The last few weeks of my life turned out to be exciting, chaotic and completely overwhelming. Between busy time at work and having guests, moving to a brand new flat turned out to be a challenging task, demanding my full attention. so much so, that before I knew it, yet another weekend passed without a post. But things are about to change.
I’ve written before about my interest in minimalism and how traveling with minimal baggage has revolutionised my experiences abroad. On the home front, I have been systematically giving away my belongings for over a year now, and despite the many bags that ended up in the charity shops, I still have a long way to go. This post will be about that journey and how my trip to Japan continues to provide the motivation I so desperately need.
As an introverted individual, I find that my brain works at its best when it is provided with the space, both mental and physical. While it is no surprise to me that many studies have shown that low stress and lack of external stimulation can nurture creativity, I often struggle in practice to find the peace and quiet my mind needs to unleash its imagination. While moving houses, I could see quite clearly how the constantly running errand lists were leaving little space for the less mundane thinking to take place. I felt tired, irritated and disconnected from myself. As the boxes, bags and tones of stuff continued to pile up in our new apartment, so did my mind began to increasingly feel as if all its available space was being taken up by the physical chaos. Until I began to read a book about Japan.
The vivid descriptions of Tokyo, quickly transported me back to the summer of 2017, reminding me of the sense of calm I so often felt when visiting Japan. The neutral colours and natural materials that seemed to characterise the architecture and interiors in Kyoto provided the respite for the tired mind, while the functionality of the tiny spaces in Tokyo reminded one of how little was actually needed in life. Despite their striking differences, both cities came to personify the ideal minimalism to me.
Minimalism means different things to different people, but to me it is about the way of living with less, being more mindful about the way we use the things around us and the role they play in our everyday life. My house used to be cluttered with stuff I didn’t need, things that I used to buy as substitute for something less tangible that seemed to be lacking in my life. It was easier to buy a new dress than work on my self-confidence, it took less time to get a beautiful notebook than to figure out why I had trouble committing to writing in one in the first place. I haven’t been a hoarder, I was buying just the “normal” amount of stuff, so I didn’t think twice about my choices. Until I realised that the lifestyle I was leading, that many people around me led, was draining me. Every day searching for something I misplaced around the house, going through multitude of bags to find the ID I knew I had in one of them, pulling clothes out of the tiny wardrobe just to find the forgotten skirt tucked away in the corner at the back. Finally, when life started becoming overwhelming, when I’ve had demands and requests placed on me from all directions, I’ve realised that the belongings I’ve spent so much money on, were yet another source demanding my attention. Instead of sustaining me, they were weighing me down, and it was time to let go.
Following the first round of massive decluttering last year, this summer it was time for the second round. Having moved to the new, spacious apartment in June 2017, I had thought my objective was met and that my journey to minimalism was complete- until I visited Japan. I fell in love with Japanese minimalist interiors from the moment I walked into our tiny Airbnb apartment. In the narrow hallway, there was a special shelf for the shoes, as removing the footwear was the first thing everyone did when entering a Japanese household. Having left the footsteps of the outside world behind, we climbed the steps into the flat. Inside, the space was cosy but thanks to a well thought-out furniture arrangement, the area did not feel overwhelming and upon a closer look, it contained only the essentials required for a comfortable living. The tiny bathroom featured space-saving solutions, like a small clothes-drying rack that fitted on top of the washing machine, or the shower cabin with an in-built shelf for the cosmetics. Except for two pictures and a decorative pillow, the entire place was purely functional. This turned out to be the case in many of the spaces we’ve visited and seemed characteristic for Japan. I guess in a region that is seismically active, one learns to develop a different relationship with the things they fill their house with.
One of my favourite places was a local restaurant that we’ve stumbled upon during our visit to Kyoto. The traditional rice-paper walls, wood and spacious interior sparsely decorated with the tatami mats, floor cushions and low tables, provided a true sense of calm. Despite the minimal decour, the Japanese interiors felt warm and welcoming. I came to understanding that it is the texture and energy of the natural fabrics combined with the softer hues that creates an ambiance of comfort, and that it is possible to create a modest space that feels cosy without the unnecessary clutter. Without the unnecessary noise of the ever-present things, I could finally hear myself think and I felt my creativity waking up from its slumber. I knew that this was how I wanted to feel all the time, with my house being a place of respite from the chatter of the external world, giving me the peace and space to breathe.
But it wasn’t just the interior design that adhered to the minimalist principles. In Japan the majority of people seemed to be wearing quite plain but fashionable and comfortably-fitting clothes in the few base colours that appeared to match effortlessly. Women wore delicate make up and had simple haircuts that despite their simplicity made them look stunning. Even the books were pocket-sized, allowing the commuters to read without having to take a large book from the bag or the backpack. The food too was served in small portions, the aesthetically presented delicious meals made out of basic ingredients like rice, egg and fish. The Japanese seemed to appreciate the importance of the essence of things, quality over quantity in all areas of life.
Moving from a large space to a flat that’s half the size was a challenge, but it also created an opportunity to really verify what it was that I wanted to take with me to the new place. Instead of filling the place in panic with the cheap temporary fixes, I decided to give it the time it needs. Having bought the essentials of good quality and that satisfied my sense of quiet aesthetics, I am now getting to know the space I live in, using the space to create new habits that support my life goals. I no longer feel the need to rush things and fill in the space around me for the sake of it. My husband and I decided to only get the furniture that fits in with our lifestyle, and so at the moment we are waiting to see if a kitchen table will be needed or whether we can comfortably cope with just a coffee table. Rather than making expensive purchases because one is supposed to have something, we are asking ourselves if the piece would actually be used by us on regular basis and if it is necessary. We are still only at the start of the journey, but I am inspired to make it a worthwhile one. I still have a lot to learn from the Japanese minimalism, but what’s important is to take small steps in the right direction.