Saturday, February 12, 2011

The 100 Thing Challenge, by Dave Bruno

Every once in awhile, I succumb to what broadly speaking might be termed a self-help book. Frankly, I'm kind of past the point in life where I am going to change my personality or habits much, at least for the better, but sometimes such books have a fleeting, galvanizing influence. In particular, I seem to be a sucker for the organize/declutter/get your life in order type of books. To say that the books' influence doesn't last is not a criticism, just a statement about the monkey nature of my own mind.

Dave Bruno, a thoughtful family man living in San Diego, began wondering if he was really walking the walk that he was talking in terms of simplicity and anti-consumerism that he'd been writing about on his blog and probably talking with others about as well. He began to ponder the ways in which things were actually keeping him from living the sort of life he aspired to live. Accordingly, he set himself a challenge: to pare back and live with only one hundred things as his personal possessions for the timespan of one year. The book is a chronicle of his attempt to first identify, second unload, and finally live without the extraneous material things in his life. The results were, and are, illuminating.

One thing that the book brings out is the way that we invest things with a significance far beyond what is actually inherent in them. Bruno is open and candid about the way some of these objects operate in his life. As he has it, there are objects that we keep in the hope that they can somehow repair the past. There are those we keep because they keep some dream or illusion we have about ourselves alive. A particularly interesting part of his story is the way he dealt with his collection of woodworking tools. It wasn't that Bruno never did woodworking--it wasn't that kind of illusion. The illusion was that he would somehow gain mastery by possessing these very special tools. Mastery is a very interesting obsession. I remember my teacher of Ancient Greek arguing against the concept many years ago. He thought that the idea of mastery of a subject put us in an uneasy and unfruitful relationship to it. In some ways, the aim of study is to let a subject master us. To dream of mastery is more about the myth of our own power and so ultimately a dead end.

Personally, I'm not a huge stuff accumulator. The areas that I have problems in are the accumulation of books and the amassing of paper that I don't know how to get back under my control. I'm not a shopper in any of the usual sorts of feminine scenarios, and will do a good deal to avoid a trip to the mall. But it's always interesting to think of these things in relation to your own 'problem areas'. I was curious, then, how Bruno dealt with books in his one hundred thing challenge.

Very neatly, I would say. Books came collectively under the heading "One Library".


  1. Smiling & pondering. And, by coincidence, I am taking to church tomorrow a book to give to a man to pass along (after he reads it) to a woman who is living the simple life (and who should also give the book to someone else)...called Nothing Left Over, by Toinette Lippe.

    Of course it was given to me. To pass along.

  2. Nice.

    I should say that one of the many things that came up for Mr. Bruno was that, since he had a blog about all this, people would write in and challenge him on the way he was playing the game, rather than taking the deeper message and looking at their own lives. I tease about the 'one library' thing, because in my life that would be a total cop out, but in his, it was an area that he didn't feel hot button issues on.

    And when he told his mother not to get him any gifts that year? Whoa. Watch out.

  3. Sounds interesting to have a go at...I don't think I am much of a hoarder but I do have a house full of "stuff" - not girlie stuff either - but most of it is here because I can't come at the idea of throwing away perfectly useful items - I happily give them away when the opportunity arises but throwing away seems wrong - even my books once read could be happily gotten rid of if only I could find some way to do so that doesn't cost me money - I have tried bookswapping websites but they ended up costing me far more than the value of the few books I could obtain and it's hard to find places that want my cast-off translated crime fiction.

  4. Bernadette, I do understand. In my own book purges, which don't seem to happen unless I move, I usually can donate a lot of books to the Friends of the Library, but I'm not sure that such concepts work elsewhere.

    It occurred to me that I should probably link to Dave's own blog on this stuff. that omission is corrected here