Summer capsule update

Belgium is famous for summers that are virtually indistinguishable from early October in the rest of Europe. Then, sometimes you have a perfect warm day and you eat ice cream in a green park and all is forgiven. Due to the weather, I could go quite long with my end-of-winter/spring capsule wardrobe.

But I am really proud I took today off work to have a day to recharge, relax, reflect and eat many biscuits, and finally got round to switching wardrobes!

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Jackie O’ is shocked at my inability to fold things properly

Here is what it looks like:

It is not 33 new pieces

About 10 of the previous wardrobe made it into this one as well. A bit surprising given how many clothes I still have in the drawer under our bed. I am not as bored with my clothes as I thought I could be, hooray!

Welcome to #neutralland

I love a good print or pattern, but wearing 1xweek a button-up with a print of overlapping galloping horses taught me where my limits lie. Stripes, dots and leopard are neutrals- other than these I can maybe risk one more garish item. I do have 5 white shirts in this capsule as well. Not exciting, but I have learned in the past 3 months that exciting is a bit overrated when it comes to dressing.

Cheat items are allowed

Having a capsule wardrobe and not shopping are not meant to be strict rules that ruin your life, just a little helping towards more energy for the meaningful stuff. So, if I need an elegant dress for one of the six weddings I am attending this year, I’ll not sweat it and just wear it, no need to swap it out. Same for shorts in the unlikely scenario that we have a day that is a) a weekend b) too hot to wear pants. Same even for clothes needed for holidays in countries in a very different climate.

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This section of our wardrobe used to be crammed to the brim with 1/3 of my clothes. Now it comfortably houses my capsule (except pants), the few cheat items, my wedding dress, and J’s shirts and suit. Also, yay for color-coding the clothes!

Take a risk

My first purchase after the 3-months shopping ban was a thrifted pair of hot pink office-appropriate crop trousers. Would I normally ever wear something so bright on my beautifully pear-shaped lower half? Nope. But I thought “F*** it, these pants are awesome, they are 7€, they are coming with me”.  And I love them and apparently the world does not collapse if I wear something not “conventionally flattering”.

Do you have a capsule wardrobe? How do you construct each capsule?

 

 

Some love for mini-capsules

How many things you think you can learn from wearing the same shirt over and over again? Legit question! While I have definitely learned more from other experiences, such as forcing myself to talk to strangers and taking a MOOC on Buddhist philosophy (which is awesome by the way), doing a mini-capsule challenge of 10 items x 10 days inspired by The Style Bee, has not been totally useless. Here is what I’ve learned, so that you don’t have to do it yourself! Just kidding, you should totally do it. If you want to – not here to boss anyone around.

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Ten items, a million tentatives to get the cats to leave me shoot my folded clothing in peace

1 I don’t mind repeating outfits

I used to dislike repeating outfits, always looking to find new combinations among my clothes. When I started the 10×10, I was also thinking about doing 10 different combinations. I even had a spreadsheet with the variations that I could do! Surprise surprise, what I learned was that reducing your wardrobe can make you realise that it is not that important what you wear. Instead of inspiring my creativity to combine pieces in new ways, it just helped me to get a bit more over the whole outfits-as-self-expression thing. I wore some outfits twice and some clothes almost every day and it was perfectly fine and not boring at all. It did help that I spent half of the challenge one a wedding weekend in Northern Italy – it is almost never our clothes that we are bored with, but almost always our lives. Takeaway: less clothes, more holidays.

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Day 6 in the same jeans, happy as a clam in Slovenia

With the challenge over, my enitre 33 piece wardrobe suddenly seems huge! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to wear some of the other clothes in it though.

2 Getting real about aspirational items

I had included a pair of red ballerinas that I rarely wear, thinking that this could be a good occasion to inspire me to use them more. Instead, I wore my Adidas sneakers 8.5 days out of the 10, and worked barefoot in the office 1 day, because of the blisters I got from walking to the office in my ballerinas. I finally had to accept that the damn things HURT LIKE A BITCH! To the donation pile they go.

Before I started purging my wardrobe, I was a big hoarder of pieces that were just not right, but which I had been holding on to for some reason. Reasons included: it was an awesme thrift find (like the red shoes), it was expensive, it was a gift, I used to love it when I was 2 sizes smaller, it would look great on someone with a better style than mine. All super solid grounds for storing ill-fitting/uncomfortable clothes I never wore anyway.

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Love sneakers. Love Love Love.

Even after the purge, some of these have seemed to cling on. So far, capsules and minicapsules have proved to  be a good way to force my hand to say bye to these veterans, and I have never regretted getting rid of any of them.

3 I can pack a suitcase in 2 minutes and get dressed in 30 seconds

Even with the 33-piece capsule, there are mornings when I spend a long time deciding on what to wear. I loved the ease that the 10×10 brought to getting dressed- especially as I wore the same jeans-sneakers- leather jacket combo almost every day. Also, packing for a weekend away was done in 2 minutes, I kid you not.

So, have you tried any mini-capsules? Or are you inspired now to take the plunge? I’d love to hear how it goes.

3 struggles of #minimalism

After a year of slowly increasing attention on how I live, and about 3 months of really cranking it up with the minimalism, there are a few things that I find really hard. Here is a short list, feel free to add your own!

1 Shopping ban

The first step of the ban was of course accepting that I have a problem.  It’s not even that I was spending too much money- though I was -, but more my inability to not shop, along with the astonishing amount of time, self-identification, thinking and life that went into browsing and choosing things.  I have also started marathon training (yay!), which brings out a fierce Amazon, no wait an Amazon addict in me.  Thanks to “training shopping” in past years, I am the proud owner of a handheld water bottle I never use, a rain jacket that is not really waterproof, an ill-fitting sports bra and a pair of teal Nike leggings that show crotch sweat to an extent that I had never thought possible.

I wanted to see what it feels like to pull the plug on all of this bullshit, and haven’t bought anything in 8 weeks now, hooray! But here ‘s the catch: not shopping is HAAAAARD, you guys.

It feels super empowering to know that I am not not channelling all sorts of anxieties straight to H&M. I really enjoy opening my closet and only seeing 33 items. I have done so many things on weekends instead of browsing shops! But it is also spring and new seasons are linked in my brain with “refreshing my wardrobe”.  I also miss having the illusion of a pick-me-up when I feel tired and stressed.

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Actively not buying this pantsuit from IMBY right now.

2 Capsule wardrobe

As a capsule newbie, I made some bad decisions when constructing it. Welcome to my life, jeans that I somehow never wore before (spoiler: there was a reason. There is always a reason!).

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Luckily my twirly spring skirt made it into the capsule along with the Stupid Jeans That Only Go With 2% of Capsule.

3 No plastic

This is our challenge for April- objective zero plastic packaging. It is a fun way of raising our awareness of the impact of small daily actions, and maybe also a way to eat healthier (though Nutella comes in a package that contains wonderfully little plastic).

Here are the catches so far, from a week of #noplastic:

  • You still end up generating waste, only now there is a lot more glass waste as you have to buy things like milk, yoghurt and canned tomatoes in bottles.
  • It is expensive! The only place where you can buy bulk grains and pulses around here is the hippest biological supermarket, where you end up dropping  a ridiculous amount of cash for Belgian quinoa. This makes this whole noplastic thing feel very elitist.
  • I just had to give up consuming some foods as lactose-free dairy products all come in plastic, and so do vegetal milks.
  • Cats eat meat, and that means noplastic cat food requires one to work chicken legs and lamb kidneys in one’s blender.
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Yummy breakfast for the entire household.

Have you ever tried any of these challenges? What do you struggle with? And what are your solutions? Quick, I need solutions!

 

 

More thoughtful adventuring

Travel and adventure seem to be essential to the minimalist philosophy. They reflect the shift in focus on experiences rather than possessions that is at the heart of the movement. I am no stranger to this. Seeing new places and doing stuff for the first time are among my favourite things. However, focusing on what matters also calls into question the way we do travel and adventure. If you seek to focus on the essential, you will end up thinking about they way your choices -travel and otherwise- fit into the wider picture: environmentally, socially and ethically. It makes choices and planning harder, and it might look like a way to spoil the fun and take out spontaneity of trips, not to mention making travel more expensive. At the same time, isn’t it bloody great to have more and better adventures, that reflect who you are and maybe even contribute to making the world a tiny bit of a better place?  Below are some ways you can start to make a shift.

  1. Think it through

Being at the beginning of a journey towards #simpleliving, I definitely have more challenges than answers in this area. The first phase of the change is becoming more aware of the context and consequences of your choices, and it does feel uncomfortable.

For instance, the environmental impact of all those city breaks and work trips that we take planes for? Makes me feel very bad. However, I have struggled so far to do something about it.  However, we have started to plan more train and car-powered holidays with J, which could make a difference in the future.

Overthinking does offer other benefits beyond feeling guilty though. It allows you to realise what is it that you really like, and plan a trip that corresponds to those criteria, be it people, activities or ways of travel. I am starting to realise how much I enjoy outdoors and sports activities, which is a surprising twist to my usual holiday spent mostly in museums. Shopping bans and thoughtful spending initiatives have also put a damper on my tendency to buy souvenirs and something for myself “because that will remind me of the holiday”.  Now I know and integrate these in the plans, and trips are much more fun!

You can also think about giving back to the places you visit through supporting local charities, shopping and eating local (the local Starbucks doesn’t count as local!) and visiting community initiatives.

2. Go small/slow

Sometimes the smallest trips are the sweetest! We often neglect exploring our immediate surroundings, and just paying more attention to what’s out there in our own country/city, one can have so many weird and wonderful adventures! I am really inspired by the concept of “microadventures”, which I discovered through the blog of Alastair Humphreys. It is about doing short and exciting things, be it a day hike following a river or spending a night outdoors. These small actions don’t take a lot of planning or time and can help to shift your perspective on the world. Atlas Obscura is another cool resource for weird sights to visit in your vicinity.

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We visited the Eupen dam yesterday for an awesome hike, even though water reserves were very low on my dream destination list before.

Similarly, taking your sweet time while traveling often makes for much more satisfying experiences. You can squeeze all the sights in Rome or Paris into 3 days on a weekend trip, but you will leave exhausted and feeling that you haven’t really experienced the city. Take your time to drink that Aperol Spritz/read a book for an hour in a cafe or just sleep in, and you will have way, way more fun. FOMO is ruining those weekend trips for us.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no

Coming from a person with 6 trips to weddings coming up in the next few months, this is not the most credible piece of advice, but hear me out. If you start thinking about why and how you do things, you will inevitably end up with decisions to make. Some examples from my recent trips include:

  • Should I bring checked luggage? (Nope, you’ll be fine with carry-on, no one minds if you wear the same two sweaters all week. Or for two weeks.)
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Carry-on for two weeks (cat was left at home in the end)
  • Everyone is going cage diving with sharks! AWESOME, let’s do it! (Nope, upon reading up on the practice, this is actually highly controversial and quite possibly harmful to the sharks. Ahimsa, dude.)
  • We just got an invite to the sixth wedding abroad this year. Should we really take another trip? We are broke already as it is. (Yeah, we never said no to a wedding invite. Friends are the best!)

4. Get out of your comfort zone

This sounds like the exact opposite of finding what you know you like. But you know, paradoxes are what make us tick! Speaking to strangers is one of the most terrifying challenges to me. Yet, whenever I muster the courage, it usually results in a nice exchange and learning something about the place I am visiting. Other ways of pushing yourself a little can include trying new activities (sports or dunno, participating in a flashmob) , visiting places you would have never considered a worthy destination, or just saying yes when friends and people you have just met propose to do something fun (with some obvious limits on saying yes to offers from strangers! Stay safe everyone!).

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J and our friend Ingrid leading our group in getting awfully lost in the woods of Eupen.

What are some of your tips for thoughtful travel?

First day of spring and Project 333

I have been lagging behind on my challenge calendar, and thought why wait until the first of April to start something new?

As part of the shopping diet, I had been flirting with the idea of a minimalistic capsule wardrobe for a while. I hope that it will help me understand more about minimalist and simple living, and maybe shave a few minutes off my generously timed morning routine. I may also harbour secret dreams of looking marvellously, effortlessly put together forever, but not sure how chucking my rompers in a big plastic box is going to achieve that in such a short timeframe.

I follow Project 333, so thought to give their system a try. Here is how it works:

33 items of clothing

You are supposed to choose 33 items of clothing including coats, accessories and shoes, for your wardrobe. The number does not include sports clothes and underwear. You are supposed to pack everything else away out of sight.

I had quite a hard time choosing my 33 items! I would like to blame it on the fact that spring hasn’t really arrived in Belgium yet, and March-May is a difficult time of the year to plan for, and that I have a few weddings coming up, and …you get the idea. But finally I got my shiz together and took the plunge. It is a bit embarrassing that I had to reassure myself multiple times that I can swap things out after the 3 months, or that really if it is an emergency, I am not going to be too tough on myself and deny the possibility of getting a cocktail dress out. Considering that I have not worn a cocktail dress or drank a cocktail in 6+ months, I should just chill out, really.

Anyway, here is what my closet looks like:

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I still allowed myself 2 freebies because of aforementioned weddings, and do not include accessories beyond bags. Excited to see how it will turn out!

Until May, beloved rompers! xoxo

8 tips for thriving

NPR just published a helpful little laundry list of actions and mindsets that can help you thrive. They specifically focused on middle age, but I think these are all applicable to people at all ages. My favourite recommendations were about always being a rookie and investing in long-term goals and relationships rather than only immediate gratification. I repost the full article from Barbara Bradley Hagerthy, who wrote an entire book on re-inventing yourself as a middle-ager, below.

1. Aim for long-term meaning rather than short-term happiness, and you will likely find both. Aristotle suggested as much when he talked about eudemonia, or the good life: striving with a purpose — raising terrific children, training for a marathon — rather than setting your sights on immediate pleasures, such as enjoying a good meal or day at the beach. It’s also the best thing you can do for your mind and your health.

2. Choose what matters most. Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School describes the eroding effect of short-term decisions — specifically, doing the activity that brings you immediate gratification (such as work) and putting off harder but ultimately more fulfilling activities (such as investing in your marriage and children). I talked with many people who privileged work over family, because work brought immediate rewards. These people closed the sale, they shipped the product, they pulled an all-nighter to get the story on the radio, they were promoted and praised for a job well done. “And as a consequence,” Christensen says, “people like you and me who plan to have a happy life — because our families truly are the deepest source of happiness — find that although that’s what we want, the way we invest our time and energy and talents causes us to implement a strategy that we wouldn’t at all plan to pursue.”

3. Lean into fear, not boredom. Most of us become competent at our work by our 40s, and then we have a choice: Play it safe or take a risk. Howard Stevenson, also a professor (emeritus) at Harvard Business School, believes the greatest source of unhappiness in work is risk aversion — which leads to stagnation and resentment. “There’s a difference between 20 years of experience, and one year of experience 20 times,” he says. Stevenson and the other career experts I interviewed do not recommend chucking it all to blindly follow a fantasy. Rather, be intentional as you try to shape your work to reflect your skills, personality and talents. But we have only one spin at the wheel, so make it count. A great line from Stevenson: “Ask yourself regularly: How will I use these glorious days left to me for the best purpose?”

4. “At every stage of life, you should be a rookie at something.” This insight comes from Chris Dionigi, a Ph.D. in “weed science” and the deputy director of the National Invasive Species Council (that kind of weed). He believes trying new things and failing keeps you robust. He took comedy improv classes and now spends many nights and weekends riding his bicycle as an auxiliary police officer for Arlington County, Va. Always have something new and challenging in your life, he says, “and if that something is of service to people and things you care about, you can lead an extraordinary life.”

5. Add punctuation to your life. Young adulthood offers plenty of milestones: graduating from college, starting a career, getting married, having your first child. But Catharine Utzschneider, a professor at the Boston College Sports Leadership Center who trains elite middle aged athletes, says midlife is like “a book without any structure, without sentences, periods, commas, paragraphs, chapters, with no punctuation. Goals force us think deliberately.” She was so right, as I found when Mike Adsit, a four-time cancer survivor and competitive cyclist, challenged me to compete in the Senior Games (for people 50 and older) in 2015. Suddenly I had little goals every day — a faster training session, or a 50-mile ride — and the prospect of these little victories launched me out of bed each morning. Even if you don’t win — I came in 7th in the race — you win.

6. A few setbacks are just what the doctor ordered. Bad events seem to cluster in midlife — losing a spouse, a marriage, a parent, your job, your perfect health. But people with charmed lives — zero traumas — were unhappier and more easily distressed than people who had suffered a few negative events in their lifetime. According to resilience research, some setbacks give you perspective and help you bounce back. And here’s what I learned from Karen Reivich at the University of Pennsylvania, who trains Army personnel about resilience. After I fell off my bike and broke my collarbone — threatening my book deadline — I called her up. She gave me two tricks: First, “OPM,” other people matter. People who let other people help them tend to recover better than those who are fiercely independent. Second, rely on your top character strengths to get you through. (You can take the character strengths test as well as other questionnaires on the University of Pennsylvania’s site.) As embarrassing as my strengths are — industry and gratitude — they helped me cope until I could drive, type, dry my hair or unscrew the mayo jar.

7. Pay attention: Two of the biggest threats to a seasoned marriage are boredom and mutual neglect. The brain loves novelty, and love researchers say a sure way to revive a marriage on autopilot, at least temporarily, is to mix things up a bit. Go hiking, take a trip to an undiscovered land — or drive an RV down the Blue Ridge Parkway, which my husband and I did in June 2013. Honestly, I thought nothing could be more pointless or boring, but based on the novelty research, we piled in with our dog, Sandra Day, and two friends. Something went wrong almost every day — we got caught in a flood, the brakes nearly went out, we could not figure out how to dump the black water (don’t ask) for some time. We had the time of our lives. It took us out of our comfort zone, it gave us a grand adventure; it was, in short, The Best Vacation Ever.

8. Happiness is love. Full stop. This observed wisdom comes from George Vaillant, a psychiatrist and researcher who directed Harvard’s Study of Adult Development for several decades. The study — still ongoing — followed men from the Harvard classes of 1939-44 to see what makes people flourish over a lifetime. Vaillant found that the secret to a successful and happy life is not biology. It is not genes. It is not social privilege or education. It is not IQ or even family upbringing. The secret to thriving is warm relationships. Oh, then there’s this happy coda: Second chances present themselves all the time, if you’ll only keep your eyes open.

5 Things Friday – 5 things I changed in the past 6 months

 

As a somewhat anxious person, I tend to focus a lot on the road lying ahead and aaaaaall the tasks and change that still need to happen, in my life and in the world in general. However, I am trying to get better at appreciating progress, and celebrating success. Plus, looking back can be very useful for perspective and motivation, and don’t we all need some of that.

In the past six months, I have changed some aspects of how I live. Here are 5 examples.

  1. 30/60 day Challenges

J and I came up with the idea of a series of focused 30-60 day “challenges” aimed at stuff we would like to get better at, change in our lives, or which we thought would just be fun. The reasoning behind is that it is much easier to do something for a limited amount of time, rather than trying to change “forever”. Forever is a long time and it can get overwhelming to think, “Oh f*ck, I have to get up at 6 am and exercise for the next 60 years”.  30 days of getting up is far more manageable, while being suffi to see some  results. 60 days of daily yoga was definitely enough to level up my practice and forced me to go to a few classes that I would have never tried before (hello, hot vinyasa! *faints*) The full list is here.

2.  Monthly donations to charity and volunteering

We have decided to take a more systematic approach to giving to charity. We donate 150 euros per month to a charity (changing by month). It  is not as much money as we could potentially donate, and nothing compared to the amazing people at Giving what we can, but we plan on increasing the amount as we go. 150€ is already big enough to make a difference in some of the campaigns that we support, such as building  a home for a person with Habitat for Humanity, or support fundraising by friends.

I also started volunteering with Minor-Ndako, a wonderful organisation working with non-accompanied minors who arrive to Belgium as refugees.

3. Decluttering

In January, I took up the Minimalism Game. This is a challenge where you discard/donate 1 item on Day 1, 2 items on Day 2….for 30 days. I used this together with the KonMari method (see here for a great behavioural economics take on it) to make it easier to let go of stuff that I don’t really like.  It was actually not as hard as I imagined, which is a possible indicator of having way too much shiz in our HQ!

Anyway, what I like about this challenge was that we keep going on decluttering even after day 31- we have a huge IKEA container in the bedroom, and keep putting stuff in there. We keep asking the question “do I really use/need/like this?” and are getting quite good at separating from objects. Items go either to the nearby charity donation box or the self-service donation shelves at our local municipality. I have made repeat trips to the shelf, and it is great to see that all our declutter items have found a new home quickly!

4. Shopping less

This is my nemesis. I am a HUGE fan of thrift shopping and a sucker for sales. However, the humiliating moment of dragging  EIGHT trash bags full of one-time thrift-store “finds” to the donation box made me realise the waste of time and money the habit had become. I have made baby steps though! With my new, de-cluttered closet I also aim to:

  • buy less clothing overall (I objectively have plenty and can cover all occasions from marathon training to a Great Gatsby theme party and everything in between). This has been a moderate success so far. I have passed on buying many items I would have wanted, but am too embarrassed to share how many hours I spent looking at ankle boots on Amazon.
  • when I buy things that I really need, go for 1-in- 2 out.
  • buy preferably secondhand, and if not possible, then as ethically produced as possible.

5. Taking lunch to work

I am aiming to take at least 10 lunches from home per month. This is a not a very painful change as my usual workday sandwich doesn’t make me particularly happy or add a special break to my day, but one that can definitely help me save some money and eat healthier.  If there is a way that makes eating rice and vegs from a box feel like an accomplishment, sign me up!

 

Have you been working on bettering your everyday life? What are some of the changes you have made?