You know you have reached perfection of design not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Just right” is just what Goldilocks was looking for, and, I’d argue, just what we should be looking for ourselves.
Bigger is not always better; less is sometimes more. But then, sometimes less is actually less. I loathe the idea of being smothered in my own excess, but I don’t want to strip away the things I genuinely enjoy and which enrich my life. I am in search of “just right” (but unlike Goldilocks, I am not looking for it in other people’s houses while they’re out)!
Lagom is a wonderful concept, and the best thing about it, in my opinion, is that it isn’t prescriptive. It doesn’t say “this much”. It says “just the right amount” – which is different for different people. To illustrate the point, let us consider interior decoration.
For some, this is lagom: the minimalist look of utter simplicity.
I like the look, myself, but I don’t think I could actually live like that. For more than a day or two, anyway. Where would all the books go?
For other people, “just right” is more elaborate, or perhaps even a bit luxurious. Like this.
And for some people, “just right” could be described as creative chaos. Again, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there, myself. Not with all those swords on the wall. Not after the earthquake we had last night…
The problem is, of course, that it isn’t always easy to know what constitutes “just right” for you. Sometimes you’ve just got to whip out a spoon and try that porridge.
Generally speaking, most of us in the Western world have got rather full bowls. If you’re staring indigestion in the face, don’t feel you have to clean your plate. Consider spooning some out – into the smaller bowl, or out the window if it’s gone all cold and manky.
Whether you’re considering possessions, portion size or anything else, follow the Way of Goldilocks and ask yourself: Is This Just Right?
What’s lagom for you?
If you were wondering who the old lady in the top picture is, she’s Goldilocks! She was originally a nasty old woman – and she wasn’t even called Goldilocks for her first sixty-seven years in print.
If, as Holbrook Jackson maintains, your library is your portrait, then surely your public library loans are your latest snapshot.
My list of current loans reflects my recent fascinations with tea (social, cultural, historical, comestible), simplicity, Jane Austen’s times (tea and crime) and Victorian-era New Zealand (mostly crime). I also have books on undertaking and rhetoric, which simply caught my eye as I browsed.
I expected to see wabi-sabi mentioned in the book on the Japanese tea ceremony and it seemed natural to encounter it in one of the books on simplicity. But when it popped up for the third time in the book about modern Canadian undertaking, I was surprised.
My favourite of the three encounters is the essay ‘Wabi-Sabi Time’ by Robyn Griggs Lawrence; in the book Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska.
Wabi being notoriously hard to define, she gives a variety of descriptions, including “a little monk in his torn robe, enjoying a night by the fire – content in poverty.”
Sabi is a bit easier to define: it refers to the effect of the passing of time (literally: rust).
Together, the words wabi-sabi conjure a sense of imperfect beauty, tarnished with time, but valued all the more for its age and imperfections.
“Wabibitos live modestly, satisfied with things as they are. They own only what’s necessary for its utility or beauty (ideally, both). They revere humans over machines, surrounding themselves with things that resonate with the spirit of their makers. Wabi-sabi is imperfect: a beloved chipped vase or a scarred wooden table… It’s like going to Grandma’s house.
“Our Depression-era grandmothers knew wabi-sabi. And their houses were so comfortable because they understood, inherently, the difference between wabi [or possibly sabi -DM] and sloppy. Their tablecloths and linens were faded, but they never had rips or tears. Their furnishings had a settled-in quality, but they weren’t dilapidated. Their floors showed wear, but they were always swept, with rag-rugs that wove together memories in their use of old garments.” (Less is More p.160).
I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a pretty good way to live. Banish perfection, or the illusion of perfection for which we strive; banish the cheap (or expensive) tat which is heading for planned obsolescence, or never had a purpose to begin with. Have little, but take joy in the little you have.
Beauty. Simplicity. Usefulness. Mmm.
Have you been surprised by synchronicity lately? What’s your take on wabi-sabi, or similar concepts? And what do your library books say about you?