Friday, August 26, 2016

On Embracing Minimalism

       I wrote previously about reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I have to say, that reading that book was indeed life-changing. The book helped me understand, in a new way, how to let go of things, and how to keep the things I absolutely needed and loved. I harnessed the power of decision making, something that non-minimalist lifestyles do not encourage well. I learned, to an even greater magnitude, how to appreciate and care for the things I chose to keep. In total, I got rid of more than 14 grocery bags worth of stuff, about 40% of what I owned! In return, what I gained was a better sense of self. 
       Today, what I want to talk about is how embracing minimalism has positively impacted my mindset, and I want to encourage anyone who is willing to give it a go! 
       First off, sorting through all my things and discarding everything I didn’t love, as the book instructs, left me with a much smaller body of possessions in the end. This really helped me realize what I really love. When I was going through all my clothes, I realized I had a lot of clothes that I like ok, but had stains, rips, or didn’t fit the way I wanted them to. For those reasons, they just weren’t quite right, so I got rid of them, and felt a lot better for it! I also managed to get rid of a lot of things I knew I’d never use again, like books I would never read, old textbooks, craft supplies for projects I never started, and so on. Instead, I was able to clear those things out and narrow it down to the books, projects, and other things that were really important. The natural thing to follow that would be that I appreciated what I did have a lot better, once I was aware of what I had and how much I liked it! 
       Another wonderful thing that happened with this was that I was faced with much less clutter. This took a psychological load off my mind, and has made my spaces much more relaxing to be in. Finding things is easier, as is cleaning and organizing those things. I really cannot emphasize enough what a relief it is to be rid of all those things I didn’t really like, use, or want. I really appreciate the physical and mental space these things left behind, so much so that I am very rarely tempted to shop. Instead, I protectively guard this de-cluttered and peaceful state of mind. 

This is the first donation I made to Goodwill, the entire trunk was full! There were more bags too come too!
      Additionally, having fewer things means I feel more motivated to take care of those things, because its much easier to keep track of all of them and take care of them. Doing laundry is quicker with less clothing, and using lotion is easier with less options! Plus, moving around is a lot easier with all of that extra stuff. Having fewer things makes it easier to organize and move what you do have, go figure. 
     My favorite effect by far that embracing minimalism has had on me is this: it’s helped me realize what most important to me. The people and treasured relationships in my life, and meaningful and impactful experiences, are the most meaningful parts of my life. With the material aspects of my life in better order, I find I have more time and energy to spend on these priorities, which makes me ecstatic! 
     Another thing that excites me is that I’m not even done discarding things yet. I moved to Missouri in the middle of the process, so it was much more abbreviated than I would have liked it to be.   However, I am excited to know more discarding awaits me in the future. Paring my life down to the essentials is making it much easier to function, especially as I prepare for the next few steps of my life, post-graduation. 
     I am surprised by how much happiness I have derived from the simple act of getting rid of things. This is something that is, in my mind, absolutely revolutionary for people to know about. Stuff doesn’t make you happy- getting rid of it can help, though! In today’s world, I think people are really trapped by their stuff, as well as by their pursuit for more of it. Minimalism is liberating and helps you reevaluate your life, in a way that people can really use. I believe we need to place more value on our relationships, and our experiences, than our things. 

     What do you think about all this? Would you get rid of 40% of your stuff, or give it a shot? Let me know down in the comments :)

Photos: Ines Perkovic, 2 is mine

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The End of Higher Education as We Know It: A Call to Action

      I have written only a little bit about my college experience, but I’m sure that many of you at least know that I attend UC Santa Cruz. I’m now in my senior year of college, and while I have learned quite a few things, some of which I hope to share in another upcoming post, the biggest lesson I will take away from my years in higher education is how broken the system is. My reason for writing this post is simple, as is my call for action. Colleges, community colleges, all forms of higher education, need to be fixed. WE NEED ACTIVISTS. 
     Although I am writing from the point of view of someone who spent all four years at a UC, a system which is notorious for corruption (and in fact, currently being audited, yay!), I believe that my assessment and my ask are appropriate for all higher education in this country. There are a myriad of resources out there for anyone who wants to learn about the depth of the issue with higher education in the U.S., but here’s the basic gist: higher education has become an industry. Students are viewed as customers, business opportunities, cash cows. What’s more, in many situations, students’ rights are disrespected and tuition continues to be upped because the thought of trying to enter the workforce today without a college degree is even more terrifying than having thousands of dollars in student loan debt at the time of graduation. 
     The demand for a degree is high enough that colleges get away with a myriad of abuses on their students, tuition costs being one among many. You may have also heard about or experienced some of these treats: increasing class sizes (I’ve had classes where people had to sit on the floors of lecture halls because there were no seats left), no classes with actual professors (colleges these days hire lecturers, who get paid way less and have way fewer rights, but do have the same level of credentials), not being able to get into the classes you need, tiny dorm rooms, cramped libraries, packed buses, you name it. The resources offered to students are often barely enough to feed the needs of students. Janet Napolitano, head of the UC system, recently ordered the UC system to expand. As colleges go on packing in more students, they also neglect to provide more resources. In the case of UCSC, some are being cut back. Our buses were recently cut down, and many single-size rooms are being turned into doubles without being expanded. 
      This phenomenon is not unique to UCs. Just lookie here. Evidently, schools all over the country, and the people that control them, are looking to run for-profit operations, and the situation is compounded by cuts in federal and state funding to public colleges. The unfortunate thing about this is that it severely limits the lives of our young people. 
       How many people are not able to go to college because of the cost? How many people are burdened with debt for years after they graduate? Without as many college-educated individuals, society will not function the same way. Often, the U.S. competes with other countries to have an educated population. We cannot compete, nor can we function, without allowing our young people access to higher education. Burdening our young people with debt negatively affects our economy and similarly limits the potentials of our society. We need affordable higher education in this country. We need students’ rights to be respected by academic officials. So again, I say, WE NEED ACTIVISTS. 

      We need people who will stand up for what they deserve, for what their children deserve, for what society and the future of the U.S. deserve. We need people who are brave. Have you seen what colleges have done to student activists? UC Davis recently attempted to have this video of campus police pepper-spraying peaceful student activists protesting tuition hikes removed from the internet (no, UC Davis, you will never live that down, because you cannot treat students that way). UC Santa Cruz suspended six students while completely denying them of their judicial rights of due process after they blocked the Highway 17 while protesting tuition hikes. No, being an activist is not safe or easy, although there is strength and safety in numbers. In 2014, UCSC staged an occupation of a campus building and no arrests were made, because hundreds of students participated. We need activists, as many as we can gather. Instead of the Highway Six, we need the Highway 600, or 6,000. I wrote last year about how student activism is on the rise. Join the swell, we need you! 
      Not only that, but we also need parents who are willing to stand up and demand a better education for their children. There are many parents out there, like my own, who have the resources to send their children to college, and therefore have the resources and education to, in some way, make a demand from the system. Whether that’s contacting school administrators, getting media coverage of the issue, leveraging their position in society to draw attention to the problem, or something else, parents are important and powerful allies. They know what’s going on, and most likely, they understand its wrong. My father often complains that the only emails he ever gets from the UC system are emails asking for money. What if, instead of complaining, my father was able to act on his discontent with the higher education system? Parents have the power to cause a tidal wave of change. 
       Beyond them, concerned citizens who understand that we need college grads to do the work of today and tomorrow are also important. Education is a public good that contributes to the health of society. Anyone who understands that can and should do something about the crisis of higher education we are experiencing now. WE NEED ACTIVISTS. 
      We need visionaries. People who can create a new kind of university, one that serves the needs of individuals and society in a fair and affordable way. A university whose primary goal is providing a high quality education and is run like a school, not a business. The reason this piece is titled “The End of Higher Education as We Know It” is simply because that’s what I am calling for. I am asking for a push for a new and better model of higher education, and I am asking you and everyone around you to help imagine it and help build it. What functions does a college need to perform? What is the best way for that to be done? I like to imagine a university that is run completely by students. Imagine it: a governing board of elected officials, who are in charge of all matters of the university. They do not get paid, but receive class credit. Students hire and fire professors, make decisions on tuition costs and resource cuts or expansions, and just generally run the show. How cool would that be? 
       I am asking you to imagine an alternative that you desire, and then demand it and help to create it. We need to move beyond simply asking. We can protest, but we can also create. How can we bring into being a better-run university out of what we have now?
      My proposals are tentative fantasies, but what I emphasize is that we need change. We need it bad. And we need the creative visionary activist beauty from each soul to make it happen. We all have something to contribute the end of higher education as we know it, including you. 


Photos: 1, 2

Friday, August 5, 2016

Good Vibes Book Club 2

        If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know by now that I LOVE BOOKS, and reading in general. I’m seriously a book addict, and consider it a real tragedy that I don’t get to read as much as I want to during the regular school year. However, I’ve been out here in Missouri for about a month now, and definitely have a lot more time on my hands to read as much as my heart desires. So, in the spirit of the Good Vibes Book Club post I did last year, I’m following up with a list of books and other reading materials that come highly recommended by yours truly :) 

If you are anywhere on the leftist/radical scale and you haven’t picked up a copy of Adbusters yet, do it now, as soon as you can. Adbusters is super inspiring and great to have around as a pick-me-up whenever you need help keeping the faith in your radical anti-colonial, anti-empire beliefs. They also do a great job at being really visually inspiring, so it’s great for artists. They publish a new issue every two months, and will definitely keep your revolutionary flame burning. 

What I really like about Cait Flanders’ blog is that even though she can be categorized as a finance writer, her blog is really more about deeper subjects. She talks about how her finances reflect what she values, and what she spends her time on. She asks questions about what time means to her, and what her baseline income is for still being ok and happy. Her writing contains strong leanings toward mindfulness, minimalism, and sustainability. I love it! Plus, this is where I got the idea for a shopping ban from. 

Dulce and Jazmin have been blog buds of mine for a long time, and what I really like about their blog is that, as the name suggests, they are truly hardcore DIYers. These days they sell a lot of what they make, and everything they post on their blog is really handy and admirable. They have a really cool aesthetic going and are just generally inspiring DIY babes :)

The Last of Her Kind
by Sigrid Nunez
This is one of the only fiction books I’ve read this year (I just don’t really do fiction that much!), but it definitely made an impression on me. It’s written from the point of view of a girl from poor, rural upstate New York who comes of age in the 70s and goes to college at Columbia in NYC. Her roommate is a political radical, friends with members of the Weather Underground and Black Power activists. The book recounts the events of the 70s from an inside perspective and using historical events. It’s a really interesting read, and gives the reader an idea of what it might have been like to be alive during that time.

The Next American Revolution
by Grace Lee Boggs
I confess, I’m not finished with this book. I’ve only read a few chapters and excerpts. But what I have read has been awesomely inspiring, and I can't help but recommend it to everyone. Grace Lee Boggs is an icon and hero in activist history, and reading this account made me want to pack up and move to Detroit (still a plan for future Madeleine). In this book, she enlightens us to new pathways to revolution, many of which are already taking shape, like the organic food revolution. Please read this if you ever lose hope. At 93, when she wrote the preface to this book, she still believed in a better world. Amazing :)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo

I’ve been made fun of for reading this, but this book honestly changed my life. Marie Kondo basically just gives you permission to get rid of anything and everything and walks you through how to do it. Plus, the book is a satisfying size and weight and very fun to hold in your hand. 

Those are my recommendations! You'll notice not all are books, because I read all kinds of things. In fact, my favorite things to peruse are blogs, simply because of the way they provide you with a good sense of another person's values, actions, and story. It's interesting to be able to delve into someone's life like that, even if what they're writing is not entirely personal or over-sharing. But of course I will always love books and and the printed word too. I hope that y'all will try out a few of these recommendations and enjoy what you do look at. Also, what are your recommendations? Of course I'm always looking for new things to read, so if you have any thoughts, send 'em my way in the comments! Thanks :)



Photos all found via Google Images, none are mine. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Against Productivity

     I have always been one of those people who is constantly making lists of to-do’s, goals, things, to achieve and accomplish. If you’ve been following me for a while, you can probably tell by the posts on my blog; I am very into lists, and very into achieving, checking things off, marking as done. Life, to me, often seems like a limited chunk of time I am given to accomplish as many things from a list as I can. Life can seem to be about getting things done, about productivity, either in the sense of accomplishing tasks or having meaningful experiences. 
      Today, I invite you to think against productivity. I have to ask myself, and you, is that what life is really about - just checking things off a bucket list? Sure, there are things I want to do before I die, but I will still die anyway. Sometimes, I think, what’s the point of doing those things? What’s the point of the list?
      I want to challenge the belief that life is about output, that your life and identity are comprised of what you accomplish and achieve. What if we could stake our identities on something else, like how we treat other living things, or how we are content in our being? I think the tendency to associate identities with actions, output, and professions is a very capitalist tendency. It coincides with the old adage of “Time is money, money is time.”, but time is so much more than pieces of paper, and you are so much more than your achievements and your profession. I have a friend who works as a restaurant cook for a living who told me, “I never want to be anything. I never want to be a cook, I just want that to be something I can do and am good at. What I do doesn’t define me.” I find this to be an inspiring statement, and one of the many reasons I chose to write this post. 

      I think productivity is a rat race. People are in a rush to do more, and to be more, including myself. But sometimes it’s important to stop and think, “What is life really about?”. That’s a hard question to answer, but I don’t think the answer is output, or finishing everything on your to-do and bucket lists. It’s also important to be present, to appreciate the moment, to think about how you are alive, and to nurture your senses of zeal and wonder. It’s important to create, to be with others, to be kind to others, to explore, to learn, to feel. There are so many things that life is about, that have no place on a to-do list. They come just through the wonderful experience of being alive. 
     I believe being goal-driven is good, to a point. I am happy and proud of all the things I’ve been able to accomplish in my short 20 years on Earth. But I am also happy for the spontaneous moments and good memories I’ve had, with others and on my own, as I’ve experienced the process of living, discovering, and growing. 
     You don’t have to do away with your to-do lists, but I encourage you not to measure yourself by them either, and to put them down frequently in favor of allowing yourself to be present, see what happens, and roll with it. Ultimately, I believe a balance between productivity and presence is what makes life whole and well-rounded. Remembering that the human experience extends beyond your computer, phone, and day-planner can do us all a bit of good. 
     What are your thoughts on productivity? How important do you think it is? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments :) 
     As a parting word of wisdom from Mary Oliver, I want to ask you, “What are you going to do with your one wild and beautiful life?”. 



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Life Without Internet

           I’ve done what I previously found unthinkable - I’ve lived without internet at my house for almost a month. At the end of June I moved to Southern Missouri, or Alton, the county seat of Oregon County, to be exact. The house I moved into had no internet service set up, although from what I understand it is able to be connected. I was looking into the process of getting Wi-Fi in my home earlier in the month when it occurred to me: “Why not just try to go without it?”. I had thought about doing that for a while, but always assumed that it was a choice I would make further in the future in a house I owned.
       Presented with the opportunity to experiment, I took it. I’ll only be here until December, and I can also access the internet at the public library and the food co-op that I’m interning at. Both are about a five minute walk from my front door, so it’s not as if I’m actually living without internet. 
What it does mean is that my time at home is spent a lot differently than it used to be. While I do enjoy the occasional exploration of the many annals of YouTube or Tumblr, I’ve found that living in the world of the concrete and physical for a higher percentage of time is also enjoyable. Rather than sitting and staring, I’m spending a lot more time cooking, reading, writing, thinking, singing, cleaning, biking, running, and doing other physical, tangible activities.  I’ve also found that my attention span has been greatly enhanced by my decreased time online. No longer constantly flitting from tab to tab or multitasking between windows, but instead focusing on a single task in front of me, I have found that my focus has been greatly enhanced. Reading is suddenly so much easier! I find myself charging through books like nothing. 
        What I do miss about the internet - tools of communication, information readily available, and visual inspiration - I can get when I go into town. But often my brain fills the void for me. The other day, a friend and I were talking and wondering how dingoes had come to live in Australia. We realized we had no way of looking it up, so we made up our own theory. While definitely not the most informed or factual way to go through life, it is certainly more entertaining and much more encouraging for one’s creative juices.

       I also appreciate the room that it makes for conversation, both with myself and with others. Technology, I feel, constantly intrudes on valuable opportunities to converse with yourself or socialize with others. Last year I went on a backpacking trip, which of course meant that there was no internet access for anyone on the trip. Within a matter of days, I had become good friends with the thirteen other people who were on the trip, and part of that was because we had nothing keeping us from talking to each other!  I am enjoying my reprieve from the internet by listening more deeply (with my improved attention span!) to others, but also by tuning into my inner monologue and learning a little more about myself. 
        Ultimately, this internet hiatus has allowed me to see more clearly the role I want it to play in my life. I want the internet, and computers in general, to be a tool that I know when to pick up and when to put down in favor of other things or activities in my life. I believe that too often it is easy to let technology and the internet intrude too deeply into our everyday lives, until it is part of many of the things we do, and constantly distracting us in a way that is unhelpful to our being. They say “Everything in moderation”, and that applies here very well. 
         If you find it ironic that I would write a post about not having internet and then publish it on my blog on the internet, I can understand your amusement. However, since I’m advocating that the internet be used as a tool, I’m suggesting moderation of usage, not abstinence. The internet is still a wonderful tool and something that I do use now - just not very often. I think the most internet connectivity I’ve had recently was 2 hours in one day, and that felt like a lot. Since going without it at home, I’ve been quite fruitful in other, more creative pursuits, and I’m happy about that. These next few months without it promise to be productive ones. 
      One last parting thought - while this is an experiment for me, this is a way of life for many people. A lot of people, for one reason or another, live in conditions that don't permit them comforts like internet access. Here in Alton, it's poverty and economic circumstances that seem to bar people from that access, and through no fault of our own. I recognize that it is my privilege to willingly forgo internet, while other people have no choice because of systemic inequality, and I ask others to remember this as well. 
      What do you think about not having internet in your home? Would you ever try it? Have you? Let me know your thoughts :)

Photos: 1, 2

Friday, May 6, 2016

Shopping Ban Update: 10 Months and New Perspectives

Time to talk about the shopping ban! It's been 10 months, can you believe it? There have been four main things I've learned from this experience, so I'm gonna go ahead and share those with you today:

Time Management is Hard 

I don't think I needed to engage in this project to figure this out, but, yep. Time is a factor in anything you try to do, and in the beginning of this project, I was trying to make a lot of my food rather than buying pre-made stuff. Welp, as soon as school started, this just started to really not work out. I've since reverted back to using pre-made stuff. However, I do use my time instead to participate and two organizations and an academic major all geared towards making the world better, safer, more just, and more sustainable, so I think the trade off there is more than fair.

The main lesson here was that this project taught me to appreciate all the time, effort, and resources that goes into preparing food products. This was a nice thing to learn, and a good way to learn it, because I actively used my own time, effort, and resources to produce lots of food, especially in the beginning.

This project also taught me a more personal lesson just having to do with my priorities and what I need and want to spend my time doing. I think that attempting to do this factored in to a larger understanding of how I organize my time. This has also been useful knowledge as I continue being a mini adult, and something I'll definitely write more about in the future.

I've Got More Power Than Just Buying Power! 

This project was conceptualized to help me avoid producing waste and participating in harmful systems of capitalism and consumption. While this is a noble goal, I think changing my personal habits is just one step to take. I also need to participate in collective action aimed at achieving the things I want for the world. This means being a part of organizations, campaigns, outreach efforts, and protests. These are all things that I do, but I think the main takeaway I got from this project was that rather than see my power as coming from my ability to choose what to buy or not buy, I need to step outside the role of consumer and instead become an active citizen, engaging in action to change systems, instead of just removing myself from them. 

I want to make sure this message is clear here, too. Power does not just come from choosing to make deodorant, instead of buying it. It also can take the form of protesting or boycotting the deodorant companies until they use sustainable packaging and remove breast-cancer causing chemicals from their formulas. Not everyone has access to the time and resources needed to make their own deodorant, which is why DIY and consumption limitation are not real solutions to the larger problems. Thanks to a combination of the shopping ban and some really great classes this year, I was able to learn this and share it with all of you. 

Buying Things is Silly 

Sometimes, buying things is not necessary. There are lots of things I was able to find for free or borrow or trade for. Other times, I just adapted to doing without certain things, and you know what? I am not any less happy than when I began this experiment, just for having to do without certain things.

Thus, my conclusion that buying things is silly.

Not Buying Things Feels Nice and Great

Yes, yes it does. I know everything that I own, and I use each item often, or else have gotten rid of it. It's a really pleasant feeling: I often have this sense of having everything I need. I don't feel that anxious desire or need for something new nearly as often as I used to. I have heard people buy things to fill a void. How ironic it is, then, that I feel I have come closer to filling that void just buy refusing to buy things. Instead, I have a strong sense of gratitude and appreciation for everything I own. It's really nice and great :) 

What began as a yearlong project will probably continue as a more permanent way of living. I have really enjoyed the shopping ban and the way it makes me feel, and I can't really imaging going back to how I lived before it! 

So, tell me what you think below in the comments. And if you've ever undertaken an experiment or lifestyle change like this, let me know about it! 


photos: 1. whooli chen 2. Bexelbee

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Times, They Are a'Changin'

hello, everyone...

It sure has been a long time since I last posted! And what a transformational time it has been. Someone I know says that college operates much like dog years - time is elongated in much the same manner, so much so that I feel probably ten years older than when I started college (I wonder how I'll feel when I actually am 28 - oh jeez).

Thanks to this principle - what my friend calls college years - I have changed a lot since I last posted on this blog. I have become incredibly more politically conscious and concerned, particularly in terms of U.S. issues concerning social justice. I shaved my head in September (forgot to mention that when it happened, oops!) and have since been undergoing a strange sense of transient identity, which is certainly related to the lack of hair but also to other factors as well. I have taken on very demanding leadership positions in two organizations and have progressed in my major with strong academic standing. The resulting stress of these two components of my life has definitely had a hand in changing my personality. I've fallen in love with some people (both romantically and platonically [friend love?]) and out of love with others. I've experimented, both on purpose and by chance, with different ways of living and conducting my daily habits and life.

I have to say, I seem to be at a point where the more I explore myself and my thoughts and the world around me, the more I feel lost and bewildered. Most of the time this is not unpleasant, but I have to say it certainly throws me off balance. The most important thing I think I want to convey to all of you is that I have CHANGED, a million times over, since I last wrote. I have very little sense of "me-ness" at this point, just because my sense of self has evolved and eroded repeatedly and rapidly over these past six months. I wonder if by coming back here, I can re-establish, or at least begin to explore myself again.

Reading my old content is interesting - some of it is great, and some of it, I now disagree with, or find that it misses a mark I'd like to hit with what I write nowadays.

However, now that I've decided to come back and post here again, the time has come to look forward instead of backward. So, what can you expect from this space in the near future?

I suspect, a lot of things that I would have written about before I ~changed~ but probably from a different point of view. I expect I will want to write things from a slightly more politically charged perspective - some of the things I used to write here were pretty apolitical, despite ample opportunities for me to integrate an agenda (hehehe). My interests have not completely changed, but I think they have broadened, so there might be a lot of different stuff on here, who knows? Ultimately I think it will be a similar array of things, since I never limited myself to a rigid set of themes anyway. I intend to use my writing as a tool of self-exploration, but I also hope that you, as a reader, can enjoy and relate to it. Lastly, I've always thought that this kind of writing ought to be fun. That's really what some things in life gotta be about, right? I have discovered that I LOVE writing, so whatever I share here will make me feel fulfilled, and perhaps, also pensive, and I hope it does something similar for you.

It's important that I let y'all know that all this changing has not been negative. I think the tone I'm using here might sound kind of somber or serious, but really it's just me being thoughtful and reflecting. These last six months have been formative, action-packed, and at times, very rewarding and fun. And some parts of me still endure. The shopping ban continues (it's been so long since I bought clothes!) and my Etsy shop lives on, hooray! Before closing, I want to ask a few things, since I've been gone for a while. Have any of you ever undergone intense periods of change? What triggered those? How did you deal with the change or approach it? Also, how have the last six months been for you? It would be nice to hear from y'all again :)


P.S: This blog will currently be updated on at least a semi-consistent basis every Friday :)

1. Here
2. Here