August 2010

Personal uniforms and simplifying through replication

In thinking about clothing and the 100 thing challenge I started thinking back and found this post I wrote a few years ago about minimizing wardrobes and the idea of a personal uniform. It’s been 2 years since I wrote that and I’ve got back and forth and tried out a few things here and there, but especially with this year of travel I’m really seeing the value in having a uniform and wardrobe that is similar enough that it doesn’t take a lot of thought about packing or getting dressed, but is easily repeatable and replaceable as things wear out. I’ve been experimenting with some of the Multibasing ideas as well and leaving sets of clothing in different parts of the world so that when I travel there I don’t need to pack as much as I would have if I was bringing everything with me. It’s a different approach to the no baggage challenge but with similar goals I think.

I’ve always had some basic rules in mind but never really spelled them out clearly, not that I am going to be any better at doing it now, but the more I use this stuff and the more I think about it the patterns get easier to spot and point out. So here’s basically what I keep in mind:

– Clothes should be easily replicable. That is, if I buy a shirt a like it, I should be able to buy 4-5 of the same one without much hassle. This eliminates one of a kind or super expensive items but that is fine because I’ve never been comfortable with those anyway. And being able to replace them anywhere is a huge plus to. Much of the stuff I’ve chosen is easy to find any number of places around the world which makes replacing a lost or damaged piece easy. This also allows me to get into a fairly simple “buy new, donate old” cycle every few months so nothing I have has been through too much of a ringer.

– Clothing should be mix-matchable. That is, everything should go with everything else. This allows very little thought when getting dressed or packing, I know I can’t go wrong. This is easiest achieved for me by choosing things that are solid black. The same could be true for any solid color I guess but black seems classic and goes with anything, and fits in in almost any situation. I vary a little bit in the shirt department, but that is fine because I’m never wearing two shirts at once so I don’t have to worry about something not matching if everything else is black. That said I personally tend to avoid any clothing with obvious branding on printing on it.

– Clothing should be good for travel. I travel a lot, so this is important to me, might not be to someone else. To me this means it’s not overly bulky and can be rolled up fairly compactly for packing, and that it’s easily washed in a hotel room so it should dry quickly. It should also be layerable and multipurpose, that is I should be able to create cold weather combo by layering warm weather items. Or something like that.

Those are really my big points. I have a few other but those are more personal things – no leather, etc, but that doesn’t totally relate here. Because I know you are wondering, here’s how that translates for me at this point..

– Pants. With minor exception I’ve been wearing Dickies work pants almost every day for the last 10 years at least. You can get them anywhere – in any corner of the world, they are relatively inexpensive (which means buying multiples is no problem) and work in a variety of social settings. When newer they are basically dress pants.

– Under Shirt. I’ve got about 20 American Apparel simple black T-Shirts scattered around the world and these serve me very well. Again, easy to find and replace, not very expensive but nice quality. The one drawback to these is that being cotton they don’t wick moisture very well which is only a problem in hotter climates (which I’ve been finding myself in a lot recently) and they take the longest to dry of anything I usually travel with. I’ve been thinking of trying out one of the ScotteVest T-Shirts to see how they work out in these situations.

– Underwear. I’ve raved about ExOfficio brand before and I stand by it. These are the best underwear ever, and you could easily travel for a long time having only 2 pair of these with you. I generally travel with 4-5 but really feel like that is overkill sometimes.

– Socks. I don’t have the die hard loyalty here, but I’ve been pretty happy with injinji toe socks for a while. They are comfortable and dry pretty quickly, but I’ve found they wear through pretty quickly as well.

– Shirt. I’ve got a stable of Ben Sherman plaid and solid color shirts I rotate through which works really well for me and is a style that I like. That said, the quality of their shirts seems to have dropped a bit in the last year or so and I’m keeping my eyes out for alternatives.

– Shoes. Adidas have been my standard goto for a while, but recently I’ve been loving my Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot shoes and might make the switch more fulltime.

Add a sweatshirt or jacket here and there depending on where I’m traveling to and what the trip will entail. As I said the beauty of a lot of this is it’s easily replicable so I can have duplicate wardrobes in many corners of the globe without much effort.

Some thoughts on the 100 thing challenge

Fair warning, this is a rambling jumble of thoughts kind of post.

People keep sending me links to or excerpts from this NY Times story “But Will It Make You Happy?” And rightfully so, as it’s about how having (and buying) less stuff can make you happier, which if you have ever read my blog in the past you know is very relevant to my interests. Specifically the story starts off following a couple who were drowning in debt and had mountains of crap in their house, and in their life, and how they decided to pair down and get away from it, and how their families thought they were nuts, but how it worked and now everyone is jealous of their swanky minimalist lifestyle. Well not exactly that, but basically. And how spending money on stuff is a waste, but on experiences is golden. There are a few really good quotes in it worth noting, even if they are painfully obvious:

“One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.”

“A $20,000 increase in spending on leisure was roughly equivalent to the happiness boost one gets from marriage,” he said, adding that spending on leisure activities appeared to make people less lonely and increased their interactions with others.

Current research suggests that, unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness. (Academics are already in broad agreement that there is a strong correlation between the quality of people’s relationships and their happiness; hence, anything that promotes stronger social bonds has a good chance of making us feel all warm and fuzzy.)


Another reason that scholars contend that experiences provide a bigger pop than things is that they can’t be absorbed in one gulp — it takes more time to adapt to them and engage with them than it does to put on a new leather jacket or turn on that shiny flat-screen TV.

“We buy a new house, we get accustomed to it,” says Professor Lyubomirsky, who studies what psychologists call “hedonic adaptation,” a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness.

Over time, that means the buzz from a new purchase is pushed toward the emotional norm.

“We stop getting pleasure from it,” she says.

And then, of course, we buy new things.

Like I said these aren’t really new concepts for me or anyone who has spent time talking about these issues with me in the last few years, but it’s nice to see some big media backup of those ideas and it’s reenforcing to know there is some neurological science to back up the speculations I’ve been throwing around here so won-tonly.

One thing that was news to me, and I blame each and every one of you for not tipping me off to it sooner, was a passing mention of a website that encouraged people to live with only 100 personal things which inspired some of their early stuff purging. What? 100 Things? A website promoting this? How did I not know about this before? I did some searching and found the source over on Guy Named Dave and wouldn’t you know it’s over 2 years old? I’ve really been slacking to let this get past me. Anyway, I dug in and read the challenge, and honestly was a bit disappointed. Dave’s motives are in the right place, and his efforts have certainly worked out well, but it’s not *really* a 100 thing challenge as it was advertised. Sure the goal is to pair your belongings down to 100 things, but as Dave notes in his initial post he has a family, wife and kids, and so the challenge only applies to his stuff, not to theirs or the stuff they share. So he could kind of just give his wife everything he owned, and then be at 0 and not have to change his lifestyle at all. And some things he considered a set, all of his underwear counted as 1 item, etc. So yeah, it wasn’t quite as hardcore as I was hoping it would be.

Still, his list of 100 things that he decided were worth keeping is certainly a good starting point for a mental exercise. What 100 things would you keep, could you get it down that low? I posted that question on my tumblr and got a few replies of interest and support, and one that stood out from my good friend Michael, who said:

“The concept works toward preventing you from deep interests in things like cooking or cycling, etc. Perhaps a limit to buying 100 items/yr”

Now I don’t agree with that at all. First of all I don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to buy anything to learn or be interested in it. Thanks to things like NeighborGoods it’s much easier to borrow just about anything, and if you keep a diligent eye on craigslist or ebay you can find many things for free or next to nothing. Now obviously you aren’t going to find a $2000 bike on craigslist for free (unless it’s stolen or being given away by a pissed off ex-lover), but you can probably borrow one from a friend on NeighborGoods. And yes I know that is a stretch and to really dive into something you need your own that you can customize, but I think having to make sure you buy the right one instead of buying several can actually make that choice better. For instance at the beginning of this year I had 5 bikes. I’ve been selling them and moving towards having one that is better than all the others. That’s less stuff, which is good.

So I don’t think this idea prevents you from getting deep interests in things, rather it causes you to be a bit more focused. And certainly being deeply into several things all at once could be a bit harder, but that is really more of a problem of people who can afford it. I say that from experience, being a obsessive collector of both cool stuff and interesting info about said cool stuff, who also happened to grow up broke as hell. When I found something I was interested in it became all encompassing for me and it was hard to get me to talk or think about anything until I felt I’d satisfied that interest. In many ways I’m still like that. The thing is, when you have no money the option of putting the last obsession in a box in the closet and moving on to the next is impossible, and having two costly obsessions at once slows progress on both. So what I had to do was focus on one, learn what I could, buy the stuff I wanted, and then decide what if any of that I was going to keep when I got the taste of the next obsession. The cash from the sale of the last interest was the seed funds for the next one. That doesn’t mean I’m any less interested in the old stuff or think it’s any less cool, it’s just not center stage for me which means having money tied up in it seemed like a bad idea. For example at one point I had a record collection that was easily over 1000 albums, I probably have closer to 100 now. At one point I had a Japanese toy collection that was easily over 500 pieces, I maybe have 30 now. And yes, I know that 130 items right there blows the whole 100 personal items in a heartbeat, but that’s kind the path I’m trying to walk down. Slowly, but the intent is there.

But back to the point, maybe 100 is too tight which is why Dave had to make exceptions. Maybe 256 is more realistic. Or maybe 100 is realistic you just have to be seriously committed to it. I’m not sure, but I’m trying to make a list. If I could only keep 100 items what would those be, and what exceptions would I find myself making? I have a complete collection of Ark Diecast robots from the 70’s. They only made 8 of them. I have all 8. Are those 8 items, or is the collection one 1 item? I have a bike, that’s one item right, it’s not 2 wheels, 1 frame, 1 saddle, etc. Is a box of bike tools one item or is each tool an item? This is why it’s an interesting exercise. What would be on your list, and why?

I always wanted to be a rock star


I always wanted to be a rock star.

Not for the usual reasons including the endless supply of cash and groupies, but I suppose those wouldn’t be terrible perks. I mean, if I had to take the cash and the groupies I suppose I could go ahead and do that. The groupies at least, I wouldn’t want to disappoint them you know? That wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do so I guess I could go ahead and take the groupies. But now that I think of it if I was going to run with the whole endless supply of groupies, I should probably have some extra cash on hand for groupie related costs that might come up right? I’m sure groupies come with a whole sting of related costs that we non-rock stars never think about. Lets say you give out a few band t-shirts at the very least, those still have to be paid for by someone. And then there’s the settlements and abortions that no one wants to talk about, those aren’t cheap right? OK so just to be safe I should probably take the endless cash too, but really that is just to keep the groupies happy and I’d only be saying yes to the groupies to avoid getting the reputation of being a dick. If I was a rock star I’d definitely be the lover not the fighter kind. Well, maybe a little bit of a fighter, just for the reputation. A rock star has to have a reputation, thats where the legend will come from later on. So I’d be mostly a lover but a little bit of a fighter, just every once and a while, nothing excessive.

No, those aren’t the reasons I spent the majority of my youth dreaming of my unrealized rock star future. It was because rock stars can get away with writing anything. To be a good writer you have to give it everything you have. You have to spill all the gory details, sparing no pain or suffering. You have to lay your insides out for the world to judge and you can’t hold anything back. As a writer as soon as you start pulling punches you get boring and people know you are faking it and that is the end of it. The truly amazing writers leave no parts of their lives untouched and give everything they have to their stories. Bloody, sweaty, tearful. Goodness, badness, ugliness. Life, love, regret. If you want to be a writer that is worth a damn you have to open up and spill all of it. Think about the writers you enjoy reading and you’ll know just what I’m talking about. Writers are applauded for being frank and courageous by talking openly about their lives. No writer was ever celebrated for being coy and vague.

This is probably not unrelated to how much of a disaster many writers are on a personal level. Train wrecks. All of them. But that is what makes them interesting and compelling. Who wants to read a brutally honest story about what a perfect life someone has, free from any stress or confliction?

Fiction writers get off easy because they can blame anything on their characters. They can explore their deepest darkest secrets and call it an artistic experiment. This is good for readers because we end up with characters like Tyler Durden and Holden Caufield that we can all cheer on and blame our support on ‘enjoying a good story.’ Of course the best characters are just thinly veiled represntations of their authors and it’s not too hard, when you look at the rest of their lives, that much of Tyler’s rantings wouldn’t have been too out of place if Chuck had said them himself, and that if you talked to JG you could safely assume he thought you were a big phonie. This is great if you can write fiction. I can’t. I’ve tried and it’s freightening how bad I suck at it. I keep trying though and maybe someday I won’t suck so much but don’t hold your breath thinking you might read some of it someday. It’s pretty bad.

I’m much better at non-fiction, and at the autobiographical and self reflective non-fiction at that. The problem with this is as mentioned before, to be any good at that a writer needs to be brutally honest. Actually it’s not so much a problem, in fact it’s really the main draw to it for me. Writing has always been my own form of self therapy. And I say that as someone who has spent what is probably combined years worth of time in actual therapy. Talking about what I’m thinking and feeling and experiencing helps me understand what I’m thinking and feeling and experiencing. It’s almost like I can’t make heads of tails of it until I spell it out for myself. When I’ve done that in one of an endless string of psychologists offices it’s been helpful but I usually leave thinking it would have been more helpful, and less expensive, if I’d just written about it on my own. It’s amusing because I’m so cripplingly self conscious sometimes that I can’t walk down some metal roads verbally with people, but I can write about them and lay them out for the world to see without any hesitation. That was easy for me when I used to photocopy my writings and pass them out fanzine style, and it’s only easier now that I have a blog and the web as my distribution tools.

The hang up is I’m rarely thinking or feeling or experiencing anything on my own. Frequently there are other people involved in some way. And writing about anything that involved anyone else unintentionally drags them into it. I’ve always been aware of this and explicitly avoided speaking for anyone else in my writing. My writing is introspective, admittedly and to a fault sometimes, but it’s what keeps me sane. I’ve been pouring my heart out in text since as far back as I can remember and I know I’ll do it for the rest of my life, but I guess I just want to rack up as few casualties as I can along the way. Some people deserve to be casualties and while I’ve never intentionally outed anyone, if someone figured something out I probably wouldn’t jump to their defense. But that isn’t the thing that worries me, the thing that scares me are the unintentional casualties. Any experience you have with someone, chances are you have with many someones. At least in a general sense, so when writing about those things it’s too big a leap for more than one person to read it and sense a connection. But really, that’s a good thing right? If you read something and it evokes an emotional reaction of any kind then the writer has done their job well. This applies equally to people you know and people you don’t know. One of the things that reassures me about this is the comments and notes I get from people who I’ve never met in my life who say they relate to something I’ve written. I know I’m hitting a chord then. And so if people I don’t know are relating to things, you’re goddamn right people I do know will relate to them as well. And some will take it personally. And some will become unintentional casualties.

Maybe I’m just being a huge pussy about this and assuming people will expect the worst.

And if you think I’m talking about you, well… that’s kind of the point isn’t it?

Of course now I’ve built this up so much as if I have some scandalous thing to write about and I’m fearing fall out. I don’t and I’m not. It’s just kind of a general musing about how musicians kind of get a free pass on this one. They can write about anything and people will assume they are drawing from experiences throughout their lives, or from their friends experiences, or just flat making shit up. With writers people assume the experience is immediately relevant in their lives. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. I know I’ve written about thinks with 20 year hindsight, and I’ve written about things that happened yesterday.

Though not recently because I haven’t been writing shit. This is my mental drain-o.