Minimalism Project Update: 39 Things

When I took off on this trip in August of 2010 I sold or gave away everything I owned.  The series of blog posts about this didn’t go anywhere until a linkbait tastic post of Extreme Minimalism sure did.  Last week the Village Voice reached out, and today reported, to see how the project was developing.  I didn’t realize how I had almost stopped talking about the project (the last update coming in May).

That was May.  I had just moved to NYC for the first time and was having a blast wondering around the city and trying to start another company after travels.  I fell in love with the city, and then out of love with the city and took a dive into the wilderness in Colorado.  I worked on a ranch for a while, toured the American Southwest and then came back to Boulder to plan TEDxBoulder.  I spoke in front of 1750 people, then, with my backpack of things and no home, tried to figure out what to do next.

What a project this has been!  Now 16 months of living out of my backpack later, I’m posting another update.

This week the post took off again (after Grist, Refinery 29 and Hacker News picked it up).

Over 600,000 views on the post about me only owning a few shirts.

I’m so confused by this.  When we were growing up, didn’t we all have the goal of a huge house full of things?  I found a far more quality life by rejecting things as a gauge of success.

This morning I had my iphonographer friend Adria Ellis take a picture of what I own today.  Here it is:

What I own, updated January 2012

 

The original items:

  1. Arc’teryx Miura 30 backpack (still the best bag I’ve ever owned and fits everything in the picture)
  2. NAU shirt
  3. Mammut rain jacket
  4. Arc’teryx tshirt
  5. Patagonia running shorts (for laundry and gym days)
  6. Quick Dry towel
  7. NAU wool jacket
  8. Toiletry kit
  9. Smith sunglasses
  10. Wallet (still use my $1 ‘fake’ wallet as my real thing)
  11. MacBook Air (lets me work anywhere in the world)
  12. iPhone 3GS 
  13. NAU dress shirt (I’m wearing this one, you can see the elbows have worn through after 200 wears)
  14. Patagonia jeans
  15. Running shoes

So of my original ’15 things’ only 6 remain in my current ownership eight months later.  I added stuff as I traveled and was given things or life could be made much easier by buying something.  Core additions being:

  1. FiveTen Guide Tennie shoes
  2. Red Sox Hat (was given to me before a game)
  3. Patagonia Nano Puff hoody (the best technical piece of gear I’ve ever used, keeps me warm in the winter)
  4. Jack Spade laptop bag
  5. Electric Toothbrush
  6. Electric Razor
  7. Noise Canceling Headphones
  8. iPhone 4

Most notable additions are a bunch of cowboy stuff.  I volunteered on a colorado dude ranch this summer and added some necessary items:

  1. Blue Western Shirt
  2. Red Western Shirt
  3. White Western Shirt
  4. Cowboy Hat

I don’t use these much in the winter, but will if I go back up to the ranch next summer.  Nice to have some quirky things.  I did speak at a conference, so I added a few nicer items:

  1. Suit
  2. Tie
  3. Nice Shoes
  4. Kimya Dawson Loves Me Socks

I should have just rented, but the process of trying on and buying a suit with three friends that knew all too well about the project was just too fun.  I’m training for a big road ride this summer, the Triple Bypass.  To do this I have:

  1. Bike Shorts
  2. Bike Jersey
  3. Bike Shoes

I will buy a bike to train on and for the ride.  I have a few ‘could easily give away’ extras like

  1. Next Big Sound Shirt
  2. Laughing Squid Shirt

Finally I did some backpacking this year where I used

  1. Big Agnes Backpacking Tent
  2. Mamut Sleeping bag
  3. MSR whisperlight stove
  4. Water purifier
  5. Cooking pot
  6. Sleeping pad
And rounding out everything with
  1. 4 pairs of underwear
  2. One pair wool sock
  3. A 2003 VW Golf that I had sold before my trip.  In a long story, it came back to my ownership after I came back from NYC.

So as of today, there are 39 things to my name.  Unlike the 15 things post I list out everything and didn’t lump together things like toiletry kits.  This is just a project, not a manifesto.  If you are bothered by it, as many are, look at what in your life has taught you to not look at the power of possibility and get  it as far away from your life as possible.  Dream.  Plan a trip.  Swim in the ocean.  Climb a mountain and think to yourself just how the world is changing and how you are helping others out.

If we were really talking minimalism here, I could get rid of the car, camping gear, suit, shirts, biking jerseys, and western wear.  Then I would be at 18 things.  After 16 months, my 15 has really grown to 18.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Longs Peak, 8/9/08

What are your thoughts?  Could you do this?  Is this solving any problem?

Related Posts:

  • http://twitter.com/gmorris George Morris

    This is why I sometimes say to my wife that I wouldn’t be terribly upset to lose all I had, as long as I could provide food and shelter for my family along, 2 or 3 choice possessions that have family history, plus online access to all photos and videos of the memories that I’m starting to lose as I get older. 

    When you have less, you are willing to risk more… and that makes life really interesting. 

  • http://tarathetiger.com Tara Tiger Brown

    Sean Bonner is working on “A Year of Less” and I think would be inspired by what you have done and continue to do.

    http://blog.seanbonner.com/2012/01/02/year-of-less-day-1/

  • Guest

    Awesome. Quick question: what do you use for preparing and eating meals (e.g. cookware and plates?).  Quick tip: obtain some sunglasses – your future 60 year-old eyes will thank you.

  • Anonymous

    What fascinates me is how minimalism has changed so much from the voluntary simplicity movement. VS tended to emphasize buying things that would last a lifetime or several lifetimes, like cast iron cookware and shoes that could be resoled (not reSOLD). Modern Minimalism emphasizes ultralight backpacking with Apple products, owning as few items as possible but always having enough cash and opportunity to purchase something whenever or wherever one is currently.

    This seems to represent a difference in values. Voluntary Simplicity valued simplicity and frugality–getting more out of what you’ve got as calculated over a lifetime recognizing one’s limited energy, capacity for work, and money. (For a modern version, see the book Early Retirement Extreme.) Modern Minimalism values these things to some extent, but prioritizes lightness and ability to travel and work from any wifi point on the globe (so-called “location independence”), and strongly emphasizes nice brands and aesthetics, albeit a simple, minimalist aesthetic (hence the Apple products).

    Where Voluntary Simplicity inherently distrusted the economic system and sought independence through self-reliance, Modern Minimalism seeks self-reliance by fully trusting in the web of global capitalism and the internet.

  • Adriaellis

    Andrew, I love the intention behind the project. What do you need? What makes life better? I can’t claim to having 15 items, or even 39 items but I can say with confidence that I have reduced my consumption levels by probably 85%. If I don’t need it I don’t buy it. Doesn’t matter if it’s on sale, or if I just like it. If there is not a need I don’t get it. It feels better. I don’t have “stuff” anymore. Less baggage is less baggage. 

  • Larry

    I wouldn’t say the values have changed at all, style and technology have (as well as manufacturing), and people have adapted to it.
    One can argue that, ‘ultralight backpacking gear’ or any reputable outdoor wear, is just as much of an investment for the future. Could argue further that if you get off the release cycle, so are Apple products.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I’d say values change in light of style and technology changes. This isn’t a value judgement on my part either, just an observation.

    For instance, many people who survived the U.S. Great Depression developed a style that would now be categorized as “hoarding” due to a distrust in basic economic services having seen them disappear nearly overnight, whereas folks like Andrew trust that they can always buy more socks and underwear.

  • http://talltara.com/ tarable

    I fully approve of the addition of cowboy shirts. 

  • Silvietta_gd

    You could be a real inspiration!! Thank you… =D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-Wilber/100000297473953 Michelle Wilber

    Us voluntary simplicity types are still out there.  As inspired as I am by this extreme minimalism, I won’t give up my tools – my sewing kit and old jeans to patch the holes in my son’s newer ones, the tools to patch up the house and fix the plumbing, garden tools to grow my own food.  I did just go through my clothes and other stuff and pare down – easy to get rid of things I wear rarely, but hard to get rid of the third pair of jeans, because I know if I get rid of them I’ll wear out the other two more quickly and have to go re-buy them from the thrift store!  More important to me is not buying new stuff and making do with what I have, keeping the things that allow me to modify/fix things to make do.  In my youth I was a traveller of the world, light in stuff and attachments, flitting from one experience to the next.  Now I am more rooted (usually happily so – certainly I’m happier and more content than in my youth!), and seek experience in this body and in the place I am in with my family around me.  I sometimes dream of getting rid of all the material stuff that can seem to own me and running away, but I realize the issue is letting the stuff own me.  Since I can’t take it with me anyway, I will pretend I am renting the infrastructure that makes my life work!  Sure, I could hire a plumber to fix the plumbing, or go rent tools when I need them, but that would get expensive (I own and live in a 4-plex, practice permaculture, and don’t own a car), and doing my own work and living cheaply allows me to work part time.
    But there is a basic sameness, on deciding what is really necessary and now owning beyond that.  The process of valuing experience over stuff, considering purchases, not buying into the cultural expectation of owning as much as you can and getting every new thing – that is the same.  I think that minimalism is appropriate to the more mobile person, voluntary simplicity to the more rooted in place.  Different phases of the same life or different lives…
    I enjoy having ideal examples like Andrew to point to what is possible – then we can decide based on the structure of our own lives what parts to emulate and what to do differently.

  • whmorgan

    I listened to a podcast about you that was recently posted here on your blog. It really clarified what my husband has been trying to tell me for over a year now. Now, I feel really stupid that I didn’t listen to him. After listening to that podcast, I got up from my chair  and went into the kitchen to a sink full of dishes and a lightbulb went of. I asked myself, What are you doing? I was spending to much time doing dishes, doing laundry and living with to much excess in my life. My husband is like a kid a Christmas as he is so excited that I finally get it. I started by beginning to declutter our house. I donated things I never thought I would. I threw away so much stuff that our garbage was backed up for a couple of weeks. We sent all of his books to his office. I am now scanning all of my photos that are not digital. I will make a box of photos for each kid and discard the rest. I plan on making all of my movies digital by buying a simple cable that will allow we to do this. I will do this for all my home movies as well. The garage is next. It is not to terrible as we did get rid of some stuff already. On return from my first trip to the thrift store, I came in the house through my hands in the victory position and said “yes”. I felt so free. The more steps I take toward freeing myself from the excess lifestyle, the more time I have to write and do the things I want to do. Our youngest  will be out of high school in 3.5 years. We are now planning on what will happen after that. Maybe time off and a trip, maybe moving in a tiny house. whatever it is, we will be ready and able because things are not controlling us. Thanks for sharing the podcast, It really was very helpful. My husband thanks you as well. 

  • http://www.SiliconPrairieNews.com/ Jeff Slobotski

    Great piece…making me consider what I can get rid of for sure. Books are what holds me back. 

    Onward!

  • Anonymous

    I really appreciate this perspective. I find myself leaning more towards voluntary simplicity than minimalism as an aesthetic or for the purposes of easy traveling (I never liked traveling anyway). I’m also more interested in location dependence than location independence–that is recognizing how we are very much dependent on local ecological systems and staying long enough in one place to build an IRL community. Sometimes the minimalist blogger lifestyle seems to me to be the opposite of permaculture, more like disposaculture, although I don’t think it necessarily must be that way.

    In any case, some people enjoy the benefits of frequent traveling or living in various places for longer periods of time, and modern technological advances (wifi, light laptops, digitized books and music, etc.) have certainly made such a minimalist lifestyle easier to fulfill.

  • Guest

    I’m missing something about this movement, namely, how does reducing the things you own reduce “time doing dishes”?  Is a large part of owning a minimal number of things accomplished by having other people own or take care of the stuff you use dailly?

  • Anonymous

    Either cook out of the kitchen I’m staying out, eat out or cook on my camp stove if I’m backpacking.  

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely love this exchange.  

  • Anonymous

    Love “Less baggage is less baggage.”

  • Anonymous

    They actually are fantastic travel shirts.  Lightweight and have pearl snaps.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for commenting! 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for listening.  I need to listen to it again to see how the ‘me being interviewed’ self matches the current state I’m in.  

    Donating things can be very fun and oddly rewarding.  

  • Anonymous

    Onward! 

  • http://evan.status.net/ Evan Prodromou

    I have the same problem — hundreds of books.

    One of the big problems I have with stuff is that I keep things that might be useful to somebody sometime — not even necessarily stuff that’s valuable to me. Not “I need this book” or “I love this book” but “This is a good book.”

    Books is a good example of getting things you’re hoarding into circulation. Most municipal libraries are happy to have a donation. They’ll either go into circulation or into the library’s next book sale.

  • guest

    I enjoyed reading this very much, good for you!

  • Trm1968

    I am held down by my things.  I admire you…

  • Capt. Fritter

    From 15 to 39…you were once my hero, now look at you. A hoarder. I’ve lost all faith in humanity. Life is no longer worth living.

  • Anonymous

    I just couldn’t part with my ‘walk like thunder’ socks. :)

  • Anonymous

    as an ex army guy the only thing I have trouble understanding is the lack of extra socks. wool socks are a great choice but if you do anything labor intensive you can run into issues without a fresh pair or three, are you washing the basics every night? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve washed many socks in many buckets and sinks and streams but don’t you need at least three or four pair?

    and since you have mentioned specific brands I highly recommend the patagonia capilene underwear, way better than cotton in cold or heat, more durable and stank resistance and they clean out just fine in the aforementioned buckets and sinks and streams. 
    interesting read though. take care.

  • Theavalanche

    Hey Andrew, awesome blog – you’re quite the inspiration. I’m curious how you pack everything into your pack. Mainly your clothing, how do you keep it tidy – also with a suit, how would you travel?

  • Anonymous

    All my backpacking gear is stuffed into the pack, not too many problems with wrinkles. The suit stays with a friend away from everything backpacking (as most of the stuff, in all honesty).

    Cheers from Oz!

  • 290899

    I live in Kathmandu.  And I find it really really interesting that what is considered minimalist in one setting is considered standard in another.

    The idea that it would be impossible to wear the same outfit two days in a row, particularly in an office setting, seems very strange here. Because it simply doesn’t make sense.  Here, wearing something 3-5 days in a row is standard, then you wash everything (a long, arduous, annoying process, particularly in the winter due to water shortages) and wear it again. Not even just because people can’t afford to buy more clothes (though I suppose that might be part of it).  But also on the practical level of it simply is undesirable to spend loads of money that way — it doesn’t make sense. 

    A Nepali once commented to me that this must be why “Americans are so busy.”  Further, he said that he was referring to the shopping and the buying and the

    washing.  How exhausting it all sounded!  Why bother sinking money

    into things like tons of clothes that just have to be washed which

    entails, time, physical effort, resources like water, etc.?

    And I had nothing to say.  Because it doesn’t make much sense to me either.

  • Matt Radick

    Hey Andrew, just stumbled across your project, and I love it. Some of my classmates and I are making an attempt at a similar project at Michigan State University, and we’d love to see what you think. Check out our website, thrivewithless.com, if you have a moment. Looking forward to following this more in the future!

  • http://twitter.com/apsz Alex Pszczolkowski

    Would you recommend the Miura 30 bag for everyday cycling apart from travel?

  • Anonymous

    Not sure! Have never really biked with it. A bit big and lacking in every day compartments.
    Good luck!

  • David Sanchez

    Andrew, I really respect what you are doing. Generally speaking, we Americans are consumers. It’s the foundation of our economy. It is also unsustainable. Moreover, it causes multinationals to seek cheaper and cheaper materials and labor. This is bad for the workers, it’s bad for consumers (think tainted, toxic goods from China) and it’s bad for the environment. What’s bad for the environment is bad for the world’s poor. Think about the fact that the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea and what that means to those who have depended on that junction where river used to meet sea. Their way of life, their means of supporting themselves and providing for their families is disappearing.

    I like the idea of minimalism. I like the idea that dedicating yourself to living more simply allows you to spend your time and money on experiences rather than just things. I’ve been on that trip of buying things not because I need them but because I want them. No matter how much I buy it never makes me feel as good as I thought it would. I need a dose of minimalism in my life. I appreciate you sharing your experience. It affirms that it is indeed possible and not just some crackpot theory.

    I’m ready to start focusing on people rather than things.

  • http://twitter.com/panzerfoto Patrick Giles

    Dude, you are an inspiration. In a world of mass consumerism, it appears you have transcended conventional thinking about material needs. I’d love to know more about you methodology regarding your travel expenses and how you cover them.

  • andrewhyde

    Thanks! I’m enjoying the journey.

    The book has helped pay for a lot of the travel expenses over the last few months.

  • Linda

    I think you are on the right track.
    What strikes me is how you by aiming to be more independent from things, become more dependent on others and on services. So basically instead of contributing to industrial production, you contribute to the service industry.
    What also would interest me, is whether using services instead of owning things is also more “environmentally friendly”. All the servers that store your data, internet networks, mobile networks, internet servers, etc. use huge amounts of energy produced from fossil fuels, you fly extremely lot leaving a long tail of CO2 emissions, by eating out so often you probably do not stick to regional and/or biologically grown food, washing clothing more often uses more energy, water and creates more wastewater that needs to be treated (unless you use biodegradable soaps only) and so on.
    I know, you do not have an aim to also be really “sustainable” in your consumption, it is my mere curiosity. Some life-cycle analyses could shed some light on my question.

    I personally would not give up my mountaineering equipment (which in itself already is around 20 items). Cooking utensils is also something I could maybe reduce, but not give up fully. Oh and my bicycle (plus around 5 items for servicing it- from lubes to tube patches to air pump, etc.) neither :)

  • spenceey

    What a fantastic read. I’ve been thinking about the sheer amount of things people tend to keep in modern times and to me it really is overwhelming.

    When we moved house at the start of this year I decided to de clutter and the whole experience (from deciding what to loose, to having the free space and actually making some money in the process) was liberating.

    I love my bicycle and would never get rid of that. Equally I’ve always argued that if I had to I would live without a TV I could, but not the internet.

    Debating about buying a tablet recently, guess what? I really don’t need one. So for faster internet access I’ll stick an SSD in my macbook and use my phone when I’m on the go.

    I’m even tempted to sell my cameras and possibly buy a smaller camera system or just get rid of them all together.

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