My 97 Things (Or How I Moved Across The Country With Just 3 Bags)

My 97 Things

I’ve wanted to count and document all of my things for some time now. I remember reading Colin’s site almost four years ago and seeing his All 72 Things I Own post and thinking, “I want to do that at some point.”

A few days ago I packed my entire life into about six bags.

Since then, I’ve pared it down even further and I now have exactly 97 things. This is what it looks like when all my bags are packed.

Minimalism Goals

On the list, I set myself the goals counting and documenting all my things:

  • Count and document all my crap
  • Own fewer than 300 things

The overarching goal is to count and document my crap, which is a bigger task (but a much easier one now there’s not much of it :) ). I like the idea of having a specific purpose for all my things. If it doesn’t serve me, I don’t utilize it anymore, or I think someone else could use it better, I try to give it to someone who could utilize it better. If it’s broken, I either fix it or throw it away.

Over the last four years, I’ve been paring down what I own. A couple of years back, I took four bags of t-shirts (t-shirts!) to Goodwill. These days, I don’t buy very many “things”, but, still, every six to twelve months, I’ll go through my belongings and toss or give away stuff I no longer use. As recently as last week, I took three bags of things that had been sitting around at my parents’ house to Goodwill.

For me, minimalism isn’t a number and I probably won’t write much more on it as it’s more of a feature rather than the focus of my lifestyle. I like nice things but, as a rule, I prefer investing in my business, travel, and life experiences rather than in collecting things.

Note: I realized I wrote about that almost four years ago when I wrote this piece: Experiences > Things.

Methodology

I’m only counting the physical objects I own. I have “own” several things for my business which don’t take up any physical space (domains, hosting, backups, etc.) but for my “X things” challenge, I’m only counting physical items that take up physical space.

This isn’t a static number – almost nothing in life is. It will probably grow (in fact, I can guarantee that this number will grow in the next twelve months) and shrink as I continue to live, work, and travel. But my goal is to use the stuff I own and to make sure the things in my life have a purpose and that they aren’t just taking up space.

Interestingly, the toughest part of this from a strictly numerical standpoint is that minimalism + athletic apparel = tough. Unless you want to wash your gear every other day, it’s tough to get down to one of each athletic item. For that reason, you’ll see that athletic apparel takes up a surprisingly large percentage of my items (following a breakdown similar to 80/20).

The Main Benefit Of Minimalism

The main benefit I get from this minimalist lifestyle is that my stuff is lightweight. It’s flexible. It allows me to work, travel, and have more options because I don’t have a bunch of stuff taking up mental energy and physical space. Having lots of stuff can be burdensome, mentally, physically, and financially.

Having less stuff allows me to do things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Want to move across the country to San Diego because you don’t like the Chicago winter? Well, I did that three weeks ago. Things like this are a lot easier when you only take three bags (although I have to admit I was relatively annoyed that I had to check in a bag for the first time in over five years).

Anyways, onto the list.

My 97 Things

I’ve documented all of my belongings here.

As of my last count, I have 97 things, so I’m quite a bit under the 100 things mark. It wasn’t necessarily even my intention to get the number that low but, as I started getting rid of things I didn’t want to bring across the country, the number just went down naturally.

Here’s a list of all the things I own:

Bags

Clothing

Miscellaneous Items

  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • Kindle
  • 3 notebooks
  • 4 pens
  • Miscellaneous
  • Toothbrush
  • Contact case
  • Toiletries case
  • Sunglasses
  • Prescription glasses
  • Original Grain black on black watch
  • Rubix cube
  • Mission Belt silver
  • Shaker
  • Electronic shaver

Electronics

  • Macbook Air and charger
  • Wireless mouse
  • Tripod stand for iPod Touch
  • GoPro and accessories
  • SM 58 Mic
  • Mic stand
  • XLR cable
  • iPod Touch
  • iPhone 5
  • Exped hammock
  • Headlamp
  • Road ID band
  • FitBit
  • Fringe Sport jump rope
  • Resistance band

Not Pictured

  • My triathlon bike
  • A junky beach cruiser I bought off craigslist for $50 last week
  • A few business documents (stored at my parents’ house)
  • One outfit for when I visit the Midwest (It’s completely replaceable and I only have it because it gets very, very cold in Chicago during the holidays and I don’t like having to re-buy that stuff when I’m there.)

Lessons From Paring Things Down

Quality > Quantity

In short, I’d rather spend money on something nice which will last and which I’ll be able to enjoy, than on a bunch of middle-quality stuff that I may or may not use and which I may or may not even truly want.

The GORUCK and IGNOBLE bags listed above are relatively expensive but I gladly pay those prices because I’ve lugged these bags all over the world and know that they’re durable and that they’re the best travel combo I’ve had to date. I’d rather pay more for an object one time than have to buy one multiple times because it wears out quickly.

Except When Quantity > Quality

Of course, I’m going to completely contradict myself here.

The exception to the above rule is when it comes to stuff that I expect to break at some point. Case in point: sunglasses. I can’t own a pair of sunglasses for more than a month without dropping them, sitting on them, running over them,or otherwise completely destroying them. So I buy the cheapest pair I can find and plan on breaking and replacing them over and over and over again.

Everything Is Replaceable

When you start downsizing, you realize that everything is replaceable. There’s almost nothing on my list that I would be terribly sad to lose tomorrow.

I would be pretty bummed if my passport and laptop disappeared but they’re both very replaceable. My passport has a small amount of sentimental value  but the hassle of dealing with the gov’t is the bigger deal. Losing my laptop would be annoying because of the data I have on it, but that’s all backed up and I could have another computer set up with my data tomorrow if I lost my laptop to a freak coffee incident today.

When you realize that everything is replaceable with a little bit of leg work, you start to wonder why we try to hold on to things so hard.

Have you ever tried counting your things? Do you think you could you even do it?

Comments

  1. Jess says

    Serendipity! I’ve just been thinking it’s time for me to make a major change and move somewhere else in the country, and I’ve been eyeing my stuff contemplating how much I might eliminate.

    I plan to drive my car wherever I end up, so my goal is to reduce to what will fit in it. Seeing your post today feels like great confirmation from the universe that this is, indeed, both viable and desirable. Thanks! :)

  2. says

    Haha, looks like when the Bears gear wears out, you’re going to have to try some Chargers gear. Welcome to San Diego!

    Actually, we’re not too serious about our professional sports out here as long as you’re not a Raiders fan. I think most people prefer to go to the beach or ride a bike.

  3. cara says

    good timing! i’m moving across country in a few weeks and getting rid of nearly everything i own to cut moving expense. Learning to look at my objects with a new perspective has been a good thing.

  4. George D says

    I got down to 47 things a couple years ago, which included rock-climbing gear. Though I did count all my socks and underwear as one thing each (you can never have too many good-quality fresh socks, and ditto with the underwear).

    Me, personally, I’d add in a single high-quality white shirt and semi-formal jacket/blazer (but you and I dress quite differently, and that’s okay).

  5. Holly Bernabe says

    I guess I’m a little confused by this. As a single person, I’m sure it is much easier to pare down unnecessary things than when you have a family (though I still periodically go through our things and get rid of bunches of stuff). But what i’m confused by is how you take care of yourself. How do you sleep without pillows & some sort of blanket or sleeping bag? What do you eat? How do you prepare food? How do you type or ue your gadgets if you have no table or chair? What about furniture? You said you just moved. Into what? Are you couch surfing or rooming with someone who has all the other things you need? As I said, I’m confused.

  6. says

    Nice to see man, especially since we just setup a home base in Nashville and bought at least 300 things lol. (I was in a bit of a panic owning so much STUFF)

    That said, after 2 years of being semi-location independent and 15 months of being fully location independent, I’m stoked to have a home base.

    Stoked for you man, exciting life decision. Congrats.

  7. says

    You can do this because you are only you. If you had a family and/or a type of business where you need things and equipment, it would be a very different story.

  8. says

    Good for you! I’m in the process of getting rid of my stuff and it’s not easy (or fun), especially since everything multiples every time I blink my eyes. ( I have A LOT of stuff.)

  9. angeline says

    Joel, I think its crazy. In Zimbabwe we cant afford to pay US$2500 per month for a furnished apartment (trypical Zimbabwean rates). It just feels unreal and tiresome to not have a bed or a place for visitors. I guess it doesnt apply to everyone. I used to think like that. I dont own a tv or radio or a chair or a chest of drawers, now you confused me. I thought i need to invest my money elsewhere but my very African family thinks its a sign of poverty. am completely confused

    • CarlL says

      I think a more practical approach is the one I’ve taken, but not everyone can afford. Simply live well below your means. I could own a huge five bedroom home with a pool and four car garage, but I do own a simple oceanfront condo with a covered spot for my one car, a pool and workout facilities, etc. I paid cash for it all and the cost of associations fees, property taxes, etc are considerably less than my neighbors’ mortgage payments. So I don’t feel weighed down by my home while still having plenty of possessions within it (I own my dishes, silverware, pans and cooking utensils, etc. just the stuff in my kitchen would easily exceed 100 items, but they neither take up much room nor psychologically weigh me down. The major reason for the weightlessness of my life is that I can shut the door, fly to the Philippines or Hawaii and not worry about any of it (except the less than three bags I bring with me) until I return months later. So it’s not about how much stuff you own, but rather how much of your stuff owns you and ties you down. Live well below your means and you’ll have freedom from your stuff by simply locking the door behind you and taking off whoever you wish.

      • says

        I agree completely :) I haven’t figured out the place that I want to have my ‘base’ – so to speak – but once I do, I’ll probably operate very similarly.

  10. says

    Joel, this one really speaks to me. I’m a minimalist traveler so I totally enjoyed reading this one. Recently I moved from China to Hawaii with just 2 bags (although I also shipped 2 small boxes as well), which I was pretty happy about.

    Last year I wrote up a blog post about owning as many things as you are years old (i.e. “Owning your age”). I think you might find it interesting. http://wushuadventures.com/can-you-own-your-age/

    Good on you for getting a GoRuck. One of my dream bags. I wanted to get one but I held out because of the price point. I have a similar REI bag at the moment, but I gave to the minaal kickstarter last year so I’m anxiously waiting for them to ship that bag in the next couple months. (“My preciousssssssss”) :-)

  11. davidd says

    So stoked that the Rubik’s Cube made the cut! ;-)

    I have a question about shoes. Seriously, the flip-flops and the running shoes? You don’t have “daily wear” shoes? You don’t own hiking boots or trail runners? You don’t own dressy shoes for nice restaurants or business meetings? No more Vibrams? Like, right now, if you are reading this, are you wearing either those running shoes or the flip-flops, or are you barefoot?

    And you run all your businesses and manage all your web sites and everything from the Air and the iPhone? That’s very cool!

    Even if you were to add a half-dozen pair of shoes for specialty uses, this would still be an impressive list! I hope I can find some inspiration in this post. Like, I suppose I don’t really need the Paper Jamz guitar that’s sitting here next to me, never removed from the package….

  12. davidd says

    Oh, and obviously, when it comes to “things,” there doesn’t appear to be anything here of strictly “sentimental value.” No old toys from when you were a kid, no hand-written notes from friends or relatives, no hard-copy photos. Or did you leave that stuff in your parents’ attic and not count it? ;-p

  13. says

    For me downsizing at first was hard, you just feel emotionally attached to some things. But once you start you realize how quickly your mindset changes and you’re ready to just get rid of about anything you own.

    My method was I started selling a lot of my stuff on eBay, made a good amount of money on things I was never going to use again. Getting paid to give people stuff I don’t want anymore, sounds pretty great.

    And you are right, any material item is replaceable.

  14. says

    When I moved to SF a few years ago I just got on a plane with a suitcase and two small boxes– it felt great to not be bogged down by stuff. I’ve accumulated a little bit since then but I am adamant that it won’t grow beyond what I can comfortably fit in my room (without all the nooks and crannies overflowing).

    Questions:
    - Do you just rent a car to get around to places?
    - Is it hard to not have anything that makes your place feel like “home” (things like picture frames, art, etc. I didn’t have this for the first 6 months when I moved for the same reason of not wanting stuff but my place started to feel like a jail cell after a while :))

  15. Zack says

    1.) Isn’t naming a group of items “miscellaneous” cheating???…..lol.
    2.) Smartest keepsake was a few Chicago Bears items. BEAR DOWN!
    3.) I’m very curious what you do in the event of a wedding or similar occasion where a suit is required? Is this something you plan on purchasing as a “quality” item after you get settled in, in San Diego?…Or do you have a work around? (very interested in how you manage this [potential] issue).

  16. says

    Joel,
    I’m glad to have come back to your blog in time to see this on the front page. Just yesterday I decided to clean out some of my belongings and have a xerox box full of clothes to take to DI, Savers, Goodwill, etc. There’s still a long way to go in terms of paring down. Thank you for the inspiration here. I have some issues with getting rid of certain items for sentimental reasons. Did you have to deal with that as well?

    Also, another thing that I’ve found freeing is cleaning out my digital possessions as well. I’ve deleted lots of music from my itunes (free stuff that I downloaded from noisetrade.com Amazon MP3 and haven’t listened to) and even incidental documents from my computer. The many GB of music have actually helped clear out space on my hard drive, and even though the amount of space freed by deleting unnecessary smaller documents is negligible, the mental energy it frees up feels great. And it makes it easier to find the documents I DO want to see.

    Best wishes!

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