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 andrew@andrewhy.de or twitter.

Related Posts:

  • Pingback: ABC News Radio Interviews Andrew Hyde Who Only Owns 15 Things

  • Jenny Nunemacher

    Hey Andrew! MY first question is, “How do you eat a gluten free cheesesteak from a street vendor?”

    I sympathize with your sentiment of making what to wear a none issue. Out of pickiness and flat out unwillingness to buy clothes, I have 2 pairs of pants, both black, which I wear to work. Sure my wardrobe (which is sometimes a floordrobe!) is boring, but frankly I don’t care, and MAN is it easy.

    Wishing you well… can’t drink mead without thinking of you.

  • Anonymous

    That was really funny. I asked for the meat on a plate. They don’t have plates. They guy didn’t finch, took some paper they use for wrapping and put it in between the bread and meat and gave me both.

    Mead! I want some! I will be in Boulder on the 18th!

  • http://yousayyeah.com Lee Dale

    You and Jason Roks blow my mind with your personal minimalism. And remind me that I really need to get my stuff out of storage and get rid of it.

    If I can work on getting my music paired down from a Drobo to a portable hard drive that’ll just leave my wardrobe. That’s the tough one.

    Everything else is just hoarding and it’s easy to replace entertainment, but the wardrobe is a high percentage of my self worth. I’ll need to start seeing a psychiatrist now if I hope to shake that.

    As for Tumblr, go for it man! We’ve got the company site (http://yousayyeah.com) and my personal blog on it. I’m only mildly self-concious about my lack of photo and meme sharing, which I’ve mitigated by connecting my ffffound to http://leedale.ca

    And I sure dig the community, which makes it all the more frustrating that sub blogs like the corporate blog can’t connect in the same way (you can’t follow people from a sub blog, only your primary). Other than that (and growing pains which seem to have disappeared), it’s golden.

  • Anonymous

    There is something really different about knowing that everything you own you can carry. Hope to see you when you roll through Boulder.

  • Adam Pearson

    You are so right about the emotional road from overconsumer to minimalist. Before moving to Dublin my wife and I pared down our belongings using the old “three pile” method: sell, store, or give away. Even at our best effort (which includes selling our cars), I’m afraid we still own probably 75% of our original belongings. And most of them are sitting in a storage unit outside Seattle. It’s freeing to be so distant from all that stuff, but I still feel tethered to it in a way.

    Also, glad to hear you consider your toiletries to be one item. I wasn’t looking forward to counting my old baseball card collection. =)

  • http://pmerrill.com/ paulmerrill

    Since I’m married and have three kids, minimalism is a bigger challenge. But we’re trying.

  • Anonymous

    Bull Crap: I count more than 15 things, plus there’s all the crap you’re wearing. Plus, you can’t count a toiletry kit as one thing. Why don’t you practice some extreme realism or some extreme counting and see you’re full of crap?

  • Anonymous

    *sigh*

    I’m now disqualified for the 15 things Olympics.

    “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.”

    Reading, not just for trolls.

  • Anonymous

    looking forward to it!

  • Ceeraresix

    Just say you own 30 things, and count your toiletries and underwear.

    30 things is still impressive and you don’t need to do all this syntactic gymnastics.

  • Anonymous

    Do I count my shoelaces? The pair of screws holding my sunglasses together? Roll of floss as one or do I need to count the estimated 40 pieces that I will end up using? Each penny in my bank account? The quarter in my pocket? No matter how I phase it, someone will say the same thing you said.

  • Anonymous

    I look up to you for the family, no idea how I could do it.

  • http://twitter.com/ebwolf ebwolf

    My wife hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1997. She went from living in Manhattan where owning lots of stuff is a burden to six months where she lived entirely with what she could carry on her back. Now we have a three bedroom house, dog, cat, two cars, etc. She gets frustrated when she considers how much junk we have but I don’t think she’s ready to purge.

    As for the nit-pickers: Everything Andrew has will fit inside that backpack. However you enumerate his “things”, it’s still impressive.

  • http://www.danielsims.com dsims

    Being a minimalist is sort of required when you have a nomadic lifestyle. I thru-hiked the AT last year, so for almost 6 months everything I owned fit in my backpack:
    Shelter/Sleep : tent, sleeping bag & mat
    Clothing : 2 of each essential item
    Electronics : laptop, smartphone, camera
    Cooking : pot, alcohol stove, lighter, water filter & container
    Toiletries
    photo: http://onahike.com/topics/30/gear-bomb

    Now that I am back home living in an apartment I own a little more clothes, a couch, chairs, TV, car, media that collects dust on a shelf, etc. I’d like to share a large common space with most of this stuff provided, but privacy is important too.

    When you decide to “settle down” in one spot will you stick with the extreme minimalism?

  • Devolvenow

    I know tons of people who own way less than 15 items. They work as recycling engineers and come up and down my back alley at all times of the day. Most of them own only a shopping buggy, a dog and the clothes on their back. Beat that!

  • Philipp

    Very interesting project, one question though: Why are brands important, despite the implied criticism of consumerism? E.g. instead of listing “3 shirts”, you list NAU shirt, Arc’teryx tshirt, NAU dress shirt. Does that make it easier to let go of stuff?

  • Anonymous

    Good question. The first time I put up a list I didn’t list out the brands and that then became the first question I got. Mainly to point out sustainable fabrics that can be reword a few times. As companies, I like supporting them too (especially NAU and Patagonia).

  • Anonymous

    You should become one.

  • Anonymous

    The AT looks amazing, on my list of things to do!

    I’ve ‘settled down’ a bit in NYC for the last 6 weeks. I added a scarf (and have since given it away). Will eventually have my own place. We will see.

  • Philipp

    Ok thanks! Another interesting observation is that most minimalists I looked at use to have a MacBook and/or iPhone. So “cult of less” should actually spell out “cult of less + good design”.

  • Sming

    I don’t see any dishes or cutlery listed. Or furniture. So I guess you rent furnished places like all my international friends living here on a student visa. They leave those places in May every year and use the savings on rent to fly back home every summer. Are you able to entertain guests at all? And if so? They never have anyone over, but two have told me they wish they could.

  • Steph

    you are the best :)

  • Radar Lockey

    “As for the nit-pickers: Everything Andrew has will fit inside that
    backpack. However you enumerate his “things”, it’s still impressive.”

    As much as I *respect* Mr. Andrew here in his minimalism…. your comment about everything he has fitting inside that backpack is *NOT* an impressive feat. I know traveling kids all over the country that rely on their pack as their sole source of liberty from the bonds of society. I as well traveled via hitchhiking. I had maybe 15 or 20 things to my name. It’s not *impressive* by any stretch of the imagination. I could introduce you plenty of people dirty or otherwise that are minimalists.

    Not to say, I do respect this person. But…. he’s not some amazing guy. You know… when I hitched around, I loved the freedom and logged it in one of my 3 journals I wrote in. I have tons written from my adventures. Also the photos I took and the books I read along the way. Incredible stuff. That would be *MORE* impressive. A guy writing his life adventure in journals….. I’ve got friends scattered across the U.S. now. Both traveler and “housie” alike who know of my journey. Just saying’

    http://www.facebook.com/Radar.Lockey

    ~Matthew

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Ryerse/100002615094280 Terry Ryerse

    This site is pretty neat, I will be watching to see what is next. Check mine out at
    bargainringer.net

  • Mari

    Do you count furniture, kitchenware, etc?

  • Wenhamhome

    I think, perhaps, it would be better represented by, “Mr.Hyde is a US traveler, who carries only 15 items with him during his travels”. Most people would be challenged to leave home to drive to their office with only 15 items.

  • Valinora

    This is what I am aiming for but with three kids (one being a hoarder), it’s proved challenging.  Spent last summer turfing a ton of stuff once a relative moved out. I’ll be going through everything again soon and pare down some more as I want the ability to cut and run should i need to.

  • http://www.todmaffin.com/ Tod Maffin

    First of all, I want to be you. (Seriously, not a troll. I have always been jealous of people who can reduce to this level.)

    But I am indeed curious about how you eat — do you not prepare food for yourself? Do you have plates/pans?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks!

    I don’t have a residence, so I would use whatever tools my host has if I were to cook.

  • http://www.todmaffin.com/ Tod Maffin

    Ah, got it. Best of luck and thanks for the quick reply!

  • Ellen

    I lived in France for 6 months and traveled around with my backpack and I moved there with a backpack and 1 bag and returned the same way. I am home in San Diego and have wayyyy too much stuff although it is much less than most folks. I admire the extreme nature as it makes a point.

  • Parasite Me

    are you a parasite?

  • Rock_super_Star2000

    stupid stupid.
    Another american selling us “minimalism”…Even though he posseses i phone , macbook which is unaffordable to most of the world population.
    Who pays for your health insurance, travel tickets… ?
    U got bed?

  • Luke M Loso

    Do you have a sleeping bag, or do you still have a house with a bed to sleep in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1033032106 Milan Urukalo

    Sorry Andy, this is for visitors:

    Why are so occupied with counting the things that Andi has, not counting all what you have.
    As far as I see and understand, people do not have things, but things have people. Andi did this beautifully demonstrated here.Does not really matter what kind of brand it is, are there two or three pairs of socks, it is essential that man lives freely, freed from the possession of things

    Greetings from Serbia

  • Lisa marie

    I was going to comment on your undies and I was relieved. I just kind of imagined another crazy dude shedding his life to be inconspicuous to the public, but yet gets attention for smelling like green boiled onions in the closed up carriages of the underground train system. I like the idea, but as a woman, I won’t do it. Congrats!

  • Markoff

    good to know there are more people like us, I don’t find that photo so impressive as some people, I travelled for 11 months around Asia with only these things
    http://a.imageshack.us/img808/9346/dscf8443f.jpg

    and I was deciding if I won’t try it only with belly bag, but it would be too much hassle and less practical than actually travel with small backpack

    and well better don’t discuss underwear in warm countries when women are here :-) anyway who would be that crazy to wear more than necessary layers in such hot climate… (maybe only women)

  • Markoff

    and one more thing, I’m really recommending to everyone to read this great essay from Paul Graham about “importance” of ownership of stuff
    http://www.paulgraham.com/stuff.html 

    I could sign what he wrote

  • http://www.minimalistlifestyle.wordpress.com/ Mark

    Love it. Is inspiring me to go extreme.

    Mark
    http://www.minimalistlifestyle.wordpress.com

  • Gonk

    I’m sorry, but a life just isn’t worth living without a Swiss Army Knife.  Other than that, you’re rocking.

  • Anonymous

    If I didn’t fly so much I would have one!

  • Capt. Fritter

    I envy you Andrew. I’m down to 71 things at age 57. I would consider you a role model. Keep it up. Added your blog to my links page.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks and a high five to you!

  • http://www.freshstartrecycling.com/ Thomas Goodall

    How do you eat? You need dishes and stuff to make dinner don’t you?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have a residence. If I am volunteering or visiting someone, I use theirs. If I’m in a city like NYC, I’ll eat out.

  • Anonymous

    Inspired. And a little envious. My family of four, including two young children, recently moved from Australia to India. We put most of our stuff in storage as we are coming back in 6 months. But we also got rid of a LOT of stuff. It never ceases to amaze me how much utter crap I manage to collect on a daily basis. Of course, at the time of collection I absolutely NEED said item. We haven’t brought much to India with us, but much more than 15 things each.  but I would love to take a leaf from your book. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m inspired you are traveling with a family!

  • Beth Cioffoletti

    where is your camera?  Or do you just use your phone?

  • Anonymous

    The iPhone camera is fantastic.

Commenting Rules