100 Things

Paula hacks a banana tree.

Angelique ran when I had the machete.

It all began with picking bananas.

I was visiting my friend Angelique in Cyeza, Rwanda. Angelique is a member of the Abarikume Women’s Cooperative, one of the Azizi Life cooperatives that create artisan made crafts for tourists and the export market. The women of the cooperative agreed to take me for a week to experience the life of a rural Rwanda woman. This includes picking bananas.

Picking bananas is not easy work – and I know farm-work. Angelique’s banana patch was at least a click away on a hilly, rock and scree covered path. After chopping down bunches of bananas, branches and young trees (good source of water and vegetation for the cows), we climbed up the rocky hill handing off our loads to each other through the tricky parts. The women carried their bundles on their heads gracefully; I carried mine less so. It was a very hot day. We stopped in a cool spot for a rest.

Through my translator, Julliette, the women said they wanted to ask me a question. “Of course,” I responded, “ask anything.” They asked why I showed up every day with clean clothes yet I only had two different shirts. I explained that I had two shirts and two pairs of pants that I washed in the bathtub with myself and the end of the day; one set dried, and the other was worn the next day. I explained that I traveled this way with two dresses which could also be used as nightgowns and a long skirt that I could wear under a dress or with a shirt for extra modesty. This allowed me to travel light – which was very different from the way other Westerners traveled.

They were astonished.They asked, “Why would you wash your clothes every day?”

I explained that it was our custom to wear clean clothes as respect for others when we go anywhere, but I admitted it can get silly. We talked for nearly an hour as I told them about things like washing machines and dryers, walk-in closets, malls, and the insane amount of belongings – especially clothing – that Americans own. I told them I had enough clothes for a week before I needed to wash my clothes, but I knew people who could go weeks without needing to repeat any item of clothing. I also told them many people wash clothing after wearing them once.

They were speechless. They could not believe we could own so much and waste so much water on clothing. It could see the insanity through their eyes.

Since that day I’ve worked on keeping my personal belongings – including clothing – to 100 things. The 100 things meme began a few years ago, part of the steady evolution in the simplicity movement that includes tiny houses and minimalism. I haven’t been able to fully divest my cumber and curate my stuff to 100 until this summer. I have not pruned to 100,  more like 150, with the number changing daily as I fine tune the lists. I have two capsule wardrobes of 33 items each (one cold weather; one warm) and a list of about 65 items that I use daily. Many authors have written their rules about what counts and what doesn’t; I’m relying less on pedagogy and more on common sense. I plan on fitting my items into travel trunks to accomodate my next move . (It’s for this reason I have two capsule wardrobes; one in storage along the current unnecessary items and shipped as needed to me.*) It’s a good thing too – because I’m planning on heading back to Rwanda after graduation in May 2016. And then, possibly Paris for graduate school.

Think about what you own and how much you truly need. There are many organizations that will take donated items but I prefer Yerdle,** the sharing economy website. I can sell my 100 list rejects and buy what I need with “Yerdle dollars” from my earnings. It has allowed me to prepare for my travels without spending much cash so that I am debt-free when I hit the tarmac in May. This is an incredible, freeing feeling – less stuff, more experiences, and no debt.

And all the bananas I can carry.

*I’m rethinking this.I’d like to own even less. More to follow.

**Full disclosure: I earn extra happiness points for introducing you. Search for my 100 list rejects; #100things.