Wearing my new personal uniform while doing pull-ups at the local park.
Decluttering, Journal, Minimalism, Travel

My Minimalist Uniform Project for 2015

Since my exercise and weight loss journey began in the middle of 2014, I have lost about five inches off my waist (34 inches to 29 inches). That custom tailored double-breasted suit from Hong Kong that I got in the summer of 1995? I’m glad that style is coming back into fashion because the muffin top is gone, and the suit fits me again! Those durable North Face shorts I wore on my Desolation Wilderness backpacking trips in the late 90s and early 2000s but hid in my closet the last decade because they had gotten too tight? Time to start planning another backpacking trip because they’re loose and comfy now!

Getting my suit fitted and adjusted in Hong Kong circa 1994. After my weight loss, it fits again!

Getting my suit fitted and adjusted in Hong Kong circa 1994. After my weight loss, it fits again!

Seeing that the clothes I’ve been wearing the past several years are now too big, I’m jumping head-first into this sartorial opportunity to do something I’ve long wanted to do but was afraid to commit to: creating a minimalist uniform for myself. I’ve been inspired by people like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama and others who have adopted a minimalist clothing approach or a personal uniform. They’ve chosen to wear the same or identical clothes every day in order to concentrate on the things that are most important to them instead of wasting time on deciding what to wear. While my daily decisions don’t yet affect the financial future of multi-billion, multi-national companies nor the fate of the free world, I can still benefit from simplifying my life and freeing myself of the clothing decision every day.

Mark Zuckerberg is known for his gray t-shirt and hoodie. The late Steve Jobs was known for his black mock turtleneck and blue jeans.

Mark Zuckerberg is known for his gray t-shirt and hoodie. The late Steve Jobs was known for his black mock turtleneck and blue jeans. I took these photos at the Facebook Graph Search (2013) and Apple Antennagate (2010) presentations.

Unlike these powerful and famous individuals, I don’t have the budget nor desire (yet) to buy dozens of copies of the same outfits, so my minimalist uniform choice has durability requirements along with an added social component.

On Minimalism

There are two memories from my youth and college years that I think were the original seeds for this notion of adopting a personal uniform. In high school, I can’t remember a day when my friend Jared Polis wasn’t wearing slacks and a turtleneck. While the colors changed daily, the style was almost always the same. Today, Jared’s wardrobe consists more of polo shirts and suits now that he’s a three-term US Congressman from Colorado’s 2nd District.

The second seed was planted when I studied abroad in Paris, France during my junior year at Stanford. I remember bringing a hard-sided suitcase, a soft-sided suitcase you see in the photo below, a garment bag, a backpack and a laptop case for four months in the City of Light. Here’s what I wrote nearly 20 years ago in my journal:

“I have pretty much completed packing for tomorrow. J*** was telling me that I brought too much luggage and/or clothes. I didn’t want to show it in front of her, but I seriously disagreed with her.”

“… And, thinking about my luggage, it’s simply a matter of getting to the airport.”

“… I was going to pack the garment bag in the suitcase again, since I was telling J*** that it would be difficult with four luggages instead of three. Then I told myself, “Adam, you brought this garment bag that M*** kindly loaned to you, and you’re not even using it! What the hell is wrong with you!” So, I packed my clothes into the garment bag; man, that bag can carry a crap load of stuff! I was really surprised at how much more stuff it can carry than the one I have at home. And, it allows me to stuff much more junk into the suitcase. I am not worrying about the luggage situation… at least not until December!”

J*** was right, but I didn’t want to accept what she was saying at the time. Isn’t that how it always seems to be when looking back on your life? How I wish my future self could have had a conversation with my younger self about the value of minimalism and the personal uniform!

Just outside the frame of this photo were the other pieces of heavy and bulky luggage I was bringing back to the US. How I wish I had a uniform or a minimalist clothing and packing strategy when I was living in Paris in 1995!

Just outside the frame of this photo were the other pieces of heavy and bulky luggage I was bringing back to the US. How I wish I had a uniform or a minimalist clothing and packing strategy when I was living in Paris in 1995!

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot better at packing for travel. From our vacations in Europe, tours of Autumn Gem around the world, and our two trips to South Korea last year, Rae and I typically brought just two school-sized backpacks with us. If it was absolutely necessary, we brought along a small rolling suitcase. I’ve been able to pair down my clothes to either two or three outfits, but I’ve always want to be able to travel with just the clothes on my back and be ready for any situation. Could I apply that same desire to my everyday life?

On Being Both Durable and Stylish

Our current travel packing strategy consists of choosing clothes that can be worn multiple times between washings, could be washed in the sink, and featured quick drying fabrics. A lot of my clothes come from either REI or Scottevest. They are functional, but I do find them lacking in the style department. My biggest frustration with these clothes is that they make me look like a tourist.

Under a Carlos Gomez sculpture along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Our travel clothes were functional if not stylish.

Under a Carlos Gomez sculpture along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Our travel clothes were functional if not stylish.

The famous people I mentioned above probably didn’t or don’t concern themselves with what other people thought about their clothing habits. Had they earned that right by virtue of being successful and powerful? Or can anyone adopt that attitude? If I’m going to adopt a uniform or minimalist clothing strategy, I’d like the clothes to be both functional, durable, and stylish (to a degree).

The Shirt

Enough with the preamble and background. Let’s talk about what I’m actually going to be wearing for the next several months (to start out with) in 2015.

I first read about the Wool and Prince better button-down dress shirt from one of Tynan’s annual gear posts. I’ve grown tired of taking my stable of cotton dress shirts to the cleaners after they get all sweaty and wrinkled from wearing them for just a single day and am eager to test the magical properties of this fine merino wool dress shirt. Wool and Prince started out as a successfully funded Kickstarter project in 2013. I ordered the button-down oxford in gray. The shipment came in two days and was well packed. The shirt doesn’t feel like the thick wool you might have worn as a kid, nor does it feel scratchy like some of the synthetic shirts I have. To me, it looks and feels like a regular cotton dress shirt.

I chose this shirt because it can be dressed up or down and worn tucked in or out. The grey is a neutral color compared to the colorful gingham styles of the other W&P button-downs.

While the shirt is expensive at $128, it’s about the same price as I paid for my Ralph Lauren dress shirts that I hate having to launder. If this shirt stays clean, stink-free and wrinkle-free for three months, it’ll be worth it.

At the time of this blog post’s publishing, I’ve worn it for two days. We took the kiddo out to the mall in the stroller last night (watch out for flying food!), and we walked to a nearby park this morning. I even did 71 of my daily 100 pull-ups wearing the shirt! Here’s a video of me doing ten of them (while the kiddo tries to run away):

Since I plan to wear this shirt for the next 100 days — 2 down, 98 to go — I really hope it can hold up to everything I will be throwing (and pull-upping) at it without getting wrinkled, smelly and worn.

The Pants

I’m going to be more liberal with my pants choice for my daily uniform. I bought a pair of Levi’s Relaxed Fit 559 jeans in blue and a pair of black Bluff Works pants. I’m also getting my Scottevest black Hidden Cargo Pants altered to bring in the waistline.

Levi's 559 jeans, Bluff Works pants, and Scottevest Hidden Cargo Pants

Levi’s 559 jeans, Bluff Works pants, and Scottevest Hidden Cargo Pants

Like Wool and Prince, Bluff Works was another successful Kickstarter project that achieved its funding goal in 2012. The company makes athletic fit and wrinkle-free pants out of nylon. From the photos, these pants look to be a lot dressier than the cotton-synthetic blend and pure synthetic fabric pants that I have from REI. Stefan Loble, founder of Bluff Works, describes his pants as follows:

“My Bluffs are designed to look great in the office, but stand up to being rolled, folded, stuffed in a bag, and most importantly worn time and time again without ironing or washing in between.”

That’s a lot of promise for a pair of pants, and I’m eager to try them out when they arrive in about a week. Since pants sizing and fit is so personal and hard to judge looking at numbers on a website, there may be some back and forth between me and Bluff Work’s customer support over the next several weeks. Until then, I’ll be wearing the Levi’s 559 jeans.

These three pants will form the bulk of my daily wear, though I may pull out a different pair of pants from my closet for special occasions.

The Jacket(s)

I will be the first person to admit that I have way too many hoodies and jackets. Every conference I went to over the past eight years has handed out some kind of outerwear. Lately, I’ve been wearing a Marmot Ajax down jacket that I got from Re/code. It’s perfectly warm for the mild winters we experience in the Bay Area; the only downside is that it’s a size medium, and I’d prefer a small.

I’ve long been a fan and promoter of Scottevest clothing. The extra pockets in their pants and jackets allow me to carry all of my digital accessories (no minimalist strategy here with my gadgets!). That said, I’ve always found myself in-between sizes with their clothing. Up until now, I was too big for a small and too small for a medium. For spring, summer, and fall, I will wear my Scottevest Travel Jacket (Women’s Large fit me the best) in vest mode in the interim while I look into one of their newer jackets/vests as a future purchase. I might add a touch of color with that purchase, seeing that my wardrobe is very muted with grays, blacks, and dark blues.

Finally, I’m also considering altering one of my blazers to my new size and just wearing that when I’m out and about.

The Shoes

Three pairs of shoes will remain in my regular rotation: My current running shoes, a pair of ABC shoes in black, and a pair of waterproof trail running shoes from XYZ. Since I won’t be running in my uniform, I’ll probably be wearing my ABC shoes the most, seeing that they’ll go better with my Bluff Works and Scottevest black pants. The XYZ shoes work best with my Levi’s.

The Ground Rules

I’ve set up the following rules that govern my uniform usage:

  1. Home: Anything goes. I can wear whatever I want to.
  2. Exercise: Anything goes.
  3. Everywhere Else: I wear the uniform
  4. Special Occasions: Case-by-case basis

I realize that because I work primarily from home, I do have an out with rule number one. I have a lot of soft, cotton t-shirts (all of them given to me for free at various conferences and events). Perhaps later this year, I’ll buy one of Wool and Prince’s t-shirts and wear that around the house. I could save on laundry/water costs each month… hmmm… maybe I’ll be updating this post sooner rather than later.

As for rule number two, I’m primarily running and doing bodyweight exercises (mostly pull-ups and push-ups) these days, with the occasional bike ride thrown in from time to time. I don’t spend too much mental energy thinking about what to wear since I only have a limited selection of exercise clothes.

I’ll take special occasions on a case-by-case basis. Not that I have been invited to any black tie events planned this year, but I do have a tuxedo sitting unused in my closet!

Concluding Thoughts

Day one of wearing my new personal uniform.

Day one of wearing my new personal uniform.

This is my first attempt at creating a uniform for myself, and I don’t know if the choices I’ve made this week will stick for the entire year.

On the original Kickstarter description page for his better button down shirt, the founder of Wool and Prince wrote, “A wool shirt worn for 100 days straight. No washing. No dry cleaning. No wrinkles. No odor.” I’m going to follow his lead and wear this personal uniform for the next 100 days. I won’t be washing the shirt nor the pants unless there’s some egregious stain on them. May the toddler gods smile upon me.

I’m hoping that at the end of this project, the clothes will look as new as they did when I bought them, Levi’s jeans (knee area, I’m talking to you) and shoes aside.

As for my current clothes, they’ll shortly be going into the guest room closet; if this personal uniform and minimalist clothing strategy works for me, I’ll be donating them all at the end of the year. There’s a liberating feeling when I’m able to push beyond sentimentality and get rid of old things that have outlived their usefulness. It’s hard sometimes to make the decision, but I have always felt better afterwards. Out with the old, and in with the new!

Finally, for my friends, family, and work colleagues, I hope you forgive me for making every day seem like the same day when we take photos together! For those people who realize that I’m wearing the same clothes every day, I’ll point them to this post.

Decluttering, Travel

Saying No To Freebies (And When To Say Yes)

Along with lightweight travel, I have been reading sites on no impact and clutter free living. One of the things at I have been trying to improve at is determining when to say yes or no to freebies. Like many people, I have a soft spot for those free items handed out at conferences and on flights. When you stop to think about it, however, most of these items ultimately end up in the same place, the trash. Take this flight that I was just on. The stewardesses had been going up and down the aisles, handing out free drinks in plastic cups along with straws and napkins. Bea over on Zero Waste Home talks how on many airlines, even the recyclable items often end up in the trash bin. In the end, I declined the free drink and the snack. I do have some work to do, as I am drinking water from a disposable water bottle. At least we will continue to refill it throughout this trip. For our trip to Australia, we will bring our own water bottle from home.

Of course, there are times when you have to seize the opportunity to get something good for free. For example, this morning, we were in the Milwaukee Airport, awaiting our flight to Boston. We heard on the PA system that they were looking for volunteers to give up their seats. In return, travelers were offered free roundtrip tickets. With our open travel plan today, there was no reason to say no to this offer! These tickets will come in handy in the next year as we plan additional screening dates for Autumn Gem.

Decluttering, Journal, Tech, Travel

Lightweight Travel to Maine

Rae and I are at SFO right now, awaiting our red-eye flight to Boston. We are headed to Maine for a Labor Day weekend wedding at which we will be the photographers. For the past several years, I have endeavored to lighten our luggage on all our our travels. While I didn’t think it was a problem at the time, I seriously overpacked when I was studying in France during college. I brought way too many clothes packed into two suitcases and a garment bag. In addition, I had a backpack and a laptop with me in the City of Lights.

Since then, I have flipped to the other side of the equation. I am constantly looking for better ways to pare down my luggage load. This trip is a little different in that we are bringing a lot of photophores gear to Maine. Still,we are not checking in any luggage on our flights. Some of my photo gear and laptop are stored in a LowePro CompuTrekker AW backpack. The tripod, camera bodies, some lenses, and accessories are in a Pelican 1510 hard case. Rae is carrying all of the clothing in a soft bag that’s backpack sized.

Why travel so light is a question I have been asked before. While I get to save a few dollars avoiding the airline check-in baggage fees, the main reason is that I enjoy having everything with me at all times. There’s a certain sense of freedom and liberty when you don’t have to lug and drag tons of stuff with you everywhere. Rae and I still remember all the steps we ascended and descended in the Paris metro stations; it’s not a good memory to have! From that point forward, both of us have followed a minimalist approach to travel. Furthermore, I enjoy the challenge of reducing what I bring to the bare essentials.

We are about to board the airplane, so I’ll be signing off now. We have some new gear to test on this trip, which I will describe in a future post on this site or on the Autumn Gem site. Stay tuned!

Journal, Travel

New North Face Surge and Recon Bag Differences

Rae and I were at Valley Fair this evening to meet up with Felix, Osvaldo and Cheryl. We went to the Eddie Bauer store to look at their new bag lineup. With its Adventure and Vantage backpacks, the company is taking cues from and targeting The North Face’s Recon and Surge packs. Eddie Bauer is currently having a back-to-school promotion and backpacks are $20 off. While the packs were of lesser quality overall than TNF’s lineup, they are $40 cheaper.

We then went upstairs to The North Face store. A few months ago, I bought a green Surge backpack. While inspecting the display Surge, I immediately could tell that this was the next year model! The new packs sport YKK zippers and have a lightly padded waistbelt instead of a simple waist strap. There are fewer pockets in the secondary compartment of the Surge, and the shoulder straps have been redesigned. The company also moved the top handle to the back. On the previous edition of the Surge, the top handle was attached to the part of the backpack that opens up. If you were to open the bag, the handle becomes useless. Good decision to move it up top.

While I find my Surge to be a serviceable backpack, there’s still room for improvement. Ideally, I’d like something that’s a cross between the Surge and the Recon. Give me the dedicated laptop compartment of the Surge and add the expandable mesh front pocket from the Recon. I could do without one of the front compartments of the Surge but keep the waistbelt and top handle of the 2010/2011 model. In a way, I kinda just described the Eddie Bauer Adventure backpack! One day, I’ll develop some mad sewing skills and fashion my own ultimate backpack!

Update: I just placed an order for an Ivar Revel G2 backpack.
Ivar packs are unique in that they have a shelving system inside the back. Most backpacks, including the Surge and Recon, are basically big pouches where everything sinks to the bottom. While comfortable with light loads, these backs can become a pain when fully loaded. I’ll likely be testing the Ivar in the Bay Area before our Autumn Gem tour to Australia next month. In the meantime, I’ve put up the Surge for sale on Craigslist. As I mentioned above, it’s a fine backpack, but not quite ideally suited for my needs.

Autumn Gem, Travel

Autumn Gem Tour Packing Recap

Packing for Autumn Gem Tour

Over on our Autumn Gem blog, I posted a recap and analysis of our packing strategy for our 25-day, 17-stop tour of the documentary. We’ve gotten packing light down to a near science, but there’s always room for improvement. Ideally, we’d like to go from three pieces of luggage to just one. Identifying what worked and what didn’t will help us reach that goal in the future! In an ideal world, I’d love to travel for months at a time with just a backpack. Computing and camera decisions always factor into the ability to do this, however. Carrying around a full-sized, 15-inch laptop (two of them on the tour!) and a digital SLR makes this nearly impossible.

When Rae and I traveled to France and Spain, I made what was at the time a painful decision to leave the computer and camera behind, taking only a small Canon PowerShot with me. In hindsight, it was a great choice, as the reduced bulk made moving from place to place much easier. Despite wheels and handle, rolling suitcases really do a number over time. At the time we went to Europe, the iPhone and iPod touch didn’t exist, but these devices today can replace a laptop for email and basic browsing tasks. Finally, a newer cameras like the PowerShot G11 or S90 offers the manual controls and RAW image support that I’ve come to rely upon in my DSLR.

The other benefit of packing less is that you have less to worry about losing. It was pretty easy to make sure that we had everything we needed before traveling to the next tour location; there wasn’t much to begin with!

Read the rest of the article on the Autumn Gem web site for more about our packing strategy during the tour.

Qiu Jin, Travel

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

We arrived yesterday afternoon in Beijing. Today, we’re going to visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

When I started to wear glasses during high school, I remember people calling me Pu Yi. We had been watching The Last Emperor in class, and they must have found a resemblance with me and the last ruler of the Qing Dynasty.

We had street food yesterday, and no one got sick! The chicken satay was great (and cheap at $2 RMB)!, and we’re looking forward to eating more from the street vendors.