on minimalism

Hard to believe that we’re now midway into the month of August.

July had been a month of whirlwind change.

Finally took a break from work. Moved halfway across the world to Berlin to be with the hubby (who shall henceforth be known as D, if ever he needs to be mentioned ;p) who’s relocated for work. A couple of days after touching down in Berlin, went across the Channel for a great big extended family reunion in the UK. Lost a dear Uncle the day after we celebrated his 69th birthday. Helped out with his funeral in England. Came back to Berlin. Did some major cleaning of the new apartment. Sorted my stuff out at the new apartment. Sorted D’s stuff out at the new apartment. Now, finally, finally, the apartment really feels like my new second home. Most surfaces are clean. The truckload of empty beer bottles and bottles of water that were left to gather dust in the cleaning area (courtesy of D who to my horror, is able to live in a state of clutter even more so than me) have finally been chucked off into the recycling bins. The empty cardboard boxes from equipment we’d ordered (e.g. that new fan that has really come in handy during the muggy summer European summer nights) have finally been disposed off in the recycling area downstairs. Finally, there are more clean, empty spaces than grimy, dusty ones. 😉

Amidst the cleaning, sorting, organising and storing, the book that really came in handy was Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. An extended essay of sorts, written by a writer/editor in his mid thirties on his journey with Minimalism and how it has changed his life…for the better. I first stumbled upon his video on Youtube where he talked about his experience. In the broadest perspective, it echoes Marie Kondo’s philosophy about keeping only that which Spark Joy. But while Marie Kondo’s books are a real guide to getting one’s life in order, from the right method of decluttering to storing one’s belongings effectively (which came in extremely handy when I was trying to figure out how to sort out our items in our new apartment; not as easy or as fun as it looks in her videos -_-;;), Fumio Sasaki’s book is more of a reflection on Minimalism as a philosophy, as well as the benefits of becoming a Minimalist from his experience.

After reading both, there was an instinctive pull in my gut that the concepts of Minimalism are something that I want to always keep in mind as a way of living.

According to Fumio Sasaki, a Minimalist is

‘someone who knows what is truly essential for him- or herself, who reduces the number of possessions that they have for the sake of things that are really important to them.

[…]

Minimalists are people who know what is truly necessary for them versus what they may want for the sake of appearance, and they are not afraid to cut down on everything in the second category.

[…]

And the thing to keep in mind is that it is not a goal, but a method; a ‘prologue for crafting your own unique story’.

What I enjoyed reading about was his exploration into the thought process which drives our consumerism. Why do we keep wanting more things, even though a lot of times after we have obtained something, we no longer feel the joy or pleasure in owning it. The end result is us buying something more.

He echoes research from psychologist Daniel Gilbert, in that ‘we use the present as the basis for predicting our future emotions’. We assume that we will love the item we have just bought well into the future when in reality, it’s often not the case.

Another reason for our amassing products is that we use them in order to represent ourselves, our unique personalities, in order to showcase to the world. Obtaining affirmation from others is a way for us to believe in our own self worth. ‘Unless we can see ourselves reflected from another person’s perspective, it isn’t possible for us to really know our worth.’
(…)
‘Being the social animals that we are, we can’t live without thinking that we have value. We can’t do anything without a reasonable dose of narcissism. So it isn’t a bad thing to think that we’re worthy.
(…)
The problem lies in how we convey our value to others. Because sometimes ‘when what we own becomes who we are’ and ‘our tools become our masters’.

(…)

‘To show this value, we communicate our qualities through our belongings.
But when we become too reliant on that method, we end up being surrounded by too many possessions. The objects that are supposed to represent our qualities become our qualities themselves. Then we start collecting more things because we feel like we’ll become more substantial that way.’

I feel that this is such common sense type of reasoning that it might easily be dismissed by readers as insignificant but it really struck a chord with me. How much of the items we own are items we truly love as opposed to items that enable us to love the reaction of others when they see that we own them? Off hand I am reminded of the collections some people have. Even something as simple as books. The author himself admitted to having bought a lot of ‘serious’ books because he enjoyed having people feel that he was erudite for having read them/at least seeing them displayed in his room. It made me think about the items I have as well. Do some of the things I own actually ‘spark joy’ for me or are they present because of some form of admiration I’m seeking from others’ when they know I own such things?

The bulk of the book then focuses on the author providing numerous tips on discarding your belongings. Once again, the emphasis was on ‘differentiating between things you want and things you need.’ Interestingly enough, sometimes it is a physical, visceral response from the body when we think about what we really need. Akin to recognizing when something ‘sparks joy’ for you in Marie Kondo’s method, the body feels something when it differentiates between what it needs and what it purely wants.

‘The Buddhist monk Ryunosuke Koike says he puts his hand against his chest when he’s not sure about an item, and it will feel uncomfortable if that item is merely something that he wants.’

I’ve been trying it out a few times while shopping (dang, why does it have to be summer sale season now) and the feeling I get when I really try to consider ‘do I need this or do I want this?’ is first, a sense of stillness when the mind settles down and considers. Then, often more than not, comes that sense of guilt, because I know that as much as I like it, I really don’t need that new dress… 😉 And when you think about it, there really isn’t that much which we need to survive in life.

That said, I’m glad to be aware of these two ways of looking at things. When considering something, instinctively, does it spark joy? If it doesn’t, do I really need it or is it a want? And if it doesn’t spark joy and I don’t really need it… The answer is clear. If anything, I personally feel that this has cut down on my purchases by a fair bit. Though D would always beg to differ… Of course, sometimes I probably do slip up. But the awareness of these methods I think, forms the intention that I aim to have influence my actions in day to day life. Without at least the first step of having the awareness, things would be a whole lot different than they are now.

Out of the numerous benefits he listed as having gained from Minimalism, one that I liked reading about was that of being ‘liberated from your personas’.

‘Freed from comparison, you’ll start to discover who you truly are.

(…)

Instead of focusing on the voices of others, I focus on and believe in the voice that’s coming from me. What I often feel now is that I’m “returning” to myself.’

I suppose it’s something that I’ve been thinking about as I try to figure out for myself want I want in my life… in terms of my job… way of living…

He realized that since parting with his possessions, he is just a regular guy.

“No one’s better because they have or don’t have a lot. Rich or poor, famous or ordinary, we’re all just human beings who come into contact with one another… I can now see someone simply as another human being without ranking them based on what they have. As a result, I don’t think I’ll ever again feel embarrassed about myself when I meet someone.”

I’ve always wondered what that feeling would be like. Perhaps in my upcoming interactions with people, I shall try to focus on finding out who they are, without being distracted by the adornments and labels, because at the end of the day, we’re all the same, trying to do our best to live this life we have in this world. Perhaps instead of trying my best to present a certain image of myself from the outset, I’ll just try to let the other person discover who I am inside through words and actions. Back to basics. The thought is rather exciting.

There are a quite a number of other benefits to be gained from Minimalism that Fumio Sasaki mentioned such as 1. being better able to take risks, since minimalists have no possessions that they are scared to lose… 2. being better able to savour the present moment because by constantly asking what it is he needs now, he has stopped thinking or worrying so much about the future.

“I threw away everything I thought would be needed for some day in the future, as well as the things I thought I needed in the past. I was left with what truly matters: the present.”

Isn’t that a wonderful thought? It feels that Minimalism is really a manifestation of Zen principles. At the end of the day, it is about coming back to this moment. Now.

It’s the middle of the week now. May you have many beautiful moments, starting right now. xoxo

 

 

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