Preface: Towards the end of 2011 I started blogging about my desire to reduce the amount of “stuff” that had built up around me recently. (If you are curious to see the thought process you can read those posts here, here, here, here and here, but I’ll recap the important parts in a moment.) This isn’t actually a new thing for me, I’ve been writing and talking about it for sometime, but I was beginning to feel that over the last year or so things had gotten out of hand and I needed to take drastic measures to get them back on track. I’ve learned that having a ton of stuff around me really freaks me out and the more of it that piles up, the more shaky I get so I needed to come up with a plan to correct things. And so I did, and I created this year long challenge for myself which until today I didn’t have a name for – though now I do, welcome to The Year of Less.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Addition: I can only buy one new thing a month. That’s 12 for the entire year. This will force me to really consider what kind of purchases I’m making, and hopefully completely eliminate impulse buys.
  2. Subtraction: I need to get rid of (at least) one thing every day.
  3. Replacement: Should something I need break beyond repair or get lost somehow and I feel the need to replace it, I can only do so by getting rid of two similar items. This is a little bit of a loophole that allows me to add an item but still results in a net decrease in items I own.

Clarification: I need to express clearly that this is a challenge to reduce stuff and clutter, it’s not a challenge to save money or fight capitalism or starve myself, it also isn’t anything I’m imposing on anyone else. Thus, consumables (food, gasoline, etc) dont’ count. Digital items (mp3s, ebooks, etc) that don’t add physical clutter to my life don’t count. My wife and kid don’t count. Etc. Items I’m getting rid of might be sold, donated, or trashed, but they have to go one way or the other. So you can argue any minor detail and try to poke holes in it, but at the end of the day I’m doing this for me and the only one I need to make sure I’m happy with is me, so I’m trying it, and I’ll see how it works. And because I tend to be obsessive about things sometimes…

Documentation: I’m going to keep track of everything. I’ve created a spreadsheet to keep track of items that come in or go out. I’ll be blogging here about the process and what I’m getting rid of and why, as well as talking about my thought process that led me to choose those items to get rid of. I don’t think I’m going to do a “today I got rid of…” blog post, though I might mention it on my Google+. I will likely do weekly round up posts highlighting specific items, and discussing things that come up. I have a suspicion that actively refusing to add items to your life is not as easy as it sounds, so I want to keep track of how that goes.

Also, I know that the first few days, weeks even, of this are not going to be thrilling. If I have to get rid of 365 items this year, it’s an easy bet that the first however many of those aren’t going to be too heartbreaking or difficult. Which is why the round up posts seem to make more sense right now. To that point, over the past week or two I’ve been thinking about this and pulling stuff aside to help get the ball rolling. I have a box full of clothes to donate that I thought would be padding for the first weeks of this, but my easing in plans had a wrench in them this morning when I had a run in with the security at DisneyLand.

*Note: This is the end of the general project portion of this post and I’m about to delve into the specifics of one single thing that happened today, which, if you are reading this in June because you just found out about it and what to know what the hell I’m talking about, might not be of any interest.

It’s the first day of the new year and so Tara and I decided to join some friends at DisneyLand and start the year off at the Happiest Place on Earth. As we were walking up to the gates I thought about the Swiss Army Pocket Knife I had clipped to my pocket.

Let me jump back a moment, I really like knives. Pocket knives, fixed blade knives, all kinds of knives. I was a boy scout and find a solid pocket knife to be one of the most useful and indispensable things I carry every day. Of all the knives I have, this SAK is the least threatening and the most utilitarian. It has a screwdriver for crying out loud. It’s also the one I carry more than any other because it’s so harmless. Every kid in my elementary school had one. Anyway, I realized I had it clipped to my pocket and thought for a moment I should hide it. But then I’m that guy who is hiding a knife to smuggle it into DisneyLand, which is kinda worse I thought, so I just pushed those thoughts out of my head.

The security line is a joke. Security theater at it’s best. They tell you to open bags so they can see inside to make sure you aren’t bringing in anything you shouldn’t be, but they only look at the top and really have no idea what is in the bags. So the lady looks in my bag. “What’s all this?” she asks? “Diapers, some snacks and a change of clothes for my kid” I reply, and point to my kid.

“OK, can I ask what that clip is on your pocket?”
“A swiss army knife”
“OK sir, you aren’t going to be allowed to bring that into the park”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, you need to leave immediately and go put it in your car or surrender it here”

I’m quickly annoyed at this point. Why didn’t I listen to my inner voice when I was walking up and just hide the thing in my pocket? And why is this such a big deal. This lady has no idea what is actually in my backpack and she’s happy to let me walk in with that. The guy in front of me in line had a leatherman on his belt which has a 3X larger blade than this little knife and he walked in unquestioned. OK I’m more than annoyed. I hand the bag to Tara and say I’ll be back and turn around to walk back to the car. Except this is stupid. I’ve had this SAK in my pocket every single time I’ve been to DisneyLand since I got it close to 5 years ago. I’ve never accidentally stabbed or robbed anyone. And in fact, given the bit of training I do have you could actually argue that people might be safer with me having something like that. Anyway. I’m rambling here, and too many thoughts are running through my head.

And the car is far away. So I say forget this and hide the knife behind a phonebooth and plan to get it on the way out. Then I head back to the park.

I clear security without issue, get in and start looking for Tara. And then a security guy comes up to me and says “What did you do with that knife?” My mind races, they must have been following me and know I wasn’t gone long enough to go to my car or even saw me ditch it. So I say I hid it outside of the park so I can get it on my way home. He says that won’t fly and we need to go get it right now. Again, this is a TINY little folding pocket knife, so I’m really ticked off that so much fuss is being made – but at the same time, I know I’m in the wrong and there’s nothing I can do about it. I go with the security guy and get it and he explains, nicely even considering how impatient and shitty I was quickly getting that either I give him the knife right then and there or I don’t get to go into the park today. Those are my two choices. It’s an easy decision, it sucks, but it’s an easy decision. I give him the knife and go on my way.

I know that was a long story, but see, we’re back on track again. Day one of The Year of Less and I’m already sans one item, before 9am. Except it’s not something I wanted to get rid of. My first thought – I’ll just order a new one. This was immediately replaced by my second thought – Can’t do that, it breaks the rules. Shit. 9 hours into this and I’m already facing running into my own rules. I decide to stop worrying about it and enjoy myself and assume the answer would come to me sometime during the day. Which it did. I have a lot of pocket knives, some I barely touch for any number of reasons. This one I really liked and used all the time, so I’d replace it but would need to adhere to my 3rd rule about replacement and get rid of 2 similar items in order to do that. So that’s what I’m going to do. Further documentation forthcoming.