Monday, September 20, 2010

100 Things

I first heard about the 100 Thing Challenge while traveling in Belgium two years ago. Since then, the idea has grown much more popular. (See this website Those who accept the challenge strive to reduce their stock of personal belongings to only 100 things. I find this idea appealing, though whether or not it is possible depends entirely on how you count (i.e., do you count every fork and every t-shirt, or do you count ‘forks’ as one item and ‘shirts’ as another?). On the website, the originator of the challenge says to count only items that are mostly or entirely yours, not shared by a family or roommates. Since I live alone, these rules mean I would have to count everything in my house. For fun, I recently made a list of everything I own, just to see how many things I have. It turns out that if you include multiples of any item – food, books, pens, cups – you will quickly reach 100, no matter how minimalist your lifestyle; whereas, if you don’t count multiples, it could potentially be very easy for anyone to get under 100 things.

I have never owned what I consider to be a lot of things. I move often – in fact, if I stay through the end of my service in the house I am renting, I will have lived here longer than in any place in the last 12 years – and so it behooves me to be able to fit all of my belongings into a mini-van. I came to Nicaragua with less than 100 pounds of stuff*, a fraction (though a significant one) of my total belongings. I have acquired many items since arriving here, mostly necessary household things: a stove, a mini-fridge, dishes, a broom, a hammock, etc. My life here feels quite modest – I don’t have a single rug, a television, or any upholstered furniture - yet I am amazed at how much stuff I own in comparison with many of my Nicaraguan neighbors.

Stuff clings to me like burrs. It seems every time I leave the house I come back with more. Be it books from the Peace Corps library, groceries, used clothing from one of Esteli’s Ropa Americana stores, care packages, new pens or markers, whatever. It amazes me how my house seems to fill up on its own, without any conscious effort on my part. I thought this process was particular to the developed world and that it would not be part of my life in Nicaragua. However, I now think that this tendency to acquire things is a cultural attribute that comes with having grown up in a materialistic society. It’s not even necessarily that I am spending money to acquire these items. Many times they are gifts or things someone else is throwing out.

I am planning to come back to the US with almost nothing, and it gives me great joy to think about all the stuff I will be giving away or selling at the end of my service.

*This might be a more accurate way of counting how much stuff a person owns. It would certainly be much less open to interpretation than ‘100 things’. Though depending on the weight goal, it might be impossible to own things like a piano or a refrigerator or, for that matter, furniture. Maybe one ton of stuff would be a good goal.

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