Review: The Art of Discarding and Goodbye, Things

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As I look forward to another move this summer, I’ve sought fresh decluttering inspiration two new-to-the-U.S. books on decluttering and minimalism: The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi and Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. Although neither offers new insights to experienced minimalists, I found Goodbye, Things to be the most motivational of the two and a good complement to other works on decluttering and minimalism .. and not just because his comment “I can move out of my home in thirty minutes” (Sasaki, 2017, p. 162) sounds so promising.

I picked up The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi with some excitement, since it was the book that inspired Marie Kondo, whose book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up I read and reviewed shortly after its English-language publication in 2014. Unfortunately, Discarding suffers the same problem any early work within a genre suffers — the information in it now feels stale after reading Kondo’s book, which so skillfully incorporated and expanded on Tatsumi’s insights. Although I did learn a little more about Tsukomo-gami and the Japanese perspective on the souls of things from the introduction, in general the advice here is pretty run-of-the-mill for anyone who’s already read a few works on decluttering, especially Kondo’s.

One can certainly see the origins of many of Kondo’s insights here, though; for example, Tatsumi titles one section of her book ” ‘Sometime’ never comes,” just as Kondo titles a section of her bok “Unread books: ‘Sometime’ means ‘never.’” Yet there are differences, however; places where Kondo moves beyond her inspirational mentor. For example, Tatsumi advises readers that perfection is impossible: “But even I can’t claim to stick to all this advice all the time. Just take the points that feel right to you and implement them as far as seems reasonable” (Tatsumi, 2017, Loc. 881 or 1618 [Kindle]). By contrast, Kondo argues, “It is not hard to tidy up perfectly and completely in one fell swoop. In fact, anyone can do it. And if you want to avoid rebound, this is the only way to do it” (Kondo, 2014, p. 20). But in general you’ll find more similarities than differences between these books. It’s also worth nothing that Tatsumi is focused on “discarding” — by which she means throwing away or recycling (Loc 1469 of 1618) — whereas Kondo sees decluttering as the first step toward wholesale lifestyle revision (Tatsumi, notably, has nothing to say about folding strategies or sparks of joy).

I hesitated a few days before buying Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki for two reasons. First, I’ve never been a fan of extreme minimalism and was glad when the minimalist movement broadened, and second, I’d read enough about the new Japanese minimalism online in the summer of 2016 that I wasn’t sure the book was going to offer anything new. When I began reading the book I cringed, because it starts with a series of photos of extreme minimalists’ living spaces and backpacks of possessions; exactly the sort of barren spaces that make most non-minimalists recoil and never want to read a minimalist work again. But it got better, and if you’re looking for a book to inspire you to declutter, I’d say this makes an excellent complement to Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic, especially if you’re wary of the “sparks joy” criterion. It’s also a good addition to other books, such as Peter Walsh’s and (written all the way back in the 1990s) Don Aslett‘s useful books on decluttering.

Sasaki is an extreme minimalist, and that lifestyle’s not going to resonate with a lot of readers (although it’ll probably set a few afire with minimalist passion). But his introduction is an interesting set of speculations about why we accumulate clutter and how it affects us, touching on issues such as existential angst and social value. His “55 tips to help you say goodbye to your things” and “15 more tips for the next stage of your minimalist journey” are short and very readable, boil down the wisdom offered by other writers (including Kondo, Petri Luukkaisen’s My Stuff documentary, and the unattributed Derek Sivers, who advised in 2009, “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about it, say ‘no.’”), and sometimes thought-provoking.

Just as I found Kondo’s advice to hold an item and ask if it “sparks joy” to be an unexpectedly useful way to get in touch with my feelings about things (INTJ here….), I found Sasaki’s comments about accumulating stuff to project an image or to cling to a past self a useful reality check (Miss Minimalist blogged about “fantasy self” clutter in 2011, although Aslett touched on the same concept in his 1990s books). Similarly, I liked Sasaki’s exhortations to view stores as our personal warehouses and the city as our personal floor plan — not always realistic options for those who aren’t fairly well-to-do and living in an urban environment, but a useful reminder that none of us are obliged to accumulate all the paraphernalia required to entertain at home if we don’t want to. Finally, Sasaki discusses throughout the book the amount of time and energy that seeing, working around, and thinking about Stuff took up for him, and I completely sympathize. I realized years ago that I work better in an environment that focuses me on my goals and offers little other visual distraction. I’m looking forward, in fact, to better organizing my environment after this summer’s move so that writing things like my novels and this blog will come more naturally than they have in my current living space. (As it happens, I’m writing this post in my university office, which is much better-suited for writing than my home!)

In addition, Sasaki’s comments about letting go of gifts, memorabilia, and inherited items are similar to Kondo’s and Peter Walsh’s but may be much-needed reinforcement for those still struggling with sentimental clutter. Of course, as an extreme minimalist, Sasaki pushes beyond Kondo’s advice when, in his “15 more tips,” he  suggests “Discard it even if it sparks joy” (Sasaki, 2017, p. 145). However, like most contemporary minimalists, and despite his own extremes, Sasaki emphasizes that everyone must understand their own motives for wanting to declutter, and that every minimalist’s minimalism looks different. Very true. Because as much as I hate clutter, I’ve got a closet full of Faire and steampunk costumes that aren’t going into a donation pile anytime soon.

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