Sometimes modern home design can be intimidating and anxiety inducing. What, you’re supposed to have this perfect apartment, with clean lines and white linens, and perfectly curated shelves…all the time? For those of us living in the real world, having everything “perfect” and in its place simply isn’t an option. Life isn’t perfect and sometimes you just have to accept the fact that your home décor will not always be magazine-worthy.
Luckily, there’s a home décor trend on the rise that welcomes a little disarray, so long as it’s rooted in chill vibes only. Wabi-sabi dates back to the 14th century and centers around imperfection and impermanence. Rooted in Zen Buddhism, it was both a philosophical and aesthetic response to the increasingly artificial, overly ornate design trends in Japan. It was a way of getting back to the basics, so to speak, and placed value on the ascetic, pared down ways of hermetic life.
Just as language evolves, the meanings of the words “wabi” and “sabi” have changed over time. “Wabi” can mean anything from simplicity, poverty, loneliness, quietness in nature, and the subtle beauty found in imperfect, handmade objects. “Sabi” refers to allure of aging, faded, or withering objects (like a worn patina on a piece of pottery) and also simply means “chill.” Put the two terms together and you have a design aesthetic that embraces all things naturally imperfect and in flux.
There are times when the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a good descriptor for your mail pile, when your favorite old throw blanket doesn’t match your newly purchased pillows, and your book shelves resemble an ancient relic museum rather than a chic design shop. And that’s okay.
“Wabi-sabi is a timeless home trend because it refers to the beauty of imperfect, reminding all of us to take time and care because our lives are impermanent,” says artist Yolande Milan Batteau from Callidus Guild.
“Slowing down and breathing makes all of our lives more peaceful and enjoyable. Appreciating how things age beautifully around us is a meditation on the magic, surprise and even fragility of getting older and wiser – it shows us there is beauty in time and nothing to fear.”
It doesn’t mean you’re giving up style and giving in to clutter entirely—it just means you’re accepting the natural flux of daily life. It means your mid-century coffee table is bound to get a few nicks and water stains, your wall photos are bound to get a little crooked, your bed may not always be perfectly made. So what? Wabi-sabi.
Embrace the worn, the imperfect, the kinda ugly old tattered rug you purchased for $7 at the local flea market. Even the chipped porcelain cups in the back of your cupboard are fair game, if they connect you with your authentic, chill, imperfect, weird self. Swap out the merely “pretty things” (objects for show) for the really meaningful, the really personal ones. Focus on objects that bring you joy and incite a visceral response; objects that really speak to you.
“Wabi-sabi is essentially about authenticity,” says Yolande. “We have much to learn from our human elders, no matter what cultural notions inspire us. We should always pay attention to our unique senses and not try to replicate other’s philosophies in a shallow way. Wabi-sabi instructs us to listen, be quiet and go inward, not to be showy, pretentious or uselessly decorative.”
It’s not that we’re recommending going full Dionysian with chaos, letting your home fall apart in the name of wabi-sabi. It’s more about allowing things to just be, and embracing the individual, wacky, cluttered existence that is life. A home isn’t about impressing the Joneses, but more about bringing comfort and reprieve from the outside world. It should represent you, all of you—not just the calculated, curated self.
Bottom line: If it doesn’t appeal to your emotional self, let it go. If it does, nurture it a little and accept it—cracks and all.