A little space can go a long way


If you are renting a small apartment, your clothes, books, magazines and CDs — things that are supposed to enrich your life — can also be a burden as they gradually erode your limited space.

It’s a paradoxical clutter that millions of people in Japan must confront. It’s even more daunting if you can’t make major changes to your apartment.

Here are two Tokyo residents who have found ways to create a little breathing space:

Kenji Asada is a 27-year-old architecture student at the Art and Architecture School of Waseda University who lives in a 19-sq.-meter apartment in Ikebukuro, in Toshima Ward. While Asada aspires to a paperless lifestyle, books and magazines are necessary for his studies. If they contain pictorial information, he keeps them. Otherwise, he uses the school library as much as possible, borrowing more than 250 books a year.

Whenever Asada comes across information that he needs to keep, he writes it down first and later keys it into his computer. “Since I started doing this, the way I read has improved,” he says.

Asada adds that he makes it a rule not to buy many clothes, and he uses a digital camera so he doesn’t have to store prints.

As he often works on his designs at home, he has three desks, which together take up nearly a third of his room. They aren’t just ordinary desks, though. “I only buy furniture that can fulfill several roles,” he says.

Indeed, his desks have optional shorter legs and he sleeps on a sofabed with storage space underneath.

Because of this flexibility, Asada can easily create more space. On the afternoon I visited him, he was preparing for a party. He converted the desks into low tables, moved them to the center of the room and moved his sofabed to where they had been. In just a few minutes, his living and working space had been transformed. “It’s because I want to have parties in my room that I try to keep my possessions to a minimum and save space,” he said as six of his friends sat comfortably around the table chatting.

Compared with Asada’s apartment, Mikiko Arima’s 36-sq.-meter room in Koto Ward is a veritable palace, filled with her favorite things, all neatly displayed as if it was a gift shop. “I try to keep what I use the most out of sight and in the closet,” she explains, “because I don’t want my room to look too lived-in.”

Arima, 25, a systems engineer at IBM Japan, has room for enough large closets to keep most of her books, magazines and clothes — but even that space is well-organized. This is thanks to Arima’s strict policy: If something isn’t really necessary, it goes.

Though she likes reading, Arima says she doesn’t buy hardback books even though they may be best sellers. “I wait until they come out in paperback, because they require less space. They’re also cheaper then, and because they’re smaller they’re easier to read on a crowded train,” she says with a laugh.

The paperbacks that she does buy and then chooses to save are stored in plastic storage drawers. She also makes it a rule to get rid of any clothes she didn’t wear all through a season.

“I want to feel happy when I’m home,” Arima says. “And I don’t want it to be messy. So I try hard not to increase the amount of stuff I have.”

And don’t we all? If only I had such willpower . . .