The Art of Discarding

How to Get Rid of Clutter and Find Joy


By Nagisa Tatsumi

Formats and Prices




$12.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 14, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The book that inspired Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Nagisa Tatsumi’s international bestseller offers a practical plan to figure out what to keep and what to discard so you can get–and stay–tidy, once and for all.

Practical and inspiring, The Art of Discarding (the book that originally inspired a young Marie Kondo to start cleaning up her closets) offers hands-on advice and easy-to-follow guidelines to help readers learn how to finally let go of stuff that is holding them back — as well as sage advice on acquiring less in the first place. Author Nagisa Tatsumi urges us to reflect on our attitude to possessing things and to have the courage and conviction to get rid of all the stuff we really don’t need, offering advice on how to tackle the things that pile up at home and take back control. By learning the art of discarding you will gain space, free yourself from “accumulation syndrome,” and find new joy and purpose in your clutter-free life.


The subject of tidying first caught my attention when I was in junior high school. The catalyst was a book called The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi, which explained the importance of getting rid of unnecessary things.… I can still remember the shock and surprise I felt as I read it on the train. I became so absorbed that I almost missed my stop. Once home, I went straight to my room with a handful of garbage bags and stayed closeted for several hours. Although the room was small, by the time I was finished I had eight bags full of stuff.… I had forgotten that most of these things even existed. I sat motionless on the floor for about an hour afterward staring at the pile of bags and wondering, "Why on earth did I bother keeping all this stuff?"

—Marie Kondo, from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up


Getting to grips with stuff

Throwing stuff out: it's a fundamental issue.

Everyone these days has too much "stuff." We keep chucking it out, but it keeps on accumulating. At work, we face endless piles of paper; at home, however much storage space we have, it's never enough. Things proliferate and our living space shrinks. We're surrounded. We know we have to do something. If only we could get rid of it all, what a relief that would be!

The 1990s saw a boom in ecological thinking, which has extended into the new millennium: be kind to the Earth… Recycle… Don't produce rubbish… And this has generated a new way of thinking about stuff and what we need versus what we want. But we're still crowded out with it. Why? How come this flood of things never seems to ebb away?

We know how good it would feel if all this stuff was gone—so why we do we keep it? Why do we always feel guilty about getting rid of things? Let's look at these questions a little more closely.


In the past, things were precious. Before the start of mass production and mass consumption—relatively recently, in fact—things were cherished. They were looked after and used for as long as possible. Even when they'd lost their original purpose, other uses were found for them. And only once all possible functions were exhausted were they finally discarded. It was the same with food. People were taught to eat every last grain of rice in their bowls. It was all about using something to the full, discarding it, and only then obtaining something new. That was the cycle and, against this background, a sense of shame at wastefulness (mottainai in Japanese) became a virtue.

But life's different now.

In the 1960s and 70s new and exciting electrical products sold precisely because they were new and exciting. There was a belief that new = good, and so things that were old were immediately replaced. More and more things—electrical goods, fashion, etc.—came flooding into our lives and, by the end of the 1980s, the act of purchasing had become an end in itself.

We've become used to this kind of spending, but because we are no longer buying out of necessity, things inevitably accumulate at a far greater pace than they are used up, and so we are drowning in stuff.

The switch from an era when things were precious to an era of over-supply was too sudden. We're stuck between our traditional sense of wastefulness (mottainai) and the new world where things proliferate.


We have to address this dilemma. If we carry on like this, we'll never be free of the spell that things have over us.

Can a more ecologically aware or economical lifestyle help us break the spell? If we look after things and only buy what's necessary, will we be free? Well, it wouldn't work for me. I wouldn't want to stop buying things. Reducing clutter feels good, but you'd have to be very stoic to enjoy life without new stuff.

It feels good to have things you like around you. It makes you happy to wear new clothes. I have a TV and newspapers, but I want magazines too. If I want to buy some new plates or a jug, I don't want to be thinking there's something virtuous about preventing myself from doing so. Saving money's no good if you can't enjoy life.

So we want to enjoy a comfortable life, but we don't want things to accumulate; nor do we want to create a sense of waste. Is that possible? And, if so, how?

This book is here to help. What I want to propose is a positive attitude to discarding. To get to grips with our cluttered lives we have to start clearing things out. Instead of worrying about wastefulness, let the task of disposal be an opportunity to reflect on the real value of your possessions. Look at the things you've allowed to accumulate. Thinking about why you've got them will help give you a sense of why they have a hold on you. And as you sort out what to throw away and what to keep, you'll come to realize what's really necessary.


First off, you need to reassess your relationship with physical objects. The ten attitudes to discarding outlined in Part One will help you. I'm not saying you should change your mindset completely, but if you worry about throwing things away, perhaps it's time to adjust your thinking a little. Just try adopting the key points from this section that strike a chord with you. This may help loosen the hold that things have on you. Part Two introduces ten practical disposal strategies. As with Part One, try what makes sense to you. If just one of the strategies becomes a habit, life will start to feel much better. In Part Three, there's some general information that should make it easier for you to find ways to get rid of things. I hope you'll find it useful to combine this with suggestions from the other two parts.

You'll find a lot of detail in the book, but ultimately the Art of Discarding is very straightforward. It's simply a question of becoming conscious of previously unconscious behavior, and of seeing your approach to possessions as part of the art of living. I hope that the book will help you achieve this.


It's very simple: keep things you use and discard those you don't. Things are given life by being used. Keeping something because it would be a waste to get rid of it is a kind of torture. Free yourself from the waste argument, and you'll begin to see the value of things.


Since I originally wrote this book in 2000 environmental awareness has become a key part of society's thinking.

There are now all sorts of regulations about recycling. There are real and online markets for second-hand goods. Environmentally friendly products—from recycled toilet tissue to hybrid cars—are inexpensive and high-quality. We can have environmentally sound lifestyles without thinking about it the whole time.

These are all welcome developments. But has the volume of clutter reduced? Has stuff stopped accumulating in our homes?

Not as far as I can see. As much clutter as ever seems to amass. Second-hand shops and markets are overflowing. And, all the while, TV and newspapers churn out endless features on how to use your storage space.

If this awareness were to lead to a general decluttering of lives and homes, then the situation would be different. And the fact that it hasn't done so means, in my view, that there's no real connection between our relationship with things and our awareness of the environment.


It goes without saying that environmental problems have to be thought about on a national or global scale. Issues such as increased entropy or comparative environmental impact feel very distant from our day-to-day existence; it's difficult to maintain both a micro and macro perspective. Even the scientists researching the field can't be certain about the exhaustion of fossil fuels or the growth of holes in the ozone layer. So how are we to take these matters into account in our everyday lives?

At an individual level, environmental awareness can't go much beyond not dropping litter, not pouring milk down the drain, looking after things and using them carefully, not leaving lights on, reusing shopping bags, or buying environmentally sound products.

Let me be clear. I'm not questioning the importance of environmental issues. Society has to develop in a way that takes account of the environment. And, of course, it's better that people know about it than that they are ignorant or uninterested. What I'm saying is, first, that the problems of the environment are too big for individuals alone to deal with, and second, that living environmentally friendly lives is not going to solve the problems that we have with clutter, the glut of stuff in the world around us or, indeed, in our own homes.


Environmental awareness is a valid guideline for life in general. But if we are to solve the specific problem of having too much stuff, we must change the way we deal with it.

For many of us, the thinking has been to bring ever more things into our lives and then keep them all on the basis that it's wasteful to get rid of them. We've assumed that it's good to possess things, and this assumption has encouraged us to have too many.

But possessing things is not good in itself. We have to consider whether they're necessary, whether they're used. And if something's unnecessary, we should get rid of it. This is the essence of the Art of Discarding. Once you appreciate that you don't have to keep what's unnecessary, you'll be better able to use what is necessary with proper care.

You don't have to think too much about it. You don't have to resolve at the outset to make do with just a few things. You don't have to tell yourself that treating things with care is good for the environment. Just take each item in turn and ask yourself: is it necessary? Can it be thrown away? This selection process will whittle away at the excess until you reach an optimum level of possession. By then your lifestyle will already be kinder to the environment.


I think the Japanese word "mottainai" (a sense of shame at wastefulness) can be a dangerous one. Its basic meaning suggests damage being done to the essence of something. And to witness such damage gives us pain. It's wonderful that Japanese people think like this and use the word so frequently in their everyday lives (I myself use it when I'm telling my children to eat all their rice), but it can act as a barrier to the question "Will I actually use this?" It encourages the delusion that just by having something—by not throwing it away—you are doing something positive.

In my opinion the best way to cherish something is to use it. Think about the unwanted gifts that you've put in the closet because they're mottainai. The food that rots away in the fridge because it's mottainai. The pile of department store bags you've accumulated because they're mottainai. Things you've put out for sale on the basis that they're mottainai, but which then don't sell and are thrown away by the dealer. It would be a shame if the word mottainai came to have no more meaning than this—a mistaken belief that not throwing something away is the same as taking good of care of it.

So don't just store things away for the sake of it. If you value the idea of mottainai, think about whether these things are necessary or not. If you can use them, then get on and do so. When they get old, use them for something else. Then, when they've no further potential, dispose of them completely. This is the kind of mottainai that makes sense to me. This is what will allow us to develop a skilful and waste-free approach.


Have Japanese people always looked after things for as long as they could? You'll hear some people say that there's an old goblin in Japan called Mottainai. It certainly sounds like something that might have figured in an old Japanese tale but, in fact, this goblin was the invention of public-service TV advertising in 1982. A genuine tradition, by contrast, relates to spirits called Tsukumo-gami. These were said to enter old, abandoned implements and stir them up to mischief, their message being: "Don't leave things unused!"

My own feeling is that people in the past were more sensitive when it came to discarding things than we are today. They were sensitive to the souls of things, to their essence (mottai), so they felt it was a waste (mottai-nai) not to use things that could be used. Then, when they stopped using them, they'd discard them completely and decisively. This is reflected in the Hari-kuyo ceremony—a requiem-type service for old needles that is still held at some temples in Japan.

My belief now is the same as it was when I first wrote this book: complete and decisive disposal is of fundamental importance. We have a lot of information available to us these days and we tend to take all of this into account to arrive at solutions. But I feel it is best, as in the past, to think in terms of what is practical and achievable.

As individuals we can only be expected to live in the way our circumstances allow. And there's no reason why we shouldn't try to make things pleasant and easy for ourselves. So you don't have to be thinking about the environment when you buy low-energy products; you may be thinking simply that they save money on electricity. And when you use your own bag for shopping, your reason may just be that it stops you amassing a great pile of supermarket bags.


What do you find difficult to throw away and why?

My urge to tell people to discard things originated one evening when I was with friends who work in publishing. One of them started talking about the trouble she had during an end-of-year clean-up. She couldn't find enough space for all her work-related books and documents. She'd wanted to keep everything for future reference, but her shelves were full. The subject seemed to strike a chord with the others who all confessed to having similar difficulties and described their strategies: "I put them in a cardboard box," said one. "I cut out the articles I wrote and put them in a file," said another. "I rent storage space," said a third. They were laughing about it, but the problem seemed real enough, and it was clear that nobody knew what was best. As I sat chatting with them, I began to wonder: if everyone feels their stuff is such a burden, why don't they just get rid of it? All of their solutions involved storage. Even if they considered filing stuff in a way that reduced the overall volume, none of them went so far as to suggest wholesale disposal.


I soon began to realize that this isn't only a problem for my friends and their documents. It's a phenomenon found throughout Japanese society. Economic growth means we've become used to a system of mass production and mass consumption. We've become good at buying things, at choosing things. We're used to thinking carefully about what we want.

And now, in our world of super-abundant supply, something has begun to go wrong.


On Sale
Mar 14, 2017
Page Count
176 pages
Hachette Books

Nagisa Tatsumi

About the Author

Born near Tokyo in 1965, Nagisa Tatsumi is a Japanese author, journalist, and commentator. She published the original edition of The Art of Discarding as Suteru! Gijutsu in Japan in 2000 where it became an overnight sensation. It has since become a million copy international bestseller and was the inspiration for Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Learn more about this author