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The 100 Thing Challenge

October 1st, 2008 · 2 Comments

Otherwise known, at my house, as The Impossible Challenge.

From Lisa McLaughlin’s Time magazine column:

Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive. With all this stuff piling up and never quite getting put away, we’re no longer huddled masses yearning to breathe free; we’re huddled masses yearning to free up space on a countertop. Which is why people are so intrigued by the 100 Thing Challenge, a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.

“Stuff starts to overwhelm you,” says Dave Bruno, 37, an online entrepreneur who looked around his San Diego home one day last summer and realized how much his family’s belongings were weighing him down. Thus began what he calls the 100 Thing Challenge. (Apparently, Bruno is so averse to excess he can’t refer to 100 things in the plural.) In a country where clutter has given rise not only to professional organizers but also to professional organizers with their own reality series (TLC’s Clean Sweep), Bruno’s online musings about his slow and steady purge have developed something of a cult following online, inspiring others to launch their own countdown to clutter-free living.

I had ripped this column from the issue of Time magazine that sat atop the pile of magazines on the living room end table.  In effect, I replaced one thing (the magazine) with another (the ripped-out article).  And, therein, lies the root of the clutter problem for me.  So what if you think you’re saving space by shuttling all of those jewel cases and keeping the CDs and inserts in a binder?  You still have just as many CDs as when you started.  Do you need all that stuff?

Do I need all that stuff?

Just another shelf of CDs... 

The answer, of course, is ‘No.’

But “need” is putting too restrictive a label to it.  All we truly need to survive is a roof over our heads, food, water, maybe clothing.  Everything else is just stuff for life enhancement.  And, once our collection of life enhancing stuff grows beyond a certain indeterminate size, it becomes clutter.  In my current state, 100 things doesn’t encompass but a small portion of either my book library or music collection.  Just those two “items” creep into each room of the house with the overpowering ominousness of The Blob.  Which reminds me of that third thing on the list: my video collection.  Just like a scene from a horror movie (you know, the one where for every cockroach the main character steps on, two more rise from the sidewalk to take its place), I am in a constant state of culling these old things from my house, selling them and giving them away, then returning to the removal site to see that another book or CD or DVD has stepped into its place.  I’m a hamster in a wheel, and it’s a sisyphean dilemma (and that is the second time I’ve typed that word in a month).

I entered my house yesterday with the 100 Thing Challenge on my mind.  I got no further than maybe three feet into the front room before I had already counted 100 things.  Can I count books as one thing?  CDs as one thing?  What about furniture?  What about letters I’ve received?  It is easy to see that this challenge smacks of the dieter’s challenge.  “Maybe I’ll have just one extra slice/bite/drink…”  Is it truly just a matter of will?  How old will I be before I realize that I no longer need that deluxe DVD edition of The Lion King?

I made a little progress over the summer, when I was very practically able to purge several piles of clothing from my bedroom.  I’d lost enough weight over the preceding months to eliminate two sizes worth of cloth from my life, representing nearly a decade of bodily neglect.  I then found myself down to three pairs of jeans (one blue, one black, and another one for working in the yard).  It was a start, but is there an analogue for purging one’s library of books?  What about those books that I love but have read already?  Will I read them again?  Shouldn’t I read something new instead (and, if so, shouldn’t I just borrow it from the library?)?  It all gives a new twist to the phrase ‘excess weight.’

I suspect that a useful analogue for me comes from a movie (that I do not have in my video collection…hmmm.)  There is a scene in Mr. Mom where Michael Keaton attempts to convince his young son that he no longer needs his “wooby” (translation: security blanket):

So, is this accumulation of things an addiction?  A disease?  Something I’ll outgrow?  For God’s sake, I’m nearly half a century old!  Let the purge, er, continue!?

Wish me luck.

Tags: books · house · music · self

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Qaro // Oct 4, 2008 at 12:36 PM

    This is such a cool article.

    I could never, ever do a one hundred thing challenge. Well, maybe if collections were just one thing: book collection, food, clothes, etc. : )

  • 2 spitballarmy // Oct 6, 2008 at 8:56 AM

    Counting in groups would be the ONLY way for me to approach this challenge. You know, like one group of ‘things,’ another group of ‘stuff,’ and so on.

    I’m still struggling to extricate that Lion King DVD from my ‘stuff.’ It’s tough.

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