Life in 8 boxes and beyond

We did it!

Yesterday me and Nik finally managed to move into a hotel from our apartment. In couple days, we will be heading towards Chicago and start a new life over there. For many reasons, we decided to use this as an opportunity of downsizing.

The day before we leave, we threw away at least 12 garbage bags of stuff (Yes, those durable giant black garbage bags), in addition to whatever we have given away. All the books were donated, all the furniture were sold on craigslist and all the CDs are burned into our iTunes then sold to Newbury Comics. The whole process really takes about one month and at the end, we downsized our stuff into 8 boxes and two suitcases of cloth: 2 boxes of kitchen-wares, 3 boxes of music scores, 1 box of bathroom stuff, 1 boxes of office supplies, 1 box of random goods and each of us own one suitcase of cloth. All of them are now stuck in our little Scion xD.

There are many conflicting thoughts going through my head when going through our belongings. I did have to stay focus on a couple of rules to defy the feeling of nostalgic and being wasteful. If the item “pass” my examination, it will deserve a stay.It’s sort of like firing an employee (even though I have never fired anyone): you evaluate his/her contribution and future cost of maintenance.If it is reasonable, stay; if not, bye-bye. Now, here are the aspects I look at when deciding if I am going to keep an item or not:

#1 Functionality:

We decided that functionality will be one of the most important features of our belongings. Every item should have multiple functions. For example: Swiss Army Knife.

Instead of a full drawers of tools, we only kept Nik’s Swiss Army Knife. It’s an embodiment of the life we want: compact, functional and has clean-cut design.

Things we throw away that don’t fulfill this requirement: pineapple corer, fruit slicer, steamer (we are looking to buy an all-in-one stove), etc.

#2 Space:

Anything that takes over too much space has to go. I have always admire some people’s organizing skill, but I could never stop questioning : wouldn’t it be easier just throw those things away? Hiding them in drawers beautifully will not enhance the function but reduce the times you use them. If you have a huge collections of CDs and books like me all hide in the drawers, it’s better off to digitalized them and sell/donate the physical version. The content is the value, not the beautiful cover and plastic jewel case.

#3 Design and Quality:

I always count design as part of the value. Personally thinking, if one thing is designed well, it will exude a sense of harmony and serenity; If a thing made of very good quality, it usually doesn’t need too much decoration to disguise. Never be too caught up by the decoration, but pay lots of attention in the quality. More over, if you already find serenity in your heart, you won’t need to much accessories to improve your life.

#4 Compatibility:

One thing to keep in mind is high compatibility. This usually is about clothing: for example, a natural brown color belt has higher compatibility than a bright red belt. Keep items that will work great with each style in each season. Even though it was quite easy for me to clean my closet, it wasn’t easy for me to see how the items I kept will work with each other. Recently I signed up for the 30 by 30 challenge by Kendi, not only because I have always admire her style but also I am hoping to search for my own style through this challenge by utilizing my cloth and accessories smartly. Btw, I will start my 30 by 30 challenge when I get to Chicago this Wednesday. Can’t wait!

Right now, everything I own is in my car. Although it’s not as mobile as I wanted to be, it is closer than before. I feel proud and shameful of myself at the same time: I am proud of being able to execute my desired lifestyle but at the same time, I feel guilty about the amount of stuff I had to throw away to achieve that goal. At least right now, I am back to a good start. I hope we can maintain this amount of belongings or less.

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Minimalist on the go

I have always wanted a simple life that fills with memories and stories, which I can treasure no matter where I am. However, while accumulating memories I have also accumulated too many objects around myself.

We live in a consumer world. Buying things has becomes the easiest, fastest way to solve problems. If a watch is broken, we buy a new watch. If a plate is chipped, we buy a new plate. Buying a new thing has become way faster than repairing the broken ones. However, not too many of us are big “givers,” we all thought that once we have time we will fix everything. Therefore, there are things coming through the door, but there is hardly anything going out of the door. The amount of stuff simply gets bigger and bigger years after years.

I was not an exception. I treasure memories that associated with the items I own, and I buy things in order to make friends. Four years in college, I accumulated 25+ boxes of books and 500+ CD. Longing to make friends in this foreign country but barring by the language ability, I turned into books and music which not only comfort me but also make me look like I “fit in” this society. I dreamed that someone would appreciate my taste of books and music, and I would start making some friends from there. To me, buying books and CDs was the solution to fix my problem. And I was a books/CDs hoarder.

Now I think of it, I really should have gone out and tried to meet more new people. Opened my heart and listened to what other people are talking about, interested about. That, might be a better solution than buying things and hoping someone will secretly notice how unique I am based on what I read and listen.

My observation about people around me proves my point. People now are a lot less welling to sit down and figure out the problem, especially abstract problems. One of my family friends channelled her energy towards buying designer items after splitting with her husband, and she spent $14000/month on stuffing her closet; one of my family members buys a new piece of furniture almost daily after retiring. The feeling of emptiness in their heart makes their mind unease and makes their life clotted.

So how should we confront with our problems more directly? How to stay calm and see the answer? These are questions too big to answer, but I have couple thoughts:

1. One strong core.

One thing I learn from doing Yoga is no matter how complicated the poses are, you need to have a strong core. Core, doesn’t necessary mean abdominal muscles here, but a sense of stability. If your legs are wabbly, you will never be able to crescent lunge with a back bend; if your abdominal muscles are weak, you won’t be able to do head stands; if your mind is not focused, you won’t feel the flow. Start from one little thing and make it strong, then once the sense of stability sink in you will feel impenetrable. Then gradually you will build a solid base for yourself to climb higher, live better, feel nicer.

2. One Focus.

Since little, my parents always tell me that I need to focus on what I am doing. However, they gave me too many tasks at once to focus on: I need to focus in piano lessons, cello lessons, dance classes, exam studies, abacus calculation classes, calligraphy classes and Go classes. My concentration is always the target for blame when my grades are not as good as expected. This has a huge impact on my life: I have always had a guilty feeling when my mind wonders while doing works, but I never analyze the reasons. I would force myself to focus, again and again, by drinking coffee or bribing myself, and it makes me feel frustrated about myself.

Ironically, when I first decided to get rid of all my “focuses,” it was the first time that I feel finally I fortified the quality and duration of my focus. It’s better to only live in the present: don’t think about what you are going to do the next hour or tonight, but instead, focus on the thing you are working on right now. You will find it more gratifying than longing for a better future. One thing at a time, even in your mind.

3. One ending.

I tend to be very creative and easily excited by new ideas. That say, it is easy for me to start something but hard for me to end it well. A perfect chinese to describe me: 虎頭蛇尾.

To avoid this, it takes some disciplines. I have to set a clear goal in everything I started, and only if I reach that goal I can move on to something new. This makes me really focus during work (because I want to do always do new things and get rid of old ones) and keep me efficient.

4. One Person

“Everyone is an island.” Even though I like the movie “About A Boy(where this phrase is from),” I still feel deep down there is solitude in every human’s existence. In order to have a simple life, we need to be able to be comfortably alone. A strong mind will not need others’ approvals but rather rely on self-reflection. I am not saying you should be stubborn, but rather you need to talk to yourself and understand yourself before searching for others’ advice. The truth is, deep down in your heart you know what you are searching for and what’s that you want. It is important to give yourself some time and energy to talk to yourself. Admit your true intention.

5. Simplicity.

De-cluttering my life/trim down my belongings is probably the best thing I have ever done to myself. Once I have a deeper understand about what my basic needs are, the essential stands out from the rest of the stuff. I did have a hard time when going through the cloth, therefor me and N decided to use a “suitcase” method: each of us took one suitcase and packed 2 weeks of cloth in it , and then started living with only the cloth from the suitcase. It helped me decipher what are the ones I really wear and what are the ones I only wear in my imagination. Of course, the later ones goes to donation or consignment stores.

To me, the best thing about decluttering is regaining the space around myself. I feel ignited by the air around me, and I feel calm and strong. I do not need all the materials to help me to live as I wanted; and I do finally feel like I am part of the world because I know who I am. That feeling is great.

Good Restaurant Standards

I have been watching a little bit of Kitchen Nightmares lately. Not really a fan of the drama, and can’t stand the yelling and acting in the show, but I do learn a lot about how a restaurant works from Ramsey the chef businessman. From service to restaurant managing to the atmosphere, the differences between a good restaurant and a bad one can manifest in many different ways. It was obvious in the show that why the restaurants were running out of business.

However, when I look back to my experience, I really was taking everything for granted. As a costumer, when I enter a restaurant, I never assume anything bad–instead, I trust that everything was “inspected” by the some government health department officials, that the chefs are trained, that the food is cleaned and prepared well, that as long as everyone else is eating, I am safe, too. I never assume a restaurant to be mediocre or bad before I walk in. Every restaurant is “maybe” very good until you try it.

That’s the kind of attitude that I think why yelp is so popular in these days. People are hunting for good restaurant, to be a place that boost up their social life or a place to create good memories. People walk by a nice looking restaurant, wondering if it is good, so went online to search what other people need to say about it and if it has the information that they are looking for, then go on and try out the restaurant. I think, everyone is sort of on a quest to find a good and memorable restaurant in every cuisine. I came from a family that eat out on weekends a lot, so my parents are always hunting and exploring for good places to eat. That got me to have a habit of collecting my favourite restaurant of each cuisine when I move to a new place.

So with such a positive mind-set among customers, why are some restaurants still falling apart? The show gets me to think, why certain restaurant I went back again and again, and why some restaurant I never went back again after the first try?

The word is standard. Set your standard high, no matter how many competitors you have. My “good restaurant standards” break into couple parts:

1. Fresh food. Fresh and steamy hot food is of course the key thing to make a restaurant success. Food temperature is very important to the sense of freshness of the food. If a salad is too cold, then it taste like it’s been frozen for days. But if it’s too warm, it has this weird soggy texture. If a grilled fish is not crispy, hot outside, juicy and moist inside then it doesn’t give a sense of freshness. So yes, food temperature and freshness are very important to me.

2. The smell of the restaurant. There is a reason why I don’t go to Chinatown here to eat, because of the smell of the restaurants disgust me. A lot of them have this bleach smell that makes you feel like you are eating some corps. A lot of chain restaurants in US don’t have this problem at all…I don’t know where the chinatown restaurants get those smell from.

3. Cleanness. No need to say anything of this. Just make everything clean, no flying insect, thanks.  One time I went to a japanese restaurant in AA and found a caterpillar in my food, blending in with all the greens. I asked the owner to come and showed her the bug, and she said “well, it has lots of protein” and refused to give me a new dish. That was when I started boycotting the restaurant for 6 years and never been back again.

4. Parking or accessibility. Somehow this is quite a factor to us. If a restaurant is very good, but has only street parking, we will only visit it on “special occasion” because we don’t want to worry about parking while  we eat. And yup, we are usually too lazy to walk.

5. Service. I usually don’t care much about service since I preferred to be left alone normally. As long as the waiter/waitress don’t bug me all the time, I will give them good tips. Over certain threshold, the more they bug me, the less tips I usually give them. In other words, a good one will tickle you on the right spot, but a bad one just rubs you the wrong way.

6. Atmosphere. I love dining in certain places simply because it’s quite atmosphere. In general, I hate to eat anywhere I can’t hear what my friends are talking about, like places you have to shout to each other “WHAT?” “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” That, is just unappetizing. A good meal should be filled with soft talks, a little bit of clinking noise from utensils and plates, and maybe some very soft background music.

I think Gordon Ramsey really stresses the importance of these points in his show and I totally agree with him. He helps those restaurants to raise the standards they’ve lost and the confidence to face us costumers. From a costumer point of view, these are also the reasons why I revisit certain restaurants again and again but I don’t go to others.

Used or not used? Differences between Taiwan and US.

Since we are moving to Chicago in 1.5 month, me and Nik started to sell things on craigslist. It is definitely quite a time-consuming project to name every little thing you owned,  including checking the brand of each item or the original price of each. However, right after I posted my moving-sale ad, I received quite a lot of responses. On the night I posted, a gentlemen even came to pick up couple things for his son who is moving out to a flat recently.

This really got me thinking, why in US re-selling your properties is so common compare to in Taiwan? Craigslist will not succeed at all, well, probably, in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, no one really buys used stuff. People usually talk about an used items with a “disgusted” face. The only second-hand market that worths mention is probably the antique market.  A lot of people believe that once an object is owned, it will have a little bit of “the owner’s spirit” on the object. Therefore, you can always hear people saying “Many people who owned that second-hand car were all killed by accidents…it’s a very unlucky car. ” When buying used things, say a house or cars, people always check who the previous owner is, and how his/her’s health and financial condition is right now. I may sound like joking, but I am darn serious. When my parents were thinking to buy a house, they spent lots of money and time checking the Feng Shui. Is the house 坐北朝南 (facing the south) ?or is the living room the first thing you see when you walk in a house (it is considered unlucky to see the kitchen and the bathroom first when entering a house)? The list can go on and on. Every little detail has some kind of Feng Shui rule associated with it. It is really rarely that people would buy second-hand car in Taiwan. The thought about someone has been killed or injured in the car just cannot get passed by Taiwanese’s Feng Shuis/ Luck standards.Not even the furniture! When I told my aunt about our sell on craigslist, she (an 40-ish lady) couldn’t believe that anyone would want a used furniture. In my memories, the only second-hand things that my parents ever bought is the scooters and bikes. That’s really all.

In US, selling/buying a used items is really common. The used items for sale can range from flight mileage to floor lamp. Some people even posted just to ask if there are free things to pick up. When I went to college in US, all the ads in the bus stops about used cars and furnitures startled me.  I couldn’t believe anyone thinks they can sell a used couch, or wants a used bed. The idea scared me. Years after, being an experienced “mover,” I started to get used to getting rid of things on craigslist and salvation army. We donated books, clothes, kitchen-wares and all other sorts of things. It really makes me feel good about contributing to the whole society, by circling these good but used items instead of throwing them away due to the owners’ relocation.