The 100 Thing Challenge Rant

I'm a little late to the party, but I overall enjoyed the 2010 book The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno, based on his blog of the same name, in which he pares down his possessions to 100 items and reports on his experience of "living with less."

I do have a specific gripe with it, and it's not the weird shoehorned-in Christianity or the fact that he counted his "library" of books as one thing. (I count my e-reader as one thing, after all. I mean, it IS only one physical thing, but only because technology has advanced to the point where physical media is nearly obsolete. I got an e-reader in 2010, so I guess Dave could have too, but there were a lot fewer books available then.) My gripe isn't with what counts as a "thing," but what counts as "yours."

Inspired while reading the book, I started to make my own list of things. Clothes, of course, were a lost cause for me--I might be able to get my wardrobe down to 100 things if I tried, but I wouldn't have slots for anything else--but I figured maybe I'd fudge and count my "library" of clothes as one thing. "Everyone gets one collection" seems like a fair rule. But then I ran into a second, larger roadblock.

Furniture. Dishes. Linens. Cookware. Home appliances. None of these things are on Dave's list.

He glosses over this, hand-waving that they're not really "his" since they belong to the family, not him specifically. But I don't feel comfortable doing this. I mean, these are things that I am largely responsible for buying, they're things I use every day, they're things I need to pack when I move. They make up the bulk of what I consider my stuff.

Honestly, if I don't have to count household items, and if I'm setting aside clothes as my "collection", the remaining list of things I own is so small that this isn't a challenging activity. What's left? My e-reader, like I mentioned; my Calvin and Hobbes books; binoculars; some art supplies. My toothbrush and razor, maybe. Looking down Dave's list, it is indeed mostly clothes, toiletries, and hobby stuff. Which, fine.

But let's set aside the question of whether Dave or I personally have "made it," or whether it's fair to "cheat" by collapsing a collection, or whether you have to "count" things you only own because of your job or whatever (i.e. work clothes). I feel like there are arguments on all sides here. What I feel like is not debatable? Counting household items!

I mean, yes, they're owned jointly with my wife--but that doesn't mean I don't own them, that I'm not responsible for them. I'm definitely responsible for them. If I were single, there would be no question that my dishes were mine. What possible justification could I have for ignoring them? And if that logic works for both me and my wife, how can either one of us say that our dishes don't belong to us, personally?

At the very most generous, we might say that our joint stuff counts as half for each of us--maybe if we lived alone we'd each own two towels, instead of our household owning four--but for most things I feel like that doesn't really work. Being part of a couple shouldn't mean that I only count myself as owning half a fridge.

This is a lot like the indignation I initially felt when I realized the "one backpack" lifestylists generally live in furnished apartments, but more so. There's an argument that an item doesn't "count" as yours if it's rented and it really belongs to someone else (though I feel like it's a cheat to say you can live without x, y, and z when you use them every day--they're just borrowed). But these items aren't borrowed or rented. They don't belong to anyone ELSE. They belong to Dave and his family. "Joint owned" does not mean "not owned."

I feel like what it comes down to, for Dave, is that, in his heart of hearts, he considers all of his household items to belong to his wife. Pots and pans, dish towels, duvets--all of this is the woman's sphere. I don't think this is a conscious conclusion he's reached, but I do think that traditional gender roles are a big part of it. If his wife were to make a list of all her stuff, without seeing the rules and justifications that Dave made up first, I don't think it would ever occur to her to ignore household items.

Here is my message to Dave: You can't just separate yourself out from your family's consumption. Maybe you would make different choices if you were single--maybe you don't feel personally connected to your partner's purchase of a frying pan or whatever--but that doesn't mean you have no responsibility for that purchase, or that you don't benefit from it. If not for you, it might not have been bought. If you lost access to it--if your partner left, taking everything you don't believe to be yours with her--you'd have to immediately go out and buy a bunch of extremely similar stuff. That stuff is yours, dude!


  1. Yep thats one thing which bugged me when I started reading the 100 things challenge. My roommate posed the exact same question to me when I tried to count collection of things as one. Plus none of the 100 things challengers I've seen so far count kitchen utensils, bed, anything needed to cook and eat. I've just started inventorying things which I own. So far I have counted 21 different types of wires which are required for various electronics :P this number is after minimizing previously it was some 86So I'm not sure if I should count things which came in the same package as one item. For e.g. My Nexus 6p + Charger = 1 item. My Hair clipper + accessories = 1 item or all type of items all the wires put together as 1 item. I have ifixit repair kit with 64 pieces :P definitely going to count that as one :D. My plan is to get everything I own and needed to survive by eating outside in one bag and everything else in another bag.

    1. I've had similar issues trying to count my 25-piece hair clipper set, or a box of miscellaneous nails and screws. I feel like there's only so far "number of things" takes you. Weight or volume of stuff is also relevant, especially to one-baggers. If you're living out of a bag, it's better to have 21 wires than a single blender. And, of course, there's no prize for having the least stuff, any more than there's a prize for having the most stuff! It's a fairly pointless game, but if you are going to play the game, I think it's important to play by the rules.

    2. Yes thats true, weight and volume of things are most important. So I've decided to stop going by the numbers game. My first goal is to reduce all my things to two bags that in itself is an enormous challenge for me. Probably after that I might think about the number of things!


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