Appearing on Culture Concept Circle site, March 2017
The Art of Discarding: How to Get Rid of Clutter and Find Joy
By Nagisa Tatsumi
Hachette, $33, 208 pages, ISBN 9781473648210
Somewhere along the line, wealth turned into the pointless accumulation of stuff. Shelves, cupboards and even refrigerators are now groaning under the weight of things whose purpose is at best vague and, more usually, simply forgotten.
Into this morass steps Japanese author Nagisa Tatsumi, who has written a number of books about life and living. The Art of Discarding has gone through a few versions in Japan but this is the first time it has been widely available in Australia. An earlier incarnation was, apparently, the inspiration for Marie Kondo’s popular The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up.
Tatsumi is rather less doctrinaire than Kondo but she is firm on the point that more possessions are unlikely to provide greater happiness. She does not advocate living like a minimalist monk but says that you should have a good reason for keeping something. A wishy-washy notion that it ‘might be useful someday’ is not sufficient. If you are undecided about whether something should be kept or discarded, it is a sure sign that it can be discarded.
She identifies books, magazines and clothes as the things most likely to accumulate. Basically, if it’s got dust on it, cull it. That book you read five years ago, and thought that it wasn’t too bad, is unlikely to be one you will ever open again. A celebrity magazine that is twelve months old no longer has a useful role in the world. That piece of clothing that is three seasons old and two sizes too small is now doing nothing but taking up space.
She also examines the ways that papers accumulate, gradually taking over drawers and cabinets. Do you really need bills from 2009? Why are you keeping Christmas cards from four years back? Is your appointments diary of 2014 still useful?
She accepts that some items have an emotional attachment to them, and evoke feelings that are a key part of your inner life. Good, keep them, she says. But sort out what is important, and discard stuff that is hanging around from sheer inertia. Important things will actually become more valuable because they have been chosen and kept.
Perhaps for this reason, Tatsumi is wary of systems designed for improved organisation of stuff. Yes, better filing can often reduce the amount of space taken up, although it can mean missing the point. An organised, stuffed house is still a stuffed house. The crucial concept is not the storage of stuff but determining what you really need in your life. In this sense, discarding means re-thinking our relationship to physical things, which readily extends to whether we actually want to acquire them in the first place. Buying something for the sugar hit of acquisition is not, really, a very good reason.
Whether de-cluttering constitutes a Zen-like means to “find joy”, as Tatsumi suggests, depends on the individual. But if The Art of Discarding makes you think again about what your life needs, and about what makes you truly happy, it will have achieved a good deal.