The 100 Thing Challenge
A man writes about how he challenged himself to live with a hundred or fewer personal possessions for a short amount of time.
“I have come to believe that contentment is a virtue we can aspire to rather than a state we can achieve.”
“We’re so distracted, we’re missing our own lives. The parent who records his kid’s dance recital or first steps or graduation is so busy trying to capture the moment — to create a thing that proves they were there — they miss out on actually living and enjoying the moment. I’ve done this before with my camera. I have jockeyed for position, bumping elbows with other parents so I could get into the best spot to look through the viewfinder of my SLR to capture the moment of my daughter’s dance recital. Five-year-old Phoebe was so cute in her little sailor outfit, tapping away. And I got some great pictures. It’s just that while I remember getting the pictures, I do not recall the moment. So much of the time we don’t trust ourselves to experience our world without stuff. Things so often don’t enhance our lives, but are barriers to fully living our lives.”
“Some things never get put together, or back together, in our lives. I have found that out. It is tempting to buy the materials we think we need to build what went unfinished in the past. American-style consumerism likes to sell construction stuff for that. Any one of us can go to the mall and browse through dozens of stores that will sell us all we need to fix things up. When we shop we sometimes act as if we are time-traveling general contractors. We buy components we think we’ll use when we zip back to that dreadful moment in the past to patch things together. Make it all right.
But the ruins in our lives don’t get fixed. They get grieved for, or else they get messier. We can put things right today but we need to refocus our attention. We can live the sort of lives that will get things working better tomorrow. But we cannot travel back through time and change the past. We don’t change our imperfect lives by purchasing things right now that we think would have fixed our problems back then.”
“Faith is not an option for humans. I like what Wendell Berry says about it: “Our instinct for faith is like a well-bred Border collie, who, lacking cattle or sheep, will herd children or chickens or cats. If we don’t direct our faith toward God or into some authentic ‘way’ of the soul, then we direct it toward progress or science or weaponry or education or nature or human nature or doctors or gurus or genetic engineers or computers or NASA.” To his list, let me add, “or shopping.””
“I wanted to be a master woodworker so that I could arrive at a place of contentment. Neither the skill of woodworking nor the sense of contentment I thought it would bring me was for sale. Tools were for sale, though. And so I bought tools.”
“I picture our lives the way that the novelist Frederick Buechner describes a fairy tale: “It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive.” Living precisely does not guarantee results, because it is hard to be sure that we are always doing precisely the right thing.”
“That is the message of American-style consumerism. My human life is not enough. There are purchases upon purchases that will transform me into something more than what I am. We have too little tolerance for almost perfect Wednesdays. Most of us have opportunities throughout our time on earth — right here and now — to soak up joy. Our lives are capable of accommodating pleasures beyond our wildest imaginations. Our minds can process and our souls can nurture abundant joy. But I have deceived myself and drained my hopes and frustrated my relationships and busted my ass striving for perfect days. Days not meant for any creature, not even a human like me, who can shop.”
“We have, in fact, no right to ask the world to conform to our desires,” writes Wendell Berry. “Sooner or later, if we hope to grow up, we have to confront the opposite imperative: that our rights and the realization of our desires are limited by human nature, by human community, and by the nature of the places in which we live.”