It’s Time To Embrace Wabi-Sabi
Is your to-do list spiralling out of control? Do you feel the constant need to keep updating and improving your home? Are you always buying new things, only for the shine to eventually wear off?
If you’ve answered yes to at least one of these questions, then it sounds like you might benefit from a bit of Wabi-Sabi.
Just when you thought you’d got your head around Hygge, and now there’s a new wellness movement on the scene. This Japanese concept can help you create a happier home and feel more content, rather than always wishing for more.
Read on to discover how this ancient Japanese philosophy can bring some clarity to your life…
What is Wabi-Sabi?
The term Wabi-Sabi consists of two concepts combined into one. Each word has its own rich meaning, but they come together to form a unique concept that explains the warmth that radiates from certain things (or people) that embody it.
Wabi is a term that means something like “peace or quiet fulfilment with intentional simplicity”. At one time, it was used to describe the monks of Japan in the 14th century. They had simple robes, often worn and a bit tattered. They lived in simple housing, did their rituals with little adornment and pageantry, and thus exemplified a mode of existence that was respected for its simplicity and tranquillity.
Wabi has come to be associated with a kind of minimalism and humility. People are often described as Wabi when they exemplify a deep understanding of and comfort with who they are and don’t crave or long to be anything else.
Sabi (which conveniently rhymes with its partner word) connotes the graceful and quiet dignity of something (or someone) persisting through time. It mostly applies to objects, but it can easily be extended to a person as well. It’s the green oxidation on the Statue of Liberty, the whiskering on a pair of old jeans, the dark seasoning on a cast-iron skillet.
Sabi has as its root an embrace of the Buddhist teachings about impermanence and an acceptance of the decoration of time and existence. And that’s the thing about Sabi: it can’t be built-in to something or fabricated.
Bringing the terms together, Wabi-sabi is an ancient Japanese philosophy focused on accepting the imperfect and transient nature of life. It’s rooted in Buddhism and also arose from tea ceremonies in which prized utensils were handmade, irregular and imperfect. There is no direct western translation for wabi-sabi, but essentially it is the art of finding beauty in the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.
Hygge Vs Wabi-Sabi
We’ve seen the words “Wabi-Sabi” pop up in magazines, on Pinterest boards and on our Instagram feeds over the last few months. There have been books published on the subject, and it’s even being hailed as the inspiration for the interior trends of the moment.
Loosely translated, Wabi means “less is more”, while Sabi means “attentive melancholy”. It can be incorporated into almost every aspect of your life and encourages the acceptance of little mistakes and rough edges in everyday life. It’s about accepting things as they are, knowing imperfections will occur over time. It’s about accepting transience and appreciating the inevitable cycle of growth and decay.
In Zen philosophy, there are seven aesthetic principles in achieving Wabi-Sabi:
- Kanso – simplicity
- Fukinsei – asymmetry or irregularity
- Shibumi – beauty in the understated
- Shizen – naturalness without pretence
- Yugen – subtle grace
- Datsuzoku – freeness
- Seijaku – tranquillity
Like Hygge, Wabi-Sabi values simple, uncluttered, underplayed and modest surroundings. It’s the art of finding beauty in imperfection, but not in a shabby-chic way. Wabi-Sabi channels minimalism that focuses on the people in the space.
The Japanese approach celebrates imperfections and authenticity. This is good news for those of us who long for a perfectly styled home but can’t seem to achieve it.
Wabi-Sabi In The Home
It’s fair to say that we in the western world are obsessed with perfection. But you won’t find Wabi-Sabi in a shiny new build or perfectly matching furniture. Also, it can’t be bought.
Wabi-Sabi is a wonky home-grown carrot; a crack in a ceramic bowl; a well-thumbed book; falling cherry blossom; a worn wooden hallway and an elbow patch on your favourite jumper. It’s an appreciation of all that is simple, modest and imperfect.
Authenticity is a big part of Wabi-Sabi, so cracks and imperfections are cherished for symbolising the passage of time and loving use. Embracing Wabi-Sabi in the home teaches us to be content with our current lot without constantly yearning for more. It’s the perfect antidote to a throwaway society built on disposable goods and mass-produced, homogeneous items.
Wabi-Sabi and Modern Life
The rise in use of social media has a large majority of us feeling that we need to present the perfect life online. Because of this, we can’t see a better time to embrace the relaxed principals of Wabi-Sabi.
The lifestyle calls for living modestly, accepting that we are imperfect and learning to be satisfied with what we have. Also, it’s the polar opposite of our stressful lives that often have us focusing on achieving perfection in all areas.
Bringing some Wabi-Sabi into your life can be as simple as being humble, warm and welcoming. There’s no big to-do list around this culture (which adds to its appeal). You don’t require anything to start the practice, just a simple and calming outlook.
Characteristics of Wabi-Sabi can be anything from simplicity to modesty, with an appreciation of natural objects and processes. It can be focusing on buying less and embracing the things you already own or bringing something from nature into your home. Flowers are a key symbol of Wabi-Sabi, to be appreciated even when they begin to wilt and are not at their most perfect.
You don’t need to be an expert on Japanese philosophy or have a big budget to adopt Wabi-Sabi principles in your home. There is no ‘wrong’ way to go about it; you simply need to shift your perspective from one of perfecting to one of appreciating.
On embracing the lifestyle, you may start to see the beauty in items you’d cast aside or begin using something you’d “saved for best.” If you don’t dare light your favourite candle for fear it would look better on Instagram in its perfect condition, this may be the mindset for you. The Wabi-Sabi way would be to enjoy the pleasure of using something you enjoy, whether it looks half burnt and asymmetrical or not.
Wabi-Sabi is about appreciating nature, so pay attention to the materials you bring into your home and go for natural options like wood and stone where possible. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they age well too. Take linen sheets for example, they get better with every wash.
When choosing colours, you can also look to nature for inspiration. This leaves a lot of room for personal choice as blushing cherry blossom pink is just as natural as cool and calming seafoam. Likewise, stormy grey is as natural as pine forest green.
Art of Imperfection
It can be tempting to constantly add new things to your home, but wabi-sabi is all about stripping back the unnecessary to allow yourself to live well. Consider getting rid of superfluous clutter by ridding yourself of pointless items. By doing this you allow the things that really matter to stand out and shine.
Of course, sometimes buying new things is necessary. Circumstances change, children come and go, we move houses, get new hobbies and so on. But when faced with the need to shop, consider a Wabi-Sabi approach and opt for handmade or used items over those which have been produced in their thousands.
Celebrities and Wabi-Sabi
Perfection is certainly a word many associate with Jessica Alba. Likewise, the mother of two manages to make running a wildly successful business look effortless. Lucky for us, she’s letting us in on her secret — and it’s basically the opposite of striving for perfection!
Alba opened up about her favourite philosophy during a fireside chat with Us Weekly. The 36-year-old shared that it’s a Japanese concept that she credits for keeping everything in check. Alba recently told Us Weekly that she swears by the Japanese philosophy to stay grounded and keep things in perspective.
The Honest Company CEO and actress explained, “I am an earthy and tactile person—I enjoy and embrace the imperfections of real life.” Alba explained that the practice often influences her interior design aesthetic. She uses “real wood or anything with a natural touch” in her home, stating that they’re “the most beautiful” to her.
Also, Dorsey cited the Japanese design philosophy of “Wabi-Sabi” as a model, which he says balances the ideas of sleek modernism with rustic “zen-like chaos.”
And there it is. Quiet your mind, understand, accept, and appreciate. That is as simple as it gets. Unfortunately, it can (and often does) take a lifetime to cultivate.
So, go forth and be both Wabi and Sabi.