Stuff. We have far too much of it in our lives, and we invest too much time, money and emotion accumulating it. This is not a modern-day revelation but one that was made 2,000 years ago by the prolific Roman author, Pliny the Elder. "An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit," he wrote.
Wise words, but still we continue to consume as if our lives were one long clearance sale. In 2007, the US Consumer Electronics Association said that the average American owned 25 consumer electronics products and spent $1,200 each year buying these items. The five "most-owned" electrical items, it said, were the TV, the DVD player, the VCR, the cordless phone and the mobile phone. It's not a coincidence, therefore, that this decade has seen a boom in companies offering self-storage: we now own so much stuff to which we don't need regular access that we are willing to part with cash just to store it. We are buying empty space.
But how much of the stuff we buy do we really need? And how much of the stuff we already own do we really need to cling on to? People have been performing anti-consumerist purges of their worldly possessions since Henry David Thoreau wrote the seminal Walden in 1854, in which he recorded his two-year-and-two-month stay in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods living a "simple life". "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone," he concluded.
It's no surprise to learn that Gandhi was greatly inspired by Thoreau's writings. It was said that the Indian leader could count his own possessions on two hands, and that they included his spectacles, pocket watch and sandals (all of which were bought at auction by an Indian millionaire earlier this year, for $1.8m).
Fast forward to today, and we can now buy the services of "declutter" life coaches, drop off a box of unwanted items on the doorstep of our local charity shop, or flog all our junk on eBay (so that someone else can own more stuff).
But there is also a growing band of clutter-busters, driven by a twin sense of environmentalism and anti-consumerism. Their logic is that buying a steady stream of tat not only helps to degrade the planet, but makes us unhappy.
An American blogger called Dave Bruno is attracting attention with his year-long experiment called the 100 Thing Challenge (guynameddave.com/100-thing-challenge.html). "The 100 Thing Challenge is my little way to personalise my efforts to fight consumerism," he says on his website. "I will live with only 100 personal things for one full year, until 12 November 2009."
It sounds like an interesting experiment in self-discipline and self-discovery – until you read the many conditions and clauses he has introduced into the small print: "Clearly family-shared and household things (eg, dining room table, piano, bed, plates etc) are not considered a personal thing," he declares.
More controversial, perhaps, is his decision to group certain items so they can be counted as "one item": "This includes underwear and socks. I'm not keeping a lot of either. We do, though, run a household. The idea of trying to manage laundry with a few pairs of skivvies and socks is both unrealistic and gross."
Bruno is also allowing himself to buy new items so long as his total number of possessions does not exceed 100 items. And he is allowing himself access to some household tools such as a hammer, screwdriver and tape measure. His justification? "Just last week I needed some tools to put up my daughter's gymnastics bar."
So, with a few carefully chosen exemptions, the 100 Thing Challenge has suddenly become the "238 (Or Something In That Ballpark) Thing Challenge". Not so impressive. And when you look at his list, it doesn't look like he is stretching himself in the way Thoreau or Gandhi did. He has, after all, kept his business casual cords, surfboard, Patagonia wrinkle-free button-down shirt and side table. (Interesting choices, given that he has let go of his self-portrait oil painting, magnesium fire-starter stick and Canon 30D camera.)
I'm beginning to sense that a proper challenge for the modern consumerist should be bolder than Bruno's. That's to say, live for a year with just 10 possessions. But what would I choose? (Leo's small print: I'm not including basic items of clothing – shirt, a pair of trousers, underwear, T-shirt, coat, pair of shoes – nor am I including the basic, shared utensils, furniture, appliances and sundries you would find in most homes – chair, bed, saucepan, knife and fork, towel, loo roll, cooker, fridge etc.)
Swiss army penknife
Always the first item to go into the suitcase. Not only does it allow you to open a tin of beans or change the fuse in a plug, but it also lets you pull a stone from a horse's hoof and a thorn from your thumb. Essential in any survival situation.
Yes, we all managed to live with them only a decade or so ago – I believe geologists now refer to it as the Pre-Mobilian Age – but could I really survive without one now? Doubtful. Also, just think of all the other applications they boast. Especially once you factor in the built-in camera, calculator, alarm clock, email etc.
Seriously, I think I could survive longer without water and sleep than without cotton buds.
I would forgo a razor. I would even forgo deodorant if I really had to. But the thought of living without a toothbrush for a year is just too much (and no, I won't consider using a twig to brush my teeth).
We are lucky enough to live in an age when we can put our entire music collection, book shelf and family photos on to one hard drive. An internet-enabled laptop also lets you conduct internet searches, watch TV/DVDs and buy stuff (oh, I can't do that now, can I). This allows me to avoid the tortuous Desert Island Disc-type decision-making about which albums or books to pick. Dave Bruno affords himself no less than three Bibles in his list of 100 items.
I live in Cornwall. I shouldn't need to explain myself.
Even though I have my laptop, I would hate not to be able to write anything down.
I'm hopeless at organising my life and just can't seem to get on with the electronic organisers found on mobile phones and computers. Therefore, I need a day-to-view A4 desk diary.
One of the greatest dilemmas facing any parent is whether or not to throw away a picture that your child has lovingly painted or drawn for you. Of course you should keep them all, but how are you realistically expected to cling on to all those endless bundlesof them for ever more? A heart-rending choice, but I can keep only one.
I'm a shameless Prince fan, and I would rather rub swine flu in my eyes than be forced to give up the plectrum the world's greatest performer handed to me during a gig when I was 14 years old. This, then, is my most treasured possession of all.
Living our truth means knowing who we are, what we stand for, how we wish to experience life, and express ourselves in it. One area of our personal expression is what is important to us, or put another way, what we feel we cannot live without. Each of us will have unique items on our list, and it can be a valuable exercise to create a personal list.
As physical beings, there are some obvious things that we know we cannot live without. Primarily they include things like, oxygen, water, food and sleep. Secondarily, they include things like clothes and shelter. As spiritual beings, there isn’t really anything that we cannot live without, aside from our connection to Source—Love. We are eternal – we are complete – we simply ARE. There is nothing lacking or needing in this state.
Today, I know that aside from my physical needs, there really is nothing without which I could really not live. However, there are many things we feel very passionate about, and feel as if we couldn’t live without them. Below are some of the things I have chosen to put on my personal list. After reading it, I invite you to create your own list to foster a sense of knowing what you stand for, and want to invest nurturing in your life.
This is the essence of my being – of all of our beings. I cannot imagine life without love, as it actually is “us” – all that we are at the core of who we are. For me love encompasses so much, love of self, love of others, love of nature, love of life, love of the present moment and so much more!
2. My Life Partner
I know that I am very blessed for not only having found, but being able to connect to a soul that I have spent many amazing lifetimes with. My life partner—my husband—and I are so deeply connected that it is honestly really hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. There was a time where fear used to grip me at the thought of losing him (only to some disease or accident). However, I have learned enough about our souls and their journeys today, to know that I no longer have to fear any of that. Neither one of us is going anywhere until either one of us is ready and that is not for a very, very long time. However, having said all this, I really cannot imagine “living” without him. We are best friends. We are best work partners. We are really everything to each other. It is not some “unhealthy codependency” but rather a deep and intertwined love that is really hard to describe using “Earthly”, physical words.
I love all aspects of nature so much, that I know there are very few in this world today who can understand just how deeply I feel about Mother Earth. Aside from love, I feel that my very essence is somehow connected to the living consciousness of this planet. I cannot imagine life without all the beauty that nature provides. Every tree, every petal, every creepy, crawly, hairy, furry or feathery creature on this planet today is something I marvel at and wouldn’t want to live without. And hence I appreciate them all, so, so much.
4. Warm, Sunny Weather
This may seem small and meaningless to some, but it is actually quite important for me. I really could not live without warm weather and the presence of the sun. The place I currently live in – Ontario, is as far as I will go to putting up with cold weather. I am an outdoors kind of person and between that and my love for nature, having about 7 months of cold is not really ideal for me. So I look forward greatly to the summers, take some excursions down south in the winter to break it up a bit and plan for a near future in a warmer climate.
5. My Thirst for Knowledge & Wisdom
One of my most favorite things to do in life is to learn. I know that my spiritual being knows everything it needs and has a direct access to the database of all knowledge. However, part of being in the physical is the chance and opportunities to learn everything brand new and I love this! I know that as school kids many of us couldn’t wait to stop learning. Well, I was there too, but after leaving formal education I quickly discovered a pure passion for learning and today it continues to be amplified in every area. Learning leads to the acquisition of knowledge and what we do with that knowledge, in terms of how we choose to use it, leads to wisdom.
This is another aspect of life that today I feel like “I cannot live without it.” Passion – fueled by love, is what drives me today to be and do all that I am and do. We are all unique and diverse and when we ignite our own personal passions, we add to the collective whole in amazing ways. We give this world and life, the color, meaning and depth that make them so amazing. When passion comes from a higher state of being, and not the ego, it can perform nothing short of miracles.
7. Healthy Food
Now I will be the first to tell you that “healthy” is a word that today means many things, to many people. So what do I mean? What I mean by healthy is wholesome, natural, and unprocessed food straight from Mother Earth. My body has today learned to thrive so well on only pure nutrition (and plant-based too) that I really feel I could not live without it. No boxes, no cans, no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, no frozen, no fast – just as pure, as pure can get today.
8. Gratitude & Appreciation
Not a day goes by where I am not grateful or appreciative of or for something. Most days many things, and many times. Therefore I cannot imagine life without these two amazing aspects of it, and I definitely do not see how I could live without them.
9. My Positive Attitude
I really cannot see anything but the best in every situation. I truly believe that there is nothing negative that happens, that doesn’t actually have a positive aspect to it. Having this attitude has greatly alleviated any old feelings of fear or worry. It is also what I attribute today to living life without any direct feelings of stress.
10. Personal Accountability
Many people are afraid of being accountable to and for themselves and seem to like letting others be accountable for their being. However, having been on both sides, I have to say, life is so much better when we are accountable for it ourselves. Thus today, I cannot go back, imagine or actually live without personal accountability. It is just too empowering. My health, my success, my happiness, my peace and all aspects of my life I am accountable for. This has helped me greatly never take on the “victim” attitude or the attitude that life is somehow unfair. There is no one to blame but only learn from my personal choices.
Whether it is one’s home, closet, work environment or other – it can represent simplicity, complexity or even chaos. I have learned to greatly value the simplicity in all parts and areas of my life, that today I feel like I cannot live without it. Whether it is at the material level or the emotional level – I love the feelings that come with simplicity like clarity and balance, and that is why this aspect of life also makes my list as something I wouldn’t want to live without.
This is something that has been taken away from so many people over the ages, and today I appreciate and am so grateful for mine. I know that at the core, even in some form of captivity, be it a work cubicle or a jail cell – we all still have our own freedom as to how we will choose to respond or react to a certain scenario. However, nothing beats being truly free – free to say whatever one wants to say – be whatever one wants to be – go wherever one wants to go – and – do whatever one wants to do. The more freedom I experience in my life, the more it makes me realize how much I would never want to live without it.
13. My Knowing
What I have ultimately discovered up to this point in my life is that it is not just about having a positive attitude or having hope. Standing in our knowing makes a huge difference as to the quality of our lives. My knowing leads me to trust my choices and my beliefs about there being a higher order to things and the perfection with which life unravels. It is there for the big things, and it is there for the little things. Some people have asked in the past, but where does this strong knowing come from? It comes from connecting to our inner being—our higher self, if we can name it that. I cannot recommend a supplement, a book or some other magical means to increase one’s knowing. To access it, I simply encourage people to connect more deeply with themselves either through nature, or spiritual practices, etc.
14. My Open Mind
In the end, I realize that many things in my life and how I got to be to where I am today would not have been possible, had I not kept an open mind. Thus, I had to include this as one of the things that I can’t live without. An open mind has allowed me to take in more love, learning and have more faith than I could perhaps ever had the chance to do, had I closed myself off to a particular set of beliefs, values or attitudes. This is also why today I also encourage others to stay open minded, no matter how foreign something may sound. We just never know what we may be missing out on in life, if we close ourselves off.
Many self-help “gurus”, books and other outlets often promote the idea of “writing things down” for a sense of healing, peace or clarity. Being a writer, I feel like I write enough, and have to tell you that I do not actually take many opportunities to write things down anymore, personally for myself. It hasn’t hindered my life in any way – but what I learn from exercises like this, is that it does help in various ways.
Having done this, I am sure there are a few other things that I could have thought of, but I feel that these are the areas that I feel most strongly about at this time.