Good Books on Minimalism

He said :

“You read an excessive number of books on minimalism. What an oxymoron ! ”

She said.

“There is a certain kind of music that helps you deeply experience the silence.”

We, the humans, try to simplify for different reasons. We care about the environment. We live in tiny spaces. We are allergic to clutter. We choose quality over quantity. We don’t want to participate in the game of consumption. We found equilibrium and peace. We found happiness elsewhere. Yoga. Community negated the need to look for happiness in things. We want to be frugal. We are saving up for a better life. We are preparing for a calamity/war. We have been through a recession. We want more discipline  …. For what ever reason, I will always argue that there is a lot to be gained from this school of thought. Books about minimalism needn’t be a discourse on our relationship with things. It can be a philosophy on living that eventually leads to minimalism. That kind of wisdom is a more fool proof than a decluttering methodology. Those are the kinds of book I adore.  If I were to design a curriculum, it would look like this :

Stage 1 :

FOR THE UN-INITIATED. PLANT THE TREE.

Minimalism is not about things we don’t have or have. On the outer shell, yes, our relationship with our stuff needs to be addressed. Yes, the shell has to be broken into to get to the more substantial part. Its a start. These books try to crack the shell.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. 

I personally don’t like this book. If I read it 3 years ago, maybe I would have found it useful. It screams throw, get rid & let go. The after math of this book has been the interchangeable usage of words : decluttering / minimalism – which I find dangerous. But to the people who don’t have a habit of parting with anything and think of donating an unused item as a loss, this book might help. To the people who are overwhelmed by their stuff, it might give a fresh start. I believe there is a lightness of being that comes from less possessions. Once you see the benefits, its hard to go back. This book gives us the permission to part with things.

I would gift this book to the people in my life who are hoarders and to the ones who are terrified to declutter.

Goodbye Things, by Fumio Sasaki.

This book speaks at a very low level and uses every day anecdotes to convey the message. Its a story of how the author’s life improved after he stopped buying, stopped upgrading, stopped making decisions ONLY for the sake of money, stopped hoarding, started decluttering …. It’s minimalism 101 with lot of practical advice.

I would gift this book to the ones who are curious as to why the “M” word is trending but are too afraid to dig into it.

Lessons from Madame Chic, by Jennifer Scott.

This would be a great starting point to any un-assuming soul. There is something in there that strikes a chord for even the most materialistic person. The author chases quality of life and learns to say ‘NO’ to clutter. This book was my first. If my introduction to minimalism was from a view point of a spartan life that resembles poverty, I would have run the other way. She packaged it as a high quality life and I immediately signed up. I wanted the nice (second hand) things that come at the expense of buying less.

I would gift this book to the upper middle class/wealthy people in my life who live the typical consumeristic lifestyle. The ones who love their stuff and would never give minimalism a chance.

A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did not Buy, by Sarah Lazarovic. 

This book is like a walk through a museum. The walls have these pretty paintings. Each painting has a message. The message is loud and clear, without being preachy. Its thought provoking. Its inspiring. Its relatable to all of us.

Sometimes, we consume out of a habit. That is what we are used to. That is what we see around us. We are a product of the people we surround ourselves with after all ! This book addresses the habit.

A perfect gift for the pre-teens/teens. Bleed them early.

Stage 2 :

GROW THE ROOTS. BOOKS THAT BECOME YOUR FLESH AND BLOOD.

If we are still talking about things – buying/getting rid, its still scratching the surface of it all. But sitting down to figure where else to find the happiness is the crux of the solution. Without that, you could relapse and fall into a buy&cull pattern of consumption masquerading as minimalism. These books address the core of the issue. Digs deeper. Take us to uncomfortable places. Asks those hard questions. Shows us alternate lifestyles :

Sustainable Happiness

I LOVE this book. I would gift it to each one of you if I could. The title is incredibly cheesy, but … 12 authors, 12 chapters, pure wealth. If I were to recommend only one book from this list, let it be this one. Its easy to read. Each chapter genuinely made me happy and taught me something. It put emphasis on human relations. It had amusing stories dug out of the history books. You can read the introduction here. Tell me if you are not intrigued.

Art de la Simplicite, by Dominique Loreau.

Florie of La nife en l’air, one of my favorite blogs, now retired, would reference this book a lot. Said she was inculcating it chapter by chapter. I was stuck in a decluttering bubble for an entire year. When the english translation of this book dropped, I could discover a whole life/lifestyle philosophy for myself. It covers each aspect of a lifestyle and talks about finding the essentials that improve the quality of it. Concentrates on what is, instead of what isn’t. If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, this book really tries to help.

An Abundance of Less, by Andy Couturier.

Stories of 10 individuals celebrating life by following their passions. We dont hear such stories anymore because they would have been branded as not worldly enough and simpleton. This book reminds me of the lives lead by my ancestors, as I remember it. They keep the good aspects of rural living and live rather modern lives.

Stage 3 :

WHEN THE STUDENT IS READY, THE TEACHER WILL APPEAR.

Minimalism is not always packed as a decluttering technique or a spartan life. It can be a by-product of finding a passion that consumes you so much and gives you infinite happiness. A great happiness that makes stuff irrelevant. Makes it easy to let go and do the needed. I am ready to learn. I see the philosophy embedded in all of these books as a background score.

Explained through pursuit of knowledge : Razors Edge, by S Maugham.

This is my favorite book of all time. I re-read it and will never get over my love for the protagonist, Larry. He is an ideal human, in my landscape. The M word is never used, but we see Larry’s life change as he lets go of layers of needs that the society taught him he needed. What’s left is a man who pursues love and knowledge.

Explained through living one with nature : Walden, by Thoreau.

Thoreau was on the extreme end of the spectrum. Some even speculate that he died young because of malnutrition. Its definitely not a text book for living, but if you love nature / hike / camp, you can identify with what he writes. Its a classic for a good reason. He managed to slow down time to an extent that he gets to single out and meditate on the beauty of a single raindrop from the storm.

Explained through the way of tea : The One Taste of Truth, by William Wilson.

I wont try to explain the Zen, Taoism and Buddhist philosophy. I cant. Read the book for yourself please.

Explained through yoga – Krishnamacharya, by A.G. Mohan.

If you met me before this book, pre-2013, I would have been a tad cocky about my abilities. I definitely was participating in this show off-y ‘look at me’ sort of asana competition. The right clothes, the right asana sequence, the right authenticity, the right lineage of teachers, … I would give advice to people/judge other about yoga while being an amateur – just because I did one hour of asana per day. I would show off the poses when people were looking. “Watch, look what I can do”, were once uttered from my lips. A real master, the father of modern yoga, then came along and put me in my place. Made me understand. He lead a life dedicated to heeling people. He had enough knowledge to customize a yoga routine to a students physical markup and mental needs – a lost art in todays world. Shunned the external markers that serve no purpose. Had an admirable intelligence combined with wisdom. Preached what he lived. Minimalism was ingrained in him by his teachers, in the name of discipline. You spend decades of your life dedicated to learning in monk like conditions to become a brahman. When fame came to him, he continued to live the same lifestyle. Shunned the riches. Simplicity became a part of the life he lived and the philosophy he taught.

Explained through food – An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler.

A book I would add to the high school curriculum if I can. Cooking is the wonderful science experiment. Throw out all the recipes and learn the techniques. You can cook any vegetable after this sort of training. The easiest techniques and any seasonal ingredients can make our everyday food. This books is exactly that. Beans get a lot of romance and glory. Capers are celebrated like diamonds. A good salad is a essential. Learn the basics. Mix, match, have fun. The way she peels off the layers, discards the excess and teaches the essentials made me fall in love with making food. When designing our lives, this approach helps.

Explained through travel – Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts.

We heard this before. Create a travel fund. Stop buying shit. Save and travel. Find joy.

Eat beans, save and travel.

Downsize, sell, save and travel.

Wear the same clothes for decades, save and travel.

Really well written.

Explained through personal finance – The Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger.

Can you be great without being good ? What is necessary in life to be good ? How important are ethics – personal and professional ? This book is a case study on the man. He is an investment wizard and the Warren Buffet’s silent partner. When we think of essentials, its not the right set of things. Its a set of principles. Once they are learnt, everything else will fall into place. This book requires a lifetime to be understood and implemented. Should be read the way a religious book is read.

FOOL PROOF GIFTING :

Ask them if they want any of the books. Nothing is sadder than unread unappreciated unwanted books on minimalism collecting dust in an attractive cluttered home library.

If a bunch of friends can pick out a few of the books and rotate them for the rest of the year.

If your local library carries them, get a few for the recipient. Offer to return the books back to the library when they are done reading. One less chore for them.

Ebook. Amazon lets the receiver of the gift reject the book. If they already read the book, you can get them something else.

Second hand books. Encourages circular economy. Older the books get, more they get read, more charming in appearance they become.

 


Question of the week :

Heard of these books ? Read any of em ? Any recommendations ? Do you also look for undercurrents of minimalism in your favorite books/philosophies (Stage 3) ?

Do we need to buy stuff to help us stop buying stuff ? Books on Simplicity for instance.