Category Archives: Dru

Review: The Art of Discarding and Goodbye, Things

nagisasasaki (None of these are affiliate links; they’re simply provided for your convenience.)

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.

Related Posts:

Minimalism is Not Necessarily…

Magical Thinking and Material Goods

The Magic of Possessions





A Time for Warriors

warriorThis morning I attended an inclusivity rally on the university campus where I work. Many of my students and colleagues are afraid; many have already suffered racist incidents since the election. And I’m hearing lots of calls for dialog and unity, peace and understanding. Which is nice. But as Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, there’s “a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.A real warrior will embrace and practice love and peace, but be ready to face hate and war.

In a previous post I wrote about my personal mission to be a scholar-warrior. Now I wonder if the badge I designed for myself didn’t lean too much on the scholarly side of the equation. It’s my duty, as a scholar-warrior, to fight with and for my friends and my values. So I’m modifying it a little to emphasize that I will also defend freedom — my own and others’.




An Agreement With Hell Has Been Re-Released!

an-agreement-with-hell-coffee-table-promoAn Agreement with Hell has been out of print since 2014, so I’m happy to announce that you can now pick up a copy  from Amazon Kindle, just in time for Halloween!

An Agreement With Hell, Revisited!

An Agreement with Hell Cover

An Agreement with Hell has been out of print for a couple of years now, and since the rights were returned to me, I’m planning to put it on Kindle soon. Its fantastic new cover here was designed and realized by Rebecca Poole of Dreams2media! The dapper gentleman on the cover is Professor Edward Todd….

And the third man, the third man was nothing but a deep tunnel, a human-shaped doorway into the limis, with a devil looming over and behind him, its dark wings covering him and its toothed beak leering in mockery.

“Hellbender,” Penemue hissed with recognition. The Watcher had heard of this creature, this Edward Todd, whose true nature it could discern only now that it had regained the selective sight of the mal’akhim—Todd was the Walker Between the Worlds, the man who mocked both heaven and hell. “What have you brought upon us?”

The Walker’s figure moved forward, his torn silhouette filled with shifting doors and staircases, bridges and tunnels, walls and arches. He reached inside of himself to bring forth another wall, this one of sigil-covered silver that hummed and rang like a bell. The diabolic shadow behind him flinched away as the Walker thrust the wall between them.


The Hangman’s Oath

Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“A very curious ceremony took place when the hangman was appointed. He was taken into a hall, where the oath of office was administered to him. On the table in the hall lay an axe, well sharpened, the same as that used for the beheading of traitors, – a pair of leg irons, handcuffs and other fetters – a small coil of ropes, and a pair of white caps. The magistrates made him repeat the following oath;

“‘I swear to hand, or behead, and to draw or quarter, or otherwise destroy all felons or enemies to the peace of our Lord the King, and of his subjects duly sentenced according to law, and I will do the like unto father, or mother, sister, or brother, and all kindred whatsoever. So help me God.’

“Thereupon a black veil was thrown upon him at his rising, when he was conducted out of the court amid the groaning of the assembly, the tolling of the dead bell, and the horrifying words of the magistrate grating in his ear, ‘get thee hence wretch.’”

— Alexander Lowson, Tales, Legends, and Traditions of Forfarshire, as quoted in Alex F. Young (1998) The Encyclopaedia of Scottish Executions 1750 to 1963, p. 146.



Personal Mission Statement: Scholar-Warrior

WarriorScholarGrungeI’ve had very mixed feelings over the call for personal branding as an author or even just as an individual living in the 21st century. “Branding” sounds like “rut” to me; we don’t like it when our favorite brands change, right?

So I’ve been playing with the idea of a personal mission statement instead, trying to boil down concepts about the “right way to act” that I have absorbed over the years. Not surprisingly, many of the lessons I absorbed came from fantasy fiction — ideas about honor and defending the weak, about self-reliance and strength of conviction. But as I’ve grown, I’ve modified those early ideas a little, informed by feminism (most of the fantasy I read as a child was written by men about boys and men for boys and men) and Zen Buddhism and Taoism, among other philosophies and movements. For example, originally I thought a warrior needed to engage in physical battle. However, I’ve since read about the concept of a spiritual warrior and experienced enough  other kinds of fights — for justice, for freedom, for health, and so forth — to understand that warriors come in many forms. As do, of course, scholars.

So here’s where my personal mission statement is right now, in the form of a graphic. It isn’t perfect. I’d like to add something along the lines of “In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped” … the acknowledgment that having a mission statement is itself kind of unnatural, an attachment to a certain self-definition or -aspiration that can be problematic. For now, “cultivate wisdom” encompasses that awareness.

Despite those problems, it seems to me to be a useful exercise, if nothing else because it’s helping me put into concrete terms those concepts that have guided my actions — what I’ve thought I’ve had to live up to and/or felt guilt about when I’ve failed to do. Knowing these things about myself, I can begin to modify this mission statement if I decide that it’s not good for me or others, after all. And until then it will serve as a personal reminder and inspiration.


New Year’s Resolutions 2016

cosmic_mandala2_In January 2015 I wrote that “Let Go” would be my watch-phrase for the year and added, “So in 2015 I’m going to let go of some of the many demands I put on myself.”

Indeed. In July 2015 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and I suddenly had to let go of a lot — my martial arts, my writing group, my gaming groups, my plan to lead a travel-study course to Italy in summer of ’16, my self-image as a strong and healthy person, and any last lingering illusions of immortality I might have harbored. I didn’t give up work, although I did drop the class overloads and reduce my office hours.

That’s not to say that my life became simple, of course. There’s nothing simple about dealing with a life-threatening disease. It’s involved surgery, multiple medications, physical therapy, chemotherapy, and — of course — constant insurance wrangling. But I’ll finish my six-session cycle of chemotherapy on Jan. 4 and begin seven weeks of daily radiation therapy in February. Then I’ll continue to get infusions of one of my meds every three weeks until September. I’m hoping to get my port out and finish everything but drug therapy before my birthday in  November.

My 2016 New Year’s watchword, then, is “Recovery.” That said, I know that recovering will be a slow and uncertain process, and it certainly won’t happen quickly. Still, as the months pass, I hope to return to my normal primal diet, currently abandoned in favor of “eat anything that sounds good and doesn’t make me sick”; regain my lost strength and endurance, which will include discovering the limits of my new post-surgery normal; return to my regular teaching and department-chair work; and revive my temporarily suspended pastimes of writing and international travel.

So here’s to 2016 — may yours be full of health and well-being!

Divided Loyalties in Revenant

manzanarMy short story “Divided Loyalties” is published over in the inaugural issue of Revenant. The story was inspired by my visit to the internment camp of Manzanar and by the subsequent reading I did about life in the camp. It’s always risky to write about a culture I don’t share and experiences that are still lived reality for some people, so I apologize in advance if I have made any mistakes. I do hope that the story might encourage others to learn about this shameful moment in U.S. history … a moment that seems especially relevant right now, when prejudice and fear again threatens to undermine our nation’s ideals.

Photo Credit: Manzanar Entrance by Ansel Adams, from the Manzanar Photo Gallery

Minimalism: Where It’s Been, Where It’s Going

kongobujiBack in 2008 I began writing occasional posts about minimalism. I wrote about why I don’t like television, even though I’m a media scholar (or maybe that’s why); about the emotional strain of going through my very non-minimalist mother’s possessions after her death; about objects  and ownership in terms of magical thinking; and about the relationship between photographs and fear of ephemerality. Then in my early 40s, I explained why I found extreme minimalism  — often touted, it seemed to me, by young men and women in their 20s  — problematic (my post pissed off ex-minimalist blogger Everett Bogue) and listed my own moderate “rules for stuff“. I also pointed out that minimalism isn’t necessarily all those great things that minimalist bloggers like to tell you it is.

I haven’t blogged much about minimalism lately, in part because one of my own minimalist choices has been to avoid blogging if I have nothing significant to say. However, recently I’ve been thinking about how the minimalist lifestyle movement has changed in the last seven years and what its future might be, and I’d like to offer my reflections to others for consideration.

I believe the minimalist lifestyle movement has matured quite a bit since the ’08s, in part because those early, extremist minimalist bloggers have either moved on or mellowed out, and in part because a greater diversity of voices have joined the discussion — people of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, and marital and parental statuses are now blogging about their experiences (Miss Minimalist’s Real Life Minimalists feature is a good way to get to know some of them). I remember when Joshua Becker and Leo Babauta seemed to be the only minimalist parents who were blogging — and not surprisingly, both were moderate voices among the extremist majority. Now most minimalist bloggers happily acknowledge that there’s no one-size-fits-all minimalism. Lifestyle choices that work well for young, single professionals, such as digital nomadism, tiny houses, and bare rooms, may not seem as attractive when spouses, children, and/or dependent parents enter the equation. Moreover, extreme minimalism doesn’t work well for certain jobs, hobbies, or choices; for example, art, sewing, canning/preserving, home-schooling, and the like all require a fair amount of paraphernalia, even though those pursuing them may still be minimalists in all other respects. (The book Essentialism reminded us of the importance of organizing and streamlining one’s activities to achieve one’s goals and offered a useful term, “essentialism,” that sidesteps some of the “stuff” baggage tied up in “minimalism.”)

Over the years, the minimalist lifestyle blogosphere has also engaged in healthy self-reflection, some of it occurring early but more kick-started by Everett Bogue’s infamous 2011 “Fuck Minimalism” post. Various writers, minimalist or not, have noted that obsessing about stuff is in itself a form of materialism, and that minimalism may be counterproductive for the creative. Some minimalists have realized that discarding objects that don’t “spark joy” is problematic if they discard so much that they don’t have what they need anymore — for example, it’s not cheap to replace an entire wardrobe. Other critics have suggested that minimalism is a bourgeois perspective promoted by several powerful corporations  or pointed out what appears to be a class/wealth bias among minimalists. Numerous minimalists have reflected on these criticisms, some objecting to the characterizations and others cautiously agreeing that adopting a minimalist lifestyle implies the choice to not adopt that lifestyle, a choice denied to the poor. We are seeing the movement catch on in different countries and hearing more about downsizing/rightsizing as Baby Boomers enter retirement and begin to shed their possessions — which, it seems, their kids don’t want.

The beginning of the (neo)minimalist lifestyle movement is often pegged to the Great Recession of 2008; that’s certainly, from what I’ve seen, when it really took off as a lifestyle choice in the blogosphere. Now that the recession is over (or so I hear from the news), will the minimalist movement wane? Is the move toward moderation correlated with the gradual easing of the recession?

Despite the fact that this year Millennials (now 18-34) overtook Baby Boomers as the U.S.’s largest living generation, they are still underemployed and saddled with more debt, much of it education-related. That ought to pose some challenges for advertisers; they will want Millennial dollars, especially as Millennials enter the family-building, house-buying ages, but they may find that Millennials don’t have the dollars to spend. Those Millennials who do, though, will need to brace for the upcoming onslaught of messages aimed at them and at their children. Minimalism may be hard to sustain under those circumstances.

On the other hand, Baby Boomers (now 51-69) are entering retirement, most of them with nothing near adequate savings to maintain the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. This suggests first, that they will no longer be attractive to advertisers (which is why I think the advertising shift will move to Millennials), and second, that they may become minimalists whether they like it or not … leading us back to that issue of minimalism vs. poverty. They may find minimalist writings useful, but those minimalist bloggers who are still relatively young might need to take into account the fact that the elderly may have physical limitations and health conditions that preclude extremely Spartan living conditions (climbing up a ladder to a bunk bed in a tiny house, for example, might be impossible).

And then we have Gen Z (now 0-20), which grew up with the Great Recession and has internalized economic uncertainty. Will this generation embrace minimalism as one strategy for ensuring financial safety? Possibly. The oldest are only now starting to enter the workplace, so we’ll have to see what happens, but I’d guess that many may swing toward their own version of extreme minimalism, just as a number of Millennials did at that age.

The minimalist lifestyle movement isn’t going to die out  — there have always been people who’ve chosen to be minimalists  — but I believe we may see fewer Millennials espousing it as they enter their thirties and forties, traditionally ages of accumulation. Those who blog about minimalism might want to more proactively address both Baby Boomer and Gen Z readers, two demographics that will soon be looking for help dealing with their differing, but equally challenging, financial prospects.

(….And in the meantime, we skeptical, self-reliant Gen X’ers [now 34-54] will make do, as always, kthxbai).

Photo Credit: Bell tower of Kongobuji, Japan, by Dru Pagliassotti

Cool Conjunction

coolconjunctionThis painting, titled Cool Conjunction, was done of me (L) and my writing-and-teaching partner in crime Terry Spehar-Fahey (R), by the artist Harold Muliadi this fall. It’s currently on display in his show at the university art gallery.