Japanese New Year Traditions with Harmony, Co-Founder of Alterre. - Alterre

December 29th, 2023

Japanese New Year Traditions with Harmony, Co-Founder of Alterre.

I’ve reached a stage where preserving cultural traditions feels even more essential. There's a passing of the torch to my generation, and one of those practices is Oosoji, the Japanese tradition of deep cleaning your home before the New Year. This tradition dates back to the Heian period (794 – 1185) as a way to drive out any bad spirits or energy and welcome god or good energy into your home. New Year’s is, in many ways, the most important Japanese holiday and usually includes a long build-up of planning, cleaning, and cooking, followed by a few days of rest from January 1st - 3rd.

While it's common in America to do the equivalent in the springtime, I still like the feeling of starting a new year with less clutter and a clean home. If this sounds like an opportunity to do the same, here are some key parts you can refer to while practicing Oosoji.

Cleaning the Home

I used to do this blindly on my own and only recently realized the desire to deep clean is a cultural tradition that’s been taught to me. This will be the first year I’m honoring the method by taking a few days off from work to focus entirely on preparing my home for the new year and hosting an Oshogatsu party (Japanese New Year celebration). If you have young children, it’s a wonderful opportunity to include them in the fun with easier, fail-proof chores. My niece, for example, is 4 years old and loves to sweep. My sister gives her a wide broom, so it’s easier to push and doesn’t require a sweeping hand motion. My niece gets to wear whatever she likes, even if it’s a unicorn onesie, and the family celebrates her success in sweeping every room.

Susuharai aka the Deep Clean

One of the first steps to deep cleaning the home involves a whole lot of dusting. It’s a chance to get into all the nooks and crannies of our home to wipe away dust from the previous year. Traditionally, the cleaning starts as early as mid-December. Somehow I always find myself scrambling the week before to get it all done. If you’re able to (next year), I’d recommend starting by early December with low-traffic areas so it’s more leisurely. Any area that hasn’t been given proper attention before will now get undivided focus, like vents or windowsills. This may sound strange, but I even have my own deep cleaning playlist, which consists primarily of surf rock like the Beach Boys. The grooviness helps me stay in the flow.

Seiri: Organizing Your Space

Something I used to begrudgingly do but now enjoy is reorganizing the space. This includes refolding everything in my drawers and purging anything that no longer serves me. I follow a process similar to the KonMari method. Doing this as a family can be challenging but also rewarding. When I was young, we would talk to each other, play music, and fold all our clothes together in the living room before neatly packing them away. It may seem excessive, but now I leave a box or designate a discard corner in each room. It’s been so helpful to toss anything into the box as I go along.


Cleaning the Workplace

Since I work from home, cleaning my desk and work area is equally important. The same practice is often used in Japanese offices as well. Some companies may go as far as dedicating an office day for everyone to tidy up together. This is an opportunity to tidy up the space, shred any old papers, and think of what may help you stay organized in the new year. In my particular case, I’ve realized my pens are all astrew in one drawer. I intend to purchase some organizing supplies (if I don’t find something I already own) to keep them easily sorted. I’m also in need of a better paper organizing system. I may invest in a small mobile file cabinet.


A Method to the Cleaning


Some people prefer to deep clean all at once before moving onto the next phase. I personally prefer to do one room at a time and always complete a section before moving onto the next. What this may look like is focusing on just my dressing drawer. Dusting the outside, then removing clothes from one drawer, dusting and cleaning the drawer, sorting all the clothes I just pulled out, making any donations, and finally folding the pieces I’d like to keep and placing them back in the drawer. Because I’m sentimental and a designer, I do occasionally donate something that is filled with positive memories but no longer serves me. On this occasion, I’ll hug my object, thank them and put them kindly in the donation box. I believe it’s a practice KonMari also recommends, however, she does this for every object that’s donated.

What traditions do you hold around the new year? Do you find yourself cleaning as well?

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