by Marsha Rakestraw

Today I learned about a man who has created a 100 Thing Challenge for himself.

The goal? “By November 12, 2008 I will only have 100 personal things. I will live with only 100 personal things for one full year, until November 12, 2009.”

Dave Bruno is keeping the blogosophere apprised of his progress (and sharing about other issues related to consumerism) through his blog. Dave’s efforts are catching a lot of attention; recently his efforts were noted in Time magazine.

I was saddened to see that one columnist’s response (link unavailable) to Dave’s campaign was basically, “We all should probably have less stuff, but reducing one’s possessions to such a small number is unrealistic, and I’m perfectly happy with all the stuff I have, like my 9 watches. Such things are not for me.”

One element this columnist is ignoring is the impact of all our stuff, from its beginning in whatever form it existed before, to what happens to it after we’re done with it.

Each thing that comes into our possession, no matter how briefly, has an impact on people, animals and the planet; depending on the thing and how it was made (and how it is disposed of), that impact can be positive, or quite destructive. And, as Annie Leonard mentions in The Story of Stuff, “99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport … is trashed within six months.” So, all that stuff in our houses and u-store-it units, is the 1%.

Even those people who are trying to come into balance with their stuff struggle to develop a true healthy relationship with things — to really understand wants versus needs.

Several months ago I read a book called Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. Although my husband and I have been following a voluntary simplicity philosophy for many years now (thanks to books such as Voluntary Simplicity, Your Money or Your Life, and The Simple Living Guide), I love reading up on how other people are making positive changes in their lives, and hopefully getting a new tip or two.

Although I applaud Ms Levine for her efforts, I was disappointed that her definition of “not buying” included $50 haircuts, $350 glasses, and similar purchases.

Likewise, the author of Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less, seemed to approach her temporary experiment (giving up one “vice” for each month, for a month) as an exercise in self-denial, lack, and deprivation. There doesn’t seem to be much critical thinking, introspection, or focus on making choices through a lens of joy and authenticity, and at the end of each month she pretty much returns to her regular habits.

In a world where most of the population is struggling to live on less than $2 a day and has very little (often not nearly enough), what is a healthy, compassionate, sustainable relationship with stuff? How much is enough? 100 things? 9 watches? $50 haircuts?

We can develop a healthy relationship of enough by tuning out the siren song of “Buy this and you’ll be happy/manly/sexy/rich/desirable/loved/successful/worthy.” Instead, we can focus on what we truly need and what brings us deep, authentic fulfillment; we can pay attention to the impact of each “thing” on people, animals, and the planet; and we can choose creative, clever, sustainable, humane ways to meet our needs … and have that little bit of extra just for fun.