I'll Never Have Just One Bra

There are some things I find really attractive about Miss Minimalist's idea of "one." Imagine just owning one coffee mug, or one really great pair of pants. 

You'd never have to decide which to use.

You'd never have to use anything less than your favorite. You'd never commit the fallacy of "I'll just use the shitty one because it's not a special enough day."

You could stop shopping in that particular category. Don't need a new chef's knife, already got one! (You might be tempted to upgrade, but you'd never be tempted to buy more and more of the same type of thing.)

It's a tantalizing idea.

Objections and Exceptions to "One"

Despite my admiration of the concept, there are many categories where I feel I can't, or don't want to, get down to just one. Here are my excuses why I can't get down to one in various categories. Some are more legit than others.

Environmental/Seasonal Needs

I cannot own just one winter coat. I live in Boston; we don't have summer, fall, and winter and spring so much as we have summer, winter, winter 2, and winter 3. Accordingly, I own summer clothes and three levels of winter clothes, including three coats. (I have a few transitional pieces, but these get the least use out of my whole wardrobe. I don't, for example, currently own a light spring or fall jacket. I was going to get one, but the elusive day a year in which I would wear it keeps getting away from me.)

Multiples In Different Locations
It's just easier to have one phone charger at home and one at work. There are several items where I keep a duplicate at work. (I'm more skeptical of my desire to have multiples for different rooms in my house, since my disinclination to move between rooms is just laziness.)

Multiples In Use At The Same Time

Cooking reasonably basic meals can involve multiple, similar-sized pots and pans. I may use different colored pens in the same project. More than one light bulb is usually on in my home.

Emergency Backups
I'm trying to be more skeptical of this. I do have a tendency to hoard backups, and I feel lighter and freer when I don't. It is okay to run out

For consumable items that we run through quickly, like toilet paper, though,it certainly makes sense to have back-ups on hand. Same for anything that's known to be nearing its end of life, and anything that's mission critical (i.e. medications, first aid supplies). Obviously, if you live in an area where evacuations or natural disasters are a serious concern, it makes sense to own an emergency kit which may contain multiples and backups of items that you use in your everyday life.

Excess Wear And Tear From Constant Use
Sometimes when you cut your use of an item by half--say, alternating between two instances--you get more than double the lifespan out of it. Bras a perfect example. The elastic in the band gets stretched out much quicker if you don't let it rest a day between wears. Sneakers have this problem, too. Times in my life where I've only owned one pair of sneakers, I've worn those suckers out within the year, yet if I alternate between two pairs, they can last three, five, eight years! (They also smell better.)

Excess Time Cleaning/Maintaining The One
It doesn't make sense to own only one pair of underwear because you'd have to clean it every day (while not wearing underwear). 

Laundry and dishes (if you have a dishwasher) are categories where it's easiest to clean them in bulk all at once, so you don't necessarily save cleaning and maintenance time by only owning one. From a time-use perspective, it makes the most sense to own a number of multiples equal to the number of times you need to use them in between washing events. For example, 7 pairs of underwear if you do laundry weekly. You can get away with owning less than 7 for items that you don't use every day, or that you can use several times between washings, but for most frequently used item categories, it still probably makes sense to own more than one.

However, if you hand-wash all your dishes (or clothes for that matter), owning fewer means you clean more often but in smaller amounts, so it's a wash (PUN!!!)

Different Versions Optimized For Different Situations
The tricky thing about striving to own only one item per category is that it requires you to define your categories, and each person may define them differently. One person might reasonably insist that the spirit of the "one" challenge means you can only own one pair of shoes. Another might just as reasonably say it's fine to own different types of shoe (boots, sandals, pumps, sneakers, and so on), but it's cheating to own more than one pair of each type. Another might say it's fine to own, say, several different types of sneaker as long as they are for different activities (running, walking, climbing, crossfit, racquetball, etc.)

Flexible Interpretations of "One"

It would be easy to dismiss the idea of One as a challenge that's too extreme, but there is still something that resonates with me. I'm trying to think of ways to put it to work in ways that capture its value, while retaining flexibility and not purging perfectly useful items for the sake of purging (only to re-buy them later).

I do think it can be handy to evaluate your items in terms of, "What is this for?" and try to identify areas where you may be overserved with options. I often find that when I feel I have too many of a certain type of item, it's not necessarily because I have "too many" on an absolute scale, but because I have too much overlap in function. I might have a lot of another type of item and feel that it's "just enough" because all my needs are covered without excess.

For example, right now I have two shoulder bags and, while I love them both, I suspect I have too many because it's hard for me to explain when I'd choose one over the other. It's largely an arbitrary choice. Yet I also have two backpacks and I don't feel I have too many, because they are different sizes, styles, and fits, and are clearly designed and optimized for different situations. I have no trouble deciding when to use which, or articulating why they are different.

It might be helpful to think of the "slots" of items in your life as a checklist, which could be optimized to your particular situation. Then you just try to have exactly one item for each slot. My bare minimum shoe checklist might look like this, for example:
  • Basic sneakers (3-season everyday/commuter/walking shoes)
  • Athletic sneakers (sport/running/hiking shoes)
  • Ankle boots (work shoes -- pants)
  • Pumps (work shoes -- skirts)
  • Sandals (summer everyday/commuter/walking shoes)
  • Snow boots
  • Rain boots
I think a checklist solves everything.

It's not foolproof, though. The attributes of the specific items that come into your life can change your opinion about how many you need. Sometimes you think you need multiple items, but it's just because you haven't yet found the One Perfect Item yet. Now that I have a comfy, durable, midweight hoodie in a medium blue color that's on palette and goes with everything, I gave away four other hoodies that had been serving different parts of the same job (the heavy, the light, the athletic, the slouchy…) 

But sometimes it's impossible to meet all of your requirements in one item. There's a trade-off between versatility and specificity. Life got easier when I gave up on shopping for a sippable, large-capacity water bottle that was also lightweight and leakproof. This doesn't exist because those desires are contradictory! I ended up with two bottles, a sippable large-capacity bottle for Home and a lightweight leakproof bottle for On The Go, and I don't want to give up either one because they are each optimized for their particular area of expertise.

Ultimately, where you draw the line at categories and subcategories depends on your specific lifestyle and your priorities. What situations do you encounter in your life? When is it worth it to you to have a tool optimized for the job, and when is "good enough" good enough? Though "one" sounds like a simple rule of a thumb, it's no magic bullet. You still have to do the hard work of figuring out what you value. As with so many minimalist challenges, it comes down to "you know it when you see it" judgment calls. But the more you think and experiment with this stuff, the easier those judgment calls are to make.


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