Retail Detox: January

The first month of my shopping ban went more smoothly than I expected. When I set out on this journey, I had already started Project 333, which eliminated any desires I had to purchase new clothing. Although my wardrobe is the smallest its ever been, I find that I genuinely like everything in my closet. I wear each and every item I selected for this three month project. In fact, when I do have to walk through downtown, I don’t even look at the clothing in the windows.

Other areas of the shopping ban are proving more tempting, but I’ve managed to stay strong. I have always loved stationary. Back in America, I had so many journals, but rarely managed to fill any of them. The same goes for notebooks. When I filled up a journal at the beginning of the month, I will admit that my first thought was that it’s time for a new one. And trust me, the journals and notebooks here in Korea are so cute. But I have more journals that are half full. Why not fill those up first before looking to get another one?

A potted green plant seen at a cafe in Gyeongju, South Korea.

And yet in other areas, I haven’t even considered buying items I included in the ban. Books written in English are hard to come by in my small Korean city, and I find the cost of international shipping off-putting, so I haven’t even looked at books. If something comes out that I really want to read, I use my Audible subscription and listen to the audio version. While it’s not quite the same as reading, audio books have become a staple in my life.

Take-out coffee is also proving easier not to buy than I expected. Perhaps it’s because I spent most of January teaching winter camp, and I arrived to work before any coffee shops were even open. The only place that I could have gotten take-out coffee were the convenience stores, and the sugary coffees have definitely lost their appeal to me since moving here.

I know that thirty-one days without shopping for non-essential items isn’t a huge feat, and that as time goes on, it will become more difficult for me to adhere to my self-imposed shopping ban. But knowing how to avoid the temptations of shopping, and acknowledging that shopping isn’t a hobby and isn’t something I need to do to feel happy are starting points to reshape the way I think about shopping and what I truly need in order to have a life of happiness and fulfillment found in experiences, not things.

2018: The Year the Road Diverged

At the end of 2017, I wrote a reflection post after looking back on the whole year in an attempt to sum up the year into one neat, damaged, package. For the conclusion of 2018, I will attempt to do the same thing. 

2018 has been quite the year. I started the year in Clinton, NJ, celebrating the new year with my close friend Katie and her quirky family. We ate dinner at nearly 11 p.m. and watched the ball drop. In the morning, we ate Jersey bagels and I headed back to NEPA. That New Year’s Eve had been so different from any other I experienced, and looking back it was a sign of all the new and wonderful experiences that were to come.

The new year also meant studying hard for the GRE. I spent hours every day studying. I had a study plan that I followed diligently, using the various expensive study materials I had splurged on in order to really nail the $300 pre-graduate school test. By May, I felt ready to take the test. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I received similar scores to the first time I took the test, only showing significant improvement in the one section I did not study for. These test results were crushing. Nearly every school I was looking at to pursue my PhD had high score requirements and acceptance rates under 10%. 

It was there that the path diverged. I had a choice: I could continue to live unhappily in Northeast Pennsylvania or I could make a drastic change. I loved working as an admissions counselor. Traveling was amazing and I got travel to so many places I had never been before. I even reconnected with someone from high school when I was in Arlington. We still talk to this day. 

But as much as I loved my job, I hated my life when I left work. I was lonely. My friends had graduated and moved on. The area didn’t really have much to offer me in the way of things I find fulfilling and enjoyable. I wanted to live in a city, but I didn’t know how to make that dream a reality.

So after talking with my friend about the challenges I was facing, she encouraged me to look into teaching English abroad. I had considered teaching abroad as a back-up plan if I didn’t get into graduate school, but this was the first time I had considered it as a precursor to graduate school. Even today, I could tell you exactly which table I was sitting at in the Wilkes-Barre Starbucks when I submitted my applications to recruiters to get a job in Korea.

With taking a new job also came saying goodbye to my old job. And my old life. I spent nearly two months having one last lunch, one last drink, and one last trivia night with friends across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Most of the time, it didn’t even feel real. And when it did, it’s because the tears streaming down my face were a reminder that everything was going to change.

Between the New Year and the GRE, I also made a major change in my life. I left my job with Kay Jewelers after four years of seasonal and full-time employment. The stresses of working for a company whose values did not align with my own were too draining, and I dreaded going into work to the point that I avoided the mall even when I wasn’t working. Despite the fact that the income I earned at Kay was helpful to me, the toxicity of the job was wearing me down in detrimental ways. So I left Kay and found other ways to make ends meet.

Finally, 2018 was the year I traveled. In 2018 alone, I visited three new states: Georgia, Michigan, and Vermont. I also went back to Boston and visited Ithaca for the first time. I spent time in New York City when I was getting my Visa and saw parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I even went to Canada on a spontaneous road trip with my best friend. All of that happened before I got to Korea, where I traveled even more. And I’ll be ending my year the same way I started it: with travel. 

Overall, 2018 is the year I truly came into my own. I started to live a life that reflected the things I love and the things I value. I took a giant leap of faith, and haven’t looked back. And I’ll continue looking forward to all the amazing things to come in 2019.

Leave the Clutter in 2018: Things to Get Rid of Before 2019 Begins

As one year turns to another, we are always seeking new ways to improve our lives in the new year. As I continue my Minimalism Challenge throughout December, I’ve been considering the things that everyone should consider cleaning out before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, indicating the start of a new year. 

Here are some of the things that I personally believe would help you to start 2019 heading in a positive direction.

Unsubscribe from e-mail lists

Every morning I wake up and I have loads of unread e-mails, the majority of which are announcing sales and coupons for stores I no longer shop at now that I am living in Korea. Even before moving, I never looked at these e-mails. Rarely was the subject line catchy enough to make me open the e-mail. In the majority of cases, I signed up for the e-mail list in order to get some sort of discount when shopping online.

If your inbox looks like mine, consider taking the time to unsubscribe from these e-mail lists. You can do this manually, or you can download an app like Unroll Me, which does all the hard work for you. While you might spend anywhere from 5-15 minutes unsubscribing from e-mails, that’s nothing compared to the time you’ll save over the course of a year when you aren’t taking the time to delete unopened e-mails every day.

Clean out your junk drawer for good

Every home has one. I grew up with a junk drawer. My grandparents had junk drawers. I had a junk drawer in my apartment in Pennsylvania. But when I moved to Korea with next to nothing, I didn’t make a junk drawer, because I had no junk. Before today, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I have no junk drawer. But after going three months without one, I have come to one very simple realization: you don’t need a junk drawer.

Seriously.

Clean it out. Put things where they belong. Throw away those old manuals for things you know how to use, get rid of those dead batteries, and stop hoarding garbage you don’t need. Say goodbye to your junk drawer and don’t look back.

Discard old papers

Nothing builds up in our living spaces like old papers. Receipts, bills, manuals, holiday and birthday cards, old photographs. They’re everywhere. It seems every time I turn around there is another receipt laying on my table or sticking out from under my bed. Where do they all come from? When will this cycle of finding and throwing away receipts end?! 

Before the new year ends, go through all those old papers laying around your home. Get rid of them. And make it a habit to ask for no receipt. If you’re given one, put it in the recycling immediately. Stop letting them pile up and slowly take over your living spaces. 

Bad habits

Bad habits may be the trickiest thing to give up as the new year begins. We often like to think about how great and wonderful we will be in the new year, because it’s not now. It’s later. We can always be better later. We can ditch our bad habits later, but for now, we can revel in them. Ditch that way of thinking and start breaking down those bad habits now. Changing habits takes time, and creating an arbitrary start date for an arbitrary reason is not going to help you change. Instead, start now. And if you slip, keep going. Try every single day to break down those bad habits. Because if you keep trying, even after failing time and time again, one day they won’t be habits anymore. 

It’s never too late to live the life you want to live or be the person you want to be. Don’t wait until you have more time or more money or a “reason” to start. Start today, and keep restarting every single day until you are living a life you love. And then, keep going.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Three

As to be expected, week three of my minimalism challenge was the hardest week yet. It’s also the week I broke open my closet and did an assessment of what I brought with me from the States, and what I have actually worn since being here. I knew before even opening the closet that there were things in there that I’ve put on, only to take off immediately in favor of something I wear more often with more confidence. 

The past weekend was a great chance for me to clean out, as my neighbor and co-worker had a clothing swap party. She was kind enough to let me join in on the fun and her guests could come over to my apartment and take the clothing and jewelry I was ready to part with. Everything that remained at the end went to the second hand shop downtown.

But clothing and jewelry wasn’t the only thing that went this time around, although that did make up a majority of the week’s clean-out. I also continued to go through my kitchen, and went into my laundry room to do a quick assessment.

Below is a list of the 133 items I cleaned out in the third week of my minimalism challenge:

  • 38 wooden skewers
  • 25 magnets
  • 21 articles of clothing
  • 19 pieces of jewelry
  • 9 nose rings
  • 3 vacation souvenirs 
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 2 hair accessories
  • 2 small kitchen things
  • 2 bike accessories
  • 2 power adapters
  • 1 lone earring with no match
  • 1 broken pair of headphones
  • 1 small drawer unit that fell apart in my hands when I tried to move it
  • 1 sleeping bag
  • 1 small travel makeup bag
  • 1 broken Christmas ornament
  • 1 Tupperware lid I missed the first week
  • 1 empty container of fabric softener that has been empty since September

Looking around my apartment, I can see the difference the last three weeks of cleaning and decluttering has made. My space is more comfortable, cleaner, and brighter. I don’t have to shove aside things I don’t use in order to find the things I do. While I’m not sure how much further I’ll be able to go, I’m glad I made it this far.

If you’re interested in doing my minimalism challenge, or interested in the original challenge, which involves working with a partner and making a bet as to who will make it the the furthest in decluttering, comment below! Happy cleaning! 

Another Undertaking: Project 333

Another day, another challenge. The latest in my end-of-the-year undertakings is Project 333. Project 333 challenges you to dress with 33 articles of clothing and accessories for three months, packing the rest away and out of sight. In this time frame, you also cannot buy any new clothing or accessories, so what you have is what you have.

That said, there are exceptions to 333. For instance, undergarments, socks, sentimental jewelry that you always wear, and in-home lounge and sleepwear are not included in the count. But things like belts, bags, and shoes are.

Last night, I went through my closet, pulling out everything I wanted to wear for the next three months, focusing on sweaters and warm clothing and leaving the dresses for the far-off days of spring. While I was choosing, I was not counting my selections. That would come at the end. I just chose, one item at a time, and laid them out on my bed. When I counted everything, my selections came to 34. Not bad, considering I was just going on feeling. But one item had to go. Looking over my pile, it was easy to make my selection and I decided to purge the baseball baseball hat sitting on top of the pile.. After all, I had only kept it out to wear when I travel to Hong Kong next week. Otherwise, Korea is far too cold now to be wearing a baseball hat outside. 

My final selections, not including my winter coat, hat, and gloves

I looked over my final selections. Sweaters, two button-up shirts, a cardigan,  two dresses, five pairs of pants, a pair of leggings, two bags, a winter coat, hats, gloves, and two scarves. Not bad. Definitely a workable wardrobe. No crazy patterns that would be hard to match. Just simple colors: muted pinks and reds, a smattering of earth tones, and black and grey. What more could I possibly need in the winter? 

So I went to work, folding and packing the rest of my clothing into two small cardboard boxes. They were the largest ones I could find outside of E-mart, but still small. When the boxes were packed, I tucked them out of sight along with the shoes that did not make the cut. Packing my things away gets easier every time I do it. Making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of gets easier too, less emotional and more rational, the more I do it.

By constantly assessing my belongings and asking myself if they are adding value to my life or serving a deliberate purpose, I’ve become more comfortable with the truth that things hold no intrinsic value. Rather, possessions can add value to our lives, and that value changes over time. Something that adds value to our lives when we are thirteen may no longer add value at twenty-three. So why do we so desperately cling to things? I am still trying to find the answer, but I do not think the answer can be neatly tied up with a bow. Rather, there are a lot of factors, different for everyone, that play into our desire to accumulate things and never let them go.

A life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

A few weeks back I was reading Eat, Pray, Love for the first time after my best friend and I bought the book to read together. Spoiler: she read it a few months before I got around to it and just kept telling me how much I needed to read it. So when I finally had time to sit down with it, I quickly understood her hype.

Early on in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert references the Bhagavad Gita, explaining that it is better to live life following your own path imperfectly than it is to perfectly imitate someone else’s life. This part of the book stuck with me, as I’ve always felt a lot of external pressure to live a traditional life, one that included marriage in my early-to-mid twenties, having children, owning a home, and working in a mind-numbing job.

And the more I reflected on that path in life, the more anxiety I felt, because deep down I knew that I would never be satisfied living that life. My goals, dreams, and aspirations could not fit within the confines of a traditional life. Instead I wanted to travel, test out different careers until I found one where I felt I was making an impact and growing, pursue a masters and potentially even a doctorate degree, and wait well into my thirties to get married. I don’t foresee home ownership in my future, because I see myself always on the move, not settling anywhere long enough to justify such a large investment. I know that this feeling could change, but like marriage, I don’t expect it to come until much later in life, if at all.

Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t considered that maybe it would really be okay to follow my own path, even if it meant making a lot of sacrifices and taking risks. In the back of my mind I would still try to factor in when I’d get married and how to explain over and over again that I don’t want children and that I don’t really think I will change my mind. Trying to explain that the life most people live is not the life I want for myself is difficult, and I often feel unheard. When people ask me invasive questions about dating and about whether or not I think I should hurry up so I can get married and have a family, I know that they are asking from a place of concern, but it often feels as though they are minimizing my own personal goals in life and tying my purpose more closely to a domestic life than the purpose I feel called to.

So while I could have tried to perfectly play the part in a life that wasn’t mine, I took off down another road. One that looks dangerous and full of uncertainty to many, but to me is full of endless excitement and adventure. While I may mistep and while my journey may not be perfect, I know that I am living a life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

8/26 Two Days Out

I am now two days out from leaving the US and traveling to South Korea to begin my journey as an English teacher. Time feels as though it has been moving slowly, yet it is hard to believe that nearly three months have passed. When I first found out I would be moving to Korea, it felt so far off, an entire lifetime away, and yet the time has finally come. My bags are packed, my flight is booked, and I am constantly thinking about how on earth I am going to stay awake until 2 a.m. to board my plane.

People often ask me if I am nervous, and the answer has always been no. Two days out, that is still the case. While the path I have chosen to walk is not traditional, not typical, and not fully understood by others, I know it is where I am meant to be. I have always felt a strong pull out and away. In other words, I have never felt rooted, but always restless, ready for the next big adventure, perhaps because each adventure steers me closer and closer to the road I am meant to walk.

These next few weeks with be difficult, I understand that fact. I don’t speak Korean and I don’t know anyone, which I’m sure will feel incredibly isolating at times. I know that I will face these challenges, and I don’t know if being aware they will come, and come soon, will make my response to them any better than if I were going in blind. But somewhere along the way I learned that to let fear stop you from living will result in an unfulfilled life, one full of regret and what ifs, and that is not the life I want for myself. So two days out, I am still excited about the path I have chosen, and not once have I asked myself if maybe this was all a mistake. And I think that will be enough to see me through.

 

Feature image from: http://trip-suggest.com/south-korea/south-gyeongsang/jinju/

On Letting Go

Moving to another country helped me come to a huge realization: my life is cluttered with things. I didn’t even realize how much I owned until I had to sit down and pick through my entire life, deciding what stays and what goes.

Earlier this year, I decided to take on living life with less. And I did cut down on my consumption. I even went through clothing and some of my belongings, but there were a lot of things I did not want to part with at the time, and even more things that I didn’t even consider to be cluttering my life, like kitchenwares and the old prom dresses shoved in the back of my closet. But when I had to really go through everything to clean out my apartment, I realized just how much I had overlooked in my quest to downsize my life.

Some items were easy to get rid of. I donated a lot of clothing and packed up boxes of possessions that I didn’t feel served me in my life. With others I had a harder time.

In moving to another country, the most difficult things I have had to part with were sentimental pieces that I had accumulated throughout the years from family, friends, and traveling. While there are a few things I have decided to hold on to, most of these possessions have found new homes. I couldn’t simply take these possessions to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Instead, I took time to think about each piece: where it came from, who gave it to me, the stories and memories associated with it, and who those stories would resonate with. When I felt particularly moved by the thought of a specific object going to a certain person, I decided that would be who I gave it to. In every encounter of passing on a possession to a new person, the person was grateful, and often moved by the sentiment behind the object. Each time, I knew I made the right choice. This passing on of my possessions made it a lot easier to let go.

With each item I purged from my life, I felt lighter. I didn’t realize how much these possessions were weighing me down until I had to consider their meaning, their use, and whether or not it would serve me as I move on from my life back home. I don’t know that I will ever accumulate so many possessions again. Now that I am living a more simple life, I feel like my life is more in line with what I really value– meaningful relationships, experiences, being an active participant in my life, rather than a passive one. So even though letting go has been difficult, the positive benefits of truly minimizing my life have been far greater than any sadness I have felt in getting rid of everything I have accumulated. Because at the end of the day, the whole of my possessions does not represent how well I lived my life. Rather my stories, experiences, memories, and the people I have shared them with are the true measure of a well-lived life.

 

Feature image from: http://borntotalkradioshow.com/2017/05/word-day-simplify/

Beauty in the Green Mountains

Vermont is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Everything about my time in Vermont was breathtaking. The air was fresh, the hikes were incredible, and the small town of Bennington was vibrant.

I visited Vermont back in June with my friend Lindsey, another avid hiker and childhood friend. Knowing that our lives were taking us in drastically different directions, we decided we needed a weekend getaway, and both of us really wanted to visit Vermont. Both of us knew that the Green Mountains were perfect for a walk in the woods, and both of us desperately needed one. We headed out on the road for our four hour road trip, arriving in Vermont around dinnertime on a Friday. The night was spent exploring the small town of Bennington, particularly the local brewery. They had a wide variety of craft brews, my favorite of which was named the Nor’beaster. After a winter full of Nor’easters, it only felt right to try that beer.

Southern Vermont in early June is perfect for hiking. The temperatures are mild and the mud season is mostly over, making for optimal hiking conditions. Saturday we spent the day in the mountains. The Bald Mountain trail was near our hotel, and had promising online reviews. So we ascended, tackling the different challenges that came about on the trail, which would suddenly turn from a gradual incline to a steep mountainside. Once we found an acceptable overlook, we slung up our hammocks and enjoyed the view.

When we came back down the mountain, we spent the rest of the day exploring other sights nearby, including the gift shops in town, the covered bridges hidden in the back roads of Bennington, and North Bennington, a town nearby. Sunday would also encompass exploring, this time in the form of another hike from Lake Paran to the home of American poet Robert Frost. This hike was much simpler than the one Saturday, and we enjoyed views of the lake, wildflower fields, and and lush green forests Robert Frost once enjoyed. We wrapped up our trip by visiting the Bennington BattleMonument, which offered stunning views of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

Life in Vermont seemed simple and quiet, which is the kind of life I enjoy for a few days, but never longterm. My retreat to the woods was refreshing, and needed after a few high stress weeks. What made the trip even better was the friend I got to share the journey with.

 

 

Why We Should All Live With Less

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640Getting ready to move has been hard. Not because of saying my goodbyes, not because of leaving a job I love, but because of getting rid of all of my possessions. And I don’t mean the ones I have sentimental attachments to. No, I mean the ones that I put little thought toward, the ones that clutter up the back of my closet, linger under my bathroom sink, and crowd the drawers I don’t go into.

Now that the time has really come for me to part with my possessions, I’m losing my mind. When did I get all of this stuff? And how did I not realize I had so much when I moved out of my college dorm room or into my first apartment? When I was unpacking it all? It’s really been blowing my mind just how much I own, and how little of it I actually used.

simplifyPerhaps one of the most jarring realizations I had was that I accumulated so much of the same stuff. Why did I need fifteen coffee mugs? In reality, I only need one. I can only use one at a time. Maybe two, in case I have a friend over and they also want a cup of coffee or tea, but anything more than that just seems excessive, especially after determining what to do with them all.

Another area that I was guilty of hoarding was old clothing. And I mean the clothing I will never wear again, like dresses from the various proms I attended and weddings I was in. Not only will I never fit into those dresses again, but I’ll also never have a reason to wear them again, so why was I hanging onto them? There are so many young girls out there who hope and pray for a beautiful prom dress, but cannot afford it, so why not donate them? They aren’t doing anyone any good by hanging in the back of my closet.

Hopefully, these experiences have made you consider what areas of your life are cluttered by possessions you feel the need to hang onto or have just pushed from your mind. Living with less seems like a huge commitment, and to some, it sounds downright crazy. But in reality, our lives should be a collection of our experiences, not our things.

So start small. Tackle cleaning out under the bathroom sink. Downsize from twenty coffee mugs to two. Donate those old dresses, coats, scarves, hats, and blankets you no longer use. Get rid of the old memorabilia from high school, because let’s face it, no one cares if you have a varsity letter for whatever sport it is you played. Go through your old t-shirts. If you can’t part with them, give them new life and have them turned into a t-shirt blanket, and make that blanket one of the only ones you own. In time, you’ll notice you feel lighter. Your space will no longer feel chaotic and cluttered. When your physical environment is in order, it’s amazing how much emotional order you’ll feel, too.