Compact Life Storage in the Shape of Life

MUJI 無印良品

Insights for Living Comfortably

Yataro MatsuuraAuthor and Editor

Being aware of what is ‘just right.’ It is a simple, logical approach that anyone can use.

A Personal Sense of Scale

Having served nine years as chief editor of the magazine Kurashi no Techo, author and editor Yataro Matsuura now offers insights and advice for everyday life on his website Kurashi no Kihon, a site affiliated with the popular Japanese recipes website, cookpad.

In the insights and tips he has offered in essays and interviews, Matsuura has advocated living thoughtfully. The idea of living thoughtfully and the concept of Compact Life would seemingly reflect each other in significant ways.

“What is important is to develop your own personal sense of scale. When you do, you naturally know what is necessary and what is not. How many of a certain item do you need? What type of that particular product should you buy? Living comfortably requires a firm grasp of your personal big picture when it comes to food, clothing and shelter.”

In 2002, Matsuura opened COW BOOKS, which deals mostly in used books. It is in fact a bookshop, though bookshelves cover only two facing walls with a long reading table and chairs in between. It is a space with a comfortable, easy feel. Offering a much more limited selection of books than the typical new or used bookstore, COW BOOKS features only those books that interest Matsuura himself.

“This is a privately owned shop, and I cannot take responsibility for recommending a book that I have no interest in myself. That is why there are only books here that reflect my own values. You could say that this is the bookshop that matches my personal sense of scale.”

Simple, Logical Rules

Still, many people have trouble deciding what is necessary and what is not. Matsuura advocates looking for overall balance and setting priorities.

“When there is something you want to have, ask yourself if it really suits who you are now. This is an important question. For example, when I see someone in their 20s wearing a luxury brand watch, from my point of view, it gives me the impression of not matching who that person is. It is certainly not too late to wait for this type of watch until you have more life experience. Similarly, someone who lives in a small studio apartment, for instance, should begin by getting only what would fit in the space they have — not too much and not too little — just the right amount. If what you really want is a great sofa, then your focus should be on moving into a room big enough to suit a sofa like that.”

When it comes to your wardrobe, setting specific upper limits in advance — five shirts, five pairs of pants, 10 pairs of socks, for instance — makes it easy to decide what clothes are necessary and what are not.

“If you absolutely stuff your closet, then you may be able to fit in 10 shirts. But, instead of that, it is less awkward and clumsy to limit yourself to the number of shirts you decided was just what you needed — five. Approach it as you do a meal. Find the amount that is just right, the amount that leaves you a little bit of room. This is not so much a matter of personal taste. It is a simple, logical approach that anyone can use.”

A personal sense of scale leads to greater independence, as well. This requires looking at onesel f objectively and respecting others’ sense of personal space. Living comfortably, whether by yourself or with your family, should start with setting your own rules for yourself.

Finding What Comfort Means to You

To begin with, Matsuura’s definition of “living” does not have to do with collecting material objects, but rather with creating spaces in which one feels free and comfortable spending time. “It’s that feeling you get in the morning on your day off when the sun shines gently through the window and reflects off a clean, blank wall or a clear bed — that feeling of ‘Aah, that’snice.’ I want to cherish that feeling. I don’t want to create an environment in which I can’t experience this. I don’t need objects that block the window or shut out the sunlight. Empty space with nothing in it is more comfortable for me.”

Matsuura shares a window-related memory from his childhood at a time when his entire family lived modestly in sevensquare-meter room in an old apartment complex. Although his family was not well-off, Matsuura did gain an insight for living comfortably that he is still proud of today.

“My mother cleaned the window every day. Our apartment was the only one with a window that was always sparkling clean. Thanks to my mother, our room was bright and filled with sunlight. To be honest, that is what living well means to me.”