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Behavioral economics of minimalism and decluttering

Minimalism by Jovi

I love the sense of space and minimalism is one of the great ways of achieving it in the crowded world. The concept, which initially emerged in sculpture and painting, is also applied to the idea of simplifying our lives with minimum of possessions.

Japan is famous for not having much space to play with, yet making the most out of it through creativity, minimalism, set of social rules, traditions and etiquette which are all embedded in their daily lives and culture. Saying that there is a part of the society that loves surrounding themselves with loads of stuff and gadgets too. However, the Japanese minimalism (ミニマリスト or “minimarisuto”) as a lifestyle and not only design, has been booming in the recent years across the globe.

The reason? Many:The economy state and the financial crisis meant that young generations can’t afford the luxury of spending money on stuff they don’t really need and they’re slowly awaking to the reality of managing their budgets more wisely.

We’re still flooded and tempted by tons of “affordable” fashion but the awareness of why the price tag is so low and the fact that someone might have suffered so we can have it so cheap, makes people think twice before buying too much and too cheap. We seem to care about other human beings and just like being cautious about the food we consume, we pay attention to the source of the production of other goods. We value ethical brands above all.

Minimalism is also popular due to its aesthetics and simply convenience. The second one is related to insane property prices meaning people have to rent and also because of the mobile lifestyle and technology making it easier for us to move around the world. If you can’t settle in one place for longer, collecting and having too many things ends up being a real hassle.

Living simply and making the most out of what you have is fashionable but also choiceless for many. “Generation M (minimalists)” is strongly associated with millennials. Here a bit more from

When visiting Tokyo I was astonished by how people cope with such a high density of population, lack of space and yet how it didn’t feel overwhelming in the same way as in London or any other big and populated metropolis.

There was something magical about the busyness of Tokyo without feeling like your personal space is being constantly invaded and you struggle to survive in the crowd. Almost as though there were some unspoken rules and everyone seemed to know how to walk around and move about without crashing into each other. Minding boundaries of their own and others in a non aggressive and seamless way.

Unoccupied land is a privilege in cities like Tokyo and it meant architects had to be very creative when designing houses, trying to squeeze them into the little space available. That’s where minimalism and quirkiness come to play and where Japanese architects truly show off their skills.

Here are some examples of the great imagination and land utilisation.

1.8m narrow house by YUUA architects, Tokyo

1.8m narrow house by YUUA architects, Tokyo

Mineral by Yasuhiro Yamashita. Tokyo, Japan

Mineral by Yasuhiro Yamashita. Tokyo, Japan

The Split Merchant’s House AKA ‘63.02’ Nakano, Tokyo

The Split Merchant’s House AKA ‘63.02’ Nakano, Tokyo

Oh house in Tokyo

Oh house, Tokyo

Many of the Japan big cities apartments are small and there really isn’t much room for collecting things so getting rid of anything you don’t really need is a must.

In the world where every little space matter, no surprise someone like Marie Kondo became a national and then also an international hero by providing solutions to people’s ever existing problems titled: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising.

Her philosophy is simple: get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy. The book includes drawings to illustrate Kondo’s patented folding method as of shirts, pants, socks, and jackets, as well as instructions and images for how to better organise drawers, closets, and cabinets.
Some very useful tips on moving, packing, and dealing with the objects we no longer need is a more interesting part for me personally as it challenges typical human behaviours. This perhaps explains KonMarie’s popularity better than the innovation of the folding system.

Organising closet with Marie Kondo

Organising closet with Marie Kondo

The correct order of tidying by Marie Kondo

The correct order of tidying by Marie Kondo

Kondo touches on limits of human decision-making skills when it comes to getting rid of things we no longer use or even know we still have. There seems to be some psychological block and attachment which makes it difficult for us to let go of material possessions, regardless of how useful or not they are. She criticises a sunk-cost fallacy and how it makes people irrational because they’re afraid of wasting the money that have already been wasted – throwing away something we invested money in but don’t use at all.

Tim Harford from The Financial Times said the methods are compelling to economists and that the clutter in our apartments is a product of people’s cognitive blunders.

Maybe this book is dealing more with the typical habits and behaviours of humans, encouraging changes to the way we think and act rather then introducing a new, revolutionary method? How many times you read something and think to yourself:”yeah i know it all, but I just don’t do it/apply it in my life”

Critics say the system isn’t designed for families with pets and children and restricted to single people living alone in small apartments. That might be the case but still worth having a read and checking in with yourself.

I think it’s one of these books that will make you reconsider your daily habits and everyone will find something relevant for themselves, hopefully as the title promises “life changing”. It might help you in creating more space in your life for the things that really matter and perhaps it will change your obsessive buying habits too?

Ending in Japan…overcrowding and minimal space has been a challenge for Japanese society for decades, but now the country is facing a different problem, where rapidly decreasing population is leaving behind empty buildings and the ratio of unoccupied houses is rising even in the big metropolis like Tokyo. From the NYT article about Abandoned Homes of Tokyo:

“Many of Japan’s vacant houses have been inherited by people who have no use for them and yet are unable to sell, because of a shortage of interested buyers. But demolishing them involves tactful questions about property rights, and about who should pay the costs. The government passed a law this year to promote demolition of the most dilapidated homes, but experts say the tide of newly emptied ones will be hard to stop.”

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