Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The nitty-gritty of whittling down your possessions

The nitty-gritty of whittling down your possessions

Boing Boing readers had a lot to say regarding yesterday's post about Kelly Sutton, the fellow who has gotten rid of almost everything he owns apart from his digital / Internet technology. I asked him to write about his lifestyle and here's what he wrote. It's fascinating.

About a year ago, I came to the conclusion that the most logical thing to be done was to rid myself of all (or most) of my possessions. After meticulously itemizing all of my stuff, I put almost all of it up for sale on a site I built in a weekend, Cult of Less. Yesterday, the BBC News ran an article about myself and a few other folks replacing their physical media with their digital analogs. There are many implications of selling everything, some great and some not so great. I was a bit hasty in my desire to expunge my personal inventory but it's something worth considering. The following are a few things I learned, and where the project is going from here.

Read the rest after the jump. (Photos by Aaron Sonnenberg)

Unintended Benefits


The greatest thing gained from Cult of Less has been an unprecedented
amount of physical freedom. This is obvious to those that have read
Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss takes owning nothing to an
extreme and comes across as brackish in his suggestions, but
there is an important point to take away from the book and accompanying blog. A willingness
to drop your stationary physical possessions and move is the greatest
freedom I have found in this project. Sure, you could get by without a bed,
furniture and a few other essentials, but you will be miserable. No one wants
to sleep on a floor if they can help it.

Instead, I've found that a lack of attachment to my possessions to be the biggest win. My bed isn't important enough to me to haul more than a few blocks, should I move. Chances are, the person moving into my apartment after me would like a bed. Leaving it for them will be a nice move-in present.

A minor yet pleasurable consequence has been interacting with people from around the world. It shot any hope of the project being hip and green, but I've shipped some of my belongings to places like Germany, New Zealand and the U.K.

Warranted Skepticism

As the everwise Internet collective was quick to point out yesterday, this lifestyle is not for everyone. In many settings, it can make your life more difficult. Owning less is easier in urban environments with efficient public transportation; in New York, it's mandated by the higher rent prices. Living in Los Angeles without a car is a difficult undertaking. Unfortunately, the uncluttered lifestyle is not for everyone.

The subtitle of the original BBC article read "Living out of a hard drive." I do this with more than my media; my chosen profession also gives me an unlimited amount of mobility. The software I write on the beach in Venice, California, operates the same as code written in's SoHo office. It's a shame not all professions have such freedom.

Personally, I experience very few downsides with my current situation. There have been times where I've been unable to fix something right that second, but those happenings are rare. A quick trip to a hardware or grocery store usually solves the problem. Rather than preemptively stocking a toolbox without tools I might use, what I have in my apartment for minor repairs is lean but effective.

Owning nothing is not for everyone and brings on certain difficulties, but those difficulties are minor if you live in a city that makes reducing your footprint easier.

Learning What I Already Knew


Another unintended philosophical nugget of the project was to understand that many things are worth less monetarily than you think. Some of your possessions might even have a negative value. (Old computer monitors, for example, cost money to throw out in some regions of the U.S. They have a -$25 value.) Every item on Cult of Less was appraised and intentionally undervalued. It means more to me for an individual to enjoy something that I have neglected than for me to spend time peddling my wares for an extra few bucks. People seem surprised that I would be willing to give away things that clearly have value for so little.

Now every purchase I make comes with a second-guess: Do I really need this? Like really, really need this? In the past year, "impulse buy" has left my vocabulary. I found myself buying fewer things, but also nicer things. On the whole, it's led me to cherish my few purchases more. Every possession also requires a certain amount of upkeep, and I find myself with more time and less possessional guilt. Every thing owned begs to be used constantly; every second not utilized comes a shred of buyer's remorse. Everything I own I use at least once per month, save for my winter clothes.

Moving (Forward)

The Cult of Less project is not something that I can ever stop cold
turkey. Throughout the coming years, I will be adding new possessions
to my list occasionally. Embarking on the project has characteristically
changed how I view owning things. Sure, buying less is probably
environmentally friendlier. Sure, my friends think I'm (really) weird. Sure,
there might be things that could make my life a bit easier occasionally.
But now everything thing I own
serves a purpose and holds a certain beauty in its role. The idea
is utilitarian and far-fetched, but it's a small price to pay for being happy.

Sent from James' iPhone

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