Beautiful justifications: wabi-sabi

Design from Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders
My favourite jeans have a pronounced wallet fade, and a hole in the pocket that’s been resewn almost a dozen times. They look great. They look, and feel, distinctly mine.
The longer I have a notebook, the more I like it; pages get bent, the stickers on the cover peel, it gets that lived in look and feel. 
I love that look. And feel.


I’m a lousy housecleaner, as my wife is at pains to remind me. I wash dishes and sometimes don’t rinse them very well, or even leave some soup on the side of a bowl. Quality control is low when I’m on chore duty. She and I both think it’s because I’m not great at paying attention – my focus wanders and the work suffers.

Same with vacuuming. I don’t always vacuum every corner and get every piece of dust. But when it comes to vacuuming, dishwashing and other household tasks, I almost always stay true to my ethos: “never leave the house dirtier than when you started cleaning it.” It’s not much to brag about, but at least it’s something.
I like to think that the lack of quality and attention is due to my artistic creative nature – rather than seeing these tasks as failing to hold my attention, I see them as launchpads for valuable daydreaming. The poor results in the cleaning are the price to pay for brilliant ideas. 

Unfortunately, I don’t think that answer is true – it’s far too willfully self-congratulatory to be accurate. My wife also thinks it’s bullshit.

That left me defaulting to a cold hard possible truth: that there’s really no excuse for being unable to do housework effectively; it’s laziness, pure and simple.

Not ‘wasabi’, it’s ‘wabi-sabi’
Then this morning, I was reminded, by the beautiful illustration up top, of the Japanese term wabi-sabi. Which is actually a pretty complex and beautiful Buddhist-inspired philosophy around embracing impermanence and imperfection. Life is fleeting, and so is order.

A chip or crack in a bowl can make it more interesting, draw attention to its once-flawless shape. Expand your conception of what beauty is to include the passage of time, and don’t cling to a false ideal of perfection as beauty, and a whole world of possibility and serenity opens up.

“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” writes Richard Powell in Wabi-Sabi Simple.
To add a further element of desirability, this elegant philosophy (which can additionally be applied to many examples of children’s arts and crafts), also has a narrative dimension to it. 
A favourite pair of shoes that travel with us, wear in, get stained, become more interesting not just physically, but also because they become imbued with story. Like sweat and dirt, they absorb our experiences.
Jeans are another great example – I’ve enjoyed breaking in any pair of raw denim I’ve owned because it becomes a project, because I can see them change and adapt to my body, and because they develop a story as they crease and fade. 
They change from a mass marketed product into an individual article that embodies and expresses shades of identity, and carry story in them. 
Wabi-sabi, was first introduced to me by my boss at Waterwise, he was fond of the concept, and championed imperfection. 
Being reminded of it this morning pleased me, not least because the wabi-sabi philosophy can also be perverted to justify my half-assed attempts at cleaning; my lazy distracted approach to chores are in line with an ideal of beauty that purposefully and honourably strays from perfection, in search of a deeper beauty.

2017-09-14T08:43:39+00:00 September 18 2014|