My 200 Things Challenge

What My 200 Things Challenge Taught Me

02 Lina & Stuff A package arrived in the mail yesterday and I added two new items to my possessions without adding them to my inventory. I haven’t been counting since my last inventory of my possessions, when I moved into my Home, Sweet Pea in August with 190 things. But receiving that package reminded me that I’ve learned a lot about my relationship with stuff since I embarked upon an adventure in radical downsizing two years ago.

I’ve found that My 200 Things Challenge has made me a better minimalist. I am less attached to my possessions, but more pleased with the things with which I surround myself. I am more likely to loan something out. I am less worried about wearing something out because there’s a new excitement about acquiring something new. I am more likely to decorate with fresh flowers or fall squash. I only wear clothing that I feel comfortable in. I own few possessions that I don’t use on a daily, weekly, or at least monthly basis. I don’t have to shuffle things around as much to get to the other things I need. I no longer own things that frustrate me because they are broken because I have repaired, replaced, or purged them. I am more particular about what I allow into my home, which means I no longer take something just because it was free. I am more likely to consider whether or not I really need something before I acquire it. I am more likely to get rid of something I’m waffling about. But most importantly, I give less attention to my stuff and more attention to my experiences. If this sounds good to you, please note that I will be teaching a workshop on downsizing and decluttering in Portland, OR in November and December. I encourage you to contact me if you'd like to sign up!

serving dinner for six in a tiny house

I had heard about the 100 Thing Challenge several months before my move to a 12 foot diameter yurt and I realized it was a whole different way of looking at what I owned. When I began my downsizing process the year before my focus was mostly on volume. As I shrunk my footprint from an 800 square foot 2-bedroom house to a tiny house on wheels called Bayside Bungalow, the question I kept asking myself was “Can I fit this into the tiny house?” I was amazed at how much I was able to fit into a tiny house on wheels. The house fit me and all my stuff because I lean on the density side of the Packing Lightly vs. Packing Densely scale. But it wasn't just stuff. I discovered the Tiny House Sleeps 5 Comfortably and I did plenty of Entertaining in the Tiny House.

So, when I first heard about it, the 100 Thing Challenge, like tiny homes themselves, seemed too radical for me. But, just as I started wondering what it would be like to live in a tiny house once I learned about Dee Williams and her little house, once I learned about A Guy Named Dave and his 100 Thing Challenge it captured my curiosity. I found myself wondering if this thing I was holding/using/fixing would be one of my 100 things. So I read more on Dave’s website and then read his book on my kindle. (My favorite part is when Dave talks about how we tend to own several of something and none of them are just right.) As I read up, I realized that Dave had crafted his own rules about how he would count his possessions and some of them seemed were pretty lax. For instance, although Dave limited himself to one really nice pen, he counted as just one thing his library. On the other hand, my friend and tiny house dweller Tammy Strobel counted her camera and its two lenses as three separate things on her list as she downsized to 72 Things! I realized I would be more willing to hold myself accountable if I made up my own rules, so I jotted them down in My Things Challenge: Who’s Counting Anyway?

Home Sweet Yurt

I moved into the yurt with 198 Things. Instead of just asking myself if something would fit the space, I started asking myself if it fit my life. Was it worth counting? There was a patch last winter when I was Taking Stock Without Stocking Up since my New Year’s Re-Inventory revealed that I had “slipped” to 214 things. I combed through my possessions and purged some things, dipping to 197 and then adding 6 more when I went in search of The Minimalists New Clothes. But since I couldn’t figure out what else to part with, I decided that it was okay to have 203 things. It was right around that time that I realized the number wasn’t so important. What was more important was that I’d gotten the intent of the challenge. I’d downsized till I just couldn’t figure out what else to get rid of. Then I lived with those items to see how it felt. When I did my inventory during a bout of Perfect Packing Weather in August I had just 190 things! So I ended My 200 Things Challenge with fewer things than I’d started it with, which I considered quite a good sign.

I’ve decided that for now I’m not going to track my possessions. I’ll devote that time and energy to other efforts. But I’m so glad I took on My 200 Things Challenge and I’m grateful for all it taught me.

My Storage Locker

During my first year of graduate school I gained access to a locker in the urban planning building, which was a big help. I was living 7 miles from campus in the Cully neighborhood and commuting downtown by bike or bus, so it was fabulous to not have to schlep everything every day.

This week as I wrapped up my coursework, my FINAL final project was to clean out my locker. When I did, I discovered that over time I’d collected quite a bit of stuff. I also realized I wasn’t counting these items in My 200 Things Challenge. So I'm writing all about it to clear my conscience.

My locker became a repository for things that I used when I was on campus (textbooks, snacks, my chalk bag for trips to the climbing wall, etc.) But I had a bad habit of stashing stuff here that I intended to send to someone but never seemed to find the time to actually pop in the mail.

I was also startled to discover how much paperwork I'd collected over the past two years. My new year's resolution was to go paper free so I began Strategizing Digitizing. All my paperwork went into a file in my locker to be scanned (at some later date, of course, when I had time.) By the time I looked at that daunting stack of paperwork I decided I can't possibly need it all. I spent an hour Getting all My Docs in a Row and narrowed it down to just a small collection of documents that I really need. I’ll be scanning documents in the next couple days while I still have access to a high speed scanner.

In the end, there were just a few items to take home. A box of envelopes. My gym gear. Some uneaten snacks. And a gift (from last year!) that I need to mail (not pictured because that would ruin the surprise!) as soon as my sister Heidi sends me her mailing address (nudge, nudge!)

Taking Stock Without Stocking Up

my new fuzzy slippers One of the things I could really relate with as I read The 100 Thing Challenge book (on my Kindle, of course!) was the chapter about how we often own many different items that serve similar purposes because none of the items is just right. As I was Inventorying & Packing Up my things because I was Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House, I got rid of several items that weren’t quite right, hoping to eventually replace them with things that were just right. I’ve done a bit of that replacing but I’ve also realized that some of the things weren’t actually necessary. It seems that sometimes promising myself that I can replace it lets me part with something that I really didn’t need.

After doing a New Years’ Re-Inventory I realized that I wanted to do some clothes shopping. But I also knew that I was 14 items over on My 200 Things Challenge. In addition, over the past month I was gifted a travel spice kit by my aunt the gourmet cook, two beautiful hand-painted tiny bowls from my 10 year old cousin, a hand-printed Old School Stationers letterpress calendar, and a flax seed pillow which is My New Favorite Thing. I also bought myself a pair of cozy slippers to deal with the fact that my floors are chilly when the temps drop below freezing, even after Weatherizing the Yurt. (REI had exactly one pair of the slippers I wanted - they just so happened to be my size and on clearance. My lucky day!)

So today I decided to do a little CPR (categorizing, purging, and reorganizing) on my stuff. Here’s what happened:

taking the not so big life digital
taking the not so big life digital
  • I realized that I prefer having photos cycle through on my desktop to having photo frames sitting around the house, so I was able to part with a couple of my decorations.
  • I checked the Kindle store to see if any of my books were available electronically. I decided to go for a digital version of The Not So Big Life since it’s mostly text and very few pictures. I’ll pass my copy along to some tiny house friends and they can pass it on from there. I decided not to digitize Sarah Suzanka’s Home by Design even though it is available in a digital format because I love the pictures!
  • I noticed that I hadn’t worn my slacks very much this winter so I’ve decided to put them into purgatory. If I don’t feel like digging them back out I might not keep them!
  • I put the white board that has been living on my fridge into purgatory, too, since I usually keep my grocery list in my phone. But I didn’t get rid of it since it’s nice to have a white board when sharing a house and I hope to share a home with someone beloved again someday.
  • I purged my two sweatshirts since I rarely wear them. I ditched two pairs of shoes that were never quite right for me. I decided to replace a couple skirts and a sweater that didn’t suit me with something I liked better. (See The Minimalist’s New Clothes for more about my clothes shopping guidelines.)

things I've decided to keep even though I don't use them every week

I also took a critical look at some things I don’t use much. I suppose I could go down to one cutting board, but it’s nice to have two when cooking with a friend. I don’t use my travel mug often since I’m not a coffee drinker, but sometimes it’s awfully nice being able to bring hot tea or cocoa with me. I don’t use my yoga mat at home since I do yoga at the gym at the university and they supply mats there, but I’d like to have it for when I’m done with school in a few months. I don’t swim very often, but having a swimsuit and goggles still seems like a good idea. So after all this I got myself down to 197 Things. I decided that was good enough. I headed out to find The Minimalist’s New Clothes.

New Year’s Re-Inventory

Although I've done a pretty good job Maintaining the Little Life, a new year is upon us and it seems like a good time to check in on My 200 Things Challenge. I’ve re-inventoried my possessions and I currently have 214 things. You can see My 214 Things List here. So I’ve slipped a little. Oops! Like so many other people, I’ve done a little acquiring over the winter months! 2 water jugs, a 1-burner cooktop, a mini-fridge

By the way, I was impressed with myself for having less than 200 things on My 198 Things List when I moved into my Home, Sweet Yurt in September. But I realized as I was re-inventorying this week that since I did my inventory before moving into the yurt, I wasn’t counting the things I’d be living with that were not yet in my possession. I’m renting the yurt partially furnished with a bedframe, a table and two chairs, and a nightstand. Two water jugs, a one-burner cooktop, and a mini-fridge also came as part of the deal. I also forgot to count my power tools since they were still at the jobsite of My Summer Dream Job. So I when I compared today’s inventory to My 198 Things List, it seems like I’ve acquired 16 new things in the past few months, but about half them I just hadn’t yet counted. I wasn’t deliberately cheating. I just wasn’t taking into account the things that weren’t right there in front of me.

my kitchen in a cupboard

Knowing I had a smidge of wiggle room, I gave myself the okay to purchase a few things. One of my first acquisitions was My Kitchen Cupboard. Shortly after that I got myself a 700-watt microwave, which is smaller and less likely to trip my electrical circuit than the big one that moved here with me. When it started getting cool in October I bought myself another Envi Heater since I really liked living with one in the tiny house last year. I also got myself a Smart Klean laundry ball as I described in I Love my Laundromat even though it was one more thing and according to the rules I made for My 200 Things Challenge I wouldn’t have had to count laundry soap. I also got a dehumidifier to help in Managing Mildew & Moisture. And since I’m now living with rugs again after years of hardwood floors, I got myself a vacuum cleaner. It’s the Bucket Head, which fits onto the top of a 5 gallon bucket. It seemed like a very practical way to go since the bucket can be used for all sorts of other things, too. Yay multi-functionalism!

my Bucket Head vacuum

Most of those were very practical household items, but thanks to Portland’s amazing free boxes I’ve also acquired a few new clothing items. Speaking of clothes, one of the things I noticed as I swapped out my summer wardrobe for my fall wardrobe and then my fall wardrobe for my winter wardrobe is that I have more warm-weather clothes these days. When I tucked away some things away for winter (such as my short-sleeve shirts, capris, sandals, and my hammock) and got out my winter wardrobe (hello, felted wool hat, fuzzy scarves, and cozy gloves!) I realized it might be time for The Minimalist’s New Clothes.

But at the same time, I do really want to get back down to 200 things. I plan to take time over an upcoming weekend for Taking Stock without Stocking Up. I'll also be Getting All My Docs in a Row. I’d like to have a smidge of wiggle room because I do actually have a couple things on my wish list. Top of the list right now are a pair of cozy slippers. These floors are chilly on cold days!

My 200 Things Challenge

A few months ago I decided to take on the 100 Thing Challenge during this school year, but once I decided to count both household and personal possessions, I knew my number would be bigger. As I finished Inventorying & Packing Up, I decided 200 was a good number. I’m currently at 198 things. Here is My 198 Things List.

a few totes stored in my friend's basement

I scratched my head for a while about how to count the things that I own but am not currently using and how to count the things that I’m currently using but don’t own. For instance, I own a house in Walla Walla that I’m renting partially furnished, so I'm well acquainted with the Joys of Home Ownership. I’m not living in my house right now, but it is mine. Meanwhile, I am living in a partially furnished yurt. I’ve decided to just count the things that I'm living with right now. I'll include the things I'm renting or borrowing on my list since they are in my possession. However, for the record, I do own a house and the furniture in it as well as four totes and a food dehydrator that are currently stored in my friend’s basement.

my sweet little bungalow rented out this year

I’ll admit that my loophole is that in some cases I counted a container rather than all the items it contains. For instance, if I’d counted every ring, earring, bracelet, and necklace in my jewelry box I would have had 34 things, but I counted my jewelry box as just one thing. I love jewelry because it’s a way to quickly change my look with pretty little details. Besides, most of my jewelry has a story: it was a gift from a friend, I inherited it from my grandmother, I found it in the night market in Chang Mai, etc. But tend to I think of my jewelry as a single thing, so I decided to count it that way. The trick, I’ve decided is to not overflow the handful of boxes I’ve allowed myself. (For the sake of honesty, I did actually inventory everything that I would have to purchase separately, so I have two counts. For instance, if my bike was stripped and I had to replace my water bottle, lights, helmet, rack, paniers, etc. it would be more than one thing. My true count is 577 things, but by my practical count it’s 198 things.)

So I plan to live this next year with 200 items or less. I’ll try to adopt the mantra from the Non-Consumer Advocate website: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Moving Day is Sunday so the challenge begins then. Here goes!

A Year of Little Living

moving into the tiny house a year ago Somehow it's already been nearly a year since I moved into a 121 square foot tiny house on wheels and wrote my first blog post: The Tiny House Adventure Begins. And what a year it's been!

This afternoon I was a virtual guest speaker for the Tiny House Design-Build Class at Yestermorrow and this evening I had a great conversation with my friend Derin about building tiny houses. Both of these got me thinking about how many amazing tiny opportunities I've had over the past year.

Through my internship with Orange Splot I coordinated the Pedalpalooza Accessory Dwellings and Tiny House Bike Tours and wrote several guest posts for Eli also connected me with the Space Efficient Housing Working Group and we've helped to plan the upcoming Build Small, Live Large Summit. I'll be presenting a session about tiny houses with Dee Williams of PAD Tiny Houses and Derin Williams of UrbaNest Northwest.

Tiny House Potluck

Speaking of Dee Williams, she helped me connect with other tiny housers in the area and our contacts spiderwebbed out from there. In the process I have met lots of great folks who are building, designing, living in, or dreaming about tiny houses. We've now had several potlucks and created the Portland Tiny Houses Facebook group and the Tiny House Network Google group. I've profiled A Tiny House Truck, A Tiny Natural House, and Advanced Fort Construction. We've chatted about the joys and challenges of the Little Life and helped each other with designing, building, troubleshooting, tiny house moves, and sharing resources and infromation. Dee also invited Brittany Yunker and I to participate in the Portland Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop in June. I am extremely grateful to both Brittany and Dee for helping me to make these connections with other amazing tiny housers.

going whole hog on a tiny house build

Over spring break I had the chance to help a friend built the shell of her Tiny Barn and I apprenticed with Orange Splot for My Summer Dream Job: Tiny House Design Building. In July we got Brittany's Tiny House On the Road again and I lived in an ADU which I dubbed My Summer Garden Cottage. I spent my days Going Whole Hog on the Tiny House, working on Tiny House Insulation, Roofing, and Interior Walls. The tiny house was featured on the Build it Green (BIG) Tour in September. I was able to use these design-building experiences as my practicum project for my Certificate in Sustainable Design and Building at Yestermorrow Design Build School in Vermont.

home, sweet yurt

I've been interviewed by journalism students for OR Magazine, by newspapers like the Portland Tribune, by a Canadian TV station, and by Vermont Public Radio. I'm also scheduled to do an interview with my friend John for  Portlandia's The Real Portland. Meanwhile, I've considered a plethora of tiny house issues such as Tiny Home Improvement, Shrinky-Dink PorchesTop 10 Reasons to Pick An Envi Heater, Creative Tiny House Storage Solutions, why Tiny Houses Turn Their Backs on the Street, and Tiny House Insurance (or lack thereof).

Now I'm Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House and, inspired by the 100 Thing Challenge, I'm currently Inventorying & Packing Up so that I can embark upon My Things Challenge. For the next school year I'll be living in a 113 square foot yurt in inner Portland, so the tiny adventures will continue. Thanks for following along everyone. Here's to another great year of the Little Life!