Twenty things and “the toothbrush that is at me”

Holly writes to me: “I read the post you did for that other blog, is it really true you only own 20 things?”

At my mum’s house in England there’s a bookcase which definitely belongs to me but I don’t count it because (a) other people use it so it’s kind of a gift to them; (b) I only see it a couple of times a year, so it’s like an estranged son; (c) if pressed to take responsibility, I would cut it loose.

Aside from that semi-concession, I own something in the region of twenty things. I should mention that this figure was never a goal or even particularly deliberate. This is how it happened:

– I’ve never bought furniture or utensils because I’ve always rented furnished apartments.
– I mainly wear a single suit, which means substantially fewer clothes to most people.
– There are always plenty of books in my orbit but they belong to libraries.
– I consider CDs, magazines, show props (I’m a performer) and DVDs ephemeral, so these things are sold or swapped or given away once I’m done with them. I never have many in hand at one time.

My total cache is something like: a suit, some shirts, a couple of bitchin’ t-shirts, shorts, underwear, a pair of handmade oxfords, some long-serving hush-puppies, a pair of snow boots, a small DJ case of favourite DVD discs (I throw away the box if a film makes it into the elite of keepsies), a laptop computer, a toothbrush, a safety razor, two pairs of specatcles and a wallet.

When making the ‘twenty things’ claim, I’ve often wondered if I should count consumable mainstays like olive oil and flour, condoms and toothpaste. Although they’re ephemeral, they are always present. If such things count then I probably have something closer to fifty things (though Leo Babauta doesn’t count consumables in his list either).

A final thought on the subject of ownership:

In the Gaelic language, my friend from the Scottish Western Isles tells me, there is no possession. Instead of saying “my toothbrush”, you say “the toothbrush that is at me”. There are exceptions (if memory serves, you can grammatically own your body, your spirit and your blood relatives) but the language generally treats objects as being temporarily ‘at you’ rather than in your posession. As an exercise, try thinking about “your things” as “things that are at you”.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

3 Responses to “Twenty things and “the toothbrush that is at me””

  1. Very interesting that only some languages acknowledge the concept of possession.

  2. Rob says:

    This is the only one I know of that doesn’t, but I’ve always found it interesting too.

    To me, this also represents an advantage of having more than one language: it’s going to give you multiple ways of looking at things. (I’m speaking hypothetically – I only have one lingo myself).

  3. […] face of minimalism) and Robert Wringham (the editor of  the New Escapologist) only own 50 and 20 things […]

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