Clean up your act

In­tro­duc­ing the new Ja­panese min­i­mal­ism

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

We’ve reached an age of peak stuff, peak clut­ter, peak ev­ery­thing. If this strikes a chord, the new trend kanso, aka ex­treme Ja­panese min­i­mal­ism, could be the per­fect an­ti­dote. By Danielle Demetriou

CLUT­TER. THE C-WORD of the do­mes­tic world is of­ten an­noy­ingly om­nipresent, from chaotic cut­lery draw­ers and too-full-to-close wardrobes to the pile of mis­cel­la­neous ob­jects that ac­cu­mu­late by the front door. But there is a so­lu­tion – and, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, it can be found in Ja­pan, where a Zen-in­spired in­te­rior-de­sign phi­los­o­phy is gath­er­ing pace: kanso, mean­ing sim­plic­ity.

It’s one of the seven key prin­ci­ples of Zen (oth­ers in­clude si­lence and aus­ter­ity) and in a do­mes­tic con­text, loosely trans­lates into a home that serenely swaps the su­per­flu­ous and dec­o­ra­tive for the es­sen­tial and func­tional, bring­ing a deep peace of mind in the process.

Ja­pan is, of course, no stranger to all things clean and tidy. The kanso trend comes hot on the or­derly heels of Marie Kondo, the de­clut­ter­ing guru famed for her global plea to dump any­thing that doesn’t spark joy. In turn, Fu­mio Sasaki – widely re­garded as Ja­pan’s num­berone ex­pert on the sub­ject, thanks to his best­selling book Good­bye, Things: The New Ja­panese Min­i­mal­ism – de­scribes kanso as an an­ti­dote to so­ci­ety’s con­stant de­sire to con­sume.

‘We’re all prone to ad­dic­tion, not only to sub­stances like al­co­hol and drugs, but also to shop­ping,’ he says. ‘Shop­ping is stim­u­lat­ing and has a cer­tain al­lure to it. The prob­lem is that no mat­ter how much we buy, we still want more. As we get caught up in this cy­cle, we end up work­ing our­selves harder in or­der to make the money to buy more things.’

He ex­plains how the con­cept of kanso in Ja­pan goes far be­yond in­te­rior decor ideas. ‘As­pects of Ja­panese cul­ture that em­body kanso in­clude the tea cer­e­mony, which takes place in a tiny, bare room that al­lows par­tic­i­pants to fo­cus on their state of mind, or short po­etry like haiku and tanka. But the ethos of kanso has been pretty much for­got­ten in our day-to-day lives, even in Ja­pan.’

In Sasaki’s life, how­ever, the con­cept is very much alive. ‘You could say that my diet is very kanso – I eat the same sim­ple things ev­ery day: brown rice, home­made pick­les, miso soup, plus grilled fish or a lit­tle meat,’ he says. ‘It may seem mea­gre to some peo­ple, but I am quite con­tent with it. It may feel good to be cap­ti­vated by some­thing ex­trav­a­gant or im­pres­sive, but it can also feel quite good to sim­plify, which al­lows us to ap­pre­ci­ate the sub­tle move­ments of the mind.’

Sasaki de­scribes his cur­rent one­room home in Ky­oto, with its in­ter­con­nected bed­room and din­ing room, as ‘sim­ple and mod­ern’. The word ‘tiny’ also springs to mind: it mea­sures a diminu­tive 30 sq m. Cost­ing around £202 (30,000 yen) a month, it is the do­mes­tic equiv­a­lent of kanso.

Un­like the Tokyo apart­ment he once lived in – which was crammed full of piles of CDS and ran­dom or­na­men­tal

‘No mat­ter how much we buy, we still want more. We end up work­ing harder in or­der to make the money to buy more things’

ob­jects – his Ky­oto space is min­i­mal to the point of ap­pear­ing, quite lit­er­ally, empty. He be­lieves that by sim­pli­fy­ing the home, pos­i­tive habits will nat­u­rally take root – from want­ing to do sun­rise yoga ev­ery day to en­joy­ing pre­vi­ously dis­liked do­mes­tic chores.

‘I used to be­lieve I was a per­son who was ter­ri­ble at house­keep­ing,’ he says. ‘And yet, when I re­duced the num­ber of clothes and dishes I had, house­keep­ing be­came easy, and I started to en­joy it. I didn’t need to change; hav­ing fewer things in my en­vi­ron­ment was all it took. These kinds of small changes are so valu­able, and helped me to de­velop the health­ier life­style I’m liv­ing to­day.’

But be­fore the in­tim­i­dat­ing leap from clut­tered home­owner to en­light­ened chore-lov­ing min­i­mal­ist can be made, there is, of course, the tricky ques­tion of how ex­actly to get rid of all those items crammed into the cup­boards. Ac­cord­ing to Sasaki there are three things to re­mem­ber when throw­ing things away.

First, tell your­self that when you

Right By re­duc­ing the num­ber of un­nec­es­sary ob­jects in his new apart­ment, Sasaki has de­vel­oped a health­ier life­style

throw some­thing away, ‘you gain more than you lose’. Se­condly, fo­cus on the present and let go of the idea of ‘some­day’. And fi­nally, never for­get that dis­card­ing mem­o­ra­bilia is not the same as dis­card­ing mem­o­ries.

‘What these tips have in com­mon is the men­tal as­pect,’ says Sasaki. ‘As you ex­pe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits first-hand, you’ll nat­u­rally buy fewer and fewer un­nec­es­sary things and will thereby be able to main­tain a tidy liv­ing space.’

And best of all? Any­one who has un­der­gone an overzeal­ous clean-up – only for the clut­ter to in­sid­i­ously build up again – can be re­as­sured that it’s still worth an­other shot. ‘A min­i­mal life­style isn’t some­thing one has to en­gage in for ever,’ he says. ‘But I think liv­ing sim­ply for a while could help us get in touch with our true de­sires. How much do we re­ally need in or­der to feel sat­is­fied? What ac­tiv­ity brings us the most joy? Al­low­ing what’s truly mean­ing­ful to be re­vealed as we shed all the ex­cess – that to me is the essence of min­i­mal­ism.’

Right Fu­mio Sasaki’s one-room home in Ky­oto is sim­plic­ity de­fined

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