I am sure you have all heard of the concept of reducing your number of possessions to 100 things. Why 100(*)? Probably because it makes for a great book title or blog project of the “How I did X in a year” [and then returned to my normal ways with a nice check from the publisher to boot].

X could be writing on your laptop using candle lights of some other silly project 😉

(*) Life would be much easier if humans had 8 fingers instead because it would make round numbers easily expressible in powers of 2 or 4 or 8 [instead of 2 and 5]. Also, there would be more of them. Anyway…

This may all be fine and well. Admittedly, there is a cult of minimalism and I like minimalism insofar that it makes a lot of my goals, primarily revolving around the concept of independence, a lot easier to accomplish; however, in many cases there also seem to be some kind of oneupmanship going on where people try to demonstrate that their “faith” is certainly stronger than others.

From a practical viewpoint, 100 is just useful to inventory your possessions. However, there is not really much point to that unless you’re writing about your project. From a practical standpoint, it is far more important to consider

  • How much volume does your stuff take up?

  • How much does it weigh?
  • How much do you use it?

Volume typically determines your storage constraints and to some extend your transportation constraints. There is a theory that houses have gotten stupendously—a word possibly derived from stupid, I’m just guessing—large because of the need to shelter all the junk we pull home from department stores. Shelter is really expensive, especially if you want to it in residential areas and want to keep your possessions heated or cooled to the same temperature as you keep yourself.

Weight is an issue if you are carrying it. It is also an issue if you live in a boat or in an RV. We live in a RV, but we don’t have slide outs. This means we can carry a few tons per person. If we had slide outs, our weight constraint could be surprisingly small (after deducting allowances for water (white, grey, and black): maybe a few of hundred pounds each (including the weight of the person!). This is because slideouts is a modern invention (and therefore not a solid construction) intended to convey the sense of space for a short vacation at the lowest possible price. By reducing cargo allowances, the RV can carry slideouts instead without increasing the size of the engine or the bulk of the frame. The same goes for wide beamed cruising boats. Lots of space, but not as safe as deep keels.

Usage is of primary concern to a financially sound ship. This enters in your personal return on asset calculation so to speak. How much have you paid for which you do not use? In terms of saving and spending, economically and ecologically, if you have 101 items (and as a consequence surely are on your way to the minimalist version of hell, which presumably involves having pictures hanging on the wall or a stacks of papers scattered on your desk) it does not matter if they are used regularly, don’t take up much space, and don’t weigh a ton(*).

(*) Weight is actually a good proxy for environmental impact as well. With a few exceptions (like laptop computers and hybrid cars due to simply offshoring the impact to a high tech factory) the more it weighs, the much resources it took to make it, and the worse it is.

In addition, 100 items is a static number. Suppose you have 100 items your pair of pants is one of those items (or is that two items?!) wears out. Then you go and buy another pair. Now you’ve used 101 items. If you keep your list short simply by rotating things in and out does it really count, simply because you have not bought them yet? From a strictly “religious” point of view it does matter because that is not against the rules of minimalism.

It would defy the other points though. For instance, I could get rid of all my cookware and start eating out. This would reduce the number of things, but would that be a net benefit to my “business” of living to outsource all my assets like this? For some reason, I think not, other than to adhere to some faith.

Now it may seem I am bashing this challenge. I am to some extent. For the most part though, it is probably doing more good than bad because it forces people to take a good look at what they really needed. It also minimizes shelter needs and makes transportation easier insofar that one of the items on the 100 list is not an oympic swimming pool or a lawn tractor. What I am bashing is the idea of putting a number on it and sensationalizing it. That is just nuts.

More Yakezie: Which is more: $500,000 or $2,000,000 @ Engineer Your Finances & Cut The Fat – Losing Things You Don’t Need @ Frugal Zeitgeist. These posts have been chosen as the best post of the month by the bloggers who submitted them, so check them out if you are looking to add more blogs to your reading list.

Originally posted 2010-03-04 09:11:58.