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.





149 responses to “Extreme Minimalism”

  1. Ponypants Avatar

    I hardly call having a macbook and iphone as “extreme” minimalism.

  2. NULL Avatar

    I work in tech, and with such few items still seem to be a productive member of society.

  3. Brooksschmitt Avatar

    As great as it is to minimize your possessions, I don’t really understand how relying completely on other people to prepare your food qualifies as minimalist. Without simple tools, cooking paraphernalia, and the ability to gather your own food, you are completely a slave to consumerism. As a modern vagabond, I understand that it is a fairly difficult to hunt/gather all your food, however, your lifestyle necessitates daily purchases and constant consumerism. The people I know who truly qualify as minimalists grow their own vegetables, hunt or raise their meat, and only generate enough trash to fill a trash can every couple months. They stay still, and on account of that are able to break free from consumerism. Traveling is innately an incredibly maximist undertaking. When I travel, I only carry a couple of changes of clothes in my bag, a few books, a leatherman, and a toothbrush. All told, probably twenty or so “individual items”. However, there are no periods of my life that are less “minimalist” than when I’m on the move. I eat out constantly, consume vast quantities of fuel, and generate more trash than I ever would at home. True minimalism is a backpack, a fishing rod, and a rifle in a wilderness area. Or it’s a bicycle, a garden, and a chicken coop. It’s a kitchen. I think it’s great that you’re encouraging people to break free of their prison of possessions, but get over yourself a little bit, you are completely dependent on consumer culture…

  4. andrewhyde Avatar

    tl;dr: True minimalism is not living.

  5. Brooksschmitt Avatar

     Obviously, you’ve never lived. I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but you’re a pansy. Vagabonds live by the seat of their pants with their thumbs out. You’re no vagabond. I’ve taken boats up and down the amazon, I’ve tracked wolves in the Stara Planinas in Eastern Europe, I’ve hunted my own meat and raised my own vegetables. I’ve taken canoes through the wilderness to the ocean. I’ve sat down to four hour meals with friends where every single thing on the table was raised or slaughtered by us. And I’ll tell you, that’s living. Not shopping at REI, eating gluten free philly cheese steaks and counting your possessions. One of the greatest days I’ve ever had was in the trinity alps, when I ate only one meal that day, of two brook trout and some wild leeks, and spent the day climbing a mountain, and the evening watching the perseid meteor shower. I don’t own an iphone because it distracts people from the world around them. I don’t bring a computer with me because you can always go to a public library or an internet cafe. And I write in a journal constantly, and transcribe it when I get a chance. So, Mr. Hyde, I’ll continue “not living” and leave you to your inane shadow of an existence.

  6. andrewhyde Avatar

    Nope, never lived. *still breathing*

  7. Brooksschmitt Avatar

     Your replies, however, are very minimalist.

  8. Catrina Avatar

    It has long been my desire to become a radical minimalist. You are an inspiration.

  9. Mattbaron14 Avatar

    If you can replace your underwear,you need a job/money. What is your job, how much do you make,and how much do you need in this lifestyle? I am interestind in becoming milimalist.can you give me more info such as how you live life, do laundry shower,etc.

  10. Mattbaron14 Avatar

    Do u camp/backpack, u needed a framed large backpack and left it at ‘home if u have no permanent one, where to put it? If u slept in a car and put stuff there, where would you park w/out driveway?
    Do you have enough to rent a truck or have a healthy, tropical, cacao filled, expenseive, yummy diet?

  11. Taylor Roades Avatar

    Hi Andrew! Just stumbled across your site and I feel a huge connection. I travelled five months across asia and halfway threw I ditched my backpack. I went down to three t-shirts and a pair of shorts, my camera gear (I’m a photographer) took up more room than anything in my pack. But back to life now. I’m no longer traveling and its crazy how quickly you pick up your old habits of wondering what to wear. I often feel like I have nothing though now I have a wardrobe filled with options. How are you going to continue with a minimalistic lifestyle after all of this?

  12. ryan singer Avatar

    Weird, but I count 5 things on you: shoes, socks, belt, jeans shirt… so I would expect 10 things on the floor.. right?!

  13. andrewhyde Avatar

    Did you read the post?

  14. ryan singer Avatar

    while traveling through italy when I was 17 I brought whatever I could fit in my backpack: 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of boots, 2 shirts, 2 underwear, 2 shorts, 1 sweatshirt, 1 pair of jeans, a bandana, and a camera… and it all fit in that army backpack (still own and use) I bought when I was 13. If you add all those things up it didn’t quite add up to 15 unless you were counting each shoe and the laces on them and then I’d be over that number… but hey, what matters is it’s a time in my life that sticks has stuck with me forever. I still take that backpack wherever I go and haven’t thought to replace it. It’s got old phone numbers written on it, some holes where I can conveniently lose things I don’t really need, and a whole bunch of soul. Today I own more stuff, but I also have a wife and two kids. The way of being is inside and it’s something once you learn it, you cherish, like all of the great memories of people places and experiences.

  15. ryan singer Avatar

    .. yeah I did and was a bit disappointed. it seems to be more stuff-centric even though it’s trying to be about something else. I was more enamored about the title so I picked on the photo because superficial deserves superficial, right?! There’s little soul I can read… even between the lines… wish you all the best and profound understanding in time.

  16. ryan singer Avatar

    I’m sorry… maybe it’s a genuine experience and it’s not my place to judge. I hope it’s all going great for you.

  17. Childofthewest Avatar

    Dude, you are so extreme! I don’t think I could be that minimal. I could possably do 50 ideams, but not 15! I have to say though, once I saw this guy on HGTV who claimed he was the ultimate minimalist and only owned a painting, 2 pairs of jeans, and 3 shirts (frankly, he just sounds like a cheapskate to me). I just don’t know how you could be with someone who has so little!

  18. alex Avatar

    Geez, everyone’s being so judgmental! I really admire your situation, and the fact that you chose it. It seems to me that having fewer physical possessions to think about would give you amazing opportunities to think about way more important things. So, right on. I also relate to your story. At this point I’m houseless and all my possessions are scattered around my various sleeping places in this city…So I am REALLY seeing the benefits of being able to live out of a backpack. It takes too much energy to keep track of the things that are not immediate necessities.

  19. Beau Avatar

    No underwear?!?!!!

  20. Jim Avatar

    Get over your self. Everyone enjoys different things. You apparently enjoy bragging about how cool you are.

  21. Juergen Avatar

    All very well but this guy is probably walking the surface of this earth uninsured. And he doesn’t even have a simple photograph of his own parents. I wouldn’t call this ‘minimalism’ but extremism from someone who just wants to show off how ‘cool’ he is. Well, I own a lot more stuff than he does but I’m glad I don’t have to scout for a public toilet or shower every single day of my life! This is just absurd.

  22. Ian Avatar

    Apparently you like blue 😉

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  25. Noah DeFehr Avatar

    Your a cunt this guy is awesome.

    (Ironic misspelling of your)

  26. Tramp-Bo Avatar

    Other than clothing layers and sunglasses, where is one piece of survival gear?

  27. Andrew Hyde Avatar

    There is none and somehow I survived.

  28. 42000 homeless ducks Avatar
    42000 homeless ducks

    oh yeah cuz being minimalist means spending over $1800 on 15 items..get real

  29. fuckandrewhyde Avatar

    shut up fag

  30. Deborah Aldridge Avatar
    Deborah Aldridge

    I’m paring way back, but I don’t think I could go as far as you have. I’m older, though, and have formed attachments to some things. I think I could do the 100 things, though, if stuff like “silverware” counted as one thing.

  31. Ulf Avatar

    Just wanted to thank you for your wonderful blog. I’ve been into minimalism for quite a while now, but your blog gave me some new perspectives. Your “extreme minimalism” has inspired me to think over my own minimalist project. I was somehow stuck in counting stuff, but lost track of what minimalism really meant to me: In the end, minimalism is simply about letting go what is not essential. And your project made me realize that point once more.

    It really doesn’t matter whether one is counting his charger and iphone as one thing or as two seperate things. And it doesn’t really matter how many things you ‘really’ have. Or if you think an iphone is necessary or not.

    Thanks a lot for the link to the video on the minimalist in London, which was very inspiring as well.

  32. Darren Miller Avatar

    I vacation as a minimalist. It is very liberating.

  33. noelieTREX Avatar

    You are an inspiration. I’m just starting to dip my toe in the water of this whole minimalism thing. Looking forward to taking it further though. Keep up the great work!

  34. bdill Avatar

    I think that this guys credibility as a “minimalist”, is completly undermined by the fact that you have a macbook and a cell phone. how is that possibly minimalism?

  35. MaryLC LC Avatar
    MaryLC LC

    It is very interesting. As you use the utensils and cooking, flatware and plates of the people you are guests of, you do leave the burden of “more stuff” on them. Not saying it’s a bad thing, but *someone* evidently has to own the stove, the pots, the plates, glasses and flatware. That alone is a lot of “stuff.” Also, *someone* has to own the washing machine and dryer (or ropeline) you use to dry your clothes. or at least someone who owns a dishpan and some soap and running water. How do you entertain friends?

    You said you fly a lot and eat out a lot; that’s expensive. What do you do for a living, that supports the ability to fly and eat out regularly? I am, by no means, a minimalist. I have a husband and 3 kids and a house and an acre of land. Lots of stuff, and I have a job, as does my husband. We eat out about once a month, and I haven’t flown on an air plane in 7 years. What do you do that supports being able to eat out and fly often? I’m asking purely out of curiosity. I just wonder how you make it work.

  36. Glenn Avatar

    I used to travel a lot (Did 3/4 of the way around the world without flying back in the ’90’s) and thought that I traveled fairly light as I had been a long distance hiker for years. But then I met a man (from Holland) in Australia who was traveling with just a small notebook (the kind you write in), a sarong, and a toothbrush. Plus the clothes he was wearing.
    Said he washes his clothes every night in the sink of the guesthouse he stays in, or the campsite, and sleeps on them to dry them by morning.
    I always admired him for his simplicity.
    You’re getting there too.
    Good job.

  37. scir91onYouTube Avatar

    toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, toilet paper (this IS something that you own), medicine, etc. you have left too many things out, either by mistake or not really thinking about it.

  38. scir91onYouTube Avatar

    underwear is not necessary. i haven’t worn it nearly two decades and i am fine. the trick is to wet the toilet paper after you do number 2 and wipe your butt well, a few times over. always clean your private area after urinating using water so no droplets remain (common for women to do this of course to prevent infection down there, but never men). shower twice a day. you can wash clothes at home (in your shower) or at a gym or at the laundromat. there are ways to cut down on possessions if you really want to WITHOUT sacrificing personal hygiene. you can actually be cleaner than those who have everything full scale.

  39. UNO item traveler Avatar
    UNO item traveler

    Listen haters, it’s very possible to travel with less than 15 items. I travel with just two – a backpack and backup backpack (which I don’t count). So really just one item. I guess I win, huh? Is there an award? It’s not big is it, cause my backpack is kinda full.

  40. Craig Avatar

    Idiot took a mac book, and called it “extreme minimalism”. Try: “Barley Minimalism”

  41. Sheila Bjeletich Avatar
    Sheila Bjeletich

    I totally love it. My first lone girl adventure at age 18, hitchhike and walk all over Mexico. I slept out most of the time but my pack was tiny, like a small daypack. I had very thin cotton clothing, no sleeping bag or tent. I washed my clothes by swimming in them! I did have to buy a blanket for the mountains. It was so freeing to travel that light. Keep the stories coming, I’m inspired. My plan is to give away/sell 90% of my belongings this year. I’ll be following you on this blog. Thanks.

  42. eastcoastjac Avatar

    I’m giving this list to my teenage sons who are going on a 2 week vacation and want to take a huge suitcase full of fresh clothes for every day!!!!!
    I have to start somewhere 🙂

  43. ben Avatar

    So just bring like 7k worth of gear with you and you’re good to go.

  44. MetusBatmanV3 Avatar

    Good job not answering the question, moron.

  45. Jay Looney Avatar
    Jay Looney

    He’s actually homeless so…

  46. Alan R Townend Avatar
    Alan R Townend

    My lifestyle has been improved out of recognition, not long ago, my life was PC based with landlines printers and a web of complicated cables, it was interesting but unsociable and very limiting. When I moved to Poland I bought a feeble laptop, which had Windows Vista, I had more freedom and a great digital camera but the whole package was cumbersome.
    I have Smartphone technology for around 15 years now, as I created my own by modifying a Nokia 7110. Mine Galaxy 2 gave me at last total freedom and I still use it after three years of immense work, with keyboard, mouse etc. So minimalism was steadily creeping in and I just stopped using my laptop and camera which rather sad as I will forget how to use them. One use for my laptop will be transferring my old photographs to a 128 or more GB micro SD card on my Note 4, which has incredible functionality, along with USB hubs pendrives and cloud backup.
    Now one week after our two week tour of London and York, with a Ryanair (medium overhead hold) size but extremely heavy rucksack, my shoulders are still aching. As I write this I realise that I do not want to take additional clothes as they get crumpled and become unusable, so I have just had an inspiration for clothes which take on a range of design colour and impression. Besides food production still being in the dark ages, ironing should have been made illegal years ago.
    The two minimalist things learned from this holiday are to take four charged Note 4 batteries and a case-charger and sort a GiffGaff SIM card on the first day, then power and Wi-Fi are a breeze, this would have saved a lot of time and money.
    I would now like to talk to some clothes designers with vision.
    For adventure small is the new big.

  47. Heidi Avatar

    so you win. I don’t think that is the point. Travelling through Europe when I was 18 for 2 months, I took a huge suitcase and a huge carry on and a backpack. That was when I first considered becoming a minimalist. Before it was cool. Heck – that was in 1990 – before communist fell. I did get some pieces of the Berlin wall with all my crap. POINT IS that is is not a contest. We are all on our own journey and it is cool to see how others are going about it.

  48. Heidi Avatar

    yes count the screw:-0 You are just fine – I am not sure why people are so crazy about this:-0

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