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?

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