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.

Why I Decided to Pursue a Minimalist Lifestyle

What is Minimalism? 

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about minimalism it that there is only one way to be a minimalist. That you must own less than 100 things, only eat raw foods, forgo luxuries like a bed frame, and only walk or ride of bike everywhere you go. 

While minimalism looks this way for some people, it is not the only way to be a minimalist. 

According to The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” So rather than thinking of minimalism as a strict set of guidelines, it is more helpful to think of it as a lens through which to evaluate your life in order to be sure that your reality is in line with your values.

If you are considering adopting a minimalist lifestyle or even just tackling the clutter in your life, it is important to consider your values, goals, and aspirations. Write them down. Next, consider what your life actually looks like. What do you do daily, weekly, monthly. Write that down too. Then compare the two. Does your reality align with the life you want for yourself? If it doesn’t try to figure out why. 

For example, if one of your goals is to visit one new city every year, but you haven’t even chosen this year’s destination or started saving up money, consider why. Perhaps you are afraid of failure, or maybe you haven’t saved any money because you go on a mini shopping spree each time you get paid. While there’s nothing wrong with buying things you need when you need them, excess and frivolous spending can leave us unfulfilled and prevent us from achieving long-term goals.

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So why did I decide to live minimally?

The concept of minimalism was immediately appealing to me. Cooped up on a cold February night in NEPA, I watched the minimalism documentary from The Minimalists. I needed to know more. So I subscribed to their podcast and read The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. Then I set out to declutter my life. 

Looking back, I think one of the biggest contributing factors that drew me to minimalism was working as an admissions counselor. I spent 5-6 nights a week in hotel rooms, never taking more than one carry-on suitcase with me on the road. It was then that I realized just how little I needed to get by. Everything else is just excess.

I also moved a lot in 2017, and each time I had to haul boxes up and down stairs I thought about how nice it would be to just leave it all behind somewhere. Little did I know that I’d do exactly that in the summer of 2018.

The most important thing to consider is that a minimal lifestyle aligns with my values. I do not believe that things can bring us fulfillment, but rather experiences help us to make the most of our time on Earth. When I consider all the happiness moments of my life, I am always thinking of an experience, whether it be traveling, a personal achievement, or spending time with friends laughing long into the night, none of these recollections involve material possessions. 

Instead, I’ve come to realize that material possessions are burdensome, and often accumulated out of a false sense of want, rather than a genuine need or desire. While I still struggle with the impulse to buy things when I am out and about downtown, I make an effort to be more intentional with my purchases. 

I truly believe that everyone can benefit in some way from minimalism. Whether it’s shrinking your worldly possessions down to the smallest amount possible or just being more intentional with how you spend your money and making room in your home and your life for the things that bring you joy, minimalism has something to offer to everyone. With the new year right around the corner, now may just be the perfect time to consider living life with less, in order to make room for more of the things that truly bring you joy.

Minimalism Challenge: Week One

I’ve written about minimalism a few times before, noting that my inspiration to live a more minimal and meaningful life began back in February after watching a documentary from The Minimalists on Netflix. Before moving to Korea, I sold, donated, and got rid of 90% of my possessions, but after watching some minimalism videos on YouTube today, I thought it might be a good time to check in to see how my minimalism journey is going here in Korea. I haven’t really checked in since I got here, but I also haven’t accumulated much. That being said, there was a decent amount left behind in my apartment, and much of it I have never used.

One thing I came across in my video watching was this thing called the “Minimalism Game.” Essentially how it works is you declutter your space a little bit every day, getting rid of the same number of things that it is the day of the month. For example, on the 1st, you get rid of one item, and on the 12th you get rid of twelve. I love the idea of this challenge, so I decided December, the last month of the year, would be the perfect time to take it on and make sure I am really starting off on the right foot in the new year.

Since I am fairly busy between work, Korean lessons, and other things I do outside of work and studying, I decided to adapt this challenge to better fit my schedule. Rather that go through my possessions each day, I decided to add up how many items I would discard each week, and dedicate one day a week to minimize. Typically I clean my apartment on Sundays, so that will likely be the day I minimize as well. Since I discovered this challenge on a Tuesday, I decided to kick it off right after work, gathering up the first 45 items that I would be ridding my apartment of for the first week.

One of the great things about decluttering is it doesn’t always mean getting rid of large items like clothing, shoes, etc. So to start, I tackled some of the most annoying kinds of clutter that have been piling up on my table, in my fridge, and in my cabinets.

In the first week of my minimalism challenge, I was able to get rid of:

  • 19 papers, including old bills, receipts, and outdated resumes
  • 1 Pringles lid
  • 4 Tupperware lids with no matching containers
  • 1 Tupperware container with no lid
  • 2 half used jars of spaghetti sauce that were no longer edible
  • 1 stained wine glass
  • 1 bag of stale cereal
  • 7 packages of expired seaweed
  • 1 expired jar of tea
  • 1 package of jelly
  • 2 lids for pots I don’t own
  • 4 spuddy potatoes
  • 1 twist tie for a bag of mushrooms

This brought me to a total of 45 items in the first week, and I never even opened my wardrobe. 

I have to admit, it feels great to have all the expired food out of my cabinets. Much of the expired food was left behind by the teacher who lived in this apartment before me. But rather than getting rid of it, I just kept pushing it aside and letting it take up space in my cabinet. Now, I have more space to organize the food I have, which will make it easier for me to keep track of what I have and visualize my meals more easily. 

Next week, I will be going through my apartment attempting to get rid of 84 items. 84! It seems like such a big number, so I am eager to see how easily I can find 84 items in my apartment that aren’t adding value to my life or serving a purpose.

Life in Jinju: Three Months an Expat

Every time I think about how much time has passed since I moved to Korea, I am taken aback. While I don’t feel that my time here has been dragging by, it also doesn’t seem to be racing by as quickly as it has been.

This week marks three months since I first arrived in Jinju.

Three months since I started one of the most formative journeys of my young life.

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Before coming to Korea, I heard over and over again that this experience would change me, but no one could ever really elaborate on how I would change. Likely because everyone’s experience is unique and results in personal changes that cannot translate to another person. Even so, I am only just scratching the surface of the changes I am undergoing.

Be Gentle With Yourself. After All, You are All You Have.

The most crucial change I am undergoing is undoing years of damage I have done to myself with my thoughts and words against myself. Until moving to another country, I didn’t realize just how critical I was of myself, just how often I put myself down and put harmful thoughts on repeat.

While I spent a decent amount of time alone back in the States, it wasn’t until I only had myself that I realized just how much I had mistreated myself. There is no distraction from my own thoughts and feelings, because the majority of the time I am awake, my friends are asleep. That makes me the only person I have the majority of the time. At least in the sense of having someone who really knows me and my life before Korea.

Travel More

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My time in Korea has also brought me plenty of travel opportunities. I’ve done a few day trips as well as extended weekend trips since arriving in Korea. I’ve gotten to experience festivals, beautiful hikes, and plenty of public transportation.

I also have more travel planned. In December, I will leave Korea for the first time since arriving. I spent weeks trying to figure out where to go, knowing that one of my top priorities was to finally go to a Disney theme park. So after researching the parks, travel expenses, and visa requirements, I settled on Hong Kong, where I will spend five days. I can’t wait to share all of my experiences from my trip.

Homesick, but Found

Snowfall in NEPA, 2016

Finally, my first three months in Korea brought with it the expected bouts of homesickness. Each time I felt a longing to be back in Pennsylvania, I could directly pin down the culprit that brought about this nostalgic melancholy. First was homecoming, which happened the weekend after Hannah left Korea, making it a double whammy. This homesickness only lasted for one day.

The next came when Pennsylvania experienced the first big snowfall of the year. As much as I hated driving in snow, I cannot deny its beauty. Sitting inside watching the snow come down while reading a book and drinking tea never fails to warm me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will experience snow in Jinju like I did back home.

But other than those two major experiences of homesickness, I have not felt any overwhelming sadness to be in Pennsylvania. Life in Korea has been good to me. I’ve made many friends, traveled, and even started learning the language. All in all, I’d say that these three months have treated me well, and I can’t wait to share what month number four will bring.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Holidays Away from Home

Although this isn’t my first year living on my own, it is my first year living so far from my friends and family. In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I was a little skepticle about how I’d spend Thanksgiving, my first holiday in Korea. But as Thanksgiving day approached, plans became more concrete and I was prepared for nearly an entire week of celebrating with friends and plenty of food.

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The first holiday invitation to come was from the woman that my coworkers and I take Korean lessons with. She invited us to her home on Thanksgiving day to enjoy a meal together. It wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving fare. Rather, it was a table set with Korean food, including some tofu for me. We spent a few hours talking with her and her husband, hearing stories from their time living in the United States and also talking about our own experiences before coming to Korea.

Earlier that week, I have dinner with one of the many friends I’ve made in Korea, and once again I enjoyed some traditional Korean foods made specially without the meat. We stayed together long after the food was gone, filling the room with laughter and warm memories.

With the weekend came Friendsgiving. While I’ve celebrated Friendsgiving in the past, this one was special because all of us were spending our first holiday away from home. We all crammed into a studio apartment and ate mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, soup, and for the meat eaters, chicken. As we began to eat, we shared what we were thankful for. For many of us, it was that our lives all converged together at that moment in time. That we had each other, and that whatever it was we were running toward, or from, had brought all of us together in that room.IMG_1655

For dessert, we had korean pancakes with cinnamon sugar filling, fruit, truffles, and apple pie. The room was filled with laughter and stories from people who came from all over the world. It was everything I could have asked for this year.

But it doesn’t end there. The following night was the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the International Church. This event is the one everyone looks forward to because it is all the foods of Thanksgiving–turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, and even pumpkin pie. Where they managed to find all of those things in Korea, I’ll never know. But it didn’t matter, because sitting in the crowded church basement surrounded by my friends I felt right at home.

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As an expat, holidays can be difficult. We’re reminded of just how far we are from wherever it is we call home. But for me, I spent the week surrounded by caring people. I was reminded of the kindness of others and the importance of community. This Thanksgiving has given me so much to be grateful for.

Life in Jinju: Two Months

Day in and day out, it’s easy to lose track of how much time has passed. As each day comes and goes in my new life, I sometimes forget that it’s already been over two months since I first arrived in Korea: excited, hopeful, and a little overwhelmed.

Now, as I sit in my 4th floor apartment, it truly feels like mine, and in turn, feels like home. As much as I would like to admit it has been smooth sailing since the day my flight touched down, that would be a lie. While the majority of my experiences in Korea have been positive, there have been moments of hardship. The most prominent was the bout of homesickness I experienced the weekend of my university’s homecoming, an event I always enjoyed attending. The first few weeks of teaching also overwhelmed me as I adjusted to working with two incredibly different age groups and skill levels doing something I had never done before.

But for each moment I felt overwhelmed, I’ve experienced abundant happiness. In my two months in Korea, I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world and have spent my free time exploring and making memories with them. My best friend took the long journey to spend a week with me, allowing me to show this amazing place to someone else. I’ve even found a great church community after spending time church hopping, hoping to find somewhere I would want to go every Sunday. Teaching has become easier, although it will never be easy, and I feel overjoyed when I see my kids understand something they didn’t before. My desire to see the world and learn more about this vast, dynamic planet I live on, grows each day, and in my free time, I travel around my city, this country, and soon, I will venture outside of Korea.

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be right now, I’d have told you I would be completing applications for PhD programs back in the States. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming an expat, but now that I am here, I couldn’t see my life going any other way. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

The Most Valuable Thing You Own

Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.

As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.

So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.

 

February 2, 2016

Contentment. It washed over me as the mild breeze drifted through the air and the sun’s rays illuminated the field of withered brown grass before me. Thought still the midst of winter, the smiling faces and cheerful chirping heard overhead all seemed to indicate one thing: spring was near.

While I was miles away, but if I closed my eyes, I could have convinced myself that I was back on the streets of my hometown, younger and feeling as though I had already already outgrown its winding river and back alleys at sixteen. It’s funny how distance and time makes us yearn for the comforts of home. The familiarity of jagged pavement beneath our feet and the quiet bustle of a small cement town.

The winter wind, light and tinged with the warmth of late spring is a reminder of the days passed. The first time you drive on your own, with the windows down and your childhood friend in the passenger seat, laughing loudly over the latest pop song on the radio. That sound will always stay tucked away in the back of your mind. For a moment, you can feel the muddy ground give way to the spikes of soccer cleats on the first warm day of the spring season, and the camaraderie you share with your team carries you through another grueling practice.

These memories seem so far away, almost as though they belong to someone else. Walking through your hometown, it no longer feels like home. Stretched and too small. New faces inhabit the spaces that were once yours, but you know, deep down, they were never yours to keep.

Life in Jinju: What City Life is Really Like

Find any person and ask them their opinion on living in a city and I guarantee that they’ll have one, whether they’ve ever lived in a city or not. I will be the first to agree, living in the city is not for everyone, and by the same token, living in a rural area (or as I like to call it, the middle of nowhere) is not for everyone.

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I was quite young when I first realized that I’d like to live in a city someday. Growing up, I’d go on school field trips to Philadelphia almost every year and always enjoyed myself. In high school, I went on trips to New York City, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C in America and countless cities as an exchange student in Germany and Austria. In college, I found my way up to Boston, over to Dublin, and into Galway. My first year after graduation took me to Norfolk, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Toronto. Every city pulled me in, and I was absorbed by the hustle and bustle of life that filled every nook and cranny. My discontentment with life in Wilkes-Barre, a city by definition but not in reality, grew each and every day.

So when I received my placement in South Korea, I was thrilled. I’d finally get a taste of the life that had been calling out to me for years.

By Korean standards, Jinju is a small city. For all my American readers, Jinju is larger than Pittsburgh but smaller than Boston in regard to population. Considering Boston and Pittsburgh are two of my favorite cities back in the States, I’d say I really lucked out.

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So what is living in a city really like? For me, it’s everything I wanted. To say I miss having a car and driving would be an absolute lie. I love that I can walk wherever I need to go, and if I want to venture a little further out than I can go on foot in a reasonable amount of time, I can just hop on a bus or call a taxi. Traveling to other cities is just as effortless. I walk to the bus terminal, I buy a ticket, I go. Bus schedules are easily accessible online, tickets are affordable, and the busses are reliable.

Living in Jinju, I have close access to so many things I enjoy. There are coffee shops on nearly every corner. When I want a taste of home, all I have to do is drop into the local Starbucks. I recently discovered my favorite cafe just a few blocks from my apartment. It has a cozy interior and a rooftop patio. It’s stunning and I’m sitting there enjoying a vanilla latte as I write this. Then of course there are other amenities I need. I live less than five minutes from the grocery store, which is more like a Target than a Redners, so not only can I buy food, but I can also pick up any home goods I may need.

One of the best parts of living in a city is that there is always somewhere to go and something to do. While I enjoy spending time by myself in my apartment, it doesn’t take much for me to get cabin fever, so even just being able to walk outside and go downtown  to window shop or walk the path along the river is great. There are festivals, open mic nights, live music, and all the things I craved when I was living back in the States. So while city life may not be for everyone, I’d say it’s definitely for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

 

Traveling Korea: Andong (안동) & Pohang (포항)

On a sunny October weekend, I was lucky enough to take a trip to two new places in South Korea, Andong and Pohang. The trip was an overnight adventure planned out and taken by my school, so on a cold Saturday morning, I boarded a large travel bus full of students and those who work in the offices downstairs and headed to Andong, a small city about three hours away from Jinju.20170601_130817

Andong is located in the North Gyeongsang province in Korea, and is a cultural center in the country. One of the famous places in Andong is the Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional folk village located just outside of the city. Andong is also famous for its traditional folk masks, which were abundant in the folk village. In fact, part of the trip was making our own masks in the village! After completing the masks, we were given time to walk through the village before heading to lunch. After lunch, it was time to get back on the bus and head to our next destination: a Confucian temple. If I haven’t made it clear, I have a fascination with temples and Eastern philosophies, so I was happy I got to see another temple. The final stop in Andong was the Woryeonggyo Bridge, the longest wooden footbridge in Korea. The bridge was definitely a beautiful part of Andong and a great opportunity to take some photos.

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Following our excursion to the bridge, it was time to head toward our hotel in the city of Pohang. We drove for over an hour, stopping off to eat dinner. The food at this restaurant was fantastic. The cook prepared me a vegetarian-friendly soup with a spicy broth, plenty of veggies, noodles, and tofu. After dinner, it was time to get back on the bus and drive to the hotel. This was my first overnight stay somewhere other than Jinju since arriving, and I was curious to see what the hotel would be like. My room reminded me of the rooms I stayed in night after night as an admissions counselor when I went from one Hilton brand hotel to another.

After settling into the hotel, myself and the others set out to find a cafe, finding a cute place down the road with an outdoor seating area on the roof. It was the perfect place to have a latte and get some writing done.

In the morning, we boarded the bus once again and went for a hike. The views were spectacular and the weather was sunny and cool. At the base of the trailhead was another Temple (woo!) and a small festival. It was a great way to spend the morning. The afternoon was spent beside the ocean at the Homigot (호미곶). 20170602_150743They’re in the shape of two hands, one on land and one in the sea and symbolize the coexistence of humankind. It was an incredible afternoon and my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. Being able to touch the Pacific Ocean may not seem significant to many, but to be able to see and feel something that always felt so far away was significant for me. I feel that my moments spent next to the ocean were symbolic of just how far I have come, and that I am coexisting in a new way.

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Every opportunity I have to travel Korea reinforces just how at peace I feel in making the decision to come here. Those who took the same journey told me how transformative this year would be for me, and I feel myself changing slowly and in small ways every day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Korea has in store for me as I continue my travels in this amazing country I now call home.

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.