Beachbody workouts, Expensive Barre classes, and Aerial Acrobatics: A Tale of Sweat, Lies, and Bruises

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I was not a particularly athletic person growing up. I dabbled briefly in middle school volleyball and got pretty serious on my varsity badminton team in high school, but such athletic pursuits vanished when I went to college and was swiftly assaulted by an onslaught of exams, papers, problem sets, and minimal sleep. After two years of being overworked, I earned a classic freshman 15 in the form of a pinchable amount of belly fat, but managed to work up the diligence to play enough Dance Dance Revolution to shrink it down to slightly-less-pinchable size by graduation (yes, that actually happened, and oh yes, my downstairs neighbors were not happy).

My “workout” efforts through the first 22 years of my life are best described as half-hearted maintenance, but at the time, it kept me healthy enough to get through school without getting horrendously out of shape. I was never taught anything about cardio, lifting, or any other fitness fundamentals. Perhaps if I had stuck with physical education in high school instead of substituting it with badminton, I would have gotten familiar with such things, but I remember gym class to be something like a bubbling broth of  torture mixed with passive aggressive competition, so I was happy to do anything else.

The point is, it wasn’t until I got to working life that I started seriously taking fitness seriously, and this is only because in most cases, instead of being on a sports team, adults do something called “going to the gym.” I often joke that my fitness pursuit started as a result of being bored in the dying city of Buffalo, but it was my oldest brother who introduced Beachbody workouts to me, and as someone with a naturally competitive spirit (thanks, MarioKart), I thought I would give it a try. Little did I know that it would lead to completing all 90 days of the entire P90X program which snowballed into spending 2-3 hours a day at my amazing onsite corporate gym doing HIIT workouts and group exercise classes to spending $16 for an hour of barre class once a week, to finding a hidden passion in aerial acrobatics, to where I am now: happily learning and continuing to learn about the realities of fitness and the fitness industry in general. And now I get to share it all with you!

Beachbody’s P90X: My Foray into Fitness

P90X is awesome for beginners, though some might argue it’s more appropriate for people who are not in dire health (as in, you should probably start with something easier if you’re at risk for a heart attack). It has helped me get to know fitness jargon without going through the embarrassment of asking a guru. When I first started the program, I thought it would be a great way to get through long, lonely, and dark Buffalo winter. I wondered what it would be like, and I had a friendly co-worker doing the same program in parallel, so I thought I’d enjoy sharing stories about the workouts with him. I was pleased with the prospect of doing different workouts every day, and didn’t have to spend a penny on a gym membership. As the days turned into weeks, I was astounded at how quickly I was gaining flexibility through Yoga X and couldn’t believe I was starting to be able to lift more than ten pounds (I started with 5 and 10 pound weights). I quickly got addicted because I was getting visible, tangible results. Because I lived within walking distance of work and had no other obligations, the time commitment (about an hour per day) easy.

P90X was great. I thoroughly enjoyed the 90 day commitment. But it was just the beginning.

Joining the Gym and Doing InsanityLong Nights After Work Hours

I moved to Chicago after a year and a half in Buffalo. My new job was located at a suburban corporate campus in the Midwest and included an incredible onsite gym that offered group exercise classes, an assortment of machines, supportive and easygoing instructors, and fun events and challenges. It was a no-brainer to join and it would help me get to know coworkers. Hot off the P90X program, I signed up on my first or second day, excited for a new phase of my fitness journey.

Because I’m there so often, I get to witness all sorts of people of different ages getting stronger, not getting stronger, looking the same, and not looking the same over the three plus years I’ve been there. Since I started doing that adult thing we call “going to the gym,” I’ve lost between 7 and 9 percent of my body fat, gained ten pounds (yes you read that right!), and have never slept better or felt so strong and energetic in my entire adult life. See, everyone knows the benefits of exercise, but if everyone was able to FEEL what being strong is like, I’m sure they’d make it more of a priority. Knowing the benefits is just not enough to motivate people – we really need to feel them to understand them. And boy, I felt them after hearing about Insanity.

Somebody generously left a copy of the Insanity DVD’s at the fitness center. The workouts are between 35 and 60 minutes long and require no equipment. As a minimalist, I loved the idea of using my body as my equipment and eagerly decided to try the program. Insanity is technically a 60 day program, but I was doing all the DVD’s for at least a year, so I probably did the entire thing several times. After a few weeks, doing the workouts became a no-brainer. Oddly, I craved being sweaty. It made me feel accomplished. I didn’t follow a schedule, but I knew all the workouts by heart. I managed to get my resting heart rate below 60 BPM through all the cardio, and I was feeling amazing.

Barre: A Fun, Expensive, & Misguided Pursuit

Wanting to expand my workout repertoire outside of work, I found a studio right in my hometown that taught barre classes. The philosophy of Pure Barre, Barre Code, and other such studios was basically do an hour of isometric, low-impact, low weight exercises to “fatigue” the muscles, “tone” specific parts of the body, and stretch the out at the end to achieve a “long and lean” muscles, just like that of a dancer. And who doesn’t want to look like a dancer?

After getting ripped apart by Beachbody, I fell in love with barre classes. I was already pretty fit when I started and quickly got addicted to feeling the burn. It was a safe space for me to workout, with so much positive feedback and no men around to watch. My instructors were incredible and I felt so supported.

The only problem was, it didn’t really make me stronger. At least, not in the way P90X did. It slowly became another workout of my week that wasn’t really helping me get anywhere physically. And the evidence was clear after I started circus, and realized that making my arms tired by pulsing with 2-3 pound weights was not helping me gain any muscle. Perhaps it helped me endure a lot of muscle fatigue, but I was not feeling stronger. I lamented my lack of progress in circus to my lack of strength to a good friend of mine, and he advised that if I was going to get any stronger, I needed to be lifting heavier weights. 2, 3, or 5 pound weights would not help me do pull-ups and inversions. I needed to stop wasting hours and dollars trying to “tone” my body.

I reflected on my experience in barre, and realized also that so much of the philosophy revolved around achieving physical beauty. Ultimately, despite its claims of supporting strong women, it was still a matter of how “toned” you looked and how “long and lean” your muscles were. This post basically sums it up a lot better than I ever could, but long story short, I spent my class cards and stopped buying them. How “toned” your muscles are and how “long and lean” you’re going to be is going to depend on your genetic makeup and your body fat percentage, both of which are going to be almost entirely dependent on your genes and your diet.

Women are different from men, but they shouldn’t need “specialized training” involving 2 pound weights that is supposed to make them fit a universal ideal.

Circus: A Magical Art Form that Showcases the Beauty of Strong Human Bodies

Circus arts combines gymnastics and dance and creates a form of entertainment through the manipulation of various apparatus or in some cases, nothing at all (partner acro).

I already have an entire post dedicated to the art form, so I won’t elaborate on it here. But I grew to love circus because unlike straight up sport, circus focuses on creating art with physical strength. As someone who cares more about what I am capable of doing than how I look, circus appeals to me – especially its acceptance of new and creative ideas. It’s a fun and supportive community that focuses less on competing and more on showcasing. It gives purpose to getting stronger.

Efficient, Effective Fitness

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Proven to get you stronger.

Everything I did was a part of the learning process, and I figured out what worked and what didn’t through trial and error. But for people who are just getting started, I can at least offer up a few bits of learning to prevent you from wasting your time and money.

  1. Free weights get me the most bang for your buck. Lifting heavy is the most efficient way of gaining muscle. I started with ten pound curls, and after a few years of gradual increases, I am working on curling 30 pound weights. My arms may be marginally bigger, but bulky? It is extremely difficult to bulk up and basically impossible if you’re a woman. You have to be taking steroids to look anything like an Arnold, and even then, it’s not possible. If you look at aerialists (see here and here) who are insanely strong, I really think bulking up should be the least of anyone’s concerns.
  2. Weight loss is predominantly diet, but if you’re trying to get stronger, you shouldn’t concern yourself with to the scale, and instead concern yourself with your body fat percentage. That aside, if you struggle with overeating, diet will probably end up being more difficult to adjust than dragging yourself to the gym. Plenty of people go to the gym and work hard but see no changes, but more likely than not, the lack of results is due to what they’re doing outside of the gym, and more specifically, how much they’re eating…especially when no one is watching. I’ve done it. I’ve done the chips in bed, the ice cream binges…you name it.
  3. Cardio feels great (afterwards, anyway), but after skipping strength training for a month, I promised myself I would never skip it ever again. Cardio is easy to get – any basic HIIT workout, cycling, running, or Stairmaster workout will do it. Strength will help you with your cardio, but it will also help you do useful things more easily. Like carrying groceries. Or a bag of rice. Or lifting kids.
  4. I became less concerned with how I look and more concerned with what my body can do. There is so much focus on how people look, and being thin, and being toned, and being fit but bulky…it drives me crazy.
  5. There is no “magic method” or magic “weight loss drink.” Fitness programs and gimmicks are expensive and hardly effective. And besides, if they actually worked, wouldn’t they go out of business? Put the work in, reap the benefits.

I’m still learning, as this is a lifelong pursuit, so I’d love to hear what you have to say.

On Complacency, Acceptance, and Happiness

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As the election draws near, I’m more hopeful than ever before that those around me will find a way to maintain a low information diet. There is so much pollution of information that it is easy to get distracted. So, in the spirit of trying to stay proactive, I want to talk about complacency, acceptance, and where, in my experience, I’ve been finding the most happiness amidst the chaos.

Minimalism is a deviation from the norm, which I will refer to here as the “American Dream.” Anyone who deviates from the norm is undoubtedly going to be familiar with feelings of self-doubt. While it’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some people out there feel that deviation is the sincerest form of mockery and react as though our ways were purposefully confrontational. Seeing other people live happy lives in ways that differ from our own is often perceived as threatening. Like, hey, that person doesn’t have a car, but he seems to be pretty happy. Or that person doesn’t have a religion, but doesn’t seem to feel misguided about life.  It’s all too easy to think that because the majority of people around us are doing and following the same pursuits, they are somehow right about life. We like being validated, and the easiest way to get it is by immersing ourselves in communities who share interests and activities. Life’s great when we all agree on our lifestyle choices, so to get that sense of belonging, we gravitate towards groups who shares those values. But life gets tough when we suddenly find ourselves at odds with our environment. When you realize you don’t want to follow the crowd or realize you are out of alignment, you start to ask questions. You might wonder if the path you’re carving is right.

Minimalists tend to reject complacency, but often have a hard time with acceptance. We are experienced at making decisions out of intention, but often struggle on our journey as deviants. Other minority groups will feel the same way – anyone who is vegan, an expat, a nondrinker, childfree, or any minority race – will relate to those same feelings of marginalization. There is a constant buzz of frustration about our ways, because there are always critics who won’t stop questioning us. We’re earmarked as strange and wrong somehow.

But it is our ability to resist complacency that empowers us. Humans are naturally lazy creatures – that is why we choose motor over muscle (snowblowers vs shovels), hire cleaners, order take-out, and have so many things done for us – so any effort to resist the norm, like bike-commuting, home-cooking, the pursuit of circus arts, or entrepreneurship – should be a celebration of the gifts we enjoy as highly capable and highly intelligent creatures, especially in a country that enjoys so many freedoms. We should celebrate deviants. We need to celebrate people who have the courage to do the unthinkable, like scale Everest, compete on Olympics teams, go to space, ascend the seven summits, and so on. We don’t need to depend on some higher order to supply those purposes for us. Our ability to not choose the “default” path should be celebrated.

And besides, any truly happy person has very little interest or time to criticize other people or the general populace – a happy person is going to be too busy pursuing fulfilling activities to worry about those things. That is why concepts like a low-information diet and limiting social media are so good for us. There is nothing more draining and frustrating to me than wasting my time reading articles from profit-churning news companies prioritizing revenue generating over authentic, well-researched information. There is something so unsettling about reading about everyone else’s accomplishments announced to a seemingly unknown readership, fishing for likes and arguing with people who aren’t necessarily supposed to be your “friends” in the first place. Social media is great for reconnecting with acquaintances, spreading ideas and inspiration, and arranging events – but it is so easy to fall into the trap of blindly scrolling through a toxic newsfeed and feeling cynical about our own lives. I know it because I’ve been there. And it’s not a pleasant place to be.

Being complacent about our lives is one thing. Accepting our lives is another. And celebrating our miracles, the earth, and our abilities through hard work, stoicism, and optimism is always worth our time. When we are just so capable of more, let’s not confine ourselves to a box, a couch, a bed, or a small mindset jailed by silly indoctrination. There’s no point in spending our time in the trenches of arguing with those who don’t follow a philosophy of never ending the exploration of our environments. There’s no point in filling up our spaces with things and experiences for the sake of everyone else. Embrace the divergence of pursuing what fulfills you, and I’m sure you’ll be a better person for it.

5 Items I Don’t Miss & 5 Items I’m Glad I Own

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Is it ironic that a minimalist would write a post on “stuff,” the very “stuff” that we’re trying to detach ourselves from? Yes, humans invented millions of tools and objects, but I’d still give credit to the people who devise clever things that actually make our lives better or easier. I’ve decluttered hundreds of items from my life, but a few of them stick out in my mind as things I’m certain I made the right decision on.

5 Things I Booted Without Regret

  1. Bath mats. I used to own two memory foam bath mats and had them lying in my bathroom for my wet feet. They got so dirty so quickly, caught a lot of hair/dirt/lint/grime, took forever to dry, and had to be cleaned so frequently that eventually I threw them out. It’s not much extra effort to dry the bottoms of my feet before stepping out of the
  2. Dish drying rack. After a few iterations of dish racks, I settled on an oversink solution. I have a dishwasher and everything except my pots, baking pans, and knives are dishwasher safe, so I don’t really need more than that. More counter space and no more moldy plastic!
  3. All of my leather bags. Leather is high maintenance and good leather is expensive. My Patagonia bag is big enough for a 3-city trip in Europe and durable enough for daily bike commutes.
  4. Decorative porcelain and specialty glassware. Not worth the storage space/worry about knocking them over/cleaning off the dust, and like most decorations with no purpose other than to look pretty, I got tired of looking at them.
  5. Jeans. As an athleisure addict, I stopped wearing jeans. Even Uniqlo’s ultra stretch jeans, which I wore for years before finally donating them (and they were still in excellent condition!), couldn’t beat the comfort of stretchy skinny Ponte pants. Jeans are fashionable, sure – but if you’re like me and prize comfort/practicality over fashion (but look for pieces that intersect the two), you might find that jeans, while excellent for heavy-duty work or painting jobs, are just too stiff and take forever to dry to earn a place in your closet. There, I said it. I don’t own jeans, and it’s okay!

On the flip side, here are…

5 Things I’m Glad I Own (this list was harder to write!)

  1. My road bike. It is my workhorse in fair weather. It is my workhouse in less than fair weather. In exchange for just a little more time, it has greatly improved my commuting experience, strengthened my body, given me another appreciable form of transportation, and another network of friendships. It is a life-giving, money saving item!
  2. My electric toothbrush. If you haven’t upgraded from a normal toothbrush to an electric one…you’re missing out on epic levels of cleanliness in less time and effort. The first time I saw my dentist after buying an electric toothbrush, he complimented me on how clean my teeth were, and I stopped getting cavities!
  3. An oversized 8×10 shag rug. My mom had a couple of extra couches that she gave me, but I often have more guests around, and instead of buying an even bigger couch for my already small living space, I bought a giant, thick, and fluffy rug. It doesn’t shed, is insanely soft, and the high pile makes it fun to lie around in. The drawback of high pile shag is that they are harder to clean, but for how much use it gets, I don’t mind it at all.
  4. My speaker system. I grew up on music, and the difference is palpable when you have a sound system to enjoy it with.
  5. My iPad mini 4. Some minimalists may chastise me for this one. But I am an ultralight traveler, and bringing a laptop is almost always too much, and bringing only a phone is bad for my eyes. My iPad is just perfect. Apps can help me great fun digital content (videos, pictures…) and I can read eBooks on it. The portability makes it easy to record aerial videos and even whip up a blog post in a pinch.

It ended up taking me twice as long to finish the second list, which just goes to show how easy it is for me, and indeed most people, to take things for granted. Sometimes, it is a fun exercise to analyze what you have in the house and realize that your real needs (outside of survival) are satisfied by meaningful relationships, activities, and interactions. Everything else is just stuff. Stuff doesn’t reciprocate.

Bring on the good life, fueled by what matters most to oh-so-unique you.

On Owning Our Lives

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I’m quite positive that there is a relationship between our happiness and the amount of control we have over our lives.

Quite positive, anyway.

That’s why we slap ourselves when we let our emotions get the better of us. Or we hate ourselves when we overspend. Or why we berate ourselves for overeating. Make small but frequent bad decisions regularly, and they become habits.

So much around us threatens to live our lives for us. Commercials tell us that with certainty that the secret to a better life is to buy more services and products because somehow, our mere existence warrants another well-deserved thing that we must purchase.  Organizations, churches, random blog posts like this one, family members, friends, co-workers – they are all fighting for a spot in our lives, and if we don’t control the inflow, our dashboard will get easily hijacked by something or someone else. So we invent all sorts of tips and tricks to take control. We adopt coping strategies disguised as solutions. A diet shake to cure our overeating habits. A time management system to block time for certain activities. A drink to help overcome our social insecurities. And sometimes they work. Temporarily, at least. Only a handful make it through the entirety of our lives. Predictably, our controls get shaken, and we must recalibrate our systems over and over again to keep them intact.

Fundamentally, we are nothing of significance to the universe at large. We are born from the decisions of others and naturally wired to fulfill some basic needs – eat, sleep, reproduce. Outside of fulfilling needs, we structure the gaps with activities like hobbies, work, and relationships and create goals. Filling our lives with all sorts of busy help us avoid the heavy truth that our lives are essentially purposeless. We binge-buy, binge-eat, binge-collect, gamble – heck, some of us even binge-work-out – all in an effort to avoid facing that empty feeling. This commonly happens after bad experiences like breakups. But this is on a larger scale

Even with all that, I am certain that there are moments we all feel that we are moving forward towards…nothing in particular, really. We were given this chance to live, but we are all aware of the caveat that our time here is still entirely an unknown. The next storm that rounds the corner can destroy everything that was known to us. And what do we do then? What if minimalism is just another way of coping with that fact? We train ourselves to be happy with less, so that we are accustomed to having very little, and very little to take away. When we remove physical and mental clutter, we free ourselves from extra burdens and regain control.

You know what is closely related to control? Strength. Power. And there is safety in having strength. We gain strength by practicing weakness. How do we practice weakness? We create challenges for ourselves and then overcome them with utmost resolve. When we fortify our bodies and our minds to weather the storms of life, an amazing feeling of confidence emerges. The feelings of uncertainty, the sadness, the hopelessness…we practice them and learn to bathe in them and let them wash over us. The great thing is, we are already practicing weakness as we speak. Anytime you are tempted to buy something unnecessary, eat something you know you’ll regret later, or experience a bad moment with a close friend or partner, your ability to overcome it will add to your strength. Just like in the gym where you purposely fatigue yourself to get stronger.

Every moment you overcome an uncertain moment like this, you are gaining control. Every moment you stop and reflect before reacting to an external force, you are exercising your will. And that is the very essence of being. No, you silly ad, you will not break through my shell of self-confidence. I don’t need your product or service to be the awesome person I am. No, you random opinionated internet-stranger, your mean-spirited attitude is not going to make me feel hatred at the world. Even close friends and loved ones can shake your tower, but you know full well that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and you can judge for yourself what is worthwhile.

Own your life and build your fortress.


My Simple, Lonely Life of Sobriety

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Before reading any further, I already acknowledge that the rejection of all alcoholic beverages is a touchy topic. But hear me out on this one, because it impacts almost every social situation I face, and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Hi, my name is Meg, and I am horribly allergic to alcohol. Can we do something other than “grab drinks?” No? No ideas other than go to an establishment to buy overpriced liquids that make me feel like absolute garbage? Can we, perhaps, *do* something together rather than *consume* something together?


Now picture this.

You’re at a party and there’s a bar. Everyone around you is happily sipping colorful cocktails and clinking fancy wine glasses and getting all buzzed up. Good times abound. Then your friend, or perhaps a coworker, or even someone you’ve never met –  asks you if you want a drink. You politely refuse, knowing that alcohol will send you into a downward spiral. Your friend continues to pressure you with harmless intentions:

“The night’s still young!

“Have some fun!”

“Lighten up!”

“One drink won’t hurt anyone.”

“It’s on me.”

“You deserve it.”

“Don’t be lame.”

If you’ve ever refused a drink or even a night out, I’m sure something like this has happened to you.

Sobriety is generally seen as unexciting and boring. Choosing not to have a drink is easily interpreted as an opposition to Fun, a sort of silent rebellion of social norms, casting a shadow on your livelihood in other people’s view. People like to be validated for their behavior by being around others who have the same views and attitudes, so sobriety can easily send you to social isolation. You’re no fun, so they’ll stop inviting you.

If I have even just a few sips of beer or any other alcoholic beverage, my skin gets flushed, my head throbs, I start getting dizzy, and I even start feeling cold, as though I were running a fever. Throughout college, at any party where alcohol was served, I was often confused about why everyone around me in their altered state of consciousness was having a fantastic time, yet I was left faking drunkenness, while my body fought basically what it thought was a toxin. I never liked alcohol. It never made me feel good – during the party or after the party. Yet I still felt compelled to consume it, even though I’d feel sick soon after.

I’m wiser now, 5 years out of college, and for the most part, am consciously rejecting the need to follow social norms for the sake of fitting in, especially one that makes me feel so unhappy and sick. But I feel this pressure at every situation where alcohol is involved. Our society is built around socialization by consumption (cafes, restaurants, etc.), and especially alcohol consumption. So, it’s really awkward when you don’t join in the alcoholic festivities at…

  1. Happy hours, where we celebrate coworkers promotions, birthdays, or other accomplishments
  2. New year’s parties, where we toast champagne to the new year
  3. Networking events…when your boss gets you a drink, you wouldn’t throw it out, would you? That would be uncomely.
  4. Frat/sorority parties, where participating in risky drinking rituals are actually a part of social acceptance
  5. Bars/clubs/lounges, which are pretty much centered around alcohol-induced socialization

I have at least witnessed the amazing effects that alcohol has on stripping down our mental barriers in social situations or helping us unwind after a long day by clouding our consciousness a little bit. I just wish that in an alternate world, we don’t need to rely on alcohol to such a degree to be comfortable around other people. As someone who has no experience enjoying the stuff (in the past, I’ve had to have it loaded with sugar or juice to mask the bitterness), I’d have a much less difficult time integrating with people around me.

As kids, we socialized with each other through play. Play included games, plenty of imagination, lots of running around, and other creative pursuits. And all of that was real! We didn’t need beer or wine to extract our fun selves – we simply made our own fun. Have we lost that ability as adults? So much so that it is somehow necessary to consume alcohol to have a good time? So much that we are proud of our stories of when we trash our bodies with so much alcohol that we throw it all up in a smelly projectile vomit?

The nice thing is, I’ve probably spent less than $50 on alcohol in my entire life. I have no desire to add a $5-10 drink to my meal or collect a few dozen bottles of various alcoholic potions. I don’t need a wine holder, a bar table, or any other accessories that are alcohol-related. I don’t need to worry about going out to bars, knowing I will never be able to join mind-altered states of my companions. I can be intentional with my desire instead, and put my money and time into more meaningful pursuits. I don’t need to put an asterisk* after my name when you meet me, because what you get when you meet me is the real and authentic Me. No footnotes in sight.

I just sometimes wish, you know, that there were more people out there who would join me.

Closet Talk: Building an Active, 4-Season Wardrobe


The boundaries of minimalism all come down to lifestyle choices, and one of those choices is where you live, because that is going to decide what you need to stock in your closet. I chose to live in rather UN-minimalist Chicago, where the lack of mountains discourage snow sports, and the harsh winters cause indoor hibernation in the form of binge-watching TV shows and car clowning rather than happy cycling. There are a variety of reasons why I chose Chicago out of all places, especially considering its completely off-the-charts property tax rate and pension disaster, but I’ve adapted reasonably well, and found ways to adapt to the overpriced cost of living for the amenities Chicago offers and appreciate the 4 seasons for what they are. After all, we are adaptable creatures, and we find our way.

That being said, clothing technology has come a long way, and active clothing is spurring innovation that is easiest to access at big-box outdoor stores like REI. Gone are the days of low quality sportswear (RIP Sports Authority) and hello, techwear. There is no a better day in age to find leisure in all sorts of weather conditions, no matter where you live.

It’s pretty much nigh impossible to get all my desired clothing features into one single jacket or one single shirt. You’re going to have to give or take somewhere. If you can at least get half of the desired features below in each item you own, it’s a win in my book..

  1. Packable
  2. Lightweight or ultralight
  3. Fashionable
  4. Water resistant or waterproof
  5. Quick drying
  6. Machine washable
  7. Fully featured
  8. Seam sealed(if applicable)
  9. Long-lasting
  10. Breathable
  11. Inexpensive
  12. Work-appropriate

Thankfully, I work at a casual office don’t need to stock up on suits or dress shirts (side note: career will also impact lifestyle choice and ease of adherence to minimalism). I also have the bonus of an onsite gym with showers, so sweaty cyclecommuting is not an issue.

Basic Layering System

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’re probably already familiar with the concept of layering, especially if you’re a backpacker or a cyclist. For the uninitiated, layering for active pursuits in variable weather works like this:

1. Shell – your outer layer, which will protect you against the elements of snow, rain, sleet, and wind. A good shell should be waterproof, windproof, abrasion-resistant, and allow room underneath for layering. An excellent shell should also be lightweight and have convenient, functional features. For example, a cyclist will want a shell that is cut longer in the back, reflective, and if it has a hood, be helmet-compatible. A rock climber would want waist pockets instead of hip pockets to allow room for a harness. Different manufacturers will cater to different sports and cut their pieces differently. For your average everyday use, these features might not matter so much, but if you do any specialized activity, you may want to consider them anyway. This layer is arguably the most important, as it is basically your first line of defense – a shield if you will – against bad weather. Everything underneath is not generally designed to hold up against the elements the way a shell does.

Look for these features in a shell:

  • Lightweight
  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Seam-sealed pockets
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Adjustable cuffs (for gloves)
  • Cinchable (for layering)
  • Hood

2. Midlayer – your insulation, which will hold heat in but let moisture out. This usually comes in the form of a down/synthetic puffy jacket or a fleece jacket. Most of the fashionable puffy jackets you’re getting from places like Nordstrom or Macy’s don’t meet the standard of a well-engineered puffy jacket and tend to be heavy and bulky because they prioritize form over function. Anyone who is fashion-focused cycles through clothing a lot faster anyway to keep up with trends.

Look for these features in a down puffy/synthetic puffy jacket:

  • 800-fill power or greater
  • Box-baffle construction
  • Lightweight, lightweight, lightweight
  • Packable (into a pocket or stuff sack)
  • Hooded, or you can wear a beanie
  • Comfort (not too restrictive)
  • Water-resistant

Personally, I prefer the comfort and snuggly properties of fleece jackets. There are quite a few lightweight options out there nowadays, and hoodless versions can be made classy enough to wear at the office or

Either way, look for these features in your midlayer fleece:

  • Flexible aesthetic
  • Lightweight/not too bulky
  • Functional pockets
  • Breathable

3. Base layer – next-to-skin layer which should not hold moisture from sweat. Base layers are tricky because they come in many different weights. Fabrics can be synthetic or natural, but usually a blend of synthetic and some grade of wool. I default to merino wool for my base layers, as it is naturally insulating, sweat wicking, odor-resistant, and quick-drying. Icebreaker makes plenty of options.

Look for these features in your base layer:

  • Odor-resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Quick-drying
  • Aesthetically pleasing (to allow for multiple applications)
  • Comfortable (no itchiness or overly tight areas)
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Not too bulky

The Bottom Line

The theme of this post is that we should expect more out of our clothing than just “making us look good.” If we’re spending more time outside of the 4 walls of our houses, we need be getting more out of what we own. Next time you’re out there “refreshing” your closet, give these thoughts a try, and see if it makes your outdoor time more enjoyable. I know I don’t want to let colder, harsher weather stop me from getting out there.

In a later post, I’ll recommend actual items I’ve tested in the field. Stay tuned!

Review: Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote Pack 22L Bag / Backpack


Patagucci, Patagonia…boy, people have mixed feelings about this brand. I’d say that if the product is made well, and bonus points if it’s made ethically and sustainably, kudos to the brand. This post is a review of the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote Pack 22L which I’ve owned and used regularly for about a year. I’ve traveled to multiple cities and countries and have been wearing it daily on my commute to work, so I’ve put it through some bad weather as well. This bag has held up well enough that I’m willing to review it in depth. I bought this bag myself and no one is asking me to review it on their behalf, so all of my opinions below are my own with no commercial biases whatsoever.

I love ultralight gear and I am afflicted by a bad case of upgrade-ism, so naturally, I have a bad habit of always searching for the Perfect Version of everything I own. This is hardly ever a good thing for my wallet, but it is a great thing for my readers, because I’ve already done the field testing for you! For intercity travel, a 20-25 liter pack is sufficient for my needs (though if you can go lighter, have at it!). I’ve taken it to a 4-city adventure in Europe (during the winter), a couple trips to Seattle, a 9 day trip to Iceland, and I use it as my workhorse commuter bag when I bike to work. It weighs a mere 14 oz and for a sub-one pound bag, it is still full of pockets and features. There are two tote handles for shoulder or handheld carrying and lightly padded backpack straps coupled with chest/waist straps for backpack carrying with some extra loops for hanging other things or adjusting the heights of the straps.


The 2.1 oz 7 denier ripstop nylon makes it easy to clean with a wet cloth and is lightweight yet durable. The fabric is coated with polyurethane and silicone for weather resistance. I have worn this bag through rain and snow with no damage to the contents inside, though some moisture will seep through in a downpour, so it’s not waterproof (nor is it marketed as such). The bag has a simple zip top closure for easy opening and closing – no curvy zipper paths here.


There are two water bottle pockets on the sides and side compression straps above them which can also help secure anything you’re stuffing into the water bottle pockets that are too tall (I like putting my flip flops in there). You can clip an S-biner to the compression strap and hang a Platypus water bottle, which is what I did on my recent trip to Seattle. No worries about spilling your water all over the inside of your bag!


I love the zippered pocket on the front which is very handy for maps/guidebooks or anything you need easy to reach. My iPad mini does fit into the front pocket, though you’ll want to be careful not to put weight on it.


Clearly, the bag has taken a beating. Despite that, there is not a single rip or loose thread to be found.

There is also an an open pocket on the back you can tuck the backpack straps into or even to insert a tablet/small laptop.


The interior of the bag has a pocket that I personally use for my wallet and phone, and you can also stuff the entire bag into that pocket.

Paired with Eagle Creek stuff sacks and cubes, you can stuff a great deal of things into the bag. I can definitely get an entire week’s worth of clothing in there (especially if I limit the number of bulky clothing items I have). For my Europe trip, I packed a toiletry bag, two pairs of long pants, a pair of Tieks, a DSLR camera, 2 sweatshirts, 2 sets of workout clothes, and underwear/socks to go along with everything, still with room to spare for small souvenirs. I stuffed all of the items in the photo below into the bag and there is still plenty of room to spare. That Eagle Creek bag has 2 dresses and 3 sets of workout wear.


It’s lightweight and packable, which are two of my favorite features for any bag that I own. Is it stylish? Well, that’s kind of a subjective question. It’s most certainly a practical item, and I do consider it unisex – doesn’t really look out of place on males or females. It does come in several different colors though, so it’s got that going for it..

Buy it on the Patagonia website, or other retailers where you might be able to snag a discount.

Crafting a Sustainable Lifestyle

Via Pixabay

I often hear younger millennials declare to themselves that they will never change, or that they know exactly what they want for themselves in 10 years. They make bold statements about exactly what they envision for themselves in 5, 10, 30 years, and are fully confident about their opinions. And of course, I did the same. The truth is, we only know what we know about ourselves at a given time, and our future selves are strangers to our past selves. When I think about what I envisioned for myself at 20 vs 24 vs now at 27, I realize that I want different things all the time. My tastes changed – everything from my fashion sense to my hobbies to my future plans to the way I managed my money. Even my values – which drive decision-making tendencies – have morphed and evolved throughout my 20’s, so much that I think my 20 year old self would have a tough time recognizing me today. I am no longer the same person as I was when I started this golden decade of my life, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never really know for sure what I’ll want for myself in the future.

At the same time I’m at an exciting stage of life, I am also at an age of never-ending anxiety. With so many societal pressures from around me – the anxiousness about marriage, weddings, career advancements, having babies, getting advanced degrees, traveling as much as we can, choosing a place to settle down, buying a house, buying a car – it’s no wonder some of us are at a breaking point. There are so many things we are expected to accomplish in a short amount of time. We’ve got relatives, friends, and co-workers hitting milestones time after time, and we start getting uneasy as time goes by as to when we are supposed to do all those things (speaking as someone who has done hardly anything on that list, anyway). We start to become aware of our own coming of age, and that we’re running out of time to tick all the checkboxes. Mainly this is biological – there is only so much time in which our bodies are in prime condition to recover from physical stressors, and we start feeling the effects as we approach our 30’s.

But one thing I know is important to me, and indeed for anyone interested in minimalism and simple living, is the idea of creating a lifestyle that is sustainable. Throughout all of the evolving and changing we do in our lives, it is still far too easy to get stuck on the hedonic treadmill, searching for fleeting adrenaline rushes while hanging by thin financial threads. We’re suckered into unsustainable lifestyles because that is what profitable industries market to us. We’re so focused on the idea that we need to live rich and fulfilled lives that we hurl ourselves into stupid amounts of debt and avoid saving for our future selves. It doesn’t help that we get tons of YOLO-tinted advice and finger-waving from our elders at odds with each other. So how do we cope? How do we know that our lifestyles today are sustainable? We need to consider the needs of our future selves, who are completely unknown to us, at the same time we need to live in the present, so we don’t miss our present moments.

When I first stumbled upon the idea of early retirement, I found that our sustainability ultimately comes down to lifestyle choices. The possibility of living sustainably is dependent on how well we can self-cater and the fewer dependencies we create. If we can create our own self-sufficiency, we can worry so much less for our futures. We can worry less about pills to keep us alive, about where our next dollar is going to come from, about whether or not we’ll be able to be there for a friend. Basically, instead of lamenting about bad luck or unfortunate circumstances, we must use our super brains and bodies to work ourselves into a position of strength. A position of strength means that we minimize the need to rely on things or people to sustain ourselves. In the realm of early retirement, it is elimination of the need to work. If we can find a way to live sustainably early on, we free ourselves of worries and troubles later on. In a lot of ways, that is what this whole blog is about – minimalism, when applied appropriately, is about crafting a sustainable future for yourself.

And I want to be as good as I can to my future self, because who knows where she will be or how she will be feeling then. If she has what she needs to live comfortably, I think she’ll thank me. I already want to slap my past self because hindsight is 20/20, but as I continue to focus on sustainability, I hope my future self won’t feel the way I do now about my past self.

The Ridiculousness of Luxury

Via Pixabay

Living in America is, by definition, already a luxury. Look how far along society has come in the last 50 years. In the past, we had to chug along in squeaky, horse-drawn carriages. We used to have to farm our own land and weather storms by the fireplace, hoping that we put enough effort into our autumn harvest and that no one catches dysentery. Now, at a moment’s notice, we can hop into our personal gas-powered miracle machines they call automobiles, loaded with fancy surround-sound audio systems, padded seats, and blast air conditioning into our faces as we drive a couple miles to the nearby store to buy some more Fancy things like plastic cases and thin glass sheets for our expensive blinking gadgets we can command to do things like set personal alarms, tell us the predicted weather for the next hour, or navigate us to the nearest pizzeria. Heck, we don’t need to do even that – we can simply power up our overpowered computers, press a few buttons and make a few clicks, and said plastic case and thin glass sheet will show up on our doorsteps in a matter of hours. There are even more Fancy things we can do if we pay enough money. We can buy massive floating machines and hire people to drive them for us as we sip expensive wine. Every time we eat at a restaurant, we’re essentially hiring someone to cook our meals and deliver them to us on a serving platter. We don’t even need to do so much as lift a finger. All we need to do is sit back, relax, and do absolutely nothing. That is what we’ve defined as The Good Life. And that is where the Good ends. Because what those things have in common is that they help us avoid exerting any effort at all. Bring us the Good Life on a silver platter, and allow us to bask in laziness. I sure am curious to know why the feeling of no effort is so satisfying, because I find more satisfaction from earning my way through life and taking full credit for my success.

Society seems so content with lifestyles that suck money and time out of our wallets faster than we care to count the dollars. We insist on eating out once, twice, maybe even several times a week. We book expensive tickets to jet us off to places where we can be coddled in a luxury hotel or private room with a view that looks basically the same as the view in a public area on a cruise ship yet costs several times more than a normal room. We buy absurdly expensive brand name vehicles that, despite having more powerful engines and a slew of Fancy features, still have to follow posted speed limits and are just as likely to suffer a dent or scratch from careless drivers around you. We’re completely okay with buying multiple $7 cocktails on a weekly basis and $30 steak dinners. We buy silly experiences like indoor skydiving, sitting in a motorized teacup to get dizzy for a few minutes, the chance to be a member of an exclusive club of people bragging about their “success,” or a chance to get the latest fashion styles before everyone else does.

As someone who does not do any of those things and does not feel any FOMO, I am confused by the people who feel like they’re poor or lacking excitement because they are simply not doing those things. I can do them should I so choose to throw money around at pointless, empty activities, but what for? I feel no envy for other people’s cars, purses, or foreign countries they’ve set foot in, though I may feel some disdain if it means they’re wrecking more of our earth. I don’t care about the dinners people have in the premium airport lounges (especially because I am skilled enough at cooking to make a meal I’d enjoy equally as much if not more), or the “crazy night out” they had at an exclusive dance club where supposedly they witnessed an “important” celebrity.

The trouble with criticizing this lifestyle of luxury is that no one likes to be told how they should enjoy life. It’s not some kind of universal standard where everyone should enjoy the same kinds of things, even if it has been proven that happiness is not coming from those things per se. I am just some random blogger on the Internet, after all, who just happens to really enjoy pursuing minimalism, and there will always be those who resist it. They have something of a “need” for it. But I think can safely say that there is more satisfaction to be gained from creating rather than consuming.

Let’s make our own silver platters and serve them to the world. The privilege to create and be free with our time on this earth – that is the ultimate luxury.

5 Easy Minimalist Kitchen Hacks to Simplify Food Prep for Home Cooking

xia Pixabay

The home goods and food service industries always seem to be trying to find ways to make home cooking easier, because well…we don’t have time for cooking, just like we don’t have time to see friends, spend time with our children, clean the house…but we have time to follow enough pop culture via shows and junk news stories to win at trivia bars. Millennial joke aside, our overscheduled and overbusy lives are cutting into food preparation time, and simply put, a lot of us simply don’t have the patience, not to mention the experience and know-how required from putting time into cooking our own meals. With so many convenience options available, cooking from scratch takes a back seat. Hungry? Grab a Snickers. Want to lose weight? Grab a Weight Watchers box and zap it in the handy dandy microwave. Want to cut vegetables perfectly or store them optimally? How about a plastic device to perfectly slice your [insert produce here] or store your [insert produce here]?

I suffer from a constant need to optimize my lifestyle habits, and I discovered a few useful tips and tricks along the way as I managed my kitchen. As someone who loves cooking, I have been suckered into the brilliant marketers that sell devices that are supposed to save you time in the kitchen…but end up taking up space and being impossible to clean sometimes.

Fortunately, after quite a few years of making my way in the kitchen from a minimalist viewpoint, here are 5 original ways to simplify your kitchen prep time that I’ve discovered from simple trial and error.

  1. Salad spinners are a magical tool. Not only will they get all the excess water out of your leafy greens so your stir fries don’t turn into sludge, but they are also really good at washing things and contain the splashy mess of water. As in, tear up your greens, chuck them in the basket, fill it with water, and either agitate the greens with your hands or spin the basket as if you were spinning the water out! Then just lift the basket, dump the water, and repeat until the water is clear and has no dirt. I can recommend this one. Also related – get a pot with an inset steamer, and steam your vegetables instead of boiling them to a sad wilt. It will do double duty as a colander to drain pasta. Now you can get rid of that extra plastic
  2. Don’t peel off individual leaves or stalks from cabbage/lettuce heads and celery – get a sharp knife and cut everything all at once. Mother nature has wonderfully grouped all the stalks for us for easy, fast cutting. While washing your vegetables makes them rot faster, you’ll still save yourself some time down the line by cutting them in advance. You’ll only need to bust out the cutting board and knife once. And how nice it is to have your vegetables prepped and ready to go next time you’re cooking!

    via Pixabay

    Just cut it and then wash it after it’s cut. In your salad spinner, obviously.

  3. Someone’s gotta say it – but I found that limiting my meat intake has saved me a lot of time in the kitchen. I am not vegetarian, but I find that meat is very time consuming to prepare, and while it is tasty, it is also expensive and requires a lot of extra precautions and prep time. When you add up all the work you need to do to flavor it, cut it, store it, and sterilize everything it has come in contact with, meat can be its own time suck (of course, there’s always the option of buying it pre-seasoned or pre-cooked, but then again, we all know that eating processed meats in moderation is better for us, and pre-prepped meat costs more). Soy is a great plant-based complete protein, and a block of organic firm tofu is only $1.99 at my local Whole Foods (might be even cheaper at Asian markets!). Tofu can be crumbled as a substitute for taco meat or used in vegan omelette recipes. Tofu acts as a sponge and soaks up the flavors and sauces in whatever you’re making. Eggs are also a great, cheap protein source. I usually eat meat a few times a week instead of every day.DSC_0914 copy
  4. Use a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or the tablespoon size of these babies (which is basically a melon baller) to scoop out the flesh of watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, or basically anything else with a thick rind. Less juice spilling all over your counter and evenly sized bite-sized balls of fruit for all!

    Delicious melon-balled watermelon via my Instagram

  5. If you have a double basin sink, ditch the dish drying rack and simply get one of these drying mats. I was inspired by Scandinavian kitchens when I visited Iceland where the sinks had built-in dish drying areas. Drying racks are unsightly and over time accumulate a lot of grime. You can put a cutting board over it and even cut vegetables on top of it – the water that tends to pool while I’m cutting things drains directly into the sink!DSC_0913 copy

What other kitchen hacks can you add to the list? I’d love to hear them!

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