I recently read Fumio Sasaki’s entertaining and enlightening account of his becoming a minimalist, titled ‘Goodbye, things’. Minimalism comes in many forms, meaning different things in music and visual art, for example. The type of minimalism Sasaki refers to has to do with the number of possessions a person owns, in opposition to materialism.
Material possessions can bring joy, such as a hand-crafted gift, a souvenir from a great holiday or a much-loved musical instrument. But they can also be a burden: all of those clothes at the back of the wardrobe you wore just once; the books that you will read some day; the mountain of CDs you bought before the days of Spotify and iTunes. Minimalism claims that the vast majority of things most people own bring little happiness, are completely unnecessary and simply act to clutter up their life. By greatly reducing the number of objects Sasaki owned, he claimed not only to have become freer, but was also led to give more attention to those few possessions which he really appreciated.
The impediment on one’s freedom brought by material possessions recently came to my attention upon moving house. Since I studied for my undergraduate in the nearest city to my home, I eventually took virtually all of my possessions with me, collecting more and more each time I visited my parents. When I started my postgraduate at the other end of the country, I took everything with me again. When I went through counting all the boxes and bags, I was shocked to find a total of 33 items. Reading Sasaski’s book, I realised there is no better time to shed one’s belongings than at the start of a new year.
I agree with the sentiment in ‘Goodbye, things’, although the particular brand of minimalism which Sasaki proposes is at times a little questionable. Firstly, it seems a central drive in Sasaki’s quest to minimise his possessions is the associated aesthetic. Additionally, in the name of completely de-cluttering one’s existence, he suggests removing all multiples and never stocking up on food or otherwise, to the extent that you go shopping frequently, only own one pen and have to buy toilet paper in single rolls. This, I feel, is going a bit far and could end up being a wasteful, inefficient and more costly way to live. However there is certainly merit in only owning those things which are either truly needed or indeed loved. What is the point in having an item which does not fall into one of these categories?
Discarding possessions to achieve a higher state of being is no new concept. Buddhists are encouraged to discard their possessions, because the possession of material objects leads to attachment, which creates suffering. The less attachment one has to the material world, the freer one becomes. At the end of the day, regardless of your spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), no material objects will still be in your possession after you die. On your deathbed, would you really regret spending less time on objects and more time on people and experiences? The converse would certainly be a regrettable life.
There appear to be a number of movements springing up around the notion of minimalism. In central London posters can be found with the slogan
“All you love is need.”
providing a cruel, twisted mirror of the original intention of The Beatles, 50 years on. The modern economy and (arguably) society is driven by the desire for material goods. If people stopped buying en masse, today’s financial system would no longer be able to function. As I have repeatedly illustrated in this blog, there are mountains of evidence that the environmental costs of the high capitalist era are enormous. The rate at which many natural resources are being consumed is far from sustainable. Minimalism is one, albeit relatively quiet, voice standing up saying “No, we don’t need that.”. A recent magazine article entitled ‘More is not better. Better is better.’ described the movement as follows.
“It is the simplest and most peaceful act of rebellion against a society that demands we should have more than we need.”
Zero waste minimalism?
As I have mentioned, the brand of minimalism Sasaki discusses is very focused on discarding. How could this ever fit in with an ethos of being waste free and reducing one’s impact on the planet? Just because you don’t want something any more doesn’t mean that no-one else will.
I recently discovered the app Freegle, which is run by volunteers and has a particularly active group in Reading, UK. The idea of Freegle is that users either advertise something they want to give away, or put up a request for something they want. I had an old box of guitar effects pedals, some of which were completely broken, along with other cables, knick knacks and plectrums. Who on earth would want all of this junk, with their state openly and honestly advertised? Ten requests came in within four hours and I found myself combing over the messages to see who seemed most deserving!
Other items you may wish to get money back for, of course. Items that are still ‘like new’ or which were very expensive. If you can’t get a refund or shift them on eBay then it turns out they weren’t worth so much after all. Give them to a charity shop, offer them up to friends, or give them a go on Freegle.
The first thing to get rid of (after actual rubbish) is anything you had forgotten you owned. What is the point in having something which you had completely forgotten about, sat there collecting dust? Better off giving it someone who will enjoy it and use it often. Then you can focus on what really matters to you.
Needless to say, items which no-one else would want can often be recycled. Put all those concert tickets you blue-tacked to your walls in your teens in the paper recycling. Throw all those old, over-worn clothes in a textile recycling bin. I put my two favourite t-shirts in the clothes recycling, due to their being suncream-stained after a summer holiday. Despite initially wondering whether this was a good idea, the action was surprisingly rewarding and I haven’t regretted it once.
Take what you want
Continuing the Christmas spirit of giving into the New Year, I thought I would offer up a number of the items I have decided to part with in this very blog piece. All items are available free of charge, in good condition and collection/postage/delivery can be arranged via emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lot 1: Books
I have read all of these books and thoroughly recommend each and every one. Having taken the notes I wanted, they are better off getting read by someone else now. Some of them might have a couple of notes scribbled on, or page corners folded over.
- ‘Goodbye Things’, Fumio Sasaki.
- ‘Zen in Plain English’, Stephan Schumacher.
- ‘The Universe Next Door’, Marcus Chown.
- ‘The Fabric of Reality’, David Deutsch.
- ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Milan Kundera.
- ‘The Lonely City’, Olivia Liang.
- ‘Red Azalea’, Anchee Min.
- Lonely Planet Iceland.
- ‘The Millennium Problems’, Keith Devlin.
- ‘Flatland’, Edwin Abbott.
- ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach’, Douglas Hofstadter.
Lot 2: Vinyl records
I went through a phase during my undergrad when I bought some decks and an enormous number of records, some of which I only listened to once.
- ‘Feel it’, Mr Scruff.
- ‘Samaris’, Samaris.
- Foo Fighters greatest hits.
- ‘Swim’, Caribou.
[Image sources: header image]