28 February 2018
As a society we are slaves to consumption, but do our possessions empower or cover power? Inspired by Danshari, the Japanese concept of decluttering, MOJEH makes sense of the ever-growing case for a more simplified existence.
In a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams famously professed: “The human animal is a beast that must die. If he’s got money, he buys everything he can, in the crazy hope one of those things will be life-everlasting, which it can never be.” The accumulation of material possessions, and the attainment of fame, wealth and power have become the markers of success in today’s society, used to define our self-worth, identity and as a means to evaluate others. But what happens if we step off the treadmill?
In Japan there’s a growing trend for those who rebuke the current climate for conspicuous consumption, pairing back their existence in favour of a life without all but the most necessary possessions. Influence by the spare aesthetic associated with Japan’s traditional Zen Buddhism, its minimalist extol the benefits of a stringently simplified lifestyle offering mental clarity , an enriched social life, improved self-esteem and a unique appreciation of happiness. But is it our possession that makes us miserable? “I used to love collecting things. I owned thousand books, several hundred DVDs and CDs, as well as dozens of cameras for my photography hobby. At one point I even had my kitchen rigged up as a dark room.” Recalls Fumio Sasaki, a magazine editor and the author of Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism. “With so many things around, I couldn’t keep up with the cleaning or maintenance, which made me feel like a total failure. I stayed in the same apartment just because moving seemed too overwhelming; I felt as though my whole life was stuck in a rut.” There’s an undeniable fast pleasure associated with showing off a new car, watch, or electronic device and the kudos afforded to a large diamond ring, sizable house and expensive car are almost universally recognized across cultures. “Every one of us is targeted as a consumer,” says April Lane Benson, PH.D, New York psychologist and author. “We are pushed, prodded, and programmed to purchase. We’re immersed, cradle to grave, in ‘buy messages’ that, with greater psychological sophistication, misleadingly associate products we don’t need with feeling we deeply desire.” Indeed, it’s easy to fall into the advertising trap with the misplaced belief that the more things we have, the happier we will be.
Feeling stressed, drained and tired of comparing himself to his contemporaries, Sasaki came across the word ‘minimalist’ and subsequently keyed in an image search on the web. “I saw pictures of minimalists travelling around the world with just the smallest amount of luggage,” he says. “They looked like the complete opposite of me, so free and liberated-which greatly inspired me.” Sasaki, the once passionate collector became immersed in the movement and set about scaling back his belongings that at one point amounted to 150, including three shirts, four pair of trousers, a few pairs of socks and a scarce scattering of other items including kitchen utensils, a toothbrush and a laptop.
More recently he moved from his small Tokyo set-up to a larger space in Kyoto, where he has increased his inventory to 300 items, including a real bed. Sasaki honed his own approach but there’s many types of minimalists. Marie Kondo’s famed method of organising is known as the KonMari method. Rather than focusing on what you’re getting go of, in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the focus is upon what you chose to keep. Her process consist of gathering together all one’s belongings, scrutinizing them, one category at a time, and keeping only the objects that ‘spark joy’. Her school of thought advises practices such as ridding oneself of clothes that no longer fit well or which never actually suited you, and while parting with these items, considering what they have offered, whether that be a fleeting moment of purchase or a lesson learnt about personal style and clothing preferences. The same applies to unfinished books that could be considered barriers to better, more captivating reads that enhance our leisure time. Another famous purveyor, Steve Jobs, was said to have found his love for simplicity in his childhood home. A space inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of a puristic, usonian household, he was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, open-floor-plans and exposed construction details. This fascination was further fuelled by the inventor’s affinity for Zen Buddhism, a belief reflected in everything from Apple’s clean-cut branding to Job’s unwavering commitment to wearing the same outfit- a pair of Levi501s and a black turtleneck.
Looking to interiors, in Dubai, a city once culturally loaded with decadent detail, the new generation are seeking to redefine the spaces that surround them. “Seeing mess truly gives me anxiety,” admits Alamira Noor Bani Hashim, the co-founder of Dinner Club 57 who’s known for her clean, minimalist approach to both sartorial and interior style. “I an incredibly visual person, always inspecting and studying the smallest details of everyday objects, so by end of the day, I’m mentally exhausted,” she explains. “Coming home to a space that’s minimal and purposeful, allows me to decompress and begin every morning with a clean slate.”
When considering a home or lifestyle change the most overwhelming question is usually: How do I begin? “Growing up in Norway, I’ve always been surrounded by the beauty of Scandinavian households, characterised by simplicity, functionality and minimalism, but crucially, personality and soul,” says Ellen Søhoel, former Bishop, of Bishop Interior design. When starting from scratch, Søhoel advises beginning with a solid base of colours. “Within the same colour scheme you can create a comfortable and an appealing atmosphere where you are able to relax,” she notes. “I would then recommend keeping adornments simple, clean and tidy. I believe that if you want to simplify your life, you have to survey your surroundings. Group accessories in three’s, that way everything appears more uniform – it gives you the feeling of a composed and decluttered home,” she explains.
Minimalists place a lot of emphasis on the connection between their leisure time, happiness, and pared back approach. Freedom is one crucial component of leisure, which is general conceptualised as being free from obligation, constraint, and ultimately, uninhibited by our choices. By reflecting on the purpose and potential for the possessions we gather and the importance we place on them, we have a chance to revaluate our sense of freedom. This is, of course, a problem that only the privileged must consider, but there are many individuals, like Sasaki for whom ‘stuff’ carries a lot of weight and in his sense, may prohibit us from evaluating what truly matters.