I am throwing 100 pieces of my stuff in the trash today, and then I will celebrate. Historically, my usual celebration ritual is to allow myself to go to my favorite thrift shop and buy more stuff.
I am in a stuff rut.
I think that is the reason that I was interested when I heard about the 100 things challenge from a friend who took a picture of stuff he threw away. Frankly, his pile was pathetic.
A tie. A pair of old boxers. A bag of magnets. An Easter window decoration. I can do better than that with my hands tied behind my back with one of hundreds of non-grounded extension cords.
My junk is legendary. I come from a long line of stuff collectors who added on to their homes in order to house their stuff. When they died, I inherited stuff, which I re-shuttle around and re-box and restack every so often in order to tell my wife that the stuff is necessary to my very being.
I have a giant plaster gold-leafed cherub and a collection of whipped topping containers. I have several boxes of frosted glass and three old lawn mowers that I hope to pull parts from. I have socks. Many, many socks.
The reason I have so many socks is that I don’t believe in re-mating them. That’s why I got married. I am slightly colorblind and my family is allergic to them, so socks get washed and stored in tubs in the basement. Then, having all the socks a man could stuff in between wall studs to use as insulation, I buy more socks.
Socks, however, only get to count as one of the 100 items trashed — all seven bins of them.
“The 100 thing challenge is about getting out of jail — the prison of American-style consumerism,” according to Dave Bruno, author of the "100 Thing Challenge." “It’s about breaking free from the shackles of always feeling like we need to get more stuff in order to get to the dream life. Ever notice how we just keep getting and getting stuff, but we never arrive at the dream life? What a mess!”
Bruno says that the challenge helps him to live minimally though completely adequately by limiting his personal possessions and not consuming simply for the sake of consumption.
Bruno and my wife are both of the opinion that life is not about stuff, and I am going to trust them.
Item one to toss: an old porch light. Item 23: a box of sunscreen from 1995 — the summer of love. Item 47: Spam — all of it from my mother’s pre-Ronald Reagan-era food storage.
Ridding one’s self of excessive possessions is supposed to be freeing. After all, as legendary teacher and artist Hans Hofmann said, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
I could use better hearing. And my wife could use less clutter.
First off, the rules. It doesn’t count to throw my wife’s stuff or my kids' stuff. That I could do all day. I am relegating myself to my stuff — for the sake of family peace
Item 63, old chandelier parts; 64, more chandelier parts; old folk dance costumes; stretchy telephone cords; three boxes of olive green curtains (sheer); a very bad Santa .
Once I throw stuff away, the challenge is to not walk by the garbage pile and quietly retrieve the stuff, saying, “what was I thinking? How on earth could I have imagined my life without a non-working apple corer left over in our garage by the previous owner? I’ll just put that right back next to the box of plastic laundry basket pieces in storage room number two.”
Bruno says that not collecting stuff has “freed me up for all sorts of better endeavors than shopping, like spending time with family and writing a book and scheming about business opportunities.”
Joshua Millburn in TheMinimalist.com says, “The point is that taking physical inventory of your life is eye opening, and it helps you to get rid of unnecessary items so you can appreciate what you do have."
Of course, I see that 100 is just an arbitrary number. The challenge is not about counting stuff to toss. We get rid of the stuff that detracts us from what is most important, to free ourselves from stuff so we can focus on what we love. For me, that is my family, my art and my community.
So, I better leave my tossed stuff in the pile. I can invite the neighbors over to see if they want anything from the pile of my old stuff in case I want to borrow it later.
Cheney writes, often humorously, at davisoncheneymegadad.blogspot.com