All You Need Is One

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
CC BY 2.0. Marisa

So many homes are clogged with duplicate items, which are supposed to make things easier, but end up contributing to clutter and cost.

“A man with one watch knows what time it is. The man with two is not quite sure.” – Unknown

Joshua Becker is an author and founder of Becoming Minimalist, a blog that guides people toward decluttered, simplified living. One of his minimalist strategies is “the joy of one.” When you first read his description of the joy of one, it sounds like common sense, and yet it’s a practice that relatively few middle-class North Americans implement in their lives.

The joy of one is the idea that you only need one of most things. This goes against our cultural (possibly even human) tendency to stockpile multiples for future times of need, even though most of the time those extras add more clutter, cost, and work to our lives than benefits.

In his book, Clutterfree with Kids, Becker writes:

“When we first started decluttering our home, we started noticing a troubling trend: duplicates. In fact, we owned duplicates of nearly everything: linens, jackets, tennis shoes, candles, televisions, even duplicate remote controls to control the same TV! We began to quickly realize we had bought into thinking that went like this, ‘If owning one of something is nice, owning more will be even better.’”

In response, the family adopted a new philosophy: There is a peaceful joy found in the presence of owning one. Rather than falling victim to the idea that you always need a backup, they pared down their possessions to single items, i.e. one television, one coat, one belt, one spatula, one water bottle, one bottle of lotion, etc.

There are many reasons to own one of whatever you need. There’s less stuff in the house, making it easier to find that single item. It’s easier to designate a specific location in which to keep it. You will be able to afford a nicer version of one item than if you had to spend money on two. (This is particularly true in the case of clothing.) You will likely value that item and care for it more carefully than if you had an extra at hand. Having only one will force you to clean and maintain it more readily than if you could put off the task, i.e. washing your single set of bedding the same day you take it off the bed.

“When one can be enough, embrace it – one black dress, one swimsuit, one winter coat, one black belt, one pair of black shoes, one pair of sneakers, one handbag.” (Becoming Minimalist, "A Practical Guide to Owning Fewer Clothes")

What you’re able to pare down to singles will depend on your occupation, your lifestyle, the climate in which you live, and your interests. Obviously you wouldn’t want to pare down too much on practical items like dinner plates and underwear, since that could create more work, but no doubt it can be done in other areas of your life. With it will come space, peace, simplicity, and the satisfying realization that you never really needed those duplicates after all.