Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Thoughts on minimalism

I've been watching some YouTube videos about minimalism lately. I was never attracted to minimalism because I always saw it as an extreme thing, like some kind of competition to see who can live with the least amount of material possessions. Like, a friend told me about the concept of a "capsule wardrobe" in April last year and I looked it up and was like, uhhhh... no. Only own a fixed number of clothes? They all have to be neutral colours in order for me to be able to mix and match them with each other? No way, José! It just seemed to me that minimalists are weird the same way that hoarders are, just on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Everyone who has seen my book collection knows I'm not in contention for being a minimalist. I'm not exactly a hoarder either but things do pile up and I'm bad at putting stuff back where it should be. One of my friends posted a video which talked about whether a book lover can really be a minimalist, and you know how on YouTube it's so easy to go down a rabbit warren of clicks... so I started watching a bunch of videos on minimalism and discovered I had it wrong. In fact, YouTuber Break the Twitch said, "Don't let minimalism become just another one of those things that you feel like you need to continually work towards." He talks about how minimalism has become associated with the image of "the perfectly white wall and white bedspread" and says that is not what minimalism is all about; it's about "the freedom that choosing to consume less and own less can give you".

I particularly liked what another YouTuber, Lia's Loft, said about minimalism: "When I think of the term 'minimalist', I just think that means -- oh, I take minimalism, the tool, and I use that to reduce excess in my life, to make sure I'm focusing on the right things, to make sure I have stuff that I love and value." She said doesn't want people to see minimalism as a sort of "super exclusive club for people that like to have nothing in their house," and added that "it's not about being perfect, it's about making your life happier and just exploring and loving your values and loving yourself." Someone else, I can't remember who and can't seem to find the video now, said that minimalism is a way for you to become aware of your spending and consuming habits and be more purposeful about them, like to do things more mindfully.

From there I watched two videos of Marie Kondo talking about her method of decluttering. I already knew of her books and her methods (in fact, more than a year ago I bought a chest of drawers so that I could put away my clothes the way she suggests, because it's SO GENIUS and I was so tired of having to try to stop T-shirt piles from collapsing when I would pull a T-shirt out from the middle of the pile on the shelf in my wardrobe). But I'd never read her book for myself, and hearing her explain the rationale behind her method, I really liked that she said the focus is not on what to discard, but what to keep. Positive instead of negative. And she advocates keeping only the things which "spark joy".

She has gotten brickbats for that "spark joy" concept, but it did really work for me when I cleared out my closet. At the time I wasn't consciously using her idea, but I tossed out clothes which no longer fit, which weren't comfortable to wear, and which I didn't feel confident while wearing. You know there are some clothes which when you wear you just get this feeling you're looking like a total frump? Whether you are or not, you just have that feeling? Or you feel like the clothes are making you look shapeless? Or some other thing? As for comfort, that included not only materials which didn't feel comfortable next to my skin (actually I hardly had any of those because, having eczema, I avoid materials which make me itch) but also tops with a low-ish neckline that always made me ultra self-conscious whilst wearing them, skirts a little too short which I would always be trying to tug down and fretting over when I went out in them -- things like that. So that worked really well.

The "spark joy" idea is not going to work with my book collection, though. I haven't read many of my books -- in fact, at this point I would say maybe 70% of my books are in TBR (the To Be Read pile). So I can't tell whether they would spark joy until I've started reading them, unless they're of genres which I've tired of or contain tropes I know for sure now I wouldn't want to read. "Sparking joy" also won't work with my craft collection. Of course it all sparks joy. I like doing crafts! So what if I haven't done any papercraft for 15 years?? Urgh this is hard.

But watching the minimalism and decluttering videos is inspiring me to want to declutter my house more, and I found a great video from Origami Twist on how to deal with craft supplies:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stainless steel jewellery

I was contemplating switching to stainless steel for all my metal chain, earring hooks and other components. I thought it would wear better than the so-called "silver-plated" iron or brass chain which I usually use. The silver coating eventually either wears off or dulls drastically over time, with exposure to the environment, and becomes very ugly. In the picture below, the earring on the right is one I made three years ago and never put away. The one on the left is new. I don't think the hooks can even be polished, since they're not true silver.

But I discovered that although stainless steel is supposed to be "stainless", first it just is more resistant to corrosion, not impervious; and second, there are different grades of stainless steel, the most common one being 304 stainless steel, which contains chromium (the substance which makes it withstand corrosion) and nickel -- usually 8% nickel, but can go up to as much as 35%.

This isn't good. Some people are allergic to nickel.

WebMD and the Mayo Clinic both say surgical grade stainless steel (and not just any type, but 316L stainless steel in particular) should be safe for those with nickel allergy to wear. That means I have to carefully read the labels when purchasing materials... and if I switch to stainless steel, I have to keep some of the previous thingies on hand just in case I need to switch them out for a buyer. It makes things complicated. I don't like complicated!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making a comeback?

I found this blog today and it made me want to blog again. I'm not sure if I miss blogging, but it was a great way to document what was going on in my life -- I've never been a diary sort of person -- and there are things worth remembering, even though they seem minor. We forget too easily, I think. I miss writing freely about my experiences and thoughts and fears and joys.

She writes about her life like I used to, and with a dash of dry humour. After all that happened years ago, I haven't felt like writing publicly about personal stuff. I'm terrified of being criticised and of people being unkind. In all the years I blogged, I think only two or three commenters were ever unkind, but my family was displeased, and that's why I stopped. I stopped even though I had switched to using a pseudonym and my family didn't know about my new blog. I just... lost my voice.

Sometimes I also feel like I no longer have a great deal to talk about. I've written about the topics I care about and have not much to add, and I can't write about work, since I don't want to talk about my students. Plus, in contrast to those younger days, I don't think it's a good idea to rant or vent in a public forum. Not sure what that leaves me with, lol.

Anyway, it's 10:30pm and I'm tired; I'll post this and see if I continue some other time this week.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Science is not an established body of knowledge as much as it is an attempt to explain things that we don’t yet know, and to organize what we do know in a systematic way. It is the manual that the world ought to have come with, but was somehow left out of the box.
--Ellen Klages

Monday, January 18, 2016

That fine line

    I rarely have felt, in these times of hopeless thinking, that I wanted to die. It was more that I didn’t want to be alive. I wasn’t lusting for heaven or anything. Wanting to die is not the same as not wanting to live — one is active and the other is passive.
    --Abby Norman, How to be a Ghost

This is perfectly articulated. I struggle to tell people that when I'm in that state of mind, I'm not suicidal although I think about dying. I don't want to kill myself. I just want to not be.
***I'm not in that state of mind at the moment. You shouldn't worry :)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A hairy issue

Reading this really resonated with me (warning: NSFW doodles). I have an uneasy relationship with body hair, too. I had my underarm hair lasered so I wouldn't need to spend mental energy thinking about it or worrying about it. I was getting my upper lip lasered too, but kept breaking appointments with the beauty centre because I couldn't get there in time after work. I only remove my leg hair for special occasions, like when I have to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and lead a workshop.

I have had friends, colleagues, and acquaintances tell me I should do something about my leg hair.

They are invariably female.

We swallow society's ideas of what is or is not beautiful, and then we internalise these ideas to the point that not only is body hair not beautiful, it is unacceptable.

It is unacceptable for a woman to have leg hair. Imagine that.

I am unfortunately blessed with a bit more hair than most, perhaps a side effect of applying steroid creams to control my eczema. When I was in university, and complained to my dad, he went into Doctor Mode and sent a sample of my blood to be tested for hormones that affect hirsutism. Everything came back normal.

For the most part, I forget about my leg hair, but when someone mentions it, I am reminded of it. People say this in such a helpful way. They sound so reasonable. They just want me to make the most of myself. Because leg hair is so damning and has the power to suck all a woman's attractiveness away. Yes.

The last time I waxed my legs I ended up with some kind of reaction -- I always assume it is eczema because I am used to the itch which accompanies eczema flare-ups, but my dad took a look at the photos and said it looked like folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles), which made sense, too. I ended up going to bed with a calf slathered in medication, wrapped in cling-wrap to prevent me from further damaging the skin by scratching it. Seriously, all that to have socially-acceptable legs?

I need to come to terms with my hairy legs, as that author says, and love them, and stop thinking they are ugly. Stop allowing others to influence me into thinking that they're ugly. Of all the things that we could be worried about when it comes to hygiene and grooming, we're focused on hairy legs?!!

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Everyone has issues. You can't live in this world and not have issues. Christians say it is a "broken world" and it is, in more ways than one. We are all imperfect. As if that did not already guarantee us issues, in our imperfection we then cause other people issues, and in their imperfection, others also cause us issues. It's simple cause-and-effect.

So no one is "okay", but the level of "un-okayness" and the areas it affects differs from person to person. Trying to insist that one is "okay" only leads to more issues for yourself and everyone around you. We can all SEE you're not okay. Your attempts to prove you're okay, in fact, blatantly expose your issues to all and sundry.

Anyway, I have issues too, and I come from a fairly stable, ordinary, typical sort of Chinese-Malaysian family so I've always felt like I don't have a right to my issues. You cannot say you do not feel loved by your parents, for example, when they have worked hard to put you through university. What is that, if not concrete evidence of love? And you cannot say you regret your parents' parenting style, because even if it left you never feeling good enough, you graduated from university with honours and now have a fairly well-paying job, so obviously their methods were efficacious?

The emphasis on filial piety among the Chinese also means I can never stop feeling guilty at questioning my upbringing. Can I be a good daughter and still say I resent my parents for sweeping aside the creative part of me as if she were unimportant? And of course it is also unfilial to blame one's parents for all one's issues.

But it is not a blame game. I have to acknowledge my issues, and trace them to the source in order to deal with them. Unfortunately the source very often does appear to be in my childhood. When else are we most vulnerable and impressionable? And who else but those closest to us would be able to have such an impact as to cause issues which continue to reverberate through our lives thirty or forty years later?

So I have issues, and sometimes I think they are not large ones, but sometimes they appear to me to be as high as mountains. And I am still tackling them, one day at a time. Sometimes I think I have vanquished one, only to see it pop up again later. I have to love myself and feel secure in my identity. I have to fight the fear that revelation of my weaknesses will bring rejection. I have to live in reality instead of the oblivion and comforting embrace of escapism. I have to take responsibility for my own happiness, not expect another person to make me happy. I have to own my past choices and admit I am partly to blame for my own issues -- avoiding a victim mentality. I have to recognise unhealthy patterns of behaviour and thought, and work on turning them around.

It is hard work. It is exhausting. Sometimes I despair. Sometimes I feel alone. Sometimes I am impatient and frustrated with myself. But that is also one of my issues: wanting to be perfect. I have to give myself permission to be imperfect.

In the end, I think my issues are quite common ones. Many of us are insecure and fearful. Many of us struggle to accept our true selves and have perfected various methods of running away from the pain inside. This is the human condition. I am human, and so are you. We live in a broken world. We all need healing. We need to be whole.