Tales about a compost bin

Posted on July 1, 2018

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The start 

I am scared.

Putting out a compost bin near this location is the equivalent of putting out this sign on your front door : ” free food if you can break in” to all the animals who live along side us. Rats and possums were the first to invade. Raccoons and skunks joined the party. I like animals but preferably far far away from my patio ! “Screw zero waste. Most people in the world don’t do anything ! Why should I inconvenience myself? I want to quit” I confessed. But my support system didn’t let me.

  1. “Are you changing your plans because of rats?”, Fernando asked. (He is my landlord.) When you put it like that, of-course not ! “Aren’t YOU afraid Fernando? “, I asked. “I served in the Vietnam for 2 years. We slept in crowded dirty bunkers. They were everywhere. They would crawl over us in the night and you have to lay still to not get bitten. You don’t have the option of being afraid. It’s not a choice. You have to keep going”. He said these words not as a commander giving a pep talk, but as a father asking his daughter to not be afraid : with utmost humility and kindness in his voice. Can I respect this man anymore ? #saluteTheVeterans
  2. “I am no longer afraid. I want to kill those animals. Let’s get some poison”. Harsha spoke his mind. “We don’t live in an apartment in the city. We choose to live here because we wanted the experience of being close to nature. It’s their habitat. You don’t need to kill every animal that comes close to your precious compost bin. You also know that Cinco might find the animal you poison and eat it.” It’s annoying when everyone you live with, is wiser than you. My compost bin made me aware of being a part of my local eco system. I put a lid on the bin. I stopped putting cooked food scraps. After a while, the animals stopped trying.
  3. Rotting is a beautiful process. If done right, the compost doesn’t smell bad. Aging gracefully is a totally accomplishable goal for my vegetable peels.
  4. If I waste anything from my fridge, it stares me in the face until it decomposes. The mistakes can’t be forgotten. I have a whole cauliflower in there for the last month. I have a compostable cup in there for the last 6 months. It doesn’t go away. It made me more vigilant about food waste in my kitchen.
  5. If we don’t cook / eat out junk food, my additions to the bin would solely be coffee grounds and tea leaves. Not ideal for me, not ideal for the soil.
  6. The way food composts is dependent on the composition of the contents. If I throw in a few lemon peels, the acidity goes up. If I don’t turn my compost pile to aerate it, it starts becoming gooey. If it’s too moist, I can see it collapsing into a sludge. Extrapolating the process of rotting to larger picture : landfills are very problematic. It takes months and the right conditions for a potato to decompose in my pile. Imagine all that stuff laying in a landfill ! All of it is rotting aerobically out there and releasing methane into the surroundings. Once it decomposes, the trace minerals are buried too deep in the landfill to be of any use.
  7. For urban dwellers, the city should help us out. It’s a burden if you live in a small apartment.
  8. I can’t bear to put egg shells/vegetable peels in the landfill waste. I experience a special sort of heart ache. The kind that is equivalent to crumpling a 1$ bill and tossing it out of the moving car. I can’t do it. I won’t do it.
  9. I learnt that soil microbes are carbon processors.  They have been linked to drought tolerance, growth rate and other aspects of plant performance. It’s intriguing that they can act as a buffer against climate change. Compost returned to native soil keeps it healthy and properly functioning.
  10. To rot a vegetable, takes time. To make soil viable for growing a plant, takes effort. To keep a plant alive, takes effort. It’s hard to create life. It’s easy to kill a tree to make handsome furniture or pretty bowls or paper towels or that pretty viscose dress that I don’t need.
  11. I have been trying to grow a plant from scratch, like a farmer does. Make the soil, plant the seeds, grow the saplings, transplant them and keep it alive. It is not an easy job. Do we respect our farmers enough ?
  12. Refuse, Reuse, Return, Refill, Reduce, Recycle, Rot – are the 7 R’s of zero waste. After trying to grow a few plants, I think ‘Rot’ deserves a better spot than at the end of the train. Without soil, we don’t get to eat.
  13. The entire process is a joy. My first ‘I made soil’ moment felt invincible. I felt like a god. I don’t do many good things with my life but this act makes my heart sing.

The middle 

I am a plant mother.

 

 

touniversewithlove

 

OOTD : Wrap blouse : Steven Alan. Pants : J.Brand. Ballet flats : Jil Sander.

Keep it going 

I want to learn

 

I started my compost in a hurry to become I was possessed by the idea of going zero waste. I dis-regarded all the instructions. I use the wrong kind of bin – a plastic bucket that my landlord had sitting around in the backyard. I don’t add twigs or dried leaves like I should. I forget to turn my pile all the time. Sometimes, it gets moldy. Sometimes, its dry. But it all seems to add up to soil in the end. Now that I am no longer intimidated by the process, I want to do a better job at it.

Required Reading : This encyclopedia on composting.

Zero Waste : 100 little steps

Posted on March 23, 2018

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Am I doing zero waste right ?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot. More so since I started blogging about it. I don’t know enough about sustainability and the optimized solutions. These simplistic low impact solutions to complex problems that I tout on the blog makes me uneasy. I haven’t asked “What is zero waste” until recently. Fitting a solution without properly defining a problem is just bad science. So what is zero waste ? Is it about sending nothing to our landfills ? ( One can dump waste into the oceans and the atmosphere too ! ) Is it about avoiding plastic ? Is it about switching to bamboo and glass appliances ? Should I adopt the essentialist version of minimalism ? I looked up.

A little history 

“The term zero waste was first used publicly in the name of a company, Zero Waste Systems Inc. (ZWS), which was founded by PhD chemist Paul Palmer in the mid-1970s in Oakland, California. The mission of ZWS was to find new homes for most of the chemicals being excessed by the nascent electronics industry. They soon expanded their services in many other directions.”

The Circular Economy 

“The Circular Mindset is a way to rethink our daily consumer and lifestyle habits to help us reduce our trash and plastic footprint. It’s also a mindset that encourages us to add value back into the things we use, the communities we live in, the food we eat, those who create the materials we consume and the resources used to make them. A circular economy seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural. This ensures enhanced flows of goods and services.

Transitioning to a circular economy does not only amount to adjustments aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.

The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Consumption happens only in biological cycles, where food and biologically-based materials (such as cotton or wood) are designed to feed back into the system through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Technical cycles recover and restore products, components, and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or (in the last resort) recycling.”

Is it a consumer movement ?

There is only so much I as a consumer can do other than becoming vigilant about what I bring home. From what I understand, it’s a symbiosis between the manufacturers and consumers. Designing good products and making them accessible is important. Us making a good choice is equally important.

Problem Solving :

The right solution. We fixate on this a lot. Most of the criticism this blog gets is about how my solution is low impact and I should be doing something else.

I don’t know if there is the ONE miraculous solution to tackle this problem considering the complexity of our global economy.

Simplistic solutions like “buy second hand and it’s all good”, “buy less and it will all get fixed” or “buy sustainably made and continue consuming” are almost simpleton solutions. We need long term solutions which try to minimize the short term losses. During the World War 2, “loose the battle but win the war” was adopted after the Allies cracked the German code. They used mathematics to come up with the stratergy. We need AI and data driven solutions now more than ever. We need responsible citizens who will do their part.

And Me : 

Do I sit out this battle and wait for a good solution to miraculously drop ? I don’t think so. Zero waste is not as intimidating as I thought it would be, once I stopped caring about my ego and flaunting my empty trash can. You make a few switches and you can bring down the volume of waste. You stay vigilant, refuse things you don’t need, buy well designed products and manage the budget … it keeps going. The rest, I don’t sweat it. It’s a game of optimization given the time, money, resources and resolve. As a consumer, I made a list of 100 little steps that I think help. I do about half of them and am proud to be a part of this movement. I don’t need everyone around me to do what I do, but it makes me very happy when you do.

Our trash tells a story. A story about what we collectively value. We need to put meaning and value back into resources, materials, people, community and planet.

– Andrea Sanders.

1.Fly less.

Trash is not only the solid waste we send to the landfill. It’s what we release into the air and water. If I take one flight form San Francisco to New York, I would have polluted the air in the 6 hours a quantity that is equivalent to an average Indian citizen’s entire year of emissions. Climate change is no joke.

Flying economy is more eco friendly than business class / first class.

2. Do not go on a cruise.

It’s one of the most polluting ways to get from point A to point B. Choose a more low impact method to travel.

3. Family Planning

I apologize for this and I couldn’t find a way to skirt around this. I don’t mean to associate children with waste but family planning definitely helps in this fight. Have one less child, it has been suggested. Oregon study puts the emissions at ~9,441 tons per child. Even if I recycle properly and do a few eco friendly measures, I would reduce ~17 tons over a lifetime. Everything else we do in terms of lifestyle choices is negligible in comparison. But it has also been found that the birth rate has decreased in developed nations while it has increased in developing nations. Overall average lifespan of humans has increased. There may be a time where retired aging population will outpace the working population. I, obviously don’t know the solution. But I want my tax money to fund research in this direction.

Women having access to birth control and family planning is cited as the 7th most effective way to combat climate change by Drawdown.

Have one less, applies to pets too. Consider adopting a rescue animal instead of shopping for a bred animal. #adoptDontShop

4. Live in a smaller home

Do you know that making concrete is one big carbon emission intense process ?

Less wood used, less land needed == less deforestation.

Less sand, clay, cement used == less destruction of our soil structure.

Less material == less resources mined for earth.

Less sft == less in heating/cooling costs.

Less cleaning to do == less products to be used.

5. Use public transport when you can.

Own one less/no car per household. Buy a smaller car.

6. Bike to work for one day of the week.

If its not a realistic prospect, do not buy a bike and hoard it.

7. Find ways to entertain yourself that doesn’t need new stuff.

It could be listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk, playing with a dog, cleaning, reading, walking around the city taking photos, cooking, playing a board game, solving puzzles, ….

8. With books, borrow from the library instead of buying.

Buy ebooks and read on your existing devices. Keep digital records.

9. Find joy in nature.

These are the folk who are likely to support efforts to conserve it. All consumer goods comes from the nature at it’s expense. Maybe one day, we will love it for more then it’s looks and beauty. We will love it enough to downsize our lives to conserve it. Maybe it will inspire us to live in a more sacred relationship with the natural world.

10. Go meat-less for few days of the week.

( Slowly get it down to eating meat only on special ocassions and weekends. )

If meat must be had, eat chicken instead of red meats like lamb, beef and pork.

White Noise : December Edition

Posted on December 28, 2018

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10 most popular scientific papers of 2018.

Noteworthy innovations of 2018.

Wardrobe from Phantom Thread. 

Read this sentence in reference to women who collect designer bags : ” not interested in design but like the idea of ownership of designer goods”. Is it true of me? If you ask me why some of my garments costs as much as they do, I will end up mumbling about quality. But to be honest, I don’t know. Do I like old Celine for the styling or for the garments ? Some reading to remedy it :

Translating designs from sketches : Gravity and Proportion.   Lace engineering at Celine.Contrast stitching at Haider Ackermann.    Bar tacks and blocky panels at Fendi.  Honey comb pattern structures at Junya Watanabe.   Clashing patterns and collar details at Miu Miu.  Constructing roses at Alexander McQueen.   Monochrome at Valentino. Nonchalant construction details at Celine.   Is it ever okay to have bad finishes ?  Drape analysis of a Balenciaga Jacket.

101 tips from a stylist. 

Visual balance in outfits. 

This travel diary.

math + poetry + creativity = happiness for mathematician Ken Onos

10 things I learnt from my father.

This color story on indigo.

Palm Oil vs Sustainability. 

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
– David W. Orr

This interpretation of Princess Mononoke. 

“The mountain will teach her.”

The stylish people in this exhibit. 

Fav blog post read.

Fav blog post written.

10 situations when we lose our common sense and buy useless stuff.

The world of atom.

And this ladies, is what a review should look like. I retract all the reviews I have written in the past. I know nothing of the craft and should not be writing them.

I have seen some strange trends but this one gets the vote for the one that made me face palm and say “dear civilization”.

Climate Change needs behavioral change. 

“Mending means owning up to reality – wrinkled, faded and all – and taking responsibility for that. It is a process of acceptance. It means searching for beauty in what is and celebrating where you are.”

– Louisa,

Humans made a smart dress and it recorded a heat map of women getting groped.

Ah, my first love and all the nostalgia that goes with it. 

Can you guess how much a pair of 19oz jeans would cost if they were homegrown by the Samurai ?

Oh Books.

Some science book recommendations. 

How does Shazam work ?

Hello cyborg houseplant !

Hello smart coffee cup ! [ Unnecessary innovation that taxes our natural resources and will one day end up in a landfill or a cool product ? need or want ? want or luxury ? ]

This cat fight. 

this plastic free tape.

Conservation vs suburban mansions.

Artwork by Billie Zangewa.

The Robinhood of carbon tax plan will go on floor next year. Tax the hyper-consumers and give the money to the folks who cant afford to consume enough but face the consequences of the destruction caused by the hyper-consumers.

A tiny home, unscripted.

My fav Instagram discovery this year : Zero-waste Japan.

This song.

Sobhita.

Some second hand finds :

A black wrap skirt.

How to dress like a wild flower in the winter. How to dress like a volcano this winter.

Stripes.

Spill the red wine.

A-line skirt. 

A dancing skirt.

A navy coat.

A navy shirt.

An Elsa Peretti’s creation. 

A skirt you wear with everything.


The earth has completed yet another revolution around the sun. We all travelled with it and created our own experiences. Cheers to more travels next year. I wish you all a happy new year. Thank you for reading.

White Noise : November Edition

Posted on November 30, 2018

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“I was in Italy looking for love. On assignment for a National Geographic story that sought to scientifically explain it and its three stages—lust, romantic obsession, and long-term attachment—I roamed the streets searching for photographs to interpret that soul-searing, primal swamp of desire that rearranges our brains and our lives. I nearly walked by the solitary woman in the cafe reading a newspaper. But something about the white ruffle of her skirt and the deep tan of her leg attracted me, and I made a couple of frames and walked on. I didn’t think the picture had anything to do with my assignment. But when I got home and looked closer, I noticed the headline on what was actually a greeting card: Ai Lov You. In the end, I found that searching for an image of love is very much like searching for love itself: The harder you look, the harder it is to find. But when you least expect it, it sneaks right up on you.”

Jodi Cobb

I sat down the folks at my thanksgiving party and made them watch the tamil film 96. This song has been playing on repeat in our home since.

Disposable mindset masquerading as sustainability ?

This reaction to sustainability advocates boycotting the Black Friday sales.

These two posts on Belle Mocha : Why do attractive people dress well. How to become an international mystery woman. 

This stylish warrior who stands on one foot to photograph her OOTDs. 

This black friday ad.

Please read before you buy your xmas presents

This advent calendar. 

Some very essential life advice for the colder months : Do dishes, rake leaves, let the darkness come. 

When I see others hit the jackpot in the flea markets, I am happy ! 

For readers who understand the telugu language : this interview of designer Shilpa Reddy.

Teaching self-driving cars ethics. 

Rec sys for Netflix thumbnails. 

Designer babies are here !! Will CRISPR IVF tourism begin ?

Unfollowed this account. To scroll and do nothing is giving me heartache.

On the nature of Patriarchy. 

A story of a relapse into a maximalist closet. 

On CDG going mainstream. ( If you like their merchandise with the red heart printed on top, do listen. )

How should one converse about climate change : Vague & Fearful ? Concrete & Actionable ?

This mansion in Maine. 

” I like pure interiors, or I feel I suffocate. It is like with the clothes: I like just having the essential, what is indispensable.”

Azure Studio and the beautiful objects in it. 

The apartments photographed by Mieke Verbijlen. Raw, pure and honest.

This interview by Norma Kamali.

Words that Stayed :

Climate scientist Peter Kalmus—who has not flown since 2012—summarizes this attitude: “I try to avoid burning fossil fuels, because it’s clear that doing so causes real harm … . I don’t like harming others, so I don’t fly.” One person skipping a flight will not solve global warming alone, but when one person withdraws from a system that causes harm, they make that harm palpable to others.

How many trees should I plant to recycle the emissions from my flight ? Read this reply by a ‘low carbon innovation strategist’. And how effective are carbon offset programs ?

This new battery might make electric planes more feasible. 

Feeding livestock seaweed could significantly reduce the methane emissions from the cattle.

Are you a prophet or a wizard ? The prophet advocates preserving forests, being zero waste, consuming less, … expects “humans to do the right thing” to slow down climate change/have a more sustainable future. The wizard thinks “expecting humans to do the right thing is never going to work” and hopes that tech will provide ways to cope in the new futuristic world. This podcast is based on a book that explores two very different approaches as a solution.

This interview with Dr. Jane Goodall.

I believe in a “do good” approach instead of a “do no harm” approach. Erin writes about why she prioritizes buying ethically made clothes instead of shopping second hand.

This series on building a vintage wardrobe :

Step 0 : Quick notes.    Step 1 : Who are you ?    Step 2 : Elements of Style.  Step 3 : Assessing assets.   Step 4 : Before you shop. Going shopping. More shopping pls. Online and flea markets.  Step 5 : Putting it all together.

A collective of top 10 style resolutions.

The Journal of Controversial Ideas.

On my wishlist : this Ikea sawhorse.

Second hand finds of the month :

Summer is long gone and only a memory now but blue shift dresses have that quality of an eternal sunshine about them.

This vintage Chanel blazer. 

This navy poncho. 

This station necklace. 

This cozy xmas sweater.

This cross body bag.

This oversized turtleneck. 

This navy tunic.

This update on denim jacket. The touch of red is charming. 

This wool-cashmere sweater.


A metric to remember this month by :

Amount I spent during the Thanksgiving sales : 42$

Gift Guide : Books on Personal Style

Posted on November 24, 2018

She said : This book helps one find their personal style.

He said : Why ? Was it lost ? How does one loose their preferences ? How does one not have a point of view ? Who is convincing you that you need to find it ? Are they trying to sell you something ? This book perhaps ? Wait, did you buy all these books ?

She said : You could topple ‘find your personal style’ industry. I can give you a list of bloggers to go troll for starters.

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It is said that you are the average of the 20 people you spend most of your time with. If that were true of style, I would have become a normcore dresser. I had to find my 20 influencers elsewhere. Books helped me reach them. They connected me with folk who exist in worlds that exist far far away. They helped me understand some of the technical details of the craft. They gave me a window into the artistic side of fashion. They helped me get out of stores and got my head into the pages. These are the books I own in my home library. They are very cuddle-friendly. These are the ones I take to a tea shop and can spend a few hours with. Allow me to recommend a few :

Excerpts for a Black Friday

Posted on November 23, 2018

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I humbly thank you
for this life
these hands
this dirt
these woods
that man
those kittens
our home
this food
your support
our shared love of the land
& sustaining hope for the future
💚

– The Outside Institute

.

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.

– W.S. Merwin, from “Thanks.”

And they lived happily ever after (?)

Secondly, even the brief golden age of the last half-century may turn out to have sown the seeds of future catastrophe. Over the last few decades, we have been disturbing the ecological equilibrium of our planet in myriad new ways, with what seem likely to be dire consequences. A lot of evidence indicates that we are destroying the foundations of human prosperity in an orgy of reckless consumption. Finally, we can congratulate ourselves on the unprecedented accomplishments of modern Sapiens only if we completely ignore the fate of all other animals. Much of the vaunted material wealth that shields us from disease and famine was accumulated at the expense of laboratory monkeys, dairy cows and conveyor-belt chickens. Over the last two centuries tens of billions of them have been subjected to a regime of industrial exploitation whose cruelty has no precedent in the annals of planet Earth. If we accept a mere tenth of what animal-rights activists are claiming, then modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in history. When evaluating global happiness, it is wrong to count the happiness only of the upper classes, of Europeans or of men. Perhaps it is also wrong to consider only the happiness of humans.

– Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

The Age of Shopping

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The modern capitalist economy must constantly increase production if it is to survive, like a shark that must swim or suffocate. Yet it’s not enough just to produce. Somebody must also buy the products, or industrialists and investors alike will go bust. To prevent this catastrophe and to make sure that people will always buy whatever new stuff industry produces, a new kind of ethic appeared: consumerism. Most people throughout history lived under conditions of scarcity. Frugality was thus their watchword. The austere ethics of the Puritans and Spartans are but two famous examples. A good person avoided luxuries, never threw food away, and patched up torn trousers instead of buying a new pair. Only kings and nobles allowed themselves to renounce such values publicly and conspicuously flaunt their riches. Consumerism sees the consumption of ever more products and services as a positive thing. It encourages people to treat themselves, spoil themselves, and even kill themselves slowly by overconsumption. Frugality is a disease to be cured. You don’t have to look far to see the consumer ethic in action – just read the back of a cereal box. Here’s a quote from a box of one of my favourite breakfast cereals, produced by an Israeli firm, Telma: Sometimes you need a treat. Sometimes you need a little extra energy. There are times to watch your weight and times when you’ve just got to have something . . . right now! Telma offers a variety of tasty cereals just for you – treats without remorse. The same package sports an ad for another brand of cereal called Health Treats: Health Treats offers lots of grains, fruits and nuts for an experience that combines taste, pleasure and health. For an enjoyable treat in the middle of the day, suitable for a healthy lifestyle. A real treat with the wonderful taste of more [emphasis in the original]. Throughout most of history, people were likely to be have been repelled rather than attracted by such a text. They would have branded it as selfish, decadent and morally corrupt. Consumerism has worked very hard, with the help of popular psychology (‘ Just do it!’) to convince people that indulgence is good for you, whereas frugality is self-oppression.

It has succeeded. We are all good consumers. We buy countless products that we don’t really need, and that until yesterday we didn’t know existed. Manufacturers deliberately design short-term goods and invent new and unnecessary models of perfectly satisfactory products that we must purchase in order to stay ‘in’. Shopping has become a favourite pastime, and consumer goods have become essential mediators in relationships between family members, spouses and friends. Religious holidays such as Christmas have become shopping festivals. In the United States, even Memorial Day – originally a solemn day for remembering fallen soldiers – is now an occasion for special sales. Most people mark this day by going shopping, perhaps to prove that the defenders of freedom did not die in vain. The flowering of the consumerist ethic is manifested most clearly in the food market. Traditional agricultural societies lived in the awful shade of starvation. In the affluent world of today one of the leading health problems is obesity, which strikes the poor (who stuff themselves with hamburgers and pizzas) even more severely than the rich (who eat organic salads and fruit smoothies). Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over. How can we square the consumerist ethic with the capitalist ethic of the business person, according to which profits should not be wasted, and should instead be reinvested in production? It’s simple. As in previous eras, there is today a division of labour between the elite and the masses. In medieval Europe, aristocrats spent their money carelessly on extravagant luxuries, whereas peasants lived frugally, minding every penny. Today, the tables have turned. The rich take great care managing their assets and investments, while the less well heeled go into debt buying cars and televisions they don’t really need. The capitalist and consumerist ethics are two sides of the same coin, a merger of two commandments. The supreme commandment of the rich is ‘Invest!’ The supreme commandment of the rest of us is ‘Buy!’

– Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

Mottainai feels like sacrifice at first. Then it feels like the only way to live.

– Source

Lagom is the most important Swedish word you will ever learn. It goes deep into the make-up of every Swede, at home or abroad, and is part of being quintessentially Swedish. The word lagom is said to derive from the folk etymology in a phrase used in Viking times : laget om – meaning ‘around to the team’ – which was allegedly used to describe just how much mead one should drink when passing the horn around in the group. This etymology is commonly accepted to be right, although some parallels are made with the Law of Jante and the common set of rules about how much one should have of something – again, things go back to the greater good for the whole group.

The word means ‘just right’. It also means ‘just enough’, ‘sufficient’, ‘the correct amount’. In Finnish, the word is sopiva; in Norwegian and Danish, the word tilpasselig is the most fitting. It means ‘not too much, not too little’ and also means ‘fair share’. This single word denotes all of those meanings, simply depending on the context in which you use it.

There is an old saying in Sweden, lagom ar bast ( ‘lagom is best’ ), which really sums up how Swedes think and act in everyday life :

How much slice of cake would you like ? Lagom.

How are you ? Lagom.

The weather is lagom.

You drink a lagom amount of wine.

To understand lagom, you first need to first understand the Scandinavians – in particular, Swedish cultural psyche, which is one of consensus and equality for all. Swedes don’t overdo anything, there are no over-the-top buildings, no flashy show-offs. Everything is middle of the road, fair and just the right amount.

People often wonder why, with the amount of cake we eat in Scandinavian and the number of sweets consumed, are we not all as big as houses. Its because, we, lagom. Most Scandinavians wont have two buns with their fika bread, only one. One of those big bags of to-share chips may be opened alone, but you wont eat it all in one sitting. There will be mayonnaise on the open sandwiches, but its on one slice of rye bread, making it all very lagom and balanced. ‘super-size’ in fast-food restaurants isn’t really that popular – it just isnt lagom.

Its impossible to define the word lagom as a specific amount because it varies so much between people. How much cake is it appropriate to eat ? how hot is lagom when it comes to your coffee ? its a feeling, its something engrained in the culture and psyche of the people that is almost impossible to learn. But the amazing thing is : if a Swede asks you how much coffee you want and you say lagom, they will know exactly what you mean.

– North: How to Live Scandinavian.

Look of the week

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After the feminist literary festival we walk into town and go to our usual spot in Chinatown for dinner, a crowded back room where the food is cheap and the service reliably rude. Soon a couple sits at the table next to us. They’re in their 70s, and have that look that couples get when they have been together for decades – they’re not dressed alike but are certainly in sync with one another. Lightweight dark turtlenecks and city trousers, quilted coats that seem smart rather than country. The man orders two bottles of beer as they sit down. “This beer,” he says to the waitress. “We’ve been coming here for years and years, and we always have this beer.” They fuss for several minutes with their bags, ensuring they’re safe from being snatched while they eat (they are), and then she helps him choose a dish that’s in line with his various dietary requirements, and they settle.

What is it about love and friendship that spans the decades like this? On a dark cold night in the crowded city, it appears like a neon sign in a window to say something like: there are always ways to be happy together.

– The London Review of Looks by Ana Kinsella

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Letters to Santa

Posted on November 18, 2018

[ My letter in the year 2017. ] Once a year, I make a list and pray that Santa is real. He is not. But here we go :

santa

A set of pajamas similar to these. No pattern or prints. Plain and navy blue. Sustainably made or second hand. Not poplin, but flannel.

This gardening tool set.

Any outdoor plant. Fig plant would be nice.

The wizard and the Prophet : I belong to both these worlds. The environmentalist who thinks humans need to be responsible about our interaction with the natural resources. The techie who thinks we should colonize other planets, invest heavily in renewable energy, invent ways to make it rain when needed, subsidize lab grown meat, … This book is for me.

Any sort of loose tea leaves.

Any good book that you have read and want me to borrow.

Vintage clothing in navy blue.

….


 

I have had this draft as a running list since September. This was pre-California wild fires. Dear Santa, I am fine. Please be generous to the folk affected. Are you real ?

Please consider making a contribution if you can.

On Shoes

Posted on November 10, 2018

“What about your shoes ?”

Every conversation of mine about excess consumption/sustainability has a skeleton hiding in the closet. I have lots of shoes. Depending on who you ask, they are classified as an excess or a reasonable vice.  It is usually the men who complain. Women are kinder. We seem to “get” shoes. We can rationalize investing on shoes because our feet seldom change size while our bodies do. We can even tolerate painful shoes because we see it as a trade off. If I go out to an event/wedding/dancing with my girlfriends, we experience pain as a sisterhood. It is never “my shoes hurt”. It’s : “Our shoes hurt. Lets sit down for a bit”. Everyone understands. The wrong shoes can ruin an outfit – we are taught. The right ones can play with proportion and form. It’s all true – in my opinion. Or is it ? My shoe inventory below. [I have a pair in India and some exercise shoes that arent shown in this post.] Items with a * were purchased second hand.

Ballet flats : *Rag & Bone.

Wardrobe Inventory

Posted on November 3, 2018

I do this exercise every year :

Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Sit someplace with a pen and paper.

List everything in your closet without looking at your closet.

This exercise is a reality check. If you love everything you own, you should at the least remember it right ? If you wear every thing you own, you should be able to list it. If you cant recall a big percentage of garments, something is not right and it should be acknowledged. Even if nothing is to come of this exercise, I like making lists and here is one. Every garment is a data point, for future analysis.

The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.

– Richard Hamming.

wardrobeInventory

Calculate your recall and precision rate. Percentages aside, the number of clothes you forget is a pretty honest indicator.

My numbers : The clock ran out on me. I could list 44 out of 52 garments in my closet. The garments I couldn’t recollect off the top of my head, are the ones I wear the least or the ones I don’t really need but have held on to.

Some totally un-substantiated hypothesis :

< 40% recall rate : You are the average first world consumer who has too much and uses too little of her closet. Perhaps a shopping fast will allow you to notice the things you already own ?

50-70% : You could be in the top 20% among the first world consumers. Shop your closet to re-discover the rest of your closet. Rediscover the forgotten gems.

70-90 % : You maybe the 2% among the first world consumers. If you can write it all down, I assume that you edit your closet regularly and know whats inside it. I would think its alright to forget a few ? Are we meant to remember everything we own ?

100% : A women in control of her closet. All the minimalists I know can list everything in their closet. All the curators I know can list what is being shown in their gallery. All the editors I know can list what made it on to the rack. Irrespective of the size of the closet, you are at-least aware of whats inside. This is a good sign.

[ If you do take this test, let me know your results and your interpretation of your result. ]

Other indicators of a tamed closet :

Your partner should be able to list most of what you own. [ It’s a good thing when people see you repeat outfits. It’s a sign of intimacy with the garment and with you. ]

Your friends/coworkers should be able to recognize most of your clothing. An optimal closet is one where everything gets worn often.

You see wear and tear on your clothes on a yearly basis.

You don’t haul clothes. You buy a garment or two occasionally. You don’t get rid of piles of clothes. You let go of a garment or two seasonally.

The tendency is say no more often than saying yes.

When you buy something and bring it home, you are able to stand in the closet and say “I needed this garment in-spite of everything else I own”.

Your closet gives you a sense of calm and not add to the chaos of daily living.

How many years do you think it will take you to wear out your clothes ? How does it compare with your life expectancy ?

If I die today, will anyone want to inherit the clothes ? Or will it all rot some place ? Will it all be unloaded on to a thrift shop ? Will the thrift shop accept the contents ? Will be it a burden on the future generations ? Will it end up in a landfill ?

What is the right closet size ?

I don’t know. I publish a closet inventory every year with an intention of collecting data so that I may answer that question, one day in the future. I have all my needs & wants met by this closet of mine. It’s not the number but the items in it but the utility of the garments in it, that made it right size for me. I am from India. I can never, in my right mind say ‘this is my minimalist closet’. An average Indian owns much less than half of what I own. I have long abandoned the idea of owning the smallest closet possible. What I have, is my idea of abundance. I have shifted the focus to building a closet where I don’t hoard or waste clothing. This is what it took to make me content. Writing down this list made me happy and grateful. The items with a * were purchased second hand.

Long Sleeve Tops:

*Merino wool turtleneck – black

* Merino wool turtleneck – navy

Merino wool tshirt – gray

*navy and white stripes.

*navy and gray pinstripe wool top

*Isabel Marant embellished blouse

Shirting :

*The Row silk – navy 

*Reformation floral – navy 

*Ganni polka dot – navy

Equipment linen shirt – army green

*Equipment sleeveless linen – army green

*Theory pinstripe silk shirtnavy & white

Son De Fleur linen shirt – navy

*Chambray shirt – blue

*Current/Elliot denim – navy.

Pants :

*R13 black denim

*Black trousers, Hope

Citizens of Humanity – pale blue

Everlane chinos – black.

COS karate pants

*Black jeggings, J.Brand.

Short Sleeve Tops:

Everlane tshirt – white/indigo.

Everlane t-shrit – navy

Wool gray t-shirt

*APC polka dot shirt

*Steven Alan chambray sleeveless

Dresses :

*Steven Alan shirt dress – navy

*Stella McCartney shirt dress – black

*Celine tent dress – navy

*No-label midi shirt dress – navy

*Vintage denim dress – navy

*Current/Elliot ikat maxi – navy.

*Celine tuxedo dress

APC indigo maxi dress

*Tibi maxi dress

 

Sweaters :

Everlane cashmere – gray

Everlane cashmere – navy

Gray and white stripes

*navy and pink stripes

*navy and white stripes

Jackets :

 

*Vintage leather jacket – red

Trench :

*Everlane swing – khaki green

Coats :

*Celine double wool black coat

*Stella McCartney mauve coat

In Storage :

AllSaints drapey wool jacket – black.

APC polka dot top – navy ( at the tailor )

Black blazer.

Burberry trench ( need to sell ).

filler
Some notes :

  1. The major chuck of inventory is the same as the list from April 2017. Else, using the word ‘sustainability’ on this blog is pointless.
  2. I am not for counting things and competing with the minimalists on who owns the least. This exercise is the equivalent of budgeting. One shouldn’t be afraid of bookkeeping. I see it as an exercise in discipline to keep a tab on the numbers. I have list for EVERYTHING ! I never want to look back and say ‘where did it all go?’
  3. I expect a shelf life of 3-7 years with regular wear from the garments in my closet. I am no longer terrified of aging and death of garments. [ Valar Morghulis. Valar Dohaeris. All men must die. All men must serve. If it applies to men, it definitely applies to clothes.] I wont save them out of the fear of wearing them out and buy more on the side. I don’t intend to take them all to the grave with me. To be honest, I consider it a successful purchase only when a garment is worn out in a reasonable amount of time. Given the size of my closet and the fabrics I choose, I wear out about 2-5 garments a year depending on the condition of the second hand garment when I purchased it. If you bike/use public transit/do physical labour, clothes wear out sooner. Let them wear out. Replace them with more current pieces when they do.
  4. Knee length dresses no longer work for me. I am more comfortable in midi and maxi dresses.
  5. I have added sweaters and t-shirts this year. I call it ‘the Californication’ of my closet.
  6. I wore out quite a few of my silks in the last year. I sold them as a lot on Craigslist. The buyer was a very young woman from our neighborhood and I could see the glee in her eyes when she tried on the Burberry blue shift dress. She saved me the trouble of listing it on eBay and making trips to the post office. This is my lazy approach to decluttering.
  7. This year, I purchased my first floral print shirt. It feels very festive when I put it on. I am also trying out high waisted pants from COS. While I like how they look, I dislike how they feel. I can’t bear to have the fabric pressing on my stomach after I eat a full meal or chug down a mason jar full of water. The fashion pundits talk of ‘pants sucking it all in’ but to me, it screams “corset”.
  8. I put on 6 lbs this year. After months of hoping it will go away, I realized that it’s here to stay. The leather jackets don’t zip up anymore. Is it possible that your shoulders have gotten wider in your 30s ? ( I would like to think that its the yoga, burpees, digging and heavy backpacks. But how can I differentiate what I want to be true from what is true ? ) The Celine tent dress pulls at the shoulder when I swing my arms. Now that Phoebe Philo has quit Celine, I want to keep her pieces as a collector or sell for profit. The Stella McCartney pinstripe dress needs repair and the fused lining has made it impossible for me to do it myself. The Zara trench needs repair or the donation bin. I am in need of some wardrobe housekeeping.
  9. The most worn garments in the last year : Zara trench, Everlane navy cashmere sweater, R13 black denim, Steven Alan shirt dress, Son De Fleur linen shirt and Ganni polka dot shirt. The least worn are the APC indigo maxi and the Tibi maxi dress.
  10. My special occasion wear : maxi dresses. They are easy, effortless and comfortable while threading the line between not-so-ordinary and I-am-a-peacock-look-at-me.  The dresses I own do that well. [ A recent observation : if your entire party is dressed in little black dresses, you stand out for wearing something with visual saliency. But if your entire party is peacock-ing, you stick out for wearing something understated. I seem to be in both these situations because I am an Indian immigrant. ]
  11. The oldest clothes in my closet are from fast fashion brands. Someone suffered to make them for me. I am trying to get every possible wear out of them as an ode to the people who made them.
  12. My mother is in America for 6 months. She has a trench coat and some tunics that I get to borrow. She wears some of my dresses as tunics. I love dressing her up. Its my way of paying it backward. Every year, I get some clothes as presents/hand-me-downs from friends and family. I need to dye them indigo or navy blue to be able to use them. I haven’t processed by batch coz I currently don’t have a place to dispose the used dye. Pouring it down the drain is not recommended. Inspite of being a natural dye, if I pour it into the soil in my backyard, I can’t grow plants on that lot. Some countries allow the harmful synthetic dyes to be dumped into the local rivers. The gardener in me cringes at that thought.
  13. I don’t enjoy finding organizational hacks and doing closet edits. I do seasonal capsules instead. Not everything hangs at once. The knits + t-shirts get folded and go into a dresser. I have a 1950’s style small closet in our bedroom. My color palette tames the visual clutter. I enjoy the negative space as much as the clothes that hang. Capsules provide it.
  14. I associate personal style with entropy. I may experiment but the chaos needs to reduce over time. I would like to be left with my old and most fav clothes.
  15. While I love reading wardrobe inventory posts on blogs, I think these lists should stay private. Closets should have a sense of mystery and romance. Somebody in the world should wonder “what will she wear today” and appreciate your outfits. It could be a spouse, a co-worker, a friend, a child, a date, a friend you share sartorial secrets with, a stranger, a blog reader, a cat, …. Inventories give away too much information. I won’t open the door to my closet and show it to you unless you are a confidante in real life. But since I blog about minimalism and sustainability, I need to publish this list every year in the spirit of being transparent and ethical. I can’t chant “Buy less. Buy better. Make it last” otherwise can I ?

 

 

 

 

Right : Fall/Winter closet. Left : Spring/Summer closet.