The minimalism challenge: getting rid of 2,000 items

As a reader of this blog, you probably know very well by now that I love putting myself through challenging experiments. I love starting with a theory, spending weeks or months changing my habits to test that hypothesis, then seeing how I come out on the other side. Some of these experiments, my wife loves…some she hates. This one falls a bit closer to the latter category, but she begrudgingly accepted my offer over a lunch at the Salt Lake City airport. This one is about our quest to bring minimalism into our money saving fold.

I was in Salt Lake City for the week on a business trip (read: free flight) and my wife came up to join me using miles that I had accumulated with Southwest Airlines (read: free flight). After a day of skiing (with discounted lift tickets, of course), we settled in at some poor tasting, generic restaurant in the SLC airport and started talking about our plans for when we returned home. We were a good six months into our stealthy and wealthy transformation at this point and I had just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. We started talking about the number of items in our home and spouting off a handful of items that we felt we no longer needed. This conversation, plus a couple of cocktails immediately shifted into a challenge.

“I bet that we could get rid of at least a couple hundred items.” I said, confidently.

“Why not five hundred?” my wife quipped back.

After failing to recognize sarcasm and letting my competitiveness get the best of me, the 2,000 item challenge was born.

The minimalism challenge

In the 2016 calendar year, my wife and I will remove two thousand items from our home. The goal of this challenge is to make ourselves more comfortable with a minimalist lifestyle. Our thought process is that we purchase way more than we need and to determine exactly what we can and cannot live without before making any more unnecessary purchases, we’ll take a crack at removing items from our home and see how simplicity feels.

Author note: I still have no idea how we are going to do this, but rules are rules. Speaking of which…

The rules

We set a few simple ground rules for the 2,000 item challenge to make sure that we don’t cheat our own self-inflicted system.

      1. Items that naturally come in a “set” of more than one will count as one item. For instance, a pair of shoes is one item. A set of eight of those little corn on the cob stabber weapons (feel free to comment to educate me on the proper name of those) counts as one item. On the other hand, four books is four items because they are not necessarily related items. As a natural test, if you had only one of the item, would it still be as useful as a full set?
        2. Only non-consumable items count. Getting rid of food, kleenex, vitamins, trash, toothpaste, deodorant, or makeup would not count. The first major debate on this one came up when I attempted to count a very rarely used can of shoe polish as a removed item. Technically, even though it was never used and taking up space, if it could have run out on it’s own by being used, it is considered a consumable and we’re not counting it. Also as a general rule, if you are getting to this level of technicality, you definitely should remove the item, regardless of what the scoreboard reads.
        3. Items can be sold, trashed, recycled, donated, flushed, thrown in the alley, given to friends, lit on fire, or some other form of removing them from your possession. They cannot simply be put in the attic, a vehicle, storage unit, backyard, or any other location where they are still owned by you.

It’s as simple as that.

What’s the point?

You mean, other than the fact that any time a score and/or the word “challenge” is attached to something, I immediately become obsessed? There are a number of easy ways to justify or endorse this challenge. There are a lot of benefits to a less cluttered household. We will make some money by selling items on Craigslist, eBay, and in garage sales. Our garage may eventually become a place where cars can be parked again. But ultimately, the main point of this exercise is to build a more healthy relationship with the things that we own. By that, I mean that as a human race (especially Americans), we are constantly going through the cycle of wanting stuff, buying stuff, using stuff for a little while, then storing unused stuff. In most cases, we use these items for a very small percentage of their potential lifespan, but allow these things to waste away because we either bought the wrong thing, no longer need the thing we bought, or never needed the thing in the first place. By forcing ourselves to confront the purchasing/accumulating decisions that we have made over months and years, it will not only simplify our lives down to only the things we need and love, but will also help us to make better purchasing decisions in the future. That’s the plan anyway…

So we started. My next post will detail how the first few months went. Then, I will write periodic progress updates to check in on the challenge and let you know what I have learned.

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