Cleaning Out the Year at the End of it

One of my favorite Japanese traditions is that people do their spring cleaning in winter rather than in the spring. It has something to do with cleaning out the crap of the old year and leaving the space clean for the new year. Some of them even burn their old calendars in ritual bonfires. (More on that later.)

The tradition is called susuharai ( 煤払い)–literally “brushing off the soot”–and is done in temples and homes. This year, I’ve decided to brush the soot off the variety room by getting rid of old projects, hobbies and habits.

One of my hardest to break habits is a tendency to keep old projects long after I’ve lost interest in the project. I do well on a project until I reach a distraction (exam time; work; family trips, etc.) and then never get back to the project with the same energy and interest.

Because of this, I have
–several partly finished books (“partly finished” being a very loose term of a few to many pages)
–an abandoned notebook where I’d intended to copy down famous poems I liked because, well, I’m sure there was a reason at the time;
–several half filled notebooks full of brainstormed ideas with notes that no longer make any sense;
–several notebooks full of daily “10 Ideas”;
–a handmade notebook where I’d started to record the most interesting of the 10 ideas;
–random scraps of paper that must have had significance a couple years ago when I decided to save them.
–Several folders full of random scraps and notes.

This clutter tends to occupy both physical and mental space. Lately it’s been creeping out onto my desk and the piles there are getting taller and more precariously balanced.

To go through things, I’ve flipped the piles upside down and started with the oldest layers where the dinosaur bones are. I then ask a few questions:

What the hell is this?
Did I finish it?
Can I digitize it?
If I digitize it, am i really going to do something with it?
No, really, what am I going to do with it and when?

In most cases it’s the last two questions, especially “when?”, that get things sent to the trash bin. I have a smaller pile of things to digitize (the most interesting of the 10 Ideas) and then I’m trashing the old notebooks and notes.

I actually like the idea of getting rid of the old year in a bonfire. A lot of stuff might end up there.

But that would be another project that gets put in a pile (the “to be burned” pile) and put off until another day.

Instead, I’ll just shred and throw away. The Japanese burn their trash so it’s already going to a bonfire. It’s not as much fun as watching it burn in person, but at least the clutter’s off my desk and out of my head.

3 thoughts on “Cleaning Out the Year at the End of it

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