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Why I'm not a "home organiser"

katazuke tidying in Japanese

In Japanese, 片づけ (katazuke) means "tidying up" or "putting things in order". Looking at the literal meaning of this word gives us a wonderful insight into the Japanese approach to tidying, which is quite separate from organising (整理 or seiri).

In this blog post, I discuss:

  • How the mentality of 片づけ helps us declutter

  • How thinking about the object's purpose help us gain clarity

  • The difference between tidying and organising, and why I don't call myself a "home organiser"

  • Why a tidy home is just a benefit of 片づけ

Intentional decision-making

Rather than focusing on arranging items neatly, the emphasis of 片づけ lies on the process of decision-making and letting go. The word comes from 片を付ける (kata wo tsukeru) or to put a kata, decision between two sides, on something.

As a verb, 片づける (katazukeru) can refer to the act of putting things where they belong, both literally and figuratively. Thus, it can be used to refer to completing a task, taking care of a situation, or finalising a decision. The word carries a sense of closure and resolution.

In the KonMari method, the process of decluttering involves two opposing sides: keep or discard. You go through all your belongings one by one and decide which side, or kata, they belong in. You either keep items intentionally or you let them go. It might sound harsh at first, but it gets easier as you hone your sense of tokimeki (spark joy) and realise that not everything deserves a place in your home. After all, items that you keep half-heartedly, "just in case", or avoid taking a decision on turn into clutter, no matter how nicely you might store them.

片づけ is not merely about organising your belongings but about bringing harmony and completion to various aspects of your life.

Think of the object's purpose

To help you decide whether to keep an object or let it go, there is of course the notion of tokimeki for which the KonMari method is famous. However, this can be a little fuzzy and hard to grasp, especially when you are starting out.

To make it more concrete, I like to ask my clients to reflect on the purpose of the object in their life. Whatever your current feelings towards it, each item you own was once chosen and brought home by you. There was a reason it came into your hands, it most likely brought you joy at some point. Acknowledge this by thanking the object.

Once you have done this, take the time to contemplate whether the object is still serving you. Is it still bringing you joy? If so, keep it! Has it completed its mission with you and is it ready to move on? Is it time to let it retire? Then part with it with gratitude.

Many people feel guilty about discarding items, even though they don't spark joy. Shifting your perspective to focus on the purpose of the object allows you to see that not everything is meant to be kept. For instance, you may not have used the bread-making machine you bought during the pandemic. That's OK, it still served you! It helped you realise that you love good bread, but not making it at home. You have other priorities. So let go of the machine and the self-imposed obligation to use it one day; reclaim that physical and mental space. You (and the neglected machine) will feel so much better.

Client story: Anna's dresses

Anna had three beautiful dresses she'd never worn. During her tidying festival, she let them go very easily, explaining simply "I bought these dresses during a shopping spree in London. My friend and I had such a great time trying different outfits!". She treasured her memory, but knew that she would never wear the dresses.

The dresses had brought her much joy at the moment of purchase, and that was their mission in her life. Although she had plenty of space to store them, rather than seeing them at the back of her wardrobe, Anna wanted to imagine these dresses being worn by someone else. They were brand new with tags and had plenty of adventures left!

Anna let go of the dresses with love and joy, not guilt or regret. It was a touching moment when Anna bed the dresses farewell and wished them a lot of fun with their next owner.

Tidy, don't just organise

I intentionally speak of "tidying" rather than "organising", and refer to myself as a "tidying consultant" instead of "home organiser" or "professional organiser". This is because my work embraces the sometimes arduous but ultimately rewarding, life-changing journey of 片づけ.

While some of the nuances may be lost in translation, the act of 片づけ goes beyond 整理 (organising), where the focus is on storage solutions. The physical transformations in my clients' homes are often impressive and I take many photos to document the journey. I might share a couple of photos online, but the main audience for them are the clients themselves.

Because 片づけ is so much more than the before & after photos. There is a much deeper, more intimate evolution that takes place. You learn to identify and value what truly matters to you, and to let go of everything that's superfluous. I like to say that you practice with objects, but the magic really happens when you apply this approach to your whole life: activities, commitments, relationships, habits, thoughts...What sparks joy and what can you let go of?

A tidy home is just a benefit

By tidying, you put a shape not just on your physical surroundings, but also on your past. You can transform your present and influence the course of your future. Through 片づけ, you put a shape on your life. 片づけ is a journey of self-discovery and liberation, an opportunity to create space for what truly matters for you now. It is a moment of joy, a celebration to mark the start of your way of life from now on.

Are you ready to spark the magic of tidying in your life?

tidy bookshelf desk


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