March 28, 2014

The Shoebox Challenge

The less you need, the more free you will be.

Here at NBA we get wonderful comments and emails from people that have also realized the futility of fettered, unsustainable lifestyles. But I have been noticing similar sentiments expressed in many other areas in my reading around the internet.

More and more people are fed up and tapped out. Finished. Done.

They know the effects, personal and environmental, of consumer-oriented lifestyles. Stress, depression, unpayable debt, and a big house cluttered with consumer goods that need to be cleaned, maintained, stored, and disposed of properly. Environmental destruction.

Many folks are simply bailing from the whole mess.

For example, here are a couple of comments from a thread on a real estate and finance blog that I follow. The post was essentially about people living beyond their means and piling on debt.

One commenter wrote:

"It is time to voluntarily exit middle class madness and start spending within your means. Live small and debt-free, not big and in deep. 
This is my plan: 
1. Get rid of stuff (sell, trade, and give away).
2.  Eliminate debt.
3.  Invest what’s left, and live simply. 
 Wait and pay attention and you will be thankful you pulled out before it all collapses. 
As I have been selling stuff, it seems that people are still spending money. It’s like the general populace has reached a point where they are fatigued, and spending makes them feel good.  
Bad news is exhausting - go shopping. 
My goal is to own almost nothing. Literally. I’m done with the consumer life. I want nothing - that’s where the freedom is.  
When I die, I want to be thrown away along with my shoebox of possessions. It should take about ten minutes.  
That’s my goal now."

In response someone else said:

"My spouse and I just had that conversation today. We were thinking the same way you are about possessions. We have already sold and got rid of a lot of things.  
We want fewer things, too. I curse most of the stuff in my home, believe me. But it is tough to get down to that shoebox.  
Good luck, I’ll see you out there on the road to freedom."

The consumer capitalists tell us that working hard (for them) and buying things (from them) will set us on the road to happiness and ultimate freedom. Well, they lied, and more of us are catching on to their soul-sucking scam.

See you on the real road to freedom - becoming unencumbered by societal expectations and material things.

“You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.” 
- Gandhi, whose possessions at death could definitely fit in a shoebox


  1. Count me in. I have little but still have donated nearly 2000 items in six months, from hair ties to boots to chairs...gone, gone, gone!

  2. What a great post.

    Inspirational as ever.

    Keep them coming. It’s good to know that there are others like us (myself and my SO) on this planet. Sometimes it feels as though we are the only ones that can see the chaos around us.

    1. T.B.M.,

      You are not alone. As awareness increases so do our numbers. The evidence is getting harder to ignore or justify or explain away - we have reached the limits of Earth's capacity to sustain present ways of living.

      I am glad that you and so many others that can see where this is headed, have chosen to share here at NBA. Reader participation has made this a place that Linda and I turn to for support, understanding, and ideas for making further positive changes.

      Together we can use the chaos as an opportunity for creating a new kind order that is Earth and people-friendly based on compassion for all of creation.

  3. Today I stopped at Nordstrom Rack to buy find underwear, and when I walked in there was a huge sign that read "When I say I want, I really mean I need". I was dumbfounded...and decided not to buy a damn thing.

    1. Megyn,

      Advertising = evil. Great decision!

  4. I keep thinking about this post- I love that the idea of owning less is spreading, and I especially love the 'shoebox of possessions'. I can't quite picture actually owning that little, but it reminds me that there is probably more that I can do without.

    1. NicolaB,

      The time I felt most free (as an adult) was the year Linda and I lived out of our backpacks as we travelled through Canada and then abroad. Camping in the Rocky Mountains was pretty good, too.

      I think of the shoebox as an ideal I will spend the rest of my life working toward.

  5. Anonymous3/29/2014

    I relate to The Big Monkey's comment about feeling like you are the only ones who see the chaos around us. I am very much like a lone wolf, out casted if I dare open my mouth about what is important to me, i.e. living with a lot less. So many around me are extremely attached to "things" and spending money.

    It is encouraging to hear that some others seem to be breaking away as you've noticed Gregg.

    I've come to this blog as I often do in search of allies. Hearing the experience of others who are traversing the terrain of owning less, buying less and thinking differently inspires and energizes me to keep moving that direction. It's encouraging to see others are beginning to question and maybe breaking away from "consumer-oriented lifestyles".

    I don't know about the shoebox challenge, I just keep hauling "stuff" out of here. And I absolutely love how I feel in my home every time a bunch of stuff leaves. You can write about it, think about it and experience it, but freedom from stuff is almost indescribably great.


    1. Terri,

      As I was unloading another load of things at the second hand store, I spoke with another person dropping bags and boxes of stuff off.

      I said, "It feels better getting rid of it than it did buying it."

      The person chuckled knowingly and nodded their agreement.

      Every time I drop off stuff I leave feeling elated. I want to run before someone comes out and asks me to take something back.

      Sorry "Stuff" - the spell is broken. Your time is through.

  6. So refreshing to read those comments. I think the idea really is getting out there. Despite the hardships, this economic slump was really helpful in showing a lot of us a different way of life. I have my trunk filled with donations to take to the thrift store this week and it's a relief already. I've been systematically clearing through each area of the house. Organizing cupboards, closets, dressers. I have taken an entire closet full of clothes and consolidated it all into one small dresser. I watched what I wore, what I didn't and bagged it up. I kept my frequently used clothing and found how little I truly needed! And, boy, is laundry day so much easier now. And now I have an entirely empty closet. Wow. Refreshing. And to think of all the money I spent over the years on it....*shudder*. Well, that's in the past. Onward now!

    1. Adge Lockhart,

      Think instead of all the money you are saving now. If you don't need as much money, you can choose to do less paid labour, and spend more time pursuing your own priorities. That sounds like freedom to me.

      Congratulations on the continued downsizing. It is important to share our experiences with less to assure people that it is an improvement in so many important ways.

      Consumerism is a failed experiment on all counts.

  7. Anonymous4/01/2014

    The shoebox of possessions reminds me of when I was a kid and all my friends had their 'shoebox', that is, a secret box filled with things that only they really really liked. It was almost like a time capsule, only available to be seen by a select few. One kept a favorite toy, photos, a locket, etc. in them. It was a box of things that was almost outside the 'regular' stuff they had in plain sight when friends would visit; the shoebox itself was usually shoved under the bed!

    I agree with Lockhart in that the economic state of things could be seen as a hardship, or a great teacher in how to lessen everything and still be able to live. I read this article on a site maintained by a man who wants to plant seeds all over the world that end up as trees that bear fruit for all and he said that he ran into someone who was homeless, but the homeless person talked long hours about the love of God and higher consciousness, about the Earth and sky. Then this blogger found another homeless man who was bitter about his lot in life. Either the economy can enlighten you to the point that you consider Earth your home, or drag you down with all the depressing stories that seem to be the norm everywhere you look. I have to wonder if it's not just advertising that makes people think they need things that are actually wants, but the System itself as well! "You need all sorts of insurance as a wager that you will die/get sick/in an accident!" Telling people that they need (fake, fiat, pulled out of thin air) money, or telling them that they need to slave away for something that did not exist 100+ years ago. You can tell me times have changed, but one thing I noticed about that is the more times change, the more history repeats itself. If they didn't need or know about a certain something that just appeared out of nowhere in this century only 5 years ago, do you really need it? Did your grandparents know about it? Would they recognize it? For all the digital gotta-have nonsense of the now, one must realize the analog world was here first and the digital world is the over-stayed house guest and not the other way around. Robots may take over everything but with one CME, they're paperweights. Then only the clockwork ones will operate since they don't run on electricity!

    My shoebox would contain clock parts and a Leatherman, amongst other things ;)

    ~The Finder of Lost Articles -and fixer of mechanical devices

    1. TFOLA,

      Hey - I had a shoe box, but didn't think of it until I read your comment. Culturally approved entertainment is all so packaged these days - no room for creativity there as it is all passive absorption of corporate, mind-numbing crap.

      But a shoebox, now we are talking personal preference and creativity. YOU chose what went into your box, and each box was highly individual, reflecting the personality and quirks of its owner.

      If only people had longer memories, and an interest in history (which is fascinating regardless of how much our schools try to destroy it). Then we might just get somewhere. We could reverse the de-evolution taking place in our anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-knowledge, anti-truth global regime.

      Humanity deserves to be blown back to the Stone Age. Maybe the Bronze Age. Time to start collecting the low-tech devices we will need after fossil fuels become too scarce and expensive for the average Cave Person to afford.

      We will need fixers of mechanical devices, and menders of analog realities.

  8. Anonymous4/08/2014

    I'm actually not materialistic at all. I couldn't care less about most of my posessions, though I try to take good care of them so they last me a long time. Most of my clothes are from highschool, and I make sure to buy clothes that never go out of style, and I take good care of them. But I have expensive tastes. I love to go to the live theater, listen to live music and go see ballets/other forms of dance. Would buying tickets to these events count as buying something? What counts as buying something?

    1. Anon,

      I think that most people would agree that simple living means dumping the superfluous stuff in order to focus on the things that really matter. It sounds to me that this is exactly what you are doing.

      Linda and I try to keep our buying to the essentials - things we really need. But that is a somewhat flexible category that can contain different things for different people.


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