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Atticus Harris

in search of simplicity

A Monk’s Guide To A Clean House And Mind (Book Summary)

A Clean Desk

Elevator Pitch

One Sentence: Cleaning is a way of teaching ourselves the true value of things.

In Summary: We tend to accumulate objects and people as easily as we discard them. This becomes a metaphor for the carelessness with which we live our lives. Cleaning is a small spiritual exercise to remind ourselves of what’s important.

The Takeaway: Clean your home in the same way you intend to live, with consistency, attention and commitment.

A Quick Introduction

There are few zen monks who are also MBA graduates. Shoukei Matsumoto, however, is both.

Although he might not fit your traditional idea of a monk, Matsumoto is an interesting character. He is married and has a family. He lives and works in Tokyo. And he writes books on how Buddhist principles can help us live more peaceful lives.

I found this book – which was a huge hit in Japan – to be compelling but also a bit dry in places. Maybe some of the nuances get lost in translation. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a book offering peace of mind and clarity that comes with such a simple prescription: pick up your broom and clean.

We tend to over complicate our lives. Reading Matsumoto I’m reminded that sometimes it’s the simple things, done mindfully, that can make a big difference. Pick it up if you’re in need of some honest and practical direction on how to bring a little zen wisdom into your home.

7 Quotes On Mindfulness, Simplicity & Value

1. “Life is a daily training ground, and we are each composed of the very actions we take in life. If you live carelessly, your mind will be soiled, but if you try to live conscientiously, it will slowly become pure again.”

The goal of Buddhist practice is to free ourselves from the endless cycle of suffering. We do this by training ourselves to live mindfully. Mindful living means being in the present moment and being careful with our actions. Learning to see each action as part of who we are might make us a little more precise in our daily life.

2. “The people and things in your life are what makes you who you are. This is why it’s not for you to judge whether something is useful, or to designate things you can’t use as rubbish.”

A thing is only rubbish because we decide it is. Nothing starts out that way. So to have less waste we should learn to see things differently. When we try to find and maintain the value of things in our life, there will naturally be less rubbish lying around.

3. “People who don’t respect objects don’t respect people.”

This should be self-evident but it’s something that’s easy to miss. I’m as quick to throw objects away as I am to give a sly remark to someone that cuts me off during my commute. If we can handle both with more care and consideration, we’ll avoid a lot of anxiety and stress.

4. “The toilet is one of the areas that Zen monks always put a great deal of effort into keeping clean. Adherents of Zen Buddhism also believe that Ucchusma attained enlightenment in the toilet, thus making it a holy space.”

This one made me chuckle. But it serves as a good reminder that no space, or object, or person is unworthy of our attention and respect. You never know where you might find enlightenment!

5. “People who endlessly chase after new things have lost their freedom to earthly desire. Only those who can enjoy using their imaginations when working with limited resources know true freedom.”

Can we find a happiness that does not rely on the latest thing or a new purchase? Is there something that can bring us joy outside of the endless impulse to buy more? How do we cultivate that?

6. “By not being anchored down by worldly possessions, his mind was able to achieve true freedom.”

The more we place the value of ourselves in external objects the less we will find internal fulfilment. Matsumoto suggests that caring for the things we already have is important. But learning to stop coveting them is essential.

7. “Cleaning is carried out not because there is dirt, but because it’s an ascetic practice to cultivate the mind.”

The mind is best trained through discipline. What I take from this – and this could be the biggest learning from the book – is that any activity can be your practice. If meditation isn’t your jam find something else. Do it regularly, mindfully and with the right intention. You’ll be on your way to finding that cultivated mind.

Further Reading & Links

A slim paperback, this book is a quick and easy read. It’s accompanied by some sweet illustrations and is the kind of book you’ll come back to for a little moment of zen inspiration every now and then.
A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind – Shoukei Matsumoto

Pair this book with Charlottle Joko Beck’s manual for a simpler life, Everyday Zen. Read my summary of that book by clicking the link below.
Everyday Zen – Book Summary