Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The Bad and the Good
So I'm finally settling down to talk about The 100 Thing Challenge. On his blog, the author provides a summary of the challenge. You can click the link to read it and see what you think. Now, I don't know about you, but what I expected from a challenge like this was a guy trying to decide if he needs both a fork and a spoon. I expected to read about him waking up one day and realizing he didn't have a clean pair of underwear for work, because all three pairs were in the wash, and having to go commando for the day. I expected a bit of humor, a few epiphanies, and some motivation for paring down my possessions.
But it wasn't like that at all. Instead, there was a whole lot of qualifying (This is MY challenge with MY rules, so don't you dare critcize it.), a buttload of brand-name-dropping (Patagonia, anyone?) and the epiphanies were so faint as to be lost. It's admirable to broach the subject of consumerism, but as a book, as a living experiment, it didn't go far enough.
For example, Bruno counts his library as one thing. Hey, can I count my wardrobe as one thing? My sewing supplies? How about my Christmas decorations? And I share everything else with Gerry, so those things certainly don't count. Where are the hard choices? The improvisation?
On the other hand, if you really want to read about challenging consumerism, read The Moneyless Man. Mark Boyle challenged himself to live for a year without spending any money, and he did it without bending the rules into a pretzel to make it easier on himself. If anything, when faced with interpreting the rules, he erred on the conservative side. I know, I know, the 100 Thing Challenge guy can do anything he wants, but it just wasn't that interesting compared to this book.
I don't know how many things Mark Boyle used during the course of his moneyless year-- he might have been wallowing in a shocking 300 things-- but his approach to breaking away from consumerism led to some real breakthroughs. Staying under the magic 100 things number by substituting one expensive piece of outdoor gear for another just doesn't lead to the kind of introspection that you get from buying nothing.
One thing in the book that really made an impression on me was the idea that giving should be done freely, without consideration for what you're getting in return. Just give and it will eventually come back to you. You can read more about this "Philosofree" here. From the website:
This is our point - if somebody needs help, why do we need to get anything in return? Is the fact that another human being needs your help not excuse enough?
I can't say enough good things about The Moneyless Man. Sure it was extreme. No it isn't for everyone. I'm not about to go off the grid and start riding my bike 18 miles to work. But it has given me a lot to think about.