tiny disclaimer: this isn’t really a blog post for the world at large, it’s more for my inner circle of people, who I hope do not take this as a personal offense or me lacking gratitude, because by golly that is 100% never my intention. In fact, I think I got into this specifically because I’m too intent on not offending to be able to protect my own interests in not being buried in stuff. So there’s that. Read on!
I finally snapped, and today I spent 7 hours decluttering our tiny apartment.
It’s been a long time coming (like at least 6 months I’ve been telling myself “tomorrow I’ll go through this place and reorganize”). Because Japan is tiny, but we live like big Americans. But also because I am terrified of taking out our trash. So we had a lot of old and used up stuff taking up space in our home.
I’ve talked about trash in Japan before; it’s a well-oiled system that takes a bit [<-understatement] of getting used to. We sort all types of trash, and each kind goes out on a specific day at a specific time. Combustibles, glass, plastic bottles, paper, styrofoam, soda cans, food cans, electronics, spray containers and more all get their own trash bag. Any deviance from this culture-wide plan is irresponsible and will lead to shame, scrutiny, and mumbles of “inconsiderate gaijin* from your community.”
It is admirable how well Japan handles their trash. There are even villages in this country that have a ZERO trash output because of how well they sort and recycle their waste. I truly wish that Americans were brought up with such sensibilities. But I didn’t, and that, combined with a ridiculous level of anxiety stemming from just making sure people don’t hate me here**, means I will do my very best to stall the trash bag being full with a time The Mister is home and in a “I want to do something nice for my wife” mode. He is blessed with an ability to turn off the “give a sh*t what others think about me” section of his mind, and when it comes to trash, he is so kind as to let me capitalize on that while I sheepishly hand him bags of garbage to lug downstairs.
And so back to this declutter project. I got rid of expired condiments in the fridge. I went through my shoes and threw out the ones which had holes walked through the soles (a surprising number, thanks for all the exercise, Japan!). I sorted out the dog toys that Mac’s loved a little too much. I consolidated the three bottles of the same scent lotion I had all at differing levels of full/empty. And I re-organized our cabinets so our dishes all fit inside them.
Then I sat down with the piles of trash that comes from all this organization, and I sorted all of said trash into 13 different 45 gallon trash bags. Which were then relegated to the balcony until they can be taken to the trash collection area outside our apartment at the appropriate times***.
how to sort trash in the city. this is printed poster size on our fridge, and even after a year+,
I still have to double check it once a day.
I… Hate. Hate with a passion. Hate taking out the trash. Hate it hate it hate it. I have reasons even.
The first is my fear of my neighbors seeing me hauling a bag out and reporting to the apartment management that I’ve done it wrong. We’ve even had other expat acquaintances here tell us about neighbors tearing open their trash and interrupting them while entertaining guests to angrily explain how disgusting the expat was for doing it wrong and then handing back the trash that had been improperly sorted.
Second, I hate the smell. I hate having to sit in a tiny elevator for an agonizingly slow 11 floor ride with the smell of my trash. The tiny space traps in that scent which triggers your gag reflex, and really lets it sink into your pores. Plus it certainly doesn’t air out by the time you’ve put your trash at the collection space and re-boarded the elevator to go back up to home. This is especially notable as generally speaking our burnable trash includes… well the sort of trash that Mac makes. By eating and digesting. You see where I’m going with this. Dog poo fumes in my lungsssssss.
And third - all trash bags are clear here. Which I have decided is to strictly enforce proper trash sorting by allowing your neighbors to see your trash and see if you put it in the correctly marked bags. It also means your neighbors can see that you ordered large pizzas. They can see what brand of ginger ale you drink. They can see if you’ve had the sniffles and worked through a box of nyquil. They can see EVERYTHING you throw out, is what i’m saying, and they can learn a lot about your life. Japan’s already enough of a “Big Brother is watching” type of society for me thank you very much.
It occurs to me, with the amount of unneeded junk we accumulate at a fairly steady rate between me, The Mister, Mac and Bubba, that this aversion to taking out the trash will turn me into one of those off-the-deep-end hoarders who shout at kids to stay off their lawn. The kind of person who talks about “going off the grid” with absolute sincerity. The one who insists they can fix anything that breaks with just some duct-tape and string… no need to throw it out. Just put it in the corner with all the other broken things I’ll get to some day never.
why yes, I *did* build Bubba a Kitty Castle out of cardboard specifically so
I wouldn't have to take out a bag of cardboard trash.
It’s a realization which bugs me, because The Mister and I, we have everything we need, and certainly we have plenty that we just wanted. We’re not hurtin’ for stuff. Whenever a friend or family member asks us what we’re missing from home, we can both pretty confidently say “nothing! we’re doing well!” And so I’m just gonna throw this out in the cosmos:
Please don’t send me stuff.
I don’t want stuff. I don’t need stuff. I’m not missing stuff. And I really really don’t want to have to throw other stuff out to make room for the stuff sent to me. I say this because Christmas is just around the corner (yikes.) and though I was straightforward in saying “I don’t want anything for my birthday” back in August, there are still things here that came with “happy birthday” notes attached. Please be clear! Thank you! I’m grateful for the thought and love that went into these gifts. Really, and truly. But. And this is a big BUT (ha, see what I did there?). I would be most grateful to not have to figure out what to do with more stuff.
If you’re reading this and something in you insists that not giving a gift for Christmas is somehow against the will of Sweet Baby Jesus and will cause him to rain down Fire and Brimstone and maybe even those stink bombs that smell like rotten eggs, here is my suggestion:
I love the Girl Scouts of America.
I love my Alma Matter****
Aaaaaand I love Public Libraries.
These places and people could use stuff. Green, paper-like stuff.
The could also use your time. Your peanut butter. Old towels. Dog or Cat food. Gently used books. And they would put it all to WAY better use than anything you might have thought about sending to me. So give where it counts, including helping me avoid taking out the trash. :)
Do you live in a small space, or move often, or even abroad?
How do manage the amount of stuff you accumulate?
What causes do you support? Tell me in the comments!
today's little language lesson
inu no unchi wa nioii ga totemo warui desu
dog poo smells very bad.
*gaijin (or 外人): a slightly rude term for a foreigner.
**Our neighbors already hate us. Not ALL our neighbors, just the old couple that live next door. They have a reason, but sadly we didn’t even really earn it (I say that because if someone is gonna go ahead and hate me, it’s a little better for my peace of mind if I know I am responsible for turning the screws of my own volition, you know?). This is a story for another time. The moral of said story is that I don’t need to give anyone in this building more reasons to hate us. Or me, specifically.
***The Mister threw himself on this sword and took out all the bags. Amazing isn't a big enough word for this simple act of love.
**** Happy 10 year homecoming to my fellow class of '06 Green Knights. And thank you for video-chatting me while you celebrated so I could pretend I wasn't half a world away from the fun!