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January 1, 2013

Oosouji, The Big Sweep and Elimination

I’m not sure where I first heard it, but some time ago in discussing/reading Japanese culture I learned how the observance of the new year is different from western norms. This year, I felt particularly drawn to the concept of oosouji (大掃除), which literally translates to “big brush abolish.”

It does what it says on the tin. Towards the end of the year everyone—at home, at school, at work; everywhere—starts cleaning, purging and reconciling. While the west has a hazy theme called “spring cleaning,” oosouji is intentional: it is the resolving of all old things to make way for the opportunities of the new year.

Think of it this way, scientist: the law of conservation of energy says that energy can be stored or transferred—not created or destroyed. So if you’ve got X amount of negative energy and you’d like to replace it with a matching X amount of positive energy, you need to make sure that negative energy gets displaced before the positive arrives.

I like this concept because it encourages both closure and looking forward. It also perpetually puts the coming year and a hopeful and optimistic yet down-to-earth light. My actions and my ability to deal with things directly relate to what opportunities I can take advantage of in the future.

So Fru and I decided, rather belatedly, to try our hand at oosouji. From weeding and cleaning the back yard to hand-washing our front stairs, in the 48 hours before the new year arrived, we went through old magazines, packed up clothes to give away, and got rid of a lot of trash. In the process, I think I learned a few things:

  1. Sometimes you have to let go. In order for everything to have and end, it has to be abandoned. The thing which you won’t let go—be it a sentimental item, an unfinished project or a dream unembarked—is preventing you from claiming new things. It has residual that stays in your psyche and never lets you truly be free.
  2. Matter doesn’t matter. Having stuff around doesn’t make it valuable; using it does.
  3. Closure requires discipline. Work is sometimes hard to get into; finishing unsavory business seems to always be repellant. Focusing on the task and seeing it resolved is a skill that, left to its own, rusts rather quickly.
  4. It takes tiny gears to make clockwork. It was a pain to do all that work in such a short time, especially when so much of it would be easily broken in to regular recurring tasks. Developing a system to distribute required effort across many parts helps makes life easier as well as consistently providing opportunity to maintain your resolution skills in small manageable ways.

I’m glad we did it. I’ll probably do it again in a year. Until then, I hope for you big things, an ushering in of new blessings and opportunities, and a removal of all un-necessity from your living this year. Let’s move forward!

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