If you’re happy and you know it, tidy up: Seoul guru explains the key to decluttering

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Jung Hee-sook, an organizing consultant in South Korea, at her office in Guri, Gyeonggi Province. (Supplied)
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Jung Hee-sook, an organizing consultant in South Korea, at her office in Guri, Gyeonggi Province. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 August 2020

If you’re happy and you know it, tidy up: Seoul guru explains the key to decluttering

  • “My focus of tidying up is not throwing away but organizing for space,” said Jung
  • Jung enjoys a huge fan base on social media - one video on how to clean a dresser was watched 1.2 million times

SEOUL: Keep it if it makes you happy, South Korea’s tidying consultant Jung Hee-sook tells her clients as the first step for a less cluttered and more meaningful life.
“I feel most rewarded when my clients say they live happier lives after decluttering their houses,” Jung, 49, told Arab News.
It was not an easy journey to begin with she says, reminiscing about the start of her career in 2012.
“My job was often regarded as merely part of cleaning work. Tidying up is such a meaningful job that can help others in need and help people to live better,” she added.
Eight years on, she has decluttered 2,000 homes and counting, and says for that to happen it’s imperative to “read the client first.”
She cites the example of a woman who was determined to tidy up her home, not to give it a makeover but to “make life easier for her family.”
“When I visited her house, I noticed the lights dimming and curtains were still drawn. I got the sense that this family had some problems. During consulting, I learnt that the client was going blind. She wanted to tidy up her home before losing her sight to help her husband find items easily for their child,” Jung said, adding that it was one of her “most rewarding experiences.”
Often compared to Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” who enjoys a massive following across the world, Jung says her approach to tidying is different from the one propagated by Kondo, who places a priority on getting rid of anything that does not “spark joy.”
“My focus of tidying up is not throwing away but organizing for space,” said Jung, who has written two books on the topic, “Smart Tidying Ways” and “The Best Interior is in Organizing.” “You can keep your items if you don’t want to throw them away, but the bottom line is you have to organize them for use instead of leaving them unattended or stacked up in the corner.”

South Korea seems to be listening.
Jung enjoys a huge fan base on social media — one video from November last year on how to clean a dresser was watched 1.2 million times on YouTube — while her high-profile clients include CEOs and celebrities such as K-POP girl group Mamamoo’s Hwasa.
Experts point to the country’s unique concept of “jeong” to explain Jung’s popularity.
“It’s like an old grandmother piling plate upon plate of food in front of their grandchild to the point where they feel they might burst,” said Kwak Keum-joo, professor of psychology at the Seoul National University, explaining the national “attachment to objects.”
He said that the majority of people lay great emphasis on materialistic stuff as a benchmark of social status.
Jung agrees. “Korean people possess things to show off their wealth or social reputation. Most distinctively, they feel an attachment to objects,” she said.
Changes in consumer behavior, Kwak said, are also a key factor for the rising trends of house decluttering as well.
“In the past, most Koreans were brought up to save money and conserve things, but now they’re spending money if they have it, and they can purchase things fast and conveniently online at any time,” she said.
Jung says the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown helped to accelerate the decluttering process as well.
“People were staying home longer than before and paying more attention to tidying up their spaces at homes,” she said.
Jung’s top tip for starting is to take everything out and prioritize items based on their usage or emotional attachment.
“The thing is to sort out items and put them in separate spaces. People think it looks clean when you don’t see objects, but real organizing means sorting out the hidden things,” she said.
Next, Jung wants to take her teachings to the rest of the world.
“I hope to establish the right culture of decluttering to make people’s lives happier, not just in South Korea but in foreign countries as well. I am confident that the life of my clients has changed for the better after decluttering their houses.”

Iraqi calligraphy artist Hassan Massoudy’s search for harmony

Updated 50 min 2 sec ago

Iraqi calligraphy artist Hassan Massoudy’s search for harmony

  • The acclaimed artist and calligrapher discusses the origins of his work and the decades of practice leading to his new book

LONDON: The Iraqi artist and renowned calligrapher Hassan Massoudy is at home in Paris quietly reminiscing. Now well into his 70s, and having not returned to Iraq for 50 years, he can be excused the odd moment of nostalgia.

“When I was younger, I went on a trip with my mother to visit her brother, who was a preacher and a thinker,” he remembers. “I looked at him in awe in his black clothes and large turban as he wrote literary phrases using a reed pen. I didn’t know how to read at that time, but what attracted me was the black ink on the white paper. I used to see the Arabic letters as a set of pictures. I marveled at that sight.”

He remembers, too, being summoned to the front of his class when he was 10 years old. Expecting the worst, he made his way to the front slowly, only to be praised for the quality of his writing. “I was over the moon when my teacher asked me to write in front of the other students in order for them to learn,” he says, pride still evident after all these years. “Today, after 66 years, I think that was the first time I wrote calligraphy in front of an audience — something I have continued to do all my life.”

Generosity is giving more than you can. Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931). (Supplied)

Massoudy has spent a lifetime creating art that, despite its break with tradition, continues to express the beauty of Arabic calligraphy. He has taken individual letters and words, constructed them as huge sculptural works, and developed his artistic practice through the increased use of energy and speed. This has led to the creation of texts with far greater character, he says, and to his own appreciation of the importance of space. “Beforehand, I thought that the letter was the only important aspect of calligraphy,” he says. “Now I realize that the space around the letters is another part of calligraphy — the letters and spaces must work together in harmony.”

Renowned for transforming poetic texts into vibrant works of art, Massoudy may have broken with classical calligraphic tradition, but his sentences are peppered with references to old masters. In Istanbul, he met the last of the great Ottoman calligraphers, including Hamid Aytaç, and studied for a brief period of time at the Madrasat Tahsin Al Khotoout in Cairo. As an apprentice in Baghdad, he spent hours with Hashem Al-Baghdadi, considered the last of the classical calligraphers. 

Knowledge stands at the highest of all ranks. Arabic saying. (Supplied)

In 1980, he went in search of the official body of work of Ibn Muqla, a vizier within the Abbasid Caliphate and the first to codify the principles of calligraphy in the 10th century. Although not a single line of Ibn Muqla’s work has survived, Massoudy has documented the calligrapher’s physical legacy, including a small eight-page notebook in Cairo and another in the National Library in Tunis. The former is a copy made some time in the 16th century.

“How do calligraphers from the past continue to affect me? Their beautiful lines have lived for thousands of years, and as a calligrapher you want to continue that. And as Jalaluddin Rumi says: ‘What you are looking for is also looking for you.’”    

Born and raised in Najaf, Massoudy moved to Baghdad in his late teens. The idea was to study at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts but he didn’t meet the entry requirements, so turned instead to the calligraphers’ shops that could still be found in the city in the early Sixties. The world he encountered there was populated by a small group of calligraphers, “but it was generous, open-minded, and unafraid of the collapse of classical methods.”

The best of speech is concise and precise. Arabic proverb. (Supplied)

Although all of his work was in the world of advertising, he learned multiple styles of calligraphy, including elaborate forms such as Thuluth and Diwani, before leaving for Paris in 1969. There, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he produced his first figurative paintings and eventually formed what would become his own distinctive practice.

“In my calligraphy I reflect my personal state of being — my hopes and my aspirations,” he says. “I empty my soul of all its concerns, providing myself a state of inner peace. This is a state of equilibrium between the artistic process of the self and the human community we are linked to. What can an artist do against the wars and the injustices faced by individuals? I believe that an artist can make their work honestly representative of the time, and therefore a benefit for future generations. It’ll be for others to judge the quality of the artist’s work, therefore determining its longevity.”

Place your words well, for words place you. Arabic saying. (Supplied)

The words he draws upon for his work are those of others, particularly the writings of poets and philosophers, including Rumi, Khalil Gibran and the Persian mystic Al-Hallaj. He also draws heavily on proverbs from around the world. In doing so, he not only creates distinctive works of art, but promotes a message of peace and tolerance — two themes that are central to much of his work. That’s why words such as ‘love’ and ‘serenity’ are sprinkled liberally throughout his work.

That body of work is extensive, ranging from works on paper to theatrical performances that combine music and poetry with the creation of calligraphy live on stage. His first such performance was with the French actor Guy Jacquet and the Iraqi multi-instrumentalist Fawzy Al-Aiedy — the trio toured for 13 years in the Seventies and early Eighties. A later collaboration with the choreographer Carolyn Carlson and the Turkish musician Kudsi Erguner led to the creation of “Metaphore,” a ‘harmony of music, dance and calligraphy.’

Be the change you wish to see in the world. Gandhi (1869-1948). (Supplied)

“When I find a poetic verse, one that includes an image that I can see perfectly in my mind, I take its most beautiful words and spend days imagining the poet writing those words and how to formally reach a new expression through the new construction of a word,” Massoudy explains. “I also try to think of what can be added to enrich the painting. For example, the use of colors, as I am a person who tries his best to achieve perfection. When I speak of perfection, my goal is to create something that is as close as possible to the vision the poet had in mind. Therefore, I write the same word multiple times in a different size, even if it (differs) just by a few millimeters.”

This creative process was central to the creation of “Calligraphies of the Desert,” published by Saqi Books this month. Drawing inspiration from the writers and poets who ‘lost themselves in the mysteries of the desert,’ it is the end result of various trips undertaken by Massoudy and his wife Isabelle to the deserts of North Africa. It was there that his calligraphy “took on the ochre, yellow and pink hues of the setting sun” and his lines “closely paralleled the hollows of the dunes.”

Massoudy’s artistic vision is a humanist one. He seeks to enhance society and to elevate culture, using inspirational words to “contribute modestly to public awareness.”

“Love, happiness, hope and dignity,” he says. “All of these themes, and many others, are needed in this current time.”