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Bits & Pieces: Searching for wabi-sabi

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So the other day I dropped into Target. That place is dangerous.

I need some special superhuman powers just to go in there and come out feeling good about myself. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone in for a few items — say a phone charger and some toothpaste — and come out with a basket full of items I don’t really need: a five dollar movie, yet more organizational bins, a workout top and that cute hat because, well, it was 20 percent off. A c-note later I leave with a skinny latte from Starbucks and a grip of guilt.

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On my last trip I was able to counteract my shopping ADD by moving quickly through the store. I put on blinders and replayed a little mantra I made up. As I passed the cute tops, the stylish boy clothes, and the clearance section that always beckons me to just have a little look, I replayed these words through my head, “Crap I don’t need. Crap I don’t need.”

This little chant is okay, but I’ve been trying to take a closer look at my purchasing habits, especially the ones that leave me feeling soulless and dirty. As I journey into becoming more of a minimalist I think of the Japanese concept called wabi-sabi. I’m not talking about the green stuff that makes your face melt if you eat too much with your spicy tuna roll. I’m talking about the Japanese ideology that finds the beauty in the things that are imperfect, well worn, and incomplete.

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Like most foreign philosophies, Wabi-sabi is hard to translate directly into English. Wabi is used to describe quirks and anomalies that add uniqueness to someone or something. Sabi refers to the passing or “blossoming of time” that gives certain objects a unique look or feel. The patina on an old wood door, the unique rust pattern on a bicycle, the perfect wear in your favorite pair of jeans, mismatched chairs, and the tiny home movement are all examples of what wabi-sabi can be.

I love the concept even if or maybe because it is somewhat countercultural. Americans are not necessarily taught to see beauty in things that are humble, imperfect and old. On the contrary, we are a culture obsessed with newness and youth. Every day our brains are pestered by clever marketing schemes that try to fool us into believing we will never thrive unless we strive for the extraordinary, the shiny and trendy. We lead stressful lives trying to achieve perfection, whether it’s getting caught up on the treadmill of the latest fashion styles, or botoxing the hell out of our laugh lines.

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Not even our towns are immune to the pressures of exuding a sense of gleaming perfection. Just look at Aspen. My hometown is fighting hard to maintain any connection to the beauty that came authentically from the mining and farming days.

When I walk down the streets of 81611 it feels more sterile than ever. The historic older buildings and the local businesses like Little Annie’s and Main St. Bakery are going the way of the dodo bird. Towns like Aspen may reach a point where they may become too “plastic” for the tourists who travel there in search of something real and authentic.

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And I as I stare out my window at the driest, warmest winter I have ever witnessed, I’d like to propose that we all make an effort to have a little-bit or a lot-a-bit of wabi-sabi in our lives.  The concept of finding beauty in the humble, the lasting, and the less extravagant is one of the best antidotes we have to the rapid declining health of our planet.

There’s so many ways to embrace this philosophy. Maybe this means you incorporate more natural, high quality items in your wardrobe that will stand the test of time. Or you spend some time breathing new life into some wood furniture you were going to get rid of.  For sure it means living with less and no doubt making peace with your own flaws. We need a wabi-sabi intervention not just for our planet, but to clear space in our minds and our hearts, and I can guarantee you that is a priceless thing none of us will ever find at any big-box store.

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