Posts Tagged 'Simplicity'

A note on an aspect of “Simple Living” in my life…

I realized today that there are quite a few things that we take for granted in the west, that I do not have here (and some that I don’t have at home, either), and I have realized that really, some of them suck to not have, but most of them aren’t so bad:

Dishwasher: If I had a family, this would be pretty necessary (unless I made dishes a part of chores), but for one or two people, so long as you make sure to do the dishes once a day, or as you use them (as I tend to do), it’s not a problem.

Washer/Dryer: Pretty much the only thing I miss about a dryer is being able to wear something within 15-30 minutes of it coming out of the washer. Here, it takes 2-3 hours at best, and 2-3 days at worst. But, in general, it’s not a problem, and if I end up with a house, I would strongly consider line-drying the bulk of my clothes, so long as I have a dryer as a backup for during the rain. The lack of a washer (I have one in Jindo, but not here in Gunnae) sucks though. I washed a couple days of clothes in the kitchen sink today, with some dish soap and some tea tree oil soap (for disinfectant), and since I also have no hot water at the moment, I had to boil the water to wash them. Not the end of the world, but it does sort of suck. A washer is not something I think I would willingly give up for more than a few weeks at a time.

TV: Only once in my life have I ever had a TV in my living space, and at that, it was only a few months and virtually never got used (and even then, it was only for DVDs). I do watch some TV on my computer, but very little (maybe 1-2 hours a week). I watch movies pretty regularly (once a week-ish), but again, on my computer most of the time. I have a TV in Jindo, but it is almost never used, and even then it’s mostly used to watch CNN. If one could be had cheaply, I think I would have a TV in my living space, but it is definitely not a priority, and I could easily continue to do without one.

Cell Phone: When I tell Koreans I have no cell phone, they look at me like I’ve just told them I have no left ear. Hell, I get a similar reaction in the states when I tell people that on average, I use about 40 minutes a month, and never more than an hour (well, not in the last 3 years, anyway) and generally only use them for coordinating amongst friends. Honestly, I hate cell phones and wish they’d go away. I hate that I “have” to have one in order to communicate with people in this day and age. I use pay-by-minute cell phones and if I could, I wouldn’t have one at all.

Car: Now, this one I miss. I love to drive. It’s very zen for me, and I love being able to wander. However, that said, I love my scooter. Depending on what happens with Marc and I when I get back, I would seriously consider having just the Ural sidecar bike that I intend to get when I get back and, if he would be up for it, sort of sharing his car as our non-open air vehicle, and using Zipcar or somesuch if we both needed a car at the same time. I’d prefer to also own a car, but it wouldn’t be terrible to have to share a car.

Microwave: While I did use one of these relatively regularly back in the US, I think that while I will probably have one when I return, I will use it far less. I don’t have one here, and I have learned how to do without it. This, along with dryers, is a huge energy waster.

At this place I also have no furniture other than a bed, only one lightbulb, and infrequent hot water. Those all pretty much suck, but it’s not the end of the world. Back in the US, I got mockingly called a “luddite” on more than one occasion, but really, that’s not true. I love my computer and the internet (though going without, when necessary, doesn’t bother me much, as I write in paper journals in addition to my blogs), and I do love certain aspects of technology. But, there are many aspects that I can definitely do without, and even some aspects that I strongly dislike.  In general, I definitely prefer this more simple life to a more technology-filled one.

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My “Fashion”, or Lack Thereof: Some Thoughts on Plainness and Simplicity

So, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the way I dress.  Sorry this is so long, but I couldn’t think of an effective way to split it.

Here in Korea, the colors are very bright (as those of you who read my Korea blog may have noticed).  The traditional culture is generally very colorful, and people’s everyday clothes are also quite bright by comparison to the US, especially New England (where the general palette is slightly duller than the rest of the country, in general).  By comparison, I might as well be monotone.

I wear mostly black, grey, brown and blue (as a glimpse at my laundry line will tell you).  I have a few “desaturated” green and red clothes, but that’s about it.  Here in Korea, I have bought a few brighter shirts (I have a vibrant teal one, and an orange one, now) just to help me fit in a bit better, but wearing them feels a little unnatural.  On an average day, while I do not immediately stand out, clothes-wise, from Koreans, I do stand out a decent bit, when you compare me to an average Korean.  Even in the US, I have gotten many a remark on the small range of my color palette, and while I do not necessarily stand out in the US (especially in New England), those who know me over a period of time do tend to notice.

I also have never paid attention to fashion.  Not when I was a kid, not in high school, not in college.  There was a year between high school and college when I went a bit punk/goth, but it was a short-lived phase, and was a response to high school more than anything else.  For the vast majority of my life, I have generally only paid attention to function, in my clothes.  Starting in middle school, I decided that shorts that were more than about 3-4 inches above my knee felt immodest to me, and made me uncomfortable.  Since the mid-90s was a time of ever increasingly short (and tight) shorts and skirts for girls, I found that the easiest option was to start wearing boys/mens shorts.  Once I started doing so, I found them vastly more comfortable and practical, and I have never really gone back.  Sure, I have one or two pair of women’s shorts, but they only really get worn when I need the practicality of shorts, but need to look a little less like a grown-up tomboy.  As a whole, I focus almost entirely on functionality in my wardrobe.  I like garments that can serve more than one purpose, and they tend to be somewhat out of fashion (my wearing of knickers, for example), but not conspicuously so.  Marc once made the accurate observation that both of us, while we are not intentionally “retro”, do tend to dress in a bit of an older style in general (see: me, Marc, and the both of us).  I also tend to wear my clothes until they are unwearable.  I wear them until they have holes, and then I often will patch the holes and continue to wear the garment until it really is too ratty to wear outside (and even then, I often turn them into heavy-work garments).  I have yet to be able to bring myself to stop wearing my current winter coat, despite the fact that the cuffs are very frayed and there are small holes in the elbows, for instance.

I wear mostly loose clothing (not baggy, but not body-hugging either), as tight clothing, in general, makes me self-conscious.  When I wear skirts, they are generally relatively full, almost always of solid color, and are universally at least to my knee, if not longer.  Until recently, I rarely wore skirts, as I found them inconvenient and impractical.  I wore pants, shorts, or breeches (my name for shorts like these, which I wear quite often) all but one or two days a month, at best.  However, here in Korea most women don’t wear pants at work, and I have found myself slowly converting to skirts.  I wear them most of the workweek (sometimes every day, actually), and occasionally on weekends as well.  As with my everyday clothing, when I dress for work, I dress for functionality.  I wear mostly either plain trousers or solid color skirts that come to a couple inches below my knee, and either a solid color polo shirt or button down shirt.  If I wear a button down shirt, I invariably wear a vest or sweatervest, as a shirt like that worn by itself feels a bit like “undress” to me without something over it.

My clothing is also rather informal by most of society’s standards.  I do have “dress up” clothes, but I have only a few outfits of them, and they are very versatile garments.  In general, my “nice clothes” are still rather informal – for instance, for college graduation I wore a button down shirt, a tweed vest, and a grey wool skirt, with some casual oxford-type shoes (you can see the outfit here).  To me, that was “dressed up”.  I just simply do not see the purpose behind getting “dressed up”.  To me, a major reason for wearing fancy clothes seems to be trying to either A. attract the attention of the opposite sex or B. look better than others in the room.  Neither of those things matter to me.  Regardless of the fact that I already have a significant other, “A” does not matter to me because I am not a flirting type, and “B” does not matter to me either, as I have never particularly cared about seeming better or worse than my fellow man.  I am what I am, and that is enough for me.  I am secure in my place in life, and do not feel the need to appear as anything different.

Along these lines, I also do not wear jewelry.  For a few years, I wore a simple silver disc on a rubber cord (so that it would not be cold on my neck in the frigid Massachusetts winters) that I had made with the help of my father (who used to be a jeweler, ironically) and engraved with a design that was meaningful to me and served the purpose of reminding myself of who I am.  However, in the last year I even stopped wearing that, and now wear nothing.  With the exception of rings, jewelry generally makes me feel self-conscious, and it feels like I’m somehow “decorating” myself.  I don’t like the concept that I should have to decorate myself to make myself presentable to someone, so I tend to avoid jewelry in general.  That said, sometime in the next year I hope to acquire a simple, small pearl necklace, for situations where I do need to fit in a bit more with an upper class crowd.  I also do not wear, or even own, makeup.

I am also generally relatively modest.  It’s not that I have any issue with being sexy; on the contrary – I enjoy my body, and have my fair share of pretty undergarments.  But, showing large amounts of skin in public makes me uncomfortable.  Shorts more than a few inches above my knees make me feel like I’m wearing daisy-dukes, and spaghetti strap shirts make me feel like I’m wearing nothing at all on my shoulders.  I do often wear v-neck shirts, but any cleavage that results is purely coincidental, unless I’m out with my partner. 😉   There’s no religious reason behind this or anything, but I have just never really felt the need to show myself off to the general populace, and am generally vaguely uncomfortable when I end up doing so (such as wearing a bikini at the beach, which I do).

I have sometimes heard this general fashion philosophy/style of dress referred to as “Plain Modern” (generally in a Quaker context).  Most of the time, that term is used in a religious context, but for me, it’s just personal.  I don’t dress the way I do because I feel that it’s “wrong” to show more skin than I do, or to wear fancier clothing, etc, it’s just not something I particularly enjoy.  I enjoy dressing this way, always have, and I doubt that that will change.  Call it what you will, be that Plain Modern or nothing at all, it’s just the way I dress.

What this has all resulted in is that I have sometimes been mistaken for someone conservative.  Especially here in Korea.  I have now been asked by 4 separate people here if I am conservative, and my dress/fashion has universally been stated as the reason for asking.  Being a relatively far-left liberal, I am always struck broadside by this question.  There seems to be an attitude in our culture that focusing on function rather than fashion is a negative thing, and is seen as a focus generally only undertaken by very conservative groups (like the Amish, etc) because of something they read in the bible.  I have given this negative view a reasonable amount of thought, and the only cause I can really think of is that functional clothing is associated with lower (often farming) classes, and fashionable clothing with the middle and upper classes.  Thus, the idea that someone of the upper or middle class would willingly choose to dress more like the lower classes is mystifying to them.  I don’t dress the way I do to try and deny my class, or to correspond with a religious belief; I dress the way I do because it makes me comfortable and keeps me from being self-conscious, and keeps me focused on other, more important parts of my life.  Well, until someone asks me if I’m conservative, that is.

 

So, yeah.  Commentary?

By the way, for those interested, I have put together a set on flickr that shows a decent depiction of what I wore on a daily basis back in the US.  Many of these were before I got rid of most of my clothes, and so I have picked those which I feel are most representative:  My “Fashion”

Simplicity Part #2 or “The Great Purge”

As I mentioned in my post previous to this, the storage facility I had used to temporarily stash my belongings was 5x10ft.  It was filled solid, wall to wall, and most of it was stacked over my head.  Thankfully, I am a relatively organized person, so it was all in bins, and not loose, but many of the bins had just been filled willy-nilly in my hurry to move out of my dorm room at the end of college.

Seeing that wall of stuff was extremely intimidating.  I had about 2 days to reduce my belongings to be able to fit easily into my truck, so about 3/4 of a truckload.  What I had in storage was slightly over three truckloads.  When I rolled up the storage door and the mass of stuff was revealed, I almost felt nauseous at the thought of the task ahead, especially since packing and moving are both very emotional, sentimental activities for me, and getting rid of belongings even more so, so this was like the coup de grâce on my emotions at the time.

My initial reason for clearing out so many things was that I would have nowhere to put them while in Korea.  I couldn’t afford to keep them in storage, I didn’t want to burden Colin with more than a bin or two, Marc was still living at his parents at the time, and I didn’t want to take too much home to Texas, as I would just have to schlep it back up to the Northeast when I returned.  However, this changed.  Eventually, as I was traveling, I realized that I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to move myself entirely around in one vehicle.  It gave me a profound sense of freedom.  I realized that I felt tied down by my belongings, and that they had many times kept me from pursuing the snap decisions I so love to make.

One of the Quaker testimonies is Simplicity.  I have a complex relationship with this one.  To some people, I seem simple.  I don’t usually wear clothes with any sort of design, etc, and they’re virtually always functional.  I like the countryside, and the peace and quiet it provides.  I don’t like my life to be complicated.  I like living in small spaces.  To some, I seem complex.  I have many interests and hobbies, and always have my hands in several pots at once.  According to some, I even at times seem to have different personalities for different types of situations.  I have given this issue much thought, but not much has really come of it, unfortunately.

Simplifying one’s life is definitely one of the Quaker goals, but I have to say – that is not why I did it.  In fact, I’d say that it probably didn’t even enter my mind at the time.  Now, I will explain here that generally, when I am doing something “Quakerly”, I am rarely aware of it.  It is not a conscious decision to do something because it’s something a creed says I should do.  I do it because it’s what I feel is right at the time.  However, afterwards, I often end up looking at the situation and subsequently thinking “Wow, that was a very Quaker thing to do…” in hindsight.  This was certainly one of those cases.

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Before this, every single time I had moved, I had weeded out things by rummaging in my bins and pulling items out, or by setting aside items to give away/get rid of as I was shoveling everything into the bins.  As I stared at this tower of possessions, I had somewhat of an epiphany.

What if, rather than choosing things to get rid of, I chose things to keep?

I pulled out a bin at random, opened it, and dumped the contents on the floor.  It was clothes.  Now, I am not a fashion person by any stretch of the imagination, but clothes do hold a lot of sentimental value with me.  I poked at the pile of clothes with the tip of my shoe.  I saw something I knew I wanted to keep.  I picked it up, and put it back in the bin.  I knelt down and began to dig through the small pile.  I found a few things that I liked, but was unsure about.  I put them in a separate pile.  I found several things that I knew I no longer needed, and threw them towards a corner, about 6-8 feet away, out of my line of sight.  They were things that I had not worn in quite some time and would likely not be wearing again in the future.  Some were clothes that were heavily worn but that I had saved as “work clothes”, even though I always am getting new “work clothes”, as I am extremely tough on my clothes and they don’t generally last more than 2-2 years in a state fit for general usage.

In effect, what I was doing was a different sort of emotional sorting.  Rather than having to go through my bins and pull out things that I didn’t want to keep or that I felt I should get rid of, I was selecting things that I did want to keep.  Removing items is, by nature, a negative act.  It is a rejection of material memories.  Saving items, by contrast, is a positive act.  Rather than looking at my belongings and thinking “Well, X, Y, and Z aren’t important enough, so they can go…” I was thinking “Hm.  While everything here is important to me in a way, items A, B, and C are really the most important.”.  This simple difference between affirmation and devaluation was like a lightbulb had suddenly been switched on.  More like a floodlight, really, but I’m going to stick with the more common analogy here.

For many people, myself very much included, culling belongings is a very emotional task, triggering all sorts of memories and nostalgia (and often guilt – when’s the last time you wore that sweater your grandmother bought you?!) for them.  I have sometimes heard this referred to as an “emotional leash”, and I have always hated the negative tone that term implies.  Memories are a good thing.  They allow us to learn from the past (so that we may not repeat it!).  They allow us to take solace in times of stress.  Without memories, we would make almost no personal progress at all.

By using this method, I was able to get rid of somewhere between 65-75% of my belongings (well, those not back at my family home, at least) in two days of 3-ish hour shifts at the storage facility.  There were times when I kept most of what was in a bin, and times when I only took out a few items to keep and dumped the rest into one of my donation boxes.  By the end of it all, I had almost two truckloads of stuff to donate.  I ended up donating the stuff to a couple different charities, and all told, ended up with around $2500 in tax deduction receipts.  Considering how much stuff devalues when you donate it, that should tell you how much stuff there was.

I feel much more “free” now.  I know that I can pack up all of my belongings into my truck (or about two normal-sized cars).  I have virtually nothing that doesn’t get used on at least a semi-regular basis, and that has translated into me really thinking about my purchases these days.  I don’t want to have to go through another purge of that magnitude again, at least not for several years, and so I am taking preventative measures.  I certainly still buy things, but before I do, I think about how much I will use it, and whether or not it would have passed my prior test.  This has made a serious impact on how I live my life, and I feel that it is most definitely a positive one.

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Anyway, that’s pretty much it.  It didn’t come out as eloquently or as organized as I was planning, but that’s what happens when I write something over the course of three days!  I’d love to hear your commentary though!

Here, by the way, is a photo of me with the resulting pile of belongings.  That, right there, is pretty much everything I own (and two of those bins are reenacting gear).  As I mentioned in the post, originally that entire space was 5×10 and full to over my head.  In this photo it’s about 2.5 feet wide by 3.5 feet high by 7 feet long.  I’m standing next to it for scale, and I’m 5’0″.

 

Essentially everything I own...

Me and essentially everything I own...

Simplicity Part #1

I am a hoarder.  I would say “I used to be a hoarder.” but that would imply that my change has been permanent.  I cannot see the future, so I feel that statement is a bit premature. “Tempting fate”, if you will.

I have moved 17 times in 7 years.  You would think that would prompt one to limit one’s belongings, but no, that is sadly not the case.  Due to my serial fascinations, I often will (or rather, used to) buy lots of items in a given category in a short period of time, and then will take forever in finishing using them, if the process is ever completed at all.  In my experience, most of the time, it was not.

When I started to plan for Korea, back while I was still in school, I knew that I was going to have to get rid of a lot of my stuff.  When I was packing up my dorm room, I gave away (or sold for minimal sums) all my furniture and as many of my cast-off belongings as I could, and the rest were thrown away.  Seeing the sheer amount of waste that I was causing gave me quite a bit of pause.  When I finished college, I was unsure of when I would be headed to Korea, so I had not planned on finding an apartment.  Thus, I knew that I needed to get rid of a lot of stuff.  But, due to some last minute hassles with my college, I was not able to thoroughly look through my belongings, so I ended up keeping FAR more than I had hoped.

After spending 6 weeks unwinding in Switzerland, I ended up living with a long-time friend and his girlfriend, in their spare bedroom, in Boston.  However, I have many, many friends, and soon I decided to couch-surf between his apartment, Marc’s apartment (boyfriend), and various friends’ couches.  I started off by spending 3 weeks down in North Carolina with a reenactor friend of mine, and so before I left, I put almost all my belongings into a storage facility, and packed one big bin of summer clothes (it was late July), one of fall clothes, one of winter clothes, one of reenacting gear, and one of miscellaneous gear.  I was not sure when I would be back in Boston, so I had to be prepared.

By the time I stopped wandering, 8 months later, I had really figured out what I needed and what I didn’t need, of the things I brought.  Some things I wished I had brought, but did not, and some I ended up never using.  So, that showed me what sorts of things I tend to use the most; quite an important bit of knowledge.

When I finally came back to Boston and opened the door of my storage facility, I looked at the 5x10ft space, piled solid and over my head, and thought “What is all this crap for?”.  I had lived for 8 months out of the bins in the back of my truck (it has a camper, so it’s kind of like an SUV almost) with almost no discomfort, and so when I saw the massive pile of….things…that filled my storage unit, I felt almost gross.

By that time, I knew when (approximately) I was headed for Korea.  I was going away for a year, and when I came back, I would be living somewhere completely new, but neither Marc or I knew where yet.  But, the more important thing was that I could not afford to keep the storage unit while I was in Korea, and since I would be car-less upon return, I would not want to deal with having to move so much stuff.  I would have to get rid of most of it, about a UHaul truck’s worth, in my estimation.  Quite a daunting task indeed.

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The second half of this is about how I went about getting rid of 75% of what I owned, and what was going through my head as I did so.  I will write it on the train later today while I’m on the way to Seoul.  I felt that really, giving the background was important, and I wanted to keep this from getting too long.

Note to Self: Posts to Make

Simplicity & The Great Purge (about when I got rid of 75% of my personal possessions)

Playing War (about being a pacifist while reenacting)

Plainness vs. Conservatism (about how my emphasis on simplicity and function over fashion has gotten me mislabeled as a conservative from time to time)