Photo: paalia

It was seven years ago and I was tired when it happened. I don’t remember what put me on tilt. I had spent too much time in one place. All the stuff I had collected was holding me down. No person needs three George Foreman Grills. Eight pairs of snowboard boots. Four old computers. That one’s got a floppy drive. Good grief. Too many old phones, burners, and iPods to count. Then a box of cassette Walkmans. An entire box. It was a junk show.

I deleted it all. Everything gone. Goodbye bullshit. Have a box and get the hell out. I sold some. I burned some. I gave some away. The rest I dumped in the landfill. Finally I took a few heirlooms and buried them inside a metal box in Reno. I left myself with a toothbrush, a lighter, and a passport. Everything was simple again.

That night, using my shoes as a pillow, I slept on the floor in my empty master bedroom. The steam-cleaned carpet was soft and my jacket was a good blanket. The central heating rumbled and the fireplace was stoked with hardwood. I was comfortable. I had forgotten to check and see if my phone was plugged in and charging. It didn’t matter. Then I closed my eyes and sailed away into my first flying dream since being a kid. It was good and I slept well.

The next day I went to the department store because I needed a fresh pair of socks. I remember discovering a brilliant sale on shirts, but I’m not sure what happened after that. I must have blacked out. When I finally made it back to the house, it took me three trips to unload all the stuff. Shit. I was doing it again. I went out for one thing and came back with a flood.

I needed a dam. The number 100 sounded good. There was no meaning to the number itself. It just seemed nice and round, like traveling to 50 states, or eating 50 hardboiled eggs. I was inspired and determined again. I was moving forward.

As I became lighter my gaze became sharper.

Inspiration was one thing, execution another. The problems started with my stupid toothbrush. I couldn’t decide whether it was a possession or a disposable thing. It felt more important than a paper cup from a coffeeshop, but it was designed for limited use and I was supposed to throw it away. I couldn’t decide, so I told my brain to shut up. My gut knew a toothbrush is a possession. I wrote this down and put a checkmark next to it. My passport was the second item. Also easy. My pants were confusing. Pants is plural and sounds like two things, but it’s actually just one. Same situation for socks. One sock is trash. But a pair of socks is a possession. Okay. So counting is the hardest part. But I suffered through it and began discovering that through studying my things and managing my new checklist, there was a logic beginning to emerge.

The logic I decided on is not important. It’s the simple act of counting that has value. My life changed when I stepped off the merry-go-round and took an inventory. It changed when I stepped back and thought about not only what I owned, but what it meant to hold onto something.

The cost of carry

Beyond the cost of purchase, there is the burden of ownership. Ounces make pounds. The less I wanted, the less I needed. I also discovered that I could afford better things. And as I bought better things they began lasting longer. I stopped suffering from the constant cost of replacing goods.

Addicted to getting lighter, I decided a loan could be considered a possession and focused my resources on dumping debt. Less than a year later I was debt free. Then I got mad at the bank for making interest on me, so I sold my truck. I closed alternate bank accounts and cut up credit cards because I could only afford one debit card on my list of 100 possessions. I sublet my house in Lake Tahoe and lived on the road touring.

Ego-depletion

Everything I owned could now fit into one bugout-bag. I never had to check luggage. Without distractions burning up my bandwidth, it became easier to make decisions and form new memories. I no longer felt exhausted before noon everyday. All of my high-quality choices could be focused on meaningful tasks. I no longer blacked out in department stores and woke up with piles of new stuff. I was living on the road collecting experience and knowledge instead.

My head was up. I could see my surroundings. As I became lighter my gaze became sharper. Things moved slower. I was annoyed less and started smiling more. At night I started falling asleep. My dreams became more honest and provoking. I started making things.

Limits and creativity

Creativity exploded in my life. I no longer worried about whether my work would survive the next 400 years. I didn’t care about how it would sell. Instead, I made works for friends and gave pieces to interesting strangers. As demand increased, it was easy to sell my work. I no longer suffered over holding onto a piece. The work was never mine to keep. It was mine to share.

Six years have passed since I deleted all my stuff. Since that time I’ve been all over the Americas, not living in one place for more than six months. It’s been 12 countries and 48 states so far. But the numbers don’t matter. All that counts is the distinction between what you will own and what you will experience. It’s the stories that count.

So travel light and become humble strong. Take the headphones off. Lift your head. Know what you want. Memories will etch. Experience will anchor. Opportunity will present. You will be free to dream, explore, and discover.

My list lives here: kitanderson.com/100-possessions

You don’t need it, but you have a dozen or more of it. For me it was too many snowboard boots and a library of DVDs. How about you?

Don’t start with 100. I was 28 and single when I did. Perhaps your situation is different. Maybe 1,000 sounds impossible. What’s your number?

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