Simplicity, Nature, Elegance

Wabi-sabi, simply, is the Japanese art of imperfect beauty, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. Emerging in fifteenth century Japan as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. Wabi-sabi celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in liver spots, rust, frayed edges. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the impersonal sadness of these blemishes, and the march of time they represent.

Intimately tied to Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi can be embraced as an aesthetic sense, but it also brings a subtle spiritual component into the home. It reminds us that home should be a sanctuary, not a loud place full of disturbance and distraction. It asks that we set aside our judgments and our need for perfection and focus, instead, on the beauty of things as they are.

You can start bringing wabi-sabi into your home and into your life right now by taking these simple, basic steps. You’ll be amazed at the difference they can make.

—One day a week, wash the dinner dishes by hand. Taking on this task alone allows you quiet, uninterrupted time to think—or not think. Asking your spouse or child to help gives you time to catch up on each other’s days (or weeks).

—Pay attention to your daily bread. Is the food you’re eating in season, and is it available locally? Through the meals you choose and prepare, you can connect with the earth’s cycles and with the place where you live—and live a healthier life. Buy food from your local farmer’s markets and ask the produce manager at your grocery store where different items came from.

—Next time you sweep the floor, consider it a meditation. Opt for the broom over the Dirt Devil whenever possible.

—When you’re invited to someone’s house or even just to a meeting, bring a small gift—nothing extravagant, just a small gesture (a jar of homemade jam or apples from your tree, perhaps) that lets them know they’re appreciated.

—Offer everyone who comes to visit a cup of tea. Serve it in pretty cups with a little something sweet. If no one comes by, enjoy a cup of tea by yourself in the late afternoon.

—Keep one vase in your home filled with seasonal flowers.

—Take a walk every day. Let this be your opportunity to open up your senses and to experience the changing seasons.

—Learn to knit or crochet.

—Next time you buy something, stop and ask questions. Who made it? How was it made? Where does it come from?

Read more, get inspired more, and get to know the author: Exert from Robyn Griggs, "The Wabi-Sabi House."