Saturday, August 3, 2019

Half measures: minimalism game 1-15


The Minimalism Game is likely new information for absolutely nobody, but the spirit of it is to get rid of (give away, donate, recycle, trash) n items for n = 1:15 consecutive days. I participated because though I think I have been pretty good about keeping my consumption in check, I do have clutter that I am sick of seeing. I also didn't have a good sense of how much extraneous stuff I had, and wanted to challenge myself to purge my space of things that do not have a place. As much as I like Marie Kondo's methods, I understand that where I have the most room to shrink is the komono = "miscellaneous things" category, and not so much the others. So these first 15 days of the Minimalism Game, 15 non-consecutive days over several months, was my ease into decluttering.


I don't think I ever embarked in any massive full court press decluttering campaign before, maybe because I always favored a slow fade. I revisited a blog post I wrote in January 2016 where I was clearly overwhelmed by stuff in my apartment, and am glad that the feelings of being trapped and being despaired by a space have never resurfaced. I think too that even now, I use minimalism as a framework to process my need for control in a life that often feels out of my control. Those feelings in January 2016 came mere days before I was accepted to medical school, at the peak of what may have been my closest scrape with depression. The past few years of medical school have not had nearly the same ups and downs as college, yet I'm still coping with the old ways: trying to exert control over my life through what I own.


I read something on Reddit recently about the very topic: minimalism cult as a proxy for coping with depression and anxiety, and perhaps there's some truth to it. But take my participation in this game as lighthearted tidying up and self-improvement. Practically speaking, I am moving next year somewhere unknown across this country - hopefully because I have matched at an orthopedic surgery residency program. I actually am now in Virginia for a month for an away rotation enjoying the lovely 3-story home of some medical students who own an order of magnitude more things than I do (but I do appreciate the Southern hospitality) while some other medical student rents my room in Boston (the tidiest it's been in a year, Chinese hospitality). 

Last photo is not relevant, but just needed something to complete the line since I lost one of the photos

Anyhow, maybe an excessive amount of words for an insignificant post. Somewhere around day 10 I decided to fuck all the random pieces of paper I was counting and just recycle them all. So, all in all, I needed the kick in the ass to get rid of the detritus in my room.

And lastly, a sentence from the last post: A general goal that I have is for each item in my possession to have its specific, designated location.

I'm closer to that goal, and I still think the same. Minimalism Game will resume with the much more challenging half when I return to Boston in November.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Makeup inventory


Every year or so, I am overcome with the need to gather up all my makeup, arrange it just so, take a picture, and write a blog post about it. Maybe a bit more frequently, I write out all that I own from memory, to see if I can do it. If I can't, it's a reminder that I have too much. I think maybe the stars aligned and I've been thinking more about makeup and beauty and expectations for female beauty and groomed-ness and put-togetherness that I write this post today.

First, the inventory itself, and then the rambling:
  • Maybelline Fit Me matte and poreless liquid foundation - 220 Natural Beige (2018)
  • Sephora powder foundation - Golden Fawn (2016)
  • Wet 'n' Wild blush x2 - Pearlescent Pink and Mellow Wine (2010)
  • Estee Lauder kohl pencil - black (2010)
  • Wet 'n' Wild eyeliner pencil - brown (2010)
  • Wet 'n' Wild eyeshadow palette - Comfort Zone (2014)
  • Urban Decay eyeshadow palette - Naked2 (2013)
  • Burt's Bees matte lip crayon - Redwood Forest (2019)
  • Revlon lip butter - Pink Truffle (2016)
  • Bite amuse bouche lipstick - Chai (2015?)
  • MUFE lipstick - N9 (2014?)
  • Maybelline mascara - Snapscara (2019)

Note: I picked my favorite pans from the two eyeshadow palettes and put them in this little metal business card holder. It works for me. The matte black from the Naked2 palette fills in my brows.

This is probably the smallest my makeup collection has been since high school, and it's through a concerted effort of not buying new things, being honest with myself and tossing products that are old/not suited to me/etc. I think a longer post about my relationship with makeup and beauty and self-image are due at another time, and this is something of an easy appetizer to write. Over the years, I have progressively owned less makeup, consumed less beauty content, and worn makeup more often (but less of it). Though I always wore what I consider "minimal" makeup - as in, foundation only for special occasions and residency application photoshoot - these days, it's black eyeshadow brushed through brows with a very light hand, and a single coat of mascara. A little lipstick blotted on if there's time. Eyeshadow and blush for social outings. Priorities are to have a low maintenance routine that wears well - and wears off well - over the day, a slow, pretty fade instead of a ruined mess. Can't stand that, and I find foundation and liquid eyeliner suffer from that.

There is room to whittle down. High coverage foundation, be it liquid or powder, has almost no role in my life. Personally, any kind of base makeup makes me slip into uncanny valley, or at least distance my done up face from the one I am familiar with. There's redundancy in brow products. I've never gotten the hang of eyeliner pencil so that will probably go at some point. And most of the lipsticks look the same. I have no desire to try or buy new makeup, and will just replace what I own organically, as they run out or no longer serve a purpose.

With that, a vision of the future:
  • sheer liquid foundation
  • sheer face powder
  • blush, 2 of them
  • brow product, just 1
  • mascara - I'm happy with the one I use now, and I'll be better about replacing as it expires
  • small eyeshadow palette, likely constructed from single pans - the amount I have now is fine
  • lipstick - 1 sheer red, 1 my lips but better (MLBB), 1 more for variety
High quality, reliable products. With that list above, and the inventory I have now, I have all my bases covered, and happy with what I won't own. Hopefully minimal and timeless, as empty as those descriptors are. But that's what I want, and I think that's what I have here.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Commonplace book

The concept of the commonplace book, a receptacle for information and thoughts, came to me from A Series of Unfortunate Events in elementary school. So started my habit of carrying a pocket-sized notebook to scribble in. We received a yearly planner from school from 6th to 12th grade, so I used those. And then in college and medical school, it was back to notebooks.


And that has continued. They have always been cheap dollar store notebooks or gifts. Days were always drawn out in wobbly colored pencil. Despite my best efforts to appear organized and orderly, the contents of my commonplace book - and, of course, it is also a planner - reveal me to be a disorganized, chaotic wretch. The basic format has not changed:

  • standard weekly planner format, always Monday to Sunday, six boxes with the weekend sharing the last. Deadlines and events and flights always immediately populated because I can't trust myself to not forget about them
  • blank pages for whatever else: lists, brainstorming, drafts for presentations, information, questions, pearls collected from the wards, steps to induce and emerge from general anesthesia, how to close a fasciotomy, wardrobe planning for autumn/winter 2019, etc
  • in earlier iterations of the CPB, there was one of each section, but I found it more convenient to have a few months of planner, a section of free pages to be used while that planner section is active, and then the next planner section, then the next free pages, etc


A sample of pages from past books loosely in chronological order: exams, deadlines, lists upon lists, course material, sketches, information, information, information, etc, etc, etc. When I went home last, I flipped through the old CPBs and took these photos, and tossed the books themselves into the recycling.



I don't know if this has increased my productivity or my focus because I have never been without it. I don't have any interest in buying a pre-made planner or improving the aesthetics or adopting any other system of organizing information at this time. Inevitably I will make a Google calendar for flights and interviews for residency applications, and will likely be subject to a shared calendar for residency, but for my personal use, I am happy as is. As much I admire the bullet journal movement, it is not for me. I am a person of habit. I am a person of habit.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Lessons in minimalism: month in Rhode Island, out of a suitcase

My room, my suitcase, my sleeping bag. Missing in this photo is the other identical chest of drawers and the other identical broken landline

I spent the second month of my Internal Medicine rotation at a community hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, about an hour away from Boston by train. I took this as an opportunity for a minimalism challenge, and as a trial run for the three months I'll spend this year on away rotations for orthopedic surgery. Here was my attempt at packing light, with the safety net of easy trips back to Boston for things I forgot to bring in the first place, and things I didn't need to bring and took back to my apartment. Despite learning very little in this hospital (in fact, the medicine practiced there is comically bad), I did learn a bit about minimalism (in this very specific context). Namely, I can get by with not a lot, I have room to trim away, and I can sleep in a sleeping bag very comfortably for a month. Read on...

Clothes for a month

In brief, here is what I brought:

5 blouses for wards, 1 of which I never wore
3 t-shirts for exercise and for lounging
1 flannel

3 pairs of trousers for wards
2 pairs of shorts for exercise and lounging
1 dress for the wards, which I never wore
1 pair of jeans

Black boots, boat shoes, and running shoes

Not pictured are my raincoat, undergarments, socks, etc. Essentially, I got by fine this month with this limited wardrobe, but we had laundry in the house provided. Looking back, I could have done with less for the wards, and probably more for exercise since I found myself hand washing after every run. For my orthopedic surgery away rotations, I can shrink this down to one outfit for clinic, a suit, a set of scrubs just in case there is a delay in getting hospital-provided ones, and obviously at least another set of workout clothes, as this is, after all, orthopedic surgery.

As lean as I thought I was packing, there were some leftover items - my green silk blouse and grey dress - that I thought were just too formal for the wards. That's something I've found for myself, that the order of formality of dress code that I've seen is: surgical clinic (business formal) > medical clinic (business casual) > medical wards (business casual) > surgical wards/OR (scrubs). At least that's how I perceive it.

Left: the shoes | Right: perhaps the first and last time I show a stethoscope on this blog

As for shoes, I think darker soled boat shoes would work in almost any medical situation in New England (I say that with some humor, but actually I've gotten away with even these beaters). The black boots will come back in the winter, and my black pumps will come with me for away rotations. The stethoscope will become trauma shears and I'll bring a smaller bath towel next time.

While I was unsurprised that I could tolerate and enjoy sleeping on a bare mattress in my sleeping bag for a month, I was surprised that I so quickly reverted to convenience foods, fats and refined sugars, disposables and take out so easily. I gained weight and was eco-unfriendly, ate more meat than I'm proud to say, and indulged myself a bit too much. This is obviously not ideal since I normally cook all my meals and prepare them mostly with my health in mind, and I do have months of chaotic schedules and new living situations before I need to wear my interview suit. A suit that I wore at age 20-21 interviewing for medical school.

Despite having my metal tumbler, which I did use for all coffee, tea, and water, I treated myself to many disposable plastic bottles of juice provided in the emergency department (??? not going to question it). These kinds of things are my weakness so though I'll Refuse as much as possible, it's more likely Reduce and Reuse that will justify this behavior

So, less a collection of lessons than incoherent rambling, as per usual. I think I may try to pack everything into a backpack and a piece of checked baggage for my aways, and prioritize maintaining diet and exercise for the next few months and the rest of my life. Minimalism is a proxy for the lifestyle habits and changes that are in line with my values, etc, etc. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

An update about medical school


My big plant, this time last year (it doesn't look like this now, unfortunately)

I am two months away from finishing my third year of medical school: two months of internal medicine before I take Step 2 CK, take a one month pit stop in anesthesia, and then four months of orthopedic surgery. Home and three away rotations I am (yet) applying to. Research has been stagnant. My mentor believes in me more than I believe in myself. I scarcely feel ready to apply for residency, but here I am, at the edge of it.

I agonize enough over this process on my own, so I won't belabor it here. Essentially, I haven't changed my mind about orthopedic surgery. I haven't changed my mind about orthopedic trauma, specifically. I am more afflicted now with impostor syndrome than ever before. I have never been more uncertain of my abilities and my talents and every other qualification I may or may not have than right now. At the same time, I have toured most of medicine as a student and determined that nothing is close to orthopedics, and that it must be my future.

I finished my neurology clerkship, which was one of the good ones. Unfortunately, I saw three people die in one day in the Neuro ICU/SICU. All were inevitable. Two were peaceful, with family around them. The third was a futile, but all hands on deck resuscitation attempt of a gentleman who was hemorrhaging all his blood and bags upon bags of more blood from his dural venous sinuses (could not be repaired). I felt kind of useless because of my inexperience and because of the futility, but I made myself helpful by running supplies around, measuring and dumping blood from his hemovac, cleaning up, and finding chairs and tissue.

I've withdrawn a lot from my first friends in medical school and leaned in to others, namely my roommate and our mutual friends, and other students applying in orthopedic surgery. I take care of my plants. I clean my room. I make food for myself, ignore my other roommate, and sleep when I can. Two of my patients on internal medicine are dying, one in a matter of days and the other in weeks. Time just moves on.

Monday, February 18, 2019

A review of my 2018 clothing purchases

Better late than never!


2018 was the transition from second to third year of medical school and all the responsibilities and growth and worry and challenges and accomplishments that go along with that. I did not, in fact, carefully develop and curate a professional wardrobe for the wards, but instead kind of just trundled along faking it with clothes that I already owned. I think I'm okay with that.

There are a lot of other things that happened in 2018, but as always, here is a roundup of the clothes that I bought. This is a practice to keep myself accountable, but also help forecast what I will need and want to buy in 2019. I think there has been a shift away from listing and counting in minimalism, but that kind of thing is in my nature.




January to June
  1. Calypso St. Barth green silk embroidered dress - secondhand, Poshmark - $46 - this was a dress I had saved to a Pinterest board sometime early in college, and I found it on Poshmark and bought it with two friends' weddings in mind
  2. Grey wool trousers - secondhand, gifted - $0 - my sibling bought these trousers from some thrift store and gave them to me. I didn't think I would wear them as much as I do.
  3. Uniqlo blue striped linen shorts - $20 - nailed it with these shorts, wore them all summer
  4. Eileen Fisher black silk t-shirt - secondhand, Poshmark - $30 - not a lot to say about this, other than I wear it weekly and hand wash it

July to December
  1. Uniqlo black ponte dress - $30 - bought after our cat died, a bit too short for some clinical situations, but I do wear it to didactics
  2. Uniqlo blue down puffy - $70 - as mentioned in this post
Total - 6 items, $196

Reflecting on this: it's not a lot, and I do see many flaws in my wardrobe pertaining to not enough. I am wearing through my hardworking black ballerina flats. A lot of my undergarments and socks are either falling apart or have undergone repairs - by the way, I'm pretty happy about increasing my skills in mending clothes! But I still anticipate replacing many things soon. While I don't think I look shabby, I do think I have room to improve my professional appearance. Ultimately, I'll be in a specialty that is in scrubs the vast majority of the time, so maybe I'm holding out on buying professional clothes to really nail in the quality over quantity point.

My last point of reflection is really about minimalism, and also about materialism. I think I understood this year that I actually am pretty materialistic in the sense that I have very strong, emotional attachments to my belongings, which makes decluttering hard. On the flip side, I really do subscribe to minimalism and hate excess in my life, so I restrict myself in owning things because I don't like to part with them. Somewhere, there is a balance between (1) being detached from earthly possessions and not letting them possess you, and (2) being attached to your stuff and in turn treating them with respect and care. Some intersection of the two is the basis of rejecting our modern disposable culture, and the basis for a ton of William Morris quotes/wardrobe curation/simple living and slow fashion/ethical consumption. Something something no ethical consumption under capitalism, but also, I don't know how I feel about influencers in this sphere. Greenwashing, too.

Anyways, that's it. Happy (belated) New Year to all!

Four years later, I finally bought a pair of black ankle boots! More on them later.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

On my third winter in Boston, I finally bought a puffy



I'm giving away my vintage leather jacket, and I bought a down puffy from Uniqlo for triple its price. This was a good decision. Watch me justify it.

I bought and loved this vintage leather jacket when I was 17, in 2012. It saw me through the coldest, windiest day in Berkeley. It even saw me through a torrential downpour in Berkeley when I was walking home, and saw two raccoons slide into a storm drain -- it stopped me dead in my tracks, and I forgot to worry about the effect of rainwater on old leather (no effect). But in truth, I almost never wore it because it was almost never cold enough to tolerate it in Berkeley.


I wore it a lot more in Boston, where there are a lot more cold (30-50F) and non-rainy days where a heavy leather jacket is appropriate. But the more I wore it, the more its flaws bothered me. Windproof, but way too heavy. A distinctive look, but it added so much bulk to my frame. It's an attention-grabbing piece in person, and I'm not one who wants all the same wow cool jacket every time I wear it. It also smells bad when rained on.

I had a gap in my wardrobe to the effect of "too warm for the parka, but too wet for the peacoat or the leather jacket." For a long time now, I've wanted a down puffy, a staple of Boston because of its practicality. Added bonus of being important when camping. Something lightweight, reliably warm, and easy to layer under or over.

Recently, my disdain for the leather jacket and disenchantment of the wild, wild west Americana look it brought reached its peak, and it got cold enough to wish I had a down jacket. So I did it. I decided to lose the $20 and not bother reselling the leather jacket, and shell out $70 for a hooded down jacket at Uniqlo.

Which seems at odds with the minimalism-sustainability-slow fashion ethos I admire: I'm ditching a secondhand, high quality piece for a more expensive fast fashion one. But it's a decision two winters and cold springs in the making, and one that makes sense given my shift in tastes and priorities. I can take the puffy camping. It weighs almost nothing. It's subdued and functional, and just as warm. It has a hood and a high collar.

That's the way it is. As goes my favorite William Morris quote: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." I have replaced something that has never been useful and was formerly beautiful, with something that is extremely useful and kind of beautiful.

Thank u, next

And to further my point, this is a picture of me from college with that leather jacket. Possibly Halloween 2012?