review : the 100 thing challenge - dave bruno

I have recently been on a kick to simplify my life. I suppose it’s not so much a kick as it is the fact that I need to simplify. When I found a reference to this book while surfing various blogs it obviously caught my attention and, living the Kindled life, I immediately bought it.

First things first, don’t be misled by the title. The '100′ is accurate; the ‘thing’ needs to be explained a bit more. Bruno is liberal with the definition of ‘thing’; for example, 'library' consisted of all of his books and 'underwear' was all of his underwear. He identifies this clearly in the book. During the challenge he maintained a blog (I don’t know if that’s the blog used during the challenge but it’s the one that arose during the search) where he posted his approach and experiences. He indicated readers were critical about the way he defined ‘thing’ and argued that he didn’t really whittle his life down to 100 things. However, as Bruno states, it’s his challenge and it is how he decided to define ‘thing’.

[In retrospect, I was surprised that he didn't group other things into a single category, like his backcountry gear. It would seem easy to create a bare minimum set and feel comfortable with the collection as a single line item.]

I admit I was a little taken aback when I first realized this and perhaps was a bit disappointed. In some ways I wanted to see someone living the full commitment more akin to A. J. Jacob’s, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible where Jacobs attempted to live to the letter of the bible. Of course, since things like stoning people to death for certain sins are frowned upon in modern society, living to the letter wasn’t really an option, it seemed he lived as close to it as is possible. (I’m not familiar enough with the bible to be a good judge of that. The 100 Thing Challenge was far more transparent and accessible so easier to validate.)

The real challenge that Bruno accepted through this endeavor was to break his involvement with what he termed “American-style consumerism”. Loosely this amounts to the activity of buying for buying’s sake, as opposed to necessity’s sake. Bruno effectively put it at one point as

It’s the way of American-style consumerism, which demands that we strive for perfection. Anything short of “exactly right” is short of the dream life.

He also observes that, for him, the consuming was about replacement. That somehow owning certain things made up for things or experiences he felt he should have had at other times in his life. To this I can certainly relate.

As he observes at the end, the challenge enabled him to modify his behavior, simplify his life, and learn to use the freed up time to spend in more useful ways – such as time with his family.

I wasn’t so much looking to Bruno’s book in a ten commandments sort of way to tell me the exact 100 things I would need to live. It was more that I wanted to know where to start and what problems I might expect as I started to contemplate my simplification. In that latter sense, I feel the book delivered.

The book reads more like a book we weren’t really supposed to read, almost as if Bruno wrote it to himself. It is very honest, not pretentious (though some of the acknowledgment of his affluence can seem that way at times), and a bit raw. Those qualities really are what make the book, though. It’s not a manual or blueprint. It’s not suggesting a necessary way of life and those that don’t conform are fools or sinners. It’s rather reflective and I found many opportunities to reflect on my own life.

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