Abandoning Perfection

wabi sabi

Recently I read an interview with Douglas McMaster, chef and founder of Zero Waste restaurant Silo in Brighton. He made a very interesting point in relation to waste when asked about examples of waste in restaurants, such as the Fat Duck binning plates ready to go to a table if they sit for longer than 90 seconds?

“Unfortunately it’s that word ‘perfection’. We have unrealistic delusions of perfection. There’s no such thing as perfection and there never will be. I like to work to a different standard. My standard is brilliant,”

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I think our obsession with perfection in the Western World has a huge influence on our excessive levels of consumption and waste. We’re constantly being bombarded with images of ‘perfect’ bodies with ‘perfect’ skin / hair / teeth, living ‘perfect’ lives, and they all serve one purpose; to make us feel that we, and our lives are inadequate and that we need product X to make us more perfect. It’s so ironic that these images need to be airbrushed in order to make them ‘perfect’!

I also feel that the ubiquitous nature of plastic has worsened this issue.  In interior architecture (my previous profession) we had a term ‘ugly out’, it referred to how materials looked after some wear and tear. In my experience it was only plastic materials that really suffered from this. Natural materials develop a patina over time and actually became more beautiful with wear. In fact, antique dealers often speak of the talk of the value of patina when they value antiques.  This same cannot be said of plastic furniture and materials. They are designed to look shiny and pristine and just tend to look shabby with wear and tear, which encourages us to replace them, leading to more waste.

I take inspiration from Wabi sabi, the Japanese art of appreciating the beauty in the naturally imperfect world. Wabi sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism, particularly the tea ceremony, a ritual of purity and simplicity in which masters prized bowls that were handmade and irregularly shaped, with uneven glaze, cracks, and a perverse beauty in their deliberate imperfection. Abandoning perfection can be liberating as Richard Powell, author of the book Wabi Sabi Simple, explains

“Accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality, is something not unlike freedom.” (source: wholeliving.com).

I also love the practice of kintsukuroi (another Japanese invention) which involves repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver or platinum (see picture above). For me this epitomises the beauty in imperfection.

In the past few years I’ve really made an effort to move away from this concept of perfection and towards one of characterful beauty.  Buying an old house with knobbly walls helped! I’ve left behind the shiny world of newly-manufactured furniture and embraced quality pre-loved furniture made from natural materials and I’m much happier for it. Not only is it a more sustainable, it’s less expensive and it’s liberating!

Have a wonderfully imperfect day!


Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

3 thoughts on “Abandoning Perfection

  1. one of my values is wabi-sabi. and it’s helping a lot with a curious kid at home. i don’t as angry when something breaks or the furniture gets an extra scratch. now i can see the beauty of it and appreciate what i have. even the logo of my blog, and everything i do, is based on this concept. thank you for the wonderful article. keep that magic rolling! ❤


    1. Hi Nicia. I’m so sorry for taking sooooo long to reply to your comment. For some reason i keep missing some comments on WordPress. Not sure how! I think Wabi Sabi can be such a transformative principle in this modern era of new, new, new! Will be checking out your blog for sure.


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