TO UNIVERSE, WITH LOVE

Set an Intention : Zero Waste

Posted on January 13, 2017

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*current view from our backyard

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I am in India. Eye surgeries finally done and am in the recovery period ! Even with my swollen red eyes, I can see piles and piles of rubbish everywhere. As I write this, my neighborhood is burning its trash next to our home. The smell of burnt plastic is sickening. Its not just in my country. America hides its landfills well until you go real-estate hunting. Prices are cheaper when you get closer to one. And its the same sad story. Piles of discarded crap polluting the planet for the next generations – our inheritance to them. Its quite shameful.

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*a perfectly instagram-able picture lost forever because of all the trash in the background.

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My legacy

I am old enough to start thinking about it. Did I scare the kids I taught in Arizona State University ? Will they remember me as someone who made Computer Science fun or will I be another pedagogue in the list of teachers one has to go through in a lifetime to get to the adult phase ? What will my niece want from my closet ? What sort of influence is this blog having ? Will my research papers become actual products someday ? I want to a make a product that will change lives. What ever I do, I know what I don’t want to do – trash the planet. I go on all these hikes into the forests and think its the best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t want to see them harmed. I don’t want my next generation to look back at me and think ” She was a student of science and couldn’t understand the concept of pollution ? ”

Its a state of mind

More than the size of trash can, its a state of mind. Saying absolute no to single use plastics. Saying no to plastic and other harmful man-made products that don’t decompose. Assessing the need for incoming goods. Finding bulk products instead of buying products that come in packaging. Having the presence of mind to be prepared with a reusable container when the need arises. Having a hand-kerchief and a tote bag in your handbag at all times. Little things that go a long way. … It wont be easy. But I can do a lot when it comes to my household consumption. I always found the excuses to not do it because I cant be 100% zero waste. But almost zero waste is good enough for me.

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*  “ooh, interesting wall. But all the crap next to it ! “

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Forego ?

I still eat an India traditional diet living in California. My mother sends me back to America every year with some ( okay lot of! ) traditional food from her kitchen. I get my year’s supply of homemade ghee sourced from our cows. I use spices grown by my family. I can not imagine my kitchen without it. I already admit a certain kind of defeat about not being able to give it all up. I travel via air. I will not stop using sunscreen because it comes packaged in a disposable container. There will be a few things I can give up easily. Unnecessary grooming products, convenience foods, packaged sugary treats, … And lots more to be evaluated on a need basis.

Family

“Activism and charity is for after 50. Don’t get caught up in it now. Its like a drug that you cant quit.”, says dad.  “You can not make a difference given the scale of things”, says the husband. “Let her try. Don’t discourage her”, says mom, when she hears anyone else chide me. My friends mock me when they see my not so empty trash can. “Be realistic and stop wasting time”, they say. We do what we do because we are into it too deep and just cant quit. I am not religious and made up my own set of morals to live by. I have added not supporting exploitation in fast fashion and not being a source of pollution to my list of morals.

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* another instagram-able photo, lost forever due to all those plastic cups and bottles. All my photographs in India actually look like this : something beautiful + trash in the background. 

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Its being done

I don’t have to sit down and figure it all out. Ariana, Bea Johnson, Lauren Singer, … have already done all of the homework. I cant slip into their lifestyle and ofcourse will need adjustments. But it’s nothing like starting from scratch. I lived with my grandparents when I was younger and it was the way of life. It was definitely not some aspirational lifestyle to be learnt from blogs but how everyone lived. If I unlearn a few habits, it will all work out.

Have a plan

“The difference between dreams and achievements is a plan”, says my phD advisor, Dr.Baoxin Li. We are not allowed to aim for a conference paper in our lab without putting down the weekly steps we will take to get there. I have a draft of Ariana‘s upcoming book and I am going to reference it. I plan to make 3-4 switches per month so that its not too disruptive to my life. I am already half way there from what I figured out last year.

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Please don’t let me obligate you into trying out this lifestyle. Its very time and location dependent – I admit to it. For every blog that shows disposable crap, I want one that shows a life otherwise. For that reason, I will blog about the steps I will be taking through the year to achieve my goal. I am actually really excited to talk about compostable kitchen scrubs, menstrual cups, bamboo toothbrushes, baking soda and a tale of how I sneak into Whole Foods to drop off my compost. Oh well !

Style Lessons : 2016

Posted on January 8, 2017

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Things I am wrong about :

A fashion blogger is not to be blamed if I shop too much. Calling them names like ‘shopaholic blogger’ is quite distasteful. I have done so in the past. I apologize. Nobody but me is responsible for my shopping habits. If I click on every link they post and buy a lot of things, its my fault. My fault for the reading articles I have no business being around and acting on the impulses.

The French chic stereotype is trending in the reading material that I choose to read. Its a little over played out but I shouldn’t attack that style for being preached as the magical path to finding (personal) style salvation. If there needs to be a starting point, its a great one.

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Enjoy the little details

There are details in my clothes that are only visible to my eyes. No body else notices them or even gets it when I talk about them. The little things make everything so much more pleasurable to me. I will pay the money for the staples that go the extra mile with good design details. There are days when I wear an all black outfit and not a single accessory. And applaud myself for the austerity of my basics. I am channeling Audrey Hepburn and the (imaginary) samurai monks at the same time. I feel good on those days too. My outfit is perfect because I picked it out with care and its truly mine.

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Create an archive

There is a dress that I fell in love with this year. Its by Stella McCartney and its got
pinstripes. I can not wear it too often. Its my power suit equivalent for my day to day living. I plan to keep it for ever and get my cost per wear over the years. My Madewell blue dress looks fine in photographs but up close, its worn in. I am tired of it. I am storing it for a few months to bring it back in the future again. People have been calling my brown satchel –  ‘buffalo bag’. It does not look elegant anymore. But it’s fit for a traveller who cant be bothered with these sort of nuances imposed by the civilization. I have archived it in the past and brought it back multiple times. Its 7 years old, worn in but I really use the heck out of it. Not out of some sort of guilt but for my pleasure. To me, sustainable fashion is about getting the most wear out of my clothing and not generating any waste. The ones I don’t sell away when I get a little bored of … But the ones that I take care of and wear till they are thread bare.

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Be my own muse

Alexa Chung can make rags look couture. I don’t know how she just does it, but she does.

The List : 2017

Posted on January 1, 2017

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Illustrator Extraordinaire : The Fashion Donkey 

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  1. Go Zero-waste. No more excuses.
  2. Gather the courage to post some outfit pictures.
  3. Get Artificial Intelligence to write a blog post for me.
  4. Create a blog post that uses data that I crawled for and analyzed in the realm of fashion. ( Like FiveThirtyEight does for politics. )
  5. Make my mother’s cookbook a master piece.
  6. Plant and grow 5 house plants.
  7. Limit meat consumption to one day a week.
  8. Aggressively save up for our next home.
  9. Inspire a 100 people to consume less.
  10. Apply for work authorization ( I lost mine in December 2016 #immigrantProblems) and find another job once I am back in America. Preferably in a tech start-up.

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I don’t have a big list this year. But each one is a big deal. Make a few goals and achieving them is preferable to getting my feet wet in a lot of to-do’s. A TIP : Monica, whom I met through this blog gave me some wonderful advice. She has her list written on a piece of paper in her handbag. She reads it frequently and its helped. She kept me on my toes by periodically asking me (via email) about my progress. Thank you for that !

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Blog goals / Mission Statement :

I want to write about my closet building stories that go beyond “go to Store XYZ and buy”.  A blog post for each building block/basic. Items I have that lasted over 2+ years and stand the test of quality – need to be talked about. Also, I have a new take on fast fashion.  :

There is no fast fashion. Just accelerated consumption. The way to combat drain of resources is not by buying to my heart’s content from Stella McCartney (who makes everything in the most ethical manner possible and with expert tailoring techniques learnt from Saville Row). But by not buying so much.

I bought everything from Zara in the past with the intention of using them sparsely. Once I changed that intention, quality and good design became paramount. I conquered that huddle. Next item on my list to master is to condition my mind to want less. I will continue to catalog my purchases. I will talk about slow fashion. I will talk about personal style without pushing products on to you. Fashion is a craft and style is very personal. Its very sacred in some sense and I dislike the strong association with shopping that came out of it all. We call marketing gurus : internet influencers. We cant recognize ads anymore because its cleverly interlaced in content.( TIP : Just count the affiliate links per post on items not owned/purchased by the blogger.) How did we get here ? Every year, my reading material shrinks after I loose a few favorites to internet fame. I want to write the blog that I would like to read. One that celebrates the craft, love of clothes, very personal : personal style and can demarcate shopping/consumption from this equation.

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Will anyone cheer me on (just a little), if I gather the courage to post some outfit pictures ? Do point it out to me if I get too preachy on this blog. Do hold me accountable if I start pushing products on to you. Anything you want to see on this blog, do leave a suggestion. Anyone else trying to go zero-waste ? If you have a list that you made for 2017 that you would like to share, please do. Happy New Year !

Declutter for a purpose : Aleppo

Posted on December 24, 2016

“How did the world let this happen? “

This was the question I asked myself after I learnt about what happened in Auschwitz. I later got to know that the world didn’t know. We were trying to stop Hilter’s invasion but discovered the concentration camps during liberation. Today, we know about Syria. We get live tweets. We hear survivor stories. Reporters are risking their lives to get us the news. Doctors are working from bunkers. Refugees are a political issue, not human beings …. I dont know whats the right thing to do. But not doing something almost feels immoral. In my lifetime, there have been a few terrible wars that I was aware of. Sudan. Rwanda. Iraq. Gulf. India-Pakistan. But Syria invokes the same stomach churn and heartbreak that I experienced when I visited the concentration camps in Germany. What can I do ?

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Simplify : Closet

Posted on December 17, 2016

More I think about simplicity, the more beauty I see in it all. More I travel, more I think of simplicity as a necessity for a healthy planet. There are war crimes currently happening in Aleppo while I blog about clothing. I made a tiny donation but I could have given more if I didn’t spend away my money on unnecessary luxuries. I am in India right now and my world is churning upside down. I had the misfortune of watching a vet pull out a plastic bag after cutting open the stomach of our cow. While I write about shunning cheaply made things, most people in my country cant even afford that. There are dogs starving on the streets. There are children living in landfills. All the things I would have said with conviction are on a shaky ground ….. This post is the last post of my simplify series. I will no longer incessantly talk about decluttering and downsizing. I hope to consume less and inspire by example than put out theoretical concepts. I reached THAT point. A few things worked for me and my closet :

1. Let go of the unessential. I define the word – essential.

Minimalism is not defined by what is not there but by the rightness of what is, and the richness with which this is experienced. — John Pawson

Forget the numbers. There is discussion on how much is necessary or how much one should buy per year or how much to spend. 5. 18. 20. 30. 33. 100. 333. There is no one size that fits all. These decisions are very personal and should be kept that way. I know what I don’t need and I took on a declutter mission. I could be frugal and hold on to it all hoping for a way to use it. But donating unused stuff made me happier. I stored a few items for backup. The end result is physical space, tiny home and mental clarity.

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2. Simplify Choice, but have options : Uniforms

This was the favorite part of it all. The process of finding my personal uniform was very fulfilling for me. I like a few silhouettes and colors. And I am very happy sticking to them. Why complicate a perfectly good thing ? I have slight variations of the same thing to keep it exciting for me.

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3. Simple, not sloppy

” Look, I own 2 pairs of yoga pants, 5 oversized t-shrits, one hoodie and one pair of flip flops. It all fits in my hand luggage.”

– Anonymous relative of mine.

I have my definition of sloppy and try to stay way above it. I have not given up on all the wonderful elegances that are a part of the civilized society. Thoreau is my idol but I wont eat rice and beans everyday. He had a cause that justified giving up everything and living in the woods. I don’t. I like the civilization as it stands today and very much want to be a part of it.

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4. Minimal Aesthetics

Color has nothing to do with minimalism. Nobody can accuse the Buddhist monks of excess because they wear saffron orange robes. But let me justify the cliche. I don’t like print and bright colors. I was born with this aesthetic and could never fit into the Indian color scheme. Wearing plain blue clothes makes me happy. In the past, I actively tried to expand my color palette and silhouettes because I was told that I looked boring. I no longer listen to such advice. I don’t need to buy things I don’t like to fit in. I learnt to say ‘no’.

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5. Pursue quality and craftsmanship

I am in it for the long run. I will pay for durability and for expertise. Yes, making clothing requires expertise. I took my Stella McCartney dress to a bespoke tailoring boutique. Tailors huddled around to notice the construction details and were impressed. I never had to worry about the dress loosing its structure because she fused the lining, used a certain woven wool for the fabric,  used extra panels, added two hidden zippers so that the design needn’t be compromised to enable my getting into a fitted dress. Its a craft and I highly respect the designers that are good at what they do.

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6. Consume less

You need not give anyway everything you own. You do not even need to declutter. Need not only wear neutrals. Need not count things. Dont need to stop shopping for a year. Dont need to start a blog. The easiest way to simplify one’s life is by conditioning the mind to want less.

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7. Understand and adopt the idea of ‘chic’

The idea of ‘well done casual’. Wearing well made, beautiful and simple garments everyday. I refuse to waste resources on things that get used very little. I refuse to buy expensive party clothes that get worn twice a year. But I will invest in high quality sweatshop free denim that get worn everyday or a durable woven wool dress designed by Stella McCartney or well constructed black ballet flats. I am not adept at dressing-up the basics for evening wear but am trying to learn it.

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8. Signature Style

I am not a fashion blogger. I don’t need to make unique innovative outfits. I optimize my life around getting the most out of my time. Some folk achieve this through finding a unique dressing formula that takes out all the decision making. I have 3 formulas instead of one. Its makes shopping a breeze : Go to an online store that sells sweatshop free clothes. Click on dresses. Apply the blue filter and look for size small. Do they have a shirt dress or a shift dress ? Is it in natural fabrics ? Do I like any ? If yes, buy. This process takes a few minutes. It simplified the shopping process for me.

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9. Develop a personalized system

I have a capsule wardrobe system in place. Warm weather dressing. Cold weather dressing. I have it down to colors I will wear, fabrics I like and silhouettes that are weather appropriate. This system of rotation prevents me from falling into a rut or getting bored of what I own. It helps me shop better. It makes sure I never have “what should I wear” moments that lead to impulse buys. I took the time and effort to figure it out and am now reaping the benefits.

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10. Minimize Wardrobe turnover

I am hardly doing myself a favor if I am constantly buying and culling. Durable items negate the need for me to constantly shop for replacements. Finding ways to not get bored of durable clothing requires some creativity. I am trying.

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11. My Failures

Shoes.

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12. Learn that style is more than clothes.

Improve posture. Eat for glowing skin. Exercise for toned body. Dance is all about the silhouettes you make. It teaches poise and grace. Read on a wide range of topics and have fascinating conversations. A red lipstick can be a mood changer. A dark berry lipstick can be seductive. A smile can do the same. Body language helps. Fragrance is pleasure. Learning to pair my clothes in different ways encourages me to be creative. Clean and pressed clothes look good. Worn in clothes can be charming depending on how they are worn. Buy fabrics that age well. Accessorize.

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13. Save some iconic pieces for the archive : The 1-5 %

I sometimes tire of a few well loved pieces. I put them away for a year and bring them back in. They feel fresh again. Shop your own closet is an under rated concept. Our grandparents didn’t have attics because they were all hoarders. They did because they were frugal and wanted to be self sufficient in the long run. We live in the age of convenience and easy access. We dont need to hoard too much but 5% is acceptable by my standards.

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14. Stop chasing perfection.

This month, my husband accidentally chopped off six inches of my hair. It looked awful. I initially panicked and eventually gave in. And life goes on. Finding the perfect leather jacket is an endeavor. The leather on my brown satchel currently looks like a dead animal’s skin. Some of the things that I used to think matter a lot : the perfect aesthetics, the perfectly matched outfits, the perfectly toned down color palette, the perfect proportions, the Pinterest approved minimal accessories, the tumblr approved definition of Garçon, pristine clothing ….. don’t matter as much and drain energy that can be better spent. Make the effort, but don’t chase perfection. (Unless you are a fashion blogger, and making outfits is a end in itself.)

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15. On cataloging purchases

Being accountable helps. I highly recommend reading the book : Radical Simplicity. The author quantifies the world ‘consumption’ in terms of what you take from the planet. A house thats 400sft Vs 1000 sft Vs 2000 sft, comes with vast difference in carbon footprints. Every furnishing, every spoon, every wine glass, the lawn that could have housed trees, every gadget, …. comes with a footprint. Mindless consumption got me here. And I intend to turn the wheel backwards.

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16. Right-simplicity-wrong-simplicity

I wont get into the right-wrong discussion. My version may not be the ideal but its made me happier. It saves me time. I can pack up everything I own in 6 hours and move. It flattened the curve of my carbon footprint that would have been increasing otherwise. Its working for me.

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This blog post was 2 years in making. I am rather happy about how I re-wired my brain and detoxed some of my old habits. Going into the future, I want to become a blogger who advocates slow fashion and promotes craftsmanship. If you are reading this blog, I assume you have been on a similar path to mine. Were any of these points relatable to you ? Anything that I havent tried that worked out for you ?  Please do share. 

Gift Giving : How-Not-To ?

Posted on December 12, 2016

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I am in India and will be here for a month. I hope to use this time to get an eye surgery, travel a little, attend a 10 day wedding of my sisters, accelerate a few side projects that I have put off for a while and spend time with my family.

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On Gift Guides

I love figuring out what a loved one might need and the thought process that goes into it. I don’t consult any gift guides since I really know the people I would be gifting. In the event of my not knowing what to buy, I rather pick up the phone and have a good conversation to figure it out than buy generic products.

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The 2016 experiment

Over the last few years, we took some useless cheaply made stuff that nobody really needs. Unhealthy chemical concoctions from Bath and Body Works, cheaply made clothes made in Bangladeshi sweatshops, makeup kits, small leather bags with visible logos, sugar filled treats, … and what ever else is good when it comes to quantity over quality. This year, we are trying something new. We picked out things that we absolutely love and use in our home. The true tried and tested gems that we had to save up to buy for ourselves. Our

They came home : 2016

Posted on December 6, 2016

Maanasa (aka best friend) always complains that I get caught up in the decluttering aspect of minimalism. And ignore the rest – buying less, using up what you already own, being wise about backups, …. She was right. Last year, I was obsessed with downsizing. This year, my agenda was to educate myself about the supply chain of “stuff” and to tame my shopping habits. This entire blog would be self defeating if I kept downsizing and buying on repeat. This is my end of the year round up. I excluded things like tights, socks, and such. These posts are highly embarrassing for me to write. I dont belong to the generation of haulers who hold up an item and say “look, here is what I bought”. But if I were to continue to talk about slow fashion, I have to come out and be accountable for how much I consume. Its a work in progress for me too. Here we go :

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