When I first started writing about minimalism, I thought of clutter and overconsumption as primarily an American problem. However, from the emails and comments I received, I soon learned that many in the UK and Europe were struggling with similar issues.
Still, I considered it mainly an affliction of the Western world, and never imagined decluttering would have much relevance in the Far East (which has a long cultural heritage of simplicity and restraint).
However, according to an article by Michael Hoffman in The Japan Times Online, there’s a new trend sweeping Japan: danshari.
Kanjiclinic.com included the word in its “2010 New Words” list, and defined it as follows:
断捨離 Danshari – “de-clutter.”
The three kanji in this compound mean “refuse – throw away – separate.”
Self-help author Hideko Yamashita, drawing on yoga philosophy, promotes a three-step system for de-cluttering one’s life (both physical and mental) in Japan:
1) refuse to bring unnecessary new possessions into your life;
2) throw away existing clutter in your living space; and
3) separate from a desire for material possessions.
I love it! One beautiful little word to sum up so many of the concepts we talk about here. Let’s break it down into its components:
断 dan – to refuse
This part is about being a good gatekeeper, and stopping the inflow of stuff into your home. How to put this into action?
* Practice minsumerism
* Seek alternatives to gifts
* Eliminate your junk mail
* Refuse freebies
* Engage in consumer disobedience
捨 sha – to throw away
Here we get down to the brass tacks of decluttering: eliminating all unnecessary items from your life. Some ways to do this:
* Purge at least one item each day
* Let go of heirlooms and sentimental stuff
* Pare down your wardrobe
* Streamline your kitchen
* Donate your castoffs to charity
離 ri – to separate
The final part involves cultivating a sense of nonattachment to your possessions. To achieve this, try the following:
* Break up with your stuff
* Realize you are not what you own
* Embrace the concept of enough
* Cherish space over stuff
* Live like a butterfly
Dan-sha-ri, dan-sha-ri, dan-sha-ri–it’s quite poetic, isn’t it? I think it would make the perfect chant while cleaning out a closet, or passing up an impulse purchase.
Anyway, it’s encouraging to see minimalism rising in popularity in the East, as well as the West. According to Hoffman’s article, books and seminars on the subject are quite popular in Japan, as people seek freedom from consumerism and the clutter that accompanies it. He quotes Yamashita:
What’s more important, my life or my things? “Things” are not necessarily inimical to “life” — or are they, when they’re not life-enhancing? Ask yourself this, she says: “Does my present self need my present possessions?” If not, why can’t I ditch the possessions, all that stuff accumulated over years and still accumulating? What binds me to them? Is it that “things” have the upper hand over “life”?
Danshari refers not just to physical clutter, but also to mental and emotional clutter. It holds the promise that once you’ve disposed of the excess and the unnecessary, you’ll have the space, time, and freedom to live more fully.
Hoffman cites its conceptual ties to a traditional Japanese virtue called wabi, which is defined beautifully by Zen master Daisetsu T. Suzuki (1871-1966):
“Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats . . . and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall. . . .”
(Ah, so peaceful and serene…I can’t imagine a lovelier way to describe the simple life.)
I’m thrilled that the idea of living with less is spreading throughout the world, and fascinated to hear how the concepts of minimalism and decluttering are taking form in various countries and cultures. I’d love it if some of our Japanese readers can elaborate on danshari, and other international readers on similar movements/trends in their own countries. Please share with us in the Comments!