Book Review: The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno

“That is the message of American-style consumerism. My human life is not enough. There are purchases upon purchases that will transform me into something more than what I am.” – Dave Bruno

I have always thought that I have a lot in common with Dave Bruno. We both live in suburban America. We both have supportive wives and children that we raise with love. We both work full-time jobs that we enjoy and write as a hobby on the side. We are both fed up with American-style consumerism. And we both enjoy inspiring others to reject it.

However, we have one big difference: Dave sold all but 100 of his possessions and chose to live that way for one full year. From November 12, 2008 through November 12, 2009, Dave set out to accomplish a self-imposed 100-Thing Challenge… and lived to write the book.

The 100 Thing Challenge (Harper-Collins) is the story of one man’s quest to free himself from the restraints of American-style consumption and the lessons he learned about himself, his family, and our culture along the way. I have been enamored with Dave’s 100-Thing Challenge for quite some time. Needless to say, when the book arrived in my mailbox, I couldn’t wait to jump right in. And thoroughly enjoyed reading Dave’s story from beginning to end.

Dave recounts the birth of the Challenge, his preparation for the Challenge, the year of the Challenge, and the aftermath following its official conclusion over one year ago (hint: he still owns less than 100 possessions). The book reads as a chronological account of his life starting in July, 2007 when the Challenge was born and ending in mid-2010 just prior to the final publication of the book.

Throughout his telling of the story, Dave flashes back in detail to specific memories throughout his life that highlight the lessons he is learning.

For example, the selling of his model train set resurfaces memories of his father, unmet dreams, and the realization that many of our purchases in the present are unintentionally meant to change the past of our imperfect lives. Or as he writes, “When we shop we sometimes act as if we are time-traveling general contractors. We buy components we think we’ll use to zip back to that dreadful moment in the past to patch things together. Make it all right. But the ruins in our lives don’t get fixed. They get grieved for, or else they get messier.

Likewise, the story of his daughters’ love for American Girl dolls, the selling of his word-working tools, and the decision to use one single Bic pen throughout the year serve as launching pads for vivid, emotional, detailed memories. The first several times these detailed memories (or parenthetical insertions) surfaced in the reading, I found myself wondering why he was describing them in such detail. But given the fact that each account was effortlessly weaved back into his 100-Thing Challenge, by the end of the book, I found myself anxiously awaiting the next memory.

Overall, Dave presents an engaging, emotional, and compelling argument against American-style consumerism. It does not make blanket statements rejecting the role of possessions in our life. Instead, it presents a thought-provoking, rational examination of their place in our lives mentioning both the positives and the negatives.

If you have been questioning the role of American-style consumerism in your life in anyway, you will enjoy reading The 100 Thing Challenge. I know I did.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    >Overall, Dave presents an engaging, emotional, and compelling argument against American-style consumerism. It does not make blanket statements rejecting the role of possessions in our life. Instead, it presents a thought-provoking, rational examination of their place in our lives mentioning both the positives and the negatives.

    This is right on. Dave makes a thoughtful case for mindful consumption in his book and does a good job of explaining what the 100TC is and isn’t about. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!


  2. says

    Thanks for the nice review Joshua! That’s an interesting perspective Dave has on past events fueling our consumer driven nature.

    I took a moment to think of some past events that lead to some hedonistic treadmill time and I can say clothing and car purchases had a huge impact based on events of my past

    Like it seemed that the guy with the nicest car, got the prettiest girl and I was embarrassed of my ghetto rides, that I swore I would never feel embarrassment again. I remember wearing hand-me down shoes in High School and getting a verbal barrage of insults for doing so. That fueled my fire to always be dressed to the 9’s to appear wealthier than I truly was to avoid embarrassment.

    Damn, deep Monday morning stuff Joshua… Thanks I think;-)!


  3. says

    I’m reading my copy now, and will be posting my review soon. I love the book so far and I’ve loved reading his blog. I have begun my own 100 Thing Challeng and I’m having a lot of fun!

  4. Holly says

    Hi Joshua-

    Just wanted to say thank you for the review and also mention something that ‘came back’ to me as I read Eric’s comment above. When I was in junior high school, I owned only two pairs of pants. I was teased constantly and made to feel “poor” (we were), “stinky”/”dirty” (I wasn’t) and “less than” some of the ‘haves’ among my classmates. I grew up in a “rich” area but in a (comparatively) “poor” family. I have just now realized that many of my purchases in adulthood (clothing, especially) are driven by the shame I felt in the presence of my teen-aged peers. I sense that I really do need to read this book. Thank you for the well-timed, thought-provoking post.


  5. says

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m always on the lookout for books that go against typical American culture. Added it to my reading list, and along with others here, hope I can find it at the local library.

    While I don’t think I’m ready to pare down my belongings to such a small number, I am interested in breaking away from consumerism.

    • says

      I think you’ll find the book helpful in that regard. Dave is pretty specific in the book that the 100 Thing Challenge was never meant for everybody. But breaking free from American-style is healthy for all of us.

  6. says

    I so wanted to purchase this book, but as I am in the middle of paring down my items (not to the 100 item mark!) and especially a book collection, I could not make myself push the buy now button. I may still do so and then sell it after I read it! Or I may wait and but used myself!
    Either way, I am anxious to read this sotry! I love Dave’s blog and his candor!

  7. says

    I’m way too cheap to buy a new book, but I’ll have a look at it once it makes it to the clearance shelves at Half Price Books! I suppose he had 101 items when his first author copy of the book arrived.

    The quote you use at the beginning says it all. Purchases serve as compensation or proof or something, but they’re rarely just because it’s a fair trade of some money for some item.

    Good job with the post.

    • SharonW says

      Well, no – his first author copy wouldn’t bring him up to 101 things.

      Why? Because he decided that all the books he had counted as one thing – one “library”. If you can lump all your possessions into categories and count each category as a single thing, this challenge isn’t very challenging. Let’s see, you could have one library, one wardrobe, one supply of crafts, one set of tools……

      I’m currently reading his book, and so far – between his bragging about what a successful businessman he is and his weaseling out of the austerity the “challenge” seems to involve – I’m not impressed.

  8. says

    My interview with Dave is running in the Times Union in January, so I haven’t posted it on my blog yet, but yes. I just linked to your review, too.

    Brandon, I know someone in Portland, Ore., who reserved a copy at her library, so I hope you can find it at yours, too. Happy reading.

  9. says

    I didn’t realize “The 100 Thing Challenge” was an actual book. I thought it was a “movement” perpetuated by the web. Thanks for the info – I look forward to the read.

  10. says

    Thank you for your review. I have always found the 100-Thing Challenge to be really interesting and now look forward to reading the book!

    Holly, your post made me think: What are the reasons behind some of my own purchases? I grew up wearing clothes that were deemed “un-cool” and wonder if that is the reason I have to buy the “best of the best” clothes now…?

  11. says

    Thank you for the review, I would like to read it if the library carries it and I don’t have to add another thing to my collection. LOL (Unfortunately for me but good for him I will go out and buy it and add another more to my dust collection when done.)

    Running and inn where every thing needs to be dusted and kept clean you quickly realize that “Stuff” is used, bric-a-brac take up valuable space. We also have most of our belongings in boxes in the basement now for 7 years and have not missed any of them!

    When we first moved back to the USA from Oz my husband commented about how many garages there are and how large in the USA and yet most people park both vehicles outside as they are packed to the gills.

    Do I dare say that we are a nation of hoarders?

    “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”
    Albert Einstein

  12. says

    great review! i have to say how delighted I am to read a review that isn’t 1,000 words of “this book is so great buy it from my affiliate link now please it is so great did i mention its great?”

    Like Dave’s work, I can always count on yours to be something refreshing and profound without the fluff! thanks for what you do.

  13. Jan says

    I just downloaded it onto my Kindle – I’m a book freak and being able to have books that don’t take up room is wonderful. The Kindle counts as one thing no matter how many books you put onto it, right?

    • says

      Ha, that’s what I was hoping! Whether I can follow the plan or not, I do appreciate the idea of questioning the status quo and knowing WHY we do things the way we do.

  14. says

    If two people are married and want to take on the challenge together, do they get to pare down to only 200 things?! =)~
    There was a time when I had easily less than 100 things…after a fire destroyed the apartment building I lived in nearly everything I owned. Thanks to the local fire department, most of my collection of CDs, my photographic gear and my musical equipment was spared…though wet…but it really made me realize how value-less “things” can be. Its something we talk about lately…if catastrophe happened and all material things were lost, what would we replace?

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. 2011 Book Challenge | January 5, 2011
  2. links for 2011-01-05 | January 5, 2011

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