things challenge

Portland Tribune Article: How Hard is it to Live with Less?

a photo of me and Raffi taken in the Sweet Pea by Jaime Valdez of the Portland Tribune A couple weeks ago I was interviewed by Peter Korn of the Portland Tribune. (My first feature in the Trib in April 2012 was called Home Tiny Home by Jason Vondersmith.)

I met Peter while tabling for the Breathe Building at Portland's Earth Day Festival and we got to talking about micro housing and downsizing. He told me he's been doing articles that address these topics and wanted to pick my brain. (You can also check out his recent article about whether people living small give up their cars.)

So we met up in a coffee shop for a chat. Peter also talked to my friends and fellow tiny house dwellers Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens and Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings. Today the article we were interviewed for came out in the Portland Tribune. It's called How Hard is it to Live with Less? Here's an excerpt:

Two hundred things seems about right for Lina Menard. The Northeast Portland tiny house resident has tried for a few years to live with less stuff. She teaches workshops in downsizing. She thinks living with fewer material possessions is not only responsible from an ecological point of view, but frees her to live a happier, more meaningful life.

And yes, her “200 things” has a little bit of cheat in it. She counts her jewelry box as one item, even though there are about 30 pieces of jewelry inside. Her bike counts as one, though it has paniers, a water bottle and lights that could be considered separate items. A truer count of her possessions, Menard says, would be more like 577. But that’s not the point.

Menard used to live in a nice, two-bedroom house before she took the 200 Things Challenge, her version of the “100 Thing Challenge,” inspired by Dave Bruno’s 2010 book about living a simple life with only 100 possessions. So she had stuff she had to lose. And getting rid of stuff, she says, is hard.

For example, there was her grandmother’s fur coat. Menard had worn it to high school dances and the coat was associated with all sorts of pleasant memories. Still, it had to go. So Menard discarded the coat in a way that would attach a new meaning to it. Research revealed that the Humane Society of the United States accepts fur coats to help in its wildlife rescue program, the fur comforting cubs of the same species.

“It seemed like an appropriate choice because it kind of sent the fur back where it should have been,” Menard says.

Most of us are surrounded by thousands of material possessions, only a few of which deliver pleasure, say academic researchers and downsizing experts such as Menard. In her Less is More workshop, Menard has encountered young couples intrigued by tiny house living as well as baby boomers transitioning from houses to apartments and lives with more travel.

So why is it so hard to downsize?

Portland is part of the problem. Yes, the city is a national center for the tiny house movement and as an adjunct, the

living-with-less ethic. But that means there’s also a lot of free stuff here.

“Especially in Portland, you don’t have to buy things to acquire a lot,” Menard says. “Learning to say no to free things is actually a challenge.”

On the other hand, the popularity of tiny houses and micro-apartments here, and the many communal efforts such as the city’s tool libraries, make Portland a leader in living with less. One lesson Menard says she’s learned is that an Oregon-style conscience can get in the way of downsizing.

“The process wasn’t so much about tearing myself away from possessions as it was trying to figure out a way for them to be somewhere else,” she says. “I was responsible for these things, and because of my environmental ethic, I didn’t want to throw things away unless they were truly garbage.”

Downsizing became an emotional process for Menard, and an analytical one. Throughout each day, before moving into her 121-square-foot tiny house, she was mentally prioritizing every object she owned. She was just 27, not old enough, she thought, to have accumulated much.

“But it was still amazing to me how many things I had that I had never intended to own and how few of them had meaning and how few of them had a story,” she says. She took photographs of objects that did have meaning but were still destined for a new location. Among the items that made her 200 things cut: the blanket she had as a child, a hammock from Costa Rica, her laptop and cell phone, one mattress, one pressure cooker, and a favorite teacup she had brought back from Prague.

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.

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!