Thursday, October 6, 2011

100 things

I really admire people who can take an idea to an extreme and show that extremes are possible.  One of my favorite blogs to read is the intermittent Zero Waste Home, from a family that has no trash can.  Wow.  But living with a guy who loves to drink his coffee in paper cups, and who brings home plastic grocery bags, and who buys things that come in plastic or cardboard packaging, means that we have trash cans like normal people do.  Given a choice between people and things, I go with people all the time.  (But if my husband ever leaves me for another woman, he can take the trash cans with him!)

Another extreme idea that affected me deeply (and my husband, actually) was the "100 Thing Challenge", started by a guy (to be specific,  his blog is "A Guy Named Dave"), in which he attempted to pare his own personal belongings down to a list of only 100 things.  Even my husband wanted to wrap his mind around whether such a feat might be possible for us . . .

. . . um, no.  Not really.  The list of reasons why we'd never make it was far too long, including psycho-babble terms like "need for abundance" (for example, I like having piles of buttons and fabric around just in case), "possessions as identity" (my husband's C.S. Lewis collection alone contains more than 100 books), and of course the miserly life style (my yard-sale approach to buying clothes means that I stock-pile clothes for use far into the future).

On the other hand, we really appreciated the notion of de-cluttering that the 100 Thing Challenge represented.  So we decided we'd try a different approach:  we'd try to GIVE AWAY 100 things.  We decided this when there were about 100 days before my husband would be shipped off to Iraq, so this meant we'd try to give away about one thing a day.

Our rules were pretty mushy, making sense probably only to me:
  1. Giving away money didn't count.  Our money doesn't clutter up our home, after all.
  2. Anything we gave to a person or a group who wanted that specific thing counted as an "item" on our list.  Giving random things to charity (such as Goodwill) didn't count. 
  3. If we gave a pile of things (a stack of linens), we counted that as one thing.  
Each time we gave something away, we tacked a small card up on our bulletin board:  "13: towels to Stanley's ministry", or "25: pots and pans to Rob and Michele".  I don't remember how far we got . . . I don't think we made it half-way.  But it was a great experience for us all.  It made us think about what we have in terms of the ways we could share it, making us feel occasionally uber-wealthy (look how much extra stuff we have to share with the world!) and occasionally grungy (would anybody every really want our old, beat-up beach towels?).  Our daughters got into the challenge in a way that surprised us; they'd call up from college to tell us they'd just given something of theirs away, so we could add it to our list.  Our friends who knew about this felt less hesitant to ask for favors, knowing we had this goal.

We're thinking about starting this idea up again.  We've begun an inventory of the recesses or our closets:  old suitcases, clothes beyond what we want, too-many sewing notions . . . if we do take this on once more, we'll have to start looking soon outside ourselves and looking for needs in our neighborhood.  We already have our first "Thing":
  1. train-shaped birthday candle holders to my little buddy Catherine and her baby brother Tony.
Hmmm . . . . anybody out there need a bunch of trash cans?


  1. One of my favorite ways to de-clutter is called 40 bags in 40 days -- started originally during Lent. But it's useful anytime we start feeling overwhelmed and it can be something that needs throwing away, selling, trashing or recycling. We've put books we don't read much or have much of a connection to on or sold them to a used book store. We recycled a bunch of old electronics we had sitting in our front closet. We've purged outgrown clothes and worn linens - donating them to women's shelters and pet rescue groups. Etc. It's easy to do something for just 40 days vs. a longer commitment (for us, anyway).

  2. Great article. I agree with everything you read here. I would like to congratulate the writer and encouraged him to continue writing such valuable materials. Good luck

  3. Thanks, Sarah! I love this idea! I like the juxtaposition: usually people think of Lent as a time to give UP something; but this method turns it into a time to give AWAY something. I'm hanging onto this . . . -MM