Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism hit me square in the resolutions this month, at a time of year when most of us are thinking about ways to make our lives better, truer, and more meaningful.
Yet I wasn’t looking for a book on clutter-busting or even thoughtful reflections on consumerism. In the first case, I’ve already been doing quite a bit of slimming down of my possessions, and I have at least one space in my house — the office from which I am writing now — that is abundantly, crazily, magically maximalist. I have no intention of changing it.
As to reflections on consumerism, I’m always eager for them, but not from the “minimalists” I’ve encountered in the US, who have generally been tech-bros that skim a little Bashō here, a little Aristotle there, in the service of their brand. When I took a peek at Sasaki’s bio — he’s a book editor, living quietly in Kyoto — I was reassured.
When I took a peek at Sasaki’s bio — he’s a book editor, living quietly in Kyoto — I was reassured.
Goodbye, Things is not merely another tutorial on getting rid of stuff and staying rid of it, it’s also a book that explores the nature of paring away all the extras, the implication of this often-radical decision, with a distinctively Japanese perspective. One of the most pleasurable things about the book is its frequent nods to Japanese and world contemporary figures and traditional philosophers, exploring their contributions to the evolving approach to being in the world at all, to materiality. Far from cerebral or cold, Sasaki offers us a body of thought that is rooted and tangible: “The Buddhist monk Ryunosuke Kolke 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 merely something he wants.”
There’s plenty of specific how-to advice, too. With chapters titled “55 tips to help you say goodbye to your things” and “15 more tips for the next…