I have been reflecting a lot on “stuff.” We live in a society where excess is celebrated. The Qur’an says that the best among us are the most righteous in character, but society values “stuff” even more than it does good manners. The wealthy are excused from normally unacceptable behaviour because of who they are (essentially what they have). Once someone no longer has, they are forgotten.

A few years ago, I started trimming the excess in my life in order to focus more on becoming closer to Allah (swt) iA. Alhamdulilah it is amazing! It’s quite liberating to free yourself from material things.

The next task for me was whittling down my possessions to 100 items. *I wrote a blog post on it on my other blog, Conscious Instinct, and I wanted to share this with you:

“I previously talked about three books that changed my life, one of them being A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.  In this book, Tolle writes extensively about letting go of the ego in order to feel fulfilled.  The ego, as he describes it, is our thoughts and our sense of self in our own mind.  Unfortunately, we live in a society where most people live solely in their own minds and unleash their negative feelings on the world.  When we realise that we are not solely a product of our thoughts and feelings, and let go of the bad experiences, resentment, hurt and suffering, we can truly be enlightened and happy.  This doesn’t mean that we ignore negative feelings, but we look for the positives and the life lessons, and use this to move forward.  We take every experience with purpose in order to be able to free our minds and see the bigger picture.

In the same way that we need to let go of the ‘stuff’ that is cluttering our minds, eliminating physical possessions and living with less can also help us achieve an enlightened state.  Studies show that on an extreme side, hoarding is associated with mood and anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety, depression, OCD and ADHD.  Even in studies that look at milder effects of materialism, impulse shopping, and retail therapy, all consistently find that while giving you a temporary boost, acquiring things does not lead to overall happiness.  There is a toxic cycle of acquiring, not being happy, and wanting more.

So what is one to do?  I would challenge that in your quest to enlightenment, you look at being physically free as well as mentally free.  I started this myself a few years ago, which I called the 100 things challenge.  The premise is simple: live with purpose, not only in your thoughts and actions, but with your physical possessions as well.  The goal is to get your physical possessions down to 100 things.  In learning to live with less and buying with purpose, you set yourself free physically and mentally, and contribute to an overall increase in health and happiness.

Starting the Challenge

The first thing is to have the intention to get your possessions down.  Everything in life starts with conscious intention.  Without it, we are just empty words and meaningless action.  Say to yourself, ‘I will achieve my goal.’  Sometimes you only need to say something out loud and it is enough to make it true.  Words hold power.

Also remember that this is a very personal experience.  Allocate 100 things for each person in the home, and allow them to go on their own journey and decide what items they will keep.  If they don’t get to 100 in the first iteration, encourage them to start again at step one, but don’t push your own agenda.  Everyone will get to their place of peace in their own time.

Take Inventory

Take an honest inventory of everything that you have.  This is probably the lengthiest and most painful part of the challenge.

Firstly, it’s difficult to take inventory if you have been acquiring for a long time.  Maybe you have things in storage, or scattered at a parent’s house or in different countries if you have moved.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Start with the things in your immediate possession.  The other things can be audited later.  If you overwhelm yourself too early in the beginning, you are less likely to succeed.

Secondly, taking an actual inventory, writing things down, and going through your possessions can sometimes be a raw experience.  We attach emotions, feelings and memories to our stuff.  The outfit we wore to a a birth, a funeral, or other important event.  That juicer you got when you were going to start your healthy eating, maybe you can use it?  The inventory process also shows us how big of an issue materialism is in our lives.  Generally, we have too much stuff.  It’s tough, but taking a hard look in the mirror and facing our fears is the only way we can overcome them.

Sort Possessions: Need, Want, Sell, Charity, Rubbish

Once you have your inventory completed, it’s a good idea to sort through everything:

  • Need: these are essentials like underwear, socks, clothing, coats, shoes, pots, pans, cutlery, essential furniture, etc.
  • Want: items that aren’t necessities, but hold sentimental value.  Maybe your wedding outfit, jewellery, gifts, etc.
  • Sell: why not make some money from your clear out? You can use your profits and new found material freedom to fund a nice holiday somewhere.
  • Charity: items that are not needed or wanted, probably couldn’t sell, but are still in good condition.  Getting into a habit of giving and paying it forward can be extremely gratifying.
  • Rubbish: if it doesn’t work anymore and doesn’t serve anyone else a purpose, get rid of it.

Second Stage: The Audit

First step is to throw away your rubbish items and contact a charity to arrange for pick up of your charity items.  This way, you can see the immediate progress you have made.  Seeing the fruits of your efforts helps to keep you motivated and continue with the process.  You can also start posting some of your things for sale, but I would recommend putting those to one side and working on the rest of the audit.

Next, have a look your needs and wants.  What is the total of these items?  If you are no where close to having them down to 100, consider these steps:

Clothing

  • Try auditing your wardrobe in a way that is multi-seasonal and multi-purpose.  It is a good idea to keep timeless clothing items and get rid of things that might come in and out of fashion.
  • If you find that you have a lot of one thing, like jeans, keep the ones that you like and fit you best, and consider giving the rest to charity.
  • Take into account what your lifestyle is and what your clothing demands are as a result.  Are you in an office environment five days a week?  If so, having a wardrobe that is more heavily focused on office wear would be more practical.  If you are in a relaxed environment or at home, then maybe only having one or two business outfits would suffice.  Remember that you are auditing so that you have possessions with purpose.
  • Clothing rentals can be used for special occasions, which makes sense because we will often buy an outfit for a wedding for example, which is only worn once.  For men, one main special occasion suit, with 2-3 shirts will suffice.  My husband has used the same suit for the last four weddings we attended, changing only the shirt and tie he wore with it.

Furniture

  • Allocate a separate allowance for furniture outside of your 100 things.  Depending on the size of your family and space, I would say that anywhere from 5-15 furniture items per person is a good guideline to use.  Furniture includes cutlery, dishes, pots and pans, and bigger items like beds, sofas, portable storage, portable lighting, etc.
  • Take a running total and work with this number.  For example, for our family of three, at 10 items per person, this would be an allowance of 30 furniture items for the home.  I share a bed with my husband, and we share the couch with the family, so this would be 2/30, leaving me with 28 more household items in my allowance.
  • As you begin to have less, you will naturally require less furniture to hold your things.  This is an organic part of the auditing process.
  • Consider what furniture is absolutely vital to your home.  Family meals are important to us, so we need to have enough cutlery for each person to be able to eat at the same time.  However, we have three chairs, which are definitely not all essential, since we also have a sofa.
  • As with clothing, look for furniture that is multi-functional.  Beds with storage, sofa beds, a television stand with a book shelf underneath, multi-functional kitchen items.  These allow you to have one item with many uses.

Documents & Books

  • Shred all non-essential documents.  I was in the habit of putting my mail in a drawer, and ended up with countless takeaway menus, company offers, and other junk mail.  Shred everything that you don’t need right away.
  • For documents such as bank statements, utility bills, council tax bills, appointment letters, or anything that you might need to produce copies of in the future, consider scanning these on to a cloud-based app and shredding the hard copies. Evernote has a great app called Scannable, which lets you scan and save documents.  This allows you to have access to the documents without physically having them cluttering your space. If you ever need a hard copy, you can always contact the service provider directly and they are more than happy to accommodate.  Always make sure you keep original copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, passports, or anything that cannot be easily replaced.
  • Book collections can always be further audited, and digitised if necessary.

Beauty, Health & Hygiene

  • Consider health, beauty and hygiene items that can be used for the entire family.  The products we use are generally organic, vegan, and/or non-toxic which are delicate enough for my four year old to use as well.  Avoid any items like facial moisturiser, hair products, deodorant, or creams which are scented, so that my husband feels comfortable sharing.
  • If you wear makeup, do a full audit.  When I looked at the makeup I actually wear, it’s down to five items: eyeliner, mascara, blush, eye shadow, and foundation for special occasions.  I binned the rest.
  • Re-evaluate the necessity of other items.  Do you really need five bottles of shampoo, or that facial spa steamer?

Sentimental Items

This is probably the hardest one to audit, because we have stronger emotional attachments to sentimental items.

  • What are the feelings attached to the item?  Are they positive or negative?  Anything associated with negative emotions should be given to charity, sold, or thrown away.  Make a concerted effort to keep the vibe in your home vibrant and positive.
  • Items like jewellery, especially pieces that you don’t wear often, are probably best in secure storage.  This allows you to keep them without cluttering your space.
  • Perhaps there is something sentimental to you specifically.  For me, it’s books.  I would encourage you to explore what it is about this specific item that makes you so attached to it.  I had an isolated childhood, so books were my escape.  Work through those feelings, and hold on to the items that have the most importance to you.  For the others consider keeping a photograph.  I held on to my favourite books, and digitised the rest of my collection.

Keeping It Up

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Your 100 things challenge will be a process that you work on over time.  Although I have worked on it for the better part of two years, and generally keep my possessions within my limit of 100, there are still times where I buy unnecessarily.  This is when I have to reset and maybe start again at step one and go back to my intentions.  Why am I doing this?  How am I feeling right now?  Sometimes, I really want to make a purchase, and instead of impulse shopping, I will wait 24-48 hours and see how I feel.  Do I really need this item at this moment?  Do I still want it?  What purpose will it serve?

One thing I can say, conscious consumerism, buying with purpose and intent, is truly fulfilling.  Besides saving you money for more worthwhile experiences, it helps you re-evaluate what is really important, shows you little by little that material possessions are not as necessary as you were led to believe, and helps to change your mindset.  Like the opening of space in your physical surroundings, you will feel your mind open and be free of clutter, allowing you to ponder and enjoy the simpler things.”

“And they ask you what they should spend on others and in the cause of Allah. Tell them, ‘All that is beyond your needs.’ Thus Allah makes plain to you His Revelations, that you may reflect and understand the Wisdom behind each Command.” (Qur’an 2:219)