“Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism” is Fumio Sasaki’s minimalist manifesto. For Sasaki, minimalism has been a means of regenerating his life, and discovering a path to true happiness. And while Sasaki references fellow Japanese author Marie Kondo, his own approach is somewhat different. In fact, I would argue his philosophy perhaps more closely resembles that of “The Minimalists” – Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – in that he sees minimalism as a technique for freeing us to focus on the most important things.
What I appreciated most about Sasaki’s approach was his honesty. Fumio Sasaki has what many people will consider an almost ascetic approach to minimalism. If you look at photos of his apartment, you’ll recognize that he owns very few things, and spends a great deal of time engaged in mindfulness practices.
But the reason for this is that Sasaki’s primary reason for changing his life was a deep sense of unhappiness. Prior to finding minimalism, Sasaki describes living in a constant state of anxiety, in which he drank heavily, and felt deeply depressed about his life.
Signalling Status with Possessions
For Sasaki, minimalism was like a key to freedom from the life he was living. Discarding his possessions forced him to confront his attachments. Minimizing challenged him to stop comparing himself with others and to be more honest about himself.
Sasaki desribes how he used to own expensive cameras – not because he used them, but because he wanted to signal to others that he was a serious photographer. He owned books for the same reason. How can people know you’re a reader if you only have a Kindle?
Sasaki encourages his readers to focus on experiences, not things, because experiences bring more joy to our lives. He also advocates owning fewer things, and spending more time with people, rather than wasting time caring for the objects in our lives.
If you live in abject poverty, this advice may seem a little odd. Certainly, many of the people in this world don’t have enough to meet their basic needs. But I do think it’s important to point out that the average American home contains over 300,000 items! So while not having enough is the shared experience of many people in this world, a surfeit of possessions is the norm in the developed world.
…And Yet Fumio Sasaki Still Loves Things
Now, while Sasaki’s surroundings are truly simple and minimal, he still loves the physical world. And he still enjoys consumption.
Sasaki cites the example of Apple Computers (and Steve Jobs in particular) as design inspirations. And while he doesn’t buy every Apple gadget that goes on the market, he’s grateful and excited about those few items he chooses to welcome into his life.
In the end, Sasaki chose to keep about 150 things in his life. But he loves his possessions. Rather than forsaking physical objects, he chooses to own only beautiful things that add value to his life.
So while Sasaki will likely seem extreme to most readers, I think in reality he’s simply very aware of how much is “too much” for him. I believe that every one of us has a “limit” when it comes to how much we can have in our lives before we get anxious. Some people can allow many things in their lives with no problem. But for many of us, especially those of us who struggle with anxiety and depression, having less can be a huge stress relief.