Goodbye, Things was a breath of fresh air. It opened my eyes to the universal nature of minimalism and to the Japanese culture. And, it’s written by someone who isn’t a well-known author, speaker, or top simple living leader. Or, a Zen Buddhist teacher like Haemin Sunim.
Fumio Sasaki is 35 years old, male, single, Japanese, and lives in Tokyo. He claims, “I haven’t accomplished much yet and there’s nothing that I can really be proud of, at least not at this point in my life.” Yet, he says minimalism has opened his mind and life to a happiness he’s never before experienced.
The reason I like this book is because he’s like any of us. Just a normal person trying to figure things out in the world.
Although it seems like he has a slight obsession with Steve Jobs/Apple and some of his examples show the extremes of how minimalism can manifest itself (radical minimalism), I still took away a lot of positives from this book. Fumio has obviously deeply studied the subject of minimalism and implemented it in his lifestyle.
He introduced me to some new minimalist terminology I’m intererested to explore further: color minimalism, information minimalism (although maybe this is just another term for preventing decision fatigue), and LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability).
When you think about it, there isn’t a single person who was born into this world holding some material possession in their hands. — Fumio Sasaki
Quick Summary of Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki
- “There’s happiness in having less. That’s why it’s time to say goodbye to all our extra things. That’s the minimal version of the message that I’d like to convey in this book.”
- “It’s also partly why I wrote this book. Though it isn’t my sole motivation, I want to prove to myself that there’s some kind of value to my existence.”
- He breaks part of the book into the following sections:
- 55 tips to help you say goodbye to your things
- 15 more tips for the next stage of your minimalist journey
- 12 ways I’ve changed since I said goodbye to my things
His Definition of Minimalism:
- “In this book, I’ve defined minimalism as (1) reducing our necessary items to a minimum, and (2) doing away with excess so we can focus on the things that are truly important to us. People who live that way are the ones I consider to be minimalists.”
- “Minimalism is a lifestyle in which you reduce your possessions to the absolute minimum you need.”
- “Minimalism — reducing your belongings to just the minimal essentials.”
- “My definition of a minimalist is a person who knows what is truly essential for him or herself, who reduces the number of possessions that they have for the sake of things that are really important to them.”
The Old Version of Himself (Pre-Minimalism):
- “I was always comparing myself with other people who had more or better things, which often made me miserable. I didn’t know how to make things better. I couldn’t focus on anything, and I was always wasting time. I was even starting to regret taking the job I had wanted so much. Alcohol was my escape, and I didn’t treat women fairly. I didn’t try to change; I thought this was all just part of who I was, and I deserved to be unhappy.”
- “The excuses were endless, the thoughts running through my mind all negative. I was stuck in that mind set and yet because of my useless sense of pride, I was too afraid of failing to take any action to change things.”
- “And as my belongings started to take up more and more room, I began to be overwhelmed by them, spending all my energy on my objects while still hating myself for not being able to make good use of them all. Yet no matter how much I accumulated, my attention was still focused on the things I didn’t have. I became jealous of other people. Even then, I couldn’t throw anything away, and so I was stuck going around and around in a vicious circle of self-loathing.”
- “It was all the things I didn’t have that were standing between me and my happiness. That’s the way my mind used to work.”
Why do we own so much stuff?
- “Why do we own so many things when we don’t need them? What is their purpose? I think the answer is quite clear: We’re desperate to convey our own worth, our own value to others. We use objects to tell people just how valuable we are.”
- “The more we accumulate and the harder we work to build a collection that communicates our qualities, the more our possessions themselves will start to become the qualities that we embrace. In other words, what we own equals who we are.”
- “Our objective shifts to increasing our belongings, since that’s the equivalent of increasing our self-image. As a result, we end up spending an enormous amount of time and energy to maintain and manage all these items that we’ve accumulated. When we consider these things as equivalent to our own qualities and start believing that they are in fact us, our number one objective will become their maintenance and management.”
- “Our possessions are supposed to be our tools. They were used for such purposes during the Stone Age. As time went by, our world became plentiful, and objects began to be used for another purpose: to enable us to affirm our own worth.”
- “All these things eventually turn on us; we become slaves to our belongings, forced to spend time and energy caring for them. We lose ourselves in our possessions. Our tools become our masters.”
But there’s a way out of the never-ending accumulation of more:
For me, it was an existential crisis.
- “Everyone started out a minimalist. Our worth is not the sum of our belongings. Possessions can make us happy only for brief periods. Unnecessary material objects suck up our time, our energy, and our freedom. I think minimalists are starting to realize that.”
- “When we practice minimalism, we’ll spend less time being distracted by the media or by advertisements because we become aware that we already have everything that we need. And when we feel this way, we can easily ignore most of these messages that cry out to us.”
- “When you become a minimalist, you free yourself from all the materialist messages that surround us. All the creative marketing and annoying advertisements no longer have an effect on you. Celebrities no longer make you feel envious. Fancy window displays, reward cards, spiffy new high-spec products, new high-rise condos under construction—none of it has anything to do with you, and you can stroll around town feeling comfortable and free.”
The New Version of Himself (Post-Minimalism):
- “I went from messy maximalism to life as a minimalist. I said goodbye to almost all my things and to my surprise I found I had also changed myself in the process.”
- “Now that I have parted with my possessions, I no longer compare myself with anyone. I used to be embarrassed whenever I compared my miserable apartment with someone else’s home. Or I would see an acquaintance buying everything they wanted and feel envious. But now I’ve been able to say goodbye to that old me, because I’ve stopped taking part in that rat race of never-ending comparison and accumulation.”
- “Since the days of my old messy apartment, I think I’ve reduced my possessions to around 5 percent of what I used to own. That’s 950 out of 1,000 items. And you know what? There really isn’t a single item that I miss.”
- “Since I minimized my possessions, a drastic change has occurred in my daily life. I come home from work and take a bath. I always leave the tub sparkling clean. I finish my bath and change into a favorite outfit for relaxing at home. Since I got rid of my TV, I read a book or write instead. I no longer drink alone. I go to bed after taking my time doing some stretching exercises, using the space that used to be filled with all my stuff.”
- “I now get up as the sun rises, and I no longer have to rely on my alarm clock. With my material objects gone, the shining rays of the morning sun are reflected against the white wallpaper and brighten up the apartment. The mere act of getting up in the morning, which had been a tough thing for me to do in the past, has now become a pleasant routine. I put away my futon pad. I take time to enjoy my breakfast and savor the espresso I make on my Macchinetta, always cleaning up the breakfast dishes right after my meal. I sit down and meditate to help clear my mind. I vacuum my apartment every day. I do the laundry if the weather is nice. I put on clothes that have been neatly folded and leave the apartment feeling good. I now enjoy taking the same route to work every day—it allows me to appreciate the changes of the four seasons.”
How he buys things now:
- “An item chosen with passion represents perfection to us…I think our lives are better when our belongings stir our passions. As long as we stick to owning things that we really love, we aren’t likely to want more.”
- “The qualities I look for in the things I buy are (l) the item has a minimalist type of shape, and is easy to clean; (2) its color isn’t too loud; (3) I’ll be able to use it for a long time; (4) it has a simple structure; (5) it’s lightweight and compact; and (6) it has multiple uses.”
What’s important to YOU?
What’s your purpose?
- “The things that are important to you will vary. The process of reducing your other items will also vary.”
- “Reducing the number of possessions that you have is not a goal unto itself. I think minimalism is a method for individuals to find the things that are genuinely important to them. It’s a prologue for crafting your own unique story.”
- “When you think about it, it’s experience that builds our unique characteristics, not material objects. So maybe it’s natural that we find our own originality when we strip away all the things that distract us.”
- “And once you are a minimalist who only has what you need, your focus will inevitably shift from others to yourself. Freed from comparing, you’ll start to discover who you truly are.”
For him, it’s all about Happiness, Joy, and Contentment:
- “I can’t believe how my life has changed. I got rid of my possessions, and I’m now truly happy.”
- “Having parted with the bulk of my belongings, I feel true contentment with my day-to day life. The very act of living brings me joy.”
- “Living as a minimalist with the bare essentials has not only provided superficial benefits like the pleasure of a tidy room or the simple ease of cleaning, it has also led to a more fundamental shift. It’s given me a chance to think about what it really means to be happy.”
- “It may sound like I’m exaggerating. Someone once said to me, ‘All you did is throw things away,’ which is true. I haven’t accomplished much yet and there’s nothing that I can really be proud of, at least not at this point in my life. But one thing I’m sure of is that by having fewer things around, I’ve started feeling happier each day. I’m slowly beginning to understand what happiness is.”
- “After what I’ve been through, I think saying goodbye to your things is more than an exercise in tidying up. I think it’s an exercise in thinking about true happiness.”
He’s also experiencing some aspects of Slow Living:
Want to get started with slow living?
- “When you become a minimalist, the energy you use will also become minimal. You won’t need to try to live in an eco-friendly way—it’ll come naturally. By minimizing your possessions and settling into a focused, simple life, you’ll find that the weight on your shoulders has become lighter and you’re living in a way that’s gentler on the environment. And you know what? It gives you a pretty good feeling.”
- “Because I don’t own very much, I have the luxury of time. I can enjoy the simplicity of my daily life without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. That useless pride has disappeared, and since I’m not self-conscious about appearances, I’ve been able to take the bold step of writing this book.”
- “You aren’t surrounded by all the things that usually distract you, the stuff that takes up so much of your attention. That’s why travel accommodations often feel so comfortable. You set down your bag and step out for a walk around the neighborhood. You feel light on your feet, like you could keep walking forever. You have the freedom to go wherever you want. Time is on your side, and you don’t have the usual chores or work responsibilities weighing you down.”
Calculate Your Minimum Living Costs:
Similar to what you would do in FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early).
- “There’s an important concept called minimum living costs, that refers to the minimum amount of money you need to live. I think it’s worthwhile for everyone to calculate this for themselves at least once, by adding up rent, groceries, utilities, communication charges, and so on.”
- “As a result, I don’t even have to worry about retirement anymore. I’m optimistic, knowing that all I have to do is earn 100,000 yen each month. Many jobs are available today where all you need is an online connection, so you can even live someplace abroad where minimum living costs are even lower. There’s no point in putting up with a terrible job or working yourself to death just to maintain your standard of living. By having less and lowering your minimum living costs, you can go anywhere you want. Minimalism can really be liberating.”
New Learnings about the Japanese Culture:
- There’s a Buddhist chant recited before meals called Gokan no Ge, or the Five Reflections.
- The Japanese tea ceremony
- Danshari: “the art of de-cluttering, discarding, and parting with your possessions” (Note: I’m kind of surprised this didn’t come up in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up…)
- “For me, Zen and meditation have improved my state of mind so much it’s as if I were reinstalling my personal operating system.”
- “We’re all born into this world as minimalists, but we Japanese used to lead minimalist lives as well. Foreigners who came to Japan before our industrialization were shocked. While it might be hard to imagine today, most people owned perhaps two or three kimonos, always kept fresh and clean, as their entire wardrobe. They packed light, their legs were strong, and they could walk wherever they needed to go. Homes were simple structures that could quickly be rebuilt, and people didn’t tend to live in the same place all their lives. Japanese culture used to be a minimalist culture.”
Japanese Minimalists Referenced:
It was an eye-opening experience to visit the blogs listed below. While Google Translate isn’t perfect, it gave me the gist of the various people. Minimalism comes in many different flavors.
- “Hiji was one of the first minimalist bloggers in Japan.”
- Blog: Mono o motanai minimarisuto (A minimalist who doesn’t own things) at minimarisuto.jp
- “Ofumi and Tee say they were awakened to minimalism just as they were about to build a house.”
- Minimarisuto-biyori (A fine day for a minimalist) at mount-hayashi.hatenablog.com
- Okurete kita minimarisuto (The belated minimalist) at minimaltee.hateblo.jp
- “Yamasan is a minimalist supermom who lives with her husband and two kids. She enjoys DIY projects and aims for a beautiful and relaxing atmosphere in her home.”
- Sukunai monode sukkiri kurasu (Living simply with few things) at yamasan0521.hatenablog.com
- “Kouta is a young minimalist adventurer who travels the globe with his trusted MacBook Pro and creates music wherever he goes.”
- Minimalist Music Producer at minimalist-music-producer.com
References to other Smart People:
- “The Buddhist monk Ryunosuke Koike says he puts his hand against his chest when he’s not sure about an item, and it will feel uncomfortable if the item is me rely something that he wants. This discomfort is a symptom of dissatisfaction, of the mistaken belief that there’s something missing from his life even though he already has everything he needs.”
- “Author Daisuke Yosumi writes that we should consider stores as our personal warehouses. All those stores out there pay good sums of money to secure space so they can stock all sorts of goods for us, and they manage their items with care. Convenience stores welcome us around the clock. Yosumi suggests we should not think of these places as shops where we buy goods, but instead as our warehouses where we go to get something when we need it…In one of his books, Daisuke Yosumi wrote about this concept. The more you like your possessions, the more knowledgeable you’ll become on the brands and their backgrounds. There is a sense of wonder to things that we truly value.”
- “Aristotle believed (as paraphrased by philosopher Will Durant) that ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.’ You don’t need a strong will to tidy up regularly and maintain a clean home.”
- “I’ve heard about a Native American teaching that says when something needs to be decided, they look seven generations ahead, which seems to make much more sense.”
- “Wetiko is a Native American word, literally translated as ‘man eater,’ which refers to a mental disorder in which you want more than you need.”
If you made it this far, I’ll leave you with an interesting thought experiment.
One of the images in the book is of the Japanese minimalist blogger, Hiji. He’s sitting in a room that’s almost completely empty (no TV), but he’s wearing a Sony head-mounted viewer to watch his favorite shows.
In my mind, trading one thing for another thing that still consumes the same amount of time isn’t a win. Yet this will likely continue to happen into the future. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg said at some point we will no longer have physical TVs and we’ll project a virtual screen on any wall we want through a software app. Some futurists believe that by the 2040s people will be spending most of their time in full-immersion virtual reality.
In this future, you can imagine that many people are minimalists in the physical sense. More and more money will be channeled into virtual and augmented realities instead of the real world.
But one thing doesn’t change. Your time. You still get 24 hours per day. How are you going to use it?
Have you read Goodbye, Things? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.
You can check out all of my book summaries here.
Slow Living Resources
Also published on Medium.