How Sleeping in a Japanese Bed Taught Me a Simpler and More Pleasant Lifestyle

The best and easiest way to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle

Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

Unpretentious advice that was remarkably helpful even before I understood it

“Did you put away your bed yet?”

My grandma would call out from the kitchen, as she began to put together breakfast for my siblings and I. It was a habit I wasn’t quite used to yet, putting away my bed first thing in the morning, but my grandmother’s orders were not one to be ignored. With the help of my siblings, we’d obediently fold up the blankets and futon mattresses, stack the pillows, and tuck them away into the closet.

Unlike western beds, Japanese beds are traditionally laid on the floor, as thick mats called futons. Rather than leaving them out, they are folded and put away every morning, so rooms can be used for other purposes than sleeping.

I found the chore of putting away a futon bed very cumbersome at first, for I was going to have to pull it out and set it up all over again at the end of the day. Why not just leave it out in the bedroom? 9-year-old me would point this out to my grandma, as if I made an eye-opening revelation — you would save both time and energy if you just left out something you were going to need later anyways!

But she would wave away my arguments, telling me that saving time wasn’t the point. It’s about the obedience of putting things away, which can make life a lot less stressful. As a child I didn’t quite understand the importance of what this meant, but nevertheless every summer morning I spent at grandma’s, I would diligently fold my futon, square away the blankets, stack the pillows, and tuck it all away.

I ended up carrying this habit with me as I got older, even as I stopped sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor and slept in a western-style bed. I just liked the ritual of it.

I would take the time to realign my comforter, re-fluff my pillow, and make my setup look crisp and clean, just as it had before I got in bed. It only took about 10 seconds, but the occasion at the end of day of getting into a newly-made bed was one I consistently looked forward to.

You like sleeping on a what?

It was only when I went off to a U.S. college, that I began to realize how integral this habit was to my perception of the value of holding onto things. I was surprised when my dorm hallmates and friends came moving in, adorning their beds with stacks of decorative pillows, blankets, body pillows, and throws, showing off their colorful and new buys from Bed Bath and Beyond or Target. Already people were complaining that the twin size beds were too small and uncomfortable, and that they couldn’t wait until next year when we would be upgraded to full-size bed frames. More room!

I admittedly thought that their beds looked cushy and beautiful, but I had no intention of matching my own bed to theirs. I instead worried, is it not a pain to have to make a bed with so much on it every morning? That is also so much laundry to do! It is much harder to remake a full-size bed than it is to fix up a twin-size, would you not prefer the small size bed? It’s also so much dust, is it not difficult to fall asleep among so many things?

I quickly realized most college students do not make their beds every morning, and that they are not very concerned about mess. But then I questioned — was it not stressful to live among such clutter?

Many people would see my bed and call it out for being boring, for even my sheets, pillows, and comforter covers were just a plain white. But I insisted that it made laundry easier if there were all the same color, and that white was a calming and neutral color perfect for going to sleep.

“Such a minimalist!”, they would claim. “Do you just not like having stuff?”

I had never considered myself being anti-stuff, for I love shopping and getting new things as much as the next person, but some things in my life are so much easier when there’s less of it — less to clean, less to mend, less to replace, less to care for. Why would I compromise that for the simple sake of having more?

What minimalism is, and what it’s not

Minimalism at its core is not simply about having less stuff, but it’s about examining a lifestyle that is better for us when we have less in it. For simply having less stuff doesn’t bring us joy, but the absence of things that bring us chaos can make us calmer and less stressed.

It sounds simple enough, but what this means is that to make this absence work for us we will need the skill of cleaning, mending, and putting things away — if you can’t master putting order back in chaos, you will always end up among clutter, buying things you don’t need, throwing out and wasting goods used only once or twice, and then looking for more to fill in the less again. Owning less is not in itself a joy, but adopting a simple lifestyle which makes having less easier for yourself is the goal.

“In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.“ — Plato

If you’re just a curious beginner, the best way to get started with minimalism is to make it a habit to make your bed every morning. While we can’t put away our western beds in a closet like we could a futon mattress, you don’t need to be sleeping in a Japanese futon to build the habits essential for living a more minimalist lifestyle.

Just by making your bed, you’ll begin to see what you have too much of, what is better off with less, and ways to tidy and set up a space that is central to the way you begin and end all of your days. It might even become a ritual, a sort of planned and looked-forward-to event, to tidy, to clean, and to care for what you already own.

For once it becomes that, you will know you are well on your way to successfully enjoying a simpler and more pleasant lifestyle.

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱

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