Do I Even Need This?

Photo © Enorm / Judith Gebbe

The average American home contains 300,000 objects; in comparison, the average European owns around 10,000 things. Student Judith Gebbe wanted to know exactly how many things she owned and took an inventory of her household. In our interview, she reveals the surprises she found and what she discovered she cannot live without.

You took an inventory of your entire household. Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?

Lots of people asked me that same question. Who counts all their junk anyway? This project wasn’t borne out of sheer boredom. I surely could have used the time to learn another language instead of counting my books, socks, and pens. At first, I simply found it interesting to see exactly what I own. Besides that, I like numbers and connections and was fascinated by the data I was able to collect. We own a lot of things without ever really thinking about that fact. But as soon as you begin cataloging every item, it’s suddenly very immediate and can be evaluated.

So you just began to count things.

I took part in a youth project about changes in consumption and began working through a lot of questions surrounding consumerism more intensively. That and the topic of minimalism. I was excited by people who manage to live with fewer than 100 objects. At some point in early 2015 I read an article about a photographer who individually counted and photographed all of her possessions. She discovered that she never or very rarely used over half of them. I immediately asked myself how this applied to me — and the idea of taking my own inventory was born.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

In the beginning it was above all about the numbers, so that I could come up with some cool statistics. After awhile I noticed that my inventory was a reflection of my consumer habits. This made me conscious of the fact that there are still so many things I can and need to change in order to live my life as sustainably as possible. Then telling others about it and sensitizing them to their own consumption was the next step. It’s about gaining a better and maybe also more objective understanding of consumption.

And what has it meant for you personally?

For one, it was fun for me to work more deeply with databases and statistics. This project also helped me to make more sustainable decisions moving forward, in that it put literally everything I own and use in front of me. The knowledge that you already have 14 tee-shirts leads to the thought, “I don’t actually need this shirt.” Excitement from shopping decreases, because you suddenly realize, “I have enough.” That’s not anything I could have anticipated.

Why don’t you get rid of unnecessary things immediately? Why count them first?

Counting creates a greater consciousness with regards to one’s possessions and you actually shed items differently. You become especially conscious of the amounts of things you have. It’s then not only about the question of whether or not you need a specific item, but rather whether you need five such items or similar objects. It changes the elimination process.

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