Home Decor

7 Simple, Soothing Ideas for Bringing Japanese Minimalism Home

Fog Linen Work founder Yumiko Sekine's new book, 'Simplicity at Home,' is full of thoughtful solutions for decluttering, decor, DIY—and more.

March  3, 2021
Photo by Nao Shimizu for Simplicity at Home

You’re probably familiar with Yumiko Sekine’s designs even if Sekine’s name and that of her brand, Fog Linen Work, are unfamiliar to you. Sekine’s signature linens are carried in home stores across the world. Fans love the laid back-but-luxurious vibe of high-quality materials paired with the simplest designs, and Fog Linen Work’s unfussy style has made them a favorite amongst homemakers with tastes ranging from minimalist to modern farmhouse (I myself own some Fog Linen Work towels).

Sekine also just debuted her first book Simplicity at Home: Japanese Rituals, Recipes, and Arrangements for Thoughtful Living, and it is a lovely tribute to what its author describes as “joyful minimalism.” In the book, Sekine spells out her philosophy that when you live with less you can find greater enjoyments in what you do have. And she walks the walk: Her home, which appears in many of the photographs is simple (sometimes in the extreme), but it is also filled with handmade and homespun touches that keep it from feeling cold.

In the pages of the book you’ll find the practical advice for decluttering that you might expect, but there are also suggestions for rituals and recipes that celebrate simplicity at home that offer pleasant surprises. My home will never be as spare and tidy as Sekine’s and I’m probably never going to make my own soap, but I loved learning more about her favorite Japanese traditions, and her enthusiasm for upcycling has me plotting some DIY projects of my own. Here are seven ideas I'm stealing from Simplicity at Home:

1. Confront your cabinet clutter

Photo by Nao Shimizu for 'Simplicity at Home'

Sekine’s desire for beauty in the home extends to the inside of cabinets and closets. In fact, she suggests that being forced to look at your possessions will make you think about them differently. “If you only have cabinets with doors, try removing the doors and see if that changes the way you organize and use your belongings,” she writes. “I bet it will encourage you to be a bit more deliberate about how you use that space.” While I’m not quite ready to take a screwdriver to the kitchen cabinet hinges, just reading this advice motivates me to tackle the mess that hides behind the doors.

2. Arrange your shelves like a shop stylist

Even after many years in business, Sekine says she likes to arrive at her shop first and tidy the displays—and she’s learned a few things along the way. When you arrange things on a shelf, she advises to always leave space between objects. “People tend to fill up the entire space, but it will create a more tranquil and less cluttered look if you take a few things out.” Additionally, you should group items by color or size. For books, arrange them by genre, and then by height within each category.

3. Turn your fabric scraps into personalized patchwork

Photo by Nao Shimizu for 'Simplicity at Home'

If you can sew a straight line, you can turn your old shirts and frayed home linens into simple patchwork projects like Sekine. To make a tablecloth, curtain, pillow cover, or other project, Sekine suggests you select fabrics in a limited color palette, but she writes, “there are no rules for making patchwork. Your squares can be the same size, or you can make some larger and some smaller, which will create a more whimsical-looking patchwork.” I’m debating cutting the stained bits off my favorite tea towels and sewing them all together as a tablecloth like hers.

4. Buy the best sheets you can afford—and wash them as often as you can

Is there anything better than sleeping on crisp, clean sheets? Sekine certainly must think not, as she shares a story about saving up to buy Irish linen sheets as a 25-year-old—and then washing them every single day(!), so she could always sleep on fresh bed linens. While there is no way I’m finding time for daily laundering (maybe in retirement?), I do appreciate the reminder that investing in the best will pay you back in both the enjoyment of the high-quality item and the longer lifespan—and that clean sheets are worth the effort when you do have time. I have some designer percale sheets that I’m almost embarrassed to admit have lasted more than 20 years, while some others from a direct-to-consumer brand purchased a couple years ago are already fraying. Lesson learned!

5. And upcycle them when they’re at the end of their life

Sekine didn’t send those gorgeous linen sheets to the trash heap when they began to fray. Instead she repurposed the fabric to make curtains and the rest she cut into strips and made into pot holders and table linens, weaving them in like a rag rug. “There are endless uses for beautiful fabric that has outlived its intended use,” she writes. “It gives me such pleasure to find new life for a beloved object.”

6. Arrange flowers in surprising vessels

When I’ve read about ikebana flower arranging before, it always sounded complicated, but Sekine makes it sounds so much more approachable when she describes the use of unexpected objects in flower arranging by 16th-century tea master Sen no Rikyū. “I channel his spirit as I dig up watering cans, pots, and old glasses to use as vessels,” Sekine writes, pointing out that there are many styles of ikebana. This teapot holding an arrangement of violets and rosemary is so refreshingly unexpected—and so doable.

Photo by Nao Shimizu for 'Simplicity at Home'

7. Make your own orange-peel cleaner

Another thing Sekine made sound easy to do that I have always resisted? Making your own household cleaner. Like a lot of us, Sekine says she’s been trying to make her cleaning more eco-friendly. She now makes homemade cleaner out of orange peels, which contains malic acid (naturally present in the peels) that cuts through grease and conditions wood surfaces. Here’s her recipe: For a homemade orange cleaner, in a small saucepan, combine the peel of 1 orange for every 1/2 cup of water. Bring this to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Once it cools, transfer to a clean spray bottle. It will keep for up to one month. Use throughout the kitchen and on wood.

Is there a book that changed the way you approach life at home? Tell us in the comments.

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Laura Fenton

Written by: Laura Fenton

Laura Fenton is the A Full Plate columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small and the former lifestyle director at Parents magazine, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton.

1 Comment

Mar March 18, 2021
Be careful of the orange peel cleaner. Commercially, it is known as Limonene and it is present in many products. It is increasingly becoming an allergen, causing weeping, red rashes after repeated exposure. I developed a severe facial allergy to it, no matter what part of my body was in contact with it.
That increased the difficulty in determining what I was allergic to, as did the multiple names it has and the many uses - it is in cosmetics, fragrances, facial/body cleansers and lotions, household and industrial cleansers, as a fragrance and as a fragrance-masker.
Citrus peels are 95% limonene. In Europe it must be labeled as limonene, but some countries do not require that it is specifically labeled, so it can just be called an “essential oil” or “fragrance.