Saturday, October 27, 2007

My Store

This morning I consolidated some stuff, shrinking the list by a few items. Soon after I started the process, I realized that I had a lot of clothes. Not like some people who need 4 closets, plus the storage for winter clothes, spring clothes, summer clothes, fat clothes, etc. I had more clothes than I really needed.

In the summer of 2006 I spent a month in Puebla, Mexico in a Spanish immersion program. I lived with a family for the month I was there. I was not going to take down a month's worth of clothes, so I took about 10 days worth, knowing I could do laundry once/week.

This summer, as I was looking at a closet full of clothes (full, not stuffed or overflowing), I wondered why I needed so many clothes. 10 days worth was just fine. I went through my closet, removing about half the clothes. I went through the sock drawer, leaving about 2 weeks worth, underwear drawer, again 2 weeks worth, t-shirts, golf shirts, pants.

I took the "extra" clothes and put them in a storage bin, actually two bins. On my list they counted as two things. I know what you're thinking, "That's cheating. If you have 100 things in the box, it has to count as 100 things, not just one or two."

Well, it's my list and I can count however I want.

Seriously though, I do have a rational for my store. Everything in "my store" is something that I currently own, which will wear out eventually, and which I will want/need to replace. At some point, my socks and underwear will wear out. I'll need to replace them. At some point my t-shirts will move past the comfortable, lived-in look and become ratty and over-used. I'll need new t-shirts. Same thing goes for golf shirts, pants, etc.

When I realized I had too many clothes, I didn't want to just donate them somewhere. I have some really nice things. They fit fine and I like them; I just don't need them right now.

When the need to be replaced, I can go to my store rather than a retail store. I figure I'm being fiscally responsible and environmentally conscious. When I replace that pair of shoes, it won't cost any money, and I won't be using any additional resources.

Keep in mind, this is not just a storage bin from which I can retrieve an item any time I'm tired of my wardrobe. I have committed to only using the items in the to replace something. Eventually the store will be empty, but that could take 3 or 4 years. I'm not hard on clothes or shoes, and I don't mind wearing things that show some wear and tear.

Here's what's in my store:
1 pair PING cart gloves
6 golf hats
1 bandana
19 golf shirts
10 dress shirts
3 long sleeve t-shirts
1 pair jeans
1 pair golf spikes, with cedar shoe tree
1 pair teaching shoes (golf shoes w/o the spikes) also w/shoe tree
1 pair dress shoes w/st
1 pair Nike running shoes w/st
7 t-shirts
6 undershirts
15 pair unders
11 pair socks
2 pair shorts
3 pair dress pants
2 pair golf shorts
1 pair corduroys
5 tooth brushes
10 dozen golf balls
6 golf gloves
1 bag of golf tees

It's about 100 things.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Rules

I was looking through my list this morning (I woke up early and couldn't go back to sleep), targeting some things for elimination, cleaning up the list, and thinking that I should probably post the list so other people can see what I own and how I count. But before I do that, I should outline the rules by which I count things.

When I first counted, early summer 2007, I started counting everything. I soon realized that some things could/should be combined, somethings should not be counted, and that my perception of "things" was evolving. The first time I made the list I counted the stainless steel table mom had given me. About a week later I was revising the list and realized I had not included the table cloth that sits on the stainless steel table! It's not like it was hidden - it sits right on top, hangs down over the sides, hides the legs - HELLOOOOO!?!

My rules for counting changed throughout the process. Even now I've been forced (albeit willingly) to reexamine how I count. I have a friend named Bruce, from NYC. I met him through the photographica website. He sent me his list of things, which is significantly shorter than mine. And he counts things like: bank cards, membership cards, bank accounts, e-mail addresses, software program he regularly uses. He even counts the list as one of his things. If he counted the way I do, he'd probably have fewer than 500. If I counted the way he did, I'd feel like I was back to square one.

Here are my rules:

I do count anything that can break or wear out.

I don't count consumables/perishables.

I don't count my professional belongings.

I combine things that obviously/necessarily go together.

How do these rules apply?
If something can be used up (e.g., toothpaste, soap, milk, kleenex, medicine) it doesn't count on the list. Groceries are obviously things, but the list in constantly in flux, so it's hard to put a number on it. Recently I've had the thought that even some consumables should be counted. I might be able to include toothpaste in the list, because I will always have some. No matter how many times I use up a tube of toothpaste, I'll replace it. So maybe, since that's kind of a permanent consumable, it should count on the list. The can of soup in the cupboard may or may not be replaced, which could be said of almost all the groceries. I go through periods when I crave a certain kind of food. The fascination passes and I might not buy a can of that kind of soup for months. I'm still working out the theory of permanent consumables.

Anything I keep at my offices, doesn't count in my list. My reasoning is: if I change jobs and move, those things will go to the new office. When I retire, those things will be given to the next school counselor, who can do with them what he will. I've looked around my offices, trying to find something that I would definitely keep, but I can't find anything. In fact, I've taken more things to the office because the meaning they have is through the school. They are nearly worthless here at home. I used to keep some of my favorite children's books here at the house. I decided that was silly. Even if I don't use them very often at work, I need to have them there. The other reason that I brought them home - I didn't want kids to mess them up by bending pages, tearing paper, etc. WHAT?! They're only things and if they get used and worn, that's why I have them. I realized I was being petty and selfish.

There are some things the just go together. Take for example my golf bag. I could count it this way:
1 golf bag
14 clubs
3 head covers
2 gloves
1 towel
23 golf balls
86 tees
14 ball markers
4 ball mark repair tools
1 golf book
3 pencils

That's a lot of items on the list. But, they all go together. When I play golf, the whole bag goes with me. It would be silly to take the bag without the stuff or the stuff without the bag. I count it all as "one golf bag (with accessories)."

The same thinking applies to my racquetball bag. It holds racquets, balls, gloves, shoes, goggles, etc. But it all goes together.

I have a trunk of memories that only counts as one thing also. In it are the mementos that I'm not ready to eliminate. My grade school report cards and yearbooks, birthday cards, photos, my baby blanket (I got rid of the bears, but my "bammy" is a different story, at least for now), my favorite Hot Wheels cars. I could count them all, but I've given myself this one trunk where nothing counts. If the trunk gets full - which I don't ever see happening - and I want to add something to it, something in the trunk will have to go. It's kind of like my free space. Right now it's not very full. The things I've kept are small. Soon I'll go through the trunk and see if there are more things I can eliminate.

Present Value and Meaning

I've been giving the whole "meaning of my stuff" thing more thought. I think that I've discovered the (or maybe just one) reason for my simplification process.

I want my house - and more importantly - my life to be filled with meaning, present meaning. Let me give you some examples. I recently sent my childhood teddy bears to an orphanage in Malawi. The bears had great meaning to me. When I took them out of storage, a rush of memories flooded the room. It was so fun to look at them, smell them, touch the nose of brown bear (where all the fur was worn off from touching his nose).

But, all the meaning was past meaning. I look at them and remember, but their entire value is contained, restrained, confined within those memories. Although I haven't yet heard back from Tracy (the woman who took them to the orphanage) I'm assuming that the bears now belong to a child in Malawi. I get chills when I think about that.

The value and meaning of these two stuffed animals is no longer confined within my memories. It has been brought to the present, updated, renewed. The bears who sat in a cardboard barrel for decades, have been brought into the sunlight - the African sunlight - to bring joy and happiness, comfort and warmth to someone new.

Mom Helps the List

My parents visited this last weekend. This was the first time they've been to my house since I began seriously simplifying, since I created a list.

There are several things on my list that were given to me by my parents. Actually, more than several. Most of the furniture I own came from them. But, they did give me the things, so I own them and count them. That might change. Talking with mom over the weekend, we were discussing my stuff. In my guest bedroom is a bedroom set that came from my grandparents to my parents to me.

"That bedroom set is really yours mom."
"No, it's yours. It's in your house."
"So if I were to buy another house and didn't have room for it, I could just get rid of it?"
"No, definitely not."
"So, it's not really mine?"
"I guess not. You're just storing it."

There are several items like that. Mom has made it clear that before I just get rid of the trunk, or the stainless steel table, I have to let her know. She might want them back.

Thanks mom. You just made my list a little shorter.

BTW, at last count, I'm down to 882 items (including the stuff that mom has claimed she's storing here).

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Journey

When I first decided to pare down my life and my possessions it was really a personal, even private, decision. It wasn't that I was trying to keep it a secret. I just didn't think anyone else would be interested.

I knew that I had too much stuff and that I needed to simplify my life. Simplifying to me meant more than just getting rid of things and objects. I had "stuff and junk" in my life that needed to go.

One weekend I was listening to NPR on my laptop, and the program Weekend America was asking for input on a story. Their question was, "How do you tell the difference between wants and needs." Several weeks earlier I had heard a story about a woman living in an 84 square foot house who limits herself to 300 things. That sounded interesting so I decided to see how many things I owned.

I sent an e-mail to Weekend America about how I was defining wants and needs in relation to my new goal of 500 things.

Soon after, I got an e-mail from one of their producers, asking if it was alright to call me. We spoke on the phone for about 20 minutes. He liked the story and said he was going to "shop it around." I didn't really know what that meant. During the call he asked if I was blogging about the 500 things. He thought people might be interested in reading about it. I dismissed his comment as simple courtesy.

Two days later I get a call from Chris at The Story. He interviews me for another 15 or 20 minutes and says they want to use my story on "The Story." I was laughing when I hung up the phone. You can listen to my interview here.

Several weeks later I am sitting in a radio studio in Twin Falls, being interviewed by Dick Gordon. I sent e-mails to all my family and friends, and some co-workers. I really figured they would be the only ones who would listen. Yes, I know it's a nationally syndicated program, but the idea that other people would listen to my story just didn't cross my mind at the time.

I got great response from my circle of listeners. Encouragement, shock, laughter, curiosity - everyone I e-mailed had some feedback for me. I loved it. I thought that was it.

Periodically I google my name, just to see what comes up (You do the same thing, admit it). I can't believe how many "Chris McNaught's" there are in the world.

In the search there were several mentions of "My 500 Things." I googled that. The results amazed me. There were other people actually blogging about my story. Are you kidding me?

That was the first time I realized that strangers, people I didn't know, had listened to me on the radio. I clicked on the links, read the blogs, responded to some.

Thanks to the following people for spreading my "message."
MJ at The Goosepath
Cassandra Tondro
Grant Baciocco

Grant is blogging about his 600 things, chronicling the process of paring down. He was also interviewed by "The Story."

Since the interview, I have continued to simplify. One of the most fun things I have done is donate my childhood teddy bears to McKallie's Home of Future and Hope, an orphanage in Malawi, Africa. I'm waiting for Tracy to return from her most recent trip. She's bringing me pictures of the bears' new owners.