Zen and the Art of Clutter Reduction

It’s January, the official month of reducing. You know: losing weight, kicking bad habits, cleaning the house and organizing what’s left. No sooner did the Christmas tree come down and the kids go back to school, than I got bit by the bug. Sitting alone at home last week, I still couldn’t feel at peace. Sure, it was quiet, but everywhere I looked there was visual clutter: remnants of decorations we forgot to put away, the Christmas gifts we can’t decide whether to exchange, partially built Lego sets, and not-so-amusing stocking stuffers.

It’s enough to make me want to run away. Except I live here. I just want the junk to go away. I want things to be like home, the way it was when I was growing up.

When you think of a homey atmosphere, what comes to mind? Chintz wallpaper? Plentiful throw cushions? Candles and potpourri? Mementos and knick-knacks? For me, nothing says home like a completely Zen atmosphere.

Not the kind of ambience you find at many trendy upscale Asian fusion eateries. You know — bold red walls, giant Buddha heads, 1930s Shanghai posters, maybe some incense smoldering in the corner. Can’t you smell the lychee martinis? It’s a lovely and stylish environment, I agree, but it’s not the way most Asian homes are.

Growing up, my Taiwanese immigrant parents kept their home spare and practical. Walls were white and unadorned, lest a patched nail hole lower the resale value. Beds had one pillow — after all, you only have one head. All the furniture was pushed toward the edges of the room, so as not to interfere with the feng shui. But superstition and frugality aside, there’s another bonus to this style of living: clarity. Without the constant overstimulation, your mind can actually roam free and relax.

So last weekend, my husband took the boys hiking for an afternoon, and I went to town on the house. Actually, I started in the garage, but sifting through the many boxes and bags of stuff in junk purgatory: out of the house, but still hanging around, just in case.  I was brutal, figuring that if nobody had missed this stuff for months, we really didn’t need it. No listing things on Craigslist, asking around to see if friends needed it, or planning for a garage sale. I needed it it OUT. NOW.  Four boxes of stuff went in the minivan, straight to the nearest thrift shop that accepted donations on a Saturday.

So, I didn’t actually get around to taking much out of the house. But watch out, because some space just opened up in junk purgatory…


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