The girl who can live with just 100 things

Article written for The Bare Minimum Magazine (a print magazine from UK focused on sustainable fashion and minimalism).

Living with less might lead to living more. More relaxed, more peaceful, more in the present. How would you feel if you would always have enough storage space and enough money? Sounds like a good life to me. And how about instead of trying to earn more money in order to move to a bigger place, making your money and space you own now enough for you?

Photo: Design Hunter

A way to stop yourself from being controlled by consumerism is by decluttering your life. The 100 things challenge is a start if you are aiming at a minimalist kind of lifestyle. The challenge is to live with just 100 objects. You can create your own rules about what counts as an object and what are you not taking into account when making your 100 objects list. For instance, you may want to leave out household items, like furniture or some kitchen appliances. It’s up to you how restrictive you want to be. The downside of the challenge is that you still might be obsessed with your belongings, but in a different way. That is what happened to Cary Fortin, who thinks that this challenge is benefic, but you have to find your own version of it.

Cary Fortin tried this challenge five years ago simply because she was broke. The idea came to her after reading The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno. Cary is devoted to a minimalist lifestyle, alongside Kyle Quilici, co-authored New Minimalism: Declutter and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living and started The New Minimalism in San Francisco. The New Minimalism is a decluttering company, which helps clients design simple, harmonious spaces.

Cary Fortin
photo: personal archive

This challenge is more than living with a number of items. From Cary’s point of view, “anyone can benefit from a version of this challenge” because “having a goal like 100 Things can help people push through their comfort zone and experiment with having meaningfully fewer belongings in their lives. Something many of us have never tried and therefore aren’t familiar with.”

We spend so much of our life pursuing the accrual of items and have so many ritualized events that are rooted in acquiring possessions: birthdays, Christmas, back to school, Black Friday, and countless seasonal sales. We then have so few cultural messages centered around letting go, leading the equation in our homes to get way out of balance,” says Cary.

All that being said, Cary doesn’t believe in the pursuit of a specific number of belongings. To her, the goal of minimalism is “a clarity of values combined with an ease that comes from not being consumed by shopping, paying, and caring for your items.”

“I think that when you start counting your belongings you inevitably become obsessed with your stuff, just in a different light (at least I did during my challenge). It becomes a game of ego and a practice of restriction rather than a tool for experiencing joy.”

Cary would encourage people to try a challenge based on letting go of things. So, even if you start a challenge like 100 Things, try to focus on how you feel when you get rid of unnecessary stuffs and when the process becomes stressful for you, not on reaching the goal of owning 100 items. When you are feeling too restricted, “ease up for a while until you’re adjusted or consider the process complete,” Cary advises.

“In this challenge, as with any venture into minimalism, the focus is on creating an external space that reflects your internal values and priorities. If you are a chef, your kitchen might have a number of knives, tools and spices, but you might not have any need for a printer, a home gym, a large wardrobe. The goal is that your space will be pared back in all areas, and that what is most important to you is given appropriate space to easily and joyfully engage with those items.” 

Since Cary finished the challenge, she resolved to never count her items and to never let her ego guide her in how she declutters. “It’s clear now that minimalism for me is about pursuing a beautiful, graceful, simple life.”

The experience of living with so few possessions stuck with her and influences how she lives her life today. “After only having one pen and one journal, I find the idea of buying highlighters in bulk packs of 50 a little crazy. After so precisely narrowing down my wardrobe, I’m no longer enticed by sales.”

“After having so little, I know that I’m fine with next to nothing and that stuff is only stuff. But I also know that I feel much more joy when I’m not always focusing on my stuff.”

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