The Joy of One

I have long been enamored with the concept of One.

How lovely would it be to have One coat you could wear all year? One pair of shoes that worked with every outfit? One bag that filled all your needs? One pen, One pan, One sauce pot, One spatula, One lipstick of the perfect shade.

Ahhh…..for me, that’s minimalist heaven. It’s the culmination of all the decluttering I’ve been doing, and minsumerism I’ve been practicing, for the past decade.

One is restrained. One is elegant. One is beautiful.

I talk a lot about Limits in my book, The Joy of Less: like limiting our shirts or books or towels or plates to a certain number or certain space. Well, One is taking the concept of Limits to the extreme. It’s not for the faint of heart, and requires some willingness to live on the edge—after all, you might be in a bit of a bind if you leave your One coat behind in a restaurant or misplace your One pen.

So if you’re not living out of a backpack, why go to such extremes? Why own just One of an item, when you have plenty of room for two, or three, or ten?

For the same reasons you might train for a marathon or go on a meditation retreat. When we voluntarily undertake a difficult challenge—especially one that pushes the bounds of our abilities or comfort levels—it’s a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and discovery. It’s an opportunity to build our self-discipline and bolster our confidence. Plus, it’s fun! (Why else do it, right?)

The challenge of One rewards us with a new sense of mindfulness with respect to our possessions. It teaches us to evaluate our needs and wants, and makes us keenly aware of the value and versatility of the things we own.

It also brings us joy and satisfaction when we realize how little we really need. No longer are we dependent on variety for happiness, backups for security, or stuff for our sense of worth. We learn to trust in our decision-making and our ability to deal with situations as they arise. We distance ourselves from consumerism and exercise our creativity and ingenuity.

Furthermore, One eliminates decision fatigue and frees up our mental energy for more worthwhile pursuits. Why waste time and attention on choice for the sake of choice—when one variation of an item has no greater benefit than another?

In fact, you may already be practicing One without realizing it. For example: if you have eight pairs of jeans, but always wear your favorite; if you have a jar of wooden spoons, but always reach for the same one; if you carry the same bag every day despite the stash in your closet. Why not stow the extras away for awhile and see if you miss them? If not, you can eventually declutter them, create some space, and streamline your daily routine.

Finally, One is a sigh of relief in a society of excess. I’m tired of being sold the idea of having sweaters in every conceivable color and enough footwear for an army. I don’t want to have saucepans in every size or purses to match every outfit. I worry that fast fashion and rampant consumerism are harming the environment and peoples’ lives for the sake of profit.

One is a way of stepping off the work-and-spend treadmill, reducing our carbon footprint, and minimizing the impact of our consumption. The fewer things you own, the more deliberately you select them and more carefully you treat them. I want to set this example for my daughter, so she doesn’t grow up thinking that more is better or that stuff is the measure of success.

Therefore, I’m going to make this the year of One, and see how I can get by with a single item of certain things (my recent cross-country move gave me a great head start on this).

Now, don’t get nervous—I’m certainly not advocating everyone do this! It’s just something that intrigues me, and I thought I’d share my experience with you. As a writer on minimalist living, it’s my job to push the bounds and report my findings; I hope you’ll find the series thought-provoking, or at the least, a little entertaining.

I look forward to your comments and questions as I tackle such challenges as wearing One pair of shoes and One coat for the next year (posts coming soon…). And I welcome your suggestions for other possessions I can pare down to One!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

103 comments to The Joy of One

  • “One is restrained. One is elegant. One is beautiful.” I agree. It also helps to prevent the dreaded decision fatigue. When I think about how often I use/wear my ‘extras,’ it certainly helps to put the matter into clearer perspective.

  • Kurkela

    There are things which could be One, and there are those that could not. A bag could, however, underwear and shoes could not. A plate, a fork, a spoon, a chair for each – and then to run to your neighbors to ask for a loan of chairs or plates every time your friends or relatives come to visit – now that would be very cheap and very impolite in regard to the said long-suffering neighbors. For a childless orphan with no relatives and friends such one fork/one plate approach would certainly do. A capsule wardrobe could certainly work for everybody. A single book for the whole family? No way. A single computer for the whole family of students and workers? Nope.
    So probably it goes like this – if we live absolutely alone, there is a possibility of having many things One. If we have friends, relatives, children – yes for ourselves, no for everybody else, especially if they are not willing to become minimalists.

    • Anne S.

      I’m a family of 6. 1 works from home. 2 are students. We have 1 computer, however we are fortunate to live near a library that offers computers and Internet. We also own zero books despite all of us being avid readers (1-2 books a week each) thanks to that same library. We constantly borrow plates and chairs from our neighbor who in return borrows our lawn mower and garden tools. So you don’t have to be a childless orphan. It’s a life style choice that won’t work for most people but it most definitely can if it speaks to you.

      • Kurkela

        There is a big difference between owning something and borrowing/living off others. If you are not self-sufficient with what you own, and you need to borrow constantly, there’s something wrong, and I’m not talking of library. Name me one good reason why you should live off your neighbours instead of buying your own plates (and the lawn mover is not a reason).

      • Kurkela

        And if you borrow the plates and chairs *constantly*, it is obvious you really need them. It would be understandable if you borrowed plates, let’s say, once a year for a big event. So what happens if your neighbors get tired of this borrowing and say “well, can’t you finally buy the damn plates for yourself?” Do you buy them or find another neighbors to borrow them from? This is what I would be very wary of.

        • Anne S.

          Didn’t mean to get you so worked up over this!

          • Kurkela

            I’m not. You see, we once had neighbors who used to borrow a certain thing. *Very* often. So my husband said – they obviously need it and like it, so let’s give it to them. When they came next time, we offered it, and they were very offended and said they didn’t need it at all. Guess what happened two days later? Yap. They came to borrow it again. :) And, no, they were not in need, they were not looking for friendship as all neighbors on our street were very friendly, but there it was.

      • Nancy

        My situation is similar to Anne’s. My neighbors are my friends and we all have minimalist leanings and have set up a real sharing economy, particularly for gardening tools, so no one person has to own every item needed to tend their yard and garden. In addition, we constantly share chairs when we have parties, canning and food preservation items, and even vehicles (my neighbors can borrow my truck to purchase compost or mulch for the price of gas). Again, this arrangement will not work for everyone but it works very well for us and it minimizes the items each of us has to store in our small homes.

  • Marissa

    One you say? Well, as for me, a minimalist who loves buying things in bulk, I’m never satisfied with just having one of each item, lol! I love my Costco “stockpile” and take great pride in it. xD I think when it comes to every day supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, tissue boxes, ect., or basically, things you use every day, there is no reason not to buy these things in bulk unless you live somewhere where you don’t have room for bulk items or don’t have transportation to haul the bulk items back to your abode. But when it comes to heirloom or sentimental items, the power of one always helps! 8D

    It’s awesome to see you writing again and I look forward to your future posts! ^^

  • I am also interested in the concept of one.
    For instance, one pair of shoes. I would love this, but
    my obstacle is what brand is good enough. I walk quite
    a bit and find that after 6 months or so of wearing the
    same pair of shoes they are completely worn out. If someone
    can come up with a worthy list of ONE, I would be willing
    to try it.

    • Dinah

      I think a good pair of Doc Martins is the closest to one shoe. I had a pair of mary jane docs as my main pair for about eight years. The sole lasts well. I did work where I had to be on my feet all day in them. I had to have a bit of the elastic on each buckle fixed by a cobbler at some point. at some point, I had to start putting insoles in them, and I had to dubbin them to keep the leather nice. They could be dressed up or down. I could do extended walking in them. If you get a pair, get the ones made in England if you can. I think they have some that are lifetime, and the company will repair. I just got a new pair and I wait them to the office.

  • It’s funny you should post this now, since I’ve been thinkning about pens a lot recently. Last week, I went to the opthamologist and couldn’t take my eyes (ha) off the beautiful rose gold pen in his pocket. I went home and thought about it more, and even went so far as to do a cursory search of what it might cost to get a single quality pen like that. I found one I loved for $35, but kept thinking “No, I have lots of pens already in my utility drawer.”

    But perhaps I could trade all of those pens for a single classy one.

    I’m definitely going to try having just one pen. If I can go the month without losing it, I might grab the one I want. Or who knows. Maybe I’ll have stopped wanting one after then.

  • Grace

    One is sacred. Who has more than one wedding band?

  • I love this concept and I don’t think anyone should get bent out of shape. We all have areas or objects that we could get by with just one. Or perhaps one per person? And we have areas where this wouldn’t work, for whatever personal reason. Like any minimalist experiment or change we should take what works for our own life. I don’t believe you are dictating to any of us what we should or shouldn’t do. It inspires me to identify what objects I do have that can be managed with just one. Reducing possessions can be a long process (I go slowly as I’m trying to be mindful and not end up overbuying all over again). Ideas like this help further my progress.

  • Cheryl

    This is beautiful! And it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized this is what I have been striving for in my life. In some areas I have achieved it; some not yet. For example, I eat 90% of my meals out of one bowl, a beautiful handmade piece of pottery. I eat a plant-based diet and 90% of my meals are made in one pot. I agree, it is difficult to have only one pen, as I’m sure it would always be somewhere that I’m not, but at my desk I have one mechanical pencil and one pen, my purse has one set, and there’s a set in the kitchen. The idea is to get rid of the excess and love the one perfect one. A child who only has one stuffed animal will adore it. When there are 20, all are ignored. So I’m going to keep working on this concept. I love it! Keep going, Francine!

  • DH

    I don’t like the idea of having just one expensive pen because if something ever happens to it, it will matter. Unlike cheap pens where if you lose it, it’s no big deal. So 2-4 cheap pens spread throughout my home works for me.

    I’m female and only have one pair of shoes. Works out well for my lifestyle.

    Similarly to Cheryl, I eat a plant-based diet, except I don’t cook any of it. So no pots, pans and various other things one needs for cooking.

    Regarding buying things in bulk, most people overdo this. I realized it’s more stressful for me to have too many things in quantity and save money than to pay more & have less (within limits). Usually I can find good enough deals without having to do that. I will always have enough toilet paper, but not to the extreme.

  • Sarah

    This is so interesting. Five years ago I would’ve thought this was crazy and impossible, but I am actually very close to living this now. As I went through my decluttering and simplifying journey I have naturally gotten to this point. I have one coat that I wear in the fall and winter. I have one pair of boots I wear all winter and one pair of Chacos I wear all summer. I have one hair elastic and one hair clip. I suddenly looked in my closet and realized that I have a fall and winter capsule wardrobe that I love (still working on the summer..). I’ve moved and changed jobs a LOT the past couple years, so I still have some “extras” just because I don’t know where life is going to take me next and don’t want to get rid of an item just to purchase it again (case to point, closed toed shoes for jobs in the summer. Uuuugh I hate that, I feel like my feet can’t breathe. But many jobs require it so I have to accommodate that). Long ramble to say, it’s very reasonable to end up here. Your whole life doesn’t have to be one, but once you experience how nice it is you might change your mind!

  • […] from real life minimalists. Recently the owner of the site, Francine has begun a new series called The Joy of One. She is limiting herself to one of everything, one jacket, one pair of shoes, one pen. She […]

  • I wouldn’t want to limit myself to only owning 100 things.
    I wouldn’t want to limit my wardrobe to 33 items.
    I wouldn’t want to only own one of everything.

    Does this mean I’m not a minimalist? For a long time I have thought so, but I have come to realize that is not the case.

    A minimalist is someone who wants to live the simple life. They want to intentionally fill their time, mind and space with that of value and remove that which detracts from that goal. Minimalist living is a mindset not a number.

    That being said, I am intrigued, so many questions come to mind…
    How often will you need to do laundry?
    Will you have just one shirt or one t.shirt + one blouse + one singlet + one tank + one polo shirt etc?

    I must admit I am intrigued. I look forward to reading your future posts. I am also beginning to wonder how much I actually own!

    I have decided to follow along with this blog series with my own series – The Luxury of Less, where I will document my own belongings. While in most cases I expect I will have significantly more than one I suspect I will have less than most people. As I haven’t ever counted everything before I have no idea!

    You are invited to join me on this blogging journey:
    http://frangipani.bloomfields.net.au/family/minimalism/the-luxury-of-less/
    The exciting thing is even I don’t know where it will lead as Francine is leading the way!

  • Tina

    I am on a trip. It is a family event. Once again, I took a very small suitcase and a few changes of clothes. I like to travel with very little and I like to own very little. Growing up with hoarders has made a lasting impression. If it isn’t needed, it gets donated.

  • B

    I have just one lipstick. It is shade I have been wearing for 10 years and if I feel like a change I just wear no lipstick. It is a revlon colorstay so only need applying once per day, it is called ‘perfect peony’ suitable because peonies are my favourite flower.

  • Ava - Essentialist

    This works just fine until your husband takes your One pair of toenail clippers and loses them instead of putting them back where they belong immediately like you have ever since you were a child, and soon you have Two toenail clippers and then Three and then Four and there isn’t anywhere for them to BE and why is it that hard to put things UP and seriously did I just find a pair INSIDE THE COUCH???? and DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT NORMAL PEOPLE ONLY NEED ONE PAIR OF NAIL CLIPPERS PER FAMILY????????

    Ahem. Sorry. Sadly, this would not work in my house.

    My husband has also stolen and lost no fewer than THREE, yes, THREE of my coats. I only ever had one heavy winter coat for YEARS. And he would take it. And lose it. Not once. Not twice. But THREE times. This left me bundling up in many layers of sweaters and hoodies. Because, of course, he would have mislaid all his own (in his car, his office, or also…just plain lost) before he resorted to stealing my one, lonely little coat.

    I now have three coats. They are all now very girly. It is self-defense. I bought one. My mother-in-law is a compulsive coat-buyer and bought the other two. I don’t mind because one is much better for yard work than my nice one, and the other isn’t as warm as my nicest one and isn’t water resistant or as warm in wind, but it’s light as a feather and I can’t bear to travel with anything else anymore.

    In the past five years, he’s had seven heavy coats. So far, he has only lost two of those. This is some kind of new record of non-coat-losing-ness, so I think we have made some serious progress. He hasn’t lost one of my coats since the week he stole my coat to take to work and lost it and a tree fell on the house and his pregnant wife (AKA me) had to go out in six sweaters to clear the driveway with a chainsaw in weather in the teens so she could pick up her oldest kid. This might have had something to do with said chainsaw and threats which related to it after he returned.

    He also lost my bike. Really.

    • Dinah

      My parents once told me that early in their marriage, they got into a fight to do with the toenail clippers that was so big they nearly split up over it. I never did find out the details of who did what, but perhaps more than one pair of clippers is important.

    • Westwind

      OMG, I have tears rolling down my cheeks; this is the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks! I hope you plan to write a book about the trials & tribulations of living with your husband ~ it would be a best seller! Thank you for making my day!

    • Patricia

      Is divorce an option?

  • I love your website! I recently started my journey in becoming a minimalist. I currently own one coat as well and got rid of my other one. I am in process of purging my old clothes and bringing in new ones to create a capsule wardrobe. I will be writing about it more on my blog. I love the idea of only having one of everything or a small amount. It definitely makes life a whole lot easier when you just have one pair of jeans to wear! My boyfriend is not interested in minimalism at the moment, so this is a challenge in itself but I still make do and reduce what I can!

  • […] I recently came across this article by Miss Minimalist called “The Joy of One” […]

  • […] I follow because of the constant inspiration and reminders that I get from reading her posts. Like The Joy Of One post series. Some thing to think about! She also wrote a book, The Joy of Less, that I bought on […]

  • Tina

    I was shopping and couldn’t remember if we had big clasp envelopes at home. I needed one so I bought a pack of 5 for $1. Of course,, my husband had moved the few we had. I really hate to have too many of some things. I cut fabric softener sheets in half and I am going to cut paper napkins in half, too. My grandparents cut many things in half so there would be no waste.

  • […] challenge of One rewards us with a new sense of mindfulness with respect to our possessions. It teaches us to […]

  • No time to read all the fun comments. I do not do toner face wash. I use moisturizer and it is the same I use on my feet so it is not special. LOL I use the Clairol foundation wipe on with a sponge on my face with a small dot of a pink lipstick on each cheek blended in.WHEN I use make up. I rarely go that far unless we are going to town. Moisturizer is enough for me. I have one small box of shadow but rarely use it I am an eye rubber and also wear tinted glasses so no real need for eye shadow really. I use shampoo and conditioner. Soap is glycerin soap and I use it all over head/face to toe.The lipstick I wear is in my purse only one. I do have a mascara rarely use it. Probably should toss it as I am sure it is too old now.

    I do need to thin down the closet again having lost 80 pounds I have many transitional clothes that I am sure can go away. We are heading to town today so this would be a good time to do so. Make the decision and BAM gone no re-thinking.

  • […] Jay of Miss Minimalist has written about the Joy of One, and so has Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. During the month […]

  • […] my contentment by practicing ‘the joy of one’. Francine Jay at Miss Minimalist.com shares her view on this.  It inspired […]

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