A Haiku Life

I’ve always been a big fan of haiku, the ultra-compact poetry of Japanese tradition. I appreciate its elegant form, its economy of expression, and its emphasis on limits: 17 syllables total, in lines of 5, 7, and 5.

Haiku typically celebrate the natural world and our intimate relationship with it. They show sensitivity to the changing seasons, and an appreciation for nature in its smallest details. They remind us that the most beautiful things in life have nothing to do with money or stores.

In a haiku, every word is precious, evocative, and chosen with the utmost care. As a minimalist, I can’t help but wonder: what if we put the same effort into choosing the words we speak, the activities in which we participate, the possessions we own?

With that in mind, here’s some key principles to living a haiku life:

1. Limits. Take inspiration from haiku’s seventeen syllables, and embrace the concept of limits. For example, if five pairs of shoes are adequate, limit your footwear to that number. Do the same for books, gadgets, plates, cups, shirts, pants, etc.—even your activities and commitments. Consider extending this to the written and spoken word as well, expressing yourself as succinctly as possible (ie., sending a short and sweet text instead of gabbing for hours on your cell phone).

2. Curate. When you limit what you own, every item counts. When you limit what you do, every action counts. When you limit what you say, every word counts. Therefore, it’s important to choose your possessions, actions, and words with deliberation and care.

3. Quality over quantity. Haiku is a wonderful example of “less is more.” Making these poems longer or wordier would detract from, not enhance, their artistic merit. When it comes to haiku, it’s a matter of striving for the right words, not more words. Similarly, when it comes to our households, we should focus on the right possessions (what we need, love, or use regularly) rather than more possessions; and when it comes to our schedules, the right commitments (what we find fulfilling) rather than more commitments.

4. Beauty. Haiku isn’t merely a handful of words with the right syllable count; it’s a mindful selection and arrangement, meant to evoke beauty in its expression. I feel similarly about minimalist living: it’s not about living with 100 items, but rather stripping away distractions to reveal the inherent beauty of life. It’s not about counting your possessions, but rather using your extra space and time to discover what delights your soul.

5. Humility. Haiku is never flashy or showy; it’s modest and humble and down-to-earth. We should similarly strive to live without pretense. Instead of flaunting status symbols or keeping up with the Joneses, embrace a life of simplicity. If we’d all stop one-upping each other, we’d live significantly more serene and pleasant lives.

6. Nature. Seek beauty outdoors, instead of in shopping malls. Realize that trees, flowers, and clean air and water are extraordinary gifts, and do everything in your power to respect and preserve them.

In summary: a haiku life means being mindful of every possession, word, and action in our lives. It’s living lightly and gracefully, and celebrating beauty in everyday experience. By following the spirit of these exquisite little poems, our lives too can be sparkling jewels, full of meaning and with nothing superfluous.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

29 comments to A Haiku Life

  • This section spoke to me particularly! “Seek beauty outdoors, instead of in shopping malls. Realize that trees, flowers, and clean air and water are extraordinary gifts, and do everything in your power to respect and preserve them.” I totally agree and am looking forward to getting into camping with my husband soon. We love the idea of backpacking and being outdoors! I wrote about the “simple beauty of nature” in my blog here http://minimalistwith3kids.blogspot.com/2011/07/simple-beauty-of-nature.html

  • Sarah

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! This post sums up minimalism to me perfectly! Thanks.

  • Meg

    Beautifully expressed! You have found the poetry in Minimalism.

  • Ronda

    Perfectly written. This is exactly what it’s all about. Thank you.

  • Ashley

    This is gorgeous and so motivating! Really lovely.

  • eema

    i like the term “a haiku life”

  • Pascale

    I studied haiku poetry when I was doing my BA in French Literature in 1989. Since then, I’ve always been fascinated with minimalism. I do agree with you that minimalism transcends objects and should be integrated in all spheres of our life. Thanks for such a great post and thanks for Sarah’s comment who sums it up quite nicely and succinctly might I add.

  • This is awesome, and not just the Haiku. The philosophy attached to minimalism is amazing. Love it!

  • […] she posted a wonderful piece entitled “A Haiku Life” that I think is a must-read. I remember being fascinated as an elementary school child when I was […]

  • Doug K.

    I’ve loved Haiku since I first learned about it as an elementary school student–I’ve written them on-and-off over the last 40+ years and used the “Haiku” philosophy in both my work and personal life. I don’t think you could find a better encapsulation of minimalism and this post was, well, Incredible! I even talked about and linked to it from my own WordPress blog: dpkworldwide.wordpress.com

    Thanks so much for this–it made my day!

  • The elegance and simplicity of your writing, and the poetic way in which you capture the philosophical aspects of minimalism, never fail to inspire. Thank you, Francine.

  • gretchen

    simply lovely.

  • jennifer

    Beautiful Francine. Thankyou.

  • I second that! Beautiful in its simplicity, the post itself is in keeping with the point it makes :)

  • Becky

    In addition to the characteristics you point out, good haikus have a point in them where the reader/listener has a “twitch your head like a confused dog hearing a new noise point.” the unexpected, the words taking an unpredictable turn, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous… Also very much like life. And much more easily recognized and appreciated when there is “less stuff” in the way

  • Lulu

    Today, I celebrate the experience of reading your beautiful, light, and graceful words. Thank you. I was truly touched.

  • Alisha

    Beautiful concept… being japanese… this concept is probably embedded in my genes somewhere… i can relate to it , but putting it into practice is a totally different dimension. I guess this is all the more why i need a small reminder to embrace and accept this fact. arigato.

  • Sarah

    Lovely post, once again. It’s wonderful how you bring up all these beautiful minimalist things in your blog that speak to so many of us.

    The one I’ve always loved most is this: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, the spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” Come to think, not sure if it’s a haiku though, originally(?)…But an uplifting zen saying all the same.

  • I just picked up the book “The Heart of Haiku” this morning, and was thinking some of the same things. Weird how that works. Thanks for this!

  • Penny

    Thank you Francine for a wonderfully refreshing post.

    I’m also reading your book at the moment (after stumbling on your blog about 4 weeks ago) and I’m thoroughly enjoying it!
    You have a wonderful and humorous way with words that speak so clearly to me.

    I will gain so much from your inspiring words, and have officially caught the minimalist bug and joined the Minsumer Movement!

    Your blog is now my favourite. So thank you with bunches of flowers.

  • Sara

    What a beautiful post! I love it. Its great how you broke it down into ways that we can apply it into our daily lives.

    I have a book that is a constant companion called Haiku Mind, 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart. Its a beautiful book and a good reminder of keeping it simple.

    Sara x

  • I work with a lot of people who are trying to get over being addicted to “more”. This post will be a breath of hope for many of them. It certainly is that to me. Thanks. May your day be blessed.

  • This is beautiful, speaks to me very clearly, and far better written than I could hope to do! I would like to link to it from my blog, if that’s OK with you. I plan to post it tomorrow, but if you object, please let me know. I’m fairly new to blog land and not sure of the proper etiquette! Thanks!

  • Hi,
    I have had this post printed out for two years now and really like it as a base for my life. I have read your book and lent it amongst my friend, to encourage de cluttering and simpler living. I would like add it (adding the link) to a post on my blog. As Mariah mentioned, I am also not sure on etiquette so I hope this is sufficient to post your points and link this page to it., thank you!

  • What a beautifully written post.
    I’ve been reading your posts from the beginning and working my way through your blog over the last couple of days … What an inspiring read. Thanks so much for doing what you do.

    I’ve been downsizing my belongings for a few years now….feels so good to be lighter.

    I’m off to read the rest of your blog.

    Ciao Bella
    Creative Carmelina

  • Tina

    I’ve been reading your older postings. Found more to give away. Becoming minimalist is a process. Thank you for everything.

  • Tina

    As I try to clear the excess from my home and my life, I think of cultures where simplicity is venerated. There is nothing to be gained by having multiples of things.

  • Tina

    I was looking in empty drawers and thinking of more to give away. My husband suggested we give away our down jackets because we haven’t worn them in a few years. He used to be a crossing guard and I used to work for the Census. Now that we’re retired, we don’t go out when it is super cold.

  • Tina

    I am filling up 2 bags again this week for Goodwill. Instead of buying 2 pairs of new earrings I bought 2 pairs second hand. I gave away 2 purses and some shoes. I have plants all over so I gave away 12 potted cuttings. Then I went to a dentist with my husband and all the plants were overgrown and ratty looking so I took some cuttings home to root. Of course, I got permission first. I have some earrings I am giving away next week.

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