Wabi Sabi

Yesterday I wrote about an avocado green canister that is banged up, rusted, and just plain ugly, but beautiful despite it’s imperfections.  Rather than the reactions I was expecting to receive, several folks said they loved that canister. 

I’m wondering if this green canister falls under the term Wabi Sabi.  That word in itself is just fabulous to say.  Wabi Sabi.  Try it.  It rolls off the tongue like Obi Wan Kenobi, not that I have any idea who that is.  I’m much too young.

Or Ping Pong.  Ying Yang. 

Cheech and Chong.

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese philosophy of appreciating things that are imperfect, primitive, and incomplete.   I understand it as a “less is more” mind-set.  A place where non-essentials are weeded out and only essential items are left regardless of their imprefections.

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It 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. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.~~architect Tadao Ando

Robyn Giggs Lawrence has written a book called Simply Imperfect:  Revisiting the Wabi Sabi House.  I read an article she wrote recently that helped me realize this is what I’m aiming for.  This is the direction I’m heading.  I want Wabi Sabi!!

The two words wabi and sabi have different meanings and have not always been used together. 

Wabi means humble and simple.  Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi.     A common phrase used in conjunction with wabi is “the joy of the little monk in his wind-torn robe.”  A wabi person epitomizes Zen, which is to say, he or she is content with very little; free from greed, indolence, and anger; and understands the wisdom of rocks and grasshoppers.

Can’t you just see that little monk’s weathered, aged, grinning face?

Sabi means rusty and weathered.  It’s the understanding that beauty is fleeting.  Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace. 

In home decor, wabi-sabi inspires a minimalism that celebrates the human rather than the machine. Possessions are pared down, and pared down again, until only those that are necessary for their utility or beauty (and ideally both) are left. What makes the cut? Items that you both admire and love to use, like those hand-crank eggbeaters that still work just fine. Things that resonate with the spirit of their makers’ hands and hearts: the chair your grandfather made, your six-year-old’s lumpy pottery, an afghan you knitted yourself (out of handspun sheep’s wool, perhaps). Pieces of your own history: sepia-toned ancestral photos, baby shoes, the Nancy Drew mysteries you read over and over again as a kid.

So yes, I’d say this green tin is very wabi sabi.

And I’m keeping it.

Words to describe a wabi sabi philosophy.

  • Simple
  • Uncluttered
  • Beautiful
  • Authentic
  • Slow
  • Clean
  • Quiet
  • Imperfect

I cling to my imperfection, as the very essence of my being.

Anatole France (1844 – 1924)




  1. Lara says:

    I want to become Wabi Sabi! It is going to take me a while to become uncluttered. I need to get serious about it.


  2. Blockader says:

    I always thought Wabi Sabi was the Lone Ranger’s pal.

    I had one Nancy Drew book that came in a box of used books from my cousin. It sat on my shelf, unread, unopened and even untouched, next to my well-worn collection of Hardy Boys. I guess it was wabi sabi-like in its own way.


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