2018-packingpurse10

Packing for China: Clothes

We leave for China tomorrow, which means that today I get to play with one of my favorite things: packing cubes! I have to admit, I’m slightly obsessed with how such a simple tool can make such a big difference in keeping my luggage compact and organized. For this trip, we managed to pack clothes for three weeks in three cities in one packing cube each.

Of course, before we pack our clothes, we first have to decide which clothes to pack. I try to think about these three factors when making my selections:

  1. what kind of activities we’ll be doing — in this case, we’ll be visiting family, attending a party, touring big cities, and hiking up mountains.
  2. what the weather forecast looks like — for our springtime trip to Chengdu, Xi’an, and Beijing, we expect temperatures ranging from the mid-40s to the mid-80s Fahrenheit.
  3. when we’ll be able to do laundry — my aunt and uncle in Chengdu have a washer, as does our AirBnB in Xi’an, but laundry might be less convenient at our hotel in Beijing.

Once we make sure we’ve chosen clothes that match our activities, weather, and laundry situation, it’s time to start packing. On this trip, we’ll each be using a Clean Dirty Cube from Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Specter line. They’re double-sided, lightweight, and one side is water-resistant, and they’re my favorite packing cube. I own the smaller half-cube version too, which is great for summer travel, but for this trip, we’ll be using the larger full-size cubes.

My Clothes

Packing Cube, Side 1

  • 1 sports bra
  • 2 tank tops
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 skirt
  • 3 pairs of pants
Packing Cube, Side 2

  • 3 bras
  • 1 cardigan
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
Extras

On the plane I’ll be wearing:

  • 1 bra
  • 1 tank top
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 pair of underwear
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of sneakers

Outside of the packing cube, I’ll also have:

  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 Buff (a tube of fabric that can be worn as a hat, scarf, bandana, and more)
  • 1 peshtemal (a Turkish towel that can be used as a scarf, towel, or small blanket)

His Clothes

Packing Cube, Side 1

  • 4 t-shirts
  • 1 dress shirt
  • 4 pairs of socks
Packing Cube, Side 2

  • 4 pairs of underwear
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 3 pairs of pants
Extras

On the plane he’ll be wearing:

  • 1 t-shirt
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 pair of underwear
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of shoes

Outside of the packing cube, he’ll also have:

  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 Buff
  • 1 peshtemal

And that’s it!

Here they are, all zipped up and ready to go into our backpacks.

2018-packingpurse10

The Great Honeymoon Debate

Lawrence and I are getting married six months from today! How’s wedding planning going, you ask? That’s a great question. Instead, let’s talk about my favorite escape from wedding planning: exhaustively researching improbable honeymoon itineraries. Honeymoon planning, if you want it to sound nice.

Where We’ve Been

When I turned 25, I set a goal of traveling to 30 U.S. states before my 30th birthday. States I’d visited before age 25 counted toward the total, but my goal still involved spending the night in 14 new states. Accordingly, Lawrence and I spent the next five years criss-crossing America, from southern California to the deep south, from the Smoky Mountains to the Grand Canyon. We rolled into state number 30, Louisiana, on a Greyhound bus a month and a half before my 30th birthday.

Because of this, we’ve traveled quite a bit, but almost entirely domestically. Lawrence went to Romania once as a teenager, with a layover in Germany. I’ve been to China a few times (including the first four years of my life), with layovers in Japan. But outside of those two exceptions and Canada, up until just over a year ago, neither of us had really traveled internationally, and never with each other. We took our first trip abroad together to celebrate my 30th birthday in Mexico. Six months later, we got engaged in Canada.

Fantasy Honeymoons

When the question first came up of where to go for our honeymoon, I took it as an opportunity to indulge some of my travel fantasies. My very first idea (I kid you not) was a three-month overland expedition along the Silk Road, from Istanbul to Xi’an. There are a few companies out there offering treks in converted trucks, and the itineraries cover such exotic destinations as Tashkent, Samarkand, and Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. It was during this period of research that I learned that Turkmenistan, far from being simply “one of the ‘stans,” is actually one of the most repressive countries in the world, and its capital, Ashgabat, is a white marble city full of new age architecture and statues of its late president. Who knew?

Anyway, we decided that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to spend our honeymoon roughing it through Central Asia with a converted truckful of our new best friends, so I set about hatching my next idea: a three-month round-the-world trip. We could start in Europe, I told Lawrence, and spend a month making our way from Edinburgh to Istanbul. From there, we could pop over to China to see my family before heading to southeast Asia. I figured we’d take another month to wend our way from Thailand to Indonesia, from which it would be an easy enough hop over to Australia and New Zealand for month three. And surely a stopover in Hawaii would be the only sensible way home.

It turns out that seeing three continents in three months is not a very practical itinerary even for the most ambitious of honeymooners. (You don’t say!) Taking three months away wasn’t feasible anyway, so we made the very grown-up decision to visit only one continent. Since we had by this point planned a separate trip to China to introduce him to my family (next week, for those playing along at home), Europe was the obvious choice for our honeymoon. We didn’t fancy two transpacific trips in six months, and it’ll make for a nice parity that, this year, we’ll each visit the only continent the other has been to outside of North America.

Weighing the Options

Naturally, my initial inclination for a European honeymoon was to follow the first month of that round-the-world itinerary, from Edinburgh to Istanbul. For reference, that plan, if you can call it that, included stops in 19 cities. But Lawrence was worried about instability in Turkey and interested in seeing Ireland, so I started researching. Before long, I realized that even a week and a half in Ireland alone might feel rushed, if we stayed a few days each in Dublin, Killarney, and Galway. Meanwhile, I also started looking into Scotland, since our hypothetical trip started in Edinburgh, and soon became obsessed with the dramatic landscape of the Scottish Highlands, particularly Glencoe. And that’s not to even mention England, which we’re both very keen on visiting! We could easily fill a month without ever leaving the British Isles and still have to make plenty of tradeoffs about where we spend our time.

At the same time, we’re still very much enchanted by the idea of backpacking across Europe for a month. It makes sense for my first trip to be a survey trip, I find myself rationalizing; we can go to one region at a time when we return in the future and travel more slowly then. And every time I research a new place, I find myself pining to go there: from Paris to Prague, from Gimmelwald to Hallstatt. I’ve already trimmed that initial 19-city list down to a more reasonable 10. It would like an incredible adventure. But it’s hard to guess whether we would be too exhausted by the end to be able to enjoy any of it and each other.

I’m sure we’ll decide soon, one way or the other. In the meantime, it’s been revelatory to observe my nascent interest in mindfulness battling against my ingrained urge to see as much as I possibly can whenever I travel. Even if travel were free, which of course it isn’t, I will never have enough years in my life to see all of the beautiful diversity of planet Earth, from cultures to landscapes. No amount of minimizing has yet managed to make me feel that anything less than squeezing every destination possible into every trip possible would be taking full advantage of these opportunities I’m so grateful to have: the opportunity to be alive and the opportunity to see the world I live in.

2018-packingpurse10

Why I Travel Carry-On Only

The Backstory

It all started with a lost suitcase.

I was a college sophomore, on my way back to school from Thanksgiving Break. I had a backpack slung over my shoulders and a plastic grocery bag in hand, filled with the frozen leftover turkey my mother had sent with me. I heaved my big tan suitcase into the cargo hold of a Greyhound bus and climbed on board.

By the time we pulled into my stop hours later, my suitcase was nowhere to be found. The new winter coat I’d bought that morning, the textbooks I needed to study for my finals, my favorite bell-sleeved shirt that I can picture to this day: I never saw any of these again. I was left with a thawing turkey carcass, a mess of bureaucratic claims procedures that never resulted in any recovery or compensation, and the stress of trying to replace hundreds of dollars of textbooks before my exams.

After that experience, I bought a new suitcase — cherry red this time — and diligently picked a window seat above the cargo hold every time I boarded a Greyhound bus. At each stop, I stared daggers at the passengers retrieving their bags, ready to sound the alarm should they take mine instead of their own. To nobody’s surprise, my anxious vigilance never amounted to anything, and I soon tired of this ritual. By the time my college days were behind me, so were my days of traveling with a suitcase.

In May 2011, I carried everything I needed for a two-week trip to Seattle, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas in this backpack and purse. According to my journal, they contained “my laptop, two books, three games, and gifts for five people.”

The Benefits

Of course, there’s why I started, and then there’s why I continue. Even without the traumatic tale of my lost suitcase, I would probably still have found my way to traveling carry-on only, eventually. As I’ve honed this practice over the past decade, I’ve reaped so many benefits from it that, these days, I actually feel grateful that I lost my suitcase so many years ago and started down the path toward minimalist travel. Here are some of those benefits:

Peace of Mind

The first time I visited Florida, my family flew into Orlando on Christmas Day. I don’t remember what year it was, but I was probably in my early teens. What I do remember is that our suitcase didn’t make it to Orlando with us, and we spent Christmas Day wandering around a souvenir shop looking for a cheap t-shirt to buy so that we would have a change of clothes. When I travel carry-on only, I never have to worry about my bags getting lost, stolen, or delayed in transit. I never have to worry that a stranger is going to rifle through my belongings. I never have to worry that I’ll need something and not have it with me. That’s some pretty powerful peace of mind.

Time

Last fall, my mother and I traveled together to Dallas to visit my sister, who had recently moved there. Our flight was at 1pm. I would have been content to walk out my front door at 11am, but my mother insisted that we leave by 10. We took the subway to the bus to LaGuardia, got through security, and were seated at our gate before 11, a full two hours before our scheduled departure. I know a lot of people who like to get to the airport really early, but I am not one of those people. I love that traveling carry-on only means I never have to wait in line to check a bag before my flight or wait at a baggage carousel to reclaim it after I land. Moreover, I’m able to make the most of my time at my destination because I don’t need to drop off my bags at my hotel (or worse, wait for a hotel’s check-in time in order to drop off my bags) before I get started on my itinerary.

In November 2015, this small daypack and purse were all I brought with me on an 8-day trip to Atlanta, Montgomery, and New Orleans. The daypack weighed 13.5 pounds, including a 4.5 pound laptop.
Money

That flight to Dallas last fall was on Spirit, one of a handful of budget airlines that offer low base fares by making customary-but-nonessential services, like in-flight beverages and snacks, extra à la carte charges. One of the hallmarks of these budget airlines is that they generally only allow each passenger to bring one personal item on board as part of the base fare; a full-sized carry-on costs extra. I was able to stuff my purse into my backpack, which I then carried on board as my personal item. Sure, the space was a little tight, but that round trip flight from New York to Dallas? It cost $76/person. I’m also able to save money (and the environment!) by walking and taking public transportation, something that would be a lot more cumbersome if I had a big suitcase in tow.

Mobility

When I limit how much I bring on a trip, I get to be in control of my travels, instead of letting my stuff dictate what I do. Last summer, Lawrence and I flew out of New York at 7 one morning and landed in Minneapolis three hours and one time zone change later at just after 9am local time. We walked out of the airport and onto a train, transferred to a bus, and joined the line outside cult classic greasy spoon diner Al’s Breakfast in plenty of time for an enormous brunch. After that, we went to Weisman Art Museum, got lost and then found again around the campus of the University of Minnesota, walked across the Mississippi River on Stone Arch Bridge, visited Mill City Museum, and meandered for miles before finally arriving at our AirBnB that evening. (That’s what I call a… wait for it… possible day!) Because we had packed light, we didn’t have to wait for our bags at the airport or drop them off at our accommodations. We had the freedom to wander off the beaten path without our bags encumbering us, and we were able to enjoy a full day of exploring on our travel day.

Posing for a photo in my “Connie with Large Objects” series at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, my backpack and purse still in tow.
Freedom

Ultimately, the biggest boon of minimalist travel is freedom. Traveling light saves me time, money, and hassle. My possessions don’t limit my choices, impede my mobility, or take up mental space, so I’m able to give my full attention to experiencing my destination. Not being reliant on and responsible for so many objects also gives my travels a sense of spaciousness. When I get away, it truly feels like a getaway.

We modify our behavior in countless small ways in order to accommodate our belongings, and we may not notice most of them until we stop. For example, I love being able to wash my hands of the overhead rack competition. Whenever I fly, I notice my fellow passengers lining up at the gate well before their boarding group is called, presumably because they want to make sure they can secure space in the overhead luggage racks for their carry-on suitcases. Meanwhile, I wait comfortably in my seat, make one last bathroom run, stretch my legs before settling in for a long flight, or buy a last-minute snack. I don’t have to worry about lining up early because I know my bags can fit comfortably under the seat in front of me, even on budget airlines. It may be a small thing, but it’s the feeling of freedom.

The backpack I brought on an 11-day trip to Burlington, Montréal, Québec, and Halifax in June–July 2016 fit easily under the seat in front of me on my way back from Canada.

The Exception

In less than two weeks, Lawrence and I are setting off on a three-week trip to China. It will be his first time in Asia and his first opportunity to meet most of my extended family. This week, for the first time in many years, I pulled out that old cherry red suitcase I bought my sophomore year of college. We need it because a trip to China for us necessarily means bringing the culturally requisite gifts for my relatives. The items for our own use will still go in our carry-ons.

My trips to China always feel complicated to me, in a way that can be hard to dissect or explain. I have an American body and a Chinese face, American sensibilities and a Chinese name. I’m embedded in the complex social web of relational give-and-take, but I don’t know the rules of the game. Even as I look forward to seeing my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first time in five years, to introducing my American fiancé to the country of my birth, and to filling my travel journal with new adventures, this visit (like all visits to China) still feels laden with a sense of duty — to the family I barely know and the culture I barely understand, both of whom I must nevertheless do my best to honor.

Sometimes, it feels like part of that weight is embodied in this suitcase I’d rather not carry and the gifts I’m struggling to select, with which I’ll fill it. I genuinely enjoy gift-giving and I take pride in painstakingly picking the perfect present for each person (say that five times fast!), but it’s tough when I know so little about my recipients, there’s a minefield of cultural norms I need to avoid violating, and my desire to minimize is faced with obligatory materialism. Usually the best part of giving is seeing my recipients’ reactions, but this time, I think I might be happiest of all simply to relieve myself of the responsibility of all those possessions so that I will be free to travel lightly across the country across the world.

My attempt at assembling some “American snacks” for my Chinese relatives.

SaveSave

2018-packingpurse10

A Book Lover’s Guide to Minimalism

I have been a lifelong lover of the written word.

My childhood summers were spent devouring books by the dozens from the local library. Most of my meager weekly allowance in high school went to my town’s Barnes & Noble, where I spent stolen Saturday afternoons curled up on a cushy armchair with a novel. And more times than I can count in my adult life, I’ve pulled myself away from an engrossing story only after realizing the morning sun was already peeking over the horizon.

What I’m trying to say is that by the time I started thinking about minimalism, every inch of my bookshelf was stacked double with paper tomes. Also, my fiancé, Lawrence, likes to read at least five books at a time, and his collection was several times the size of mine.

However, over the past couple of years, we’ve managed to substantially reduce the number of books we own (my shelf is now single-stacked!) while still keeping a healthy home library. Best of all, we were able to declutter our books without feeling any strain on our reading habits. Here’s how we did it.

Step 1: The Mindset Shift

For many years, it simply never occurred to me that I didn’t have to keep every book I ever owned forever. As an immigrant child of immigrants, my family didn’t start out with an inherited library. Every book we owned was one we ourselves acquired, through book giveaways, used book sales, and the occasional bookstore indulgence. Every book meant the reassurance of having a possession. Every book was a precious object. Even if I had never read it, even if my interest in the subject had waned in the years (or decades) since its acquisition, the book was still a valuable part of my collection.

The most important mental shift I had to make was from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance. It seems obvious in hindsight, but the evolution of my circumstances was so gradual that I never really noticed the change. I no longer had a scarcity of books. I now had an abundance of books. I was no longer the little girl who had to scrimp and save for a month or wait for her mom to drive her to the library in order to access a new book. Instead of reading my books over and over again, I was acquiring new books faster than I could read them. I was surrounded by books; the world was full of more books than I could imagine; and without even leaving my home, I could click a few buttons on my computer, and someone would bring books to my door a few days later.

Not only could I afford to be picky about my books, but I had no other choice. The reality is that even if I read 50 new books every year (I don’t) and live to 100 (I probably won’t), I would only read 5000 books in my lifetime. And that’s assuming that I read 50 books between the day I was born and my first birthday, which I promise you did not happen. Regardless of whether I’m conscientious of it, every time I choose to read one book, I’m forgoing the chance to read another. Since that’s true no matter what, I might as well make the most of my opportunity to read by:

  1. not finishing books I don’t like just because I already started them
  2. not reading books I’m not interested in just because I already bought them
  3. not keeping books I don’t want just because I already own them

Believe me, as a book-loving perfectionist, I know it can be hard to let go of these guilts. But I can tell you that it’s pretty liberating when you do. Life is already full of so many obligations. Why create and enforce extra ones for ourselves that don’t serve any purpose?

Step 2: Know Your Alternatives

The prospecting of decluttering your books can be daunting. Let me assure you that when you cut back on the number of books you own, you will still be able to read all the books you want. In fact, you might find yourself more energized than ever to read your newly curated library. Here are some of my favorite tools that have helped me to read just as much as ever while owning fewer paper books.

My Kindle Paperwhite

I was a holdout on the ebook bandwagon, but now that my Kindle is approaching its first birthday, I can’t imagine going back. It’s been a godsend for traveling light. Since I can easily plow through a novel on a single long flight, a weeklong trip used to mean carrying at least two books and probably three. Now, extra reading material doesn’t translate into extra weight or bulk. It’s also great for my much-loved baths, where I can easily hold it and turn pages with only one hand.

I picked the Paperwhite because it was the cheapest Kindle model that came with a backlit screen. That screen means that I can read in the dark without bothering anyone around me or having to fish around for a light, a feature that’s been invaluable in bed and on buses. Plus, this adorable composition book cover makes me happy every time I see it.

The New York Public Library

Despite my frequent trips to the library during my younger years, I fell out of that habit once I moved out of my childhood home. Even after I moved to a city with a robust public library system, it still took me years before I finally started taking advantage of the incredible resources of the New York Public Library. Not only does the library house an extensive collection of books, but we also borrow CDs on a regular basis and even the occasional DVD! Best of all, I can access the NYPL’s ebooks collection digitally. I don’t even have to get out of bed to borrow an ebook and download it right away. This is my favorite way to fill my Kindle with reading material without spending a penny. Wherever you live, it’s worth looking into what’s available from your local public library.

Public Domain Books

We’re lucky to live in a time when many of the world’s classics are available to us instantaneously and free of charge. If you love reading but aren’t familiar with the vast amounts of material in the public domain, you’ll be amazed at how much you can find. My favorite sources for public domain books include Project Gutenberg, The Online Books Page (run by my alma mater!), Bartleby, Open Library, and LibriVox for audiobooks, but there are dozens more out there. Have a look around!

FicSave

I hate to leave a fictional world behind once I fall in love with it, which may explain why I’m so fond of reading books in series. For those times when I want to linger beyond the end of a book or a series, reading fan fiction allows me to dwell longer in my favorite worlds and with my favorite characters. FicSave is my go-to tool for downloading stories from FanFiction.net to my Kindle. It’s free, open source, and intuitive; doesn’t require installing any software; and can convert stories to ePub, MOBI, or text formats. It’ll even email them directly to your Kindle.

Step 3: The Great Declutter

There are a thousand tips out there for how to declutter your life, from boxing up everything you haven’t touched in a year and seeing six months later if you missed any of it to asking Marie Kondo’s famous question, “Does this spark joy?” For me, I always expect that decluttering any area of my life will take several rounds as I hone my understanding of my own desires and as I progress in my preferences about how much or how little I want to own. In fact, even as I write this, I’m aware that I could easily make another pass at my bookshelves and free myself of some more books that I wasn’t ready to let go of last time. Here are some questions I like to ask as I go through my books:

  1. Do I definitely want to keep this book? Do I definitely NOT want to keep this book? Start with the obvious.
  2. Is this a book that I’ll only ever want to read once? Is it a book I’ll want to read again and again? One-time reads are good candidates for borrowing, whereas repeat reads are better choices for owning. I also have a stack of books that I own but intend to sell or donate once I read them, and I try to think of them as separate from my permanent library.
  3. How accessible is this book outside of my collection? If a book is in my library’s ebook collection, I can let go of it knowing that I can access it again at anytime. If it’s rare, expensive, out of print, not in my library’s collection, or popular enough that it always has a long wait list, then I’m more likely to hold onto it.
  4. Is this a book that only I will read, or will other members of my family also be interested in it? Owning a paper copy makes more sense if it’s shared.
  5. Is there something about this book that would make it difficult to experience digitally? Lawrence owns a giant world atlas that he loves, and it would definitely not be the same on a tablet.
  6. Would I buy this book again right now if I didn’t already own it? As I become more thoughtful about my purchases, I’m finding that, more and more, the answer to this question is no.
BookScouter

Once we had sorted through our entire book collection, we were left with an intimidatingly large pile of discards and no good idea of what to do with them. After some online research, I came across BookScouter, a free service that searches through dozens of online book buyers to see if any of them is willing to pay for your book. You can search by ISBN, but best of all, you can download an app on your phone and use your phone’s camera to search by scanning the books’ barcodes. Through BookScouter, we were able to sort our unwanted books by buyers. We successfully shipped off boxes of books to Powell’s, Sell Back Your Book, Bookbyte, Buyback Express, BookMonster, Textbooks.com, Amazon Marketplace, and TextbookRush, most of which we had never heard of before. All of these buyers covered the costs of shipping them our used books, so all we had to do was box our books up with the provided shipping labels and take them to the post office, UPS, or FedEx. We made almost $500 from our unwanted books and donated the ones that no one wanted to buy to the public library.

Step 4: Going Forward

Have we stopped buying books? Of course not, but for the first time since childhood, I might finally be reading more books than I buy. These days, when I’m interested in a new book, I run through this checklist before I buy a copy:

  1. Is it available for free in the public domain?
  2. Is it available in the library’s ebook collection?
  3. Is it available in the library’s physical book collection?
  4. Is it available for purchase as an ebook? If so, is there a reason that I would prefer it as a physical book?

By exploring all of these alternatives before buying books, I’ve managed to curtail my influx of paper books while having more reading material at my fingertips than ever. And when I do buy a new book, I know that it was a thought-out purchase with a reason behind it: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which I knew that both Lawrence and I would read, and probably my sister too when she visited; or The Case of Beasts, whose three-dimensional props can’t be experienced digitally. And lest you think I just buy every Harry Potter book that comes out, I’ll have you know that I resisted purchasing the screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I borrowed that one as an ebook from the library.

2018-packingpurse10

My Favorite Smoothie

After talking about it for months, we finally got our fancy new (okay, refurbished) Vitamix blender yesterday. To call it an upgrade from our ancient immersion blender would be like calling electric lights an upgrade from candles. I’m pretty excited to experiment with all the new possibilities this promises to open up (hummus! soups?!), but for now, I’ve made my favorite smoothie twice since yesterday. The recipe:

1 banana, peeled
1 orange, peeled
8 frozen strawberries, definitely not peeled

That’s it! This makes about a pint of smoothie. Double it for a quart. Blend and enjoy!

2018-packingpurse10

On Minimalism and Desire

It turns out, in the end, the hardest thing to minimize is desire.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to incorporate minimalist principles into my life. It’s been a slow process, but I’ve done the usual: I said goodbye to clothes I haven’t worn since high school; I donated shelves of books to the library; I held various inanimate objects in my hands and tried very hard to unironically thank them for their service. (Fortunately, personifying inanimate objects is one of my skills.) I visited my parents and recycled bins upon bins of my papers from grade school through college that had been sitting in their basement.

I plan to continue doing these things, and I hope to share some of that process here in the future. But when I first became interested in minimalism, it was all about trying to clear the clutter of objects around me. I felt claustrophobic from the weight of my possessions. It was easy to look around my home and identify areas of excess: things I didn’t like, things I hadn’t used in too many years to count, things I didn’t want, things that took up space, things that didn’t serve me.

It took much longer for me to recognize that filling garbage bags and recycling bins like a champ meant very little unless I was willing to do the much more difficult work of examining my patterns of acquisition.

It’s hard to think of a better example of this than the other hobby I started getting into around the same time my interest in decluttering was growing: writing Amazon reviews in exchange for free or discounted products. There was one month, about a year and a half ago, when I got a package or three in the mail almost every day. It got to the point where the guy who staffs my building’s package room would start gathering my boxes when he saw me approaching from out the window.

At the same time, I was going through my apartment getting rid of the things I felt were excessive. I know. I know. It was a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

But I’m also grateful, because this stark and unavoidable contrast brought some important points to light for me. First of all, and it’s important to acknowledge this, acquisition feels good. Getting a new item in the mail is exciting. Opening a package feels like a holiday. And when that small twinge of pleasure is cheap or free, it can be easy for the question to become, why not? What’s the harm?

The same thing happens when something is on sale. One of the patterns I’ve noticed in myself is the desire to take advantage of good deals. I was brought up in a household where, every Sunday, we religiously read through the stacks of coupons and advertisements that came inserted in the morning paper. To this day, I struggle with holding myself back from making a purchase just because I see a great discount.

For me, one of the biggest rewards of minimalism has been access to this new tool for challenging myself to make better choices. Instead of asking what’s the harm, I want to ask, what’s the benefit? Instead of buying something because it’s on sale, I want to ask myself, is this something I would want regardless?

So, yes, my closet actually contains clothing now instead of storage boxes, and I have this amazing new ability to go on vacation without feeling an irresistible desire to buy souvenirs. Those are certainly pluses. But most of all, I’m grateful that I’m becoming more attentive, more demanding, and a whole lot pickier about the objects I allow to enter my life. I’ve become increasingly conscientious about the quality, longevity, and recently, morality of my purchases. Now I spend time searching for my “holy grail” products in each category, and when I buy something, I try to make sure I’ll want to keep and use it for a long time.

Am I successful 100% of the time? Of course not. I’m in my early thirties, and I recently decided that it was time to learn how to apply makeup, a skill I somehow managed to avoid throughout my teens and twenties. That’s been a process where failed experiments have been hard to avoid. But for the first time in my life, I’m trying to be aware of whether my toiletries have been tested on animals and whether my clothing was sewn in a sweatshop. I’m trying to pause and wait and consider before acting on my still-frequent impulses to buy something new. And I realized that once I found and bought a pencil case and a backpack I loved, my inclination to shop for pencil cases and backpacks melted away.

2018-packingpurse10

Hello, World!

This is a new beginning, but it feels like I’m getting back to my roots.

From my adolescence of fooling around with old school Geocities websites to my young adulthood years of making lifelong friends on LiveJournal, blogging was a formative part of my early life. Now I’m excited to embark on what feels like the natural evolution of that past and create a new online space to call my own, a place where I can play and explore, document and grow.

Here, I’ll share about my longstanding passions as well as my budding interests, which range from minimalist travel to meticulous organization, from poetry to home decor to cooking to meditation. I want to use this space as a tool to facilitate mindfulness. I want to have a home for my memories.

I want to challenge myself to stretch the idea of what’s possible. What’s possible someday. What’s possible in even one day. What’s possible every single day. What’s possible today.

Welcome to Possible Day.