Wabi Sabi, A Different Way of Seeing

wabi sabi image by Liz Long

This hand-blown water glass isn’t as perfect as a machine-made one, but that’s what makes it so wabi sabi.

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese idea that just may help you get through life with a little more joy and a little less stress. This isn’t about buying things or learning a skill you can show others. It’s about a mindset.

What is Wabi Sabi?

I fist read about wabi sabi in the children’s book, Wabi Sabi. The idea interested me, so I bought the grown up book Living Wabi Sabi.  It doesn’t translate exactly, but wabi sabi is about appreciating the beauty in imperfection. If you can manage to live wabi sabi, it is easier (not necessarily easy, but easier) to accept when things go wrong, or fall apart completely.

What does this have to do with prepping? Accepting imperfection can make trying new things easier. No one is perfect the first time. Perfection takes massive amounts of practice, and patience – and is totally unnecessary for most things.

I will never be a gourmet cook but that doesn’t mean I can’t make any foods well. To my shock (and my husband’s – we aren’t newlyweds), my tortillas aren’t bad. An elderly Mexican woman would look at them with pity, but my family isn’t that picky.

We had lumpy ebelskiver (pancake puffs, As Seen On TV) with the filling barely inside the second time I made them – no need to discuss the first try. They tasted good, but looked weird. The third time, they were even better. I could have left my fear of sucking stop me from trying anything more than box mixes, but I decided to try something new, no matter what the results looked like.

Take a Chance – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!

image by Liz Long

Fungus? Yes, even fungus can be lovely, in the right context.

Not being perfect, or even close, is no reason to avoid trying something. You can love doing something you suck at, and you can hate doing something you’re great at. Don’t let fear of failure or lack of skill keep you from trying!

Just because I sing so badly that my cat left in disgust doesn’t mean I should never sing. (It does, however, mean I should sing very quietly in public and never, ever join a choir.) My general ignorance has not kept me from starting to garden. I just took classes, read books, and went online to learn about it.

Wabi sabi means appreciating that your chipped tooth (or your child’s) is a reminder of falling out of a tree. Rushing out to get it ground down to “perfect” is unnecessary. It means enjoying the wildflowers that grew where you didn’t expect them to, a dead tree lying across a stream, and the site of the snow melt running down a hillside.

It also means savoring the imperfections that come from handmade items, whether it’s the rough texture of a clay tea pot, the bubbles in blown glass, or the unevenness of something hand knit.

image by Liz Long

This whole tree is covered in the fan-shaped fungus and looks quite lovely, slowly decomposing in the woods.

A dead tree covered in fungus lying across a tiny stream sounds, well, kind of gross, but if you look at it, it is really a lovely part of the scenery. The fungus is oddly beautiful in its own right and the light color contrasts with the dark bark. It is far from perfect, and yet that is what makes it worth looking at. Would a perfectly plain, perfectly round, perfectly clean concrete pipe in the same location be worth looking at? I don’t think it would be half as interesting.

Trying and Learning is What Really Matters

Does it matter if your herbs and vegetables get all mixed up and aren’t in neat rows? Does it matter if your “tortillas” look more like pancakes because they’re so thick? Does it matter if your loved one gets a small stack of presents, or even just one, on their birthday if they get what they really want?

Does it matter if your kids plant the garden seeds and they are all mixed up instead of being in neat rows? Does it really need to be perfect, or is good enough really good enough?

To be clear, wabi sabi definitely is not an excuse for slovenliness, but it is a much more relaxed world-view. Some things do need to be perfect or darn close to it. Can you imagine if the plumber almost finished your whole-house re-pipe or the doctor read half your chart? But for the rest of it, can’t we all use a little less to worry about, and a little more to enjoy?

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2012 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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Liz Long

Liz Long is an eclectic writer who lives in the exurbs (that's what comes after the suburbs) with her husband, sons, and cats. Her life-long Scouting skills have been a help in becoming a prepper, but the lack of any cooking skills in the entire extended family is not. Liz blogs at theModerateMom.com.

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  1. Mike says

    A consultant told me once "Perfection is the enemy of good, and good is good enough for the vast majority of things". Demanding perfection in all things is a huge waste. Do it well and move on to the next thing. You would be amazed what you can actually get done towards your goals. And the finished product can be an amazing surprise. Some things like Gun handling require perfection but few others. Wabi Sabi is a wonderful perspective for every day life. It allows us to ride up and over the "wrinkles" in our plans and to look forward to those unexpected's.

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      Great comment! A lot of moms beat themselves up when their homes don't look like Martha Stewart's, their gardens don't look like Martha's, and their meals don't turn out like…yeah, Martha's! Wabi Sabi might keep a lot of us a little more at peace with who we are.

  2. says

    I had no idea this mindset had a name. It's the only way to live. I recently made a bunch of quilts for a group of my friends. As a a beginner. When I was working on the one for the major perfectionist in the group I really messed up. Instead of despair it ended up being my favorite. A reminder to NOT focus on perfect and focus on the person instead. It ended up being a life lesson for both of us in the end.

    • LizLong says

      An editor I was interested in sending things to edited the children's book, Wabi Sabi, which I thought sounded interesting and bought. I had no clue before that either. But I am working to bring it into the new (fiction) book I just started and also to get my kids to have more of a wabi sabi mindset.

      Glad to hear that quilt ended up coming out well. It's amazing what "mistakes" can lead to. Kellogg's Corn Flakes are a total example of that.

  3. SingleDad says

    Summed up……
    Don't sweat the small stuff!!!
    It is the imperfection that make us, us and in my opinion make anything interesting!
    Great Article

    • LizLong says

      Exactly, and it's so easy to sweat the small stuff. It can be too easy to forget that "perfect" things are not usually the ones that hold our interest

      Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  4. rtwaywrongdir says

    Right on! Nice article. Taoist and buddhist thinking are often overlooked in the western world. We could learn a lot if we just slowed down and de-stressed a little.

  5. koensayr says

    Boy, this would be a seriously difficult concept for my mother to get her head around. If anything goes or is wrong, she MIGHT take it in stride, but chances are she'll flip out.

    • LizLong says

      LOL. I know what you mean! My mom is the same way. We are working very actively on making sure our children don't end up one of those who flip out under stress.

  6. maggi says

    having OCD has made this concept hard for me to embrace but it has been worth it. i like my shabby chic white chipped furniture. i love the old flower pots my grandmom started me collecting when i was young. i even love my kitty who is white with weird orange designs all over – only one leg is orange. years ago that would have driven me crazy. ooooooommmmmm. LOL

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