What to Bring to Iceland: Ring Road Packing List

Svínafellsjökull

I’ve traveled to Iceland twice in the past year now, so expect some more posts about my favorite country to visit (so far, anyway). I haven’t gone trekking in the highlands or done any off-the beaten path explorations, so this list will be more suited to the average road tripping traveler. Iceland is rapidly developing into a tourist-friendly destination and has become very easy for anyone to visit. Still, it helps to know what you’re getting into. I’m fresh off the plane, so while it’s on my mind, here is a list of the essentials you’ll definitely want in your bag.

TL;DR

  1. Windproof/waterproof shell & pants
  2. Waterproof/durable hiking boots or shoes
  3. Weather resistant daypack
  4. Toilet paper or tissues
  5. Plastic shopping bags/ziploc bags
  6. Reusable water bottle
  7. European outlet adapters and associated charging cables
  8. 112 app
  9. Wool socks
  10. Hat/gloves

ESSENTIALS

1. A windproof and waterproof shell and pants

If you’ve done any research on the climate in Iceland, you’ll know that it changes rapidly and without warning. On my last trip, it rained every single day. It wouldn’t necessarily be a light misting, either – it would sometimes be full-on heavy rain accompanied by a helping of gale force winds. Heck, even my expensive Arc’teryx shell nearly soaked through on a 20 minute impromptu hike in Reykjanesbaer. I don’t care if you’re visiting in the summer or winter – this shell will save the clothes you’re wearing underneath, not to mention blocking out the wind chill and flying sand, rocks, ice, or snow.

You’ll probably survive without the pants, but you will definitely not regret having them if you’re doing any hiking, especially near waterfalls that will blow water in your face, and if you’re driving the Ring Road, you’ll probably be foss’ed out by the end of the trip anyway. So just suck it up and invest in a gore-Tex shell that can be worn over any base layers you’re bringing with you.

2. Waterproof, durable hiking boots or shoes (if winter: consider crampons)

Especially in the winter. You’re going to be roughing it in the terrain there, tramping over wet sand, mud, rocks, gravel, deep puddles, and maybe snow and ice. I’ve stepped in pretty deep mud on leisurely strolls – most of the trails aren’t paved. Get something with treads and a durable upper if you’re going to slip on some crampons. Unless the forecast calls for ice, snow, and below freezing temperatures, you probably won’t need crampons, but if the ground was icy, they will come in handy. I brought these, but if you’re going to wear crampons, you’ll need something with a stiffer upper.

Make sure that if you’re bringing crampons that you learn how to wear and walk in crampons before going to Iceland.

3. Weather-Resistant Daypack

I’ve talked about my Patagonia Travel Tote Pack before, and that was the daypack I brought. It was suitable for dumping extra clothes, my battery bank, camera gear, and so on.

4. Toilet paper or tissues

Iceland has been cracking down on nickel and diming tourists, charging a buck or two for using bathrooms at some of the tourist attractions. You’ll also occasionally find yourself at odds with your bladder in extremely remote stretches of road, which means it’s pretty handy to have a pack of wipes in your coat pocket. Just sayin’. Also, there have been several occasions in which the bathrooms in the touristy parts had no more toilet paper, so even if you didn’t have to hunker down in the wild, you’ll probably need them anyway.

5. Plastic shopping bags and ziploc bags

For dirty clothes, dirty shoes, leftover eats – you *will* find a use for these on a road trip like this. I guarantee it. Also, none of the grocery stores in Iceland give you shopping bags, so if you buy more than what your daypack can fill, they will come in handy for the extra foodstuffs.

6. Reusable water bottle

If you spend any time around locals, they will likely make it a point to boast about their exceptionally clean  and pure drinking water which you can get straight from the cold water tap (would not recommend the sulfur-y water from the hot tap in geothermal regions). This basically means there is no point in buying bottled water. Heck, I ate glacial ice and filled water bottles at the streams in Skaftafell – and that water is exceptionally tasty.

7. European outlet adapters and associated charging cables

Most of my devices are charged by USB, so I brought this. It’s a bit on the chunky side, but I like having an all-in-one.

8. 112 app

Not really a “thing,” but you should definitely download the 112 app to your smart device if you have one. This app can send your location to the Iceland emergency authorities if you get caught in a bad situation.

9. Wool socks

I’ve probably raved about wool already in my previous post. Nothing beats a nice pair of wool socks in a wet and potentially (very) cold climate like Iceland. If you’re still a cotton sock person, you’ll never go back after wearing wool socks. They are naturally insulating and dry more quickly than cotton.

10. Hat/gloves

Mainly for winter travelers – you’ll find that having a good hat or earmuffs and windproof/waterproof gloves will greatly improve your resilience in the harsh arctic climate. I spent less than $20 on a hand-knit Icelandic sheep wool (known as “lopi“) beanie from a local knitter and it kept me warm when the wind blew.

Purchased from my host while staying at Skogar Guesthouse.

Me in my new Icelandic sheep wool hat. Icelandic wool tends to be thicker as it is made of two layers. The outer layer is coarse and repels water; the inner layer is shorter and insulating.

OPTIONAL/NICE TO HAVE

1. Swimwear and towel

If you’re taking a dip in any of the country’s hot springs or the famed Blue Lagoon, keep in mind that swimsuit/towel rental are add-on costs. I’m of the opinion that soaking in the springs while checking out the barren landscape around you is an experience worth having after long drives and days packed with sightseeing. You don’t need to bring a bulky one, necessarily – this waffle towel from REI worked perfectly for me.

2. Trawire

Not really something you can “pack…” but you’ll want to do this in advance anyway: reserve a handy little hotspot with the Trawire Basic plan for having unlimited data in Iceland. I kept it in my daypack linked up to my battery bank because its battery life is only a few hours. Some of the more remote stretches of the Ring Road don’t have service, but for the most part, this is super useful if you want to stay plugged in. It’s very easy to pick up at a gas station of your choice and it comes with a prepaid return envelope that you can drop off at any post box in Iceland.

4. Battery bank

Your rental car will probably have a plug, but if you have travel buddies with you, it is likely that you’ll want to charge multiple devices at a time, and this will usually be a useful backup. I recommend this one.

5. Tripod

This is a must if you’re going to be taking any long exposure photos of northern lights or waterfalls. I highly recommend this one for portability and ease of use (if you’re more professional though, I’m sure you’d prefer to bring your full kit).

6. Eye mask 

If you’re going to be in Iceland when the midnight sun is around, this might be a good idea to have if the curtains where you sleep are not adequate for blocking out light. You can also use the highly versatile wool Buff which doubles as a thin scarf.

7. Shower slippers

These are great in shared bathroom guesthouses. I like having an extra layer of protection between me and the floor in case someone spills oils or soap water on the floor, so I always make sure to bring a pair of cheap rubber flip flops. Generally, when going into Icelandic guesthouses, you are expected to remove your shoes (similar to Asia) and wear indoor slippers anyway.

8. Sunglasses

Mainly for the summer, but the reflection of the sun off bright snow can be pretty blinding as you’re driving.

What items have you found invaluable when traveling to remote places with harsh climates like Iceland? Let me know in the comments!

Passion and Mom’s Closet

Via Pixabay

Passion is a curious, paradoxical thing. It has the capability of completely wiping out our energy stores faster than we can replenish them, at the same time endowing us with the energy we need to take action. It is a catalyst for hard work and dedication, breeding elite athletes, scholars, and artists. Passion makes us scream, yell, and cheer at sports games. It makes us cry and hit things when we feel frustrated. Passion keeps us awake at night, mulling over thoughts and kneading them over and over like a lump of dough. It is an emotion that is fraught with intensity to a level that defies logic. And that is why we must keep it in check, lest we careen over the edge of sanity and sensibility, and it turns against us and overdo ourselves to our breaking points. Then we step into the land of Unhealthy Choices.

Too often, we use stuff as a measure of how much passion we have. To show our passion for others, we shower them with gifts. We don symbolic jewelry and graphic tees. We plaster bumper stickers on our cars. We buy logos and proudly display them. We buy gear and supplies, often hoping that the purchases will guilt us into following through on an activity we’ve been meaning to do. We keep things to display to others who we are and what we represent.

These outward shows, as we know, are just the tip of the iceberg. We can draw some inferences from them, but only just a sliver. We truly get to know people by being with them, not by just looking at them or watching them from afar. By experiencing life with them. By having a two-way conversation with them. By listening, taking in, and comprehending. No need to agree or disagree with them, perhaps – but you know, the beyond-the-stuff and beneath-the-skin difficult and mushy stuff we all keep repressed deep inside.

The journey of sifting through of things and letting them go is a truly personal experience. And this was a journey my mom had to go through when she decluttered her closet. Decades of stuff piled up in boxes and on shelves were confronted and thanked for their service before being passed to another owner. And then the newly found time and energy was redirected to writing about her childhood memories. How awesome is that?! These stories helped me know her better than a pile of things ever would. Stuff has a way of occupying the mind despite not actively interfering with day-to-day life, and confronting it helps us refocus our attention to our passions.

Breaking My Shopping Habit

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As a former shopping addict, I can tell you that it took a a lot longer to break the habit than I am willing to admit. The Chicago area is flat and rather uninteresting from a geological perspective. Sure, you’ve got plains, grasslands, forests, and man-made Lake Michigan – all of which is gorgeous in the summer and crystalline in the winter. But as far as “things to do,” urbanites and surburbanites often end up running off to shopping malls. Chicago suburbanites are spoiled by fabulous venues like Woodfield Mall, Old Orchard Mall, Northbrook Court, Chicago Premium Outlets, Mag Mile, and so on. Naturally, the sprawling nature of the area is conducive to valuable retail real estate, and spending a day shopping at the mall ogling over shoes happens to be a popular weekend activity around here.

I spent my childhood around relatively rich kids who got more or less what they wanted – birthday parties at outside venues, brand new toys from Toys ‘R Us, and custom-made cakes. It was a wasteful, indulgent environment of plenty, and that was the only reality I knew. The kids on the school bus showed off their toys and playthings all the time. I was never taught the dangers of materialism or the shallowness of judging others by what they had and flaunted. I was never told to find friends based on their personalities and not based on their level of privilege. Even as adults, we are encouraged to befriend powerful people to boost our chances of making it professionally or befriend rich people so that we can take advantage of their wealth. Unfortunately, there is truth behind that advice, but in the end, the presence of an ulterior motive brands these kinds of relationships as superficial.

On the bright side, the reason I can review products and provide my opinion to you free of affiliate ties is due to my shamefully extensive experience shopping and hours spent researching and testing products. Not in quite as an organized way as some sites, and my opinion is just one opinion, but after years of weekly Amazon packages, day trips to outlet malls, hours spent meandering around indoor malls and browsing shopping sites, I figure I’ll use my knowledge to help educate you, my reader.

It took me getting fed up with cleaning up my room all the time and having no time for anything else. It took an honest look at my credit card statements and shuddering at the numbers. It took many frustrating shopping trips, realizing that my insatiable desire for the Perfect Everything was just that. Insatiable. And that insatiability had to change. Even though I was a minimalist, I still felt a desire to replace or renew all of the things I already owned, which in itself is not minimalist behavior. My mind was still consumed by Stuff – albeit, less the accumulation of, and more the optimization of. For a few years, I upgraded everything from my shoes to my backpack to my gloves to things as mundane as my keyboard. I would have different “phases” every month, and I would look at the money I had in my account as a way of seeing how much I could afford rather than how much I could sock away in an investment account. It took several years of decluttering, relapsing, slowly adopting minimalist habits, and, quite frankly – getting older – which, by constantly reminding us of our limited time on earth and fleeting youthful bodies, has a way of gradually revealing what we should care about.

You can upgrade anything, really. I could upgrade to the next generation laptop, set of headphones, or keyboard. I could upgrade to a nicer car, a nicer house, a nicer couch, a nicer mattress. I could always add to my shoe collection, sweater collection, and so on. There is always more that can be desired. Until something limits you. For many people, it’s the money. Thankfully, I hit a Stuff Tolerance limit so that I could intentionally stop rather than forcibly stop. I couldn’t stand the maintenance of all the stuff I owned and how much time and energy it was eating out of my schedule. I wanted to spend less time getting ready in the morning, so I nixed the makeup collection and the stuffed wardrobe. I wanted to spend less time packing for trips, so I got rid of travel-unfriendly clothing. I wanted to spend less time cleaning up after myself, so I got rid of as many decorative items and unnecessary furniture as I could. And I relapsed. I relapsed over and over again for a while, trading in old versions for better versions in a never-ending cycle of upgrade-ism.

I’ve somehow stopped my upgrade-ism for a couple months now, only buying things when things break or wear beyond repair, and only recently started to appreciate what has managed to survive the purging of belongings. The gifts I did receive for my birthday this year were either extremely practical or extremely meaningful, and I’ve started to taste the wonderful feeling of gratitude for what I have. I hope that the upgrade-ism habit has stopped – not because I’ve already upgraded everything – but because I am getting wiser about what really needs to be upgraded or replaced.

Let’s Talk Jewelry: The Oxymoron that is Minimalist Jewelry

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I know, I know. We need to talk about jewelry. I am a young professional woman and a so-called self-proclaimed  minimalist. And yes, we are going to have the jewelry talk. Before you come at me with your pitchforks and cries of heirloom problems and diversification of assets and judgmentality – just relax for a second and just know that I do indeed own and wear jewelry. I’m not here to tell you to throw it all away – what a scary thought!

Yes – fundamentally, there is never a need for jewelry. There is no reason why anyone would need jewelry to survive. Nobody climbing icefalls on Everest would ever decide to take a pearl necklace because it would help him or her safely ascend the mountain, and animals certainly don’t care to wear jewelry. The value and meaning of jewelry is assigned by culture or religion for symbolic reasons only – traditions, memories, class, aesthetics – all of which don’t really require material things. Historically, silversmiths and goldsmiths hammered away at crafting fine crown jewels and intricate adornments for members of the upper class. It was rare to see a peasant wearing a gold necklace.

Today, jewelry is still used frequently as a marker of social class. This is where my vexation starts. We tell prospective husbands that a wedding ring should cost three months of salary, but we don’t tell them that the cost of the ring correlates with their chance of divorce. To think that financing a rock is a thing. Just like how we ask questions like “How much house can I afford” rather than “How much house can I buy to maximize my LIFE EFFICIENCY?!” Life efficiency defined partially as: less time spent sitting in traffic and more time enjoying the immediate community without requiring a trek. These days, loans have made it ridiculously easy for most people to purchase things they cannot really afford. They’re essentially the opposite of sale prices. Instead of 10% off, a loan is really a way of saying, “pay 20% of the price, then another 10% on top for every month that you haven’t paid the remainder of the price!” In a country like America, uninformed people get sucked into predatory lending contracts all the time and end up in financial disasters when they realize that perhaps they didn’t get the whole picture of what they were getting themselves into.

I realize that I went off on a tangent – but the point I’m making is, fine jewelry is generally a poor investment – diamonds are not actually rare – and at least in this country, because we can easily take out a loan and buy one, mean nothing in the realm of social class. The appearance of social class is becoming meaningless anyway. These days, when I see someone’s fancy car, I wouldn’t automatically assume that that person is well off. That person could be in crippling debt, or just be willing to toil away at the office a bunch of extra years to afford it. Moreover, after having spent enough time in the corporate world and paying a lot more attention to people’s conduct and professionalism than the jewelry they are wearing, I’ve become numb to the presence of jewelry. I’ve only really paid attention to it if it was particularly distracting, like clinking bracelets, oversized necklaces, or baubly earrings. My mom has told me stories of people cutting off strangers’ fingers in China to steal rings for money. I’m sure they’re mostly freak situations, but nonetheless – just like with expensive bags, I prefer the peace of mind of not having “STEAL ME” posters all over me than the “pride” of walking around with a thousand dollar necklace. Lighter, freer, more peace of mind. No need to remove jewelry at the airport security line and no need to worry about someone stealing fine jewelry.

But that doesn’t mean I go to my nearest Claire’s and try to get the sophisticated look with fake pearls and cubic zirconia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sterling silver tarnishes and gold wears down. My favorite material of choice…happens to be stainless steel.

Yes, surgical stainless steel. The kind they use in dental implants and other medical devices. It’s durable, hypoallergenic, easy to clean without nasty chemicals, and doesn’t stain easily like sterling silver does. Best of all, it’s not expensive. Yet, it’s so hard to find places that make jewelry made of stainless steel (my favorite vendor is from the Netherlands). As far as jewelry, I am partial to studs because I can put them on and forget about them. Rings, necklaces and bracelets usually get in the way of athletic pursuits, not to mention the danger of snagging on delicate materials. Studs are a simple way to adorn myself without much fuss. And isn’t that the point of minimalism? To reduce the amount of fuss you have to make so you can focus on what’s truly important to you?

Minimalist Design and User Experience

My new faucet!

Recently, I was at Home Depot looking for a new faucet. I wasn’t about to replace the entire sink, so I needed one with a 3-hole configuration. For about 30 minutes, I stared at the gallery of faucets on the pallet racks, slowly narrowing down my choices. The thought process I was going through reminded me that I was applying my intuition of user experience to an everyday product. My brain was getting flooded by all the options and thoughts, but the one I chose in the end was influenced by a combination of ease of use, cleanability, price, and aesthetics. The single handle mechanism makes it simple to calibrate for temperature. Of course, not everybody has the same purchasing factors in mind. Maybe price is the limiting factor and the cheapest option will do. In my case, I really wanted something that was easy to clean – no gaps and limiting of weird edges that are hard to get to with a sponge.

“User Experience” is a term familiar to anyone working in the digital realm, especially in a corporate setting. Good UX generally requires a fundamental understanding of its principles and a robust backing of research-based findings. The tech industry is really honing in on ensuring good user experience in its products e- part of the iOS’s appeal is its ease of use. My 3-year-old niece picked up the iPad interface quickly – she probably knows more about how to use it than I do.

I’m not professionally trained on the subject, but after reading the thoughts of designers, evaluating and re-evaluating of products on the market (read: former shopping addiction), and architecture/structural engineering study, I’ve decided that overdesigning these days is rampant. We’re so focused on adding unnecessary elements that end up making systems cluttered and inefficient. Our brains don’t need to be overly stimulated by all that is in front of us – decision fatigue is a thing. Design should be used to improve the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of a thing. Done right, and it will be naturally visually pleasing already. What frustrates me is while we can design impressively user-friendly applications in niche areas (like our purses), we often fail to create positive user experiences elsewhere. Long commutes are terrible uses of our time (especially if we drive). Slews of ugly and over-designed spreadsheets and illogical file structures at work (why we accept having flowery backgrounds as a design feature is beyond me). Piles of forget-about-it stuff in cabinets. Perhaps it is my structural engineering background that makes me gripe about pointless architectural design (and why the best designs intersect the need for structural integrity with visually pleasing aesthetics), but there is a sort of intuition that comes from exposure to good design that makes sense. It cannot really be learned from school.

But what we can start doing is questioning how we set up our lives, and whether or not they have good user experience in their own right. Are our life systems efficient, effective, and fast? Do the layouts of our homes make sense? Do we have to spend more time taking care of something than we do actually enjoying it? Do we even want to use said thing? Would we be better off decluttering something rather than continuing to maintain it?

On the Importance of Vulnerability

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Recently, I was lamenting my struggles of being vulnerable to a good friend who told me that it is vulnerability that makes people personable. I ruminated over the thought for a good while, eventually concluding that that little theory had some truth to it. We are all born with the same ultimate fate: the miracle of life is always followed by the tragedy of death. And so we fight tooth and nail to ensure that our lives are “fulfilling” ones – that we display wealth, prosperity, and health; that we have not wasted the limited time we have here; that the show that we’re putting on is worth watching.

This behavior is manifested most easily in our social media habits, and indeed many aspects of socializing and networking. We flaunt our crazy nights out, our picturesque travel photos, and our accomplishments. We take great care to display only the most perfect aspects of our lives. There’s no sense in creating a pity party, after all. There’s no sense in announcing to the world our suffering and taking in all the niceties that our acquaintances dish out to us (and who really wants to be around someone who is always constantly soliciting attention to all of his or her woes?). Wouldn’t it be even more tragic if an employer found out that we were less than perfect? We are imbued with a natural tendency to conceal or avoid everything that’s unpleasant.

But one thing I’ve realized is that the beauty of living, made even easier by living in a first world country like America, is that our lives are not scripted. We are programmed to the extent that we are all human, but the divergence of our paths has given us tickets to infinite paths in life. And that is a scary thing, especially when we are also now not just exposed to but even bombarded by what’s going with other people’s lives. And when the view is always rosy and full of rainbows, it’s just human nature to think that our lives are comparatively gray and dull. When your group of acquaintances is diverse enough, a full spectrum of lifestyles is visible to you.

Perhaps you work at a for-profit employer and you see people doing things like volunteering for the poor, and it’s easy to think, “I’m so heartless for not devoting my time to that.”

Perhaps you’re taking care of young children and you see people spontaneously traveling the world and it’s easy to think, “I wish I had traveled more before I had children.” Or you’re on the other side and you’re thinking, “I need to get serious about starting a family” or “I need to decide if I want to start a family.”

Perhaps you’re sitting there eating Doritos and you see people posting progress pics on their Instagram and it’s easy to think, “I should be more diligent about working out.”

In a dizzying world of options, we can’t help but compare ourselves to others. And then we try to one up each other with our own epic vacations, cute baby photos, angelic marriage photoshoots, promotion announcements, house-buying announcements (this and car-buying are the two times it is socially acceptable to tell everyone that you probably just took on a large amount of debt), and other expected life milestones. Eager to throw up our hands and tell everyone how on top of things we are. How loved we are. How passionate we are. How successful we are. How disciplined we are.

When we develop relationships with people, that stuff is just the icing on top. I’d love to share all my happiest moments with my closest friends, but what about the darkest times? What happens when something goes wrong? Who do we turn to then? If we’re not going to turn to social media, who are we going to talk to? Who is going to pick us up and tell us things will be okay? Who will be there for us without judging us or scolding us?

Not everyone can be that sounding board. Not everyone will be a suitable candidate for helping you out when you feel like crap. Not everyone can be neutral enough to help you sort out your thoughts. When we break off the icing and ask someone if we can be honest for a moment, that is when the opportunity to help each other arises. Think about the people you’re closest to – the people who you’re not afraid of being transparent with. They’re usually the people who’ve seen you fail and willingly shared those times with you.

Being vulnerable is hard. It sucks, quite frankly. Especially when you grew up in a culture where “showing face” is important (think elaborate weddings, conformance to societal standards, flaunting wealth, disowning “problematic” children etc.). It’s uncomfortable and difficult. But it’s so much easier to get through life when you have people around you to support you – not just on easy sunshiny days, but also when perhaps you want to whisper to someone that you, too, have shortcomings, and that’s totally normal and okay and you’ll get through them. Writing this blog is a way for me to express to you that I am also a normal, vulnerable person, and that the reason I’ve articulated everything up there is that I’ve felt those thoughts myself. There’s no need to declare to the world that we’re all hopelessly weak all the time, but if we express to others that we’re incapable of weakness, the inevitable time in which we are weak will be so much worse.

How I Started to Feel Beautiful, Despite Believing the Contrary

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Everyone has insecurities. And for many people, especially so with appearance.

There are certain aspects of our lives we can readily control. Following a certain set of habits will get you a fit body. With practice, we can improve our mannerisms and social skills. Education will help shape and reshape our thinking. And to a degree, these changes can also shape how we are perceived by others.

But you cannot naturally change your eye color, hair structure, bone structure, facial proportions, skin color, or stature. Just like how you can’t convince someone who is firmly rooted to his or her set of beliefs, you won’t be magically growing another 4 inches or moving your cheekbones with sheer willpower. It doesn’t help that we’re constantly bombarded with all kinds of messages that our looks, especially for women, can trump other characteristics. Beautiful people often become defined based on their appearance – their underlying characteristics, good and bad, trumped by beauty. Ugly people receive a dose of sympathy and either are ignored by society or inspected closely for redeeming qualities.

It’s an uncomfortable topic. One that affects our interactions with those close to us and not so close to us. If we are ugly or feel ugly, the words “beauty is on the inside,” “You’re beautiful,” or “everyone is beautiful” don’t mean much. If that was true, wouldn’t we all be beauty contestants? If we feel ugly, it’s easy to dissect ourselves into wondering why we got so unlucky and why we can’t look like someone else. The reality is, beauty standards exist and we can’t help but notice them in others. Models and beautiful people market things well and they not going to go away. Methods like plastic surgery, makeup, and other such methods are out there, but they come with expenses, time, and doesn’t necessarily fix the problem of feeling ugly underneath all the artificiality.

The way someone looks can aid in diagnosing someone’s thoughts and feelings, but I think what much more valuable is how you feel. “Being” pretty and “feeling pretty” can really change someone’s approach to life. And even pretty people will feel ugly at times. For me, the one thing that has helped immensely is getting serious about fitness.

When you focus on a workout, you become so much less wrapped up in how you look. Being sweaty and gritting your teeth and wrinkling your face is all part of the ordeal, but being less focused on being “beautiful” and more focused on what you are capable of will get your mind off of things like how your hair looks. You’re very unlikely to be concerned with the shape of your eyebrows when you are on mile 10 of 20, rep 3 of 5, and so on. I’m not trying to say that getting your mind off your physical appearance will solve all your physical insecurities, or that not being fit means that you’re ugly (body dysmorphia is very real among fitness enthusiasts). But I truly believe that awakening the body to its fullest capabilities can truly make you appreciate the beauty that is the miraculous human body.

So we set tiny goals, like one pull-up, then perhaps two. One mile, then perhaps two. One inch lower in your split, perhaps two. Touching your toes, then touching the floor.

From then on, I slowly weaned myself off of overdoing my beauty routine and slowly got comfortable in my own skin. I released the envy I had of beautiful models and found peace with my appearance.

Simple Living vs Empty Living

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There is a possibility, however small, that someone might take simple living to mean ruthlessly simplifying until all that is unpleasant, stressful, or uncomfortable is reduced or completely eliminated.

One example is our relationships with other people.

Most people in deep, fulfilling relationships with family, friends, and significant others can agree that the risks and unpleasantries of bad dates, disappointments, uncomfortable talks, and disagreements are all worth the effort. Companionship, helping hands, and kindness are wonderful bonuses that come with healthy relationships with those around us, but disagreements and differences help us reflect on our own values and challenge us to rethink and reshape our ways of thinking. As most people know, these conflicts are catalysts for our own growth and avoiding them costs us those opportunities. This isn’t to say that toxic and damaging relationships should not be cut, but that severing all ties with all people simply because you cannot tolerate people is probably indicative that perhaps some self-reflection is long overdue. We cultivate these relationships for the benefit of nurturing our communities as a whole – not just for our own personal development. To completely opt out of interacting with anyone – while great for recharging ourselves and clearing our minds – puts us in danger of being bored, lazy, and well…lonely. Tackling challenges and confronting difficult situations broadens our life experience – great ways to make us feel truly alive.

Another way of achieving this is through exercise.

The notion that only fatness or un-skinny-ness is supposed to trigger gotta-get-to-the-gym thoughts is silly. Most of us have woefully underutilized bodies and brains that have not been challenged to any semblance of full potential. Instead, we resort to lame ‘n’ lazy activities like pushing around snowblowers, joy rides in sports cars, getting fat at buffets, or growing our beer bellies at bars and clubs. Sadly, so much of us are still in the habit of defaulting to the lazy route – Uber’ing instead of cycling, using a snowblower instead of a shovel, taking the elevator instead of the stairs. The thought of challenging our bodies even just a tiny bit doesn’t even cross our mind sometimes. Perhaps we write off this choosing-the-lame-route method as the simpler way. And perhaps, in a way, it is.

But being minimal is not supposed to mean always choose the easy way.

As someone who knows how it feels to be highly susceptible to stressful situations, there is a certain balance to be had. Life is not rewarding without some semblance of struggle. That struggle will certainly be different depending on what you choose to focus your energy on, but I do feel concerned about the segment of minimalists who truly believe that the absence of strife defines minimalism. Sure, I’ve reduced the amount of material chaos in my life and culled excessive time-sucking activities in favor of more meaningful pursuits, but that doesn’t mean my life is void of challenge or struggle. Most of the time, we are not broadcasting our struggles to the world anyway – we are all fighting something, even if we are doing so invisibly. I am intentionally training myself every day to become better equipped to tackle what gets thrown my way. That resilience enables us to fill our lives with challenges we can confidently overcome, and when we do, we pack those experiences into our toolbelt and move forward with a renewed sense of confidence.

And what better way to do so than with companions that share the same resolutions?

Review: Kit and Ace Over Time Part 2 (and a note on their customer service)

Since my Kit and Ace posts have been my most viewed posts on this blog thus far, I do want to mention that I am not affiliated with them in any way. I have not received clothes from them for free – everything I’ve tried, I bought myself. All of my Kit and Ace posts on here are 100% free of incentives. That being said, since I’ve been wearing their stuff for almost a year now, I do have a few things to say to help out my fellow shoppers, since their website still doesn’t have a review section.

Durability Issues

In my first Kit and Ace review, I raved about their Noosa tee which they no longer carry. Seeing as I did put their technical cashmere tees through the ringer for almost a year, I have to admit – they are not invincible. Eventually, I’ve gotten small holes and tears from regular use – snags on a sharp object or pulls from getting caught. Comfortable, soft, and stretchy they are; tough and durable they are not. Some of their technical cashmere shirts are so thin they are see-through (particularly their lighter colors), so I’ve been resorting to darker or saturated colors. Miskace, their “brushed” fabric, is a bit thicker, but seemingly less stretchy, and more prone to pilling (interior only).

I will also say that after putting them through the wash a few times, they do seem a wee bit misshapen after a few washes. I’ve only really used their boyfriend fit items so it doesn’t actually matter that much, but an $80 tee should have some resilience. I will say that the same thing has happened with other brands that sell expensive t-shirts (I’ve gotten holes in Burberry tees too), so…price and quality are not always directly correlated.

Recently, I got my hands on their Julian scarf. It was originally priced at $248. Right now, it has been marked down to$78. It is a humongous 100% cashmere scarf that kept me warm in sub 20 degree temperatures. It ended up shedding so badly I nearly used an entire lint roller on the merino sweater I was wearing underneath to get all the fuzz off. Curious about how and why that happened, I did some research on how to recognize quality cashmere, and I decided that there was a pretty good chance that their cashmere was not 2-ply cashmere which is used in more quality cashmere goods. Kit and Ace doesn’t say anything about where they source their cashmere or the quality of the weave. I will say that unless it’s from a reputable mill like one from Scotland, it will remain questionable, so I would stay away from their 100% cashmere items until I get proof that pilling and shedding won’t happen.

Customer Service & Corporate Culture

So far, any time I had a problem with an item, I haven’t had any issues getting an exchange or refund. At the very least, they do seem to want you to be happy with their clothes, so despite their strict return policy, I haven’t had any trouble working with their customer service representatives. Even though they want their clothes back in new condition with tags still attached, the tags have mainly been attached with safety pins, so you don’t need to really worry about cutting tags.

I did read a fair bit about their corporate culture on Glassdoor, and it seems to be a mess. There is a lot of discourse on Kit and Ace’s obsession with “integrity” despite it not being present at a corporate level, and the company doesn’t seem to be performing as well as it had hoped given the recent layoffs and store closings. I do love the basic clothes that they offer, but I don’t know that “undercover athletes” are so fashion-forward as to want insanely wide-legged pants and strangely cut shorts. I love the minimalist aesthetic, but I’m more inclined to value practicality over Lady Gaga-esque fashion-forward, so I tend to be more interested in their basic tees than anything else. I wouldn’t go out and buy anything they sell that isn’t versatile enough for everyday wear.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to share today, but my point is – be wary of their 100% cashmere items, and always wash their garments on delicate.

Spare Yourself from Overdecorating, Gifts, Last-Minute Shopping, and other Holiday Woes

The holidays have become an iconic time of gift exchanges, unbridled dietary habits, and restless travel time. With just how much running around we have to do – buying things for large families, cooking epic meals, writing checks for charitable organizations, buying gifts for gift exchanges at work or at friends’ parties…it’s no wonder “Christmas feels more like a deadline than a holiday” (a shower thought from Reddit).

December has turned into a spending and binge-eating frenzy. At my office, holiday babble sounds like:

“I have x more days until I have to eat right again…”

As though there was some kind of time limit…

“I still have to finish Christmas shopping for everyone in my extended family and in laws…”

Because I’m sure everyone needs another “little something.”

“I was supposed to get my package yesterday, but UPS keeps delaying it and now it won’t show up until after Christmas!”

Oh, well…

“As the decorator in the house, I’ve gotten a little crazy with the lights…”

Amongst frustrations like people not knowing what to get other people, etc. Like not getting someone something is not an option.

I’m lucky, though. As someone who travels off-season and isn’t chained to kids’ school vacation schedules, I purposely pick up the slack from everyone who is vacationing over the holidays and jetting off from crowded airports (read: quiet office!). Since my extended family is thousands of miles away, I’m spared from the ridiculousness of buying-gifts-for-family-members-I-barely-know. For the most part, we only buy things for each other that we actually want, so we’re spared from the guilt of not wearing some ugly sweater I got from my aunt or some other similar situation and don’t burden our loved ones with things like themed linens or gag gifts. I don’t feel pressure to compete with neighbors with Christmas decorations – I let retailers and the city put up lights and I can enjoy them without burdening myself with putting them up and taking them down.

My idea of an indulgent holiday season is cozy time by the fireside, frolicking in the snow, learning artful present wrapping, and reflecting on how to make the upcoming year more levels of awesome. I find solace in cleaning up my life when no one else is around, enjoying the quiet snowfalls of winter, planning my next trip abroad, and enjoying peaceful hours at the gym before the new year rush begins.

Let’s take holiday traditions into our own hands and toss out the excess unnecessary stuff. Let’s talk about holiday “savings” instead of holiday “spending.” I’d love to know about what people do instead of following all the necessary traditions. Most importantly, let’s make the season a true holiday.

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