Lately, I've been looking around for more resources to improve small space living and I've run across some rather extreme notions and opinions which seem to be less about changing your space to support your "living" and more about shoehorning how you live into an aesthetic concept. While I absolutely respect the right of people to live their lives as they see fit and recognize that everyone has a different sense of style, sometimes, it seems that people go too far.
Before I progress any further, I'd like to address the notions that the uninitiated westerner seems to have developed about Japanese people and a minimalist aesthetic. There are some people, mainly your interior design types, who seem to think the Japanese are all sitting in bare rooms with the odd elegantly placed item here and there while viewing their rock gardens with perfectly raked sand "waves" through a window and sipping green tea as they sit seiza-style (on your kneels with heels planted on buttocks) in a kimono. I'd like to be the first to say this image is unadulterated poppycock. Most Japanese people who live in houses have one room that might resemble this sort of thing and the vast majority live in places crammed to the gills with crap. If you don't believe me, check out Tokyo: A Certain Style by Kyoichi Tsuzuki. What I sometimes see through random open windows as I go around my neighborhood is clearly displayed in his book.
Getting back to these web sites that endorse decluttering though, I've read some pretty extreme views. One site decided to set up a gallery that any reader who had cleared his or her desk could post a picture on. The reason for this was to show off how various people had managed to tidy up one of the spaces that is often in an advanced state of chaos because it's where work is usually done. Reading some of the comments on these pages, it became clear that some people can't tell the difference between "uncluttered" and "empty".
One person remarked that she was appalled at what was being posted as she showed off her "desk" (actually, a small table) with a notebook computer, a desk lamp and a bud vase. Somewhere in this person's office space, there has to be the equivalent of her desk's portrait of Dorian Grey holding all the stuff she needs to do work at a desk so that she can snootily put down people who have the audacity to organize and tidy the stuff they use and actually keep at their desks. When this person needs to deal with her bills or any paperwork, I'm guessing she runs to a shameful, secret hidey-hole where she stashes unsightly paperwork, pens, notepaper, etc. and drags it all to the desk then and does her work. Eyes darting around nervously for witnesses, she then rapidly deposits it all back to it's holding pen so her barren desk is once again free of unsightly debris. Of course, I guess it's also possible that she doesn't do any actual work and just sits at her computer all day criticizing people who use their desks as desks.
This attitude was nothing though compared to some of the tips about getting rid of things you don't need in your apartment to declutter. One of the headings for one of the posts was something like "shoes are clutter". They weren't recommending you get rid of your Carrie Bradshaw-like collection of shoes in order to free your closet from the groaning burden of several hundred pairs of shoes. They were recommending you go barefoot if you could possibly manage to do so in order to have as few shoes as possible littering your home. I guess stepping on a tick and developing Lyme Disease in summer is just fine so long as you've got one less pair of shoes sullying your decor!
Another suggestion was that people could get rid of their beds and just sleep on the floor. Since I currently live in a culture where people often sleep on the floor out of necessity, I can see where this may have value if you live in a very small place. However, even in Japan, it seems a great many people sleep in beds if they have the space. The only ones who use futon are the ones who live in an apartment that has so few rooms that they still need to put their bedding away regularly to allow the space to serve double duty as both living and sleeping quarters or those who are older and just used to camping-style accommodations. The idea that one would sleep on the floor mainly to service a militant minimalist aesthetic rather than a philosophical wish to have few possessions, a desire to sleep on a hard surface or a space-induced need seems a step too far.
This sort of extremism is a good example of how many people are unable to find moderation in any thing in their lives. We either live in piled up messes or pristine vacant spaces. There's no logic or pragmatism applied to the notions people are applying. They seem to simply adopt a philosophy and live by it regardless of the potential consequences or practicality.