Wabi-Sabi: The Imperfection We All Love but Not Dare Admit

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Just when we thought we have found our personal home interior style, a new trend comes to stir things up – literally. But not be fooled by the word ‘new’. Wabi-sabi might be the new guy in the western world but has deep roots in the Japanese culture. What’s so special about it? And why interior designers consider it THE trend of the year? Simply because it celebrates imperfection! Intrigued?

Believe it or not, you are a wabi-sabi fan

If you are sick and tired of matchy-matchy home décor and styles, wabi-sabi is for you. If you laugh at the idea of even attempting to transform your home into a minimal emptiness with so much stuff lying around, you are a fan and don’t know it yet. If you keep stacks of books and magazines on your coffee table and like it, throw your bathrobe on the chair and don’t mind picking it up later, the ‘perfect’ home drives you crazy, you make a mess when you get ready to go to work and don’t shed a tear, and don’t raise red flags when the kids spill mustard on the kitchen counter, congrats! You found the style you’ve been waiting for all your life.

So, what is wabi-sabi?

It’s everything mass-produced isn’t. It’s the small retail shops. It’s the elegance age brings. It’s waking up in a gray day and loving every minute of it. It’s getting four and not three flowers. It’s having fun just by looking at the sea. It’s loving everything raw, the cracks time leaves behind, and the charm of old houses. Wabi-sabi goes against anything that has been saturated by technology, perfected for the sake of fake elegance, and ornamented to cover authenticity.

Okay, you say, that’s all very nice but how are they related to our home? And interior design? And why should we be interested? 

Patience, my friends. Everything is related. Wabi-sabi is the worldview of the Japanese culture or else our perception of the world. It emerged around the 15th century when the dominant aesthetics were all about ornaments. Wabi-sabi stood in favor of natural things, imperfection, authenticity, and impermanence.

Although it’s hard to translate the two words, wabi traditionally meant living in nature and sabi meant withered. Over time, wabi started having the meaning of something fresh and simple. It was referred to the imperfections of an object during construction which made it unique. Sabi started having the meaning of elegance which comes from aging and so celebrated patina. As an overall, the term had a hidden philosophy and spirituality. The idea was that nothing is permanent or perfect or complete.

There is asymmetry, simplicity, and roughness in nature to remind us that our presence on earth is transient. The cycles of life bring a sense of melancholy, which will also be noticed on a cracked pot or weathered furniture. But life cycles also give us a reason to celebrate everything genuine. Life itself. They urged us to embrace imperfect objects, ‘messy’ rooms, color combos, and all gray zones simply because nothing is perfect. And our homes are not perfect either. They cannot and should not be perfect. No matter what style you like, you cannot live with the anxiety of keeping everything tidy all the time. Homes are made to be lived in.

Why are you going to love wabi-sabi? Because perfection is boring. Because you are tired of keeping everything matchy-matchy and neat. Because now you can finally put the red and blue pillowcases next to each other on your master bed and won’t mind the imperfection. It will take the stress off. It will release you from small everyday anxieties that are haunting your spirit and don’t let you rest till the coffee table has no glasses and ashtrays and till the curtains and upholstery are a perfect match. Isn’t it time to stop doing that to yourself?

Ways to bring wabi-sabi into your home…

Or is it already here?

Wabi-sabi is a way of life. It’s loving wrinkles and all our imperfections, which bring out our individuality and thus uniqueness. The same notion applies to home decorations as well. Don’t mind sheet wrinkles. Since this term embraces nature with all its charms and roughness, it calls for organic and handmade home décor items and materials. Since it provides you with the freedom to live every minute of your transience on earth, it celebrates natural tones and color combos. So no more searching for the perfect pillowcase-sheets-duvet match. Throw on your bed or table or sofa fabrics, cushions, and hues as you feel like it.

Visit the flea market and don’t throw away old stuff just because they have a crack here and some crevices there. Celebrate patina. Let items age with you. As a matter of fact, manufacturers produce and interior design rules endorse the idea of weathered furniture that mimics the natural patina of time. Get imperfect plates, bowls, glassware which seem that they have never been completed – wabi-sabi loves incomplete. Such items lack the perfect curve and smooth lines regular ones have. They might seem broken when they are not. They might have holes. Is it art imitating life or the other way around? Because there is an imperfect perfection in such items which makes the home décor style stand out.

So, choose items that break the form. Accept the idea that your home might get messy at times in its own unique way: scattered books, stacks of magazines, newspapers on the floor…things you love and use (or intend to use or read at some point) all around you. These are the things, which make your home real and thus authentic.

Does wabi-sabi bring clutter? Not in the sense of a really messy mess. There is still symmetry in the home in an asymmetrical way. Just like nature. You let your home breathe and create a clean-cut clutter aligned with your habits and preferences. In fact, wabi-sabi clears your home and mind from any clutter – messy, emotional, obsessive-compulsiveness… It’s good for us.

Why would most of us love to bring wabi-sabi to our homes?  

Because it’s already here. It doesn’t take money or expertise to adopt the wabi-sabi notion. It just takes some courage to let tiny burdens go and enjoy your days even if you haven’t made your bed or washed your cereal bowl. As a matter of fact, the new trend in town will save you money since you won’t have to throw away old stuff just because they are aged. And don’t forget that there is a mystery entering a home with items each of which has a different tale to narrate. So drop the strict interior design rules. Use an old and interesting bowl to throw in your house keys. Adopting the wabi-sabi style can be as easy as using the milk mug of your childhood as the napkin holder.

Homes are supposed to be made to be lived in

Never meant to be perfect

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus became famous for his phrase: everything flows. He said that ‘no man ever steps in the same river twice’. There is a transformation of everything natural taking place before us and within us (every second). Nothing and no one is ever the same. And his doctrines are aligned with the notions of wabi-sabi. Perfection was created by societies. Nature is imperfect and so are we. But there is something so imperfect perfect in human nature and our surroundings that is spectacular. And so should be our homes too.

Why we all love wabi-sabi and might not know it or dare to admit it? Because we are all imperfect but the societies we have built forbid us to admit and embrace it. Wabi-sabi urges us to. This is a state of mind that will allow us to have the perfect imperfect homes that will be praised for their authenticity and will be nothing but boring.


Alexia studied sociology at Essex University and did postgraduate studies at Sussex University in the media field. In Greece she worked for many years in printed and electronic media. She has written and illustrated the children's book "Little Bobby Steps Into the World", which is available on Amazon. Today she is spending endless hours with homedearest.com, regularly writes articles for websites in America and Europe, and is a top rated content writer on Upwork. Alexia has always been interested in interior design and has written relative content over the years.

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