Books Minimalism

Book Review: Goodbye, Things

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Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living
by Fumio Sasaki

Age Group/Genre: Non-Fiction
Publication date: April 11th, 2017 (first published in Japan on June 12th, 2015)
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback

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Synopsis

Fumio Sasaki is a writer in his thirties who lives in a tiny studio in Tokyo with three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and not much else. A few years ago, he realized that owning so much stuff was weighing him down — so he started to get rid of it.

In this hit Japanese bestseller, Sasaki explores the philosophy behind minimalism and offers a set of straightforward rules — discard it if you haven’t used it in a year; be a borrower; find your uniform; keep photos of the things you love — that can help all of us lead simpler, happier, more fulfilled lives.

My thoughts

Goodbye, Things is a book that has a very good chance of being my favorite non-fiction book of the year. It is simple (much like the minimalist lifestyle) and easy to comprehend.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t go into depth, though: it really does make you think. Sasaki covers just about every aspect of minimalism there is to write about:
Information overload. Greed. Sharing culture. Minimizing waste. Uniforms. The history of minimalism in Japan. Technology. Natural disasters. The economy. (Dis)comfort. Appreciation. Laziness and chores. The fake personas we’ve created based on our possessions. Minimalism not being a competitive sport. The human desire to affirm our own worth. Comparing ourselves to others. The science of happiness. Everything is covered.

“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.”

A substantial part of the book are the chapters with practical tips. For beginners there are “55 tips to help you say goodbye to your things”, and for the more advanced minimalists he has included “15 more tips for the next stage of your minimalist journey”. Some examples:

  • Start with things that are clearly junk.
  • There isn’t a single item you’ll regret throwing away.
  • Get rid of it if you haven’t used it in a year.
  • Leave your “unused” space empty.
  • Let go of the idea of getting your money’s worth.
  • Discard any possessions that you can’t discuss with passion.

If you are more advanced, these tips are in no way groundbreaking. Somehow, though, what he writes is very motivational. I will definitely pick up this book again when I’m struggling with a specific aspect of minimalism. (My biggest problems are getting my money’s worth and getting rid of gifts.)

Not only do we get practical tips for decluttering, we also get to learn about the psychology behind it all. Why do we accumulate so much stuff? How can we learn to live with less, and gain a richer appreciation of the things we still own?

Sasaki is an extreme minimalist. The best example of this, I would say, is his choice of towel. He has gotten rid of all his towels and now just uses a tenugui (a thin Japanese hand towel) for not only drying off his body after a shower, but also to dry his hands after washing them, and the dishes. His reason for this is that he now appreciates it much more when he does get to use a luxurious (or even a regular) towel, like when he stays in a hotel.

“I’ve lowered my bar for happiness simply by switching to a tenugui. When even a regular bath towel can make you happy, you’ll be able to find happiness almost anywhere.”

I get the idea of ‘lowering the bar for happiness’, but I have a feeling no reader of this book will follow in Sasaki’s footsteps when it comes to the towel thing. Not in a million years would I want to dry my body with the same towel that I dry my dishes with. So many germs.

At the front of the book, there is a little insert with photos of Sasaki’s apartment pre- and post-minimalism, as well as the apartments of other kinds of minimalists from Japan. There is a couple, a family of four, a traveler, and a guy with a love for gadgets. I really liked seeing this visual aspect of it, and how different kinds of people practice different kinds of minimalism.

One chapter I found particularly interesting was the one about losing interest in our possessions. It made me look around my room and consider that the things I no longer truly love (my bed, my scratch map, a pair of pyjama pants, a set of drawers), were once things that I wanted really badly. Sasaki writes about why we get bored of our possessions and how to tackle that problem.

“We have everything we thought we wanted in the past. Everything around us is an item that we had genuinely desired at one point or another. But regardless of the level of our desire at the time, we get used to these items and eventually use interest.”

Although the author is an extreme minimalist, that doesn’t mean you have to be. This book is a great read for minimalists, ‘maximalists’, and everything in between. I think everyone could learn a little something from Goodbye, Things, and I hope more people will soon discover the freedom of minimalism.

Quotes

“I think it’s more meaningful to try to recall the words of a deceased friend or relative, or treasure the things they did for you while they were alive, than spend time managing their possessions.”

“When discarding anything, it’s important to consider whether it is something that you need right now. In the same way that trying to prepare for someday in the future is futile, so is clinging to what used to be in the past.
The textbooks you used in school, the books that opened up your eyes to the world when you were a child, that favorite outfit that once made you shine — memories are wonderful, but you won’t have room to develop if your attachment to the past is too strong. It’s better to cut some of those ties so you can focus on what’s important today.”

“I think the ideal minimalist is someone who can give a rundown of every item that they own. We should be able to recall our possessions if they’re all necessary things that we use regularly, right?”

“There are people who lose everything in a fire, so it can’t be that big a deal to throw a few things away.” (About discarding his bank statements.)

“My apartment has reached a state where it’s no problem to show any part of it to anyone at any time.”

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