Danshari 断捨離

Hey! It’s been a while. I realise I haven’t written here for almost exactly three years! I guess working at home and almost never going out during the COVID-19 pandemic is a good time to catch up.

There’s actually quite a bit that came to this long-awaited entry.

The Japanese has a word, danshari, written as 断捨離 (Japanese page on Wikipedia). Transliterating the characters one by one, you get decline, discard, detach. These are the three Ds you need to declutter your space, which is what the word means. An old activity with religious roots popularised lately by the popular Marie Kondo. And this is what I have done.

I said “Marie,” not “Mario.”
(Image: Unknown source.)

These past few weeks, I dated someone and saw her place. One thing struck me: how she didn’t have many things; she only had what she needed. When I came back home, it hit me all the sudden. I glanced at all the stuff in my small 25 m² apartment and I simply wondered, “Why? What is all this? Why do I have all of this junk?”

Over the next few days, that question endlessly tumbled in my brain. I told my date about it. I mindlessly shuffled things around, turned every object upside down, inspected every nook and cranny… Stacks of CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, old clothes, costumes, piles of documents, little knickknacks… Until one day, my girlfriend not only pushed me to take action, but also helped me go through it. She has a “Just do it” attitude, which a guy who procrastinates like me needs from time to time.

We started from my old books. Then my CDs. Then whatever else I found that brought me no joy, no satisfaction. Many of my things were only souvenirs of memories I didn’t remember or didn’t want to remember. I collected old items and little doohickeys for 10 years, and sometimes even more, before my life in Japan. Why was I keeping all that? No matter. I didn’t need it then and I won’t need it now. We simply stuffed as many trash bags as we needed while cleaning every spot of my place imaginable. I only took some photos of some things about which I want to write later, and ripped a few discs for posterity. I even took time to fix my long desk which was sagging—turns out it was missing a support leg in the middle.

In total, we tossed outside 50 garbage bags. I also have 13 items too large for the normal trash collection that I’m waiting for the city to pick up. As for my place, it feels much bigger and much much neater. I now know everything I have and where everything is. I even found an old camera I thought I lost! Gone are the days of frustration when I’m looking for that one thing I have no idea where I left it. Working from home with a tidy desk is more productive. I even sleep better.

All that thanks to the girl who encouraged me to do it. Frankly, she didn’t find my place very inviting before… but after all this, she stayed for days on end. Now that’s improvement!

Nobody asked for a picture of garbage, but here it is… Day 1 of 3 of throwing bags away.

This renewed space. This is bliss.

And now…

Decluttering is a new habit of mine.

I look at other things and wonder if I can danshari that too.

The confusing dated and unorganised documentation at work. The data I hoarded on my NAS…

My website. Yes…

There’s one thing I’ve not been touching for the same reason I was shy from spending time in other spots of my apartment. Just like my place was a few weeks ago before this massive change, my website has been rusting in its corner of the Internet with its pile of old whatever stuff was in it.

Here was my setup in general: three websites built with Middleman, four installations of WordPress, a few PHP scripts here and there, and the most complicated .htaccess file to hold everything together with plenty of redirections to make any browser dizzy and any developer cry. I even had a local repo to generate that .htaccess file and deploy it!

Why was I doing all this? Ego, probably. I’m a Web developer. I’ve been one for 20 years. Shouldn’t I be able to make my own website instead of relying on apps like WordPress or anything else similar? I know JavaScript, I know PHP and Ruby, I know backend and frontend. Well yes, of course I should! I am professional! Therefore, I must! How dare I use something made by somebody else while I could write it myself? Besides, there’s always something in what they make that doesn’t suit me. Everything is better custom!

Haha… Funny how my mind changes as I’m approaching my 40s.

It’s a very egotistical point of view, I realise now. Yes, I could embark on an adventure to make my own site from scratch. But why? Surely, with all the experience I have as a Web developer, I should know exactly how tedious and how much work that is. Do I want to spend all me free time to do more work? Oh no. I’ve been doing that for way too long.

You wouldn’t believe all the details I implemented. Even features I knew people wouldn’t use. Keyboard shortcuts on most links (you could hit the ? key to make them all appear, good accessibility!), search fields using CSS (no backend required!), custom styling on every post (a pain to write and maintain, but it felt much more expressive—loosely inspired by Panic’s blog back in the day), even Easter eggs like hiding messages in JPEG images using steganography and a retro style for my site reminiscent of the first personal homepage I’ve published on GeoCities in 1996. All experiments, really. Fun experiments. But, who am I doing this for? Myself? To learn? Maybe? They were normally useless for most.

I backed up everything, in case I want to reuse something for later, then I got rid of most. I only kept one WordPress installation on my 15-year-old account at DreamHost (referral link), merged the content from the other ones, and upgraded this one to version 5. Very, very good editor, by the way. I’m impressed! You could tell I haven’t been using WordPress actively for a while now and I’ve been missing out. I was also able to easily find plugins to do some of the things I want my site to do, like making it multilingual. What I’d spend weeks to accomplish with custom code, I’ve done in a day or two with this setup. The only custom part of this is the 100-line of code or so of CSS to change the look of the site and give it a dark mode, if your system is in dark mode. That’s it.

Funny enough, I feel happier having decluttered my site and make this simple blog than what I’ve spent years to write, tweak, build, adjust, and rewrite. For once, I can actually focus on the content of my site rather than on the presentation or its container. Sure, there may be things I’d like to change, but I have to accept them. It’s good enough, and I must go with it. Besides, why would I? What I’ve done is much more satisfying.

I suppose what they say is true…

Less is more.

The big earthquake that shook Japan this Friday 5 years ago

In Japan, exactly 5 years ago, a Friday morning like today, many of us in our routine thought, “TGIF,” or “Yatto kin’yōbi da!” (Finally Friday!).

However, the weekend took a whole different turn when half of Japan was shaken by a strong earthquake in the afternoon, at 2:46pm. Believe me, anyone who went through that will remember that precise moment forever.

https://twitter.com/remino/status/46086363526873088

Soon after the shake, the news came in: it was the most powerful earthquake to have ever hit Japan. It triggered a large tsunami, causing important damage in the north and to a large nuclear reactor in Fukushima. Thousands of people went missing, were injured, or perished. Several towns and villages were practically wiped off the map.

The municipalities and most of the homes may have been rebuilt, but even today the nuclear reactor is still under constant maintenance. If this isn’t enough to remind us of the natural disaster, the 10,000+ aftershocks will make your heart skip a beat and make your mind jump back to that time quickly enough.

Sign post of prayers
Memorials amongst the ruins in Natori, Miyagi prefecture. Source: Wikipedia.

Let’s take a moment today to remember that time and those who didn’t make it through.

I remember sleeping with my boots the night it happened, alone in my apartment. I had nowhere to go, and the trains were at a halt.

The aftershocks were very frequent, shaking the ground every few minutes. When some trains were finally running, I went down to Shinjuku, to find the most crowded area of Tokyo being virtually deserted in the middle of a weekday. Electricity was rationed, and outages were scheduled to help save power. And the TV was filled with public service messages like the one below, as all the companies pulled their ads off the air. It was a very unique time to be in Japan.

If you were in Japan at the time, where were you when the earthquake hit? If you were abroad, where were you when you heard the news?

Cover image: Warnings of tsunami on TV a few moments after the earthquake.

Warnings of tsunami on TV after the earthquake in Japan of 11 March 2011