Photo of the week

Landscape in the highlands of Madagascar

People in the highlands of Madagascar live mostly from agriculture (dry rice). They live in brick houses – an advantage over housing in the lowlands. The clay soil can be burnt into bricks, who are brought up with more clay instead of cement. I always liked the architecture of these houses – each story is tall and has it’s own large balcony. They also seem to resist longer to the tropical climate than the stick-and-clay or plank barracks in other places of the island. Somehow, these examples show that the idea of a “house” as meaning stability and permanence is only common to some parts of the world.

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Guide to responsible shopping

While looking for a manufacturer where I can buy a new leather purse, I found this website. It’s very informative, and in the “search” field you can look how the manufacturing conditions for different brands are (“Responsible shopper profile”)

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Ratio vs. intuition

The battle of the brain sides

Many decluttering and simplifying websites suggest you to start with your wardrobe. But why is this?

Is it because success will be achieved immediately (after all, how difficult is it to randomly drop stuff into the sell, trash, donate buckets), motivating you to continue? Is it because wardrobes are accumulating the most of clutter in the house? Or is there another reason for it.

Recently, I’ve spend much time thinking about this subject.

The female wardrobe is not just an accumulation of clothes. We dress for social reasons (to impress other females and males), and we are more sensitive to dressing in a way that truly emulates our personality (which we call Style), which requires effort.

There are more blogs of women out there that are posting their daily outfits than blogs of girls showing off their new technical gadgets. It’s a fascinating world to immerse in and I’ve had great fun browsing their websites.

After a while, I noticed a dichotomy.

On the one side, there is colour, abundance, and overflowing creativity (check out Kendi’s blog and her wardrobe)

On the other side, there is much thought, reduction on essence, and even ‘clinical’ treaties on the subject (check out my current favourite deadfleurette and her wardrobe).

I think this dichotomy arises from how women prioritize the relative importance of conflicting mindsets. The brain is thought to be lateralized, such as different regions taking over different functions. While this clearly is a simplified assumption, no one would disagree that ‘emotionality and intuition’ and ‘rationality’ are opposing concepts. No one would disagree that females are generally (exceptions apply) the more intuitive sex who greatly values aesthetics and beauty.

I define my biggest challenge yet in aligning these opposing concepts into my life to achieve balance, the most obvious example of clashing mind sets being the choice of my wardrobe. Of course, associated areas like home decor (functional versus comfortable), and generally all things pretty fall under this challenge, but the female wardrobe most often is the point where this conflict can be grasped most easily.

Opposing concepts:

Intuition: Fulfilling my sense of aesthetics and variety, wanting to be pleasant to look at, expressing my personality, looking pulled together. OOh, this is so cute I need to buy it.

Rationality: Functionality (don’t want to fight with ruffles or uncomfortable garments or fabrics that make me sweat), Optimality (How much do I truly need to be covered for the seasons and occasions), Minimalism (less clothes makes it easier to get ready in the mornings), Quest for quality (sustainability, and economic ratio)

Completely forcing myself to switch off one mindset is not going to work – I strive to achieve balance. I know that when I’m travelling for weeks with a set of 3 tops, 3 bottoms, I come home and thoroughly enjoy having more options. But when I have too many clothes I get stressed out. Constraining the intuitive part of my mind would trigger a counter reaction, as much as neglecting the rational part.

How it this achieved? Well, the solution to this problem has already been around since the year 0 (can you believe it??). Epictetus said: “Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly”.

Which does not mean “I feel like a rock star today, I need to run to the mall and buy lots of leather pants and band shirts”. It means that your style (an average image of who you are over an extended period of time) is something that should be reflected upon before you make a purchase (deadfleurette does that brilliantly and excessively), and if you for example arrive upon the conclusion “I feel like a rockstar today but generally I like to wear jeans and white t-shirts”, and you arrive at exactly the same conclusions tomorrow, and the following month, then the Intuition part is surely covered. Style should smooth over temporary quests into your own personality. While one then might run crazy and buy 100 white tshirts and 50 pair of jeans (after having bought a fair share of rockstar attire on impulse in the meantime), I argue that the “and adorn yourself accordingly” part is Rationality  that gets blended out most of the time (tricked out by our innate human desire to always own more, more, more). Assume that 99% of women will arrive to a conclusion that they want to express themselves differently than just in jeans and white t shirts, categories come into play. Wardrobe categories can be expanded indifferently “I don’t own a white t-shirt with a ruffle yet” – substitute ‘ruffle’ with henley, silk, long sleeves, latest fashion, and you get the point. And then, though you have a good idea of who you are, you end up with thousands of things that fall into an amount of categories that might approximate the total number of items you have, which diminishes the number of pairings (outfits) that still emulate the style you had in mind, and your overall satisfaction. I understand why decluttering subsequently should start in your wardrobe

I’ve never been one to accumulate a large wardrobe. For one, I’ve been a poor academic my whole life (think $2 thrift store), second, I move a lot, third, I have other things to do for recreation.

But just because I don’t run around and buy 1000 things, I still have the same problem of combining rationality and intuition when it comes to the material aspects of life. It is to equal parts a question of philosophy and vanity.

Rationalizing my wardrobe

At present I have 70 items of clothing for a 4-season climate (including coats and jackets, but not counting shoes and athletic gear). It covers 0F to 100F temperatures, blizzards, rains, humidity, and heat waves. This number is reasonable for me, because it’s what I can fit in my suitcase when we move overseas again (in 2 months). Picking a number is not an arbitrary ‘I have less than you’ thing, but the result of a lot of thinking and planning on the rational part of my wardrobe. Because I strive to prioritize the rational aspects mentioned above, I allow the intuitive part to operate within the space provided by the rational part. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.

For example, colours irritate me, but I love and feel comfortable in neutrals and sublime patterns. Chucking all stupid fashion rules aside, I only dress in neutrals (and always have). Keeping these guidelines in mind, I can choose whichever neutral garment I like.

my wardrobe from left to right -Dresses, tunics, tank tops, tshirts, blouses, sweaters, cardis, jackets

Because I spent the first five months of 2011 not buying any clothes and reflecting on my style I could identify some gaps  -I ‘need’ a wool sweater (previous one got shrunk by a certain cohabiting male operating the laundry), I ‘need’ a black leather purse (a vanity thing: cotton bag would do just fine). I can justify the purse because I have only two brown leather ones, one which was a hand-me-down from my mom, and the other one being a vintage one that I cheaply bought on ebay and which is coming apart in all places. I was also shocked to notice the constant need to replace clothes after only a few washes because of very poor quality of manufacturing of most American brands (especially GAP, Target, and F21) – leading me to resume purchasing my clothes in Europe when I was on business trips there (that was before the shopping ban – everything held up well!). What is incredibly helpful is to be able to overview what I have using the ‘Gap style mixer’ app on my phone. Now that I have nailed down which and how many clothes I feel good with, the future challenge will be to keep the little nagging ‘more, more, more’ instinct in check and keep up the status quo. After buying the sweater and the purse, I’ll go on another 6 month shopping ban.

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Photo of the week

Cenote Azul at the Mayan Riviera

we’re back from Mexico! This is a picture of a cenote or natural sinkhole, which are quite common on the Yucatan Peninsula. Rain caves out the limestone, creating a subterranean ground water system. No cooler place to hang out on a hot day than in a natural pool that is partially covered by a cave, and getting a pedicure by the resident catfishes…

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way too much stuff

So a funny thing happened. I was just packing for our vacation to Mexico tomorrow (for 10 days). I put together some outfits for different activities that we planned

1, sporty stuff: hiking, looking at ruins, kayaking, swimming (Bikini, longsleeve UV proof shirt & knee length hiking pants against sun burn while kayaking, sport top and shorts for other activities)

2, regular clothes: visiting cities, going out (2 sun dresses, 1 pair shorts, 1 skirt, 2 tshirts, 1 short bolero )

3, shoes: casual walking, going out, hiking/kayaking.

of course we also take some soap to be able to wash clothes in between. But I am convinced, that I am taking way too much stuff – as I know myself I’ll be wearing a bikini, both dresses, and the sport shorts and that’s it. The rest I’m taking ‘just in case’, and three pairs of shoes seems downright excessive. Also I am travelling in long pants and a light jacket (still cold where I live), and I am considering to wear the sneakers to ‘save space’.

Then I saw that everything still fits nicely into half a carry on (leaving the other half for Mr. Handsome).

It’s weird how travelling for work changed my perspective – as I usually have to lug a large amount of work equipment around with me, there isn’t much space for personal things like clothes and I am always surprised how little I take when the work stuff isn’t around.

Is there something wrong with me??

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And on it goes..

There is nothing more constant in life than transience.

Our stay here is now slowly coming to an end, and we’ll be moving overseas at the beginning of summer. I am buried in deadlines to wrap up my work here, and at the same time we’re trying to organize the upcoming changes. Our landlord is frantically trying to find new tenants, so every other day we get visits from the realtor and his clients. We figured we might as well try to find someone who is willing to take over our complete furniture, because we’ll be moving lightly (i.e., ship a couple boxes and take two suitcases).

We’ve had a very happy time here but now we have to move on again. But before that, we’ll enjoy a vacation in Mexico, starting tomorrow! I feel excited about being able to travel again.

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Minimalism fail?

I think I have the perfect shoe wardrobe now. But is it minimalistic?…well, rather not, coming from an extreme point of view, i.e., compared to folks who are content with only one pair of vibram five fingers or such.

I loathe the days when I couldn’t afford quality shoes that would remind me of that fact every time I wore them by making my feet bleed. In high school, I went through both sports education and parties alternating between a pair of Converse chucks and my mom’s old running shoes from the 70’s. Freezing and slipping in winter, wet feet in fall, sweating in sneakers in high summer, always in the wrong shoes for the occasion. Since these days i am constantly aware of my foot wear. I want to be able to wear appropriate shoes for different occasions and weather, that fit me well, have a good quality, and, yes, match my wardrobe. In fact, the Vibram shoes are made of neoprene and wearing them every day without socks, I can imagine that they develop odour after a while, so they aren’t for me anyway. I try to buy only leather shoes and take very good care of them, in this way I can afford higher quality shoes because they don’t need to be replaced that often. Another reason why shoes are important to me is that I walk to work and generally a lot. If you have only 50 steps to walk each day between your home, car and office, shoe problems might be less noticeable than if you walk in average one hour a day, or if after going out to dance in those sparkly high heels you have to walk two miles back home in them.

Living in a four season climate, and having many occasions on the plate, to date there are 20 (twenty) 19 (nineteen) pairs of them. That surely isn’t minimal, it’s even more than enough for my needs. For the above-mentioned reasons, when it comes to shoes I settle for ‘comfortably more than enough’ because the ‘enough’ line would be too close to ‘bleeding feet’, which is something I will never get close to again if it’s avoidable. However, I am aware of why I do this, so I can actively counteract that urge to get away from ‘bleeding feet’ by trying not to buy duplicates of the same category.

I believe it was a mistake to think that I need the same type of shoes in both black and brown, because I do not seem to care as much as I thought I would, so this would be something I will try to avoid in the future.

So here’s the shoe breakdown, with cost-per-wear CPW (how much I use them compared to how much they cost):

 Specialty shoes

Specialty shoes

From back left to front right:

1. Gum boots for those days when it downpours for hours in a row here. CPW: low.

2. Salomon cross trail shoes with Goretex, for running and light hiking in summer and winter. CPW: low.

3. Merrell all leather hiking boots, for longer tours and mountains. CPW: medium (they replaced my 5y old pair last summer).

4. Salomon Techamphibian water shoes, for kayaking and as sneakers (I hate sneakers. See arguments above.): CPW: low.

5 (not pictured: Sorel snow boots, worn for 3-4 months in a row daily in winter): CPW: low.

Spring, fall and winter shoes

Spring, fall, winter

From back left to front right:

1) Esprit brown tall boots. These are synthetic, but are keeping up well so far. They run a bit small (were a gift from my mom) so I will get rid of them when they have worn out. But they fit well with my wardrobe so I wear them often. CPW: low

2) Bronx leather boots. These shoes are the most ‘me’ and swear I’ll repair them until I am eighty years old. CPW: low

3) Frye leather boots. These will eventually replace the Esprit ones when  they wear out. They’re both sturdy and heavy, I’m still making up my mind about whether I like that or not. CPW: medium (I only bought them last october)

4) Bass leather brogues. These are my black everyday shoes for work in spring and fall.  CPW: high (bought in January).

4) Aigle leather oxfords. These are my brown everyday shoes for work in spring and fall.  CPW: close to zero (they’re about 10 years old now).

5) Bass ballet flats. I made a mistake and bought these on sale because they were comfortable, looked well made and my old pair had just fallen apart, only to discover later that the material is synthetic. However, they’ve been worn often already this year and I will only replace them with leather flats when they’re not good anymore. CPW: low.

EDIT: The flats hurt my feet walking to work today and are donated.

Summer shoes


Hmmm. I have a feeling that my shoe type ratios depict a wrong length of the summer here.. It seems odd that I have more summer shoes although it’s clearly more often cold than warm..

From back left to front right:

1) three pair of Tsubo leather heels. I certainly didn’t need all of them, but this brand is so amazingly comfortable and well made that I can walk on their heels all day without the slightest problems. The left one is also for summer formal wear, the middle one serves as my current dance shoes, and the right one isn’t worn yet. CPW: medium to high, needs more wears.

2) Chinese laundry faux leather pumps. Fun shoes when the weather doesn’t permit open shoes yet. Cheap but surprisingly long lived. CPW: close to nothing.

3) Tahari suede pumps. Formal shoes for chill weather. CPW: high (so far only worn on wedding).

4) Teva leather flip flops. These deserve retirement now after 6 years, but are still in great shape. Not good for walking long distances, because of missing arch support they give me a back ache. Thinking about it, I’ll recycle them now. CPW: close to zero

5) Merrell everyday summer leather sandals sans heel. I have high hopes for wearing them often this summer. CPW: high (fairly new)

6) Merrell comfy leather sandals, replacement for Teva’s, because they have a much better footbed. CPW: high (fairly new)

7) Crocs. Good for walking to work when the tropical summer storms hit that would destroy leather shoes. CPW: low.

8 ) Unnecessary Crocs wedges for being pretty in tropical summer storms. CPW: low.

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