You Can’t Take it with You

… or at least I can’t take it all with me. I had already decided to take on My Things Challenge by the time I realized I'd be Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House (from a 121 square foot tiny house on wheels to a 114 square foot yurt!) But I knew the smaller space would help hold me accountable. It certainly has. As I began Inventorying & Packing Up (which took quite a while!) I realized that some things just wouldn’t fit comfortably with me in the teeny space. So I put a big pile of things near the street this morning with a free sign and posted an ad on Craigslist. One of things I gave away was the big green velveteen foam-filled pillow chair I bought from Robb’s Pillow Furniture at the Oregon Country Fair. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal over the years, but I knew I wouldn’t have space for it and I figured it was time to pass it on. I was delighted when Rocky, the guy who taught me to tile told me he’d snagged the pillow chair from my pile on his way to work. Hopefully his kids have fun jumping on it!

I wheeled out the big suitcase I’ve only used when I went studied abroad in Italy in 2003 and whenever I schlep my possessions from one house to the next. I haven’t checked luggage since 2003 – see Packing Lightly vs. Packing Densely – so I realized I just don’t need it. I set out the clothes that don’t fit me just right and when I came back out with another armload I was pleased a woman my size had stopped to go through the pile. She was as happy to add my stuff to her wardrobe as I was to get rid of it! (For more about tiny wardrobes, check out The Minimalist's New Clothes.)

By evening my free pile was gone and those items had been dispersed across the city. Hopefully they’ve found good homes!

So did I get down to 100 Things? Nope, not quite. This year I'm doing My 200 Things Challenge. But Who's Counting Anyway?

Inventorying & Packing Up

Since I knew I’d be moving twice this summer I figured the first move would give me a chance to do an inventory and the time in a new space would help me to evaluate what I really use. I’m now turning my attention to my second move, which means re-inventorying and beginning to pack up the things I won’t use in the next couple weeks. Since I’m Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House, I’ve got some tangible limits on what I’ll be able to bring with me. Here goes downsizing again! When I started My Things Challenge I initially planned to keep two separate lists of 100 things: personal items and household items. The guy named Dave who started the 100 Thing Challengeonly counted personal possessions among his 100 things. He counted his clothes, his car, his books, and his favorite pen, but he didn’t count any of the household items he shared with his partner and children. So, following in his footsteps, I was planning to keep a list of household items and separate list of personal possessions. (See my other rules at My Things Challenge: Who’s Counting Anyway?) But since I’m the only person in my household, I decided this week when I started inventorying that I’ll keep just one list. I’m curious to see what number I’ll pick, what my allowance will be. I've got a hunch I'll be picking a number higher than 100.

One hundred twenty-three things… and counting! (To find out what number I ended up with, click here.)

Packing Lightly vs. Packing Densely

2 weeks in Benelux in 2008 with my friend Katie and my backpack I’ve never been good at packing lightly. This might come as a surprise to people who see the minuscule size of my luggage. I haven’t checked a bag on a plane, train, or bus since 2003. That fall I overpacked when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I brought a big backpack on my back, a small pack on my front, and I wheeled a big suitcase and a small one. Then I discovered that they sell shampoo in Italy, too. And clothes. Beautiful clothes.

I can’t remember now what I thought I needed badly enough that I should schlep it on a three-month international adventure. What I do remember is how liberating it felt the second-to-last week I was in Italy when I took myself to Venice for the weekend with just my guide bag. Its contents I do remember: guide book, wallet, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, extra pair of underwear, extra long sleeve shirt, cell phone, camera, and keys. These ten items became my ten essentials for travel. All my subsequent packing has started with this core set of necessities.

traveling Italy in 2003 with just a guide bag for the weekend

Three months of exploring Italy taught me that I needed very little to get around and that the less I brought the freer I would be to explore. The thing was, I didn’t pack lightly. I packed densely. The bag I brought was tiny, but it was full. When I pack a bag, I do pack it. When I load up a car it’s a game of Tetris. I think compression straps and bungee cords may have been invented with me in mind.

Since then I’ve fit my sleeping bag (and its liner), my work boots, my Carhartts, and everything else I needed for a week-long service trip into a carry-on bag. I packed mostly the same stuff for the three-week core curriculum for Yestermorrow’s Certificate in Sustainable Design and Building. (I discovered one doesn’t need more stuff for three weeks than for one.) I’ve done two-week vacations to Denmark, South Africa, and Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands) with a carry-on. My favorite was probably my two-week trip to Thailand with an “overnight” bag. (You know, the one you put over the handle of your wheeled suitcase.) Granted, I did bring a few extra things back and that required picking up a new bag at the night market in Chaing Mai. But everything I brought along with me to Thailand in the first place fit into a very dense cubic foot of luggage.

2 weeks in Thailand with my best friend and my overnight bag (on the ground on the left)

I’ve employed similar dense packing strategies at home. I discovered I can put my plates inside my pie pan so they’re all easily accessible. I’ve added temporary shelves to my permanent shelves to maximize the space. I’ve placed hooks strategically to take advantage of vertical surfaces. I’ve added drawer dividers so I can keep things organized and fill each drawer to the brim. I use my space uber efficiently, so as long as I can cram one more thing into the space I’ve allocated for it, I figure I’m doing okay.

a layover in London (enroute to 2 weeks in South Africa) in 2011 with a 35 L pack

I guess that’s why My Things Challenge has been such a challenge for me. Whereas I’ve been a minimalist when it comes to space, I haven’t necessarily been a minimalist when it comes to stuff. For instance, I’ve felt good about keeping my clothing contained to a single dresser, but I haven’t stopped to question whether I will actually manage to wear all eight tank tops during our measly short version of a northwest summer.

Space and count are both quantitative measures, of course, but they ask me to measure differently. (I do try to focus on quality, too, owning fewer but nicer things.) I think I like dense packing better. I like having my container and the freedom to fill it with whatever I can make fit inside. But I’ve found the 100 Things Challenge an interesting game. It has made me consider my possessions differently and it has helped me eliminate some of the clutter so I have a little more wiggle room inside my drawers and cupboards. It’s given me a little extra space to let something else into my life. I'm leaving room for more of life's souvenirs.