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The concept of decluttering has become more widely embraced in China, with many viewing the process as a means to examine their feelings
The lifestyle salon organized by US tech company iRobot was supposed to be about how artificial intelligence (AI) could help free homeowners from domestic chores.
But the two Japanese guest speakers in attendance were talking about something that even the most intelligent of robots are still not able to do - declutter.
During the two-hour workshop in Shanghai, Ikeda Emi and Katsumi Hirosawa, both of whom have been working in China for more than a decade, dispensed decluttering tips such as how people can organize their cables and wires and recycle yoghurt cups to achieve a more organized home.
"Artificial intelligence is not an enemy to us professional home organizers. On the contrary, robots are able to perform the repetitive tasks, giving us more time and energy to take on the job of decluttering," said Emi, whose consultancy in Shanghai has been offering home organizing services to households and corporates in China since 2004.
Kelly Zhang, general manager of iRobot China, said that her team chose home organization as the theme of the inaugural lifestyle salon because they noticed that the demographics of those interested in home organization are similar to the target customers of iRobot - well-heeled urbanites who can afford to spend up to 3,000 yuan ($461) on a robotic vacuum cleaner.
The Japanese are well-known to be experts in decluttering, and there is perhaps no one more prominent in this field than Marie Kondo, whose international bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has taken the world by storm. Over 7 million copies of the book has been sold since it was published in 2011. It has also been translated from Japanese into dozens of languages.
In China, Zhou Yiyan, the founder of No.1 Organizing Platform, a WeChat account about home organization, is one of the most popular home organizers. Zhou"s account is followed by more than 200,000 people. Some of her sponsors include household appliance companies like iRobot, furniture giant IKEA and real estate developers.
"The act of decluttering explores the relationship between human and objects. It disrupts the emotional bond between the owner and his possessions. Such a disruption can only be done by a third party, a professional who is well-versed in the art of discarding," explained Zhou.
"A robot or AI cannot help to decide which pair of jeans you should keep as a motivation for you to lose weight and fit into it again one day. Professional home organizers are like marriage consultants and psychologists. When people decide to have their home organized, the problem is usually not just the mess in the physical space. More often, there is also a deeper psychological disorder that needs to be fixed," she added.
Zhou said that her interest in decluttering was sparked when she read Kondo"s book in 2015. Intrigued at how the practice could potentially help with her personal problems, Zhou taught herself in the way of decluttering by reading more books on the subject.
After getting rid of enough clothes to cover three king-size beds, Zhou felt as if she had fixed both the mess in her home and her life.
In China, the hourly rate for home cleaners ranges from 20 to 40 yuan. Professional home organizers, on the other hand, command a fee ranging from 100 to 1,000 yuan. But Zhou notes that the growing popularity of decluttering in society stems from people"s interest in the topic rather than a desire to make it a lucrative career. Of the 2,000 people polled on Zhou"s WeChat account, most said that they would not hire a professional to help with decluttering as they view it as a process of self-exploration.
But that has not stopped companies from targeting those who would pay for such services.
In late 2015, 1jiajie.com collaborated with Hideko Yamashita to launch home organization services. The Japanese is the inventor of Danshari, which is believed to be the core concept behind decluttering.
The company said they had recruited and trained a special team of about 300 staff to offer the service which costs between 400 and 600 yuan for organizing a home that is about 100 square meters in size.
A consumer survey done by the Beijing-based website found that 90 percent of its 1.42 million regular users were willing to pay as much as 830 yuan to have their homes or offices decluttered. Among the survey respondents, about 64 percent live in apartments with one or two bedrooms, while less than 10 percent reside in a villa or a duplex. One-third of the respondents admitted that they were shopaholics.
1jiajie.com stopped providing this home organization service in 2016. The company declined to reveal the reasons behind the termination.
In May last year, the admission to a five-day training program in Shanghai by Kondo"s consultancy was being resold for 30,000 yuan.
That same month, an 80-square-meter buyer"s store, marketed as the only location in China that sells tools and gadgets for decluttering and tidying up, was opened in Shanghai.custom wristbands uk personalised silicone wristbands 202mm to inches wristband maker fabric wristbands uk