Osouji – Japan’s Year-End Cleanup

Osouji – Japan’s Year-End Cleanup

Here in the United States, the New Year is seen as a welcome opportunity to make a fresh start. To help you get ahead on your resolution to get organized, The Container Store holds its annual sale on elfa® shelves. In fact, you’ll find plenty of organization tools (as well as yoga mats) on sale in January. But why wait? Put your affairs in order now so you can enjoy life in the new year. Wouldn’t you be able to get an even fresher fresh start by tidying and cleaning your home before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve?

In Japan, the end of December is the time of year to clean the home. It’s called Osouji, (pronounced OH-SOH-jee, and spelled in English in creative ways including oosouji and osoji). Osouji means “Big Cleaning,” and it is similar to what we call Spring Cleaning, except that it is more widely practiced and developed out of spiritual roots. December 13 remains the day that Shinto priests clean and purify the temple, but Osouji has become secularized into the Japanese culture as an end-of-the-year cleaning event that lasts for days or weeks.

It is with intention that you enter into the new year, wrapping up the old year and sweeping out the dust, paving the way for a new year that sparks joy. The general thought is that you do not want to bring the literal and figurative dirt and soot from the current year into the new one. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a difficult year and I find the idea of cleansing particularly appealing.

Bestselling author and tidying advocate Marie Kondo describes the sensible Japanese tradition of Osouji in her book Spark Joy. “Every December, television programs and magazine articles feature cleaning tips, and cleansers and other goods are prominently displayed in stores. People throw themselves into this year-end cleaning spree as if it were a national event,” she writes. Nearly everyone participates in this cleansing ritual. As Tokyo native Moeko Noda of San Francisco put it, “it’s just something we do.”

“You get prepared to invite the new year with a clean slate inside and outside,” says Noda of Osouji. I feel inspired just imagining this feeling. It is a wonder that an-end-of-the-year cleaning ritual is almost unheard of in the United States, except maybe for those hosting relatives for the holidays or tidying up after gift-giving. “The timing is tricky for us in America because everyone is so busy with Christmas,” notes fellow KonMari Consultant and owner of Spark Joy Bay Area Jane Grodem.

Grodem, who studied in Japan during high school brought to light one especially unique aspect of Osouji, which is the effort made by school children to get their school shiny and clean before the new year. Here in the United States it is usually the janitor’s job to clean the school. “In school in Japan, cleaning is done by kids. Everybody participates,” Grodem recalls. “I remember changing into my P.E. clothes [during Osouji] and cleaning the school.”

Any cleaning lady will tell you that it is faster and easier to clean a home that is tidy. “My clients who have finished tidying up frequently say that cleaning now takes them no time at all. In fact, they like doing it whereas before it made them feel totally incompetent,” writes Kondo in Spark Joy. I completely agree. A kitchen counter completely free of clutter, appliances, and cooking utensils, is both easy and joy-sparking to clean!

Not only do people who have finished tidying their homes have an easier time cleaning, but that deep cleaning is more facile as well. “After tidying, I found that I had more time to devote to deeper cleaning practices, such as cleaning chandeliers that I never took the time to dust,” Grodem concurrs. “I also shifted away from chemicals to organic cleaning substances and if feels and smells so much healthier in our home!”

I hope you will join me in completing a Big Cleaning of your home as the year comes to a close. To take full advantage of Osouji (Big Cleaning):

  1. Start with tidying using the KonMari Method. Consult The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or hire a KonMari Consultant to help you take full advantage of your time tidying. Kondo makes it crystal clear in Spark Joy, “If you want to succeed at year-end cleaning, the secret is to finish your tidying marathon beforehand.”
  2. Clean your house with intention. You can download a spring cleaning checklist if you’re not sure what to do. Imagine yourself literally sweeping the old dirt out the door. Any trash and items for donation go out the door as well.
  3. Welcome the new year with a clean slate and spark joy every day!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Spark Joy to the World!



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