Year of Less

One ____ to rule them all

With the exception of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll I’m a firm believer that less is more. Well maybe not so much the drugs since I don’t touch that stuff, but you get the idea. And if you’ve been following my writings for a while that shouldn’t be a revelation. Having lots of something makes you choose between them. It adds a extra layer of decision making to the decision you are making and forces you to think about something other than your main goal.

Example: You need to wear pants, so you decide to put some on. But then you have to decide *which* pants to put on. These ones or those ones. Oh the ones you want are dirty. Shit. Those ones might work but will they match your shoes? It’s a big headache. And now you still don’t have pants on because you are all worked up trying t decide which pants to wear. You created a new problem for yourself while trying to solve a simple one. If instead of having 10 different pairs of pants that you have to decide on you just had 10 pair of the same pants, you wouldn’t even think about this. Just grab one and go.

That might be extreme for some people, but there’s an argument to be made for having the one version of something that you know works, is made well, and will last you forever rather than lots of more specialized versions that only work for some things which constantly force you to make decisions. Another example – if you are a photographer and you have one camera and one lens then the only thing you think about is the photos you are taking. If you have several cameras and several lenses then you are constantly assessing your decision of which gear to use and if you should change lenses for this shot, etc. Simplicity lets you focus on the main issue at hand. (Side note: I brought 2 cameras and 4 lenses on a trip I’m on right now and realized this mistake almost instantly – upside is I think I know what I’m getting rid of when I get back)

This is why I was completely excited to find The Ones which is a site by some designers focusing on “the one” tool (or item) they’ve chosen to do the job for them. I really enjoyed reading their thoughts and rational behind each item. In a way it’s sort of the inverse of what I was doing with year of less, where I was documenting items I was getting rid of because I wanted to simplify. The Ones focuses on what they kept (or what they chose in the first place, if they chose wisely). Reading it immediately gave me more ideas of places I could pair down. For instance, when Tara and I got married we combined most of our kitchen stuff resulting in us having 7-8 kitchen knives of various sizes. We use one all the time and the others just sit on the rack. I hadn’t even thought about that until reading on The Ones about the one kitchen knife they have and use. Brilliant.

Another thing, my tool box. So much in there I’ve never touched. I need to weed out the cruft.

Travel helps with this a lot too. What do you pack and what do you leave behind. If you left it behind, that probably says something. If you can’t imagine going out without it, that says something too. I like forcing myself to constantly evaluate the stuff I choose to surround myself with. If you pick just one thing that can do the job well, and is beautifully designed, then you’ll appreciate it more and pay more attention to what you want to do, rather than what you are doing it with.

Year Of Less Update #7

It’s time for me to admit defeat.

Not in a “I failed, I give up” way, but in a “I went about this all wrong and set my self up to fail, but I learned a lot and have a better idea for a second try already” way.

The simple reason is that I just made too many rules.

Not that it was too many rules to keep track of, I tried to keep them simple enough from the start, but aiming to do something every single day, especially when you have a rather hectic schedule to begin with is difficult. So I often found myself gaming my own rules – not because I wanted to get away with something, but rather because I was running late or I’d forgotten and was just trying to do things to cross them off the list. At 11:15 PM I’d be digging through my t-shirt drawer to find one I could quickly throw out so that I could say I got rid of something that day. Which of course was disappointing, so I’d make new rules to compensate and the whole things kept getting more difficult. Add travel and everything else to the mix and I should have known there was no way this was going to work out as planned.

Year Of Less Update #6

My last Year of Less update was on Feb 1st, and since we’re firmly into April at this point I feel like I owe everyone an update. People keep asking, hows the year of less going? I’ve been answering with “it’s going!” which is dodging the question a little bit without getting too specific. As this is an official update I don’t really get to dodge anything, and as much as I’d like to say that everything has been working perfectly, that’s not the case. 3 months down and I can very honestly say I was overzealous on what I thought I could pull off. That isn’t to say it’s a failure or that I’ve stopped – far from it, but my regime of daily requirements turned out to be not very realistic. But that’s still fairly general, so let’s look at each of the 3 pillars of this damn thing.

Year Of Less update #5: 1 month down

Today is February 1st so I’ve been doing this Year of Less project for a full month now and I’m really really really really enjoying it. I haven’t been doing it long enough for major impact on my life, but I’ve certainly forced a lot of thought and conscious editing of things. I thought I’d give a quick update on that. Numbers wise I’ve gotten rid of 98 things. In 31 days, so I actually think the “how much did you get rid of” part of this is becoming the least interesting. I’ll get rid of a lot of stuff, and that goes without saying now I think.

But what am I getting rid of?

That’s more interesting.

Especially when I have a goal to get rid of one thing a day, and it’s been a super busy day and all the sudden at 10PM I realize I haven’t gotten rid of anything. Which has happened. And then I scramble and find something I have no use for and I can’t believe I’ve been holding onto for some dumb amount of time. When I look at the doc I’ve been keeping, there’s days when I got rid of 5 things, 10 things, 25 things… those are the days when I was actively working on it and are expected. But the days I only got rid of one thing are the days when I probably scrambled a bit. So what are some of those things?

– A remote control to a broken roomba that I threw out months ago.
– A stack of membership cards to airport lounges that expired years ago.
– A keychain flash light that hasn’t worked in a year but I had been keeping in my dresser thinking I could fix it some day.
– A battery charger for something I don’t even know what it could be.
– Box for an iPhone 3Gs. Just the box. What?!
– The charger for the FitBit I lost a year ago.
– Old eyeglasses with out of date prescription and broken frames

This list goes on and on. All of this is obviously junk, but it’s junk I’ve had for over a year in most cases. Junk I haven’t used in over a year in most cases. And since I moved within the last year, it’s junk I packed up and moved with me in most cases. What the hell was I thinking? Forcing myself to find these things and get rid of them is pretty great.

I’ve also noticed how often I’m resisting the impulse to “1 click buy” things on amazon or whatever. I see something cool a friend has, I look it up online and before I realize it I’m staring at it on Amazon. Last year I would have impulse bought the hell out of that stuff. I did impulse buy the hell out of it. Now I’m catching myself, and at the moment I’m bummed, because I have this mental desire to buy stuff. Which is insane, because it’s something I didn’t know existed minuted earlier, and all the sudden I have this feeling that my life won’t be complete without it. But the next day I’m PSYCHED that I stuck to my guns and didn’t buy something I really didn’t need.

Which is really the reason I’m doing this. So that’s pretty awesome. Month 2, here we go!

The Year Of Less update #4 – A new exception

I’m now 26 days into this crazy experiment so I thought another update was in order. Things have been moving along pretty swell until last week when a problem hit me smack in the face. I’ve laid out pretty clearly in the rules that I’m supposed to get rid of one item a day and that getting rid of a few items on one day does not exempt me from having to get rid of something the following day. Every day, gotta get rid of at least one thing. So what’s the problem? Travel.

Shit. I didn’t think about that before.

I travel a lot, and I pack very light, only bringing what I really need on a trip so what am I supposed to do, bring extra stuff to get rid of along the way? That seems silly. I realized this upon landing in NYC last week with one bag for a 5 day trip. So I guess I found another exemption to the rule and need to figure a solution to it.

I think the best option is just to say that I have to get rid of one item every day WHEN I’M HOME IN LOS ANGELES, and that getting rid of multiple items doesn’t exempt me from having to give away something the following day UNLESS I’M TRAVELING AWAY FROM HOME, IN WHICH CASE I HAVE TO BOOK END THE TRIP WITH ENOUGH REDUCTIONS TO COVER THE DAYS I’M OUT OF TOWN.

That make sense? If I’m gone for 5 days, either on the day before I leave or on the day I return, I have to get rid of at least 6 items to cover the days I’m gone. So that at the end of the month I still have a net loss of at least one item for every day of the month. If you think of a better way to handle that please let me know. That said, on my 5 day NYC trip I still managed to get rid of one item, pawning off a shirt that never quite fit me just right to a friend for whom it fit a bit better. I also came home with a nice new set of coffee cups which was the perfect excuse to get rid of a ton of mix-matched mugs I had at the house.

And the count totals so far, 26 days in:
I’ve gotten rid of 88 items
44 of those have been trashed
27 have been donated
Everything else has either been given to friends or sold
I’ve made $374.75 from the stuff I sold

Not bad I think. If I’d gotten rid of one thing every day that would be 26 things so far, so being almost 4x that is a great feeling. My goal was to have 365 less things at the end of the year, but if this momentum keeps up and I’ve end up getting rid of closer to 1500, that’s a win in my book. Is it possible? We’ll see…

The Year Of Less update #3 – 1 week down, 51 more to go

So I’ve finished up the first week of the year of less so I thought I’d give a little bit of an update on how it’s going. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet to help keep track of things so the big math is that I got rid of 44 item, 24 of which I donated and 20 of which I either gave away or trashed. My guestimate of the value of the stuff I donated is $290. But you know, I basically gave it away so who really knows.

In actual practice I ended up getting rid of stuff on 6 out of the 7 days, but on those 6 days I got rid of more than one thing every day. I talked about the ‘stuff every day’ thing last time and the truth is that finding time to sort through things and pick out something to get rid of every day is rougher than I thought it would be. The one day I didn’t get rid of something I spent all day hanging out with my family, which I think is a pretty good use of time, so I’m going to revise the “no matter what get rid of something every day” to “try really hard to get rid of something every day, and as long as it’s more than 7 things a week it counts” – It’s a little bit of a stretch I know, but I think it’s a realistic middle ground. I’m gonna give myself a 9/10 for the week.

In the not acquiring things arena, it’s more like a 5/10. While I didn’t actively guy buy anything, I did get some packages of things I bought in December that hadn’t been delivered yet. So the “look new stuff!” part of my brain was still getting it’s fix, which is what I’m trying to get away from. But everything has been delivered now, so next week should be more of a test, but I’m happy that I didn’t give in for anything. I haven’t even started thinking about what my one item for January would be either, so that’s a good sign.

I know this is kind of an academic update but I wanted to document it regardless. Because of all this I’ve been thinking a lot about inventory, both physical and digital and I think doing this is helping me organize things mentally a bit more. But it’s only been a week, so what do I know. More next week. Stay tuned.

*What is all this? Go read about day 1.

The Year Of Less: Day 2 – A Numbers Game

As I wrote in one of the posts leading up to this challenge, I spent a lot of time the month before starting thinking about what I’d get rid of. I had a mental list, and a few physical piles. I had things I’d made the metal commitment to part with, but hadn’t actually gotten rid of yet because the official “year” hadn’t started yet and I didn’t want to jump the gun. The year would begin soon enough I thought and then it could all go.

So today, two days into this whole thing I started to separate the stuff into two groups – stuff for donation and stuff for ebay. Before long I had two full grocery store paper bags full of clothes to donate. Specifically that’s 17 t-shirts, two pair of shoes, two pair of pants, two pair of socks and one long sleeve shirt. 24 things. Which is an awesome start, but also immediately presents a problem.

Is that 24 days worth, or 24 things on one day and then tomorrow I’m back at square one?

Can I game the system by getting rid of 365 things in one day and then saying “Ha! There’s my whole year done, boom!”

It seems kind of lame to create rules for myself and then figure out a way to get around them, so that won’t work.

So I could make a pile of 365 things, and then just get rid of one every day for the whole year, right? Well, yes, but… That’s more in the spirit of the initial idea, but then I’m stuck with a pile of things I know I’m going to get rid of all year, so in that aspect it’s not really in the spirit of the initial idea.

Crap, I thought I had the bases covered.

I realized this early on today and have been thinking about it and trying to decide the best way to approach this and I think that realistically it’s got to be one thing a day (or maybe 7 things a week if I’m traveling or something). So to clarify, I need to get rid of at least one thing every day. I can get rid of more, but I still need to get rid of stuff tomorrow regardless how much I get rid of today. I think that’s the best way to do this. I did say before that if by the end of this thing I’ve gotten rid of 500 things instead of only 365 that’s even better, didn’t I?

Right, so with that decision immediate panic sets in. Getting rid of 365 things is easy. Well, it’s not easy but it’s doable. Hell, I got rid of 24 today alone. I could sit down and go through a bunch of these old storage boxes and do that a few more times and hit 365 without an incredible amount of effort. But thinking about eight months into this when I’ve gotten rid of 500+ things and I’m scrambling to figure out what I can live without, what then?

And then I realized, that’s actually kind of the point of this.

So bring it.

*What is all this? Go read about day 1.