What an Imperfect Dressing Gown Taught Me

I’ve long wanted a perfect dressing gown – the kind of silky but casual sexiness they wear in old movies I never watch, or lingerie commercials I avoid for fear turning the want into a purchase. But then again, the kind I wanted was too expensive for me to seriously consider buying one. Large amounts of silk do not come cheap. Shocker, I know.

Love Imperfection Dressing GownSo my friend and I decided to sew our own. I bought beautiful blue fabric – not silk, see above, but fancy-enough looking jersey. Plus, have you m
et my sewing skills? Not something you’d want to let loose on expensive materials. That shopping excursion happened a year ago.
A month later, we met to cut the fabric for the pattern. My friend finished hers soon after. I, however, told myself that I’d get to it “next week” and then went abroad for five months, sans sewing machine. After my return, it was at the top of my to-do list. Promise. Three weeks after coming home, I did two seams and was fed up (they were the shoulder seams, thus the shortest of the entire garment). My sewing machine blocked valuable desk real estate for another three weeks until I finally finished the thing in a single day.

You may rightfully ask what caused that surge of productivity. Well. I had decided that sewing was not an actual hobby, but a fantasy-self hobby. Finishing the gown was going to be a goodbye ritual. I also decided that since sewing was not really my hobby, I was no expert and would therefore not be able to sew a perfect garment – the kind about which no one would think to ask “Did you make it yourself?” because it looks so professional. Finally, I remembered that dressing gowns are generally not worn in public. Ergo, I did not need a perfect dressing gown. That was not in the realm of possibilities anyways. I was either going to have an imperfect dressing gown or a few cut-out pieces of fabric that would not sufficiently cover my body if I were to try to wear them. I preferred the imperfect dressing gown.

Without the specter of perfection looming, the sewing was almost fun. Knowing that after this, I would never pressure myself into sewing something again made it even more so.

I don’t know why I have held on to this hobby for so long. I practice it infrequently and have long known that I was unwilling to put in the necessary time, effort, and money to get good, or even just decent at it. I also still feel that I have too many clothes whenever I open my closet, despite constant minimizing – why on earth would I spend time producing more? That I would be embarrassed to wear, as they would absolutely advertise my lack of sewing skills? Talk about inefficient resource allocation.

Knowing that I would make enough money to buy a book or two from the sewing machine sale helped, too. I set the price too low, but I sold that thing the same day and freed up a lot of closet space. I also got rid of all fabric and abandoned any residual sewing projects I had conceived years ago and forgotten about. Obviously nothing I needed in my life. Minimalism win.

But that is life: sometimes, perfect is not an option. If I wanted my blog to be perfect, chances are, you wouldn’t be hearing from me at all. I wasn’t going to spend 100+€ on a perfect dressing gown, and I was unable to sew one. So I sewed an imperfect one that turned out better than expected (just don’t look to closely at the inside seams) and that absolutely does the job of making me feel sexy and sophisticated when I throw it on after rolling out of bed.

PS: 33 things to do other than shoppingIn Defense of the Default

Using Something Longer – Environmental and Financial Benefits

It’s simple, but at the same time a big shift in consumption habits. More importantly, the environmental impact is huge.

Use the things you have to buy more than once a little longer. A year. Two. Make it a game and see how long you can go before replacing.

Take my phone. I got it in December 2012, which makes it 3.5 years old. Since age three, the battery was bad enough to give me grounds for replacement, but I chose to keep it at least a year longer, tiding myself over with a portable charger. Imagine I kept all my phones an extra year.

iphone save_use longer

Let’s do the calculations for my lifetime: when I got the phone, I was 21.5 years old; my life expectancy is 79.01 years. This means 57,51 years of phones left in 2012. Assuming each phone lasts three years that makes 19.17 phones until the statistical end of my life. But if I keep each phone one year past its prime, it will only be 14.3775 phones, saving 4.7925 phones. Keeping it two years longer: 11.502, AKA 7.668 phones saved. Imagine that pile of discarded phones shrinking. Imagine everyone did that. Imagine how much the environment would rejoice, if it were anthropomorphizable.

Not convinced? Let’s talk money. An iPhone SE – the phone I’ll be replacing my 4S with, eventually – costs 589€. 4.7925 SEs cost 2822.78€, 7.668 4516.45€. That is a very long vacation, retiring a few months earlier, sending a kid to college for a few months. That’s almost 22 months rent for my current room. If I redid these calculations regarding my laptop, I’d save even more. If I had a TV, a car, or expensive furniture, my unborn children would be set for college with those savings.

You can do this with every physical item as long as it’s safe to use – obviously avoid driving cars that are falling apart. For less expensive things, the benefits are more environmental than financial: shoes, bags, clothes (especially large items like coats), yoga mats, kitchen utensils, tools, anything you can think of, really.

Just think about the dwindling landfill.

With this approach, you have to learn to live with small imperfections. Because before things are truly broken, they can be sort of broken for a very long time. Or maybe they’re just no longer new – the consumer part of my brain sometimes confuses the two. Sure, my phone has little battery life and sometimes the camera crashes. My yoga mat sheds little blue bits. My bike is heavy and anything but sleek. Some of my clothes have holes in well-hidden places. But nobody who matters cares and I feel better for living according to my values – owning less, spending less, polluting less. I for one certainly don’t care what consumer culture expects of me.

PS: Frugality: Greed vs. Generosity

25 Things: A More Conventional List

I turned 25 last month, and while I have learned countless things in this quarter century, here are another 25 worth sharing:

Juli

  1. Save some money to throw at problems. More often than not, sadly, money helps. If nothing else, your emergency fund will help you sleep more soundly.
  2. Automating your savings will help tremendously with this.
  3. Diets don’t work. If they did, that industry wouldn’t exist. See The Fuck It Diet and Isabel Foxen Duke for more expert advice on this.
  4. You outgrow fashion magazines faster than you’d think.
  5. Minimalism is the shit.
  6. But getting used to not getting gifts is still hard, despite the time you spent convincing your loved ones that no gift can also be a gift. But you’ll feel better for it.
  7. It’s ok to quit something that is not “your thing.” For me it was playing the oboe – time is just too limited a resource. It is also ok to take it up again and then re-quit.
  8. It’s ok not to finish a book. Again, time being valuable.
  9. But you’ll never regret time spent reading a good book.
  10. In the same vein: libraries are truly god-sent. My book-buying is way down.
  11. Just because everyone acts like it’s fun doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for this one.
  12. People don’t treat you differently for wearing makeup or not.
  13. Or for losing or gaining 20 pounds, for that matter.*
  14. Don’t comment on other people’s bodies, ever. Or the food they choose to eat.
  15. Eating or not eating certain things does not make you a good person. There is no moral aspect to food.
  16. Don’t buy expensive sunscreen. You’ll use it too sparingly and burn.
  17. Shaving your legs just for yourself can be an act of self care.
  18. Sometimes you need to leave to truly appreciate home.
  19. Get enough sleep. Really. Everything is better on enough sleep.
  20. It feels good not to need coffee first thing in the morning just to be able to function.
  21. You might need more time for yourself than you think you do.
  22. It’s absolutely ok to say no to something you have no desire to do.
  23. Figure out how you like to spend time with your friends: one-on-one coffee? Large groups out on the town? Planning activities together? Taking a vacation? A social life that matches your nature is much more rewarding than doing what everyone else thinks friends “should” be doing.
  24. Not being able to run due to an injury will certainly teach you patience. You learn to accept the hand you’ve been dealt.
  25. Old things, e.g. phones or bikes, can give you peace of mind: Neither my 3.5 year-old iPhone, nor my 14 year-old bike are very likely to get stolen, even in a big city.
  26. If you want a serious relationship, admit it to yourself.

*My experience is limited to “normal” or only slightly “overweight” weights, so I obviously I cannot speak for people at further extremes of the weight spectrum.

PS: In Defense of the Default and how to unplug for what remains of summer.

25 Lessons in 25 Years

I turned 25 last month, so I wanted to share the wealth of things I’ve learned – one for every year:25 Bday_Fotor

  1. Crying will lead to food. Unfortunately, this no longer works.
  2. Walking and talking.
  3. I assume I was potty-trained then. Very valuable life skill indeed.
  4. Speaking English.
  5. I suddenly have a sister. Interesting.
  6. They want me to speak German in Kindergarten in Germany.
  7. Riding a bike.
  8. Reading and writing.
  9. Swimming.
  10. Going to the library by myself.
  11. Inline skating.
  12. Latin.
  13. Biking to school by myself.
  14. Not all friendships are forever. Sometimes people suddenly annoy you.
  15. Puberty is even worse when it’s your sister.
  16. Picking a country I might like to spend a year in.
  17. Travelling with friends instead of parents.
  18. Rules for PDA in German and American High School are exact opposites.
  19. There is less sugar in German food, compared to American food.
  20. The Dutch are simultaneously laid-back and efficient.
  21. Nuance.
  22. Navigating a complex subway system as part of daily life.
  23. Knitting socks.
  24. Putting in an IV.
  25. Speaking French somewhat properly.

A more figurative version will follow soon!

How To Stop Buying Books

Books2_nobuying

Do you love reading but love buying books even more? Is your to-read pile bigger than the read pile? Do you have unread books older than your children?

Fear not. I can help. It will be difficult, because walking into a bookstore to buy yourself a little gift is the best treat ever. But buying a book can take as little as a minute, whereas reading it will take several hours. Wonderful hours, but it’s not instant gratification. Which explains that pesky discrepancy between the to-read and read piles.

Remember how I said I didn’t remember my New Years Resolution for 2015? Despite that, I didn’t break, but internalized it: NO BOOK BUYING (borrowing, gifts, and using store credit at the used book store was allowed). I figured that my to-read pile of 50+ books would outlast the year despite this resolution. And I stuck to it. I did not spend money on books in 2015.

Initially, self-control and avoiding temptation were crucial– no more hanging out in bookstores. I started reading books that I had had forever – some I bought as early as 2008, when I was 17. Sadly, I realized that I would have enjoyed them much more at 17. I had to force myself to finish some. I disliked second books by authors whose first I had loved, only to discover that I had already bought a third book written by them. Oops.

With these experiences, the urge to buy books vanished (mostly). Not buying made so much sense. I knew: the longer I waited to start those books, the less I’d enjoy them. I was so convinced that even the intense enjoyment of books I read right after receiving them did not have me running for the bookstores. Finally visibly decreasing the to-read pile taught me to appreciate slow-and-steady gratification.

And I actually read more than during book buying years – 2015 saw me plow through almost 60 books. The to-read pile is not gone due to gifts and borrowing, but much diminished. I will always have unread books, the resolution was not about having absolutely none – what if I get snowed in? It was about not having enough unread books for the next ice age.

My second secret weapon is the rediscovery of the library. As a kid, I went all the time, but once I started reading my parents’ books and had enough money to buy some of my own, it fell by the wayside. But while studying abroad in France, I did not want to accumulate six months worth of books – my suitcase is heavy enough, thankyouverymuch. I wanted to read in French and discover authors I hadn’t heard of. The low risk of making choices at the library is perfect – if I dislike the book or realize that it’s too difficult, I just return it. I find myself making much more adventurous choices than in the bookstore, since I’m not spending 10€ on every choice. Now my repertoire is much broader – how often have you bought a book by an author you had never heard of? I’m a risk-averse person. I need the library to unlock the reading adventure.

Another advantage of libraries: loan periods force me to read books promptly, increasing the likelihood of enjoying them. Having a deadline makes me read more (the fact that I’m incapable of going to the library and getting just one book helps) – thus I upped my Goodreads reading challenge to 100. Which is realistic at my current rate.

And 2016? I did not “formally” renew the resolution. If I see a book I’m sure I’ll love, I let myself buy it. I did buy books here in France. Five. Two I’ve finished, one I’m in the middle of, and the other two are being saved up for a 12h train ride next week. So my to-read pile consists of library books and the positive effects of last year’s resolution are ongoing.

Back home, I’ll definitely go back to my childhood ways and renew my library card. Which may well turn out to be the best thing about coming home.

PS: How to Conquer Intimidating Books and 33 Things to Do Other Than Shopping

A Tip For Better New Year’s Resolutions

New Years ResolutionsBetter as in more sustainable, successful, the kind you don’t forget about come January 22nd.

I made my most successful New Year’s resolution to date for 2011: I would no longer buy clothes at H&M, mostly because my closet was at least 50% H&M and I was buying too many things I did not need. I have not shopped there since.

My second to most successful was for 2014: reading at least one newspaper article a day. Which I did until circa July. Only then did laziness set in and New Year’s seemed too far away for the resolution to still matter.

Other resolutions were such a failure that I don’t even remember the year I made them. Exercise more. Eat better. I just looked at my journal to see which resolutions I made for 2015 – I never wrote them down and now I’ve forgotten them. Maybe I wanted to meditate? I did that until February… I think.

So what was the secret ingredient in 2011 and 2014? Specificity. Never going to one specific store. Reading one article every day.

Compared to that, “eat better” doesn’t mean anything. It should have been something like: Cook three meals a week that include at least two vegetables and no meat. Eat X servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Not eating X, Y, and Z.

Accordingly, my 2016 resolution is specific (but not as great an example for this strategy as the variations of “eat better”): I will floss every day. 2016 and beyond will be an era of dental health. This is slightly daunting, as my life expectancy as of January 2016 is 54.78 years. Three minutes of flossing a day adds up 60,025.35 minutes (1000.42h, 41.68d, 5.95 weeks), including leap years.

Maybe I should have refrained from doing these calculations. But I will put the floss in a convenient, highly visible place and get in habit implementation mode.

What are your 2016 resolutions? How will you make them stick?

Final 2015 Experiments and November Results

IMGP2114 KopieToday is December 1st. So how did my November experiments go? I am so glad you asked, because they were a resounding success! Double drumroll and early firecrackers, because really, who wants to wait until New Year’s Eve?

  1. Yoga: 27/30 days!!! On November 4th, I did the “best” tree pose ever. With my foot on my thigh, not my calf. I can now almost do tree pose. I am more flexible. I am not that much stronger, because I had a cold for two weeks and did a lot of restorative yoga. But without this experiment, I probably wouldn’t have moved at all during that time, so major win. Even on busy days, I added three minutes of yoga to the end of my day, giving myself some breathing room. From now on, I want to keep practicing at home, but I won’t be as “strict” as I was this month. The new goal will be not to miss two days in a row.
  2. Studying French: 28/30 days!!! Some vocabulary, some emails, and mostly reading a novel and short stories (Onitsha by Le Clézio and Les Yeux de Soie by Françoise Sagan).

I learned from last month’s mistakes and documented whether or not I did these things every day, and I’m pretty sure that was a large part of why things went so well. I also got rid of one thing on most days, so the low-key Minimalism Game was a success, too.

New month, new experiments. So of course, another drum roll for December:

  1. Read a chapter of my electrocardiogram book every day. An advent calendar of sorts. Clearly I go to medical school.
  2. Study French medical vocabulary for 10 minutes every day. Since I took the easy route of “just” reading for most of last month, this experiment is more specific. I’m going to be writing index cards and then studying them so I can start my semester abroad confidently.

These are realistic, since 10 minutes are not long, and the chapters in the ECG book are very short, too, about 5 pages each. Make-ups are allowed because December is a busy month.

How are you ending the year in a stride?