Five Questions For: Dave Bruno, Author of The 100 Thing Challenge

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Today I’m excited to introduce you, if you haven’t met, to a guy named Dave. Dave Bruno. Dave is the author of a new book, The 100 Thing Challenge. Dave and I met at Hutchmoot (The Rabbit Room retreat/conference/whatever) and spent a wonderful weekend not talking at all. He really regrets this as do, I’m sure, all those people who kept avoiding me the entire time.  Weird. (Actually we just didn’t get to connect and both hope to remedy that next time. There were so many wonderful people there. By that I don’t mean Aaron Roughton. I mean, Aaron was there, but…)

I think Dave has some real wisdom for us and I hope you’ll give his answers a read.

1. Tell us about how you got from ChristianAudio.com to the 100 Thing Challenge and a little about yourself.

I tell the story in chapter 2 of my book (plug, plug) about how I’m a reluctant entrepreneur. Sometimes I feel like a tired out labrador retriever who wouldn’t mind taking a long nap, but there’s always someone throwing sticks to fetch. It’s in my blood to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, especially when it can bless people in the world.

Here’s a secret, I’m not personally a big fan of audiobooks. I’m a reader. I like to underline and write little notes in the margins. But when my buddy Cory Verner (now ChristianAudio’s president) approached me with the idea of starting a company to publish thoughtful Christian titles that had been overlooked as audiobooks, I couldn’t resist. There was a market need to fill and we’d bless people by being successful with the business. No brainer!

The whole ChristianAudio experience was great. My plan was to try to spend about 5 years growing the company and then sell it or my part of it to free myself up for “the next thing.” Well the next thing, the 100 Thing Challenge, came along 4 years into running ChristianAudio.

I’m a writer and a huge believer that average Americans need to pursue simplicity instead of affluence in order to generate economic and cultural wealth. When my crazy idea to live with only 100 person possessions turned into a worldwide movement and an opportunity to publish a book, there was no way I wasn’t going to fetch that stick.

2. What is the 100 Thing Challenge and wouldn’t the 101 Thing Challenge be just a bit better?

Just one more thing; that’s all I need to make it “just a little better.” Right? Well, I think the 101 Thing Challenge — the Just One More Thing Challenge — would be a perfect match for what I call “American-style consumerism.” That’s the kind of consumerism that always wants to get more in the hopes of arriving at the dream life. The problem most of us have faced is that we’re always getting, but never getting there. It never stops. 101, 102, 103, and on and on.

So I conceived of the 100 Thing Challenge as a way to break free from the bondage American-style consumerism. My theory has been that if I remove myself from the routine of excessive consumption, my behavior would change. And it has! The “official” 100 Thing Challenge that I write about in my book has been over for a year now. But I still have about 100 personal possessions. I’m happy to say that I’m no longer a participant in the unending cycle of acquisition that used to characterize my consumer behavior.

The 100 Thing Challenge isn’t about “100.” It’s about helping people who feel stuck in stuff free themselves.

3. But Dave, things aren’t bad are they? Didn’t God make the world? Your book is a thing!? 🙂 Can you contrast your position with the dangers of Gnosticism (the body, pleasure is bad) and Asceticism (enlightenment, spiritual elevation comes from denial of food, pleasure, things!)?

Sam, I think all of your readers should flee from Gnosticism . . . right to Barnes & Noble to buy my book. 😉 Seriously, though, I do have strong theological convictions here. There’s a lot to say about this. But I’ll just mention that Ecclesiastes was much on my mind during the 100 Thing Challenge. It says, “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt.” Seems like riches are bad, right? But Ecclesiastes goes on to say, “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them . . . this is the gift of God.”

That is the guiding principal, I think, where possessions are concerned. It’s all from God. Not just the things, but also our power to enjoy the things. American-style consumerism says that the things come from brands (preferably luxury brands) and the power to enjoy the things comes from within ourselves. That attitude doesn’t square with a Christian worldview.

4. The Bible is filled with admonishes not to envy, but politicians (“You have a right to what your neighbor has”) and advertisers (“Your life is incomplete without this thing I’m selling”) are continually working to encourage just that. How do you call on Christians to simplify, while making it clear that God does call some to the responsibility of greater wealth and all to contented thankfulness?

Well, God’s yet to call me to the responsibility pursuant to tens of millions of dollars, so I’m just guessing here. I do have a couple of thoughts, though.

First, fill your ears with admonishments that don’t encourage envy (and other vices). How? Ditch the TV. I wish I had more time to extol the glories of not owning a TV. Look, I truly believe that Christians are fighting a losing battle if they fill their minds with hours of television. It’s like a law of the universe: watch a lot of TV and you will succumb to American-style consumerism. It’s not worth it. Get rid of the TV.

Second, in America we’ve come to associate wealth with outward displays of affluence. But that’s not the biblical perspective. A Christian should be rich on the inside, regardless of outward display. Christians in American need to retrain themselves to not only believe this (we all say we believe it) but to actually act like we believe it. This cannot be theoretical. So I strongly believe most Christians in America should pursue simplicity for an extended period of time, a year or more. It’s the only way to deprogram ourselves from the consumer conditioning we’ve received and accepted. A life of simplicity leads to a life of contentment.

5. Any helpful tips for parents during Christmas on how to avoid (even with good intentions) training our kids to become slaves to envy/thanklessness/idolatry/selfishness etc.?

Time. I’m really serious about this. Time. Put a five-year Christmas plan into action. Aim for this: after five years of a concerted effort to prioritize Jesus’ incarnation and family time and charity during the Christmas season, your children are glad to celebrate Christmas without being showered with consumer junk. Don’t try to “make a point” this Christmas. Parenting isn’t about making points every now and again. It’s about passing on a heritage of virtuous behavior and healthy emotions and strong faith to children. This takes time. That’s my main “tip.” Commit to training up your children over time.

And be gracious. They’re just kids. While they don’t need lots of junky toys, neither do they need lots of lectures. Celebrate Christmas with them.

Thanks so much, Dave.

Here’s Dave’s website.

Dave on Twitter.

Dave and The 100TC on Facebook.

Again, consider getting David’s book.

Note: Originally posted at my website, which is like The Rabbit Room, only dumb. -Sam


15 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Good thoughts. Paring down to 100 isn’t going to happen in my household, what with my music gear, instruments, cds, records, and books, but I have been purging quite a bit. Fortunately I learned to hate the endless chatter of television quite a few years ago. My influx of Bought Things has gone way down in the past few years, too. I was a big technology freak for years and finally had another iPod quit and thought, “I am not buying another one.” With technology my question is always, “How much time will it take to learn to use it? To maintain it? To fix it? To get a new one when it is unrepairable?” Usually the answer is “Too much time and money.” Buying gadgets is a losing proposition all around in most cases (experienced firsthand).

  2. Becca

    Well, this is going to make Hutchmoot interesting. ‘Bunch of thinky people walking around naked, because nobody’s willing to get rid of any books.

    I’m kidding. This looks fascinating, and I can’t wait to read it. I’ve been wanting to simply for years, but it’s been hard to know where to begin.

    But I’m torn. If I buy book, does that count as part of my 100 things? If so, I better get the Kindle version. But the Kindle version is $2 more than the paper version. So I can either spend more. Or I can look like I spend more…

  3. Laurael

    Yeah, I’m wondering if “library” can count as one thing?

    Seriously, though, this idea appeals to me greatly. If I were single, I think I would be on board in a heartbeat. But I am blessed to be married, with eight children. Is there a formula for “things” goal-setting for a family of ten?

  4. Laurel

    Hmmm… I had posted a comment (with my name mispelled), but it seems to have not come through. I’ll just take that as a sign that I should hush. 🙂

  5. Brian

    Thanks for posting this.

    I agree with Dave that we should ditch the TVs. I think TV-ditching should be more widespread among Christians. There are so many ways it’s a force against us, with so little that truly enriches our lives in return.

    I also really liked the parenting tip about setting a 5-year plan towards teaching simplicity. I’ll remember that.

    One other suggestion I want to add for reprogramming away from stuff and from the whole consumeristic mentality is taking a month or so to fast from media, books and internet. Somehow constantly filling our minds with information, entertainment and advertising spins us in the direction of buying more things. I do the fast regularly and always return a much healthier person. Maybe you talk about this in the book.

    Thanks again for the post.

  6. guynameddave

    First things first, Ron PLEASE don’t take the 100 Thing Challenge. Keep all the music stuff! The world’s better for it.

    Also, I think my “one library” cheat has opened up the doors for other people who feel they want to pursue simplicity, but have a hobby or vocation or even a collect that they don’t want to let go. The point is to break free from the craziness of rampant consumerism, not to feel guilty about scrap booking. Er, maybe not the best example. You know what I mean, though.

    Laurel and others, don’t worry too much about family dynamics. If you want to pursue simplicity, you can. And it will rub off on others. Again, the goal of a simple life isn’t perfection. It’s simplicity. Since we’re humans, even simplicity can get a little messy at times.

  7. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dave, I like this: “The point is to break free from the craziness of rampant consumerism…” So much of that consumerism is created and driven by advertising, just like sexuality is ramped up continually by ads, television shows, movies. One of the main ways to begin to break free is to severely limit television. I know there are good things on there, but it’s like Cypher jacking in to the Matrix; it stirs up his desires, and eventually begins to believe that the false reality is the real world – in the end he deserts true reality for the false one. We do that when we watch a lot of TV; we become infected with world-mind; a performance-based, competitive, comparative, striving, grasping consciousness. We think going to church and doing our devotional thing takes care of it. But if we’re watching television for three or four hours a night, we’re getting a lot more teaching on the wrong side, and world-think is hard to shake from the subconscious.

    I used to think such comments were legalistic, but around ten years ago I began to see the good sense of it. I always loved music so much that television was way down the list, but about ten years ago I said, “Friday night movie night. Saturday night, maybe.” No cartoons. No television at all; no commercials. DVDs only.

    On another track here, isn’t the mess and clutter of having too much stuff symptomatic of something in the mind that is hanging on to things rather than to God? Possibly hanging on to the past, nostalgia, or being afraid of the future, or wanting to have more than the next guy? The reasons could be myriad. I think at least in some cases something like repentance and a choice to trust God in that area will be necessary.

  8. Jesse D

    The problem with TV is not (typically) the programs themselves; some of them are valuable art forms that ought to be appreciated. The problem is generally in the advertisements that pay for the programming, inundating us with promises of happiness found in their acquisition. Of course, there’s a problem in how TV is often treated, as a medication and an escape.

    Ditching TV in the traditional format is really what should be done, and is especially easy now that TV shows are put out in DVD format or available through Netflix streaming. It allows us to be more selective about what we watch, and we can in some ways eliminate our exposure to the constant consumerist messages.

    All that’s to say, I’ve been tempted by the “TV is evil” mantra; I grew up without a TV, and I appreciated that in many ways, but I think some balance is okay there.

    As to the 100-Thing Challenge, I’d lose it. I like my things too much.

  9. Toni W

    When I lived on a boat, I learned just how little that I needed with me for possessions. I never missed any of the extra baggage. When I recently moved, I was floored at how much stuff I have accumulated. I am a lover of antiques, books, and instruments. I know I could live happily pared down again, as long as the books counted as one item. I discovered this when I recently bought an old 18ft. Airstream and brought up from Georgia to Maine. I think it is destined to be my retirement home, as long as I am able to tow my books behind me. loved the simplicity of it after all of these years in a house.

  10. Jess

    Jesse D: is your website supposed to be “the aspiring one” or “the aspirin gone”? Just wondering. 😉

  11. Sondorik

    Wow. Another stellar interview brought to us by Mr. Smith. To those who count cable among their 100 Things, Larry King Live has got nothin’ on the Rabbit Room.

    Dave, thanks for sharing your experiences which led to the writing of this book. I’m challenged by your premise of simplicity and the intentionality it takes in American culture to achieve this.

    For most of my life I had to live simply out of necessity more than by choice. My parents raised a large family on very little, although my father worked his tail off and my mother was the very soul of frugality. We never had extra but God always provided just enough. We ditched the TV when I was a young teen. It was missed for about a week. Then we spent all our free time doing other boring things like reading and dreaming and playing and learning and arguing and volunteering and growing. One story we can laugh about now is how the 8 of us were officially homeless for two and half months. All because my parents made the tough decision to get out from under a suffocating pile of house debt. A heritage of balanced simplicity (and the faith and gratitude it has fostered) is something I want to preserve throughout my adult and future family life.

    I love the wise exhortation you give to parents: “Parenting isn’t about making points every now and again. It’s about passing on a heritage of virtuous behavior and healthy emotions and strong faith to children. This takes time.” I look forward to reading your book. Please keep fetching such golden sticks.

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