goodbye, things

Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki

My own experiences with minimalism started long before the phrase was coined (to my knowledge, anyway). 

Fourteen years ago my partner of twelve years died. I was left with all of his things, some common things that he probably never would have even remembered he had, some precious and beloved. In the months after his death, I was the opposite of minimalistic - hoarding anything and everything he'd touched, and everything that was technically mine more than doubled. 

Eventually, something had to give. 

I started to let go of his things and in the process also let go of things that we'd possessed together, and also things of my own. As I began to let go of things that I couldn't have previously fathomed relinquishing, the process changed for me. It became cleansing, releasing, eventually bordering on addictive. It wasn't nearly as quickly as some recent minimalism-related texts would have the reader believe it can happen; we're talking about years

When Marie Kondo's book came out, though I didn't always agree with or identify with everything she said, I still thoroughly enjoyed it because it was one of the first times that my innately-born purging process was validated. Since then, I've mostly avoided any books that look like they're cashing in on the trend or copycatting.

When Goodbye, Things came up for early review, even, it looked intriguing but I didn't request it. It wasn't until my recent trip to Seattle and Elliott Bay, where I was able to sit down and skim through it that I knew it was going to work for me. 

Goodbye is an interesting and vulnerable exploration of Sasaki's own psyche during his discovery and journey through minimalism. Like Kondo, there were some things here that I really couldn't identify with, primarily his admission that before the changes in his life, he was riddled with anxiety over how others viewed him. He believed this anxiety contributed to a romantic breakup. He would see someone with a fancy car or more expensive wardrobe and feel humiliated that he hadn't achieved that level of success. He even imagined that children seeing him walking down the street in simplistic clothing would be laughing at him. 

Unfortunately, I finished the book sensing that he still has these concerns; he never explicitly says that it doesn't matter whether other people are judging or laughing at him; rather, he explains that even if they are, he's come to accept it and be joyful in his choices nonetheless. 

I couldn't identify with these, the seemingly primary motivations behind his transformation (he feels like letting go of his material possessions frees him from comparing and judging himself against the possessions that other people have). I don't always have the best confidence on days when I run out to the grocery store in what amounts to sweats (although other days I couldn't care less), or realize halfway through the day that what I've chosen to wear to work no longer flatters me or makes me feel good. But I've never felt that envy for a more expensive car, or for a particular or more expensive brand of clothing. But as evidenced by Sasaki's revelations, for those of us who are attracted to this way of living, it doesn't much matter the motivation; what matters most, perhaps, is the psychological benefits of one's actions.

It's the realization that memories don't vanish when the item they're associated with is gone. It's the lifting of weight associated with both those beloved objects and also simple clutter. It's the delicious sensation that, after releasing a large percentage of the physical things in your life, the value and warmth of what remains emerges. 

I'm not here to convince anyone of this process: it must be discovered by oneself (otherwise the man I've lived with for seven years would have far fewer things). But if you're intrigued or already veering this direction yourself, there's significant value here.