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Having a hard time with your quarantine cleaning? Think Zen

By Johannes L. Chua

Ilustration by Ariana Camille Maralit

quarantine cleaning v2-01

It’s always the lack of time. So I was surprised when I read a Facebook post in which my cousin, Tessa Lim, was ranting over her “quarantine cleaning.”

“I now have the time to clean, but I just realized I have too much stuff,” Tessa said.

A month ago, when it was inevitable that majority of us would be “stationed” at home, a lot of optimists (like my cousin) began writing their to-do list—learn a new language, bake an apple pie, finish reading a novel, start a garden, etc.

Most lists, I believe, include some form of cleaning in the garage, the kitchen, the wardrobe closet, the attic, the laundry area, etc. Tessa even posted her “quarantine cleaning” agenda online, with a timetable and expectations per week, such as starting to clean the topmost floor down to the garage and garden.

When I video-called her after a month of quarantine, I can visibly see the disappointment in her face. I remembered visiting her townhouse during the holidays last year and I can see that their space was a mess for a family of four (he has two young boys). At that time, she complained about “lack of time or no time at all” to even pick up the magazines, Lego bricks, and candy wrappers lying under the sofa.

“You have all the time now. You even said it was time for quarantine cleaning,” I told her over Google Meet.

“I thought it would be easy,” she replied. “But there is just so much stuff that I don’t want to throw away. There are so many memories that each object brings such as souvenirs from trips abroad, baby stuff when my kids were growing, mementos from my parents, knickknacks from events. It’s very hard to do a major cleanup.”

I’m not a cleaning expert, I told her, as my own space is a mess with books, magazines, and tons of paper filling up my room. But I started to do my own quarantine cleaning by doing three things—allotting a specific time (for me, it’s 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.) just for cleaning; second, by classifying things into four, representing a decade of my life (as I’m now 40); and third, by having the “Zen” mindset of tidying up.

Keep only what is truly necessary. Sort by taking out everything and keeping only what excites you. Evaluate by taking pictures and look for unnecessary items.

Tessa was curious about that Zen thing so I told her about a trip I made to Japan a decade ago. I recalled that I entered this shop called Muji. I was so amazed with the way its products were presented. Muji, which now has stores in our country, has espoused tidying up way before Marie Kondo, the so-called tidying expert, had a show on Netflix. I don’t know who copied whom, but I recalled a pamphlet (something called “Four Stages of Tidying Up”) that was printed by Muji at that time. The way it was presented was very simple, yet it stuck on my mind after so many years. Here are the four stages:

1. “Think about your possessions”

Keep only what is truly necessary. Sort by taking out everything and keeping only what excites you. Evaluate by taking pictures and look for unnecessary items.

2. “Think about the shape of storage”

Plan the storage so that it fits into your life. Organize to eliminate mess, imbalance, and disorganization. Stay flexible by choosing storage that allows for change in size and use. Layout well by gathering items in one place to create an open space.

3. “Think about how to store items”

Consider how items are used when storing them. Store items by frequency of use and purpose. You can also organize items by user, purpose, and place. Most important, label items.

4. “Think about enriching your life”

Enjoy your life through changing seasons and cherished items. Plan your life using efficient design and highly versatile products. Achieve a simple, pleasant life that lets your personality shine.

The four stages, incidentally, all start with “think.” At that time, that thinking led me to realize that these tips have roots in Zen, especially on how it espouses simplicity in ways, practicality in living, and finding little joys in life.

That got Tessa pumped up to start her tidying up task. She took her phone and snapped photos of her things at home, which she passed on to me. She was that excited.

“No, Tessa, it’s not for me to evaluate. It is for you to see if those items still bring some joy and purpose to your life,” I replied, sensing a cheerful lilt in her voice. I then realized that each person will have their own tidying up journey, but a routine in this time of uncertainty, even accomplishing a cleaning task, can become very therapeutic.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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