Following Kondo and Yamashita, the vanguard of the new wave of Japanese minimalists, Fumio Sasaki’s radical interpretation of the movement has gained significant traction throughout the West. In conversation with the author, Sasaki offers practical advice on how the philosophy of minimalism can help us transcend our modern culture of consumerism and learn to start living with less. This growing movement to relinquish what we no longer need is an exercise in thinking about true happiness and its contents.

Fumio Sasaki

There is happiness in having less, that’s why it’s time to say goodbye to all of our extra things.

As an unmarried man, pushing his late thirties and living in the frenetic metropolis of Japan’s Capital, Fumio Sasaki felt the mounting pressure to exemplify some measure of success. In desperate search of a sense of self-worth, he began a quest of fervently buying new things, hoping that the acquisition of objects would bring him closer to happiness.

Surrounded by tumbles of unread books, film paraphernalia and idle camera parts, the material trappings of Fumio’s lifestyle started to evolve into towering collections of possessions that consumed the space around him. Uncomfortable in his own skin, the compulsion to acquire objects would find him ‘gazing dumbly’ at the pristine white Ferrari’s that overtook him on his pushbike or silently calculating the rent of his collegues as they welcomed him into their homes. As his compulsive behaviour mounted, his troubled relationship with his identity and self-worth would find him turning to drink for solace, and breaking up with his girlfriend to save her from his sorry financial state. Fumio had fallen victim to the very modern malaise brought about by the kaleidoscope of advertisements and slew of commercial propoganda; feelings that compel the average urbanite to seek solace in the acquisition of newer and better commodities to assuage private feelings of lack .

(Right- Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki)

The Joy of Things

Tyler Durden, Fight Club

You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes, then the perfect bed, the drapes, the rug. 

When we at last, hold in our hands the thing we have been lusting after (for what seems like centuries), there is no doubt we experience sensations that approximate feelings of joy. In our conversation, Fumio explains that though these moments of elation are experienced as real and present sensations, these feelings often short-lived. “Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes you feel excited, is released not when you obtain something, but when you anticipate the stimulus that you think obtaining it will bring.” The author continues, “this explains why the joy of getting things we want badly is never as great or long-lasting a feeling as we think it will be. And because the joy is so fleeting, we keep look to the next thing for satisfaction.”

 

Letting Go

Fumio Sasaki

Discard the preconception that you can’t discard your things. It takes skill, so anyone can do it with practice and when you discard something you gain more than you lose.

Fumio explains, the art of Minimalism “is not about what or how much we own, but analysing why we own the things we do.” Preferring to use the phrase ‘letting go’ rather than ‘throwing away’, Fumio explains that the choice to relinquish possessions that no longer serve us takes patience and thought. By selectively considering the role certain objects play in our lives, we are better able to distinguish between things we need and things that no longer serve us.

The process of downsizing can be deeply therapeutic, offering moments of reflection on past loves, joys and mistakes. To avoid losing precious memories, Fumio began by digitizing his material life, scanning in old letters and taking photos of his things before they left him.

As soon as he started to minimize, Fumio experienced a ‘lightening up’ and began to see the city he walked with new eyes. He explains, ‘As soon as I started minimizing my things I started noticing the surroundings in my commute—the trees lining the streets and the flowers blossoming in each season. I started getting up earlier and cleaning my apartment every morning before going to work. By mindfully attending to my morning routine, I could begin my day on the right foot, kick-starting a positive cycle of self-affirmation. I think this is how I was finally able to pay attention to things outside of my busy daily routines.’

LIghtening Up

Fumio Sasaki

Most importantly, minimalism changed my core values. The fantasy that having a lot of money or things can make me happy has been completely dismantled.

 

Although this new evolution of minimalism seems radical, Fumio explains that ‘it’s not something you have to follow religiously forever’. Adding, ‘I think of minimalism as a small gate. Once you go through it, you feel lighter and can live your life more freely. Your priorities and values shift. The number of things you own doesn’t really matter; what matters is whether you are making a conscious, independent choice about what you own.’

‘Once you have learned what’s important to you, you can of course go back to having more things. My mother is someone who has always been surrounded by objects, but has never been overwhelmed by her possessions. When my book was first published, I called my mother and told her that there’s no need for her to minimise. She is surrounded by many wonderful things but she has the skill to manage them.

Fumio Sasaki

I still love things. They can be really wonderful if you use them well.

Citing the work of positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky in his book, Fumio discusses the theory that the environment determines only ten percent of our happiness. Instead, beyond our modern culture’s fixation on measuring status through material means, it is our daily actions and our own interpretation that determines our happiness. Prior to becoming minimalists, many of Fumio’s friends suffered from similar feelings of disillusionment and crisis of identity. Commenting on this, the author observes, ‘they used to suffer from persistent problems in their life, such as family trouble or low self-esteem’. However, by introducing the philosophy and practice of minimalism, ‘starting with his surroundings can be an effective catalyst for someone who wants to change himself’ remarks the author.

‘Happiness is something that can only be felt in the moment’, says Fumio. ‘Instead of aiming towards an ultimate goal, or being fixated on an idea of what your life should look like, the philosophy of minimalism encourages people to liberate themselves from these patterns of thought.’ By relinquishing the association between material acquisition and self worth, we free ourselves to live a life redefined by true meaning and on our own terms. In the words of the author, Fumio states, ‘I think saying goodbye to your things is more than an exercise in tidying up. I think it’s an exercise in learning about true happiness.’

 

Six Conditions for Living Well

with Fumio Sasaki

  1. Ample time for relaxation

  2. Meaningful relationships

  3. Spending time in nature

  4. Finding job that you enjoy

  5. Ongoing personal growth

  6. Living in the moment

BIOGRAPHY

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 realised that owning so much stuff was weighing him down – so he started to get rid of it. In his Japanese bestseller ‘Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living‘ (Penguin), 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.