The Japanese Art of Decluttering for Expats

My father has never lived abroad. He recently remarked how us expats must enjoy a life of blissful tidiness and simple luxuries. After our sixth, seventh, umpteenth move it was a fair assumption that we’d have homed our decluttering skills and be living with only our dearest possessions.

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But most don’t. Most, like me, move their crap from one country to the next, littering our paths as we go, dumping our wares enroute with friends, in self storage and with our family.

Every so often we embark on a grand tidy up. We spend hours rolling socks into pairs, shuffling our supposedly important documents into plastic pockets, sorting essentials whose essentiality is yet uncertain – keys for previous homes, electrical adapters for electronics we have lost, single earrings. And then we drop exhausted but (temporarily) satisfied.

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And a few weeks, months or years down the line we start all over again.

In my case, a six month temporary stay has morphed into a one and a half year residency and my single suitcase has burst into three wardrobes, several chests and lots of plastic boxes.

Last week I read a book called ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying.’

This is not a manual for bored housewives. If anything, the bestseller (7 million copies and counting… that’s more than the population of Laos in case you were wondering…) is more of a self help book for less stress and a better lifestyle. Its author, Marie Kondo promises happiness through a tidier home. Her fans report improved careers, stronger relationships and a more relaxed family life.

I visited Japan in 2016 for a month and was impressed how its citizens turned basic concepts on their head and did things in a totally different, simpler, more efficient way.

Marie Kondo is no different and her basic principles get to the root of what makes us happy. Tidying our physical belongings helps us tidy ourselves from within. Tidy home, tidy head.

smile photoPhoto by be creator

I begin, following Kondo’s advice, sorting by category and discarding anything which does not ‘spark joy’.

A Melissa Odabash bikini which I love but doesn’t fit me properly and I know I will never wear ends up in a bin bag. A duplicated pair of Havaianas joins them. But then something catches my eye – a brand new silk camisole with its tag intact. I open it and gently fold it away into an increasingly sparse wardrobe.

Most of the items I discard are polyester, viscose, manmade synthetics. I favour smarter tailoring over slouchy casuals. The impulsive holiday buys must go – a kanga cloth from Zanzibar, a Syrian keffiyeh and a whole suitcase of Indian bangles. I say goodbye to bags of casual loungewear and embrace a new, smarter capsule wardrobe.

I’m concerned that my new lifestyle could get expensive. Unfortunately for me it’s generally the expensive items which spark the most joy.

designer handbag black photoPhoto by Idhren

There is a moment in the film ‘The Return to Oz’ where Dorothy runs around touching objects to discover if sentient beings have been magically trapped inside by a wicked witch. I do much the same, feeling objects and discarding anything which does not spark joy.

The KonMari Method encourages its adherents to treat items as beings. Out loud I thank a scarf and wish it well on its journey into its next life. My husband is amused. Then I discard an immensely expensive jumper he gave me. Husband is not amused. Then, at the end of the day and 20 bin bags later my husband begins to tidy too.

He tidies, puts up shelves and helps me discard. Tidying is contagious. Even my three year old declares, ‘Mummy no, this toy is dirty! For the bin!’

My children relish their ‘new’ toys which were hidden under boxes of unloved and broken toys. I get ready for bed in a more mindful state. Dressed in my new camisole I read a book, breathe in the aromatherapy scents from my diffuser and relax.

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The next day I go shopping for a skin cream (a planned trip for a moisturiser which I needed) and opt for a Sisley option which genuinely sparks joy within me. Amazingly, when the assistant tries to tempt me into buying more I resist. I vow never to clutter my home with souvenirs from my expat travels either. No more African masks, French linen or Middle Eastern spices.

I am still far from discovering my ‘click point’, the nirvana of tidiness, the equilibrium of just the right amount of stuff.

I have mixed feelings about starting all over again when our main home contents arrive from Nigeria. But I am truly excited to discover this new lifestyle and I pray it’s not a fad.

Fellow Expaters I urge you to give it a go. Living simply with only the things (and people, and thoughts) that you truly cherish : this is the new luxury.

Photo by DozoDomo

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