Chances are if you ask a random person what they know about minimalism, they’ll bring up Marie Kondo. The Japanese tidying expert gained worldwide recognition when Netflix dropped Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in January 2019, although many also know her by her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Google “minimalism” and you’ll likely see photos of Japanese homes and hotels. The practice of minimalism has been influenced by various cultures from across the globe, but there is no question that many of our interpretations come from Japanese culture—tracing back much farther than Marie Kondo herself.
“I find there is a deep reverence in Japanese culture for the beauty in simplicity,” says Sachiko Kiyooka, an organizing consultant based in Montreal and an expert we interviewed for this topic. She points out that many words in Japanese describe this, such as “shibui,” which refers to a type of simple and subtle aesthetic, and “wabi-sabi,” or the art of finding beauty in imperfection. Plus, there is also appreciation for things handmade, finely crafted, and thoughtful, she says.
Many of these aesthetics and cultural values have been influenced by traditional Zen Buddhism, which interweaves principles of intention, meditation, and simplicity. As Zen philosophy is a practice for living life, it’s no surprise that its values have flowed into our homes—the spaces most sacred to us—as well as beyond. Our founder Phoebe integrates this part of her Japanese heritage into intentionally simple and considered designs for our foundational layer.
Minimalism and feng shui
Kiyooka says she personally attributes her “practical, organizing brain” from her Scottish mother’s side, but her attraction to pared-down spaces and minimalist aesthetics from her Japanese heritage on her father’s side. Her practice, Soulful Simplicity, offers different types of organizing services, like the KonMari method (she’s a certified Master-level KonMari consultant!) and feng shui.
Minimalism and feng shui are two separate principles, but they both have roots in Asian culture. Minimalism is about being extremely mindful about what we need to live a happy life, Kiyooka says. It’s about more than spaces, but about being intentional with everything we do. Feng shui, on the other hand, is a Chinese art and science practice consciously used to create harmony in our spaces using the five elements of wood, water, metal, fire, and earth—and has been practiced for thousands of years.
One common misconception about minimalism is that it’s often equated with cold, rigid asceticism, Kiyooka says. “This happens because there is an energetic imbalance. Because of the choice of materials or architectural details, the space is too yang, or lacking the expression of some of the five elements,” she says. “A minimalist space that has been thoughtfully designed using feng shui principles will be pared-down, but will feel nourishing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Haley Kim is a journalist and content creator based in California. Her day job is in the tech industry, but when she's not working you might find her reading a fiction novel, making collages and jewelry, or drinking boba.