The 100 Things Challenge has both clear virtues and clear pitfalls. The main virtue of the 100 Things Challenge is that it focuses upon the big questions up front by making the person reflect upon what is most worth keeping instead of what to discard. The other virtue of the 100 Things Challenge is that it sets limits that forces one to evaluate everything that is coming into and out of their life. On the negative side the 100 Things Challenge has a lot of overhead in the sense that one has to keep track of an ongoing count of everything that they own. The other major flaw that I see with the 100 Things Challenge is that it is potentially wasteful of both money and resources in focusing upon getting rid of things for the sake of doing so. Sure I would understand getting rid of things that I do not see myself using again as being a good idea, especially if I can sell it or give it to somebody that can make use of it. Although what about extra things that will reasonably needed in the future? Such as clothing that still fits you well and looked good on you? The fact that you have too much good clothing is merely a side effect of you buying new clothing at a rate faster than your existing clothing is wearing out. Good stewardship and common sense would say that the better solution is to stop buying new clothing until you have a real need and then buy only what you need to make it through a typical wash cycle. Therefore, decluttering should ideally be accomplished through everyday wear and tear.
The concept of decluttering through everyday wear and tear principle is the basis of my proposed variant of the 100 Things Challenge, which I call the Paper 100 Things Challenge. The Paper 100 Things Challenge is designed to be a middle of the road alternative to the 100 Things Challenge. Which makes it ideal for people that like the idea of the original 100 Things Challenge but feel that it is too extreme to actually do for real. Keep in mind that 100 is just an arbitrary number which could just as easily be 150 which is Dunbar’s number. Personally I feel that using Dunbar’s number is both more practical and meaningful as it is a given that anybody that claims not to have a relationship with their personal things is almost certainly lying. To take the Paper 100 Things Challenge simply take a piece of paper and number it from 1 to 100 (or 150) and list out the things that are the most important to you that would make the cut if you were to actually take the 100 Things Challenge. If the space on the list seems a bit short for you, make one of the items a 100 Things Wardrobe that is a 100/150 sublist of clothing. Also keep in mind that you do not have to own everything on the list as this is more of an ideal list of minimalist personal possessions. Once you are finished with your Paper 100 Things Challenge list you are now armed with a valuable tool. The most important part of the Paper 100 Things Challenge is taking the time to create your list of items which takes you through the heart of the 100 Things Challenge. At its core the 100 Things Challenge is an exercise of mindfulness of one’s personal possessions. Therefore simply doing the work of preparing a list of what is most important to you will make it easier to let go of items that were not valuable enough to make the list. Be sure to make a second copy of your list to either keep in your wallet or in your smart phone if you have one, to help prevent impulse buys on unimportant things that you don’t need. At the same time it is important to realize that the Paper 100 Things Challenge is not set in stone, so it is a good idea to reevaluate your list from time to time. Finally if you consider this too easy, consider taking it up a notch by packing away everything that does not make the list to see if you can live with it on a daily basis. That way you can both reap the benefits of the experience of a radically simplified life and not have to worry about getting rid of things that you will later need to replace. Who knows in time through normal wear and tear you might find yourself living a real 100 Things Challenge lifestyle. Or you might realize that in reality a 150 to 333+ things lifestyle better fits your needs and values. The truth about minimalism is that living with less can help streamline your life to free up more time and energy for what matters. At the same time one must remain mindful of what you really need as there is no universal Dunbar’s number when it comes to personal possessions. Given that what you enjoy and value determines what is the right size but not too much or too little for you.
When we talk about the 100 Things Challenge I think it is important to realize that the main reason why David Bruno underwent his original 100 Things Challenge as a year long fast from consumerism. While it seemed drastic the reality was that he had realized that his life had become overrun by stuff as a result of being overtaken by consumerism so he wanted to reset his priorities. So you could say to Bruno, he saw the 100 Things Challenge as a year long detox diet from consumerism. As good of an idea as the 100 Things Challenge is to help us escape the dangers of getting sucked into the rampant materialism of consumerism, I would be a bit uneasy about jumping into it myself. I feel that the question as to why on would go able undertaking a personal 100 Things Challenge is more important than actually doing so. Minimalists tend to pride themselves in being nonconformists to the materialistic culture around us. At the same time, we have to admit that simplicity and its minimalism subset are both growing counter cultural trends within our society. Therefore simply because it is becoming the in thing to do among aspiring minimalists, that is in my opinion the worse reason to consider undergoing a personal 100 Things Challenge. I personally find it disturbing that there are a handful of blogging radical minimalists that have made it a game of who can own the less with revisions of a 75 Things Challenge a 50 Things Challenge and even one guy that claims to own only 15 things. These attempts to make the 100 Things Challenge as an almost maximum number of things that one can own and still be a minimalist is just reverse materialism to the extreme. Also there are the single bag minimalists who reject the 100 Things Challenge and instead aim to have everything that they own fit into a single carry on sized bag as part of their location independent lifestyle which in a way is being homeless with style. Please note I am not saying that people who live this way are arrogant elitists who think they are better for owning less stuff. It is the wider culture of radical minimalism that concerns me at times, maybe it could be as simple as a few loud voices becoming overzealous in sharing with others the new-found freedom they found in life once they shed most of their material possessions.
The real question that I need to myself what is it about the 100 Things Challenge that made me feel so attracted to the concept of the idea. Is it the novelty of being able to list off everything that I own on a single sheet of paper as a dream escape from the clutter that surrounds me at the moment? Or is there something deeper and of more substance to be found within the attractiveness of the 100 Things Challenge that would still be present if it were to end up becoming the 469 Things Challenge in my own personal incarnation of it? After all simply because something sounds attractive at first glance does not mean that it will be in reality. So if one goes after the 100 Things Challenge like a person orders the next miracle kitchen gadget after seeing it on TV, than I can promise you that the 100 Things Challenge will fail like the miracle kitchen gadget will fail to life up to the hype that inspired one to buy it in the first place.
In my own life I have said that if I was born into a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox family it is almost a given that I would be in a monastery. Not that a desire to become a monk is great enough for me to become Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Just that looking back at the harder times of my life especially during my personal inner struggles during both my freshman and senior years of college I would have jumped at the chance to retreat into a monastery. As a Christian I often viewed the lives of monks as ideal in a way. Given that life in a monastery gives one freedom from worldly cares of needing to meet one’s physical needs and completely frees one up to be able to focus exclusively upon going to church, reading the Bible, praying and serving God with their lives. Yes the monks are required to take a vow of poverty and forsake ownership of all money and personal property upon entering into a monastery, but a vow of poverty is also freeing because it means that the church will meet all of your material needs of food, clothing, shelter and medical care for life. Not to mention that a simple monk’s cell looked a whole lot cooler than my cluttered dorm room at the time. Yet despite the fact that more likely than not I will never be a convent monk living in a monastery, minimalism can and should have the same purpose in my life as it does for a monk or nun. In the sense that if minimalism does not free me up to better live for what I view as most important in life by greatly reducing the counter productive distractions that pull me away from what is most important. Then becoming a minimalist is in vain if it has failed to maximize what is most important in life.
The first exposure that I had to minimalism was a blog that talked about the 100 things challenge by a person who recently become a Buddhist. While his faith had influenced his view of material possessions and started a major decluttering spree, he was personally skeptical of the 100 things challenge which he considered arbitrary and not making a lot of sense in how things like books and collections were excluded. Never the less despite his mixed feelings about the idea he had sparked my interest in the idea that somebody would make an effort to reduce their personal belongings to 100 things or less. At the time I did not realize that the 100 Things Challenge or technically the 100 Thing Challenge as it was originally called was started by a Christian man named Dave Bruno.
While there are a few varieties within the various incarnations of the 100 things challenge they all follow the same basic set of basic principles. First is that a collection of items only counts as a single item. For example one’s coin collection or DVD collection only counts as a single item for the purpose of the challenge. Second is that many people set up a memorabilia box which is either excluded or counted as a single item for all of their sentimental items, family heirlooms and other treasures that one generally should be very reluctant to discard in haste. Third is that one is free to make and change rules as they go along to a certain extent as the 100 things challenge is generally regarded as an exercise in mindfulness of one’s personal material possessions as compared to reaching and maintaining a set number of personal possessions. Searching online for more articles about the 100 things challenge I came across my first batches of minimalist blogs. I was amazed at the brave bloggers who actually listed and at times photographed everything that they owned and put it up on the internet for the world to see. Which got me thinking of what it would be like to declutter enough to be able to actually list and photograph everything that I own. Not that I would post my list to the internet, but it would not only make me more aware of what I own. Not to mention something that is actually recommended by experts to have a detailed home inventory for insurance purposes. After all if something is worth owning shouldn’t it also be worth writing down and possibly photographing as an item that you own in your home inventory? And if such an important task comes off as a bit too overwhelming to you, could it be due to the fact that you own way too much stuff?
One of my favorite websites is the Burning House, which invites people to submit a photo to respond to the question of what would you take with you if your house was burning. It is amazing how much a single picture of one’s most prized material possessions can reveal about a person’s priorities and values. I realize that the initial response of many people is that no material possession is worth risking one’s life for in a fire, but my take on it is what are your most prized material possessions that you can carry in a single trip. Much like if one got a 20 minute evacuation order due to an approaching wildfire, what would you take with you before getting on the evacuation bus, knowing that there is a chance that you might lose everything that you leave behind? Such a question likely seems overwhelming to be asked on the spot without having time to think about it in advance, unless one already has a very clear sense of what really matters most in light of their values. Imagine you lived in a small village in a tiny one or two room hut and you hear in the night to an anti-Christian mob going through the village that was going from house to house and hacking all the Christians to death with machetes. You realize that your only chance to survive is to get up and run off into the night and hope that you avoid detection long enough to hide and hope that you are not found. Assuming that you are dressed and that you do not own any weapons, what if anything would you grab before running out of the house?
I wish I had made up the above situation for the sake of argument but it comes from an article that I read a few years ago. Where a Christian woman in a third world country really did wake up in the middle of the night to an anti-Christian mob going through her village and hacking to death all the known Christians with machetes. Without any hesitation she grabbed her Bible and hymnal and ran off into the night. While the situation leading up to her split second evacuation is clearly nothing to glorify, I feel what it flushed out about her values was a very beautiful thing. In how the woman’s actions demonstrated that she knew the true value of the material things within her house in terms of their worth in the eyes of God. Strictly speaking there is nothing remarkable about a Bible and a hymnal in how they are both physical books made out of paper, they are only significant when they are used as tools. In the case of the woman they demonstrated her value in her ability to read God’s Word and to worship God with hymns, which is why she rightly valued them as being the two most important items in her house to grab before fleeing. I realize that some may try to downplay this by saying that in the third world countries and especially among the persecuted church that Bibles are more valuable because they are in short supply, if not illegal to possess. To which my retort is how much do you value your Bible, our should I say Bibles given that chances are you own several physical Bibles and may even have electronic Bibles on your computer or smart phone? Sure we might literally be surrounded by personal Bibles but it is likely a safe bet that most American Christians own more Bibles than times that they have read through the Bible. Can you honestly say that like the woman that your most treasured material possessions are a Bible and a hymnal or prayer book, as compared to other objects which eternally have a much lower value?
When it comes to a blog with a primary focus upon the spiritual life, it may come to a surprise that the first post that I am writing is on the topic of minimalism. Minimalism, which is also referred to as simple living or voluntary simplicity at times, is normally thought of in terms of material possessions and responsibilities. The purpose is not to coast on through life as a slacker that puts in the minimal effort to just get by, but to cut the fat off of the shallow things that ultimately do not matter in life in order to be able to focus as much of one’s time and resources upon the things that matter most. I actually seriously considered starting a blog on minimalism from a Christian perspective. The reason why I ultimately decided against doing so is that I came to realize that minimalism to some extent is an essential part of mysticism. Sure I realize that many people turn to minimalism as a way to get rid of the mountain of unneeded stuff that is weighing them down. The truth of the matter is that simply getting rid of stuff for the sake of being free is not a long-term solution. Much like a hoarder that simply gets more stuff for the sake of feeling secure is also not a long-term solution. Minimalism is a tool, and like any tool it is important to understand not only what it can do but also what it can not do. As lets face it regardless of how high quality of a hammer that one has, a hammer is useless when it comes to fixing a clogged toilet. As a tool minimalism can be useful to help one regain and maintain control over runaway amounts of material possessions, although minimalism alone cannot change anything deeper than the surface. The materialist can focus upon how much stuff that they have just like the minimalist can focus upon how little stuff they have. Likewise the frugal minimalist can focus upon how little money they spend on stuff, just like the only the best minimalism can focus upon the quality of the few things that they own. Although in the end all of the above are still slaves to their stuff, as their obsession over their stuff demonstrates that their material possessions own them. The real problem is not with minimalism. The real problem is that the deeper problems are ultimately spiritual in nature. Many of us have even been duped into thinking that we can treat the spiritual with the material. Without a higher spiritual purpose and meaningful life goals even the radical minimalist living out of a single bag can be equally spiritually malnourished as the hoarder that has most of the rooms in their house literally filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with stuff. Without a healthy level of detachment from physical objects it is much harder if not impossible to make spiritual progress on one’s spiritual journey. I am not saying that one has to go to the extreme of getting rid of everything and forsake personal ownership of any material object through a vow of poverty. Just realize that true spiritual grown can be hindered and stunted until one is able to put physical objects in their proper place as tools to help you accomplish things, as compared to physical objects being a source of meaning and purpose in life.
While we use the terms knowledge and wisdom almost interchangeably, in the eyes of God they are two very different things. Hence in God’s eyes it is possible to be a very stupid genius or a very wise mentally challenged individual. That is because knowledge is simply what one knows as compared to wisdom which is how one applies what one knows to help them live well. Therefore as a Christian I believe that God wants us to live well. To live a life filled with value and passion for things that are worth being passionate about. When it comes to living well I believe that both Christian Mysticism and Mercersburg Theology have a lot to teach us. While I do not believe that they are the only sources that can guide us in living well in my experience they have been more unique. A Christian mystic is in the best sense a person who highly values and pursues an intimate relationship with God. The Mercersburg Theology movement grew up out of the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania during the mid-nineteenth century which was unfortunately too far ahead of its time to make an impact upon the wider American Church. Yet ultimately what matters most is not where the ideas come from or which ideas that one uses but that one makes use of what they have in how one lives their life.