Reset your life with the help of this trio of inspired reads — Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Dominique Loreau’s L’Art de la Simplicité and Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles’ Ikigai. Each book is about the wonders of an organised environment, the richness of an existence where less is more, and living with a purpose. Perfect springtime reads, don’t you think?

SINGAPORE (Mar 26): With the dawn of a new year and Chinese New Year just over, it would mean that I have completed my “big clean-up”, usually begun by first addressing each room separately for what needs to go and what is permitted to remain. In short, it is a cathartic purge of things that have become clutter in my space. I honestly believe in the Chinese custom of cleaning and tidying the house before the new year to sweep away the angst of the previous year and usher in good chi. Every corner of the house is cleaned, objects that are broken are thrown out and belongings are put away in an orderly fashion.

This year, I decided to start early by decluttering my new home of decades of books, clothes, linen and files. I had downsized in 2016 from a house to an apartment and found that most of my things could not fit into the smaller space. I also found myself clinging to my late mother’s belongings, mainly because it reminded me of her. By chance, I discovered two books that spoke about the joy of an orderly home and the principle of minimalism — creating a home that exudes absolute harmony and attracts positivity.

Marie Kondo is Japan’s most famous home organiser. Her “KonMari” method promises a home that will leave you in a state of “organised bliss”. Quite an eccentric, Kondo pursues each category (not by location) — clothes, books, paperwork, home appliances and more — with an extreme frenzy. No category is left unturned.

Her militant-style counselling — she has a threemonth waiting list in Japan — particularly resonates with women who find the task of decluttering and organising overwhelming. She believes learning to put your house in order can be fun. The secret is simply keeping what you love and discarding things that cease to yield pleasure or have purpose. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, she reveals the formula and details the process of how to discard and organise based on the ultimate determining factor: Does it spark joy?

Kondo recommends starting with two major categories — your clothes and books. Take all your clothing out of storage and review each item to determine what makes you happy at the present moment and then eliminate what no longer gives you pleasure. As simple as that. But before she gets rid of things, she talks to the objects first, giving thanks and bidding farewell, taking a moment to appreciate how it has served her life. A little eccentric for some (but probably very Japanese in culture), it is an act of respect for all the things acquired in your lifetime. I actually found it spiritually soothing to mentally thank my old but favourite clothes and shoes and wishing them well in their new home.

Discarding is the easiest area of Kondo’s method. It is then followed by the hardest part — putting things away. This involves folding as much as you can into smooth rectangles so that the folded items can stand on edge in the drawer, and rearranging your wardrobe space by colour, type, texture and function. Kondo has a system for storage that begs patience and a certain level of compulsiveness to follow. I took the ideas that were helpful and ignored what were incomprehensible and laborious.

With books, the next big category (and, personally, one of the hardest items to let go of), she again suggests laying every book you have on the floor and physically checking each one to see if the book still resonates with love when you touch it. Decide on your own “Book Hall of Fame”, featuring the bestread books that inspired your life, which will then give warmth to your home and bookshelves.

Kondo advises keeping sentimental objects for the last, as they are the hardest to rationalise. She understands that many things are there for an emotional reason or have a unique memory attached to them. By handling each item (instead of dumping everything into a box to be kept in your storeroom), Kondo believes that you confront the past. Choose only the items that evoke joy and clear away sad recollections. This will then create space for new opportunities in the future.

After reading a couple of chapters of Kondo’s book, I came across Dominique Loreau’s L’Art de la Simplicité, or How to Live More with Less (the English translation). Apparently a bestselling author in her native France, Loreau, who has lived in Japan for many years, wrote a book based on the Oriental philosophy of living with a very French twist. Her book has a je ne sais quoi feel to it, and although some may find it pretentious (like eating sushi with foie gras), her raison d’être is to get her readers to detach from everyday materialism. Her style is more pared down, promoting a subdued aesthetic yet embracing beauty and sensuality.

With Loreau, the reader must adopt a minimalist state of mind. Simplify your home and life with only the best; the key is to aim for subtlety and beauty. Loreau seduces you into a world of high-level minimalism, which includes head-turning art and select designer pieces, compelling the reader to discard everyday acquisitiveness. Keep only what satisfies your senses as well as things that are functional and robust. Everything must have its own place and a home that is tidy attracts good energy. Simplicity, according to Loreau, is the union of beauty and the appropriate.

Ultimately, her advice is quite similar in substance to Kondo’s and pursues the same goal — to live with just your best. In addition, Loreau goes beyond the home and delves into one’s inner ecology — from the space you live in to finding a more centred life. The book provides an opportunity to reorganise your daily living habits — eat less but well, feel well in your home and in your body, savour simple pleasures that are free — and even clear your mind.

In search of a new resolution that I could possibly keep for 2018, I was happily introduced to Ikigai by a friend who knew of my search for purpose. Authors Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles write about the Japanese secret to a long and happy life. They interviewed the residents of the island of Okinawa, which has the highest percentage of people over the age of 100, to understand their secret to longevity.

According to the authors, the residents lived longer because of their ikigai — reason for living. This is a state of mind that allows you to keep going, keep busy and keep living — “the happiness of always being busy”.

A good and easy read that investigates Japanese culture and philosophy, it provides solutions to overcoming stress and discusses the importance of moderate physical activity, a select diet and social connections. Apparently, Okinawa leads in the world’s Blue Zones — environments in which people live the longest — and much of the secret to the islanders’ longevity is to respect your body and stay active and connected to loving environments. The book is the perfect weekend read for the newly retired, although the Japanese do not have a word for that or believe in it.

Since reading the books, I have minimised my “maximalist home” and given my stockpiles of clothes, books, linen and more to deserving people. I now go with the “flow”, having found my ikigai to live in the present and to constantly learn, by giving myself new challenges each month. I did not take all of the advice offered by the three books. Some I found conceptual and even needless. But the essence of the books — to live intentionally, surrounded by meaningful possessions, to embrace humility in everything you do and to create a purposeful life — is endearing. More importantly, if followed and respected, the end-result is definitely rewarding.

This article appeared in Issue 823 (Mar 26) of The Edge Singapore.

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