Wabi-sabi is the Japanese way of finding beauty in imperfection, richness in natural things and reverence of the simple and authentic. It is an acceptance of the transience of nature and the natural cycle of birth, growth, death and decay. Flaws and imperfections are also part of nature. They provide an interestingness that pushes something from merely pretty into the realm of beauty.
Wabi-sabi is two distinct words joined together to create a new combined meaning.
Wabi comes from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquillity, and balance and wabi has come to mean simple, un-materialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature.
Sabi literally means “to grow old.” However it’s definition has evolved into taking pleasure in things that are old and faded. Sabi things carry their years with dignity and grace. An abandoned barn, as it collapses, grows moss and weeds, and slowly transforms into a part of the landscape, holds this mystique.
We have wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is weathered and worn.
Wabi-sabi is carboot sales and markets, not warehouse stores. It is aged hardwood, and not laminate, flooring. It is filtered sunlight through stained glass windows not bright flourescent lighting. It is a comfortable, creaking cane chair on stone patio and not a squeaky plastic chair on plastic composite decking.
It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that transience and change are as beautiful as they are inevitable. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to love rust, frayed edges, weathering and the patina of time they represent.
D. T. Suzuki, one of Japan’s foremost English-speaking authorities on Zen Buddhism thought of wabi-sabi as a deliberate aesthetical appreciation of material simplicity. “Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau,” he wrote, “and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall.”
At home, wabi-sabi inspires a minimalism that celebrates the human and the natural rather than the machine. Possessions are pared down until only those that are necessary for their utility and beauty are left. These are items that you admire and love to use.
Wabi-sabi interiors tend to be muted. Natural materials that are vulnerable to weathering, warping, shrinking, cracking, and peeling lend an air of authentic impermanence. The palette is drawn from browns, blacks, grays, earthy greens, and rusts. This implies a lack of freedom but actually affords an opportunity for creativity.
Wabi can never be nasty. A hard line separates the tattered, shabby, dusty and dirty from something worthy of admiration. Wabi-sabi is never filthy, messy or unkempt. Wabi-sabi things have survived and bear the marks of time precisely because they’ve been so well cared for throughout the years. Cleanliness and care implies respect. Outsiders will always be drawn to things and places that are well-respected.
There’s no list of rules for wabi-sabi. Creating a wabi-sabi home and lifestyle is the result of developing our wabi mind and heart: living deliberately, living modestly, and learning to enjoy what we have and not craving things we don’t have and don’t need.
We could all benefit from more wabi-sabi in our lives.