Field Notes : House Plants

Posted on August 17, 2018

[ I am new to this. It’s too early to declare love. It’s way too early to profess knowledge. This is what I have learnt so far. ]

“It’s now trendy to have house plants. Instagram is making people jump on the bandwagon. What a cliche.”

– an acquaintance.

“I don’t see it that way at all. I rejoice in the fact that we have more common ground than differences, in the pursuit of happiness. It can be really simple. Grow some plants. It’s accessible for everyone.”

– me.

“Only the ones who have never grown a plant are capable of saying such stupid words. The ones who garden are usually eager to share the happiness.”

– I wanted to say but that would have been very rude.

There is a certain happiness in nurture. It could be with a fellow human we find companionship in. It could be a child we raise. It could be a pet we grow old with. It could be a robot we train. It could be a tree that we plant. Of all of them, houseplants are the easiest to deal with !! They add that element of living beauty to my home. They clean the air inside for me to breathe. Why did I wait this long to get started ? Maybe it was the tiny home I was living in. I was terrified of every addition becoming clutter and stealing the limited space. Or maybe I hid behind ‘no green thumb here’ excuse. It’s a total myth. Nobody is born with brown or green fingers. Everyone learns it as we go. It is said that when a student is ready, the teacher appears. In my case, I found many teachers :

White Noise : July Edition

Posted on July 28, 2018

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Dress : Steven Alan, second-hand and worn in ( as seen here ).

We moved out of our tiny apartment and into a cottage with a backyard. 15 days after we left, Fernando, my ex-landlord gave me Cinco.  I gave up on zero waste for the initial move in period and am slowly getting back into the routine again. I am learning about the challenges of living more sustainably in a bigger space. ( Is that oxymoronic? ) Growing vegetables, planting native shrubs, bee-friendly gardening, repairing the soil, reducing water waste, … have replaced the mind space I once reserved for fashion and clothes. I used to churn out blog posts every week after working on them for a few hours. Lately, I am struggling to get myself to even think about clothes/style/fashion. You must have noticed it in the lazy half baked posts published this month. I sincerely hope that it’s a phase and I don’t give up all of my interests in favor of a more domestic life. Style is important. Meanwhile, some reading material collected over the past few months made it into this post.

Actress Dia Mirza on living sustainably in the urban jungle.

This is solely an opinion and open for debate. That opinion can be altered, changed, and become more nuanced but it can only do so by having a discussion. You can disagree, but closing the door to that conversation with vitriolic comments does no one any good. It also says something about you if you result to that. It means you can’t handle the challenge of being persuasive. Of making conversation and would rather retreat to your bubble pretending that everyone should agree with your opinion. Those at the The Casual, myself included, believe that in order to come to a better understanding of any issue a conversation must be had. We only want to promote discussion on this channel in the realm of street fashion. We understood the reaction before we received it but this video was made so we can have a discussion. Not so we can engage in the tribalism that has plagued street culture and even humanity since the beginning. Open up, lay your thoughts out, change minds. Engage and maybe we can come to consensus. The only regret we have is that social media allows us to simply down vote without explaining why. We don’t want to promote that, all we want is discussion.
Reggie, The Casual.

Alexa Chung’s Met gala dress was inspired by Anne Boleyn.

How to read more, from a mom of 2 who works full time.

I don’t do brunch because ….

A treat for Serge fans. 

Sada Nanda, a song from the telugu movie Mahanti.

Bar soap vs body wash in a plastic bottle.

AMA, an underwater ode to the women of the sea.

T Magazine, my favorite way to marination on style. Beauty is shallow and intellect is cruel. But when they meet, I want to be there listening.

When Los Angeles school teacher Helen Hulick wore them to court to testify as witness to a burglary, the judge ordered her to return in a dress. “I’ll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism,” she said.

Luxury is something old, worn and beautiful.

A perspective on personal uniform.

Style is a privilege of age.

How to judge quality in clothing. 

Can you live in a mansion and be sustainable ?

How not to punch people who imply : minimalist aesthetic == your lack of personality. 

Reducing emissions from global shipping – the wheel is turning.

Enzymes that eat plastic waste.

I am not happy with you California. They killed a bill on affordable housing that addresses the zoning issue.

A review of Everlane jeans by someone who has knowledge on denim. 

The women’s clothing industry is scamming me ?

Reasons to avoid the straw/wicker summer basket trend.

Implied Masculinity/Femininity.

My idea of ideal body for my bone structure.

Meanwhile, I found my perfect t-shirt.


Question of the month :

This article on Wired about scientists being encouraged to avoid air travel. “The climate scientist needs to tell the coal miner that things cannot go on the way they have. That is such an emotionally laden conversation,” says Wilde. “How can we tell people who have less that they need to change their economic circumstances, when we who have more don’t?”  When Delhi, the Indian capital city tried to ban the fireworks during the festival of Diwali to reduce pollution, my family was angry. “You elite liberals will fly to Europe on vacations but us poor folk releasing some emissions to celebrate our festival is bad?” “If I buy 30 garments per year from H&M, I am a mindless fast fashion consumer. But if you buy the same number of garments from Everlane, Reformation, Elizebeth Suzanne, Eileen Fisher, vintage and second hand shops, you can use the S word all you want.”  Thoughts ?

 

Simple Pleasures : Home Fragrance

Posted on July 21, 2018

I want to live in a home that smells of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, the summer sun in the afternoon and of lavender in the night. If I am lucky, a whiff of foraged flowers from time to time would be a luxury. 

Formerly, this discussion of mine would have started and ended with the kind of candles one can buy. But a hike changed the experience for me. Uvas Canyon is very under rated by the adventurers for many reasons – too close to the city, park not large enough, hikes not being difficult enough, native trees not photogenic enough, … Travel can be conveniently romanticized and life changing when it’s to lands far away. But California has so much beauty in the little nooks and corners when nobody is looking. Uvas Canyon takes on a life of it’s own after it rains. The little water falls appear in otherwise dry crevices and rock moldings. The moss covered trees glow green. The tree browns glisten. It has the power to make a human instantly happy. We remember it as ‘the fragrant trail we once did during the monsoons’. Californian bay trees lined a mile of the trail. Then came the plain lands with sun streaming and wild flowers growing with careless abandon. Then came the water bodies flowing in full vigor that smelt like the forest. An array of fragrances – is this something I can design at home ? Some ideas :

Lavender in planters to use as leading lines near the doorways.

Fragrant indoor plants placed by the windows that let in sunlight.

Growing herbs indoors by the window or by fluorescent light on the kitchen counter.

Mop the floors with some lavender essential oils added to the water.

Let the kitchen countertops smell of lemon and champagne.

Light a tea candle in the diffuser with an essential oil of your choice.

Use a humidifier – the smell of H2O is soothing too.

Having a pot of floral tea on the desk to sip on.

Floral vines like jasmine, outside the windows that can be opened.

A small stash of candles for instant gratification.

Add some moss to indoor plants. The air smells different.

Wash bedding, curtains, towels in Laundress rose detergent.

Line dry the clothes outside. They smell of the summer sun and the soil.

 

Even if I succeed at growing the plants, it will not be the same experience as a candle. It will be uneven. It will be faint. It will be seasonal. I will have to constantly work at it. It will be a different kind of experience – one closer to nature. Serendipitous and fleeting. Let the experiment begin.

Reading Material : Inside Closet

Posted on July 14, 2018

There are rules to look stylish. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. Nobody can help me find my personal style. They can point to some short cuts and get me to ape some IT girl who has discovered her own set of rules. But style is more in the intimate details. It is much more than what can be seen in an outfit. It requires a point of view. There is a relationship with the clothes, the culture, the location, the surroundings, real life, profession, fantasies, dreams, … It’s wonderful when we can see this connection between women and their style. An old favorite that I have been revisiting for inspiration is Insidecloset. All the featured people have beautiful apartments, good books and fantastic style. My favorites : AmelieVanessa, Audrey, Gabrielle and Julie. As always, I couldn’t help but answer the questions:

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1. What are your favorite pieces right now ?

A blue maxi dress. ( OOTD on my instagram stories. )

2. What is missing in your wardrobe ?

I should NOT answer this question. If I make a list, it’s in my nature to find a way to procure the items on it.

( Hypothetically : I can use more denim.

My current wish list : overalls, wrap dress, work wear shirt, )

3. The Deco / Mode piece you dream of ?

I would like an antique full size mirror in my apartment. Maybe one of those big brown writing desks I see in restoration hardware catalogs. A vintage bench that I can use to display my indoor plants is also on my wish list. I like the look of aged terracota planters with olive plants inside. Where can I get myself one of those ?

4. Your style ?

It is inspired by the following: the color blue, nature, the chic Parisian women, the adventurers, worker wear, farmer’s frugality, old money when they go hunting, an idea of androgyny that YSL put forth ( not the office wear version ), the sci-fi movie heroines in mobility friendly uniforms, the samurai, the monks, the yogis, … Only the tip of the ice burg has been actualized so far. I seem to add more influences to this list every year.

5. Your fav brands

Cuyana for shirt dresses, Celine for outerwear, NDC Made by Hand for boots, Stella McCartney for her innovation in sustainability, A.P.C for it’s consistency, Citizens of Humanity for the fit of its denim, Current/Elliot for chambray shirts with interesting details, Everlane for its affordable accessible basics, Steven Alan for reliable quality, Frye for its combat boots, Jil Sander for the napa leather shoes, Margaret Howell for every damn thing, Burberry for the military inspired outerwear, Rosie Assouline for interesting silhouettes for evening wear, Dries Van Noten for doing brocade well, Helmet Lang for the cut of their trousers, Yohji for the philosophy, Eka for its floral print, The Row the luxury, Acne for those snuggly sweaters, Filippa K for it’s repair policy, Patagonia for its heart, 45 rpm for its french-japanese-amercian-workwear-ness, Vintage Calvin Klein Collection for its simplicity, Ralph Lauren Collection for making the color brown look chic, Lemaire for the silhouette, Dolce & Gabbana for the usage of lace without being vulgar, Valentino for its red & mauveMaku textiles for it’s sarees, OffOn for jumpsuits,  …

My list is long. You got to know what to look for on the second hand market. The more you know, the easier it is to find great pieces. My influences are numerous.

6. The most valuable piece in your eyes

I do not have any sort of sentimental attachment to clothing.

On the basis of monetary value :

The Ippolita jewelry that I bought for myself, Stella McCarney jacket, Celine coat, Zara leather jacket, Church’s boots, …

On the basis of irreplaceability :

The blue dresses that hang in my closet.
Most my clothes are second hand finds that I doubt I will stumble into again. I can’t afford to spend the time or money look for them for the second time. None of it is replaceable.

7. Your unfailing beauty tip

Inversions – head stand, shoulder stand, hand stand, …

Exercise that makes your heart pound and sweat. Sprints work well for me. HIIT workouts are the way to go. 8 hours of sleep.

Small portion of raw veggies as a side serving everyday. Good fats. Blueberries. Sunscreen.

Sensuous lingerie. Signature perfume. Signature style.

Simplicity in clothing brings out the natural beauty and is soothing on the eyes.

Navy blue on glowing tan skin. Time spent outdoors while wearing a blue dress.

8. A default outfit when you don’t know what to wear ?

Summer : Navy dress + black ballet flats

Fall/Spring :  blue shirt, black denim, trench coat

Winter : Black turtleneck, black denim, black boots, black coat

9. The unbearable combinations ?

Crocs, mules, clogs, flip flops, camel toes, panty lines, high heels, peep toed shoes, print on print, jewelry that sparkles more than its human carrier, logos as print, …

Conspicuous consumption – things we buy to wear only when everyone is looking.

10. Last Purchase

Gardening overalls.

11. Top 5 beauty products

Sk2, vitamin C serum, retin-A, honey turmeric masks, white tea with lemon+ginger+turmeric, sunscreen.

12. Worst outfit memory

The outfits from my wedding day make me cringe. Rich heavy silks, gaudy prints, chunky jewelry, flower braids, a big wide gold belt,  … the whole deal. It’s one way to spit in simplicity’s face, pray at the alter of conspicuous consumption and kneel for the traditional police.

13. Obsessions

Reading. Photographs. Elegant solutions. Solitude. Nature.

14. Items you never take off

N/A. I don’t wear a wedding/engagement ring. I don’t wear a watch. I like jewellry but don’t want to wear it. Maybe perfume is something I wear on repeat every single day ?

15. Dream trip

Kayaking along the grand canyon and visiting the Nankoweap granaries in the Marble canyon.

France & Japan.

Lost coast trail.

North East Indian villages and rain forests.

16. Your mantra

“It’s not who you are on the inside, but what you do that defines you.”

– Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins.

17. Your style mantra

We women constantly get told that we ought to look a certain way. Resist the brain washing.

Bright colors, printed fabrics & catchy logos – can visually clutter a space that the human resides in. Resist the urge to add. Keep it calm and simple.

Exercise has the same effect as haute couture. Simplest of garments look good on a toned body. Good fit is easier to achieve. Posture improves when the back is strengthened.

Buy less. Buy better. Make them last.

Clothes look their best after they are worn in and just before they fall apart. Wear them on repeat.

Color is therapeutic. Blue is the color of happiness. Red is the color of passion. Green is the color of the trees. Black is the color of universe. Wear them well.

Have fun with your clothes.

 

Knock, knock, if you are reading this, I welcome you to please pick a question of your choosing and answer it in the comments.

Place

Posted on July 7, 2018

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[ Sustainability feels like a hopeless cause that can only result in heart ache. But poetry gives me hope. This artist found his paradise by planting trees.  ]

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He never went into academia like his peers or worked for an enterprise. He ferociously maintained his independence to do what he wanted to do. He didn’t come from money. To make ends meet, he cut his own hair. Dressed out of Salvation army in old army clothes since his childhood. Lived the simplest life to achieve his goals. Shunned excessive consumption. Shunned sacrificing sustainability for the sake of convenience. Said that folks who support war and pollution have no reverence to life. Donated his prize money towards anti-war efforts. “I never wanted a domestic life. I didn’t need a lot of money. ….. I had a different set of examples in mind. I thought of the poets and the composers before the 20th century, who never thought that they were going to have any money. So I thought to myself … well this is what I want to do and I will do it anyways.” Used his life’s savings to start a conservatory. Moved and bought a piece of deforested waste land. Started plating native trees but found that the land was too damaged to grow them. He planted the trees required to re-build the soil and the ones that change the micro-climate. Built the forest canopy first and then planted the trees that grow under it. Found his heaven. This is how my kind of style icons dress – in old clothes and in blue.

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His mind and his work.

I am not in a stage of my life where I can follow his footsteps. But here are things I can do :

  1. I wanted to plant 10 trees this year. I hit the goal. 100 is my new target. I am at 38. Inside our home, outside our home, indoor plants gifted to friends, outdoor plant cuttings potted in family yards, any empty public land, our street, your street, buying carbon offsets, …. all of it is fair game.
  2. I have gone on a shopping fast since June 1st. I want to keep it a quiet long affair.
  3. I have gone as zero waste as I can. Any more, comes at the expense of my productivity and social life. I am doing my best. The rest, I plan to tackle on a different platform. Lot of our ocean plastic pollution comes from Asian rivers. Making a donation to a grass root organization in India would help. ( Haven’t figured out a specifics yet.  )
  4. Compost. It’s super food for plants. It keeps our land healthy.
  5. Save up to go solar and off the grid. I opened a seperate savings account.
  6. Keep blogging. It won’t change the world or solve world problems as the naysayers love to point out, but it has changed me and kept me in check. Baby steps till I am ready for the leaps.

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.

A Summer Closet

Posted on June 29, 2018

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Last year, I wrote some notes on my take on an ideal closet. It resulted in a discussion on if the ideal state is a myth we chase. Aren’t we in a constant state of growth which results in different wants ? Is a closet ever really built ? Can desire be contained ? I don’t know the answers to these questions. Instead of over analyzing the idea, I set some rules and a target. I have learnt to be contentment within my bounds. My closet is built. Let me explain :

The right amount

Once upon a time, I had excess and I was underutilizing the clothes I had. There was also a time when I have exactly what I needed but was not content. With time, I found my ‘just right’. I want it to stay clutter free and organized. I want the incoming and outgoing rate to be low. I like the current status quo.

( I won’t call myself a minimalist. It’s alright to not be one. )

The right garments

There is something in there for every occasion life throws at me. The purpose of building a closet is to be stylish. I am not interested in a closet whose only virtue is that it has less than a count “n” , with n being small. But at the end of the day, it needs to be cruelty free and responsible. It should be second-hand, vintage or ethically made. There should be some glamour and lot of pragmatism. There should be a balance of feminine and masculine elements. Some garments exist to be worn out in the next 2 years. Some are to be worn over a decade. Some are to be worn over two decades. Some have the potential to become heirlooms. Getting dressed should be joyful. Else, there is no point to any of this.

[ A silk blouse. A floral print blouse. A pinstripe shirt. A polka dot shirt. A chambray shirt. A shift dress. A shirt dress. A maxi dress. A midi dress. A t-shirt. Blue denim. Black pants. Charcoal denim. ]

A whole lot of navy blue

An ocean of blue. Opening the door to my closet is color therapy. I write this with a big grin : if you want to discuss the “right shade” of navy blue, I am here. If you want to talk “bad shades” of navy blue, I am here for that too.

Some army green, red and pink.

For the full moon days when I turn into a wolf and don’t want to wear navy blue.

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( Missing ) This trio of printed photographs : Charlotte Rampling for YSL, shirt dress by Yohji, sketch by Clemence Poesy. 

My interpretation :

Image 1 : There are two ways to do androgyny – the YSL muse and the office worker.

Image 2 : Yhoji-saan’s women :“Fashion cannot make you sexy. Experience makes you sexy. Imagination makes people sexy. You have to train yourself, you have to study, and you have to live your life”

Image 3 : “Don’t bother me.”

I have a straw and a wool hat on a hook on the walls. ( Not visible in this photo. )

Also missing : a hook right by the closet door on which I hang the garment that I consider most stunning piece I own.

Books

I want an eclectic mix of inspiration on my shelf. Flipping through the street style photos while sitting on the floor is a pleasure.

[ The Sartorialist (my fav), Tomboy Style, Trench, It’s Vintage Darling, Paris Street Style ( must-read) , The New Garçonne, Many of Them, Asian Street Fashion, Men in this town, Women in this town, Elegance ( This book is an abridged version of finishing school for women. Made me cringe a little.) ]

Maintenance gear

Vodka refresher spray. A clothing brush. Some shoe conditioner.

Perfume

My 4 year affair with Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir continues. I sometimes wear it to bed.

Shoes

I have the most used and the really dirty ones by the front door. The ones in my closet are the least used and are reasonably sanitary to bring into the bedroom.

A dresser

Something to hold the scarves, slips, belts, t-shirts, sweaters, pjs, workout clothes, gardening overalls, underpinnings, socks and handkerchiefs.

Collections !

I have lots of shoes but I am not interested in collecting them. They come on a need/want basis. They go when they are worn out. I am not interested in collecting luxury handbags. I carry a canvas backpack or a cotton tote on most days. I want to collect blue dresses …. which I sort of do.

The Trinket box

I wear a tiny gold dot necklace on most summer days. It gets the most accessible hot spot.

Jewellry box

This is where I hide my clutter. I have trinkets from my teenage years. The tacky metal butterfly ring, color changing talismans, plastic beads, silver plated “peace” pendants, ‘I am grown up’ pearls, coming-of-age presents from relatives, heirlooms that I don’t know what to do, unworn wedding rings, ……  I am not okay with owning things that hardly get used – that’s hoarding ! Do you guys declutter your jewellry ? I don’t have the guts.

 

Peace. 

There is no scope to ponder if a certain garment is of the right vibe, the right kind of trendy, the right kind of classic, the right kind of chic, if the French woman would approve, if American woman would approve, if the Indian women approve, if I am rebel, if I am a conformist, if I am a contrarian, ….. There are no “if”s and “but”s waiting. These garments won’t be culled next year. Most of them have been around for years and are old friends. They will be worn till they are worn out. I can walk in, choose something, get dressed and get on. I am at peace.