As the year starts my focus rests on one main theme.
I sit in my home office here in Tokyo. A single column of bright morning sunshine throws a thick band of white across the desk and onto the floor. The light seems to carry with it the morning noises from outside. A tiny bird sings as it hops from branch to branch in the small tree in the courtyard. Beyond this, cars, trucks and a passing helicopter generate an industrious rumble that’s felt as much as it’s heard.
Everything feels familiar. Yet everything is in motion. It’s the start of another year.
I don’t go in for New Year’s resolutions and I’m cautious about putting too many plans in place. Life seems to want to teach me to trust habits more than goals. But I’ve been hacking those habits over the past few years, almost religiously, for a very specific set of reasons.
A few years ago, I felt totally fragmented. Life was a series of side hustles with no centre. I was perpetually tired, increasingly anxious and letting worry about potential failures cloud my ability to enjoy actual successes.
I had to simplify things. My friends, my peers and my mentors said so, too. I started, slowly at first, to listen, then to act.
Simplicity is about finding the core of what life means for you, then trying to build a new home there.
Austerity and Clarity
In a recent interview, poet Cristian Winman said our age is marked by a search for austerity and clarity.
Austerity isn’t exactly an inviting word. It’s linked in our minds to some pretty dire political and economic strategies. Rather than economics, though, Winman uses austerity to talk about the unadorned beauty of clearly expressed words and ideas.
Clarity is something many of us more obviously seek. We feel overwhelmed by choice, mired in conflicting opinions, struggling to discern what is real and true.
Simplicity has components of austerity and clarity. Much like the process of writing, we yearn to edit our lives so they make more sense.
Something More than Decluttering
I haven’t mentioned decluttering and minimalism, which are often associated with simple living, because I’m more interested in the mindset of simplicity than in simplicity as some kind of look or aesthetic.
Despite my life having got more fragmented for a time, things didn’t get all that much messier around the house – at least not in a way a visitor might’ve noticed.
It’s not that decluttering and minimalism don’t help. I’ve Marie Kondo’d my wardrobe and I recommend that process to anyone. And my home has fairly consistent, somewhat minimalist decor that feels pleasant and peaceful to me (mid-century modern).
But a decor magazine perfect home can still mask a turbulent and unsettled soul.
A Winter Coda
A mild, sunny winter’s day has turned into a cold, windy night. The forecast for tomorrow is snow, a rare thing in Tokyo – and even rarer in recent years, I’m told. I hope for snow, for the chance to take an afternoon walk as it falls, to visit a local park and watch the white flakes settle on some favourite trees.
But, for now, I’m finding comfort in familiar chores, sorting the recycling for the morning collection. Bottles and cans, already washed, caps and plastic labels removed, are sorted into colourful collapsible crates, the kind you might find in a modern warehouse. The week’s newspapers, paper containers and other bits of paper that have no more role to play in our lives are pushed into used paper shopping bags. The cardboard, mostly boxes from online deliveries, is cut, flattened, stacked then tied with twine.
By the time the collectors arrive, the first flakes will have begun to fall.