in Life Lessons

On minimalism and books

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery


What is Minimalism

There are many definitions of minimalism out there. Some more extreme (see Fumio Sasaki) than others, some more relaxed than others.

The Minimalists tried to distill minimalism into a single question:
How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?

By and large, minimalism first requires you to confront your relationship with your material possessions. And later with the other areas in your life like your career, family and friends.

Some of the example questions you can start asking today are:
Do you really need that many clothes? How many of them do you actually use regularly?
Do you really need that many shoes? Would it be worth the hassle if you bring all them if you were to travel?
Do you really need to buy that new book from your favourite author? Are you willing to buy it again after you lost it?

I see minimalism on a macro level as examining your material needs.

For example, why do you feel the need to hold onto your old school club t-shirts if you haven’t worn them in years?What is it about it that you truly miss if you were to lose it?
Would you go out of your way to find another one somewhere if you lost it?

By the way, the best test I have found when it comes to paring down your possessions is:

“Would you go out of your way to buy it again if you lost it?”

If it doesn’t pass the test, it means it’s not a true need.


Minimalism and Books

To best illustrate my journey with minimalism, I would have to draw on my personal experience with books.

I got onto the personal growth train mid last year and have spent close to RM1500 on books. Far more than the average person but of course, much lower than the ideal voracious reader I wanted to become.

I kept feeling the need to buy the books I was supposed to have. The classics like the Art of War and Think and Grow Rich. The bestsellers that regularly get reviewed by YouTubers like the 48 Laws of Power and Rich Dad Poor Dad.

I kept buying and reading. It was enriching, don’t get me wrong. But the physical books kept pilling up and for some odd reason, whenever I viewed my bookshelf, I viewed it as something I ought to do rather than something I want to do.

I realized most of my beliefs about collecting books came from two ideas I got early on in my personal development journey:
1) The difference between rich people and poor people is that the rich have a library while the poor have a TV.
2) Most success literature talks about successful people and CEOs reading an average of 50 books a year (1 a week).

The idea of having a physical library was hammered even further when I discovered that my two main influences for writing and thinking (Ryan Holiday and Farnam Street Blog) wrote extensively on their views of having a personal library and even an anti-library.

Ryan’s personal library.

As I’m writing this, I have about 50 books in my collection, most of them popular non-fiction titles.

But when I decided to run the titles through my “minimalist framework” which was –

What books would I buy again if I lost them and what books would I gladly bring around with me if I were to travel the world with a single carry-on backpack?

The answer I came to surprised me — almost none of them.

The same way there is a distinction between the best movies you seen and your personal favourite movies, there were a lot of the “best” books I’ve read on my shelf but only a handful of favourites. Not to mention that I would not buy them again if I lost them in a fire or something. In other words, I wouldn’t miss them.

My personal library

I have since parred down my collection to 12 books. And I intend to pare them down even more to pass the “single carry-on backpack” test.


The Real Reason Why You Are Holding On To Your Stuff

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” – François de La Rochefoucauld

I have to admit that in relation to my books. One of the reasons I felt the need to hold onto them was to signal to other people that I was a learned person. That I was studious and curious. That I was smart.

Fumio Sasaki, the extreme minimalist I mentioned earlier, had a similar notion with his possessions, particularly DVDs and his photography gear.

When he was younger, he would take up “someday hobbies” – hobbies he would have time for someday. At one point he was super interested in photography that he converted one of his rooms into a darkroom.

But he stopped doing it a while and yet he didn’t take the set-up down.

The same went to his DVD collection and his home theater system, which he also rarely uses anymore.

He realized that the reason he didn’t want to get rid of it was because he trying to maintain his identity as the cool guy. The movie guy. The photography guy.

I was trying to be the book guy, when what I really should be aiming for is the well-read guy.

The point wasn’t to look smart but to be smart.

  1. Books were one of the biggest challenges for my fiance and I to get rid of. He inherited many of his from his father upon his passing, so there’s some extra sentimental value there. I completely agree with you about how we can so easily get caught up in the idea of what we SHOULD be reading as opposed to what we WANT to be reading. I spent countless hours in libraries as a kid, so I’m pretty content to own fairly few books these days.

  2. This is one of the best minimalism posts I’ve read. I love the questions you suggest to ask when deciding what to keep. I’m in the process of still decluttering. Like you said, there are many different levels of minimalism. But, I think almost everyone could use a little more of that mindset. I recently went through my book collection. I used to be a librarian so you can about imagine what that looked like! It felt so good to free up the space and I’ve found I don’t need that many books/if any since I never read the same book twice and I can get anything I want from the library. I just think of the public library and my book storage now and that helps 😉 Thanks for the great post!

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