Thinking About Minimalism (and Maximalism)

As a vintage lover I can’t help but being a bit of a maximalist. I enjoy having all kinds of interesting old bits around me to look at and appreciate. I love the warmth, the coziness, the quirkiness, the history and the beauty of things.

Photo courtesy of Dering Hall.

But strangely at times I do feel pulled towards minimalism and recently bought a book titled “goodbye, things: The New Japanese Minimalism” by Fumio Sasaki and dove into it with anticipation. He defines 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.”

I’m only half way through the book, but I realize while his downsizing is making him much happier, it’s so dramatic that I would feel bereft.

Here are a few of the things he got rid of:

  • “All my books [$10,000 worth], including my bookshelves.”
  • “Various tools for maintaining my bicycle.”
  • “A Tempur-Pedic full-size mattress–extremely comfortable but extremely heavy, too.”
  • “Treasured letters I’ve been saving since kindergarten.”

Yikes!

At any given time I have 500-700 books in my possession. Of these I reread and treasure about 60% of them. Could I let go of some the books? Absolutely. I do it all the time. Could I ever be book free? Gosh you might as well cut off my arm. I have been a reader and book lover since the age of five. And yes, I do know about Kindle and e-books, but I’m not interested. Call me a Luddite but I like the look and feel of a real book in my hands. (And there is a certain irony of a man who no longer owns books wanting you to buy his book to tell you to get rid of books!)

A portion of my books and puzzles!

And I’m not sure why after purchasing an expensive Temper-Pedic mattress and describing it as “extremely comfortable” Fumio felt the need to jettison it. Did he really move so much that the heaviness of it was a problem? With my aging body, a comfortable bed is an essential. Fumio now sleeps on a thin futon on the floor. (I would never willingly choose to do this now though in my 20s I slept on couch cushions in a house near Chicago and later in San Francisco a 4″ foam pad on the floor. The benefits of youth.)

Photo courtesy of Fumio Sasaki.
Photo courtesy of Fumio Sasaki.

What I have realized is that for Fumio becoming a minimalist was almost a religious experience. He felt freer, happier, more content.

“If you’re anything like I was–dissatisfied with your life, insecure, unhappy–try reducing your belongings. You’ll start to change.”

“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.”

Fumio Sasaki

While I do think decluttering and getting rid of excess stuff is a GREAT idea and will make for an easier, freer life with less to maintain, I draw the line that it will necessarily make your dissatisfactions, insecurities and unhappiness melt away or give you great contentment. I think life is much more complicated and the inner longings of our spirit aren’t quenched by owning fewer things (or owning more for that matter).

And to be honest I think minimalism is a lifestyle choice “rooted in privilege.

“The only people who can ‘practice’ minimalism in any meaningful way are people upon whom it isn’t forced by financial or logistical circumstances.”

Chelsey Fagan, The Financial Diet

Think about it…millions and millions of people worldwide live minimalist lives because they have no choice and likely they do not feel the same happiness or contentment that Fumio experiences.


All this said, I’m not trying to knock Fumio or those who choose a minimalist (or radical minimalist) lifestyle. I agree with a lot of what he says and many of his downsizing tips are spot, like “Let go of the idea of ‘someday.'” Oh gosh, I have clothes I haven’t worn in years, partly due to the pandemic shutting things down, but also because they are now a smidge tight. (But I’ll lose the weight…right?! Hmmm.)

I find his book intriguing and will undertake some of his ideas and tips, but I will continue to have “unnecessary” things in my life, like paintings, quilts, brass candlesticks, pottery, antique sterling silver spoons. They are some of the many things in life that give me pleasure, along with friends, family and wonderful neighbors (thank you Art and Annie for the refreshing homemade Limoncello!), gardening, traveling, volunteering, eating good food….

I started this collection over 25 years ago and it still gives me pleasure.

I do want to have less. I will have less. But a barren, uncomfortable home is not for me.

A bit of my mantel.

Just a few thoughts friends. Would love to hear yours!

Karen

P.S. I bought my used copy of his book through Better World Books. Part of their charter is rescuing books that are headed for the landfill and funding literacy. Love that! Check them out.

10 comments

  1. That’s a lovely observation on the minimalist lifestyle. I myself have gravitated towards minimalism because one, I’m a lazy slob, and less things mean less cleaning. But also, I do feel a certain anxiety from seeing too much stuff lying around for the sake of it.

    For instance, I’m a fountain pen enthusiast. I have a collection, and enjoy the different writing experiences each pen (and ink) offers. But if I have more than one pen inked at a time, I start to get anxious that there’s just too much clutter of things I can’t fully utilise, and that’s when I get bothered with this low-key negativity that can be alleviated by simply not inking the pens.

    I think we all belong on a spectrum somewhere, and that dictates the amount of things we’re willing to tolerate. Perhaps people like Fumio suffer from the same mental states, which is why he feels freer (and the accompanying joy) that comes with paring down his belongings.

    Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stuart. Thank you for this thoughtful comment and perspective.

      I think you are so right that we are all on the spectrum. Right now I know I have too much and the cluttered areas make me anxious, but I also know that an apartment as austere as Fumio’s would feel like a punishment to me!

      I admire him though and his book is definitely worth a read.

      All the best, Karen

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fumio sounds like he is a part of the New World Order. You will own nothing and be happy. I agree that selling a book to promote this is interesting. I will not be buying it or reading it. I can not agree with his philosophy. I also love books and who in their right mind would give a comfortable bed ?? The memories of bits and pieces of the past make me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for your comment Jana. I was bothered by the bed too. Getting rid of a comfortable (and expensive) bed that you’ve already paid for to buy a thin futon to sleep on the floor seemed wasteful to me. I noticed in his new apartment he seems to allow himself no comfort.

      And I do wonder if at some point he will regret getting rid of some of the things from his past. I certainly treasure mine.

      All the best, Karen

      Like

  3. My collections, the (mostly) thrift store art filling (nearly) every wall, ARE necessities for my happiness! It’s said that a house can be “clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy.” I push that cleanliness limit! Sure, no books, no toothpick holders, no ceramic dogs, means less dusting, but I enjoy seeing them. Getting rid of them will not make me happy or secure. I’d love a new mattress! How nice he’s able to afford to replace his with something else. A thin futon on the floor? Don’t they say, “Tell me you’re single, without saying you’re single”?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First wodge now Luddite, you’re really increasing my vocabulary. I’ll be using those words on some folks very soon, I know a couple Luddites. Lol.

    Karen, having lived the maximalist lifestyle for many years and then experiencing forced minimalism (2009) I have grown quite comfortable with living somewhere in between or closer to minimalism. The things I worked so hard for but lost so easily, I have no desire to replace. I have found much satisfaction in digging around on Facebook Marketplace or resale shops for those nuggets of gold that fill my needs. The perfect armoire or end table for example, and a good story usually comes along with it. What you do really resonates with me, you’re an inspiration. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brad! Thanks for sharing your story here. Sorry to hear that you experienced forced minimalism, but I’m glad you are in a better situation now. And so appreciate that enjoy great secondhand things. Always love the story behind things too. Take care, Karen
      P.S. Have no idea how I even remembered the word “wodge” but it so perfectly described that handful of trim!

      Like

  5. Great article! You and I are on the same page. The happiest people are the ones who feel good about themselves, whatever that looks like for them. It doesn’t have to do with material things. That being said, I love my things! I donate, sell, have yard sales and such to pare down, but I keep what I love and what is sentimental. And although I read kindle books and publish my books on kindle, I love and will never part with my favorite physical books. They are my first and favorite love and collection.
    Thanks for providing that book link. I will definitely check that out!

    Liked by 1 person

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