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How to 'Kanso' Your Living Space: The Japanese Art of Minimalism

We've learnt a great deal about home improvement from Japanese culture over the years. There was Feng Shui, the practice of observing energy flow in the home, which became a Western obsession in the 90s. Then there the more recent success of Marie Kondo’s decluttering ways, and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. But what if we took it one step further? Enter kanso, the ancient aesthetic belief that aspires to inner peace through simplicity and minimalism. 

Kanso (簡素) sits amongst seven zen concepts like the obviously calming seijaku (silence) and our personal favourite, wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection). It's all about stripping back on unnecessary and decorative possessions to keep only what is functional.  You are then left with the bare essentials; a minimal amount of clothes, a table, a bed etc. This may sound pretty extreme, and frankly it would be for most people, but there are definitely elements we can all learn from this practice. In more general terms, it can be used as a reminder to curb the constant desire to consume. Something many of us could learn from - especially considering the impact on the environment, and our wallets. 

One man has taken minimalism to a whole new level. Fumio Sasaki, author of the book Goodbye Things, lives in a 30 square metre room and has around 200 possessions. He applies kanso to other aspects of his life too, like his tech and diet. You may not want to go quite as far as him, packing your mattress up every morning and not being able to have a friend round for dinner, but his story is an inspiring one. This minimal approach has freed up both mental space and time for him to do the things he loves, like spending time with friends.

Here at The Collective we're particularly interested in minimal living, and like Sasaki, in the value of experiences over things. Our room sizes may vary, but on the whole studios are cosy and cleverly designed to fit everything you might need (a bed, storage, bathroom and kitchenette). Our members also have access to a range of communal spaces including lounges, libraries, cinema rooms, a gym, a restaurant and more. Our streamlined approach to facilities and bills frees up their time too. And unlike Sasaki, they can have a group of friends round for dinner, in the onsite communal kitchens. To find out more about moving into The Collective, head to our website or book a tour

All this talk got you itching to kanso your space? Here are 8 top tips to get you started. With a little work in the short term, you could free up a lot of space - both mental and physical.  

1. Block out some time… 

This isn’t going to be a quick job. Although it can be done in stages, for the first session you’ll need to block out a good few hours or even a whole weekend. 

2. It's all in the mind... 

According to Fumio Sasaki you should focus on what you need in the present rather than the 'what if’; and remind yourself that throwing out memorabilia is not the same as throwing out memories. 

3. Get everyone you live with on board… 

If you live on your own you have all the power but if you don’t, you’ll need to enlist your flatmate or partner’s help. There’s no use you being minimal if they’re big into hoarding. 

4. Organise by category not by room… 

Marie Kondo suggests sorting through clothes, books, papers, tableware, miscellaneous items then memorabilia. Create a big pile for each category so you can see how much you have. This will help you realise what you don’t need.  

5. Make piles… 

Creating a yes, no and maybe pile can help get things moving at the start. By the end you may realise a lot of your maybe pile is actually a no. If you’re still unsure, put those things into storage and see how you do without them. 

6. Put everything in its place… 

Once you know what you're keeping, work out where it’s all going to go. This will help you stay organised and realise if you've still got too much. 

7. Reduce, reuse, repurpose, and borrow… 

Get thrifty. Can you use up those beans at the back of your cupboard? Should you read a book from the shelf rather than buying a new one? Can you borrow an outfit for that costume party? Replace the thrill of buying with the thrill of minimal living.  

8. And finally, don't stop… 

You’ll need to check in regularly with your possessions and wider lifestyle to see when you need another clear out.