FEATURE: Minimalists ditch ownership for bare-bones life

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - The minimalist lifestyle is spreading among Japanese.

The term “minimalist,” which describes people who reduce the material possessions in their lives to a minimum, has recently attracted a lot of attention. It was even shortlisted for this year’s prize for new and fashionable words. At the same time that ways of expressing oneself without relying on objects have spread, the proliferation of smartphones and sharing services has added impetus to the trend of “living without owning.”

A single-room Osaka apartment where a 30-year-old male company worker lives alone is as bare as it was before he moved in. A mattress, lying on a floor roughly seven tatami mats in size (about 23 square metres), serves as both a sofa and a bed. There is no other furniture or television. It reflects the title of the blog that he runs, “A minimalist who doesn’t own things.”

In his student days, the man lived surrounded by many possessions. However, when he saw how much one of his friends was suffering after failing to enter a major company, he felt that something was wrong. “It must be possible to enjoy life without depending on brands or material objects,” he thought, and decided to cut down on his possessions.

Once he rid himself of the desire to be well thought of by others through his possessions, the clothes, books, pictures and ornaments in his room began to decrease almost spontaneously. He got rid of his bed, too, because it is “a nuisance when cleaning.” He now reads digital books, and wears only about 10 different outfits throughout the year. His cooking equipment consists of one pot.

“I can spend my time on activities I like, without being bothered by cleaning or organising my possessions. I’ve met other people who think in the same way through my blog,” he said with satisfaction.

Blogs spread philosophy
The minimalist philosophy of living with as few possessions as possible has gradually gained visibility over the past two or three years. The blog portal Nihon Blog Mura (Japan blog village) added a “minimalist” category in June last year. There are reportedly more than 700 related blogs on the site now.

According to Fumio Sasaki, who put the minimalist lifestyle into practice and wrote about his story in “Bokutachi ni mou mono wa hitsuyou nai ” (We don’t need things any more), the term was first used in the realms of politics and the arts to mean those who believed in the ideal of reducing everything to a bare minimum. In 2010, two Americans calling themselves “The Minimalists” began sharing their attempts to cut down on possessions on their website, and the movement spread to Japan.

The background to its acceptance lies in the clean-up craze that began about 15 years ago. During these years, various ways to clean up by getting rid of possessions were proposed, such as the “danshari” method.

“Technologies and services allowing us to live without possessions increased rapidly over the last few years, making it easier to reduce what we own,” Sasaki added.

A single smartphone combines the functions of camera, watch, TV, music player and more. Items that are only used once in a while can be supplied by rental or sharing services.

One 38-year-old homemaker in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, is maintaining a minimalist life with her family. She had already been aiming to live a simpler life, and having been struck by a minimalist blog she read last autumn, she began to get rid of possessions at a faster pace.

“I decorated my rooms with small items so that my friends would compliment me on how pretty they were,” she said. “But after I got rid of them, cleaning became much easier, and I felt less burdened.”

Following her example, her husband and children also began ridding themselves of possessions. Her eldest daughter, a fourth-year primary school student, has just a desk in the corner of her room. She expresses no desire for clothes, wearing two pairs of jeans of the same design on alternate days.

However, there are some minimalists who become so attached to the principle of reducing material possessions that they even discard essential items. The Osaka man once got rid of his refrigerator and washing machine, but ended up buying new ones. Making one’s life less convenient is mistaking the means for the end.

“Consumers have begun to reconsider the very meaning of owning things,” said Masanobu Sugatsuke, an author and editor who published his book “Butsuyoku naki sekai” (A world without greed) in November, explaining the spread of minimalism. “In the past, the clothes, car or house that one owned were ways to express oneself. But now, through social networking services, anyone can publicize their opinions. There is no longer any need to flaunt one’s appearance or possessions.”