Fumio Sasaki, a Japanese a single salaried editor in his thirties, embarked on a transformational journey into minimalism that not only reshaped his life but also captured the interest of a large audience. His story is a testament to the liberating potential of a minimalist lifestyle.
Fumio, like many of us, accumulated an array of possessions over the years, including notebooks, musical instruments, cameras, games, books, and more. He held onto various items for “supposed future hobbies,” but these items collected dust as he rarely engaged with them. Instead, he would come home from work, crack open a beer, turn on the TV, and the cycle would repeat.
But Fumio decided that he wanted to make a change.
Introduction to Minimalism
He initiated the process by decluttering his home, parting with unused possessions, and working toward a healthier life, which even led him to quit drinking. This personal transformation journey took over a year, as he had many items to sell or give away, and changing habits was no easy feat. Of course, he documented this transformation on a… blog.
Minimalism.jp, the blog, attracted a significant following. Fumio ended up speaking to the Japanese Society in New York in 2017. During his talk, he showcased before-and-after photos of his minimalist journey.
In “Goodbye, Things“, Fumio shares the methods and techniques he used to become a minimalist, encouraging readers to explore minimalism as a liberating lifestyle. The book offers a step-by-step guide with many tips for decluttering.
“Minimalists can distinguish between what they need and what they want for appearances’ sake, and they’re unafraid to cut out everything in the latter category.”
Besides addressing material possessions, the author emphasizes the importance of reducing distractions. He points out how the internet is a source of information overload, leading people to buy unnecessary items and make poor decisions. In the past, without newspapers and rapid news updates, people lived with limited information. Is living in the “here and now” easier?
Understanding Human Nature
Fumio reminds readers that human beings still possess a nervous system similar to that of hunter-gatherers, with brains that haven’t evolved much in 5,000 years. The overwhelming influx of information can interfere with daily activities and unknowingly affect emotions and decision-making.
“We can buy anything online, from anywhere in the world. We can watch shows from foreign countries, not to mention overseas radio. It’s as if all my friends have become article writers, gourmet reporters, or perhaps foreign correspondents, given all the global news they send me via Twitter, Facebook, and LINE.”
Constant connectivity leads to continuous comparisons between countless references, ideas, possibilities, people, and personalities. After Fumio started minimizing these external stimuli, he noticed: “I don’t have an apartment with a high city view. I don’t have any of the things I always thought I wanted.” Once he began questioning himself and feeling his own emotions, with fewer external interferences, he realized he didn’t want everything he thought he did. He managed to distinguish between his true desires and external influences.
This newfound clarity brought him peace, and he began to assert that, even if people conform and follow trends, they will remain unsatisfied. For instance, many individuals opt for botox injections, silicone implants, spending thousands, and still wanting more. Fumio’s point is that seeking external validation doesn’t lead to lasting contentment.
“You’re not the only one concerned about your appearance—we’re all aging.”
How to Achieve This
Fumio believes it’s essential to value oneself for who they are and appreciate their current life, without adding or subtracting from it. This perspective reduces the desire for more and more, as well as the need to seek new things to alleviate boredom.
“We can do anything without a dose of narcissism. It’s not wrong to think we are valuable. In fact, it’s necessary. The problem lies in how we convey our value to others.”
Nurturing a sense of being enough and believing that one’s existence is inherently valuable reduces the impulse to consume. Consuming to fill a void created by what’s lacking in the present opens the door to a deeper personal and global transformation. It’s not about having but about being. It’s a shift in the understanding of reality, departing from the modern capitalist cultural logic.
Danshari, the art of decluttering, is the tool Fumio found to save money, foster a healthy body, enhance relationships, discover new hobbies, and heighten awareness of thoughts and energy.
Decluttering wasn’t easy for Fumio, similar to Cait Flanders, who noted that the fear of regret often prevents people from parting with items. The fear of regretting letting go. To mitigate this fear, Cait photographed all the possessions she decluttered at the beginning of her challenge. If she ever missed something and contemplated repurchasing it, she had photographic evidence. However, she asserts that she never needed to revisit those photos.
Another fear was the judgment of others. Fumio states, “I no longer feel embarrassed about doing anything. From now on, I simply do what I want.” Cait Flanders also addresses this in her book, noting that the fear of people thinking you’re downsizing because you’re broke or that you’re a bore because you won’t go out for drinks, for example.
“Clinging to things of the past is the same as clinging to an old image of yourself. If you’re even slightly interested in changing something about yourself, I suggest you be brave and start letting things go. Keep only what you need for your next move.”
Fumio noticed that he stopped judging others based on their possessions or jobs. It became less challenging for him to explain that he was “experimenting with new ways to be happy” and that he respected their choices, even though he was on a completely different path.
Second Book – Habits
About two years after his first book, Fumio wrote “Hello, Habits“, an excellent introductory book about forming habits. It provides numerous real-life examples and descriptive accounts of overcoming mental and physical difficulties when establishing new habits.
In the book, Fumio challenges the prevalent notion of successful people having a specific set of habits. He believes it’s crucial to create your own habits. Instead of prescribing a ready-made list of good habits for readers to follow, he encourages them to ask questions and reflect, guiding them to discover their own habits that align with their unique circumstances.
The author emphasizes that every person has a unique value system and a highly individual starting point. Therefore, their life experiences determine what brings immediate pleasure and what they are willing to wait for or make an effort to achieve delayed gratification.
“People find it challenging to imagine that others have different ‘reward systems’ than they do.”
Fumio’s point is that forming a habit is about overcoming the initial awkwardness. The time it takes for this phase can vary, spanning days, months, or even years. Habit formation means consciously repeating an action until your memory acknowledges the reward that follows. It’s about educating the brain that it’s not a promise of a reward, but a certainty.
For instance, when you haven’t exercised for a long time, the process is uncomfortable. Your body aches, you sweat, your heart races, and it feels exhausting. How do you become accustomed to exercise? Fumio provides examples, even mentioning professional athletes who, despite years of practice, sometimes think, “I don’t want to train today.” Yet they train anyway.
Establishing a habit means rewriting the reward system in your brain. As long as the immediate sense of satisfaction and euphoria surpasses the subsequent one, you’ll postpone challenging tasks in favor of easier ones. Repeated actions result in the dendritic spine, connecting synapses in the brain, growing larger.
“It’s not that attractive things in front of you vanish. But when you keep getting bigger rewards in the future, the reward in front of you (the one that comes faster) becomes boring.”
The same applies to breaking habits. The less you engage in a particular behavior, like watching pornography, the weaker the reward synapses for it become, entering a dormant state. The urge for immediate rewards is linked to the primal nervous system, and as you cultivate habits—one at a time—you rely less on your instincts.
Fumio highlights two primary motivators: social acceptance and self-identity, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It’s essential to utilize these factors to your advantage. Instead of fearing how people might react to your changes, focus on those who embrace your choices. Recognize that someone out there will appreciate what you’re doing, just as someone else won’t want it. Concentrate on the positive side of the equation.
To maintain her motivation during her year of not buying, Cait remembered the possessions she already had at home and those she had let go of at the beginning of her challenge. Many of the items she bought were for her “ideal self,” and the things she desired to purchase likely served the same purpose.
In 29 years, Cait says she bought and kept most of her possessions to fit the mold of the “ideal version of herself.” With time, she realized that she was happier when she didn’t fixate on what she could have or what she should be. She decided her values shouldn’t be based on material desires, began to find more value in herself as she was, and internalized that she owed nothing to the world. Doing what she wanted was sufficient. Women, in particular, often grapple with the feeling of never being enough and the belief that they must do more to be valid and accepted.
“The hardest part of not being able to buy anything else wasn’t giving up new things—it was physically feeling the pull of my triggers and changing my reaction to them.”
The book makes it clear that Cait started to reinterpret many aspects of her memories. She believes that the stories people tell themselves are vital for maintaining their goals. Changing your life or adopting minimalism or any other intentional lifestyle may lead to losing friends and feeling isolated.
Lastly, as Fumio noted, he doesn’t provide a standard list of habits. He argues that eating healthily, exercising, and sleeping well are key habits that ensure the smooth functioning of other aspects of life. He doesn’t prescribe a specific diet or exercise routine but contends that basic physiological needs are often neglected in our work-oriented culture.
He points out that there is a stereotype of writers or artists as unhealthy, unathletic individuals who indulge in excessive drinking and smoking. He questions whether it’s worth sacrificing fundamental aspects of life. Fumio also highlights the corporate culture that encourages people to work excessively, resulting in inadequate sleep and unhealthy eating habits. For these individuals, he says:
“People who are encouraged by companies to work excessively may experience a euphoria from self-sacrifice. Working too much is acknowledged by peers, so their pain becomes its own reward (social approval). Even if they want to get out of this situation, it can be difficult to isolate themselves from the corporate community.”
In addition to his books, Fumio occasionally posts on his blog, minimalism.jp, which he maintains with a friend. You can translate the entire page from Japanese to Portuguese using Google’s translation tool by pasting the link into the translation area. (Please note that the translation from Japanese might seem a bit peculiar.)
“When given too many choices, people tend to worry that there’s something better out there than what they decided on.” – Fumio Sasaki