108 Bells: Decluttering for the Soul


In Japan, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, temple bells across the country toll 108 times. According to Buddhist teaching, we have 108 earthly desires that cause us suffering – and by listening to the bells toll, we can dispel each desire, one by one.

For example: first ring – goodbye, greed. Second ring – goodbye, jealousy. Third ring – goodbye, vanity. And so on…

If you’re curious, here’s a list of the 108 “defilements,” courtesy of virtuescience.com:

Ostentatiousness, grudge, gambling, ingratitude, dipsomania, ambition, dominance, faithlessness, manipulation, stinginess, pessimism, hostility, abuse, debasement, sexual lust, sarcasm, humiliation, jealousy, gluttony, unruliness, hurt, cruelty, unkindness, obstinacy, envy, indifference, negativity, furtiveness, sadism, enviousness, derision, falseness, high-handedness, know-it-all, rage, aggression, rapacity, effrontery, disrespectfulness, hard-heartedness, eagerness for power, lying, insidiousness, self-denial, inattentiveness, contempt, wrath, haughtiness, greed for money, seducement, vindictiveness, insatiability, voluptuousness, excessiveness, censoriousness, dissatisfaction, egoism, ignorance, hatred, greed, impudence, imposture, cursing, imperiousness, lecherousness, callousness, malignancy, torment, intolerance, blasphemy, shamelessness, irresponsibility, obsession, prejudice, arrogance, violent temper, garrulity, dogmatism, presumption, intransigence, oppression, prodigality, lack of comprehension, obstinacy, pride, conceitedness, delusion, quarrelsomeness, self-hatred, violence, vanity, hypocrisy, stubbornness, baseness, pretence, mercilessness, disrespect, ridicule, masochism, tyranny, capriciousness, deceit, anger, discord, calculation, unyielding, desire for fame, deception. (I imagine that some of the repetition is due to translation.)

This ritual, called Joya-no-Kane, is a beautiful purification rite that encourages a spiritual fresh start for the coming year – and one that I believe has particular relevance for us as minimalists.

When we pursue a minimalist lifestyle, we often begin by focusing on our stuff. We clean out our closets, pare down our wardrobes, and purge the tchotchkes from our living room shelves.

Some of us then unleash our decluttering prowess on our schedules: we set priorities, learn to say no, and streamline our commitments to free up our time.

This year, I propose we go one step further: let’s declutter our souls. Let’s purge all those negative habits, attitudes, and traits that keep us from being the best people we can be.

Take a few moments, and consider what “defilements” you’d like to cast off (the list above provides plenty of inspiration!). For each one, ring a bell (literally or figuratively), and resolve to eliminate it from your life.

We can declutter until the day is long, but clean closets alone won’t make us better people. To be sure, creating a calm and serene environment is important – but it’s just the first step. Once we’ve eliminated the outer clutter and chaos, it’s time to turn our attention inwards. It’s time to do a clean sweep of our souls, so that we can uncover the beauty within – and truly become the change we want to see in the world.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

34 comments to 108 Bells: Decluttering for the Soul

  • It’s interesting yow write this. I’ve been working on decluttering my soul and mind, more than I have been working on decluttering my home and because that was my main focus I thought I couldn’t apply the minimalism label to myself. Actually decluttering the soul is a huge part of my intention to live a sustainable life.

  • Professionally, I’d like to cast off that little nagging voice in my head that says, “you’re not good enough.”

  • alisha

    Joya no kane… as you have written, this truly is a ritual to welcome the New Year in Japan. Until reading your comment, I had never made the connection between the 108 bells and minimalism. What an eye-opener! Born in Japan, raised in the U.S. and Canada, and then finding myself back living and working in Tokyo… I am forever amazed at how much I do not appreciate what this country has to offer. So much to learn, and so much to experience… isn’t life just an everlasting journey? Arigato…

  • What a great post. I recently read “Excuses Begone,” by Dr. Wayne Dyer, which inspired me to work on some of my own “defilements.” It’s an interesting idea to start the New Year by clearing away the soul clutter. Thanks.

  • Shannon

    Beautiful post. Thank you for inspiring me.

  • What a great way to start the new year!

    I’ve bought your book and am enjoying reading it very much.

  • Like Maria, I plan to change the negative self-talk in my head. I think that is where change starts, with me, “decluttering” my thoughts. I’ve been decluttering my house ferociously since October, and now it’s time to work inside. Lovin’ the minimalism.

  • Deborah

    Thank you. So beautiful. I will begin today.

  • Jens

    This post has moved me to share my experience of a recent shedding of a long held and contemporary habit: TV watching!

    Up to last month, it was not unusual for me to be in front of the box for four or more hours per day! Now I’ve cut out everything including TV news (I catch up on what’s going on in the world via news websites) with the exception of the odd DVD.

    What lead to this decision? A combination of things really. It started with the annoyance of watching the best and worst of a recently finished TV talent show that spanned five hours! Most of it I was seeing again anyway! It led me to look up TV addiction online and it was interesting to see how much of a negative tranquilizing effect it has. And how people tend to be happier/unhappier by watching less/more TV. It reminded me how I used to dislike drinking tea but only after I realised I was drinking perhaps five or more cups a day. When I stopped at one, I started enjoying my brew more!

    Another online experience suggested how much more freedom one traveller had when her tropical hotel had no TV at all so she was forced to be visually stimulated by her surroundings and speak with her partner at length! Without the distraction of the box, she found a whole new vista previously overlooked.
    After discussing this issue with some work colleagues, who in turn were surprised to learn how much TV I watched, I resolved to go cold turkey in mid December.

    I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was! The first night saw my wife (a sporadic TV watcher herself) and I chat for hours while we listened to classical music. The next night we played scrabble. And the night after! And when we weren’t, I read. Or watch a Columbo DVD on a one-off (and we had this box set languishing un-watched for two years!)

    I’m happy to say it has helped re-invigorate my stalled conventional de-cluttering: My hallway floor is (with the exception of a rowing machine) completely object-free! It’s as if I am getting a mental boost from conquering my former TV addiction!

    Has anyone else had a similar experience? What unhelpful traits have been dispensed with? And was there an unexpected bonus that came out of it?

  • Oh, I love this. Even though I’ve been restricting my bad printing habits b/c it creates too much paper, I’m going to have to print this out to have as a reminder.

    • *laugh* I know what you mean! I’ve stopped keeping printer ink in the house because otherwise I’m always printing out fifty pages at once, for reasons that SEEM logical at the time and yet really… really aren’t logical. Not at all.

  • ElizMc

    Thank you for posting this. One of my ongoing “resolutions” has always been to “stay present” and to renounce fear and hope, both Buddhism based. This list is much more comprehensive and elaborates on all of the ways we stay attached to this world. Those things that hook us, whether is is critical mind, negative self-talk, staying in our own little cocoons, etc., these are the things are are reinforced or habituated in our lives. The 108 bells make us aware of these attachments and we let them move away from us, like clouds in the sky.

    Pema Chodron advises “The basic instruction, in terms of cutting this habituation, or dissolving it, or interrupting —I like to use the word interrupting the habituation— is to notice the shenpa, (notice when you’re hooked); then through meditation practice, or whatever helps, to interrupt the momentum so that you don’t go on and on and on creating your own suffering; and then touch the soft spot that’s available to you when you interrupt the momentum of the shenpa.”


  • Meg

    I’m on board with that! Probably need all 108 bits belled out of my soul in one form or another ;D

  • I love the concept of the 108 bells. It reminds me of the power ritual can have in keeping us tuned in to our priorities. Now to find my dictionary and look up a few of those words….

  • I’m working my way through the Live in the Moment Booty Camp, by Marie Forleo, and at the beginning, she asks everyone to consider the possibility that there’s nothing about them that needs fixing. Wow!!! What an incredible thought!! You mean I could just be me and not waste energy feeling bad and trying to be someone else?

    It’s interesting to me that many of the “defilements” in the list are self-directed: “self-denial” “self-hatred” “masochism.” There’s such a strong streak of those things running through much of the “self-help” literature.

  • flip-flop guy here bringing ultra-cool to minimalism. It is all about happiness. Stuff doesn’t make me happy except my flippie-floppies. Enjoying your time that matters. I enjoyed reading your blog and your super-hot.
    I’ve been a minimalist and enjoy my life and don’t let society dictate my happiness cause flip-flop guy is ultra-cool.

  • Minimalist Wannabe

    108 is a reccurent number in buddhism, but I was unaware of the New Year symbolism. It’s inpiring!

    Only one problem… I would need to ring them daily! ;o)

  • Zen Buddhism has a lot of parallels with the “declutter” movement. The attachment to material goods is one of the causes of worldly suffering. I think we can all agree with that notion.

  • I had to look two of those up! Prodigality and intransigence.

    I love the idea of the temple bells ringing 108 times. I’m really into sound and sound healing so this post has special meaning for me. The chiming of bells always feels like it’s clearing out my soul. Time to pull out the ting-shaws again and give them 108 rings!

    Great post Francine.

  • I love this. I love cleaning out the nooks and crannies of my mind and soul. Thank you for the info on the defilement tradition. It’s beautiful.

  • Fawn

    I would argue that one of the greatest gifts that minimalism gives to its practitioners is the space and time to be present with oneself, to learn who we are, in the same way that we spend time with a lover to learn who they are and then love more deeply.

  • you are simply the best blogger. just love reading all your posts. thuis one was simply refreshing.

  • Britta

    Nothing declutters a soul like forgiveness! And no one can forive like God! I love the assurance of His Word in Psalm 103:10-12: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

    Because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ, my sins, my “soul clutter” if you will, is perfectly purged! And it was inspite of all my personal best efforts, which is continually failing and wholly inadequate for the task. Instead there is this from Ephesians 2: ” For you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world … But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive toether with Christ … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, so that no one may boast…”

    Happy 2011 to you all, my fellow aspiring minimalists!

  • Chris

    Voluptuousness? Causes suffering? I would have sworn it was the other way around.

  • Beautiful Post! What’s the point of de-cluttering if our souls are heavy with too many burdens.

  • The Buddhist way of life is so interesting. Our soul should not be overlooked in the minimalist process.

  • For me, the process of decluttering my home and my mind goes hand in hand. I tagged you for a stylish blogger award, make sure you check it out! http://whitegreenandme.blogspot.com/2011/01/awarded.html

  • Susana

    As a practicing Catholic a lot of this already makes sense to me, and purging myself of these things helps deepen my relationship with God. Also as a Catholic truly trying my best to practice the faith, I have the perfect example of Christ and Mary and Joseph and how simple they lived. The book, The Life of Mary according to the Mystics really gave me a lot to think about in regards to living a simple life both internally and externally. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone interested in living a simple, minimalistic life, regardless of your world view.

  • amy

    hahaha the only thing I protest being on that list is sarcasm! Otherwise, it is a good philosophy to follow

  • […] 108 bell chimes represent the 108 sins defined by the Buddhist faith, a list of which can be found here. In ringing the bell, each toll is said to dispel the sin it is linked […]

  • David o'sullivan

    Just by chance I noticed the significance of the number 108 which is my email and name online. It happens to be my house number so I’m now not sure if it’s a really bad place to be. I now feel I should move as I’m literally living in sin and have made my online name the number of all these sins!!

  • Tina

    The list of sins sounds like the Yom Kippur liturgy, where we pray not to be xenophobic among other sins. Another purification ritual and very solemn.

  • […] Eve, the Japanese will celebrate by tolling temple bells 108 times—one for each desire. This ritual is called Joya-no-Kane, it’s all about purification and encouraging a fresh start for the new […]

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