list than mine, but you still have to justify things as you list them, which is exhausting in a way that makes you pair emotion with physical objects.

It’s how I imagine telling someone my child’s name would feel like.

So, back to everything I own. The “rule” of ownership is the express-lane checkout rule. If you were checking out in a grocery store, what would be counted as one item in your bag? A six-pack of beer would be one, right? I count my things as resellable items I would be pissed if someone took.

Coffee cup? No. Jacket? Yes. iPhone and headphones? One thing. Simple enough?

Here is the list, as of May 2, 2011. I made a similar list in Colombia. Scott Berkun also did an interview around that time too.

  1. Arc’teryx Miura 30 backpack
  2. NAU shirt
  3. Mammut rain jacket
  4. Arc’teryx tshirt
  5. Patagonia running shorts
  6. Quick Dry towel
  7. NAU wool jacket
  8. Toiletry kit
  9. Smith sunglasses
  10. Wallet
  11. MacBook Air
  12. iPhone 3GS
  13. NAU dress shirt
  14. Patagonia jeans
  15. Running shoes

There are a couple things not on the list – like socks and underwear – that I can easily replace and could not resell for any value. I have extra headphones not listed here (will give those away soon) as well as cables, business cards and knickknacks (like a small lock for when I go to the gym). It is imperfect.

So what is there to learn from this?

Minimalism is equally easy as it is boring to do. What shirt today? The one I didn’t wear yesterday. “How tough is it for you?” You mean, to pick the shirt I didn’t wear yesterday? Once you get used to simplicity, the complex normality others have becomes the audacious thing.

Update January 2012: I updated the list of things and made some additional comments here.  Thanks for all the comments and kind words.  Feel free to reach out to me via email [email protected] or twitter.

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