08/20/2010 07:07 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Couple Who Owns Just 100 Things Got Me Thinking About My Consumption

Last week, I read an article in the New York Times about a couple who gave up luxuries -- two cars, wedding china to serve two dozen people, a two-bedroom apartment -- and started to live the ultimate simple life. Inspired by blogs and web sites, Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith streamlined their belongings to a -- gasp! -- 100 items. They donated books, sweaters, shoes, pots and pans, even a TV to charity, and soon enough accomplished their goal. It has been three years and the Portland, OR couple now live in a 400-square-foot studio with a nice-sized kitchen, have traded in their cars for bikes, and are debt-free (they owed about $30,000 when they began to make these changes).

Because of their simple lifestyle choices, Strobel and Logan have money to travel, can contribute to their nieces and nephews' education funds and work fewer hours. Strobel has since realized that one doesn't need to live "bigger" to be happy.

So what's the moral of the story? That you don't need stuff to make you happy?? Hmmm... This got me thinking... Can I ever live the simple life -- as in, own only 100 things? I have 100 pairs of shoes alone! And for that matter, can living "simple" make me happy?

I turned to an expert for clarity. "I do believe happiness is more fundamentally about relationships than stuff," says Wanda Urbanska, simple living expert and author of Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska. "Face it, we all gravitate toward favorite outfits and things, so simplifying for a fashion maven is about zeroing in on those favorite things and letting go of the excess."

My take: I do believe that you are not what you buy, and you certainly are not what you wear. In fact, I'd much rather spend my hard-earned money on an experience (a fun vacation, a delectable meal or a soothing spa treatment). An amazing experience will definitely make me more happy than buying stuff -- stuff that I'll use now and forget about, stuff that I probably didn't need at all, stuff that came out of an impulse purchase.

But, wait a minute... For me, shopping for my fall wardrobe is an experience in itself. The act of buying a crisp new trench coat or a chic yet comfortable pair of boots feels pretty awesome. It's like I'm celebrating my favorite season and getting ready for the experiences to come, which just happens to include wearing that crisp new trench coat and cute pair of boots. There can be a rewarding sense of self when one buys stuff. The idea that I can express myself through what I wear, for instance, helps my self-esteem, too.

Give me life, give me stuff!

I understand the idea of living "simple," but I don't think I'm quite down with living deprived. I guess the moral of the story -- for me, anyways -- is to (simply) spend wisely.

What do you think about living a simple life? Would you do it or no?

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