How I Learned to Embrace Imperfection Through The Concept Of Wabi Sabi

ClareWieseblog2I was recently introduced by a close family friend to the super cool Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”. During an impromptu “pop-in” to my parents’ place, where Lynda and my mother were enjoying espressos and rearranging furniture, I rather strongly  suggested that the way-too-visible air-conditioning unit in the lounge, amongst some rather nice pieces of art and a shiny black piano, might warrant a relocation. Lynda looked at me, with a knowing grin on her beautiful face, and simply said “no, darling, it’s wabi-sabi.”

As I’m lying here in bed with a flu that seems like it has literally “moved in” to my life (and has no plans to leave, ever), trying to tackle an avalanche of emails, it’s dawned on me that today is Thursday and, yet again, I have missed my usual 09h00 on a Thursday publishing time. Now, for a girl like me (who loves a bit of routine and order), this realisation has not been well received by the self.

Because, well, I generally like things to be perfect. Perfectly timed, perfectly presented and perfectly in order. But – as I am sure anyone reading this will agree – that just ain’t how life works. That’s why the concept of “wabi sabi” struck such a deep and powerful chord with me the moment I first heard of it. The fact that this powerful philosophy is of Japanese origin (and as we all know, I’m a tad obsessed with anything Japanese) is just a bonus.

ClareWieseBlog1

“Wabi-sabi” is a concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics referring to a world view based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete:” take, for example, the aforesaid hideous air-con unit ill-placed in an otherwise elegant living space, handwritten post-it notes stuck onto the glass frames of original art works (one of my quirky mom Caro’s signature moves), laugh lines, crow’s feet, scars & skew noses (ask any rugby player) and hideously scuffed heels on pricey stilettos (my sister and I have a special knack for ruining shoes).

But, wait there is more (sorry, I could’t help myself;).  This powerful philosophy of “beauty in imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness”, of course, transcends mere aesthetics. In fact, it can and should, in my opinion, be applied to all aspects of life.

Not only does society expect us to look “ageless”, run a household like Bree from Desperate Housewives and find The One (with whom to have The Beautiful Babies) by no later than our mid thirties, but many of us only add to that load with our own additional list of perfectionistic expectations.

BrokenchairClareWieseThe problem, as we all know, is that reality looks a little bit different: many of us don’t have Heidi Klum’s metabolism or perfect, blemish-free skin (myself included), we all do and say stupid things that we subsequently regret, and most homes are not in a constant state of decluttered minimalism (contrary to how they might appear, from time to time, in perfectly styled magazine shoots). And, most relationships are either transient or imperfect. I have personally witnessed many close friends endure ugly, messy divorces or serious marital discord. I, myself, have experienced some significant relationship setbacks: I broke up with a former boyfriend after a six-year relationship just before I turned 30 (not a great age to experience a big break-up), and, a while ago, one of my very closest girlfriends and I were (as Ross from “Friends” put it) “on a break” for almost two years.

So, now that we have established (or, let’s just say we have, for the sake of this post) that “a constantly perfect life” will never exist, even though we might really want it to, what choice do we really have but to accept it? Even better, how liberating can it be to start embracing life’s imperfect, impermanent and incomplete nature?

ClareWieseGLobalCritic1

Please don’t get me wrong: I am by no means saying we should, or always can, let go of deeply ingrained perfectionistic tendencies (I would say my own personal tendencies are pretty much genetic, so I would need some sort of DNA re-mapping here). Moreover, I firmly believe such tendencies have their place: channeled correctly, they can be of great advantage to us, especially in the context of self-motivation, self-discipline and the achievement of goals.

The trick, I think, is to recognize the difference between the way you want things to be, sometimes, and the way they actually are. And, more than that, to be OK with that discrepancy.  So, these days, when I open my horrendously intimidating email inbox and watch it grow like some self-feeding little green monster, wake up to spot new fine (ish) lines around my eyes, have a fallout with a loved one or abandon big projects and change course mid-way, I try to remind myself of “wabi sabi” and the liberating value in accepting “what is, just as it is”.  As Richard Powell, author of Wabi Sabi Simple put it: “accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality, is something not unlike freedom.”

OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my metaphorical chest, please excuse me whilst I return to nursing my actual, real-life flu (which I’m hoping will begin to reveal its transience any second now).

PS If you’re intrigued and want to know more, here’s a list of Amazon.com‘s books on “wabi sabi”.  I can’t recommend any particular one, I’m afraid, but whichever one you get, I’m sure it will be imperfectly perfect:)

Love,

Clare

ClareWieseQuoteBlog

Why I’m Obsessed with Marie Kondo’s World-Famous Decluttering Method

ozkyu_8n
The inspirational Marie Kondo

It was a few months ago that I found myself browsing the book section on Amazon (I must confess, I always find book stores – whether online or offline – much like pharmacies or, as the Americans will call them, drug stores. There’s something about spending time in them, wandering around aimlessly, that makes you realise all the things you never knew you really needed). Maybe that’s just me (although I know my sister feels the same about pharmacies: we could spend hours in there.)

So, as I was reading the review of some or other health-related book, Amazon kindly recommended a book to me, titled “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. Now, I must confess, subsequent to my having found out that the launch of this book had almost broken the internet and it had reached the number one spot on the the New York Times Bestsellers list, I did have a good chuckle at its title. I mean, really, even for someone as annoyingly OCD as myself (who REALLY prefers if when things are clean and in order), I couldn’t help but think “what are they going to write books about next?”

life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up
The New York Times Bestseller

But, curiosity got the better of me (and I think somewhere beneath that, my neat-freak tendencies were intrigued) so I bought the book. What followed was, quite literally, a life-changing experience. Although I was sceptical about how a whole book could be written about the art of decluttering (as they call it), I found myself absolutely mesmerised by the profound Japanese philosophies underlying the Konmari method (the particular method of decluttering that the book advocates). Yes, there is a particular method.

Although, with all due respect, the author of this book (who is now super rich and famous, so she probably won’t mind my saying so) probably is not the most mentally stable of all people (when you read the book, you’ll see what I mean), her approach to decluttering your life, by decluttering your home, is fascinating and – I can vouch for this – certainly effective.

Marie begins her book by citing examples of how her method has freed her clients to make radical life decisions, whether that be getting a divorce after years of being stuck in unhappy marriages, quitting their jobs, pursuing their life-long dreams or finally taking that holiday. It was almost as if the negative energy attached to all the things in their home that no longer sparked joy, was keeping them in some kind of existential gridlock and blocking them from moving forward or blocking the influx of new energy into their lives. If you think about this concept, it’s very similar to a thought I most certainly often have, namely: “I can’t work properly if my desk is a mess”.

So, sold and motivated, I roped in my trusty best friend, Lara (who, in my opinion, could easily become South Africa’s version of Marie Kondo – without the mental health issues, of course:) and we began the process. We did it exactly as Marie prescribed – no skipping steps and no bending the rules.

clarewieseglobalcriticmariekondo
This pic was taken during my and Lara’s BOOK sorting phase, clearly

Eventually, we started discarding (this is the term Marie uses) anything and everything that no longer sparked joy for me (this included unused kitchen utensils, broken or chipped crockery, books I had read and will never re-read, objects I no longer found to have visual or useful value, expired supplements, electronic cords from 1985 that no person alive today would be able to identify, old DVDs I would never watch again, clothing I no longer wore, gunky makeup, shoes with scuffed heels and, of course, photographs in which I didn’t exactly look my best). We donated most of the discarded items and sent the books to old-age homes and hospitals, which added another layer of welcome satisfaction to the whole process.

As the days went by, and we worked our way through the categories, it was as if a weight was slowly being lifted from my shoulders. My wardrobe (although significantly smaller) now only contained items that fit me well and still looked good. I could see everything I owned hanging neatly in my cupboard, as opposed to having to sift through 10 blouses to find the 1 or 2 blouses I wore over and over again. My makeup drawer now contained only those items that I wore almost daily and couldn’t live without.

It was really as if my home had been transformed from a house full of collected stuff – some used and some unused – to a carefully edited home, where I was surrounded by only those things that truly brought me happiness, conjured up good memories and were being used and enjoyed daily. On this note, I want to point out that the measure of what sparks joy is a completely subjective test. For one person, a good kitchen knife, a favourite pair of worn-out socks or a trusty tupperware set might spark just as much joy as a timeless painting or a Louis Vuitton handbag might for the next. This test has nothing to do with an item’s monetary value, but everything to do with how it makes you feel.

The fabulous interiors magazine, House & Garden, in January 2017 published a small and beautiful feature on my home, where I spoke about the magical effects that the Marie Kondo process had had on my living space. They, rather aptly, titled the piece “Bare Necessities”.

45480008houseandgarden5-11-2016126
Photo credit: House & Garden, January 2017

Before I finish, and whilst you will have gleaned that I have decided not to go into the finer details of the actual Konmari method (that’s what the book is there for and I’d be ruining all the fun),  I will give you these key tips before “trying this at home”:

  1. Finish reading the whole book, before you start the process;
  2. Get a best friend (or hire someone) to help you, if you feel the task is too overwhelming;
  3. Be as ruthless as you can be: the more ruthless you are, the more liberated you will feel;
  4. Last but not least, refrain from Konmari-ing any of your husband or family’s things – it’s extremely tempting once you get into the groove but, trust me, this does not go down well.

Ultimately, I believe – in the pursuit of living our best lives – we should make our home our sanctuaries: a place where we feel safe, unburdened, free to think of new adventures, quieten our minds and rest our spirits. It certainly is much easier to get this right, in my humble opinion, in a truly uncluttered environment. So my suggestion is: get the book, get cracking and…you can thank me later. May your inner joy be sparked!

You can follow me @clarewiesewentzel on Instagram to keep up to date with my latest posts.