Every few months, it seems like I read another story about someone who has sold or donated nearly everything they own, reducing their total number of personal possessions to under 100 items.
There are lots of reasons for a person to want to do this. Maybe you’re moving across the country (or to a different country), and you need to pack light. Perhaps you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint. Maybe you just watched a marathon of “Hoarders” and you’re feeling like it’s time to clean house.
Whatever your motive, if you want to try living with 100 items or less, you’ll need to start thinking about what items you can’t live without. Here are some tips for picking what to keep, and what to get rid of.
1. Inventory Everything
You can’t decide what to cut until you have a list of all of your possessions. This could take some time, and the amount of time it takes to catalogue your material goods might prove once and for all that you have way too much stuff.
Once you know what you have, categorize it. You can do this by room (bedroom, kitchen, etc), by frequency of use (seasonal items, everyday items, etc.), or by purpose (work-related items, entertainment, etc).
2. Only Keep Multipurpose Items
Don’t keep anything that doesn’t serve multiple purposes in your home. If it only does one thing (I’m looking at you, garlic press), ditch it to make room for something with more than one use.
A couch that converts into a bed is perfect for visiting guests. A coffee table can also serve as a desk or dining surface in a pinch.
3. Don’t Be Too Spartan
100-Item minimalism isn’t about denying yourself pleasure, it’s about finding pleasure in simplicity. So you should end up with items that make you happy and make your life easier.
For example, say you are a heavy tea drinker. If you took my advice above, you probably ditched your tea kettle, since you could use a pot or a microwave to heat water. But if good tea is important to you, then you should keep your favorite tea kettle, even if it’s a single-purpose item. Scaling back doesn’t mean denying yourself life’s little pleasures. There’s a difference between minimalism and frugality. Make sure you know which is which.
4. Obey the 12-month Rule
Ditch everything you haven’t used in the last 12 months. Skinny jeans, Christmas decorations, old wrapping paper, the fondue pot, that old sewing machine you think you can fix “when you have the time”. It you haven’t touched something in a year, chances are you aren’t going to need it any time in the next 12 months, either.
3 months after you donated or sold your “12-month” possessions, re-examine all your remaining possessions, and try and get rid of things that you don’t use at least once a month (or once a week if you are really trying to clean house).
Don’t be afraid of ditching something you might need in the future. Chances are, you have a kindly neighbor who can lend you a springform cake pan for the one weekend a year you actually bake. If you’re really on the fence about a number of things, consider putting some items in storage, and revisit the issue of keeping them in another couple of months.
6. Take Care of Business
If you work out of a home office, you might think that there are certain items that you can’t live without– a printer, a fax machine, a desk. And you’d be wrong.
Obviously, your needs will vary depending on what line of work you are in. But services like EchoSign make printing out contracts a thing of the past, you can send faxes for free online from sites like FaxZero, and you might find you’d rather use a laptop with a cooling lap desk than sit at a “real” desk all day.
According to Everett Bogue, author of Minimalist Business, “Most of the objects we assume are necessary to run a business aren’t needed anymore. I don’t own a desk, I don’t use paper, I don’t have business cards, I don’t rent an office….The benefit of choosing to live with less is that my business operating costs drop to nearly zero….When your overhead is nearly zero, you can start turning a profit immediately.”
The Bottom Line
Embarking on a quest to live with 100 items or less is a major decision, and sorting through all your possessions could take you months. But, if you have the patience and the will, you might find that living the ultra-minimalist lifestyle affords you the kind of physical and mental “breathing room” you could have never achieved otherwise.