The nitty-gritty of whittling down your possessions


Boing Boing readers had a lot to say regarding yesterday's post about Kelly Sutton, the fellow who has gotten rid of almost everything he owns apart from his digital / Internet technology. I asked him to write about his lifestyle and here's what he wrote. It's fascinating.

About a year ago, I came to the conclusion that the most logical thing to be done was to rid myself of all (or most) of my possessions. After meticulously itemizing all of my stuff, I put almost all of it up for sale on a site I built in a weekend, Cult of Less. Yesterday, the BBC News ran an article about myself and a few other folks replacing their physical media with their digital analogs. There are many implications of selling everything, some great and some not so great. I was a bit hasty in my desire to expunge my personal inventory but it's something worth considering. The following are a few things I learned, and where the project is going from here.

Read the rest after the jump. (Photos by Aaron Sonnenberg)

Unintended Benefits Kelly-Sutton-2

The greatest thing gained from Cult of Less has been an unprecedented amount of physical freedom. This is obvious to those that have read Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss takes owning nothing to an extreme and comes across as brackish in his suggestions, but there is an important point to take away from the book and accompanying blog. A willingness to drop your stationary physical possessions and move is the greatest freedom I have found in this project. Sure, you could get by without a bed, furniture and a few other essentials, but you will be miserable. No one wants to sleep on a floor if they can help it.

Instead, I've found that a lack of attachment to my possessions to be the biggest win. My bed isn't important enough to me to haul more than a few blocks, should I move. Chances are, the person moving into my apartment after me would like a bed. Leaving it for them will be a nice move-in present.

A minor yet pleasurable consequence has been interacting with people from around the world. It shot any hope of the project being hip and green, but I've shipped some of my belongings to places like Germany, New Zealand and the U.K.

Warranted Skepticism

As the everwise Internet collective was quick to point out yesterday, this lifestyle is not for everyone. In many settings, it can make your life more difficult. Owning less is easier in urban environments with efficient public transportation; in New York, it's mandated by the higher rent prices. Living in Los Angeles without a car is a difficult undertaking. Unfortunately, the uncluttered lifestyle is not for everyone.

The subtitle of the original BBC article read "Living out of a hard drive." I do this with more than my media; my chosen profession also gives me an unlimited amount of mobility. The software I write on the beach in Venice, California, operates the same as code written in's SoHo office. It's a shame not all professions have such freedom.

Personally, I experience very few downsides with my current situation. There have been times where I've been unable to fix something right that second, but those happenings are rare. A quick trip to a hardware or grocery store usually solves the problem. Rather than preemptively stocking a toolbox without tools I might use, what I have in my apartment for minor repairs is lean but effective.

Owning nothing is not for everyone and brings on certain difficulties, but those difficulties are minor if you live in a city that makes reducing your footprint easier.

Learning What I Already Knew Kelly-Sutton-7

Another unintended philosophical nugget of the project was to understand that many things are worth less monetarily than you think. Some of your possessions might even have a negative value. (Old computer monitors, for example, cost money to throw out in some regions of the U.S. They have a -$25 value.) Every item on Cult of Less was appraised and intentionally undervalued. It means more to me for an individual to enjoy something that I have neglected than for me to spend time peddling my wares for an extra few bucks. People seem surprised that I would be willing to give away things that clearly have value for so little.

Now every purchase I make comes with a second-guess: Do I really need this? Like really, really need this? In the past year, "impulse buy" has left my vocabulary. I found myself buying fewer things, but also nicer things. On the whole, it's led me to cherish my few purchases more. Every possession also requires a certain amount of upkeep, and I find myself with more time and less possessional guilt. Every thing owned begs to be used constantly; every second not utilized comes a shred of buyer's remorse. Everything I own I use at least once per month, save for my winter clothes.

Moving (Forward)

The Cult of Less project is not something that I can ever stop cold turkey. Throughout the coming years, I will be adding new possessions to my list occasionally. Embarking on the project has characteristically changed how I view owning things. Sure, buying less is probably environmentally friendlier. Sure, my friends think I'm (really) weird. Sure, there might be things that could make my life a bit easier occasionally. But now everything thing I own serves a purpose and holds a certain beauty in its role. The idea is utilitarian and far-fetched, but it's a small price to pay for being happy.


  1. No, actually the person who moves in afterward does not want your bed, or your mattress or probably any of your stuff. Take some responsibility, sell it leave the new tenant a nice clean empty apartment.

    1. Yes, the person coming afterwards appreciates as much pre-existing furniture as possible; specially if on a tight budget.

      I’ve only ever moved in fully-furnished apartments for precisely that reason. Different courses for different horses, man. :)

  2. I really enjoyed this article.

    I recently moved to Berkeley, CA, having decided I could afford the high rent if I got rid of my car (i.e. car payments, maintenance costs, and fuel). Now that I am a bike person — and a 61-year-old one at that — I find that I am very careful about what I buy when I go grocery shopping since everything must fit into my backpack and/or saddlebags. I love to go to thrift shops, but I’m now less likely to haul home the junk that used to fill my car. And I’m even more careful about what I throw in the laundry basket since that, too, is a trip on my bike.

    I did, however, pay a lot to ship my furniture to my new home, but not without weighing out the pros of cons of what would make my new space feel most like home: my bed, my books, my couch. Still, I have a lot less stuff than I did have, and have not missed much of what I left behind although I do wonder what became of my blender from time to time.

    1. It’s not an oxymoron, it’s a spelling mistake. Analog means what you say, he should have used “analogue”. Perhaps one of his physical possessions should be a dictionary, or at least a bookmark to Merriam-Webster.

      And “Chances are, the person moving into my apartment after me would like a bed. Leaving it for them will be a nice move-in present.” No, chances are they already have their own bed, and your landlord will deduct the cost of disposing of it from your security deposit.

      1. Whether or not such would be “a nice move-in present” depends rather heavily upon how many stains it has on it.
        At least it would for me.

      2. It’s not an oxymoron, it’s a spelling mistake. Analog means what you say, he should have used “analogue”. Perhaps one of his physical possessions should be a dictionary, or at least a bookmark to Merriam-Webster.

        Didja think of taking your own advice before dissing his use of language? Go take a look at the “analogue” entry on or other dictionary of your choice, I’ll wait.

        By the way, you probably don’t mean “spelling mistake”, you probably mean “homonym error”. But in fact the apt description for these two is “synonym”.

  3. What I don’t understand is if it’s all about reducing your possessions, why does he have an iPad, a Kindle, AND a laptop? Surely a laptop would be enough. Plus, in the picture above, he is using a keyboard AND a mouse with his laptop. Does anyone else find that odd?

    Understandably, a lot of readers who have been out of school for a while have already experienced this brand of asceticism. I definitely enjoyed a period of not having that much stuff and now I have more stuff. To be honest, I don’t prefer one or the other. It’s nice to not have so much stuff to worry about, but on the other hand, I DO like having stuff, especially if I use it often (such as cooking supplies, or soccer cleats, or painting supplies, etc).

    1. in the picture above, he is using a keyboard AND a mouse with his laptop. Does anyone else find that odd?

      I don’t. I do this all the time. Laptops suck pretty bad, ergonomically. The guy presumably spends many hours a day at his computer. I don’t think he should be required to harm his body to earn his “minimalist” cred (whether or not you think it’s deserved otherwise).

      Or did you mean that as a card-carrying minimalist he should be computing on a vt100? I could get behind that.

      1. I’d even let him have an NCD–with mouse!–if he can’t go as “low” as a VT100.

        Sigh, I miss my NCD. Totally silent computing aside from the keyboard clicks.

    2. Hopefully you don’t understand the difference between and laptop and a Kindle because you’ve never looked closely at an e-reader.

      E-readers are single purpose devices specific to reading. They feature very long battery life and a display that is very easy on the eyes in direct sunlight. Reading on an iPad in sunlight or for extended periods is very unpleasant, if not impossible.

      1. I understand how each device can be used for a specific purpose, but I think my point was more about how if we’re talking about taking on a minimalist philosophy, one should at least question the necessity of having several devices.

        For instance, why not just have a library card if you want to reduce your book clutter? Why the “need” to have all your books with you on the go? Isn’t that itself a form of collecting goods, whether they be digital or not? How about just deciding you don’t need an iPad after all and can live without one? Surely, many things you can do on an iPad you can do just with the laptop?

        My ultimate point is that what this young man is doing is mostly utilitarian and suits his purpose just fine, but let’s not blow it up into a statement about how he is taking a stand and not succumbing to worldly possessions like the rest of us unwashed masses.

        I think a lot of the criticism people are posting here is really just the fact that they feel this “Cult of Less” paradigm is being presented as a sort of normative statement about our society and they outright disagree with that as such. If you can get by with less and are genuinely happy, then more power to you, but I’m not convinced the rest of us somehow worse off just because we have a few things in our closets.

  4. When people say things like “Living in Los Angeles without a car is a difficult undertaking” as Kelly says, I have to question what they mean by “Los Angeles”. Many parts of the city, such as Downtown and K-town are as pedestrian friendly as anywhere you can think of, as they are densely built with good bus and Metro access.

    1. True that, but to ulilize the beauty of LA (as in, spending the day in on manhattan beach, heading up to melrose for some shopping and then having a fab dinner in ktown) would be extremely imposs using the bus system. I would know, as I live in Santa Monica and work in El Segundo, sans car. I could be totally happy as a hermit in the Santa Monica/Venice area walking/bussing, but it’s not LA.

    2. I live downtown across the street from the Red Line metro station. Although I can get along just fine without a car for groceries and dining out, etc., to get around town for meetings and work using the bus or combination of bus and metro would mean losing several hours of my day waiting for buses and trains. If an important client suddenly suggests a meeting on the west side, or in the valley for example, I can’t afford to turn them down. If I worked downtown in a job where I didn’t interact with people and I didn’t care about meeting up regularly with friends who don’t live downtown, then perhaps I wouldn’t need a car.

  5. I did him one better… My new philosophy is “If it doesn’t fit in my truck (actually a smaller suv/crossover) I don’t need it.

    I can pack and be gone in 4 hours – from anywhere – with everything I need.. Mobile baby !! Actually this could lead one down the road of actually acquiring a mobile home but that may be defeating the purpose !!

    Laptop, cell phone and a few clothes…what else do you need??

  6. I’m always envious of people who are able to live this lifestyle.

    One of the downsides to being a multi-disciplinary artist is that I need a lot of different stuff to do a lot of different jobs. Painting supplies, screen printing supplies, tools and hardware, photography and video supplies, lights, sound recording gear, electronic components, computers, etc…

    I have way too much crap, I’d love to clear out and go minimal, but every single thing I own is something that I need to get a job done.

    My only non-work related possessions are a Nintendo DS and my books.

    Thankfully, I have been able to replace my rather large movie and music collection with digital files. that alone saves a lot of space.

    1. as an artist too, I’m amazed at people who live like this, though I wouldn’t choose it myself. I’m also not sure I could entirely convert to digital either. i still enjoy the fully tangible too much!

  7. I really like the idea of this, but have to wonder if it would be feasible to continue to live like this if/when your life brings about “major changes”. Here’s my question to ponder. You are able to live this lifestyle as a young single male, but what happens when this lifestyle appeals to an attractive member of the opposite sex, and you decide to try a relationship while living this way? Now take that a step further, and add an offspring into the equation. Do you think you would be able to continue to live as a minimalist while juggling the challenges of a family? There are infinitely more needs in the latter scenario, that would put your minimalist behavior to the true test. All the same…..KUDOS to you for giving it a go!!!

    1. It seems one often has to become more minimalistic as one gets married. Most of my friends get rid of all of THEIR furniture and big toys when they begin sharing a home. Have to pick your battles and favorites to keep.

    2. I really like the idea of this, but have to wonder if it would be feasible to continue to live like this if/when your life brings about “major changes”.

      I think it’s all relative, and all about our relationship to “stuff.”

      I was a young, single guy once, and now I’m the father of two and I own a house. Obviously when you have kids (or a house, if you live in a place where people live in them) you need a lot more stuff. But do you need a different relationship (mental attitude) to stuff?

      Most of us have a lot of stuff, and it is reasonable to ask “do I need this much stuff?” and “does this stuff make me happy?” At each stage in our lives these are probably good questions to ask.

      My only gripe is with the term “minimalism” or “extreme minimalism.” For many years (and people have been asking the questions for many years) the term of art has been “voluntary simplicity,” so it kind of bugs me when journalists just make up a new term so they don’t have to do any research into something that has been going on for a long time.

    3. I am 46 years old. My parents sailed down the Mississippi in a 60′ racing boat. I was born on that boat and we lived on it the first year of my life. My mom used to get the same questions, back in the early 60s: “How do you manage with all the THINGS you need for a baby?” She always responded “The only thing a baby needs is a parent.” Yes, you can live with a hell of a lot less, and happily, and as a family.

      1. “Yes, you can live with a hell of a lot less, and happily”…
        …and living for an extended period of time on a small boat is one way of learning that lesson, very well.

    4. I found myself ‘minimizing’ when my offspring turned up. Suddenly I had to rid myself of my earthly possessions to be substituted by children’s toys, children’s books, children’s plushies, children’s stuff everywhere…

      ‘My’ stuff now only exists in computers, while my kids thrive in their physical, analogue world. :) So, funnily enough, it was the offspring that pushed me into material-minimalism.
      (My wife was already a minimalist when I met her)

  8. I have a large, ancient house, barn, stable & garage. I have land that produces heating fuel, game, drinkable water, and crops. I could produce biodiesel as well, and electricity, if I wanted to make the effort.

    I submit to you that I am living with less than this man. He requires an entire city to support him, whereas I require only a single spouse, the sun, and reasonable rainfall. I don’t even use a phone or a TV.

    For evidence: My family of four generates less than fifty pounds of garbage a month. If we were more serious about composting we’d generate even less.

    1. I think this comment is right on. I hit the exact same robot when I lived as this man did for about 3 years… eventually your dependencies will likely catch up with you and force you into a compromise.

  9. “Chances are, the person moving into my apartment after me would like a bed. Leaving it for them will be a nice move-in present.”

    If possible, please check with the next tenant before doing this. Perhaps they want a larger or smaller or firmer or softer bed than the one you are leaving. Or they really like the bed they already own and are bringing it to the new place.

    Because otherwise, what you’ve just done is create a problem for the next tenant. They may not see having to lug a bed out of an apartment, arrange for its removal, etc. as a “present.”

    1. In my world (I do turnover cleaning) this bed you leave behind would be $100 hauling fee in my pocket! haha

  10. Am I the only one that is confused by this? Given that he still has quite a few nice things, I just don’t see how this is living ascetically at all. Are the expectations of what is “a lot” and “a little” only informed by a targeted audience of affluent readers? Or am I just ignorant of what the standard of living is in Brooklyn?

  11. This is a completely crap and meaningless “trend”. There’s no real sacrifice involved whatsoever, and the people involved seem to enjoy the illusion of asceticism without the actual hard work involved. If you’re happy only owning five pairs of underwear or whatever, more power to you… but to blog about it as some great emerging movement or philosophy is a waste.

      1. Never tried it. Like a number of folks, I’ve gone through a period of not owning much stuff due to a condition known as “not having a lot of money to spend on things”, but it never occurred to me to drone on about how that made me a better person or how I gained insight from having to do laundry more often because I had two pairs of jeans. There’s no meat to this ‘idea’ at all.

  12. I like this article. Yes, it’s hard and/or infeasible for many people (including me) to live this way. Yet, it made me consider exactly how much crap I do have, and how nice it would be to start to pare it down.

    Now that I have a kindle (and iPad!) I’m thinking I can haul out my book collection to the used book store, get a little cash, and free up a bunch of space. I also have a large DVD collection I can start to get rid of now (just buying blurays, now, but much fewer of them…) Most of the junk in my garage could probably go…

    Hmmm, might be a busy weekend.

  13. The first thing that came to my mind reading this was: is it really that cool that every time you work, read a book, listen to music or write a letter you are hunched over a computer? How many hours a day does Kelley spend staring at his laptop/iPad/whatever? Call me a luddite, but it smells a little of put all your eggs in the gadget basket. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m all for letting go of unused posessions and living simply.

    1. …is it really that cool that every time you work, read a book, listen to music or write a letter you are hunched over a computer?

      Perhaps it’s not great, but honestly the world of media is all going electronic. Perhaps the devices need finessing, but denying the fact that piles of CDs, LPS, audio tapes, VHS tapes & DVDs are an anachronism won’t change anything.

      I personally sold off (or donated to charity) practically all of my physical media past books. One of the best decisions of my life! So much more room and I fully embrace the fact that all of the music I have ever cared for can fit in my pocket.

      There is though a negative to this article: And that is the binge/purge mentality. The implication seems to be Americans binge on goods so thus the only solution is to then purge them completely? I don’t agree.

      I wrote in more detail about this in another BB piece on “STUFF” and hoarding, but in my experience I ended up hoarding/accumulating mini-collections of things not because I liked them or even loved them. But because they reminded me of things I couldn’t easily get in the pre-eBay internet. But now that I know what stuff I like and what I want, and can do so thanks to the Internet I have whittled down my “kitsch” collection to practically nothing and replaced it with a small collection of things that mean something to me. And I could have only done that thanks to the Internet and learning how to track this stuff down.

      I realize that last paragraph might not be clear to some but here is my easier explanation: Sometimes you accumulate a lot of stuff because you don’t have what you really want. Get what you really want and the accumulation stops.

      I admire this guy. I just would suggest that others not purge their whole life, but maybe use his example as a way of approaching boxes of stuff they have in their own place. Little steps to focusing a life.

      1. …is it really that cool that every time you work, read a book, listen to music or write a letter you are hunched over a computer?

        No, it’s a big problem. The only activity that the computer is completely suited to replace is going to a video store, renting a DVD, and sticking it in a player.

        Which, thus, I never do any more.

      2. The wold of media may be going electronic, but transporting the data is still attached to physical media.

        Most parts of the Western world have not the access to the necessary broadband. Incidentally those, where storing DVDs and the rest at home costs a fraction of what it would cost the big centers.

        When I want to watch one of my movies or TV episodes, I can do that any time by getting down on the living room. Most of them are not even available online.

  14. It seems to me that the folks complaining about Mr. Sutton not paring down enough (how DARE he have a mouse, let alone an iPad AND a laptop)are the ones most fearful of possessing less themselves.

    1. I don’t know what you’re basing that on exactly. Just because someone can criticize something else and question its validity does not entail that they are somehow “fearful” of it. Are atheists fearful of organized religion because they question its validity? I’m merely wondering out loud just what this “philosophy” is and if it really has any basis or any good.

  15. I think minimalist is the wrong word here. This is really just conscious consumerism and being aware of the fact that your possessions don’t/shouldn’t own you.

    I think everyone would benefit from thinking long and hard about their purchases before buying them, whether they are trying to have less stuff in their house or not. I like buying things online for just this reason – it allows me to put something in my cart/list for later, so that I can think about it for a few days before really deciding; do I need this? The answer is usually no.

    1. I agree. “Conscious consumer” is probably the better term. We’ve tried to start living this way as well. Not that we’re living anywhere as near pared down as this gentleman, but we definitely are thinking more about what we buy. No more crap!

  16. OK, I pressed enter before I finished my comment but what I was saying is: Seriously, am I insane? If this is what is considered “extreme minimalism”, Boing Boing should give me a buzz, or perhaps the other five billion people on this planet with less.

  17. MacBook Pro $2399

    Adobe Creative Suite 4 $500

    Chrome Messenger Bag $100

    Chrome “Champ” Jacket $165

    Diesel “ZAF” Jeans $160

    Dark Blue Diesel Jeans $190

    Diesel “Yarik B” Jeans $150

    Black Seven Jeans $120

    West Everett Neighborhoodie $50

    7 Diamonds Clubbing Shirt $70

    Diesel Jeans – Dark Blue $200

    Lacoste Polo – Black $100

    Burberry Watch $325

  18. Living with the absolutely needed things?. Mmm, nothing new for any professional in his 20s in Uruguay, South America!. :)

  19. Some of my friends think I buy too much stuff. Well, I’ve never been afraid to spend money, if there’s something that I want. Do I covet objects? Sure, sometimes. If I have to sit in a chair, I prefer a well-designed, comfortable, and good-looking chair. I may have to pay more for the one I think is best-designed, most comfortable, and best-looking. If I can afford it, that’s the one I will choose. Do I then need a second chair? Well, I may have a guest over sometime. How about a third chair? You can see where this is headed. The point for me is that I try to lead my life based on desire, not on need. Let me say that again: I want my life to be about the fulfillment of my desires, not simply the fulfillment of my needs. Of course, needs and desires don’t have a necessary relation to consumption, although in our society it’s pretty damned likely they will. But I recognize, and will state publicly, that nothing I ever buy will make me complete.

  20. The phrase “extreme lifestyle minimalists” was used in the previous Boing Boing post to describe Sutton among others.

  21. “Everything I own I use at least once per month”

    interesting concept. this is something i think i could apply do my own life
    (expect i’d be tempted to expand it to once a year for things like luggage or art supplies)

    1. Alton Brown talks about this in one of his books (Gear for Your Kitchen), where he advises to empty a drawer and during two or three months every time you use a utensil, you put it in that drawer. After the time is up, you throw everything else out. Large items (blender, waffle iron) get 6 months. This will force you to either use it (I like blended items/waffles and therefore should make them at least every six months because I enjoy making and consuming them) or throw it out.

      Since doing this, my kitchen makes a lot more sense and I enjoy more waffles than I used to. I’ve tried to expand this theory to other things, but (for example) while I don’t mind soldering, I don’t need to do it every six months, as some things don’t require that much repair. However, it has helped me reduce clutter as well as do more of the things I like.

    1. I liked the Link to the Past picture so much I emailed Kelly to ask where it’s from…

      “I picked that up at the Brooklyn Renegade Crafts Fair from a girl named pxlpshr on Etsy. You can pick one up for yourself here. Share it with the other commenters!”

  22. People are misunderstanding this exercise/lifestyle. It’s not about ascetecism, it’s about freedom and mobility. A lot of people, especially young singles, move to a new place every year or two. Having a bunch of possessions, particularly large furniture, makes it very difficult; you either have to hire expensive movers or annoy your friends.

    I get a small jolt of this feeling every time I travel. I think “I’ve got my laptop, phone, wallet and a couple changes of clothes; everything I really need.” However, as a musician and builder of various things, I do need some real stuff: guitars/basses, amp and speaker cabinet, pedals, soldering station, drill press, all manner of electronic components and other parts, various tools, recording equipment, etc.

    As such, instead of having nothing, I’ve decided to only buy stuff I can resell for at least the same amount of money (exceptions include food, clothes, and anything both necessary and under $20, ie lightbulbs and drill bits). Craigslist and ebay make this pretty easy if you’re even slightly patient.

  23. And what happens when Joe Lieberman shuts down the internet? Where does all your digital stuff go then mister freeandeasyonthebeachwithalaptop?

    I am envious though and somedays pray for fire.

  24. Most of us could do with less stuff in our lives, I would suspect, but it’s tougher to whittle down your possessions when you have a child. Most of our one-year-old daughter’s possessions are hand-me-down clothes and toys, but the logistics along of packing the car for a day trip would grind Patton to a halt.

  25. Does he ever have people over to visit? If so, what do they do while they’re there? Drink out of paper cups on the floor?

  26. I was surprised by this (and the previous) article, as I have a similar number of possessions. As a student I try to keep things light so moving isn’t such a hassle each year. I fully intend on being a materialistic whore once I graduate though!

    I’d also love me one of those Link to the Past canvas prints.

  27. Recently my girlfriend decided it was time to head back to California and finally clean out the storage room she had been paying to hold her junk. I took the chance to get rid of everything I hadn’t used in a while (even my books. All it meant was she had more room for the couple of boxes of crap she brought back with her that she couldn’t let go of…

  28. I have felt this way for quite a long time. I am a professional writer and can (technically) work from anywhere (although my current boss would rather eat his own intestines than let that happen). I own very few possessions but each of them has sentimental, aesthetic or utilitarian value.

    I think that a love of one’s useful possessions and aesthetic environment creates successful artists. So many blues and rock artists had nothing of their own save their instruments, as children. So many writers locked themselves in their own worlds with their typewriter and a window. Think Emily Dickinson – heir to wealth, locked herself away in her room, creating, until her body of work was discovered after her death.

  29. I don’t know that it’s true aestheticism as I would define it, but a modern interpretation of it. I love seeing how people incorporate this in their lives, even if I don’t.

    While quite far removed from it culturally, these articles inspired me to reread Eat Sleep Sit by Kaoru Nonomura. He wrote this memoir about the year he abandoned being a salaryman and went instead to live at Eiheiji – one of Japan’s oldest and most rigorous places of Zen training and instruction. Makes me rather glad to have my stuff, to be honest, heh.

    I don’t know that I will ever completely be minimalist. For myself I try to put a lot of thought into what I bring into my home (and myself), but then, minimalism for me is merely a facet of right mindfulness more than anything. Without the rest of the package, it lacks something – for myself, at any rate.

  30. This is incredibly relevant to my interests. In fact, I’m in the middle of writing a book about this very thing. I just created a google group for ongoing discussions about this new pro-digital extreme minimalism if anyone wants to join up they are welcome.

  31. How long do the batteries on those LCD devices last, writing software on Venice Beach with, presumably, the screen brightness cranked all the way up? Or does the minimal lifestyle include plenty of swappable batts with solar chargers? Or maybe a pedal-power charger?

    I’ve twice moved several thousand kloms to relocate with only personal belongings. In one case, all the crap followed by (very slow) boat around a year later. It’s an interesting state of mind to find yourself bereft of most of your “things”. I’s also interesting to get them back again after a prolonged absence. Kind of an exercise in lifestyle remodelling followed by lifestyle archeology.

  32. This seems to me to be a matter of personal taste or utility, which may change over time, rather than any kind of a moral matter.
    So it is different than the Thoreauvian take on this, which to my mind does have a moral dimension to its effort at simplicity of living.

    Looking at history, it seems clear to me that many more people have lost things unwillingly, than have ever given them up voluntarily.
    So maybe this is smart: in that this seems to go in the same direction in which people have so often been unwillingly driven; and, since it’s being done willingly, there’s no emotional upset.
    Plus, if ya gots nothing, you’re much less likely to get beaten up for it, or to sweat the thought of “losing it all”, which seems to torment so many well-to-do people.

    1. This seems to me to be a matter of personal taste or utility, which may change over time, rather than any kind of a moral matter.

      Indeed. The guy’s doing an experiment. It’s the nature of experiments that you don’t know how they’re going to turn out, and there really is no wrong answer. At the very least, you learn what doesn’t work.

      1. “At the very least, you learn what doesn’t work.”

        Which means that, no matter what the outcome, it shall be a success…in increasing your knowledge.

  33. >> This is a completely crap and meaningless “trend”. There’s no real sacrifice involved whatsoever, and the people involved seem to enjoy the illusion of asceticism without the actual hard work involved.

    Why should sacrifice or hard work be involved at all? When mailing his possessions to buyers, should he walk a portion of the journey to the post office on his knees?

    I was listening to this Adam Carolla podcast ( and he was talking to two people about vegan cooking and nutrition. Carolla remarked that when he was a kid in the 70s eating “health food” was a trial, almost a gauntlet of sacrifice, and the true believers liked it that way. They felt that by eating the dried, flavorless, and frankly awful health foods that one was somehow demonstrating their worthiness to belong to the club. He said now people “have it easy” because we have vegan foods that look and taste just as good as the “real thing” and there’s no misery associated with health food any longer.

    I’m curious why you think Sutton needs to suffer or in some way validate his actions with “hard work.” Also, I don’t know why you have determined that this is a trend. He’s trimming down his stuff and has a blog. Pretty much everyone does that or twitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re recruiting disciples. Did you take the word “cult” literally and not in the informal spirit it was intended?

    Too many are over-thinking this. Guy is just trimming down his stuff pile so he doesn’t have to service a mountain of crap that has questionable nostalgic value or once-in-a-blue-moon functionality (“I might need this pine nut de-pulper one day. It could happen!”).

    I read on some site or blog that you should go through your boxes in the attic or garage and just write the current date on the outside. Don’t open the box. Just write the current date on the outside of the box. If, one year later, you have not opened that box once, donate it unopened to some organization or get rid of it. Don’t look inside. You don’t need it.

    Here’s another thing… what is nostalgia? For many, it’s just obligation. You don’t even like the crap. You just feel responsible. Like throwing it out is a repudiation of your love for that person attached to the item. Someone gives you an absolute piece of shit dollar store statuette (one in a series of ten million made with loving care by some exhausted and hopeless Chinese peasant girl in Shanghai) or Hallmark crap-card and you feel compelled to keep if for half a century just because they picked it out absentmindedly one afternoon to get you “something” to celebrate Arbor Day in 1972. Or… “I can’t throw THIS out! Aunt Esther gave it to me when I placed fifth in the third grade spelling bee.”

    Here’s a question few ask… how many people on the street or freeway at any given moment of any given day are actually doing something necessary or of value? How many are driving across town to buy a single roll of duct tape to fix their lawnmower? How many are driving to target to buy 24 AA batteries for their cameras, kids’ toys, or flashlights? How many are driving to just drive? Being busy just to be busy? People don’t think. They do and *THEN* they justify their meaningless errand shuffling as subliminal process.

    If you don’t have that lawn, you won’t be shopping at Home Depot. No TV means you won’t have to care whether Monster is better than Monoprice. You will spend less time talking to functionaries and salespeople. You won’t have to shop for shelves and plastic tote bins and vacuum seal your sweaters to slide them under your bed.

    But once most of your shit is gone, that’s when the real work begins. THEN you have to fill your life with something and it’s tough to swallow that most of your existence has been spent servicing your things, fixing them, buying little peripherals and augmentation doohickeys to make them do their useless tasks more efficiently.

    Who are you in an empty room? That’s you. If you can’t stand the sight of that person in an empty room and you need to wrap a car around your vile frame or surround yourself with augmenting clutter to feel fulfilled, you got problems. Go stand naked in the woods right now. Go on. I’ll wait. If you don’t have some woods nearby, a school playground or park will do. If you can’t stand stark naked in that park and say “I’m fucking awesome” then you have work to do.

    Without their stuff and their obligation to servicing that stuff, most people aren’t even here. They only exist as stewards of their possessions. Walking, driving, sorting their petroleum and metal bric-a-brac in a 70 year circle of nothing. God: “Here’s your Fraggle Rock lunchbox (“Pepper Jack LOVE Fraggle Rock”). Now walk that way for 70 years until you drop dead.” You: “That’s it?” God: “Yeah. Pretty much.”

    Some of your stuff is “old” and has Count Chocula on it. So you put it in a mylar bag and resolve that if you just hold on to it for another 30 years, it will be worth… well… a lot!

    Then you die, and your landlord puts it all out on the lawn where it is consumed for pennies in a single afternoon.

    Ants. That’s us. We think we’re better, but we’re not.

    1. Trotsky has the best comment on the page.

      To appreciate what this kid is doing, one doesn’t have to live like him.

    2. Yes to this. Except maybe the part about standing naked in a school playground. Fortunately there are plenty of woods around here, so I can safely avoid the sex offender registry. :-)

      My wife and I took a carful of our stuff (we sold or gave away everything else), moved 3,000 miles, and spent about year living in a small 2 room shack with no running water on a very limited income brought in by chipping dog shit out of the snow and ice every day.

      I was made very aware of the huge gap between what I need and what I want.

      I also learned that debt is the pretty much the worst possession to have in any amount.

      1. The standing naked in the schoolyard thing is integral to what I am saying. Please don’t neglect that.

        1. I see that now. It just seemed out of place, listed as though it was as a secondary choice after the relative anonymity of the woods.

    3. Ants?
      We are all little ants, on this earth today?

      But that is exactly what Arthur Collins says, at 3:47 of the best Carnival song the Clash ever produced:

      …but he was using it to call for peace and love, and happiness: and he was selling things, things to help the youth of today!
      And he was calling for peace and love, in this carnival today.

      Never mind about the special offenders, for the special courts…or what happens once the sun sets.

    4. I agree that too many posters here are assuming this is about asceticism when no such claim is made (the guy just finds having lots of stuff around stressful, people, its not a capital offence), but in this particular post you go on to argue for asceticism, or something very like it, in order derive more meaning from life. It leaves me confused.

      The question of whether blogging all day about how you sold your stuff is a more meaningful existence than maintaining the stuff you got rid of is, at the very least, an open one.

      A story about Buddhists cleaning bowls comes to mind.

      1. >> but in this particular post you go on to argue for asceticism, or something very like it

        I am arguing for less stuff, an iPad, and standing naked in the play area of McDonald’s. We all take different paths to enlightenment. I intend to find my spirit animal by playing Flight Control HD with my dingus while sipping on an ice cold caramel coolata.

        Don’t judge me.

        (I think my spirit animal is Grimace).

  34. Hello! I’m doing the same thing as I write this. My daughter and I moved to Florida 2 months ago….I sold most of my possessions then, however could still half-fill a 5×8 Uhaul! We have decided that the sunshine state is not for us and with the toxicity of the Gulf and being human guinea pigs….well…it’s a dealbreaker and we’re moving back to Minneapolis, MN. This time I will not spend $600 on a Uhaul to move my stuf not to mention the increased wear and tear on the car and lower gas mileage…..everything me and my daughter owns now fits into our 2000 Buick Park Avenue . It’s so freeing and liberating to just up and leave with no attachments to stuf! This Friday, I’m having a huge moving sale and will let people pay me what they think the “stuf” is worth……..It makes me smile to bless others with my “stuf”!!

  35. I asked this in the other thread and no one had an answer:

    Why would a guy just out of college have to WHITTLE DOWN his possessions to this?

    Is this normal for (American) young adults, or just for people in his socio-economic group?

    1. This is not the norm for most people my age I know or myself, living in (Midwestern) America. I’m guessing it’s the latter, so it’s irritating to me that this article is so blatantly written for one exclusive class of people. Is BB’s intended audience really this income specific? I haven’t a subscriber for very long, I might just be foolishly naive…

    2. Some college students have a lot of stuff, like me. I used to stress over buying new things. Then I thought: what’s wrong with having stuff? Really, there’s nothing wrong with just having it. I don’t let my stuff restrict me from living the life I want to live. If I wanted to go be a nomad in Africa, I could just go do that. I like to have bike junk, old computer parts, books I haven’t read in forever, and an excessive amount of kitchen equipment. Those are just things that I decided to hold on to at this point in my life. I can get rid of them in the future as necessary.

      Just don’t let your stuff own you.

  36. I see a danger of this being utter dependence on those around you. It’s being billed as this ‘freedom,’ but basically you’re trapped wherever you are. Want to cook a meal? No pots! No pans! No potato masher! Even if he had very minimal cooking supplies (saucepan, frying pan, some sort of heating element, couple spatulas and spoons), he’s still going to be basically eating Campbell’s soup every day unless he goes out to eat – ALL THE TIME. So he pretty much has to live in a city. Forever.

    And it makes him a social parasite. I like having friends over for dinner. That requires the above-mentioned cooking implements, somewhere for my guests to sit, things for them to eat off of. Want to watch a movie, play a board game? (on a table!) Not at this guy’s place. No grilling in the yard, no ringing in the New Year, (champagne flutes? yeah right!), no doing pretty much anything social with this guy unless it’s in YOUR house. Having a pot luck? He’s bringing something from Pizza Hut. And as other posters mentioned above, FORGET having a significant other, or God forbid, children.

    This is a false asceticism. If you want to be a hermit or a moocher in a very specific urban environment, I’m sure it’ll be great fun for maybe three years. By 2020, he’ll be long past this little fad of his. He’ll have taken away the important message of not letting your stuff own you, and he likely indeed will not have a whole lot of crap compared to the rest of us. He’s not going to have boxes and boxes of old clothes, or ever be a hoarder. But he’ll have a damn potato masher, oh yes he will.

    1. You have missed the point, which is to own the things you need to do the things you do. I have have friends over for dinner, so I own tools to prepare food. I don’t go downhill skiing, so I don’t own skis. The trick is recognizing the subtler cases, such as things you will “get around to some day” (you won’t), or things “had a lot of fun doing once” (if it was so fun, why don’t you still do it?).

  37. Sometimes stuff makes life more comfortable and enjoyable, and sometimes it’s anxiogenic and in the way. Maybe we could just keep the former and ditch the latter. I went from two houses worth of stuff down to a ‘one bedroom condo with one tiny closet and no drawers’ worth of stuff, and it has reduced my general anxiety level. I wasn’t willing to ditch the thirty crates of books and they remain a nuisance, but one that I’m willing to live with. I wish that I had kept the step ladder, but I never thought about potted plants getting to be twenty feet tall.

    As to the comments along the lines of, “Just wait until you get married and have kids, young man, boy howdy!” That’s not on everybody’s agenda.

  38. “My bed isn’t important enough to me to haul more than a few blocks, should I move. Chances are, the person moving into my apartment after me would like a bed. Leaving it for them will be a nice move-in present.”

    …and this is where I stopped reading. Leaving your used furniture behind isn’t a “nice present”, it’s transferring the problem of “what do I do with this second-hand bed that has no resale value and is too big to move without help or proper transportation?” to someone else. If I was a landlord I’d take the cost of renting a truck and hiring someone to help me move the bed out of the security deposit. It also smacks of privilege, most people can’t afford to buy a new bed every time they move.

    That being said I can see how there are definite benefits to keeping your possessions to a minimum. Still, I don’t see how he manages to have friends over with no tables or chairs…I guess they could eat sitting on the bare floor with paper plates…

  39. I frankly don’t understand the haterade (although I get the rejection of the “extreme minimalist” label – as Beschizzle might say, “ASPERGATRON ENGAGE!”).

    But I do wonder why people invest so much in expensive ephemera like ipads and such. I prefer things that will last at least as long as I will – the sort of things that are usually made of iron and leather and wood. Investing in a great easy chair seems sensible, investing in some faddish, battery-driven plastic thing less so.

  40. With no disdain I submit the following simplified unsurprising title: “Nerd loves gadgets more than other stuff”

    I’m almost there but I guess I still like some of my other stuff (like books and CDs and a TV).

  41. A lot of this reminds me of Bruce Sterling’s excellent Last Viridian Note ( – own items that delight you, things you genuinely love. Not simplifying for the sake of it. I try to reread this a few times a year, when I start feeling hemmed in my piles of cute but ultimately unsatisfying junk I’ve accumulated. The same way I like to watch that great “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” clip from Louis CK.

    While I don’t really want to add to the pile of “he’s not living exactly like me so he’s a moron” comments, I definitely agree with those who call foul on leaving furniture behind as “presents” for next tenants. If you didn’t want it, wtf makes you think the next poor shlubs want it? Jeebus!

    1. >> A lot of this reminds me of Bruce Sterling’s excellent Last Viridian Note

      Everyone should read the entirety of that. It says it all.

  42. I think this is an interesting idea, but somewhat short sighted. How do you keep from buying the same thing over and over(you may actually live past 40)because you got rid of it, then needed it, then got rid of it again. How do you make anything without any tools? I have tools I use every couple years,(not monthly). I would hate to have to buy a hammer or a vise grips every time I needed one. I suppose you could hire someone to do all the things that you cannot do because you haven’t any tools.

  43. I think that I missed the memo about what’s so wrong with stuff. Trotsky (the commenter above, not the revolutionary Russian Communist) posted a hilarious rant about how meaningless our lives are because we service stuff, and he did this on a website that is a series of posts primarily about stuff. Stuff like books, and art and music. These things are great.

    I love that my house has a dining room with a table and chairs, and art on the walls, and plates and glasses and candlesticks. I love this because my friends come over and I cook them food, and we drink wine, and talk, and laugh. When my garden project (involving many trips to Home Depot) is finished, then we can sit in the garden and talk, too.

    I love that I have a TV. It’s quite a fancy one so I can plug in a USB drive and watch the episodes of Dr Who I download. It’s great. I love Dr Who. I love having a TV. And I love my laptop which is where my music is, and I love my stereo that plays the music. The speakers are good, so the music is more beautiful. Frankly my netbook’s sound is a bit tinny.

    I love my graphic novel of The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. I am unconvinced that it would be as moving on an iPad. Likewise I think that the Canterbury Tales would seem incongruous on my wife’s Nook.

    True, packing and moving is a pain in the arse, but that’s the trade off for having a life that I enjoy, and a home that I can share with friends and family. And I have no problem with this guy traveling light. He seems happy enough, so fair play. The problem I have is with the philosophy that things are bad.

    Looking for happiness in things is foolish, certainly, but if you have to go and stand naked in the woods to realise that then there really is no hope for you. It’s like the people who travel to India to find themselves.

  44. With regards to a number of posters, I don’t think that Kelly is trying to fulfill some sort of checklist criteria for being a minimalist – he’s simply doing what he feels works for him. That absence of clutter appears to be the guiding principle behind his way of life.

    If he has a mouse and keyboard attached to his laptop I don’t believe it makes him a ‘maximalist’ or any less of a minimalist, it’s just that these items fit into his schema of what minimalism is.

    Obviously I’m not saying that an individual with a house full of junk and trinkets can be their ‘own type’ of minimalist (although I’m sure some would argue the case!) as the term would lose all meaning. But simply because an item a person owns is there for the reasons of not-entirely-necessary comfort (as in the mouse/keyboard attached to Kelly’s laptop) or aesthetics doesn’t omit them from some hypothetical ‘minimalist club’!

    1. “With regards to a number of posters, I don’t think that Kelly is trying to fulfill some sort of checklist criteria for being a minimalist – he’s simply doing what he feels works for him. That absence of clutter appears to be the guiding principle behind his way of life.”

      I’m not particularly concerned with what a minimalist is or isn’t. I just fail to see what the principle behind going from wealthy to slightly-less-wealthy is, or why this is in any way noteworthy at all. Obviously, deciding to clean out clutter from one’s life is not contentious in the least. What’s irking to me is that the rhetoric of this article suggests that his project is some kind of critique of consumerism, instead of just an endorsement of a different kind of consumption. This and quotes like these:

      “Personally, I experience very few downsides with my current situation”

      “People seem surprised that I would be willing to give away things that clearly have value for so little.”

      “The idea is utilitarian and far-fetched, but it’s a small price to pay for being happy.”

      are flamboyant displays of privilege that make it hard to see how anyone outside of the top percentile of wealth can relate to this. A pat on the back for realizing the uselessness of one’s clutter and doing something about it is deserved, sure. Valorizing him as “the fellow who got rid of almost everything he owns” espouses a woeful ignorance about what is really going on here, in the context of everything else.

      If this sounds nasty, I don’t mean it to; criticism related to money tends to touch people’s nerves. It’s not really that big of a deal, I just think it should be said that this kind of article is exclusive to a pretty small number of people. If I’m the only BB reader that doesn’t feel like a part of this number, though, then so be it.

  45. aspec and soongtype, thanks for answering. soongtype, the fact that you enjoy having stuff around you isn’t the surprising part to me; it’s that someone can afford to have a lot of stuff while still in college.

    As for the concern about “hate” responses here…I think one of the difficulties is that now, everyone knows everyone else’s business when they experiment in their 20s. There’s something that just SEEMS inherently self-centered about putting one’s personal experiments out there in public, which was never a possibility in prior generations. Used to be, it was something you went through without anyone but your close family and friends knowing…and maybe not even most of them. So I don’t think it’s hate as much as judging the behavior as not being particularly newsworthy.

    For example, I’d love to know more about iLynne’s family’s experience on that boat for a year. That seems much more *interesting* to me than the fact that some guy just out of college has a bunch of electronic gadgets and not much else. That’s a “dog bites man” story to me.

    And yeah, I’m with everyone else…have the decency to haul away your own mattress, not leave it for the landlord or next tenant to deal with.

  46. We run a library in San Francisco and, judging by the number of people who offer us wonderful collections, the pace of book divesting is accelerating. And while IKEA is still selling shelves spaced to hold CD collections, we already know sound is predominantly nonphysical.

    I wonder what people will do with their books when their resale value drops down into the noise. More community libraries for books, music and video (as already exist in many neighborhood cafes) would be great, and we need to do whatever we can to support public libraries against the forces that seek to destroy all public institutions. Sadly, public libraries can’t afford to take most book donations — they’re generally so financially stressed that every shelf-foot has to generate a minimum amount of circulation, and the cost of accessioning and cataloging a single volume is greater than most people imagine.

    Those of us who care about physical books need to face up to the upcoming book glut. Worst-case: books are pretty difficult to recycle, as hardcover books contain non-recyclable materials.

  47. Welcome to the third world!

    Billions of people around the world live with the minimum, even less than this guy.

  48. A couple of observations:

    When people cut down on their stuff, people who don’t like it usually use these judgments:

    1. They instantly compare the “validity” of what the other person is doing with some mental, invisible checklist of “real minimalism” they hold in their brain.

    2. Most people’s minimal “ideal” in their minds means stuff that’s cheap or free. How dare a minimalist have things they spend money on! Apple products are expensive, thus invalidating the way you choose to live!”

    3. Lastly, and oddly, most of the time the people angrily responding (which is bizarre in itself, as why do they care? They don’t know this person, nor is minimalism harming anyone) seem to be angry their minimalism code, which they themselves don’t follow, is approached by this interloper who is obviously not as serious as they are mentally about theirs, even though they take no physical action to bring it about.

    Seriously, stop getting mad at minimalists. It’s not like you get harassed every day by a twenty something asking to borrow a table saw and take a shower in your apartment.

    Also, as a 32 year old father of two, there is very little “extra equipment” I need to take care of my children past smaller utensils and smaller furniture for them. My crap is my crap, just as much as it was when I was 20. My choice to be married and have a meaningful relationship with spouse and kids does not mysteriously sneak up and “destroy” my minimalism. I don’t recall someone driving a truck up to my house filled with baby crap when my kids were born either.

  49. I think this is all about the idea of attachments, rather than minimalism or some ecological life statement. Think of ten things around you that you can’t live without. Hopefully, they are people, not things. For me, only one would be technological – my laptop – but the rest would be purely sentimental. A beaten up French dictionary, a few paintings I don’t hate, my climbing gear and a photo from my wedding day. Oh, and the better half. The rest I can part with and, indeed, I have this year.

    We’ve gone from living in a four bedroom, two and a half story, 2000 sq ft house to a 250 sq ft apartment in the student ghetto in my town. We gave away more than half our possessions and had a ball doing so. Our shackles of attachment to objects feels like they’ve been broken. Having less makes the mind lighter. Being able to move or set off on an unplanned adventure without worrying about cutting the grass is priceless.

  50. If there is one takeaway from all of the things I have said, it would be the standing naked in the schoolyard. Listen, I’m not saying you have to do it during school hours. Wait until the kids go in for lunch, THEN do it. That’s just being smart, people. If you don’t have access to a schoolyard, a Sunday school class or even the McDonald’s play area will stand in for the forest. The naked part is crucial though. If you’re really concerned about being naked (pfft!) and the impact that might have, go ahead and tie a small, red warning flag to your naughty parts, just to let people know that you are harmless. Then do the “I’m fucking awesome” part having taken all of the necessary precautions. It will be worth it.

    If there are two things Americans appreciate, it’s camping and self esteem.

    1. Don’t presume to lecture me about “standing naked in the wilderness”…not only have I had the pleasure of that experience many times, I also know, also from personal experience, that I can move pretty well over very rough terrain in that condition. Even at night.

      1. Was that you in Sentinel Pass, Banff running naked with the grizzlies last month? If so, I’m impressed.

  51. Every grad student I know lives this way. In order to move around (every year or two is the norm), fit in tiny apartments and live on very little money, it becomes a matter of necessity. It helps that we have a built in community of people to borrow things from and swap with, and it’s the one thing that everyone should try to have, no matter how much shit they own.
    As for the bed people keep griping about, most people moving to a new city don’t haul around a bunch of furniture. I can see how the mattress might generate some quick, but the bed frame at least would be appreciated (especially by students).
    The few people focusing on how important it is to live within one’s means and not buy compulsively have it right and I applaud any effort to make it culturally acceptable to live modestly again.

  52. This sort of thing is only interesting if the person has a hobby. And anyone who leaves things behind when they move is a loser.

  53. I lost most of my possesions during the February 27 earthquake and have been trying to see this as an opportunity to live with less. To learn how to detach from all that stuff, most of which I didn’t use anyway. Thinking every purchase throughly, and always triying to use the stuff I have, instead of buying new.

    1. Anon #98: Another possible lesson from your mis-fortune: enjoy what thou has, for it may soon be gone.

  54. @Anon#9: Right on the money. In a world of extreme consumption and possession, choosing to consume and possess less is a meaningful choice. But it’s hilarious to me to hear people like Kelly Sutton talk about “owning nothing.” Many of the things you gave up were extraneous and unnecessary, but the idea that you can “own nothing” is preposterous. It only seems plausible because you live in a civilization in which nearly everything you could possibly need can be provided by somebody else.

    Don’t get me wrong. There is value in specialization. This silly civilization we live in, in which every single home is expected to be its own enclave, with its very own set of appliances and tools and every god-damned thing you could ever imagine… it’s wasteful! America, as a country, probably owns ten times more lawnmowers than it really needs, just so Joe Public can get a warm fuzzy that HIS PERSONAL lawnmower is sitting safe and sound in HIS GARAGE. Yay for Joe. But it burns me to hear the minimalists talking about how awesome their lifestyle is without acknowledging the foundation of consumption and ownership on which it’s built.

    I live on 3 acres in the country. I have a log home that I heat with wood that I personally gather from felled trees. To do that, I need a chainsaw, or at the very least, I need a hand saw. I have a garden, and a set of tools like a hoe and rake. I have a kitchen, with a knife and a set of sheet pans and a couple of cast iron skillets. I have a workshop of woodworking tools that I use to turn scrap wood into garden trellises, cold frames, and sometimes even furniture. All of the things that I do to sustain myself–never mind to enrich and enjoy my life–require possessions. To suggest that these possessions are “clutter,” as this BoingBoing article does, is totally ignorant. Just because a lot of people own a lot of needless shit doesn’t mean that everyone who owns a lot of stuff is “cluttered”.

  55. This guy has totally misunderstood the issue. He’s talking about things he has no clue about.
    Face it: There are many people who live a happy and most comfortable life without possessing anything (e.g. monks).

    While selling his stuff he hoards and accumulates his digital belongings. Not possessing anything does not mean only physically, but also emotionally. It’s a total abuse of language, actually. Talking about books that actually are audio-books.

    Just an advice to Kelly:
    Sell your Macbook Pro and shut down your website and you will feel the real “letting go” and mental liberation.

    – pfff!

    1. Totally!
      I have been trying something similar – throwing out as much as I can – but I’m mostly left with books, CD’s, clothes and musical instruments. Descided not to throw away the books, CD’s and instruments just because I noticed I was already spending too much time behind the altar of my laptop.

      Take one book, one author, even perhaps just one idea, and sit with it. Then put the book down and wait. Perhaps experience silence. Then if you really need sound start singing, or if you can’t like me, take an instrument. Then notice you left the real world behind, spending too much in your own or the vitual mind and should get out more.

      At least for me the digital revolution is definately not one of salvation.

        1. Indeed I stand corrected, if not misunderstood!
          For surely I do not dwell in silence of the empty kind, but of the rich fermentation of my inner movements, stimulated and stirred through the words and images of ancient human’s wonders. And time passing unimproved? Nay! For time indeed does not pass, only me – from this earth to the great beyond- for that is what my Great Bellybutton told me, and at great length.
          And how else, I would ask you, than through first minimizing all my mental actions can I hope to penetrate my narcissistic self-indulgence? Instead, I now barely even make an attempt to escape my self-defined hyperspace. Oh, for a system of tubes how real it all seems, and how relevant! So much that I wonder who is looking at me from the other side.

          But dear Ugly one, let me return the favour and let’s ponder the eidolon, in silence:

  56. I’ll bet this guy has a home-base somewhere, possibly his parents house, or a storage unit. I’ve known a few people who live like this because they travel a lot for work. They ALWAYS have a cache somewhere. A storage unit in their old hometown or SOMETHING where they lock up their mementos or collections for future retrieval.

    Plus, I agree, its not a life of asceticism, its a life of just buying new shit whenever I need it.

  57. If I had to rank the things I value most and would keep, my art (that I have bought), my journals and my photographs would come first… my tech last.

    Sad that people so rarely talk about emotional satisfaction when they talk about “stuff.” Is owning *nothing* that you love actually a desirable thing?

    Even most of those sainted 3rd-worlders that people above reference as uber-minimalists have bits and bobs that are spiritually or emotionally important to them.

    Maybe the problem is that people are afraid to invest in “the right stuff.” I recently bought two pieces of art that were a financial stretch, but since I had the money, I didn’t hesitate. That’s sure not the attitude I had 3 years ago, in an apartment full of cheap crap.

    Having gotten rid of everything and moved continents, I can firmly say: I have stuff, but my stuff doesn’t have me.

  58. I don’t get it. Between us, my girlfriend and I own less than this and I never even thought it was remotley extreme or interesting.

    Granted, we just emigrated, but we sold off all our possesions with no plans to replace them.

    All of our clothes and worldly possessions now fit into 80L of luggage and since we moved the only other things we have bought are an ipod dock and speakers, a sofa bed, 4 plates, 1 pan, 4 cups and some cutlery.

    I may also have splashed out on a fifth mug for work.

    What gives with this guy being so interesting?

  59. Ahh, America! Where you are guaranteed three things will start inspid debates:
    1) Religion.
    2) Politics.
    3) Selling or getting rid of your stuff.

    Seriously, some folks even act weird if you drop stuff off for a charity without asking for a tax form. Heaven forbid you want to get rid of your old (but still useful) items and not ask for anything in return.

  60. This type of thinking and action will ruin our economy!!! Plus, how are we supposed to keep score? Does one win when one has nothing? Crazy talk! :) I love the idea! I want to play…

  61. I think there is some value in what this individual (and others like him) is doing. How many people of your friends/family members have storage units because they have too much stuff for their homes? Some people have multiple storage units because they just can’t bear the thought of getting rid of anything! What is wrong with taking a good hard look at your life and determining what is important, then ridding yourself of the excess?

    As far as ruining our economy goes, why is our economy dependent upon our mindless purchasing of cheap plastic crap that will either collect dust in our homes or break as soon as we use it? We buy stuff, then we buy stuff to put our stuff in, then we rent places to put our boxes of stuff we don’t ever use, just so that we can open up space to put more stuff so we can go out and buy more!

    It seems to me that the most valuable thing this guy is doing is questioning. It’s not the buying or owning of things that is the problem. It’s buying and owning without ever questioning the value that can be problematic.

  62. footage@83: I wonder what people will do with their books when their resale value drops down into the noise

    Books have resale value?!! OMFG – I’m rich!

  63. People love this story because it speaks to the age old idea that your possessions can control you if you let them.

    But let’s face it, Kelly. You never had all that much to begin with. You know what would be interesting, a 49 year-old mother of three who gives up almost all of her stuff. Now, that would be interesting.

    Don’t think you are unique with this or anything, however, I do respect what you did. Go interview a young U.S. sailor and see how much stuff he or she has. Not much to be sure. I played minimalist for a while, and it was fun and freeing, however, the urge to acquire eventually overtook me. Sometimes I yearn to be rid of it all, but I’m so damn comfortable now.

  64. I like stuff. Charlton ghost ghost comics. Old Punk records. Vintage D&D modules with dumb artwork. Megos. back issues of Flipside. B-Horror movie VHS. First edition hardback books. I appreciate more and more people trying to live off a hard drive, ’cause I’m the guy walking off from your yard sale with an armload of stuff and a huge grin.

  65. We recently moved to a new town, and in preparation did many moderate-to-large donation runs. Even after that we still had entirely too much shit (apart from the few dozen boxes marked ‘kitchen,’ which are of course sacrosanct and utterly exempt from this accounting).

    The new place has a more spacious and open floor plan than the old one, and even though we had both been fans of ‘open space’ for a long time, decided to kick it up a notch. To that end, almost all of the boxes marked ‘decor’ live in a very large upstairs closet. This has had a very positive psychological impact on our new living space. I also went back to my trusty drafting table after being accustomed to the nearly infinite storage space of a nice rolltop desk, and the asceticism involved has paid similar dividends.

    Those who’ve gone down this road know the quiet joy it can bring, and for the skeptics out there, rest assured that my trusty toolboxes await me upstairs and that at some point in the not-too-distant future I will get around to reassembling my workbench plaza. So no, I can’t pack up and move in four hours, but when I look around me I get that feeling anyway: best of both worlds.

    And since we’re toying with the idea of moving to Hawai‘i after my girlfriend finishes her MA, this is also a good transitional step toward ditching most of our shit.

  66. It takes surprisingly little portable stuff to live in relative luxury: one bagful.

    Clothes (glasses, shoes, belt, underpants, jeans, t-shirts. More in cold countries);
    Wallet (id, addressbook, cards/cash);
    Comms gear (phone, laptop, headphones, chargers);
    Tools (Screwdrivers, scissors, knife, fork, pen, paper, pin);
    Kitchenries (kettle, mug, spoon);
    Toiletries (soap; towel; toothbrush+paste).

    What’ve missed, that you couldn’t do without?

    Been living with that since Feb. A small pile of books and DVDs has accreted over the months, but they won’t be coming with me when I move.

    1. That’s easy. I do work on computers, which means I own at least two so that one breaking doesn’t stop my work. The one I work on is a desktop, because it has more power than a laptop, not to mention two large screens.

      Then there’s the matter of chairs: I have to take care of my backbone, so it’s an Aeron. Cheap throwaway chars give me cramps. (Yes, I tried that.)

      I also like to watch movies and a laptop screens doesn’t over the same experience, so I have a large TV. Or rather: Screen. The satellite dish has been dysfunctional since last June. But I’m not going to watch „Hellboy” on a 17″ screen if I can avoid it.

      I also like cooking and have an inbuilt pressure cooker, also something I would get repaired at once if t would ever fail.

      Also a large comic book collection. I wouldn’t mind putting some of it on an iPad, but I have nearly all Carl Barks and Don Rosa on A4 album, wouldn’t want to part with that.

      Quite a few books, of course, but I see myself going digital for those, save for a select few, like Tufte’s works, for example.

    2. What’ve missed, that you couldn’t do without?

      Sporting goods. We can count the running shoes as clothing, and the GPS as comms equipment, but without speed skates and at least one bike I just wouldn’t be me.

  67. Simplicity was a movement from the 70s. Its lasting. Its alot like this.

    No reason you can’t have nice things. Its a lifestyle choice, meant to improve ones life, not a political statement.

    1. Anon • #129
      Where does he keep his tax return info for the required 7 years?

      duh, on the computer. if you are a single dude, likely, you are filing the basic form only, which can be done online from start to finish, no hard copy ever exists.

  68. I was wondering why I’d suddenly gotten so many orders to my Etsy shop in the last two days. Lo and behold, this article is the reason! I’m pixlpshr, the person who sells the felt collages as seen in the background of Kelly’s photo above. Thanks so much to the person who posted the link to my shop and to everyone who checked out the work. The link to my Etsy store is here:

    And thanks to Kelly for not throwing out that Link to the Past collage! I remember meeting you at the Renegade Craft Fair. My friends were getting me drunk in my booth. I hope we weren’t a nuisance.


  69. A friend has reminded me that there is at least one possession which nobody ought to give up willingly: freedom.

  70. A couple points to be made.

    The DJ in the article is said to have stopped living in his own apartment and now sleeps on a friends couch. While I have no problem with it, this is not just minimalism; this is being a bum.

    The BBC seems like it wants to make a story out of something not unusual: twenty somethings not having stuff, or generally lacking roots. Not to mention their exhibition of a researcher with Transhumanist stars in his eyes at the end seems very tangential to the initial topic. Overall, a very poorly written article in my opinion.

    Kelly’s combined electronics cost could probably buy his apartment very nice furnishings. I’ve seen no mention of whether he has a functional kitchen or not, but, if not, his eating expenses are, almost certainly, extremely large compared to what they might be.

    The suggestions that he is ascetic stem from someone ignorantly comparing what the young men in the article are doing with their lives. Billions of people can speak more about asceticism than anyone who can access boingboing can.

    In addition, I couldn’t help but laugh when he describes his philosophy as utilitarian. Utilitarian means designed for use rather than beauty. Not to pick on Apple, but their products are not utilitarian. They are imminently aesthetic. I’ve even heard rumors that some of their laptops have false screws to promote the symmetry of the case. Not to mention the iGadgets, which are designed to be difficult to work with and fix. Surely, buying 3 gadgets instead of one is not minimalist?

    The anon who replied ninth makes the best point. His life is undoubtedly more utilitarian and minimal than Mr. Sutton’s. It is only by comparison to a decadent, hedonistic majority that Kelly looks to be austere or minimalist.

  71. the next step would be to not buy anything new….other than food of course

    recycle everything you use, do not buy plastic, and possibly only buy stuff that has been handmade or you know exactly where and under what conditions it was made…other than say, a car or a computer this is easy…but it is all possible
    you are on the right track And yes, there is no turning back

    consumerism is boring….filling a harddrive(s) fun!

  72. I once considered visiting a zen uhm encampment and so I visited their website first. There I read that musical instruments were forbidden. I had no idea zen was so Calvinist.

  73. I’ve been living like this for the last 6 years. Moving back and forth to Uni and then to different areas for work has led me to this.

    Having a clear space to live in gives you a clear mind. People, relationships and experiences are the valuable things in life!

    The things you own, end up owning you. (Tyler Durden – Fight Club)

  74. I’m not too far from this, though with me it’s more about a level of poverty, mobility, and building up from nothing. I moved to NYC with two suitcases of clothes and a laptop, and haven’t spent more than a year in any one apartment yet. I’ve got a little bit more now, but I’m still trying to cut down on a lot of it.

    I kind of like focusing on getting rid of stuff, but his words above are right — it’s not for everyone, and it’s not a great moral issue. It’s also something uniquely suited to an urban environment, and a single lifestyle at that (which is also more suited to an urban environment).

    It is, however, deeply liberating.

  75. I am not sure just getting rid of stuff simplifies your life….it is the very things he is keeping that cause me the most maintenance time…. why is my network so slow turns out to be because my network card is bad and that took too much time to solve. My cellphone buttons stop working…. my land line headset plug starts causing the phone to cut out. My other less techie possessions are easier to maintain. It is more obvious what is wrong. And usually I can do the repair myself, often at no additional cost. It seems to me that I am ALWAYS generating techie trash.

  76. due to various cross country & trans world moves, we’ve gotten rid of & cheaply replaced a lot of furnishings & stuff over the last 10 years. *by the way, anon#1–I greatly appreciate furniture left behind, especially beds. means I can move in the day I arrive, without having to stay in hotels or guestrooms for weeks.

    we don’t expect to move again. not from this town, not even from this house unless it’s to a nursing home. This time, we are furnishing very slowly.

    In the past any shelf might do, having a shelf was the only criteria. if it was not actually the right size for the spot or the items we wanted to put on it, we ‘made do’. Even before our decade of moving, I’d spent most of my life getting along with whatever furnishings fell to hand. Nothing was ever quite right, many things were often quite rickety. I had a running list of things to be on the lookout for: a larger table, shorter nightstand, better shelf. I’ve spent too much time looking for stuff both in the shopping with cash version & the curb surfing version.

    In the future, only the shelf that fits the spot will do. I’d rather wait to find/afford the most suitable shelf & then use it happily for 40 or more years. I don’t want to get something that will sort of work OK, & then spend lots of energy being annoyed that it blocks either the outlet or the switch if we put it here, or interferes with the door opening if we put it there. Spending energy keeping ‘need a better shelf’ in the back of my mind & being vaguely on the look out for one a little narrower or shorter or deeper or less wobbly or whatever.

    It sounds whiny, I know. But at this point, minimalism, for me, is not having ‘stuff’ on my mind.

  77. I applaud Kelly’s ingenuity. Commenter ‘twelvesixteen’ asked in using all three gadgets (iPad, MacBook, and Kindle)was duplicitous. I can see individual uses for all. Doing serious work on an iPad isn’t a user friendly experience. The use of both an external keyboard and mouse is an ergonomic issue. The point of Kelly’s experiment isn’t to own as little as possible; it’s to own as little as possible while ensuring the quality of life you feel suits you. Minimalism is a very personal undertaking and will be experienced differently by all.

  78. throwing away all or most of your childhood shit and starting over, keeping just a few precious things is something every teenager does.

    Whats only notable in this story is this hipster douche is doing it at 30-ish, and holding himself up as some kind of genius lifehacker.

    Hes got more than many of us readers, who are busting our asses trying to grab as much as we can from the long lists of what we want.

    And I dont even believe him. I think he trashed his already ripped Cd’s and thinks hes now Deepak Chopra.

    Seriously, a keyboard for his laptop? Jesus. I know not even one person that went to that expense.

  79. Way, way late to the party. However- I think the part that may be getting under people’s skin is that in the U.S., living like this guy does is really expensive. This appearance (as they see it) of upper middle-class elitism is irritating to some folks. I don’t think I agree, but I think I get it. He has the *luxury* of living as he does.

  80. I’m fairly sure that there are people who do more with less than Kelly. He’s getting attention because of the marketing he has done for himself. He has glorified false poverty, and his target audience, who are those within his demographic, can relate to him and derive value from it. He has tapped in to an undercurrent of guilt for materialism, and he has absolved those who feel that way. Find out what people want, then give it to them. His marketing campaign diminishes the struggle of those who suffer more in lower socioeconomic strata.

    1. “He has glorified false poverty”

      This is where you started making up stuff and going on a tangent that has nothing to do with with what Kelly is doing or writing about.

      I hope you at least had a smile on your face you wrote it. It could be the basis for a good short story!

  81. I sure did have a smile. I was making fun of the overreaction. Living with less stuff would be great.

  82. knives. stones to sharpen knives. decent cutting board. the beginning of stuff. and if you can prepare food, you are much more likely to reproduce. you can look it up.

  83. You guys aren’t even close to being minimalists.

    I just have the clothes on my back and a credit card that lets me access billions of dollars from Granddaddy’s trust fund. Nothing else at all. Not even a wristwatch or a cell phone. And I go commando, all the time.

    You people clearly don’t understand simplicity.

    If you spend all your time in heated buildings being serviced by well-oiled manservants, you won’t even need a waistcoat. Now that’s minimalism!

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