Around two months ago, I made an announcement on Twitter that blew some people’s minds: I decided to live with less than 50 possessions.
I haven’t talked much about it on the blog, because I’ve been focused on producing content that helps people. Promoting the fact that I was living with 50 things just seemed to be bragging, so I haven’t talked too much about it until now.
The 50 things movement doesn’t count shared items like cooking supplies, bedding, and furniture. I was only counting personal possessions that only belong to me.
Why I decided to live with 50 things.
I’m a big fan of trying out everything once, so I decided to jump on board and try it for awhile. I’ve been living with 75 things for awhile, and reducing that number to 50 didn’t seem like a huge leap. So, I went for it.
Here are the benefits of living with 50 things, from my experience living with less for two months between March 2010 – and May 2010. I no longer live with 50 things, and I’ll explain why further down.
1. It’s incredibly easy to relocate to anywhere in the world.
I moved to Oakland, CA from Brooklyn, NY on May 15th with my girlfriend Alix and Lola the cat. I tossed one backpack into luggage (I only did this because we had Lola the cat, and I wanted to simplify our trip on the plane even further or I would have carried it on.) And carried on a small bag with my laptop, a hoodie, and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in it. All of my possessions moved easily from the East coast to the West coast.
In my previous moves with 100 things, I often felt like I was carrying entirely too much with me. When I had my stuffed-full backpacking bag (with sleeping bag and tent), plus my camera bag, plus my stuffed-full laptop bag. The combined weight made it difficult to move around easily. With 50 things I could easily carry all of my possessions without stressing my body.
2. It’s incredibly easy to find things.
When you have 50 things there is no way to lose things. I’m convinced that once we pass 150 things our minds can no longer pinpoint the exact location of all our individual possessions.
My theory about this is that up until recent history humans didn’t have more than 150 possessions, so we haven’t evolved to keep track of more than 150. This is why people with over 150 things are known to lose things (where are my sunglasses?)
When I had 100 things, I could easily pinpoint the location of any of my possessions in my mind before going to find them (the cleaning cloth of my laptop is in the left-front pocket of my laptop bag.) When I had 50 things, this superhuman ability became magnified. Because I had less to worry about, it was even easier to locate things.
3. You save a lot more money.
When you have 50 things, the urge to entertain yourself by spending money is incredibly diminished. I only made a couple of significant clothing purchases during the early months of this year, and that was to replace clothing items that had worn out.
My Frye boots that I’d owned for a number of years finally gave out, and I had to replace them with a new pair. I purchased a few new pairs of underwear and tank shirts for doing yoga in. Other than those purchases to replace completely destroyed clothes, I did not spend money on possessions.
4. You can pursue alternative ways of finding happiness.
Buying things doesn’t make you happy. The televisions have told us to buy things for the last 50 years, so it’s almost completely ingrained in our culture. “If I only had another gizmo, I’d be happier.” This isn’t true, and when you reduce your possessions in order to be conscious of your consumption, you start to find ways to fill the time which don’t involve purchasing junk.
5. More time to focus on the important.
When you have less things, you can focus on doing important work. One of the benefits of living with less, for me, has been that I can create work that matters. Instead of organizing my junk, I’ve been able to write two e-books, The Art of Being Minimalist, and the upcoming Minimalist Business, that now provide all of the income I need to survive.
I’ve known people with massive amounts of stuff in large spaces. What I’ve observed is that these people spend endless amounts of time organizing and cleaning their possessions. They also spend a lot more money on their spaces, because they need extra room for the stuff they don’t need. The junk starts to rule their lives. When you live with less the need for large spaces, and the time you have to spend on organizing, cleaning, and buying more stuff disappears. All of this free time can be dedicated to focusing on the important.
6. Financial freedom.
Ultimately this all leads to financial freedom. When you need less space, because you have less stuff, you can work less to support yourself. Many people can’t escape their debt because of oversized houses, junk-buying habits, and having no time to focus on the important. Living with less can solve that problem.
I suppose all of these apply to living with 75 things as well, but when you live with 50 things they are amplified.
Why I decided to stop living with 50 things.
Living with 50 things was incredibly liberating, but since moving to California I’ve decided to abandon the experiment and move back to living with 75 things. Why? There are two main reasons.
1. I need to simplify my laundry days.
Living with 50 things means you have to clean your clothing more often. I found myself at the laundromat once a week like clockwork. This was fine in Brooklyn because the laundromat was three buildings away, but the laundromat in Oakland is six blocks away, which means I have to dedicate a significant amount of time once a week to laundry-doing.
In order to simplify my laundry schedule in order to focus on the important, I’m gradually purchasing more clothing to save time doing laundry.
On Wednesday I purchased two pairs (I was living with one pair that was starting to show wear) of high-quality denim jeans, which fit well. I’ve also purchased a few more t-shirts and underwear in order to lengthen time between laundromat visits. Eventually I hope to be able to do laundry once every two weeks.
Side-note: I now have a 29 inch waist. This is down from toping out at 33 inches when I had my day job. Apparently living a free and independent minimalist life is very good for your waist size.
Obviously you could argue that I could wash my clothing in my sink. I don’t own quick-dry clothing, though I would purchase some if I were to go abroad. I’ve found that hand-washing is much more of a time-sink than laundromat washing. This time would be better spent working on the important, so I’ve opted not to hand-wash clothing items.
2. I missed my Moleskin and pen.
One of the items I downsized when moving to 50-things was all of my paper, so I tossed my Moleskin notebook that I use for free-writing and brainstorming. This meant that I couldn’t do hand-written brainstorming sessions.
While eliminating my Moleskin simplified my life by directing all of my brainstorming sessions into Evernote, I found that the experience of typing ideas into Evernote on my iPhone was less than satisfactory. Writing by hand is both an inexpensive and also a simple way to capture ideas for later use.
I’ve also found that writing my hand helps center the hemispheres of my brain, and more easily allows me to move to a creative place. There is also no Twitter application to accidentally open in my Moleskin.
I realize that living with 75 things is still very little for most people, and the 50 things that I had was an incredibly small number. I haven’t updated my possessions list to reflect what I currently have, I’ll be sure to do that soon.
Living with less isn’t for everyone, but I’ve discovered that it can make life a lot simpler when you decide to opt out of the endless cycle of consumerism.
For more on how I was able to reduce my possessions to less than 100 things in order to live anywhere, check out my e-book The Art of Being Minimalist.
The New Escapologist interviewed me yesterday about minimalist freedom and escaping from the dying magazine industry.