All About My Grandmother: Her Influence on Tidying, Family and Beyond

While putting the finishing touches on my first children’s book, “Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship,” I’ve been reflecting on my own childhood. One of the most significant relationships of my youth was with my paternal grandmother, Noriko, the same one who taught me the art of tea ceremony.

I feel very fortunate to have spent so much time with my grandmother before she passed away. Her kindness and elegance had a profound impact on me – especially the natural and seemingly effortless way she tidied.

“In her graceful way, without ever instructing, my grandmother taught me to do things with intention and care.”

Oba-chan, my grandmother, lived in Miyazaki Prefecture, about an hour and a half by plane from Tokyo, where I grew up. My parents, my two siblings and I visited her for a week about twice a year. Starting in sixth grade I made these trips by myself. My grandfather died when I was in preschool, so it was just my grandmother and me during these visits. I saw her more often than anyone else in our family did; we had a very special bond.

My grandmother taught me how to tidy with ease; her home was always very neatly organized – and she never made it look like work. When my grandfather was still alive, he and my grandmother lived in a very traditional Japanese home, complete with a koi pond and Zen garden. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved into a compact two-story house. I was in high school at the time and don’t remember what items she had to discard during the move, but I do know she didn’t have too many personal things to begin with. What she did have, she truly treasured. She really took care of each and every item, even taking the time to pick up all of her glass figurines and wipe them down with a cloth. She taught me to cherish what you have.

She also possessed an impeccable sense of style. Japanese people can go a little overboard with their decoration, but not her. She really knew how to use the texture of the Shoji screens and the sliding doors in Japanese homes. She was the sort of person who always had a white lace handkerchief draped over the edge of her handbag, just so. During cherry blossom season she would change her handkerchief or blouse to match the color of the cherry blossoms; or if the leaves were falling, you would see that reflected in her wardrobe, too. Even as a young girl, I admired her sophisticated taste.

What my grandmother really taught me was to take care of the places you can’t readily see, like the inside of a drawer. She kept those spaces very neatly organized. I loved when she would show me the inside of her dresser or closets and go through the bags and accessories she owned.

“She didn’t have too many personal things, but what my grandmother did have she truly treasured.”

My grandmother was petite, just like I am, and we had the same shoe size. Whenever I looked at her shoes there was one pair that really caught my eye – silver sandals with flowers on them. I wasn’t usually this forward, but once I asked her if I could have them. “You can have any other pair but those!” she told me, explaining that they had been a gift from my grandfather when they were dating. He had invited her to a dance, and my grandmother, who was quite shy, said she couldn’t attend. Not giving up, my grandfather presented her with this pair of silver sandals. “If you wear these you will have nothing to worry about. Everyone will see that you are the most beautiful woman in the world.” After that, she agreed to go to the dance with him. That’s one of my memories of my grandmother that really sparks joy for me.

I don’t remember what happened to those shoes, and, in fact, I only have a few items of hers. One of them is a cup that she used to drink cocoa. My grandmother would alternate which cup she used depending on what she was drinking – a practice that left an impression on me; it really surprised me that just to drink cocoa she had her own special cup!

Now I use that cup to drink cocoa, too. I did try using it for tea, but it didn’t feel quite right. I knew this was a cup for cocoa.

I also received her engagement ring when she passed away. When Takumi, my husband, proposed to me, he didn’t have the money to buy me a ring. I told him “I don’t need a ring! You can give me this ring instead.” Her ring is the one he gave to me when he proposed.

My grandmother was someone for whom everything sparked joy; she really treasured all of her belongings, whether it be her teacup collection, her decorative items or the grand piano she often played. In her graceful way, without ever teaching or instructing, she taught me to do things with intention and care.