My Simple, Lonely Life of Sobriety

Via PixaBay

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?

Ugh.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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 colander.top-view-1248955_1920
  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!

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    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!

The Advent of Women’s Techwear

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Techwear is clothing that uses technical fabrics and features to emphasize “movement, comfort, and presentability.” Let’s not confuse techwear with athleisure – athleisure clothing is simply athletic clothing worn in casual settings. This is a phenomenon that has only recently come to fruition, and I only discovered there was such a term for it when I began building my cycling wardrobe. Indeed, any outdoor sport or activity requiring special fabrics and features in attire and gear utilize techwear principles when designing products, but only recently have they also begun to consider aesthetics (a good example of this is ugly travel clothing). Numerous small companies are popping up and they cater mainly to the outdoor sport crowd, like backpackers and cyclists. Unfortunately, this also means they often only carry menswear or have a limited stock of women’s clothing. With stores carrying hearty stock of women’s clothing, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more techwear companies out there that cater to women.

The Ridiculousness of High Maintenance Clothing & Accessories

I once worked for a company where I was told that skirts and dresses are considered more formal than pants and that high heels are basically required for formal occasions.  Huh. We need to require women to wear unquestionably uncomfortable attire that is proven to be bad for the posture? My working career is only 5 years, but I’ve noticed a shift to more casual offices, and I really appreciate that shift, because it reduces the time I need to spend getting ready in the morning and taking care of my clothes. Of course, there are always going to be some people who still find that a formal outfit is going to earn them more points in the business world (and it has even been proven), particularly if you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, but I think that dressing well will not make up for a lack of a professional demeanor or business acumen.

The idea of dressing up or owning lots of formal clothes and accessories used to excite me, but I’ve started to see it as just another chore. There is nothing practical about formalwear. Suits have to be fitted to your ever-changing body, dry-cleaned, ironed, stored a certain way, and have to travel in a suit bag. Floaty blouses are often made with overly delicate fabrics and need to be hand-washed and often don’t travel well, as they wrinkle when packed in a suitcase. High heels are hard to travel with as they are a very particular shape and tend to be heavy and uncomfortable. Stilettos can’t be worn on anything other than hard ground. Excessive jewelry weighs you down and has to be carefully stored and taken care of (and comes with a need to buy specialty storage, cleaner, etc.). The more expensive the pieces are, the more obsessed you may become about keeping them pristine, and companies have latched onto this need by selling “specially formulated” cleaning solutions: example 1example 2, and example 3. Corporate offices are still hubs of Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and J Crew catalog personas, arms full of dry cleaning and cubicles full of spare heels.

I was very relieved after getting rid of all my high maintenance clothing – almost everything I own can be machine washed – but that doesn’t mean I am by any means cheap. I’ve splurged considerably when building my wardrobe, because I care about a lot when it comes to clothing. I want to be able to wear the same dress to a fancy dinner and on my bike (thanks to Nuu-Muu, I can now achieve this). I want to be able to machine-wash all my clothes, pack them all down small, and wear them in multiple settings. I want clothes that last, don’t cost several thousand dollars, and don’t quickly go out of fashion.

Blending Aesthetics & Practicality

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Typical brand name designers take into account two things: aesthetics and durability, while techwear takes it one step further and adds an element of movement and ease of maintenance into their pieces. Their models are not just pretty faces and skinny bodies – they also tend to be athletic. “Fashion” focuses entirely on aesthetics and trends. It’s really an art form – meant to evoke a reaction or tell a story, perhaps, or meant to impress others with social standing. But unless your hobby is spending a lot of time experimenting with your outer appearance or trying to impress other people with your stuff, I find that stuffing your closet with tons of clothing, expensive or not, causes more stress than having only your favorite clothes.

The problem is, “practical” clothing also tends to be synonymous with boring, ugly, and just generally unflattering. A great example is “travel shirts” that are boxy and come in pastel colors only, despite being easily washed and packable. This is where techwear comes in to save the day. If we must wear suits, why don’t we make suits that not only fit well, but also can be machine-washed, packable, and lightweight? Why do jeans need to be heavy and take forever to dry? Why do we need to wear pants that require a belt? Why do athletic clothes need to only come in clashing neons and plastered with logos? Lots of major retailers have already picked up on this, but it is pretty rare to see it put into practice so far.

Techwear for Women?

People who know me well also know my obsession with Lululemon. I’ve been following Lululemon for 4 years now, and my first piece was a $42 (now $48) black Free-to-Be bra which I still use and wear every week.  Yesterday, my beloved Lululemon Heart Opener tank ripped to shreds while practicing an aerial silks triple star drop, and it is the only piece of Lululemon that has actually worn beyond repair. It lasted over three years of weekly use. Lululemon has a team of great designers, though their releases tend to be hits or misses. They regularly release thoughtfully designed clothes and accessories that intersect fashion and practicality. Uniqlo is another great example of a company that has begun to intersect all of my expectations for clothing, and the bonus is that they are also affordable. They point out features that make something worth buying instead of creating a “persona” for a brand.

Unfortunately, most of the brands that have started to do this, like I mentioned before, only create menswear. Even Outlier has stated that there hasn’t been strong enough market for women’s techwear and discontinued their women’s line as a result. I often wonder if it’s because women don’t know that techwear exists, or that men still dominate the landscape as far as outdoor adventures go, so there is no incentive to cater to women. But I’m confident that as we move forward, more women will catch on.

Obscure Brands that make Women’s Techwear

I have only purchased a couple jackets from Aether and have no experience with the other brands below, but feel free to browse to get an idea of what is out there.

Aether Apparel

Nau

Triple Aught Design

For further reading, look no further than this 5-part series by Dressed Down.

10 Simple Living Starters for Aspiring Minimalists

via PixabayI used to be a millennial with extra-fancy (read: expensive) tastes. I had an eye for the ornate, which was fueled by a trip to Versailles and the antique treasure troves of Buffalo, New York. I was dazzled by porcelain with gold trim and expensive leather goods. I bought expensive food at Whole Foods and regularly ate froyo. I dumped money left and right on short term pleasures. Wanderlust was eating at me, but I was so bogged down by expensive, unfulfilling habits that my travel dreams could not be realized.

Being an unmarried, single millennial is a really good time to learn minimalist habits. Not owning a home, not owning a car, and not being a parent frees you from many “normal” adult responsibilities. Some of us may as well adopt minimalism for the sake of our financial situations, especially if we’re in student loan and credit card debt. We can establish habits that will expand our life skill kit and self-sustainability – critical keys to minimalist lives.

Before anxiously diving into assuming “normal” adult responsibilities, like taking out a mortgage or auto loan, why don’t we simplify our lives first and see if we can possibly reduce our footprints first? The less we need to worry about, the more clarity we have in our lives. Here are some starters for those of you who aren’t sure how to tackle this whole minimalism thing, or just want to see if it’s right for your situation.

1. Break free from your past. Confront your emotional baggage from the past, and find a way to break free from it. Making peace with your past will help you focus on the present. You can even make your own personal ritual as a way to represent letting go. For example, you can set it as your intention when you do yoga, or declutter one thing a day related to a painful past.

2. Start to get rid of your crap – especially the stuff that is tied to a past version of yourself. Yes, I do mean all the useless memorabilia and random things that have followed you into the present day without you noticing. Decluttering is hard, and that is why it took me several years to do and numerous trips to Goodwill. But it will also help you break free from worrying about your stuff, which we do too much anyhow. Don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of slow, consistent decluttering. It’s very un-KonMari, but it worked very well for me.

3. Make a list, on paper, of loose-ends that need to be tied. Schedule that doctor’s appointment. Pay off that loan. Open that bank account. Close that credit card. Buy that thing you need. Get that thing fixed. Then, set aside one day to tackle all of them (realistically of course). At the end, celebrate with ice cream.

4. Clean out your refrigerator. All the sauces you never use, the expired stuff, the moldy stuff – toss it out. Wipe down the surfaces and start anew.

5. Cook all your meals for a week. If a friend wants to go out, invite that person over to cook with you instead. Cooking with someone is a wonderful way to spend quality time together.

6. Start to read simple living books (see my reading list) to give yourself a mental boost.

7. Go for a run or a bike ride. 30 minutes is only a small percentage of your day – you can afford 30 minutes to devote to your body.

8. Trim your online presence. Employers do look you up. Assume that nothing you have online is private. Delete subscriptions from mailing lists, hide or delete photos (that one time you were drunk out of your mind? Who needs to see that, really?). Rewrite your short bios. Update your LinkedIn. You’re better than you were yesterday, and make sure all the channels you’re on reflect that.

9. Have an electronics clean-out session. Unless you’re a tech junkie, chances are, you’ll have spare cables and connectors lying around. You can organize them by using gear ties and labels or simply declutter them. Unplug all the things that you rarely use, save power, grow money mustache.

10. Reduce your commitments. At the risk of looking like a commitment-phobe, I’m certain that a lot of us have a hard time saying “no” to events that we really don’t feel like going to. I really don’t feel sad, for example, if somebody doesn’t attend my graduation. I find formal ceremonies to be incredibly boring, and while some of them have excellent speakers, I went to a high school where I had to sit through 1,100 names on the stage, and the three-hour ordeal was (mostly) a waste of time. I wouldn’t expect friends and family to be willing to sit through that. We’d find another way to celebrate that is less boring and time consuming.

Decluttering Passive Entertainment (Media – Television, News, Radio, Sports…)

via Pixabay

What do TV shows, movies, sports events, Netflix, and radio talk shows have in common?

They all involve other people talking or doing things and you watching or listening. Open any news site, turn on the radio, watch the television, or open a magazine and you’re probably going to be bombarded with things like:

  • How [insert sports player’s name here] made a WINNING PLAY! And [insert someone’s opinion/prediction here].
  • How [insert celebrity’s name here] got involved with [insert 2nd celebrity’s name here] and said “[insert scandalous phrase here]”
  • How [insert product here] will relieve you of your pain and that you should talk to your doctor about it
  • How you might be the next big lottery winner

I admit, I have the fortune of naturally resisting passive entertainment. Even as a child, I hardly watched television, preferring to play with friends or play pretend outdoors. My brother and I would get on our bikes and pretend to order fast food at the mailbox at the end of our driveway. When I was in high school, I had an epiphany about myself that I still remember ten years later: I dislike watching things. I have very little patience for sitting somewhere and watching things happen, like they do at sports events, shows and concerts. I had a much stronger preference for doing those things. At the time, being able to “do” things was not within reach, because so much of my time was consumed by school and well, I was a kid. But when I was released into the real world, I earned my freedom, through hard work and becoming physically fit (read: discipline), and I earned access to doing more activities. That excites me more than any celebrity scandal or sports event.

In life, we are gifted a limited number of hours with which we use our time. Inevitably, some of those hours are going to be used for unpleasant, but important things, like filling out your taxes, dealing with a plumbing problem, calming a screaming baby, or just making some darn money. We do these things in exchange for peace of mind, health, or freedom. Once all the necessaries are done, instead of saying to ourselves, “all I want to do is collapse on the couch and do nothing,” let’s say, “now is my chance to do what I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t had the time.” I don’t know that vegging in front of the tube is something most people wish they had more time to do.

Your freedom is dependent on your financial means, physical means, and mental means (all of which are interrelated). That’s why it kills me that so many of us are using it not to find ways to optimize our lives and get ourselves some more freedom, but throw away the hours watching, sitting, and not creating, crafting, contributing, or well…being active and present in our lives.

Let’s avoid chaining ourselves to the tube of passive entertainment when there is so much out there for us to do. Famous people can be inspirational, don’t get me wrong, and some of them do deserve our attention. And there’s a lot of value in supporting people you care about at their own events and celebrations. But so many people that get the most attention don’t need it, and every time you devote your time and attention to them, you’re voting with your most valuable resource, your time.

Let’s devote ourselves to pursuits that align with our deepest desires. News stations, sports channels, and mobile games are sensational; not necessarily well researched or worth your time.

We can do better. Let’s declutter them.

You Don’t Need to be Privileged to be a Minimalist

via Pixabay

Recently, minimalism has come under fire for being oppressive, boring, offensive, and being a form of lifestyle porn. That minimalism can only really be enjoyed by the privileged, and primarily bachelors. That minimalism deprives our lives of joys like art, fashion, nice things, hobbies, momentos, symbolic objects, and other tangibles, rendering us powerless, more consumerist, and stressed out.

First of all, a lifestyle or a concept being “boring” is inherently a subjective judgment. What one may find boring could be someone else’s life’s passion. But today, I want to address point number 1. I admit that my previous experience as a maximalist did drive me toward minimalism, and that I have the privilege of choosing minimalism rather than force myself into it. First by living in the United States, and second by being raised by dedicated parents whose efforts enabled me to make it big. For me, minimalism is a choice I can enjoy.

Unhappiness comes from wanting what we don’t have. Lots of articles about minimalism are written by relatively wealthy people who gave up their formerly ostentatious lifestyles for simpler ones. Examples like, “I gave up my fancy BMW for a used Honda Civic and am much happier for it!” They’ll then go on to talk about how fancy cars and televisions didn’t end up making them happy (I guess I am an example of that too) and even put them in debt. Critics then retaliate and point out that there are people in other parts of the world who live simple lives because they are victims of systemic issues, but aren’t getting lauded for their even more simplistic lifestyles. For them, minimalism is not by choice, but a necessity.  For them, making do with what they have is characteristic of being poor.

Rich people who choose not to indulge in consumerist luxuries shouldn’t even be looked up to, really, because this whole concept is just putting a well-off person on a pedestal for not succumbing to materialistic desires and then slapping a sexy label like “minimalism” on his or her lifestyle. Mix up the minimalist lifestyle with an art form that just happens to also have the same name and of course minimalism becomes a symbol of the ultimate first world problem. It’s an aesthetically pleasing luxury that only gets attention when privileged people talk about it, and the holier-than-thou undertones that some minimalists employ tends to irritate people.

Minimalism isn’t meant to be a one size fits all solution! There is no one way. If someone has a greater problem at hand than too much stuff, that person should probably focus on tackling that problem before even thinking about minimalism. But that is true of a lot of issues in this world. If we’re going to start attacking minimalism for being unfair to the rest of the world, we might as well start telling everyone in America to stop complaining about everything for the sake of starving families and war-torn countries everywhere. Criticizing people for trying to eliminate waste and live with less isn’t helping anyone – at the end of the day, we might as well call such articles clickbait. We aren’t trying to tell people to live with the least amount of stuff possible, we are trying to promote the efficiency of our lives in ways that work best for our own unique life situations. If that means we are keeping some “stuff” because we can’t afford to replace it, that doesn’t mean we’re not minimalists! There’s no sense in beating ourselves up over not being the most minimalist, whatever that even means.

The point is, we should stop reading media clickbait, and feast on real stories of everyday people who reaped benefits of minimalism, from small scale changes to large scale changes.

For further reading, I recommend this thread.

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