Ground Rules #2: Why 1000?

Tao, tithing, and the appeal of Large Round Numbers… Featured image

#1000: book donated to the LittleFreeLibrary, January 6, 2015

It’s a fair question to ask — why 1000 and not some other number? There were several reasons for my choosing 1000. First of all, I wanted the project to make a big enough difference that I would notice.  I wasn’t sure what I would notice exactly, or how much of a difference getting rid of 1000 things would have. But I did hope that the process of getting rid of 1000 things would result in a less cluttered house, greater insight into my relationship with my things, and bringing my relationship with things into a better balance. I also hoped that completing the 1000 things project would get me closer to an ultimate goal of having every physical object I own have some sort of identifiable purpose or meaning (more on this and other goals in a future post).

Still, why 1000? Let’s face it, the number 1000 is an arbitrary one to some extent.  Or more precisely, it’s a number shaped by our biology — we use a base 10 numbering system because we have 10 fingers and 10 toes. If we had eight fingers and eight toes, my target number would most likely have been 512 (which is 1000 in the octal number system). And like many people, Large Round Numbers appeal to me. So 100 was clearly too small, although I can now see a “100 things project” as a way for someone to get started on this journey more easily.

But I also arrived at 1000 through another route. I’ve always been intrigued by the Tao concept of the “Ten Thousand Things,” which refers to the manifestation of physical reality in its infinite variety, or more simply, “everything that exists” that we perceive in the “phenomenal world”. I have long interpreted this concept to mean that the myriad of things in the material world threatens to overwhelm us by their sheer numbers and blind us to the deeper truths of existence.  In other words: too much stuff keeps us from seeing what’s really important. While it’s questionable that’s what the concept really means — in theory at least, we can have as many things as we want so long as we can recognize the Tao in each and every one of them — in practice this is really, really hard to do. Instead, we are overwhelmed by our physical possessions and become at once thoughtless and excessively possessive of them. At least that’s how it felt to me.  So I wanted to see if getting rid of some things would make me more appreciative of what I had — more likely to see the Tao in them, I suppose, although to be honest that’s a retrospective notion which really wasn’t a motivating idea during the process.

How I got from 10,000 to 1,000 then was by applying the concept of tithing to the project. Tithing is generally defined as a voluntary contribution of one-tenth of one’s annual income to support a church or clergy. My adaptation of this definition was to get rid of one-tenth of my worldly goods to a higher purpose, or in this case set of purposes: greater self-insight, charity, a better life in some way.

That may have been a far more roundabout way to arrive at 1,000 than was necessary for me, or that would certainly be necessary for you. I imagine that some people have so many things that they could get rid of 1,000 of them and not even notice. For most people, though, if you get rid of 1,000 things, I’ll guarantee that you’ll almost certainly notice a difference in how your house looks — and how you experience the things in them.


2 thoughts on “Ground Rules #2: Why 1000?

  1. Hi John,

    I agree that many people get overwhelmed by what they own. Too many things can create a suffocating effect.

    I have been sorting out and discarding things for a little while and tend to be rather hard handed when it comes to throwing out or giving away. But I have found I need to set criteria’s for why the things should go because I have on a few occasions regretted having discarded something, because I needed it for a project and then had to rebuy it. Personally I’d rather give things to someone grateful to get it, than cart it away to some more anonymous institution, but that is a personal preference. I find it pleasurable to see smiles of happiness on someone’s face when they get that treasured item handed to them and its gone from my possession. My first task was cleaning out the basement and my office (after I closed my practice and art studio) and chose not to set a specific number on items to go, rather go through room by room. But that too is a personal preference.


    • Hi Bodil,

      Thanks for your comment! I agree that the process relies on personal preference. I too have found pleasure, sometimes to a surprising degree, at giving something away to someone personally (usually on Freecycle), and I plan to write in some detail about this element of gratitude that giving stuff away can bring. The room-by-room approach did not work for me for some reason, which is one reason why I chose the ‘1000 things’ route instead. But I agree that this is a personal preference as well.

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