“He who knows he has enough is rich,” Lao-tzu said, but what about the person who knows he has too much? As the new year brings new opportunities to purge old, unwanted and unused items from your home, I urge you to try not replacing them. I’ve found that wabi-sabi, the ancient Japanese art of finding beauty in things that are simple, spare and unpretentious, can help with the letting-go process. The following excerpt from my upcoming book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, illustrates.
“Wabi-sabi’s complicated two-step of spacious but not stark, comforting but not cluttered, requires nurturing and refinement. Slowly, over time, you pare down your possessions. You might live for years with three candles, a lamp and a bowl on a side table, then one day realize that removing the candles lets the lamp’s clean lines and the empty bowl’s possibility shine through. A hand-knit afghan may be useful on the sofa in winter months, but clutter during the summer. One day you may decide that you don’t need all those cookbooks out on the counter after all. (How often do you make Thai food?)
If you’re not ready to get rid of family heirlooms and art that you don’t have space to display, follow the ancient Japanese practice of rotating precious items through a special alcove, or tokonoma, on a seasonal basis. Assuming you have the storage space, rotating knickknacks through storage is much less painful than giving away or selling them. Try to connect the items you bring out of storage to the season—get out your grandmother’s milk glass vase for spring flowers and group candlesticks to bring in welcome light in winter. You can expand on this concept throughout the house: replace a heavy woolen comforter with a light linen blanket on your bed, display only one piece of the silver tea set at a time. Putting things away for a while makes them feel new when you pull them out again. Think about how much fun it is to unwrap the Christmas tree ornaments and hang them on the tree each year—and how ready you are, come January, to put them back into storage.
Try following these three simple steps to clutter-free living.
1. Every six months or so, pretend you’re moving: Do you really want to haul out six boxes marked “miscellaneous stuff” or ask your friends to carry all those crates of books?
2. Weigh the value of each item you own in terms of the effort it takes to clean, maintain and (perhaps) move. Do you love it so much that it’s all worth it? If so, keep it. If not—someone else might.
3. Before you buy anything new, ask yourself whether you can live without it. Walk away from it; if you find yourself pining in one month, go back and get it.
To learn more about wabi-sabi, check out “Wabi Sabi: Find the Beauty and Peace in Ordinary Things,” in the February/March 2011 issue of Mother Earth News.
Photo above: Highlight one beautiful item rather than cluttering up your tables. Photo by Joe Coca