The straightforward ideal of using every part of a raw material and stretching its potential is not something especially groundbreaking or new in any culture, yet somehow this simplicity seemed incredibly refreshing. I decided to adopt this “reverse” thinking to both jewellery design and my own home.
Perhaps the reason I was so drawn to the simple ideal of zero wastage was because I grew up with so much waste. My mother was something of a hoarder, and we children were often accomplices in lugging discarded furniture home from void decks. Once, we even had to buy a second-hand refrigerator just to store food products my mother found on sale and could not resist buying. There was so much food in the house, we could feed an army. Hoarding furniture we did not need and having an exorbitant amount of food may sound like “not wasting things”, but in fact, the idea of waste goes beyond what you throw out and what you keep. “No waste” also embraces the ideal of “having enough”. When we recognize that we have enough, we will realize that we have enough material to work with, enough to create something even greater.
That said, I certainly was not always a practitioner of “no waste” in my own life, this subconscious journey towards simplicity took time. Over the years as I progressed in my career, I could afford to travel extensively, and started accumulating things. I would seek out vintage ornaments, memorabilia and craft pieces. They were my trophies of hidden treasures from all around the world. Years later when I moved to my new home, I decided to throw or give many of these things away to Salvation Army. Slowly, I found my approach to life becoming more straightforward, some might even say — boring. If I won’t use something, I won’t buy it. If I choose to buy it, I will use it till it stops working. I find this “less is more approach” comforting, much like wabi-sabi.
Robyn Griggs Lawrence describes wabi-sabi as a reminder that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time. Wabi-sabi doesn’t require material wealth or intellect, it does however, takes a mind quiet enough to appreciate muted beauty, courage not to fear bareness, willingness to accept things as they are—without ornamentation. It depends on the ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, to appreciating rather than perfecting.
So I've come full circle, through the makers I’ve met in Cebu, and what I have come to understand and appreciate about wabi-sabi through reading. It can be painfully slow sometimes, since it is about alternative thinking —unlearning in order to learn new things. Using natural materials and working with these makers have led me to appreciate unpolished and unfinished natural textures, a reversed minimalist approach, and confident subtlety. They are all wabi-sabi.
There is an ideal stuck in my head. It involves hard questions that I don't yet have answers to. Perhaps it is too idealistic, but I think it is possible, and I am willing to try—I hope to reverse poverty for the makers in Cebu. I hope to help them carve out a living through using the skills passed down from their forefathers. I hope to prevent those skills from becoming obsolete just because there is little demand for products that require those skills. And I think it would be a huge waste if nothing is done to preserve it. So I hope by writing this down, I will continue to advocate for, and encourage others to join me in an alternative way of thinking and living. Think carefully about what you're buying. Think about how this product came to be.