Why the Japanese art of kintsugi can help you to embrace the changing seasons
As the festive season fades, we’re low in sun, funds and inspiration. What we need is a little kintsugi to make the grey skies sparkle
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken crockery with gold. Glittering lacquer is used to stick the pieces back together, rebuilding the pot or plate, so it is rejuvenated rather than repaired. It’s now considered even more beautiful because of its twinkling uniqueness. This ancient craft stems from wabi-sabi, the wider philosophy that celebrates imperfection as a natural part of living.
In her book, Wabi-Sabi Wisdom, author, life coach and speaker Andrea Jacques (kyoseiconsulting.com) explains that its world view ‘places value on the imperfect nature of life’ and embraces qualities such as roughness, simplicity, modesty and age. Refreshingly, it celebrates what actually is. Not what might be, what could be, what we want it to be, but exactly how it is, with all of life’s rough edges – be that a chipped cup, a comfortable but tatty cardigan or simply just one of those days.
With its leafless trees, frosty windscreens and long nights, the wintertime can feel ‘imperfect’ to many of us. The darkness when you leave work in the evening. The rain. The slip of ice on puddles. Which made me wonder: if the winter season is a rather like the smashed crockery of the year, where might we find our gold lacquer?
Andrea suggests that we start to apply the principles of kintsugi to wintertime by looking at nature itself. All around us, things are slowing down, taking stock, stepping back from the world. Squirrels and dormice hibernate, sap sinks into trees and bulbs remain dormant in the soil. Yet, she points out, we still push ourselves hard, as if nothing has changed. We race towards the holidays, the parties, the sparkle, the entertaining. So it’s hardly any wonder that the early darkness becomes such a frustration when we still have so much to do! Worse, as soon as the Christmas holidays are over, we are seduced by the ‘new year, new you’ roundabout of dream holidays, beach-perfect bodies, weight loss and looking younger. More perfection, more pressure, just at the time of year when you feel like curling up under a blanket. So why not do just that? Andrea suggests ‘honouring winter’ by giving in to your natural urges – to snuggle up and to slow down.
The art of kintsugi is accepting, even celebrating, both the positive and negative parts of our lives. It is also about accepting the contrasts of a single day or a season.
Tomás Navarro, psychologist and author of Kintsugi – Embrace your Imperfections and Find Happiness – the Japanese Way agrees. For him, getting into step with the winter is a matter of where we choose to focus. In his book, he describes two people walking through a beautiful forest; one looks down and sees only the stones on the path, the other looks up into the treetops and sky beyond. Those two people are in the same forest, on the same walk, but they are experiencing markedly different journeys. Similarly, we can choose how we experience winter. Tomás suggests concentrating on what makes the season special – the opportunity to layer cosy clothes, to tramp through puddles in wellies, to drink hot chocolate topped with cream and curl up on the settee with a box set – comfortable things, like a favourite pair of slippers, that winter simply feels made for. Austerity is another theme of kintsugi, which certainly sounds like it might be a good fit after an expensive December. However, despite the word’s connotations of deprivation, Andrea points out that less really can be more. After all, saying no to those things you don’t really want to do frees up a lot of time for the things you actually do.
Ditching FOMO (our fear of missing out) leaves the luxury of mindfully sitting and reading a book, or truly enjoying a simple cup of tea. Less is more, too, when it comes to decluttering. Tackling that crammed cupboard (yes, we have all got one!) and donating those ‘might-be-usefuls-one-day’ to a charity shop, gives you space and a sense of calm. Better still, someone might be delighted by those things that have been gathering dust in the dark.
Balance is also at the heart of kintsugi. As Andrea explains, it’s about remembering that life, like us, is not all about light. In fact, without darkness, there cannot be light. Tomás echoes the importance of contrast. After all, without storms, he says, would the sunshine feel so special and welcome? Kintsugi as a craft invites us to look at the whole of life and, to paraphrase the song, love things just the way they are. It asks us to actively seek out and embrace the beauty in supposed imperfection and, particularly at this time of year, it feels a natural and compassionate way to wellbeing. So, why not try out a little kintsugi with the inspirational ideas below, and make your wintertime sparkle?
31 kintsugi fixes
Pepper the winter months with little acts of 'golden joinery'…
Keep the fairy lights up and twinkle your way right through winter. People have loved lighting up the dark since forever, so why stop at Christmas?
Create a simple vase of leafless stems, crackled and dry. Add a few berried twigs and some fir cones. Winter has its own unique bouquet of nature to share, full of colours, shapes, texture and structure that, with imagination, can captivate more than a bunch of carnations.
Give in to your inner bear! Hibernate half an hour earlier at night. Loll for 10 minutes longer in the bath. Slow down and linger over meals, allow longer for your journey to work and see just how much better you feel.
Rummage for treasure
You know the stuff… that lone but gorgeous earring; the teapot missing its lid. But, couldn’t that earring make a pretty lapel brooch? And wouldn’t the lidless teapot look gorgeous filled with January-planted begonias? Get your kintsugi on and transform your ‘trash’.
Snuggle down into a pair of fleecy slippers and enjoy sinking into the softness and warmth. Cosy feet are just not possible in the ‘perfect’ heat of summer.
Andrea Jacques suggests that the new year is a great time for thinking about the choices we make. So, why not try some mindful window shopping? Next time you see something in the January sales, pause for a moment. Ask yourself, how does this item make me feel? What difference might owning it actually make to me? And then ask yourself, can I gain that feeling without buying it?
Love an old crock
Go to a museum and seek out the oldest exhibit you can find. Now imagine a row of identical ones, all perfect, wrapped in plastic and price-tagged and barcoded in the supermarket. Just how boring would that be?
New Year… new you?
Look at yourself in the mirror and focus on your best feature. Go on! Yes, it’s easier to find fault, but what about that gorgeous hair, those pretty eyes and that friendly smile?
Invite someone round for warming beans on toast and mugs of steaming hot tea. No need for a fancy menu or the best china. Celebrate the simple perfection of a properly comforting winter meal together.
The season of goodwill doesn’t need to end with Christmas. Those presents and foodie treats that aren’t really your thing will certainly be someone else’s. Consider donating to charity shops and food banks.
Take a winter picture
Next time you’re walking somewhere, stop and really look around you. See how ripples dance across a puddle or the way fog weaves around bare branches. Notice the frost on a spider’s web or how holly berries burn red against the greenery. Take a picture, with your phone or just in your mind, to remind yourself of winter’s beauty.
The tang of winter
There’s no better time of year than the darkest, coldest months for creating a sanctuary with scented candles. Enjoy the long peaceful evenings surrounded by the smell of fir trees, berries or the sea. And breathe…
Something old, something new…
When the Christmas decorations are down, everything can look a bit bare. Yet it’s easy to add fresh sparkle to a living room or hallway. Try swapping the pictures over, adding a few plants in bright pots or a couple of new cushions to the sofa. It’s surprising how just a few small changes can invigorate your home.
Sink into the bubbles
Coming in wet from a winter’s day, is there anything more rewarding than luxuriating in a hot bath while you listen to the rain against the window? Balance that finger-nipping chill with deep, deep warmth.
Cold, dark evenings make the perfect excuse to have a cosy girls’ night in. Why not invite your friends round for Netflix and crumpets or, better still, dust off some old board games and simply have some old-fashioned fun?
Frame the past
Find an old photograph of someone who is special to you. Put it in a beautiful frame and hang it where you’ll see it often. Now, each time you pass it, you’ll always feel a glow, whatever ups and downs the new year brings.
Love the ordinary
Listen! Maybe the sleigh bells have jingled past for another year but celebrating the ordinary has a lot going for it. Just think – no Christmas shoppers, no turkey wrestling, no grumpy in-laws, no hangover, no saggy guest bed, no office party and that special stillness that only comes when the toys’ batteries run out… Bask in it.
Birds are busy in winter. Watch out for breakfasting blackbirds, stunt displays of whirling pigeon flocks and the way the dusk sky dramatically fills with hundreds of gulls as they return to their night roosts.
Winter’s long evenings and rainy afternoons are the perfect time to take up something new. Knitting, quilting, crochet, collage – what could you try your hand at? Even better, could you recycle and upcycle too? Old fabrics into a quilt? Spare wallpaper into a collage? The possibilities are endless, and you might just discover a new talent.
Check out what food is seasonal and fling it into a pot with an onion and some stock. Better still, slow cook it while you take a stroll with a friend and then you can both come home to a true winter warmer.
Kintsugi is about seeing old things in new ways. So, why not take a map of your neighbourhood and, on a crisp winter’s day, choose somewhere you’ve never been before? Visit the area and pretend you are new in town. Look up at the rooftops, the trees and the people with fresh eyes. Do you see any surprises?
A pot-luck party
That bright purple jumper you received at Christmas, the one that makes you look like a giant blackberry? Andrea Jacques suggests organising a pot-luck party with your friends and their present-misses, to see how one woman’s ‘fail’ can be another’s ‘fantastic’!
Old school glamour
Winter afternoons are perfect for watching old movies. Sure, they might be a bit creaky, but there’s nothing quite like the sight of Bette Davis at her most furious or Ginger Rogers floating on her feathery hems to remind you that the latest isn’t always the greatest.
Promise yourself a rose garden
If the ground is not frozen, January is perfect for planting bare root roses. Become a kintsugi gardener and welcome those plain, turned soil borders. Without them, there cannot be a bounty of roses come the summer.
Share your time
Do you know an elderly neighbour who spends a lot of time alone? Why not pop round for a coffee and a chat and spend a couple of hours finding out more about each other? Be ready for surprises – and open your eyes to those flashes of gold that can be found in the differences between us.
In Japan, it’s traditional to exchange special postcards, or nengajo, on New Year’s Day. These handwritten tokens express gratitude for the old year as well as passing on good wishes for the new one. This year, why not drop a friend a line rather than a text and wish them well?
Wear your joy
Have a rummage in your wardrobe and pull out something ritzy you haven’t worn for a while. Think back to all the good times you’ve had in it. Maybe it’s looking a bit tired? So what? Put it on! You’ll be smiling in no time.
If you have an old diary or appointments calendar from last year, take some time to settle down and flick through its pages. Look for all the bright moments – even in those days that might have felt hard going at the time. Chances are you’ll remember that moments of kindness, friendship and laughter occurred even on the toughest days.
Build a bridge
Patch up an old friendship that’s fallen apart. Why forsake the fun and companionship of the past for bruised feelings or a difference of opinion? Meet in a café in town, reconnect and look back on the good times.
Does your local homeless shelter need helpers even more in the winter months? Is there a skill or talent you could share to help out at your child’s school? Your contribution might be the glitter in someone else’s day.
Licence to lounge
And relax! Winter was invented for soft dressing gowns, leggings, slippers and snuggling up with a copy of your favourite magazine. Get changed, get cosy and settle down.
About In The Moment Magazine
This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 13. Unfortunately In The Moment Magazine is no longer available in print, but In The Moment Magazine back issues are available on Readly.