The Happiness Index

Simple Living: A Danish Take on Japanese Author Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

By Helen Russell

For Marie Kondo, author of the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, tidying is all about addressing the aesthetics in the hope that the rest of our lives will become more ordered as a result. 

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life,” writes Kondo. “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order too.” 

Kondo believes that in giving everything we own a designated place (kitchen surfaces don’t count, sadly), we create a Zen home free from clutter, with clean lines and just a few design touches. And it is here that her sensibilities begin to sound more than a little Scandinavian.

“Danish and Japanese design aesthetics are both about minimal simplicity,” explains Charlotte Ravnholt, an editor in chief at Bo Bedre, a leading Danish interior design magazine (also sold in Japan). “Both cultures are into functionality as well as clean, pure lines, few colors and nature-inspired materials,” she says. “We want fewer items but of better quality, and understatement is key. We don’t ‘scream’ about our design in Denmark or in Japan; we whisper.”

Kondo believes that to truly cherish the things that are important to us, we must first “discard those that have outlived their purpose,” keeping only objects that “spark joy”—a tenet also central to Danish design. Danes invest in a few high-quality design items to make their home a happy, pared-down place where they can enjoy spending time.

“We grow up with this idea in Denmark,” says Danish interior designer Pernille Møller Folcarelli. “Danes traditionally see the beauty in simple, functional design and have a big love for crafted everyday pieces, so you’ll often see a handmade ceramic cup or a handwoven cloth. Danish furniture and design has always taken a lot of inspiration from Japan, and now it goes both ways,” she explains. “I think it has to do with our national characters. Both the Japanese and the Danes have a restrained, modest, quiet attitude, and this is visible in our homes, too.”

How to embrace the Danish-Japanese aesthetic, wherever you are:

1. Take the joy test: “Everything in your home should have a specific function, be beautiful or give you a feeling of joy,” says Folcarelli. “Each item in your home needs to pass this test.”  

2. Don’t be sentimental: “Have a look at your current lifestyle and adjust accordingly,” says Folcarelli. “Don’t be afraid to change and move things around. Things that were useful years ago might not be anymore—so get rid!”

3. Remember, Less is More: “Buy only what you need and curate your home. Have just a few things you really love and find beautiful,” says Ravnholt.