Recently, the Japanese method of tidying-up has been getting some attention through the introduction by Marie Kondo. This is such a wonderful thing - “the “art of tidying” has always played an important role in the culture. There are varieties of exams and courses people take to learn how to tidy up, and many people become certified as professional organisers even though they may not actually use the skill in their job. This also explains why there are literally all kinds of storage boxes and trays available that you might see at stores like Muji. I believe it is partly due to the fact that living spaces are usually much more limited in Japan, but also there’s definitely a sense of pride in keeping spaces neat and organised.
In Japan, children generally get given quite a few chores and responsibilities from a young age and that goes for tidying-up (okatazuke) too. I believe involving children in the daily activity of tidying up and encouraging them to take responsibilities in keeping their surroundings organised is a true gift we can give them, as it is a skill that they will benefit from for a lifetime.
Raising my daughter in London, I get astonished by all the gift exchanges that happen throughout the year. Even on birthdays, children in Japan tend not to have big parties, and get given a few presents by parents and close friends. Naturally, toys and books get piled up unless you periodically “assess” them and say goodbye. My 5 year-old daughter Honor and I go through this process from time to time. There aren't too many things that she regularly plays with, but some have special meanings to her - certain items which she picked up from random places that seem like rubbish to me are in fact cherished as “treasures"!! It is also fascinating to find out the detailed memories she holds of how the toys were given, what they mean to her, and the reasons why she is ready to part with them - some are too childish, some she recognises as “a phase” she had but has moved on from, and others she simply thinks kids who may not have too many toys would appreciate more. It really is a great opportunity to explain to them about the concept of “giving” and “charity”. She’s become so much more ”generous” now that she’s gotten used to this process.
I also categorise her belongings, and label each box and drawer - it is so helpful to have a clear system that your children understand. This way, she knows that each item has its home, and there’s no confusion as to where to find them, or where they should return to. I also involve her in creating the system, like “Can you reach your socks if we put them here?” Or “That’s a good idea! You can get your hair accessories easily this way!” And this makes her proud and helps her “own” her space. Children still love to take things out and make a mess, and Honor does get annoyed sometimes when I ask her to put things back, but I show her how efficient we can be if we do it together or make a joke by racing who finishes first. Since she has a good knowledge of where things are throughout the house, she can be such a sweet little helper too by fetching stuff for me, and my praises give her immense joy.
Keeping the space organised makes me feel like it gives my brain a breathing space. It‘s just like having your diaries organised, or having your daily tasks clearly listed and finishing them - the comfort of knowing that things are in order lets you use your focus elsewhere and enjoy our lives without having to always look for things or losing them.