Before You Commit to Anything in 2012, Do Oosouji

The Japanese consider it inauspicious to drag old business – including clutter and dust – into a new year. You should, too.

“Just one last cigarette,” you inhaled on New Year’s Eve. “And I’m through,” you exhaled, blowing your promise in the wee hours of New Year’s Day. Sorry, 3 a.m. is technically tomorrow.

With the New Year comes the same old promises either made in the throws of drunkenness or the penance of a hangover. You promise to save money, get fit, lose weight, gain weight, get laid, go celibate, sober up, de-clutter. As far as the cigarettes are concerned, seriously, it’s 2012, quit already!

The rest of it – the money, love, body, and (especially) clutter woes – just might resolve themselves on their own if you start the year off by observing Oosouji.

“Big Cleaning”

Oosouji literally translates as, “ooo” (big) + “souji” (cleaning). It’s how the Japanese ring in the New Year. It’s a tradition that’s on par with the spring cleaning westerners reserve for cherry-blossom season – long past the expiration date of one of the top fifteen resolutions Americans make (and break) year after year: getting organized. Also at the top of that should’a, could’a, ah f*ck it list: finishing home improvement projects.

Japanese homes get a top-to-bottom scrub at this time of year as well as business offices and lots of school desks. The concept is that by eliminating the dirt from the old year, it creates a clean emotional slate with which to plan ahead for the next year.

The Japanese also plunge into the Big O as a way of showing the gods that they care, that they wouldn’t be embarrassed to have Toshigami over for a cup of tea come January. Gods don’t like clutter. They find it sloppy and lowly; humans tend to view it as a distracting and pretty major productivity killer.

Cultivate Minimalism

There’s a reason the Japanese are revered for their minimalism. It’s reflected in their architecture and design. Considering it in the cultural context of Oosouji, though, minimalism is something that is culled and cultivated, an art borne out of self-discipline.

Get 1, Toss 2

Follow the Zen Habits method of managing your stuff.

“The rule: whenever you bring in an item, you have to throw away two other items. First you cheat, by throwing out two pieces of paper, but soon you will have to move to big stuff.”

Welcome to self-discipline 101.

Take the Holiday Box Challenge

Care of the clutter experts at Organized Home, challenge yourself to: “Fill every seasonal mailing box [you received] with items suitable for donation to Goodwill…and deliver them to charity before year’s end.”

Except don’t wait until then. Do it now.

Turn Trash into Cash

Hold a stoop sale or, if your front door greets grass instead of concrete, a yard sale following the same tenets of New York’s finest.

Coming Out of the Closet

We store our past, present and future selves in our closets. Unless you’re in possession of a Bravo-scale closet, you only have enough room in there for the here and now. Even if you do have more shelf space than Oprah, a dress that you barely fit into then, kind of aren’t sure about now, and might possibly wear at some point down the line does not belong in there. It’s just not healthy to cling to that size zero past. You’ve got hips now. Move on.

Another juicy tidbit from Home Organizing:

“Behind the hangers and shelves and boxes lies a second reality. To declutter a clothing closet, you can’t stop with the clothes. You have to move on to the clutter of the psyche that lies behind the possessions.”

Therein lies the lesson, grasshopper.

The fastest way to sabotage a weight-loss, money-saving, or otherwise-self-improving plan is dragging all that dust and dirt and grime and mess with you from the year before. Start by chasing the dust bunnies out from underneath the bed and then deal with the personality crisis in your closet. After that, you can resolve to do just about anything.

Images: And DoneTonomagokoro; Kibogaoka; K. BarkerNoukka Signe

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.