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I am a minimalist. Not in terms of art, but rather in terms of property. I try to own as little as possible.


I don't really think of this as a religious thing, although it came out of my religious practice, and fits very well with both Zen and Quakerism. I think it all started when my Zen practice made me realize that I was addicted to buying things. I've had a lot of addictions in my life. So I have recognized a certain urge. That urge has a certain flavor to it, and I think of it as the "addictive urge." One day I was at a strip mall. I think I was coming out of a restaurant, and I had the desire to buy something. In that desire to buy something I recognized the addictive urge, which was a bit of a shock. But now that I knew what to look for, I began to recognize it more and more. I was addicted to buying things.

For a long time I've known I had to be careful about buying things. I had a standard thought patter of "if I buy this really cool thing, then it will motivate me to engage in this really cool activity." I think this was implicitly followed by the thought "and then I will be cool." But it never worked out. I wouldn't stick with the activity, and I wouldn't be cool. When my mom bought me an expensive airbrush kit in high school that I really wanted but never really did anything with, I made a commitment to stop doing that.

This lesson was a specific instance of a more general rule: the things you buy aren't going to change you. They're not going to get you to start doing new things, and they're not going to make you happier. Zen goes beyond this, saying that our attachment to things will bring us suffering. This is actually the next step in the process. You buy something expecting it to make you happier, it doesn't make you happier, and now you're sad that it didn't work and that you wasted your money.

Quakerism, on the other hand, teaches us to live simply to avoid distracting us from God. This lesson is again a specific instance of a more general rule: the things you buy distract you. They distract you not just from God, but from other people and other things you might want to do with your time. The king of this distraction is, of course, television. That's why the first thing I got rid of was my TV, although I did that before I got into the general idea of minimalism.

In the end, it has become a financial thing. By not having a lot of stuff, I buy much less than most people. By having a simple life style, I spend much less than most people. Which makes it a lot easier to retire early.

The Purges

There have been three main purges in this process. The first purge was about six car loads full. By car load I mean a fully loaded Mazda 3 hatchback, which is about 18 standard office boxes. So about 90 office boxes worth of stuff. There were two car loads of books that I just wasn't reading and didn't think I would ever read. There was a car load of just games. I used to have a collection of several hundred games, dating from my time at The Game Cave. There was a car load of general household stuff that I donated to the thrift store. And I think there were two car loads worth of stuff I just threw out.

The second purge was another three car loads: one of books, one for the thrift store, and one of garbage. This was starting to cause a problem, because as anyone with a lot of books knows, good shelves are hard to find. But I had gotten a real nice set of shelves from the Container Store: totally adjustable and can bear the weight of a load of books. And now I had nothing to put in them! To this day I can not get rid of those shelves because they are just too nice.

During this time I also participated in some community yard sales at the Villa Ridge condos. This included the memorable one where I trimmed my collection of 3,500 dice down to about 100. The purges and the yard sales got my to go with the third purge. The goal of the third purge was to get me down to 1,000 things. This may seem like a lot, but if you count up each piece of clothing, each piece of tableware and kitchenware, each piece of furniture, each electronic device, it adds up. I was talking to my mom about this once while she was making us breakfast. She used over 100 things just to make breakfast for the two of us.

The there was the third purge, when I moved from Gaithersburg to Silver Spring. The goal of this purge was to get my possessions down to the point where I could move everything I owned by myself in my hatchback. Not in one trip, but everything had to fit in the hatchback and be something I could pick up and move by myself. This got foiled by the move in policies at my new condo, which are not amenable to moving in using several loads over several days. I got it down to that point, but I had to do the move in a truck with my mom's help. As part of the move I also threw out a bunch of stuff.

So here I am after getting down to 1,000 things and having another purge after that. Yet I have a sneaking suspicion that I am back over 1,000 things. This is why making a database of everything I own is on my bucket list. Now, I may be over 1,000 things because I have accumulated more stuff. But there is also the question of:

How do you Count Things?

What is a thing? I have a crate of files. Do I count the crate? Do I count each file folder? Do I count each thing in each file folder? I have a kindle. There are about 150 ebooks on that kindle. Is the kindle one thing, or 150 things? I have a ream of paper. Is that one thing or 500 things? I have a very nice Das Keyboard with blank keys that I am typing this article on. Is that a thing, or is that part of my computer? What about the external monitor? Or the wifi router? Is a pair of socks one thing or two things?

I don't count accessories. Accessories are things that are useless without something else. So I don't count the Das Keyboard or my phone charger as a separate thing. I think you could make a case for an external monitor being it's own thing.

I count file folders, but not the papers filed in them. I count a stack or pad of similar paper to be one thing. I don't count electronic files. With the kindle and my photographs, that may be cheating. In the old days those would have counted. But there are electronic files that clearly shouldn't be counted (like all the files the operating system uses), but I haven't come up with a good way to distinguish those files.