When you talk about decluttering, minimizing, organizing, or even just tidying up, you likely speak in subjective terms. "I prefer that over there" or "I feel overwhelmed by how much I own." Organizing as it relates to the maintenance of a home or lifestyle is considered a soft science, if a science at all. When we think of research our minds often go to the covers of housekeeping magazines or pretty pinterest boards. Rarely do we consider the science behind our stuff-- not just where we ought to keep it but why it exists at all (and why we felt so compelled to purchase it). And those books and articles that claim to have the solution to this stuff often rely on anecdotal evidence to support a philosophy that, at the end of the day, may work for a collection of individuals but is unlikely to become the prevailing way of life for society as a whole. Books I've reviewed on this very blog have waxed poetic on the virtue of minimalism and its superiority over consumerism without a single page dedicated to the reality of how consumerism came to be the prevailing mode of thought in developed nations.
Going into Jame's Wallman's Stuffocation, it was apparent from the first page that is not the typical knee-jerk reaction to materialism. Instead, I found a comprehensive history of consumer culture and post-consumerism with psychological, sociological, and economic inquiry into how we came to this point of over-saturation, and how, with reliable methods of forecasting, we can predict society's future relationship with owning too much stuff. Stuffocation touches on the invention of materialism in 1920's and 30's America, and explores the reactive trends of minimalism, elective simplicity, and relaxed ambitions. What was incredibly refreshing about Wallman's take on these modern trends was his ability to explore their values without coming to the automatic assumption that they are solutions to stuffocation by virtue of being its direct opposite. Rather, he admits to our human need to display social health, and extols the value of objects without conflating that with a value on materialism and over-consumption.
Wallman makes realistic predictions about future trends regarding human consumption and the switch from objects to experiences. These predictions are supported not by anecdotes, or the oft-made error of confusing correlation for causation, but tried-and-true scientific methods of predicting social trends. Wallman foresees a society in where we see "experience as a substitute for stuff, not shedding completely our need for external fulfillment but finding a better source. Not a reaction to materialism but an entirely different way of thinking that doesn’t involve materialism at all." While Stuffocation rejects many of the trends we previously saw as potential solutions, it does so in a way that reminds us that we can make a change not simply by reacting, but evolving, and creates a hopeful and realistic vision of our future relationship with stuff.
The first time I heard of Fay Wolf, she was speaking at a conference for entrepreneurs about the importance of organization for creative flow. This spoke to me as an artist, and when I rediscovered her while browsing through organizational books at the library, I was excited to see a print guide to her method of professional organizing for creative types.
While New Order does stress the importance of decluttering your physical space, it comes into its own as a guide to managing time, tasks, workflow, information, and stress. Entrepreneurs and artists who find themselves constantly overwhelmed by their workload, the possibilities of the future, and the roadblocks preventing them from achieving their goals will likely benefit from the step by step strategies and systems introduced by Wolf. Wolf also succeeds in teaching an organized and effective approach to collaborating with others, which is key for decluttering your mind and working more efficiently. If you're secure in your ability to declutter your space, but not yet experiencing a clear and uncluttered mind, New Order is a fantastic tutor to bring you to a better mindset.
Fumio Sasaki has succeeded in reaching a degree of minimalism that most could not dream of reaching (nor would they truly want to). He has done this in every area of his life, perhaps, except for his writing. Though moments of clarity and relevance are able to push through in the otherwise ironically cluttered book, if this serves as your introduction to minimalism, you are equally as likely to reject the philosophy as embrace it.
Sasaki's main point, that owning too much prevents us from living happy, fulfilled lives, gets lost in the repetitive anecdotes and the extreme lengths to which minimalism is taken by the author (he has discarded bath towels and a bed for a single hand towel and folding mattress). Though this book is highly praised by many already living the minimalist lifestyle, it could easily scare off those just beginning their journey. Sasaki does provide concrete steps to decluttering, many of which are useful, and if we are to truly engage with the minimalist philosophy he promotes, we can boil the best parts of the book down into a short list:
Goodbye, Things may be an excellent resource if you're interested in the ultra-minimalist lifestyle, or if you're simply looking for an extreme portrait of decluttering, but if you are just inching towards the idea of minimalism, it is perhaps not the place to begin your journey.
That's right, today we approach what many consider to be THE modern organization bible. And I will preface this review by admitting that I am a disciple of Marie Kondo's Konmari method. Her philosophy on how to interact with the things we own is what took me from an organizer to a declutterer, from someone who rearranged messes to someone who disposed of them completely. Kondo's approach to decluttering is polarizing-- many find it too strict, and the fact that it goes against our conventional organizing wisdom (cleaning room by room, having a "maybe" pile, waiting to make decisions until later) means that many professional organizers balk at the idea of introducing Konmari into their business practice. But for so many people who are organized or want to be organized, this book can expose why we haven't achieved our perfect tidiness. It allows us to acknowledge the bond we have with our belongings and utilize it to part with them in a way that respects that emotional attachment. And on top of the philosophical and anecdotal, Kondo introduces real, actionable steps that we can take not only to rid ourselves of the unnecessary or unwanted, but to properly order that which does serve a purpose or bring us joy.
One of the key differences between Kondo's version of what could be called minimalism and minimalism in a traditional sense is that Kondo recognizes that items can bring us job, albeit not in the excess to which they tend to gather in our homes. Items that seemingly serve no purpose but make us happy are not automatically refuse-- because joy-giving is a purpose. Kondo's ability to weave practicality with the psychology of what makes us happy makes this book absolutely necessary reading for anyone who wants to feel joyful in their space.