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Now that my husband and I are retired and settled—until we head to our graves, that is—I’m grateful to have discovered wabi-sabi.  We’ve never lived so long in the same house (which is older than we are). I think we’ve adapted rather well to this phase of our lives. Prior to retirement we moved 17 times in 32 years. Now, holding onto old magazines is necessary. Oh, and tax returns too.  And, we’re becoming creatures of habit just like our cats.  

The Japanese idea of “embracing the imperfect, of celebrating the worn, the cracked, the patinaed, both as a decorative and a spiritual concept” is called wabi-sabi. Now, my take on our stuff means something very different. Old stuff is looking beautiful again. It’s a good thing. I never liked colored plastic.

Even more important than the extra old magazines and tax returns, however, is the fact that we live with old stuff. Some belonged to our families and has been passed onto us. Some is just worn out stuff which we purchased while living in one country or another. Tough stuff, it survived several ocean crossings. Some comes in the form of papers, tin-types, old photographs and death notices in the upstairs genealogy room. Which reminds me, I must get busy.  No one else will know what to do with all that precious stuff.

Moroccan and Portuguese rugs aren’t made to last forever like oriental rugs are. I can vouch for that. We don’t have single carpet in the house that doesn’t show some kind of wear. They are still beautiful to us. They may not make it into the next generations’ homes because of their premature shabby chic look, but the fact they were made by someone’s hands rather than machines means they were rather sturdy to begin with. They have survived many moves and animals. Special stories go with each purchase.

A farm table with cut off legs serves as the coffee table in the living room. That sounds nuts, but it can take a lot of beating. It is covered with plants as well as books, magazines and newspapers we’re currently reading. It’s homey looking all the time. What would a sleek glass coffee table look like in that space? An outsider. Our eclectic furniture doesn’t match. Of course, there are a few beautiful walnut pieces which don’t look particularly shabby chic but which do sport a lovely patina because of age.

I believe everyone should look at elderly people as still beautiful and functional.  

Maybe there’s some wear and tear here and there. There will be noticeable imperfections. I’ve learned about beautiful gray highlights in what hair they have left. Ah! There’s so much to love about old stuff. And, people of advanced years.

A friend once said she thought the golden age was tarnished, and another friend, a chemist, told us all how gold doesn’t tarnish, so maybe the golden age isn’t tarnished after all. I’m thinking that is true with each day that passes. The patina becomes more pronounced. Creaky joints and aching muscles cannot be seen by the casual observer. Let’s keep them fooled. Let wabi-sabi work for us all!

Sandra Brian Lore

Sandra Brian Lore had a typical small-town and suburban life outside Chicago — until she served for 32 years in the Foreign Service.

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