The road to hell is paved with good intentions … again

 

03-31-2019

So over the course of the last few weeks I again and again promised myself to simply stop most of my shopping, regardless of it being second-hand items or books or else. And it didn’t work. For one reason or the other I always found an excuse to shop, to buy new things, to spent money on stuff I did not need. Because I really got enough stuff already, all over the place …
Anyway, on Monday there will not only start a new week, but also a new month, and this time I really want this to work – a GRAND shopping detox. In order for this to work I have to find out WHY I shop until I drop, or. What am I falling for time and time again?
Bliss. Distraction. Relief.
In addition to the job I already got, I started a new job a few weeks ago. I’m still stressed, not so much by the work itself, at least most of the time, but by all the relational issues going on, finding out how the people – my colleagues – work, how they interact, how I should interact with them and, of course, also how I will cope with both jobs – so there is still a lot going on even though my initial fears dissipated. I still haven’t found time to establish a routine to get back into the never-ending drama that is my dissertation, and at times I’m so fidgety that I can’t even focus on reading though I have a really good book in the works right now.

So there we go, reaching for the iPad to look what has happened on my favourite shopping apps (mot of them second-hand shopping platforms) and the like; looking what I could get from Amazon that I’ve wanted to get for days, weeks, months YEARS but couldn’t or wouldn’t afford – ya know. And who would have thought it could take about three hours to find an adequate bento box to transport my lunch in?
Have you ever realized how many things you have to keep in mind when choosing the right, eco-friendly lunch box – on Amazon (of all places)? TONS. Which can take up HOURS of your valuable lifetime.
Not that I have nothing better to do — rather I’m not capable of doing or working on the more important things right now, so I go on a sort of compensation shopping spree. Eco-friendly, second-hand or the like, but still. Amassing stuff, again.

So, what could I do instead when feeling exhausted and intellectually drained but not wanting to waste money and energy on things I do not need (books are an exception – of course)? Reading, obviously. In the end reading is also a sort of training, and the more regularly I start to read — no matter how distracted I feel and would just LOVE to find out if there are any new second-hand Sandqvist backpacks available — the better it gets with time, meaning there will be less distraction, more joy and focus and therefore, in the end, less stuff.
Doing some research would be great too; since I have been “out” of my project for another four months or so, I again have a lot of catching up to do — the afternoons sans my second job would be rather perfect for doing exactly this so that I could not only slowly catch up again but finally also restart … again.
Also while we’re at it, how about some self-care? More sport and regular training sessions, no matter if at home or at the gym – I got some excellent equipment at home, and if I feel like that wouldn’t be enough, I can still hit the gym; furthermore, a bit of meditation, some yoga, relaxing a bit – doesn’t this sound just wonderful and stuff-less?
And, not to forget, some DIY works wonders at times. Instead of buying stuff – no matter if second-hand or not – why not take up sewing a bit more regularly? I could have sewn a whole new wardrobe in the hours I spent bargain hunting online in the last few weeks …

So, let the games begin. May the will to change grant me the strength to do so … even on the worst of days …

Reading: “Goodbye Things: On minimalist living” by Fumio Sasaki

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I started reading about the concept (or rather concepts) of minimalism quite a while ago because in the end, I hate clutter. I’m not much of an interior design aficionado, I’m not interested in decorations and I’m all about efficiency when it comes to using the space I have. Though we live in a beautiful and rather spacious apartment, I love nothing more than ‘negative space’ – or, to describe it in non-minimalist jargon: empty space. Being the postwar grandchild that I am (meaning I spent a lot of my childhood and youth with my grandparents, who grew up during WW II), I’m used to ‘save’ stuff for bad days, to not throw away things one could, at least theoretically, still use, and to always make sure that my cellar is well used (aka crammed). That’s what I learned growing up at my grandparents and even though I understand were they came from, I hate that I internalized their urge to not waste a thing while at the same time buying new stuff at a normal scale, so that one day you reach the point when either you move to a bigger apartment or you decide to act against your urges and start throwing stuff away. I cannot tell you how  much I enjoyed my first big clear out adventure a few years ago, pretty much cutting my wardrobe in half. It felt like a huge weight dropping off my shoulders …
Over time I found out that you can do this more extensive, decluttering a lot of various things throughout your house and your life, freeing yourself from a lot of stuff in your life – this new insight of mine is called “minimalism” and produces books, podcasts, and documentaries. It was like I entered a new world, and I’m still loving my time there …

Now, Fumio Sasaki’s book isn’t the first I read about minimalism, but it is the first Japanese book on the topic I read. Though I also read THE Marie Kondo’s “Magic of ..”, I wouldn’t call Kondo a minimalist, but rather a cleaner and organizer. But this is just my impression from her book and may therefore be totally wrong. Anyways, after reading a German book about the topic (which I absolutely love, you may take a look at it here, if you like to read in German) and some other books that are mainly about decluttering, I came across Mr. Sasaki’s book. Being totally minimalistic (and also frugal), I got the e-book and went ahead seeing what I could learn about minimalism from the Japanese point of view.

First: at times I really disliked Sasaki’s voice, he came across as quite patronizing, at least in my point of view. After all, while he provides a good overview over the various aspects of the topic and points out links between certain issues that contribute to a massive overconsumption – be it of material goods or media – and its psychological (and physical) consequences, it’s not that you haven’t heard about this before if you are interested in the topic of minimalism and read some other books. So there’s no need to sound like holier-than-thou. BUT that were just a few passages, otherwise the book is just as good (or bad) as any other …
Second: Apple Inc. surely has one huge fan in Mr. Fumio Sasaki – which is totally fine, and I can understand that especially aesthetes and minimalists prefer iOS devices and apps over Android (or Linux, for that matter), but this is no reason to declare Steve Jobs and Apple as patron saints of Japanese minimalists:

“The American company Apple has an intriguing connection to the minimalist culture of Japan. Many minimalists are fond of Apple products and of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs. The products that Jobs created always avoided excess. The iPhone only has one button, and you don’t have to worry about being stuck with a lot of extra wires and ports when you buy a Mac. […] And today, the ownership rate of the iPhone is particularly high in Japan, which means that through Steve Jobs, our minimalist culture has been imported right back to our country.”

While Jobs may be the main figure in Apple’s history in the public eye, he was not its sole founder, a fact that one should keep in mind even if you are hugely infatuated with Jobs. Furthermore, I’m not sure if anyone needs his/her culture imported right back by an American (or any huge, exploitative, human rights abusing and tax evading) company, especially not the Japanese, but this is just a side note. Working with Linux, Android and iOS, I can understand that people fall for the shiny, clean and minimalist world of the iPad and iPhone – I did so too. But this was less a question of minimalist design and rather of practicability. But let’s not waste too much time, energy, and focus on the first trillion-dollar company…

I said before that Sasaki covers some important basic issues. Let’s take a look at this:

“But by getting rid of my things, I’ve finally started to break out of that situation. If you’re anything like I was—dissatisfied with your life, insecure, unhappy—try reducing your belongings. You’ll start to change.
Unhappiness isn’t just the result if genetics or past trauma or career trouble. I think that some of our unhappiness is simply due to the burden of all our things.”

“First, there’s information and material overload. For better or worse, globalization has become a key part of our society. All we have to do is take a look at our smartphones to get the news from all corners of the globe. We can buy anything we want online, anywhere in the world. We can watch TV shows from any foreign country, not to mention listen to overseas radio shows.”

These are just two points Sasaki dwells on extensively, and for good reason, since those are main and important aspects of why so many people feel the need to explore the concept of minimalism at all. Interestingly, while pointing out the fact that we live in a world of constant digital information and data overload, Sasaki at the same time loves the new opportunities this permanent accessibility gives us – like working when and wherever we want – which somehow feels like a contradiction, especially since he only focuses on the positive result smartphones and digital connections bring, but not on the possible negative side effects. More than regular cell phones tanks to our smartphones we are constantly available (if choose so) and if we refuse to, we will face the consequences (and yes, I know what I’m talking about, since I’m an avid fan of flight mode or turn my phone off entirely when I work or don’t want to be disturbed – there are times when all hell breaks loose if one is not available just for a few hours …)

Apart from a sort of introductory personal and theoretical background, Sasaki adds 50 tips on how to start and accomplish one’s individual minimalist dreams, which are very interesting and also inspiring, and can be so even for people who already know one thing or two about minimalism and its various forms and interpretations.
So how did I feel reading this book? I felt like I heard a lot of the stuff before, but I still liked the way Sasaki connects the dots and also tells his own story, which makes some of his arguments and statements a lot more understandable. Also, I thought this book gave a great insight into one Japanese interpretation of minimalism, which is not that popular and well-known in Europe (apart from Marie Kondo). The 50 tips Sasaki includes in his book make it a rather manifold compendium of inspirations on how to accomplish your minimalist goals, and I really like that.

If you are new to the topic and want to dip into it, you may want to start with Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less or her blog missminimalist.com  – after all, she is in a way friendlier and more easy-going than Fumio Sasaki. If you already know a few things about the topic but want to gain new insights and perspectives and are looking for ideas on how to handle the deluttering process, than come to Fumio Sasaki. Depending on how you like his style, he will be a great and inspiring teacher 🙂