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Danshari: Ditching Materialism for the Simple Life

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In an interesting new article in the Japan Times Online, Michael Hoffman describes “danshari,” a lifestyle idea that complements three other stuff-minimal concepts, voluntary simplicity, wabi-sabi, and true wealth. Voluntary simplicity, you may recall, has origins in the nineteenth century, and calls into question the values of material wealth and status; it focuses instead on frugal consumption, ecological awareness, moral responsibility, and the development of the wisdom to think through—and act upon—what really matters. Wabi-sabi, an integral part of traditional Japanese culture, appreciates and accepts complexity even as it values simplicity, tranquility, and naturalness. True Wealth, Paul Hwoschinsky’s persuasive antidotes to rampant materialism, suggests that true wealth is attained by leveraging those nonfinancial assets, different for each person, that invigorate and vitalize: talents, hobbies, close connections with other people and animals, communion with nature.


Danshari—its three kanji characters signify refusal, disposal, and separation—has a literal meaning of tidying up. But the movement incorporates psychological and even religious dimensions; it suggests getting rid of mental as well as physical junk. Hoffman calls danshari “a cure—at least a treatment, a purge—for the disease of our times: excess.” That we need such a concept is clear. As environmental scholar Richard Evanoff has observed, “It would take the resources of at least five planet earths for everyone to live at the same level as most Americans do now.”


Hoffman is careful to frame danshari as a flexible concept. “Danshari,” he says, “is what you make of it. Think of it as mere housecleaning, and that’s all it is. Think of it as a religious liberation, and it’s that.” And religious scholar Akira Masaki puts the movement in perspective, distinguishing it from either a means or an end: seeing it as either one, he says, “only binds us more tightly to means and ends.” Subduing excess, in other words, can become its own form of excess. Even with danshari, Masaki points out, “the important thing is balance—the Buddhist Middle Way.”


You can read the full text of Hoffman’s article here.  

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