Dave and I are trying to put more thought into our surroundings and belongings; it seems to be an obvious step toward simplification. We’re considering feng shui concepts, particularly in organizing our office, and I’ve gotta be honest — it’s been TOUGH. It’s the hardest room we have to decorate; even harder than the living room (which still has its faults and quirks that we haven’t been able to figure out yet). I think that the wiring pretty much limits us to utilize the current arrangement for keeps…although I’ve drawn out a fantasy of what I’d RATHER do with the space.
An idea other than the well-known feng shui (which is an easy concept to implement, in my mind; it’s pretty much a “how to” guide of positive energy) is wabi-sabi. I found out a lot about this philosophy from a guilty pleasure magazine purchase I made. In the February/March 2011 edition of Mother Earth News, the article “Wabi-Sabi: Finding the Beauty and Peace in Ordinary Things” opened my mind up to a whole new perspective on looking at one’s surroundings. I love it. I hate it. I have a definite love-hate thing going on here.
You see, wabi-sabi (as defined by Kate NaDeau in the article) is “the Japanese philosophy of appreciating things that are imperfect, primitive and incomplete…embrace the authentic, useful objects and discover the sacred in the everyday.” This all goes hand-in-hand with the green and simplification movements — appreciate what you have and what you surround yourself with, flawed pieces, hand-me-downs, chipping paint, and well-loved objects. It’s a wonderful idea. The images in the magazine, I wondered, seemed almost too perfectly used and beautiful…was there not a stylist nearby primping? Enough cynicism; seriously, this is the perfect philosophy, especially for frugalistas.
And now I’m face-to-face with a difficult personal paradox. I want to embrace this concept, truly. However, I was raised with Western philosophies, and am pretty obsessed with home goods and, particularly, the purchasing of decor. I don’t over-spend, but I would say that I spend more on dressing my house than I do on my own clothes. (If you know me, you could probably attest to my wardrobe. I try to keep it mended and clean, but don’t do sprees. Dave’s even worse as far as clothes purchasing or yearning.) I go out of my way to create mood boards and design concepts for rooms, and change them as needed. But, as far as I translate it, this is pretty much a 180 turn from wabi-sabi. If I did more flea-market finding, this would be much more appropriate. The closest I come is maybe Salvation Army (or the ottoman I just bought at an antique/junk store a month or so back, just waiting to be reupholstered — there it is again! I need to fix it, to make it “pretty”…it’s too disgusting and ugly not to change it).
Besides, I’m working to get this house in a livable, resellable (if it comes to that) condition. I’m sure that the realtors of America aren’t wabi-sabi enthusiasts.
Where can I find the balance? The ultimate goal here is to feel good about the life decisions that I make. Not stress myself out even further.
I turn back to the article for advice, which it so kindly gives. I can definitely look to wabi-sabi sort of the way that Dave looks at Buddhism — while he’s not necessarily “Buddhist”, he finds great strength and wisdom from the teachings and concepts that Buddhism can bring. Love that.
So, what does it have? “12 Ways to Wabi-Sabi”, of course! Can’t have a feature article without a how-to. And, here, I find some solace.
– Cultivate Slowness: Their focus here is to rebel against the use of machines so much, like sweeping rather than vacuuming. This is something that I’d LOVE to revel in — when the carpet is gone and we have hardwood floors staring back at us. (Natural vs. synthetic is a theme with wabi-sabi, so while I’ll be craigslisting (or Freecycling) the rug so that it doesn’t end up in a landfill, and getting things patched and refinished with low-VOC methods, it won’t be an overnight process…unfortunately.) But the “slowing down”, I get.
– Cultivate Vision: Learning how to find beauty in the mundane or everyday object, such as a coffee mug. I think here they were thinking about the handmade ones that fit your hands so nicely…and, honestly, I’m not a fan of those. But, again, the “looking at things through new, appreciative eyes”, I can get on board with.
– Cultivate Craft: Making and growing things. I like to create art, and am looking forward to growing my garden again.
– Cultivate Cleanliness: See, here I have to make a bit of a confession. My husband has come to learn this (and deals in a very sweet, silent way) that I accumulate clutter. Working on it. But, yeah, it’s a part of who I am…unfortunately. But the reasoning behind this, in wabi-sabi, is to create clean, sacred spaces. I can dig that.
– Cultivate Solitude: Finding a space dedicated to solitude and meditation, or even a quiet corner in a room (which is what we need in our tiny, crooked, well-loved house). I’ll work on this. This is one that, I think, would help Dave AND myself tremendously.
– Cultivate Space: Again, deleting clutter to promote clarity, physically and psychologically. Space and light are the most desirable objects.
– Cultivate Silence: Leaving the TV off for one night a week, practicing a few moments of silence before a shared meal, making time for a quiet cup of tea…another one that we could BOTH definitely get on board with. While I’m a bit of a TV addict (HGTV…Food Network…DIY…or Cooking Channel are comforting background noises for me), I do appreciate that nights that Dave and I just sit reading magazines or books, eating a meal, and heading to bed at a good hour. It freaks the cats out a bit.
– Cultivate Sabi: aka the beauty that comes with age. They suggest building with salvaged materials, which I’d LOVE to do if I could find a salvage yard around here. However, updating spaces makes this tough. I need to not feel guilty for purchasing new items to improve the home, but feel proud when I find antique items (like our console in the dining room) to meet our needs and add their own unique beauty. Oh, and I always have a huge soft spot in my heart for those who are really showing the signs of aging – grandparents and, now, our parents. Why am I tearing up?
– Cultivate Soul: My soul is, admittedly, in a sad state. I haven’t paid it nearly enough attention since, well, maybe high school. In a simpler suggestion, the magazine says to surround yourself with things that are made by human beings rather than by machines — inviting the souls of the craftsmen into your space. I find this intriguing. Maybe I’ll glance at those weird-looking pottery mugs more closely.
– Cultivate Imperfection: Hey! That’s me! Wait a sec!! They say here, and I quote, “Real people leave mail piled in the entry, let the flowers go a little too long in the vase (if they have them at all), allow the dog on the bed and have unpredictable cats. Wabi-sabi embraces these flaws.” Man, were they watching me? I’ve now put out a basket to collect the mail, but it still sits there. Otherwise…yeah, they’re talking about Meg. Whew! A saving grace.
– Cultivate Hospitality: The article suggests giving every room in the house a comfortable place to sit, with a blanket to curl up with, gentle lighting and a nice rug to make the invitation to stay all the more wonderful. This is a goal for Dave and me, to make the house a place that people want to be. Currently, we can only seat about 4 people comfortably in our living room. I need to look at our spaces. I like this one.
– Cultivate Simplicity: “Less stuff means more time to spend with family, friends and nature.” True, true. This is something that Dave and I have been working on since we moved in together, and while we haven’t beaten the game yet, we’re well on our way to the finish line.
So, while I’ll never be an expert at wabi-sabi, I can definitely hang it on my tool belt and get some good use out of it. I love that this concept is a little more abstract than the quite rigid rules of feng shui. Heck, it’s actually a sociological, economic and religious belief based in the Zen teachings, so it HAS to have more layers, which I find fascinating. In this way, it’s sort of the opposite of another philosophy that I have studied and admire, transcendentalism, which emphasizes more of perfecting oneself, whereas wabi-sabi embraces imperfection. I definitely respect a lot of what this philosophy provides and look forward to focusing on it.
When I look at Google Images for “wabi-sabi”, I can find inspiration and, simultaneously, disappointment. Some people aren’t getting it, either…so I guess I shouldn’t feel badly, myself, that I know I won’t be able to master it; only to use it and show that I respect it the best that I know how.
Yes, beautiful. But seriously. Where’s the comfortable, inviting space? I can see silence and cleanliness…but where’s the imperfection – other than that someone spilled the oranges?