Japan has two types of famous houses: the traditional ones and the tiny ones on top of each other in large cities like Tokyo. Both should be an inspiration for anybody.
Is this about reorganizing your home? No, it isn’t. It’s about reorganizing your life. If you’re already happy as you are, move on and enjoy your life. Yet, if you’re reading this, I bet you want more. Here’s how why you should learn from the Japanese, once more.
There’s always space
In busy areas like Tokyo and its surroundings, there isn’t all that much space to build houses. Yet, the Japanese have succeeded in making use of the tiniest of spaces to build houses.
5 meters between two houses? Why not build another one in between! Less space on the ground but the surrounding houses only have one floor? Why not make a new one in which the ground floor is only an entrance?
There are 37 million people living in Tokyo and its agglomeration. Any square meter we get our hands on can be transformed into a house.
Habits work in a similar way. Just because you have a busy life doesn’t mean you don’t have a few minutes here and there.
I’ve been listening to 10 minutes of Korean discussions every day for the past 2 years. For the past few months, though, a friend of mine has been staying over. At first, that made me drop my habit because I’d either be talking to him, writing, working, or sleeping. Looking at my life, I realized I could put headphones and listen to some Korean during my morning workout while he’s sleeping next door.
My smoke breaks use to be filled with YouTube videos and ramblings about whatever got on my nerves that day. Now? I learn a few words on Anki from my phone.
Look at your everyday life. Analyze it and realize there’s always bits of time where you could do something else or even add to the already existing habits. As James Clear said in his book “Atomic Habits”:
Think outside the box while inside
The most typical houses in Japan are small. Apartments are on yet another level of size. I’ve known people who lived for years in a 9 square-meter flat (less than 100 square feet). Sure, that’s not the rule, but most people are used to living in small spaces.
Japanese apartments are often organized particularly well. They allow flexibility while keeping the space limited. The bathtub is small but deep, to save on space. The air-conditioning is hanging outside behind a wall. Curtains can hide the bed. Shelves serve as a staircase to reach a mezzanine.
Even when there’s no space, the Japanese reorganize whatever they can to make it fit somehow.
My office holds 5 people without feeling cramped despite the fact that it’s barely 10 square meters. Why? Because we’ve organized the desks to use each inch to the fullest.
Even when you’re stuck in the same rhythm day after day, even if you can’t find a way out, even if you feel you’ve tried everything, there are still possibilities to be found, waiting for you.
Reflect on your daily actions. If you can’t get rid of them, see how you can tweak them to add what you’ve been pushing away. Not having much choice is a good thing. It’ll help you push your boundaries and act, instead of laying around wondering. In Japan, when you’re lucky enough to have a home with some space, you’ll have a washitsu (和室). This is often translated as a tatami room. These rooms are often almost empty and give a sense of calm. They exist to welcome people over, to relax, or to have tea. They have a specific purpose.
The washitsu is set apart from the rest of the house. The style of your home doesn’t matter. The washitsu always gives a different impression than the other rooms. Why? Because it has meaning.
When you enter a washitsu, you are suddenly more relaxed. Time slows down. Our environment subconsciously shapes our actions and thoughts.
Now imagine each space of your environment had a specific purpose. What if your desk was only used for writing? That chair only for reading? That corner only to workout? What if you had a sticker on your mirror reminding you to stretch?
Of course, the bigger your home the more you can separate each environment, but you can still do this in smaller spaces. My flat is composed of a wide living room — where my friend is sleeping — and a bedroom. As I can’t put my desk anywhere else currently, it is in my room. How is it set up though? So that I can only see my computer, the book I’m reading now, and my life goal hanging in front of me. When I sit, a switch turns on to remind me to be productive.
Taking from James Clear once more:
“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be an architect.”
Japanese houses are a thing of wonder. At first sight, they might seem weird. But if you take a closer look, you can discover how wonderful and imaginative they are. They use everything at their disposal to make the best of a not-so-great situation.
Isn’t that what we should all strive for?