BOOK REVIEW: Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism By Fumio Sasaki

This article was written for the blog that I run with my friend Olivia (originally posted on Dec 2019). But the content translates so I am cross posting it here. My friends and I still joke about this book encouraging only owning a singular towel. I appreciates Sasaki’s desire for simplicity but one towel is wayyyy to little.

A few weeks ago, I was at home and scrolling through YouTube looking for something to watch and decided to click on the channel Vested Interest. She does a bunch of Minimalist stuff, and I’ve been binging all her videos since. There’s something about her no-nonsense voice and dry humour that I really gravitate towards. It’s obvious that she has other interests aside from ‘not owning things’ so she feels more relatable than other Minimalist content I’ve consumed in the past (I’m looking at you, The Minimalists).

See the example below of the type of content people think of when they think of minimalism:

Anyways, all this to say, that she mentioned ‘Goodbye, Things‘ in a video. The e-book was available at the library, so I borrowed it.

Goodbye, thing book cover

The book is part biography, part self-help as 35 year old Fumio Sasaki talks about his journey of discovering Minimalism and how it’s the bees’ knees.

The first part of the book features the Before and After of Sakaki’s apartment. As well as a photo gallery of all the items he currently owns. After that, he shares pictures of all the possessions of a few other Japanese Minimalists.

sasakis house
Photo Source

So, I do most of my reading on the subway, hence the idea of flipping through a bunch of photos of people’s belongings when I know people can look over my shoulder is not my idea of a fun time. 

I ended up skipping through that chapter because if I wanted to borrow a picture book, I would… 

It was at this point that I debated returning the book; but again, I was on the subway and wanted something to help me pass the time, so I continued. If I didn’t like it by the time I got above ground, I would return it and borrow something else when I got Wi-Fi.

less rachael aust book

The next part Sasaki talks about his life before getting rid of all his crap. Sad, fat, and disrespectful to women (Spoilers: he admits to fixing ⅔ of these issues because of minimalism. At no point in the book does he outright say that he’s respectful to women because of minimalism. We can assume since he is more self-aware and he realizes his past actions were hurtful. But I do think it’s weird that I know more about this dude’s old bookshelf than whether or not he’s respectful to half the population). 

Minus the disrespect to women, there were parts of the introduction that really, really resonated with me. Below are some quotes from the introduction and first chapter that are #bigmood!

Every chapter starts with a few quotes. The one before the first or second chapter: “You aren’t your fucking khakis” from Fight Club.

That quote hit me hard as I was wearing khakis that day. Pants I only bought because my boss told me to, which made that quote hit even closer to home.

After reading that line, I decided that I would actually read the book. Swearing in my decluttering book? Marie Kondo would never! He does actually mention her in the book, but there’s actually not that much overlap in ideas or methods. So if you’ve read Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you could still find value in this book.

The first few chapters talk about Japan and why decluttering and minimalism is growing in popularity there. Marie Kondo is one of the reason. But a reason that would have never crossed my mind, and was interesting to read, was the impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. People’s stuff was falling all around them, and their prized possessions were turned into weapons within moments. Or people lost so much of their belongings in the floods.

Image Source

After a bit more about minimalism and why people accumulate so much stuff in the first place, he gets into the meat and potatoes of the book:

55 ways to say goodbye to your things (+15 more tips on your way to your minimalist journey)

Yes, it sounds like a Buzzfeed article, and it’s partially written like one. The book is really quick to read since it’s all relatively short paragraphs about each point.

There are a few good and bad pieces in this section, but I will not be covering it all. But here are some of the ones that stayed with me after I finished the book. 

A good one…

When you bring something big into your life. It’s never one item. His example was a bike. It’s not just the bike, it’s the helmet, Speedometer, patch kit, extra tires, tire pump. One item just became five or more. He warns readers to be aware of the baggage that comes with bringing items into your life. 

A bad one…

A recurring thing that I noticed in his tips was the idea that if you really need something, you can just buy a new one at the corner store. I don’t agree with that, and it promotes a weird level of Consumerism. The concept of buying stuff when you need it, get rid of it and buying again.

Most Minimalists mention that rarely (or don’t ever) replace an item they declutter. But I didn’t like the blasé way he talked about just mindlessly buy when you need something. He mentions that he doesn’t research his purchases because he doesn’t need to know all the bells and whistles of the thing he’s getting, only that it serves the purpose he requires. I disagree with this. Research allows you to know you’re getting a quality item so you won’t have to get rid of because it broke.

This was even weirder when he was talking about how Minimalism is really good for the environment. Which, in general, I agree, if you don’t buy stuff, you’re helping the planet by not creating demand for new items. 

Although I know this wasn’t his intention, he did make it sound like being a Minimalist gives you a free pass at buying stuff that is shit for the environment, since you don’t do it often. 

This is probably me over-reading the tone of the text since if there aren’t any good quotes in the book that would prove my point. If this was an essay for school, and trying to prove that the book encourages Consumerism, I would fail since there are way more instances when he talks about the importance of sharing, borrowing or renting the things you need on rare occasions. Which are all practices that totally reduce an individual’s environmental impact. But there was something in that section that really rubbed me the wrong way regardless.

Canva - Desk, Coffee Chemex, phone, laptop

I do think that he’s the type of Minimalist that gives the lifestyle/movement a really bad reputation (him and the two guys from The Minimalists, they are super annoying, which isn’t relevant, but still needed to be said). He doesn’t own any furniture, he owns one towel that he uses for his dishes, himself, and for cleaning his apartment.

I mentioned this fact to a bunch of people and we all agree, that it’s taking it too far and is pretty gross.  I don’t think you have to return your black and white minimalist member card if you own a bath tower and a dish towel. 

Canva - Photo of Woman With Black Towel on Her Head

After the Buzzfeed article portion of the book, it does get really repetitive and preachy. He’s like “Minimalism will make you skinny! Why? ‘Cause I don’t know any fat Minimalists”. That part made me so angry. I sort of want to get rid of all my stuff and get fatter just to spite him.

So those were the main thoughts that I had about the book. Overall, it was rather repetitive, very repetitive, so repetitive. The book could have easily been cut down by at least 50 pages. 

The number of times that he mentioned that he had soooo many bookshelves filled with books he never read was getting on my nerves since there were about three instances where it didn’t even make sense. Funny enough, he only mentioned getting rid of his guitar once. Diversify your examples, my dude… 

Canva - Beige and Black Chair in Front of White Desk

I’m going to wrap this post up with the portion of the book that resonated with me the most. It was the part that got me on board with really evaluating your objects and decluttering. 

It’s the idea of the Silent To Do list. Every item in your house, is silently yelling for you to do something with it. I’ll take my apartment as a way to explain. 

  • I need to change the light in my hallway, every time I turn on the switch and it doesn’t work, I’m reminded of that;
  • My watch needs a new battery, and I can’t use it until I replace it;
  • I need to dust probably every item in my living room; and 
  • I never installed the TV mount attached to my TV and the box with all the parts is sitting on my TV stand, like they have for the past year and a half. 

As he explained this idea, I was just thinking of all my To-Do list items that are indirectly related to the maintenance of shit I own. That doesn’t even include that these items are yelling for you to use them for recreational purposes too. 

Did that one part suddenly make me only want to wear black turtlenecks and move into a yurt? No, but it did make the idea of getting rid of some extra stuff appealing. The stuff my life that might be weighing me down and making my chore list longer than it needs to be.

Canva - Man Standing Near Building White Black Turtleneck Shirt
Not me post reading this book

Overall, would I recommend this book? It was a really quick read, so if you find it at the library, I would say flip through the 55 point list while drinking a tea/coffee. Otherwise, probably not. I would definitely suggest avoiding the audiobook because you don’t have the luxury of skipping the repetitive/boring parts when it’s being read to you. 

The book has inspired me; and I do relate to the introduction, pre-minimalism Sasaki. My friend Sam pointed out when I was describing him that “he sounds like he’s just got depression.” Yikes, that’s not a good sign, since pre-minimal Sasaki is #superbigmood. 

Anyways… My challenge to you, if you choose to accept it: Declutter one thing, whatever was the thing that popped into your head when you read this setence. Just get rid of it. 

Do that shit today!

But I hoped you enjoyed this post. Are you into the Minimalist movement? Or do you think it’s filled with weird Steve Job wannabes? Feel free to comment below.