Mono No Aware (物の哀れ)

Mono no aware (物の哀れ) is a Japanese term that I picked up when I read the book ‘Spark Joy’ written by Marie Kondo. If you don’t know who she is, she is a tidying expert and her best-selling books were sold worldwide and she has fan-based all over the world especially the western world.

It is remarkable for someone who specializes in tidying (and couldn’t speak good English) to receive such worldwide recognition for her skills and expertise. It exemplifies the famous Chinese proverb: 行行出状元 which means in every professional you will always be able to find a champion.

If she was born in Singapore, I do not think that she will ever become famous. Can you imagine what her parents will do when she tells them that she wants to teach people how to tidy up their place as a professional career? Even in Japan, I would think that her achievements are nothing short of a miracle.  Marie gave us a great reason to celebrate our amazing ability as a human being.  It gives us a glimpse into our untapped potential to achieve great things in our lives.  When we are able to reach into this potential and let it have a conversation with our passion and determination, miracles happen.  Nothing seems impossible.

Let there also be no mistake that her success is no coincidence. Marie didn’t teach people how to tidy their room, she teaches people how to tidy up their lives. That’s her secret juice for success. Marie made certain to mention this in her book’s last chapter.  Her entire philosophy on tidying rest on the word ‘Mono no aware (物の哀れ)’.  The word simply means to develop an empathy towards things.  It recognizes the impermanence of things.  Her life goal is to help people develop an empathy towards things due to this impermanence. According to Marie, if you develop this respect and empathy towards things, a tidy room will become a natural thing and it will become ‘effortless’ to maintain. At least that is what she claimed.  It seems strange to accord things with the same level of attention as a living being. But I believe that the real magic here lies in the transformation of our mental model about things should we choose to practice their tidying art routinely.

Just imagine you wake up one day and see every possession you have as living beings that you have close relationship with. How would you behave when you interact with them? What will you do or speak to them?   For a start, I think you will be cautious about ‘who’ you will invite into your home. You will probably become careful about your buying habits and will not buy unnecessarily. You will keep your things in its proper order to show ‘them’ your respect and you will exhibit affection towards them periodically. Wouldn’t you?

Marie advocates some practices in her book to bring ‘Mono no aware (物の哀れ)’ into your mind. One practice that I particularly enjoyed doing is to feel and hug your clothes occasionally especially during spring cleaning to decide if you still have feeling towards them. She recommends that if you still have feeling towards them, keep them. If not, you give them a hug and thank them for serving you over these years before discarding them.  As impractical as it may sound to many Singaporeans (or even many people around the world), such ritual has a huge implication towards one’s life once it takes root in your mind. Amazingly, this way of treating my ‘things’ allow me to let go of all the unnecessary accumulations in my life. More importantly, I bet this gentleness and treating our possessions as living beings will eventually translate and extend to every part of your life. The lines among you, things and any other living beings will blur and eventually the definition of who am I expanded. Because everything around you will be inseparable from you. Kind of remind me of Alan Watts’s video that I watched a year ago.

If we are to live our lives with such dedication to details, caring and attention towards things as suggested by Marie, I think we will live a life that is as rich and as beautiful as what Alan Watts has been accentuating in his speech. I think we will fall in love in ‘expressing’ our love of life rather than ‘impressing’ others about our life. Would’t that make living meaningful?

You are the universe experiencing itself – Alan Watts

And in Marie’s term

Mono no aware (物の哀れ)






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