How Many Towels Do You Need? (And How Much Data?)

Guest post from Republic member and Minimalism expert Rose Lounsbury on decluttering your life, including your cell phone service and data use.

How many towels do you need? This was the surprisingly life-changing question I faced on a Saturday afternoon in early 2012, as I scrutinized my linen cupboard. 

I had just started on a minimalist journey, inspired by my 1,500 square foot house that could no longer comfortably contain the possessions of me, my husband, and our three 2-year-olds (yes, you read that right… triplets).

A few weeks earlier, we’d returned from visiting out-of-state relatives for Christmas with a van absolutely packed full of presents. As I walked into my house and assessed our already stuffed surroundings, a slow, frightening realization came upon me…

We didn’t have room for the things we already owned. Where was I going to put this new stuff? 

I felt defeated and overwhelmed. I knew the gifts had been given in love. I knew they were supposed to make me and my children happy. But more than anything, they added stress to my already stressful full-time-working-mom-of-triplets life.

Luckily, though, a change was coming.

About a week after Christmas I had lunch with a good friend, and I explained my problem. I thought the solution was to either buy a bigger house or allow no one to buy my kids Christmas presents again, ever

But my friend casually suggested another idea, “Or… you could just become a minimalist.”

I immediately thought of monks living in a cave or college students traversing Europe with all their possessions on their backs or black-clad hipsters lounging on white couches in apartments that doubled as art galleries. None of that sounded like my real life in the Ohio suburbs with three kids, two cars, and a mortgage.

But my friend reassured me that minimalism was just a philosophy, a less-is-more approach to living, and that any modern American could adopt it. Skeptical but intrigued, I went home and started reading. I was hooked.

Which brought me, a few weeks later, to January of 2012, when I went to put away some towels in my linen cupboard and asked myself the aforementioned life-changing question.

This wasn’t the first time I’d asked myself questions about my stuff. I’d actually been asking myself questions about my stuff my entire life (and you probably have, too) but those questions sounded different. They sounded more like…

“Rose, how much stuff could you AFFORD to buy?” I was a dedicated closeout, clearance, and coupon shopper, always scouring the racks for the best “deal” I could find. 

Another favorite: “Rose, how much stuff could you FIT in here?” I used every spare inch in my snug home to cram in as much as possible, often resorting to space saver bags and bins stacked precariously high in my attic. 

And, finally, the Big Daddy of them all, the question I continually asked every night as I spent hours putting away toys, shoes, sippy cups, and errant paper: Rose, how could you better ORGANIZE this stuff?” 

I thought organizing was the answer, the Holy Grail, the thing that–if I could just master it and buy the right bins with the right labels–would solve my problem. I’d finally have the home in the magazines. I’d finally stop feeling like every day was a continual battle between me and the chaos.

But that Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t asking myself any of those questions. That day, fresh in my nascent minimalist awakening, I was asking myself a very different question:

Rose, how many towels do you NEED? 

That’s the kind of question that just might change your life.

The answer was surprisingly clear: two per person. Which immediately felt wrong, because by the power of math that’s only 10 towels for a family of five. That certainly wasn’t the number of towels I’d registered for on my Bed, Bath, and Beyond wedding gift registry.

So I did something I rarely do. I entered the sanctum of my husband’s man cave on a Saturday afternoon (aka prime sports-watching time) to ask him a very serious question, “Honey, is it okay if we have just 10 towels?”

Josh paused and looked at me for a long time, while he pondered the critical issue of the towel supply. He eventually responded, “Yeah, I guess. I mean, that sounds about right.”

That settled it. Ten towels.

Now remember… that was almost TEN YEARS ago. In that time, I have not increased our number of towels and everyone in our family has been dry when they needed to be dry.

This early venture into minimalism taught me two very clear things:

  • I can live with a lot less than I think I can. 
  • I can definitely live with a lot less than society tells me I should. 


My towels are just one example of minimalist thinking. After I decluttered my towel cupboard, I went through the rest of my house, asking different variations of that original question:

Rose, how many coffee cups do you need? 

Rose, how many pairs of shoes do you need? 

Rose, how many boxes of holiday decorations do you really need? 

And slowly, over a period of almost one year, my home transformed. My cluttered corners turned into open spaces. My formerly crammed cupboards had room to breathe. My now unstuffed drawers opened and closed easily.

Yes, my home looked neat and tidy, but that wasn’t the point. That wasn’t why I kept doing what I was doing. The reason I kept doing it was because of how I felt. I felt free. I felt at peace. I started to find myself, at the ends of my long days, relaxing on my couch instead of frantically picking up my stuff.

So today I want to encourage you… ask yourself a life-changing question. 

Insert any word you like (towels, sweaters, hammers, wine glasses, etc.) into the blank space:

How many _______________ do you need? 

You can also use this question for the “non-stuff stuff” in your life, like volunteer commitments, email subscriptions, and cellular data.

A personal example… I used to believe that I needed unlimited data for my phone. (Ya know, just in case I had a video streaming emergency.) As a result, my phone bill was about $100/month. I considered it normal to pay that much for the supposed “security” of unlimited data.

But then I asked myself… How much data do I really need? 

The answer? About 2 gigs per month.

As a result, last year I switched to Republic Wireless with a 2 gigabyte plan and I now pay $25/month. (In just one year, this has saved me almost $1,000!)

So I urge you, ask yourself, How much ______________ do you need? 

You’ll be amazed at how this simple question can open up so many possibilities and create more freedom in your life.


Author bio:

Republic member Rose Lounsbury is a keynote speaker, coach, and Amazon bestselling author who helps people live happier lives by owning less stuff. After blogging about her personal journey toward a simpler lifestyle, Rose was inspired to leave her classroom teaching job and help others create more meaningful lives through simplicity. Her popular TEDx Talk has almost 500,000 views. 

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