3 + 1 books to heal a burnout

According to my outlook, books can fix anything… So obviously my burnout journey – I dare to call this shit like that although nobody has diagnosed it – is book-based. I needed boosts of confidence. I needed affirmations that I was a valid person although my chosen profession has turned not to be the right one for me. I needed a permission to do new things. And I needed a confirmation that it is not too late.

It’s not only books, of course. My family, C, and friends have done their best to be there with me. And since last July I’m also in formal therapy. And, for good and for bad, I’ve been highly functional throughout. But I needed my lady-friends from books too. So here is my shortlist, yes, all written by women and, yes, all widely published and translated bestsellers. And none are fiction. I’m still making my peace with fiction…


Cameron, Julia. 1992 (2002). The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.
New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam.

OK, this one is hard-core woo-woo. I squirmed a lot at the ‘spirituality’ language, ‘God’ and ‘prayers’. But she delivers all the affirmations I wanted and offers tools to accept them as intimate truths. And I’ve always enjoyed journaling and writing as healing, that’s what I’d already done through all my previous turmoils, so her Morning Pages and written exercises are just the thing for me. It is comforting and soothing, and effective. After all, “creativity is like crabgrass – it springs back with the simplest bit of care…”


Gilbert, Elizabeth. 2015. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Rīga: Zvaigzne ABC.

If you want an easier read (a medium-length air travel is all you need for this one and not 12 weeks), Liz Gilbert is there for you. Coming 25+ years after Julia Cameron, Liz says basically the same: creativity is an abundance economy, just showing up makes all the difference, and that all that truly matters is what all that means to you. That is, the bold ‘creative living’ she recommends can and should be expressed throughout your life, not expecting to necessarily get a Nobel for it). True to her usual style of scattered random anthropologies and history bits throughout, the book is entertaining and might serve as a gateway drug for more self help airplane books from the likes of Brené Brown and Gretchen Rubin…. Beware, book lovers! Reading about doing is not the same as doing.


Pinkola Estés, Clarissa. 2001. Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Sounds True audio or any book-form edition.

Oh, Clarissa… at my lowest last summer I would binge-listen to her soothing voice, especially Theatre of the Imagination, and draw. And that was enough.

A fun detail: despite being familiar with her work since more than 10 years ago, only last year I learned that Women Who Run With the Wolves was an audiobook before it was a readable book. The printed versions are much thicker than the 2.5h audio original, but being able to listen to her voice is priceless. Her poetry is delicious and her sense of humor (especially commenting on Women Who Run With the Wolves fame) – intact, but for that you have to go to Theatre of the Imagination.

As with everything in this adult life, not 100% of her fairy tale selection and interpretations make sense, and some seem out of place. That is fine. Take what you need. This is the type of work that you can (should?) reread once every 10 years or so. Just to observe how your perception and take-aways change. Oh, and the poetry! I stole this from Homemaking: Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home. 1996. Edited by Catherine Wiley and Fiona R. Barnes as Clarissa’s web has been listing a poetry book as forthcoming for years now:


Kondo, Marie. 2010 (2014) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
London: Vermilion.
Kondo, Marie. 2017. Spark Joy.
London: Vermilion.

Surprise, surprise! What an unexpected turn: me suggesting KonMari and then some tidying. But bear with me. Here you can find my mini-reviews of all three books and you could read any other book that propels you into action through your possessions (The Art of Discarding or The Joy of Less, or any other of the kind will do). My favorite comprison is with IT devices: if you run for too long without restarting, your systems clog up and slow you down, and you might think that the device is flawed. That’s why your every call with an IT person will start with ‘Have you tried turning it off and then turning it on again?’ This is exactly what KonMari™ does. It is an opportunity to revise and edit your present (hence also future) *and* the narrative of your past.

The power of past editing is my most recent tidying revelation. I have to admit – here comes a dirty secret, beware – that I still have digital photo clutter. My current photo archive is 120GB and I’ve just started tidying it. My obsession, even with the analogue soap box before the digital one, has been documentation, the conviction that there is ‘truth’ to be kept. And then my artsy expressions and allure of street art… that’s a lot of meaningless photos 15 years later.

So I’m slowly tidying up my digital photo past (I already did that with the analogues a couple of years ago) and it is incredibly liberating. Once I let go of the compulsion to keep something for its ‘historical value’ despite it being embarrassing, ugly, meaningless and applied the *spark joy* criterion, I enjoy it so much. There is the symbolical value of retaining only what I want with me going forward, and the pleasure of deleting hundreds of archives and liberating dozens of gigabytes.

Possessions are your road trip companions, a book of KonMari™ style can help you take action to retain only the ones that are kind and helpful.


Which books have helped you at some points in your life? Which authors have given you those a-ha phrases that you have later calligraphed, embroidered, tattooed, etc to retain? Which books do you return to periodically for inspiration and solace?

Book review: Essentialism

This is a rather weird and rant-ish book review as I experienced this book twice – in the traditional paper format in February 2015 and as an audiobook now – and my two experiences do not align. Like, at all.

Wanting to write a review was part of the reason why I went back to it: I remembered it as this key influence towards minimalism in all areas of life and mindfulness. It seemed a perfect fit for my book review section. But! Now it seemed so vapid, class-biased, context-ignorant, and so purposefully tweet-able… So bear with me while I gather the pieces. First a rant about all that irritated me so much this time around (but not so much four years ago, apparently) and then the saveable bits.

The premise of the whole Essentialism thing is so basic it fits on a napkin and doesn’t need a book: figure out what makes sense to you and stick to it – while maintaining some mental health – and ignore all else. Boom! Revolutionary indeed. Also, very far from of the realities of most people’s lives… The author also provides lost of diagrams for the diagram-minded, like so:

First of all, the author: Greg McKeown. How is being ‘public speaker, leadership and business consultant, and New York Times Bestselling Author’ anything? What have you done with your life really, Greg? According to the book, some horrible time in the corporate America missing out on the birth of his child while attending useless meetings and then a mind-blowing MBA at Stanford. And then he set up exploring this revolutionary idea that multitasking is bullshit and humans are purposeful, creative beings who need play and rest. And we live in such shit world that such ‘research’ makes you a bestselling author.

For the same price you also get the personal touch in the form of a typical self-help narrative: I was horrible and then googled some researched the topic, now I’m converted…. How does one becomes a productivity expert, anyway? Well, Greg has become one by talking to some people and throwing lots of quotes at you. So many quotes of so many people that wouldn’t really get along. You get a wide selection of random wisdom nuggets from Mother Theresa, Steven King, Steve Jobs, Gandhi, Ken Robinson and all the TED shit, the usual suspects bound to please every audience. Oh, and the Bibles. All the Bibles… I am not impressed by his reading list, you can have the same message but in XIX form by Thoreau and Emerson.

Even Margaret gets dragged into this… I’m pretty sure she would not be a fan of Greg’s work.

The audience… Well, this is an airport book for a stranded mid-level corporate cog who’s looking for meaning or the serial extroverted entrepreneur who needs a reminder them that they can’t be in all things. This is very class- and industry specific. This is for the children who grew up being told that they could be anything… and Greg keeps affirming that (with a caveat that one thing at a time, please).

And gender specific too, at least as long as we are being realistic about the traditional burden of care work. Who is doing the community and care work while the essentialists are pursuing that single goal? Being an essentialist works as long as you are surrounded by nonessentialists that go on making this (social) world happen for you to be an extravagant genius in…

This made me think about another work-productivity-self-improvement airport book I read even longer ago (and now I’m scared to go back and reread it), Seth Godin’s Linchpin. Because all I remember from that one, apart from a brief lay introduction to brain stuff, was the advice to build your success on not only ‘not being a dick’ but by being actively nice to people. Empathy and such, you know.

Instead, McKeown endorses this quote from Peter Drucker to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: ‘Productivity in my experience consists of not doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work that Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.’ Is it me being weird or the ‘not doing anything that helps the work of other people’ is more than creepy?

The writing style hurt my ears this time. Greg divides all people in two groups, the essentialists and the nonessentialists (see the odious diagram above). It is a constant flow of ‘these do so, but the other the very opposite’. Who are those people? On what basis are you dividing and categorizing people? Unclear, as no serious original research is presented… Feels like Nassim Taleb’s stuff but without the style and those very selected references that makes Taleb enjoyable. Funny story, I had a similar falling out with Taleb too: loved Antifragile but I’m never going back to his stuff after Skin in the Game. At least that wasn’t about the same book…

It is a very warped take on the individual-in-a-system. Greg disparages the (admittedly soul crushing) structures – school, job, society, industrial revolution, military discipline, the XX corporation – without ever even suggesting psychological reasons or profiles. This critique is very unusual coming from me as a sociologist but blaming only the structure and then giving advice how you can hack it assumes that (a) all people want more or less the same and that (b) nobody thrives in those rigid systems.

And the individual part is very, very individual. This is very refined productivity porn – hidden under the dubious notion of ‘your fullest potential’ – for the corporate people. Life can be designed if only you want to. Be deliberate in life hacking or your life will be shit… Greg tries to infuse it with a soul (and some stories about people dedicating some time to their beloved ones, because it’s, you know, revolutionary) but it just withers and dies there…

And now, the reminders that were valid even the second time around:
(yep, you have heard it all already, yep, several times everywhere, I know)

Priority as a noun was first used only in the singular, and that is how it makes sense. Then it becomes muddled and complicated, though, because we contain multitudes instead of just one single wish… but this might help to bring you back to the reality when making one of those infinite to-do lists.

And, following that priority bit, as every other mindfulness ABC will tell you, the space and time for that priority has to be consciously sought and planned for. Deliberation, deliberation, deliberation. Yep, back to the productivity porn we go… but also to the idea that play and rest has to be planned for, especially if you are surrounded by the ethos of not playing (or sleeping) at all such as Academia or the high-flying corporate world.

Distractions are very powerful + the value of boredom and empty moments! Always having a distraction around (the phone! the audiobooks! the people! Netflix!) robs us of the opportunity to just sit there with our shit and think… and doodle… and write… and see stuff springing up.

Journaling and self-exploration is a good thing. Do it!

You are allowed to change your mind. Having a certain education or profession, well, specialization, doesn’t mean that you cannot turn around and pursue something else. You can.

Play! Sleep and rest! These were the key to me liking it so much the first time, I think. I was just entering Academia where people bragged about staying late and working on Sundays, so this was a very nice permission to do my own thing. Like sleeping a lot. Like starting to organize events that I wanted to attend because nobody else was doing that. Like starting a blog that would’ve liked to read… So, in a way, thanks, Greg!


First of all, I shouldn’t be reviewing infuriating books. Or minimalism / tidying books in general… I had thought of going through all that’s out there but that could get ugly very soon. So, unless I stumble across something very good, no more book reviews of the ‘take a long hard look at your stuff’. I am so over that point that I have nothing very good to say about people churning out more and more books saying just that.

Have you read Essentialism? Did you like it? Have you had a similar experience on devouring something starry eyed and then going back to it some time after only to find it very different and not so inspirational at all? We could perfectly – as with me and this very book – apply the esoteric thinking of ‘the thing came to me when I needed it’ and proceed to the endeavors relevant to us right now ♥

Book review: The Joy of Less

I have a new theory regarding discarding, trying to fuse the exhilarating ‘just toss it, it’ [almost] all superfluous’ approaches of Nagisa Tatsumi and all internet minimalists (1, 2, 3), including the book I’m reviewing today, and the more mindful approach of Marie Kondo. It goes along the lines of discerning between obvious irrelevance and one you must fight some demons to discover.

It’s pretty much about the fact that most dwellings have a number of completely irrelevant possessions that serve no real purpose, give no joy and are far removed from our identities. One conscious look will reveal that and – mostly with a thrill – you’ll get rid of it. Typical examples include: never unpacked gifts, knickknacks from other people’s travels, stuff you inherited from the previous renters, etc. But beyond this layer comes the next one: stuff that has links to your self esteem, to your idealized self, to a future vision from years ago… this is the insidious stuff that requires serious KonMari and soul searching. Typical examples include: books you have been wanting to read for a long time, hobby you had years ago, clothing that is for other size than you are now, unused stationery or any other ‘too good for everyday life’ possessions, etc.

So Francine Jay‘s The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide (2010) is one of those books that will get you walking around your home with a garbage bag in your hands and happily discarding… which might be just what you were looking for. As far as I can discern, hers is one of the first minimalist guides out there, hence also anthropologically interesting to see what the talking point looked like before KonMari, TED talks, and so much more writing about why reducing one’s possessions is a good idea. It’s a short e-book to get you in the discarding mode, arguing not only the psychological well being point of letting go and opening up space, but also the climate breakdown due to over-consumption.

A couple of my favorite ideas include:

The notion of curation

I find this notion especially powerful when dealing with archivist tendencies, the idea that pieces of information have to be kept because they are parts of the history and hence worthy of being organized and kept forever. F*ck that shit! If you have never felt like that, lucky you, if you are more like me, feel free to edit the past. For me this has been particularly helpful with editing my digital photography archives. Curate, don’t archive.

The same logic, of course, applies – in a much more visible way – to general organization and decoration of spaces. Already in 1940s Ludwig was saying that less is more.


Small space is a good space

One of the common sociological explanations of the downsizing crisis and the success of all the gurus recommending owning less, especially in the USA, is the turn away from the suburbs (both because of more turbulent economies and cultural preferences), so you get baby boomers cleaning out the n bedroom houses + garage + attic + basement before they downsize for retirement while millenials don’t want all that stuff and wouldn’t have space for it even if they wanted to have it. Yes, this has spawned the horrible storage locker economy… and often pathological tiny house movement. But the implication for accumulation is clear: the more storage space you have, the more irrelevant stuff you can keep without ever being bothered by it. Reasonably small dwellings just naturally keep that in check.


F*ck objects as self-representation

Yes, this is classic Palahniuk in Fight Club: ‘You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.’ I’m not sure he forms part of Jay’s conscious influences, but the spirit is the same.

Obviously, all our consciously chosen possessions tell things about us. I don’t think we are able to avoid it. Not for nothing all monk orders and ascetics do their best to eschew this, the pull of fusing ourselves with our possessions is powerful. But you can at least try to be in touch with that pull, try to negotiate this. And for some these are brand clothes and for others – those books, books, books… As for Academic projections of self, I kept laughing as Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century was suddenly everywhere because I don’t think even 1/4 of people who bought that tome ever read it.


1 in, 1 out

This is a classic of professional organizing, but people keep doing it, from computers and TV sets to underwear. Hence we have to be very thankful to the big electronics world (fridges!) where people will take away your old one as they bring in the new one, and try to apply the same logic to everything else. It is hard, yes, and your inner hamster wants to keep it ‘just in case’, but train that hamster and get rid of the old duplicates!


Some free space is a must

Again, obvious but apparently wort repeating. It’s hard to take things out and put back in crammed spaces. And – and here comes some KonMari animism – your things look all crowded and uncomfortable. They are suffocating! Marie suggests 90% full, and, while Francine doesn’t name a number, the idea is the same: leave some wiggle room, and accept that roomy arrangement as the one to maintain. That implies discarding before an overflow!


Have you have read any decluttering/minimalism books that have pushed you towards action? Any that you have been immune to? Of all the discarding tips and hacks floating the internets, what are your favorite ones? Hanger turning? The minimalism game? The one minute rule? I’m all ears…

Book review: The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi

Reading has been an important part of my life since I understood the superpowers it conferred and proceeded to read through the whole local children’s library in the 1990s. And since I got hooked on minimalism and sustainability in 2014, great part of my readings have been around these topics, both on-line and off.

The Art of Discarding: How to Get Rid of Clutter and Find Joy (Hachette Books 2005 [2017]) by Nagisa Tatsumi has a weird history of being edited in English only after being mentioned in the gospel according to Kondo as a suboptimal tidying method. The synopsis starts with “Practical and inspiring, The Art of Discarding (the book that originally inspired a young Marie Kondo to start cleaning up her closets) offers hands-on advice and easy-to-follow guidelines to help readers learn how to finally let go of stuff that is holding them back as well as sage advice on acquiring less in the first place”. It doesn’t reveal the whole story about Kondo passing out in exhaustion after a throw-away frenzy and then regaining consciousness with an insight how the focus has to be on ‘does it spark joy?’ instead of ‘could I just throw it away?’

Tatsumi is less sophisticated than Kondo in her method. There are no magical questions and promises of everlasting piece if only you would fold your knickers right. This is a method without fluff – as most of the ‘get rid of your shit’ tidying literature is – based on the single premise that, if you would just look around critically, you would realize that most of your stuff can go. The quote I’ve chosen for the title pic is the basic truth that only very rarely something consciously thrown out will be sorely missed and hardly replaceable. The true treasures and items that have ‘this passport is the property of the State of’ printed on them will never be in your maybe pile.

(I do have a heartbreakingly stupid counterfactual to that, though. At my big tidying spree of my last childhood room before giving it back to my parents I donated a hot pink transparent plastic triangle ruler with assorted diameter circles inside it, like a love child between this and this but in my all-time favorite color for plastic. Despite my undying love for all thing hot transparent pink, I decided that such thing should be easy enough to replace if need be. Little did I know! I ended up wanting to work with little circles right after that, obviously, and went to all physical shops in Rīga I could think about… Nope. No circles. Not in any color. And in no shape. Now I have that circle stencil sheet linked above from Spanish Amazon and still think of the other one. It wasn’t a birth certificate, of course, just a proof that our replaceability calculus is very wrong sometimes.)

Most of Tatsumi’s book is straightforward advice like setting limits and not exceeding them (along the lines of ‘if my clothing does not fit in my wardrobe, I should get rid of some’) and establishing a number of something actually needed (tableware, sets of bed linen), pruning out the rest and gradually replacing the old ones with new when you see them wearing out. She doesn’t propose a once-off tidying festival or a minimalist game. Instead her premise is that most people bring in their homes much more items than they discard, so the capacity of getting rid of has to be strengthened. And she is empathic, too. So Kondo’s falling becoming a ‘discarding machine’, according to herself, might tell more about Kondo than about the ‘art of discarding’ Tatsumi proposes:

My favorite few sentences of the book that Tatsumi uses just to sell her more individualistic approach (in comparison with more direct ‘this is the right way’ approach apparently present in Japanese tidying culture) sends me into a spin every time a think about professional organizing. This is the great inherent conflict in professional organizing, the selection bias that were also very clear during the KonMari Consultant seminar. The selection bias are very clear and there is tension between a tidying coach and the client because of one’s ability to do exactly that thing on her own and enjoy it, and other’s realization that some assistance would be very nice… Of course, it is softened by the fact that tidying or minimalist lifestyle is not a clinically proven prescription (although for last few years lifestyle magazines would make you think that it is) but a choice. This, the obvious statement that all tidying has to be a personalized solution (and that the ‘experts’ have to be very aware that they are not very normal to begin with):

Here come a couple of mind tricks I think might be useful, apart from the – critical and conscious – limit setting mentioned before:

1. Your possessions are not somebody’s gifts anymore! Kondo also says the same, don’t know if borrowing or is it some third party wisdom… “Discard once they’ve served their purpose. […] Gifts are all about the act of giving. So as soon as they’ve been given/received, we could say that their function has been fulfilled.”

Gifts fill us with guilt, so at least trying to do this reframing once the object is yours might help to disassociate it from the giver and value it on its own merits. Very hard, I know, we’ve been taught all our lives to do it the opposite way…

2. The doubt takes mental energy. “When we’re troubled by a sense of waste, delay seems to make disposal easier. But if you’re going to get rid of something anyway, you may as well do so straight away. […] If you stop delaying disposal, you’ll also stop diluting your sense of waste. Keeping a keen sense of waste – guilt at throwing things away – can have a very positive effect […]”

Repeat after me: my home is not a storage unit, my home is not a dumpster… It is true, though, that some people benefit from a cooling off period of making deals with yourself, like ‘if I don’t touch this box in three months, it’s going away’, or just a maybe pile to get tired of and toss away. It is thrilling to give oneself the permission to let go!

(I had one of these moments a couple of weeks ago at work. Sounding like a Kondo case, I had a fat pack of papers from a software course I took last summer. I kept telling myself that to truly master the contents I should just take a week off and go through all those materials again. For more than a year I kept moving that pile from desktop to drawers and back. Before leaving the office for vacations I finally tossed it all in the paper bin knowing that I do not want to do that at all and have enough productivity anxiety inducing to-dos already. Felt really good.)

3. Develop a notion of ‘used-enough’. “The belief that things should be used until their potential is exhausted is a powerful one. People seem to think that if they keep something, there’ll be the opportunity at some point for this potential to be used. (The reason some people like passing things on to second-hand shops is the idea that somebody else will take over this potential.) But it’s better not to bother about whether you use things to their full potential. […] Or you could go a bit further and say,”It’s done what I bought it to do, so that’s that. I’ve used it to the full.” […] In other words, by fulfilling your purpose, its potential has, in fact, been exhausted. […] With the “I’ve-used-it-once-so-I-can-get-rid-of-it” mindset a lot of things are easier to discard. Depending on the item, it may be a question of ”once” or “this much”, but either way this attitude will stop you worrying about being wasteful.”

Another type of deal, ‘I’ll wear it once, remember why I hated it, and will be able to let go finally’.

4. Little victories! “Choose a compact area – a table top, a kitchen shelf, or a washstand, say – and decide you will definitely not put anything there. Then keep your resolution. […] It’s easier to feel the impact it you’re dealing with a place you can see. The first thing you’ll notice is how many unnecessary things you have around you, and how they increase in number by day. As this begins to bother you, you’ll want to do something about it. By following this strategy you’ll also develop the habit of disposal – of reducing the number of unnecessary things you have. Instead of picking redundant things up and putting them back, you’ll pick them up and dispose of them. This is why it’s important to start with a compact place. If the job is too onerous, you’ll get fed up before discarding becomes habit.”

A strategy I really like is the empty or half-empty storage spaces. Empty surfaces are aesthetic, of course, and easy to clean, but there is something truly mischievous about and empty cupboard.

5. Mindful second-handing, please. “[Reselling] is a very good solution for people whose sense of waste won’t let them throw things away. If this kind of recycling becomes part of our society’s system, it will mean that things can circulate. This circulation will prevent things from accumulating in people’s homes, so that there will be less stuff in society as a whole. […] At worst, the desire to see things reused can lead to the simplistic thought that someone will use it eventually… This way of thinking allows people to buy things that are unnecessary in the belief that there’s no waste – if they don’t want it, someone else will. This leads to a vicious cycle of purchase and disposal: things accumulate, you pass them on, then more things accumulate. And what you believe to be a waste-free method of disposal often ends up with somebody else simply throwing things away on your behalf.”

I do think that there is a strength in accepting that I create a heap of garbage that is not going anywhere nice, that’s the modern living. Nobody is innocent. Yes, even the zero-wasters, as they happily tell you they ‘refuse’ the airplane food… That refusal is so naive it’s endearing! So, be realistic about your wallapop and freecycle aspirations, as with all sustainability delusions (1, 2).


Got some tidying inspiration? This type of books really get me wishing to revise the whatever few junk nest there might still be in our flat… Talk about those selection bias! What fun books have you read lately? Anything life-changing I should be aware about?

Book review: Second Skin by India Flint

Reading has been an important part of my life since I understood the superpowers it conferred and proceeded to read through the whole local children’s library in the 1990s. And since I got hooked on minimalism and sustainability in 2014, great part of my readings have been around these topics, both on-line and off.

Second Skin: Choosing and Caring for Textiles and Clothing (Murdoch books 2011) by India Flint came my way through Julie who had talked about it for ages and had brought it along for the Fix it! workshop. She kindly lent me her copy and I dove into a very different sustainable fashion book than I had got used to.

And maybe that’s my already squared mind, but was very grateful that I had previously read the sustainable fashion books of the Kate Fletcher circle (1, 2, and especially 3) which – while much more prone to being out of date as fashion industry practices are a moving target, especially when it comes to sustainability claims and attempts in last ten years or so – give a comprehensive overview of the life cycle of garments in late capitalism and the efforts to make it more sustainable and ethical. Flint’s stuff is a labor of love, and the most gorgeous book I’ve read in a long-long time, but that’s the thing: she is not a sustainable fashion scholar or industry insider, she’s a fiber artist, a maker, a natural dyer, a radical mender…

So, I’ll give you reasons to read this one…

It’s a beautiful artifact! The illustrations and text are weaved together into a work of art. There is no way this can be made Kindle-friendly because it shouldn’t be.

Herstory! Flint traces her family history through a lineage of women who knew how to make and mend for their families, both for festivities and during duress, throughout her childhood’s amazement of the magic of stitching and up to her daughter’s textile projects. Also, of course, I’m biased because – surprise, surprise! – it’s WW2 Latvia that her grandmother escaped from, sewing machine in hand.

If you ever wanted a little big push to appreciate natural fibers (and learn that cotton is not the best one by far) here you have it. Flint loves her linen, hemp, silk, and, especially, wool, and the whole book is a love letter to them. My special additional kudos for her suggestion that first textile making – felting – might be an unintended side-product of fucking. Also, the very sensible suggestion that people working with fire hazards should wear wool protective clothing. Cute! Be careful, though, with the power of suggestion: I had two episodes of a very suffocating synthetics-panic while reading the book and those were garments I had had for ages.

She is pushing the ugly mending revolution, and I love it! Flint is a great inspiration to let go of conventional notions of perfect dyeing and invisible mending. She advocates for visible layers of customization, appropriation, evolution, and it’s liberating.

Career inspiration! She is a great example of person just doing her thing and truly pushing the boundaries of what ethical fashion on an individual level can be. It’s authentic and it’s beautiful, and beyond the conventional notions of pretty at the same time which gives her work even more power.

And reasons not to start your sustainable fashion journey with this book!

The biggest one for me is that her life – that she implicitly sets as an example – is a very marginal anecdote. Yes, in her life wool is super sustainable and ethical because it comes from her own sheep, she travels the world in her overdyed and self-made uniform giving natural dyeing workshops and dyes in her hotel rooms (giving advice how to avoid smoke detectors, no less), and she has spent all her life developing the skills to be as sustainable and autonomous in her use of textiles as one can be. It’s inspirational and frustrating at the same time! While baby steps of the spirit of her work can be incorporated in our daily lives as urban, semi-formal people with limited skills, the position from which she is speaking is frankly unattainable unless you drop whatever else you are doing. (Well, Julie is an example of such switch, though, and is doing great!)

She has clear preferences and giving a comprehensive vision of the textile industry is not among her priorities. While her love for natural fibers is cute and makes perfect sense for her lifestyle, all synthetics get just written off as shit unworthy of even engaging with. Yes, it’s does not mend or natural dye well, but this generalized position ignores the fact that synthetics can be recycled back to their virgin quality if designing or at least sorting post-wear is done right with a fraction of energy required to make new and no water, and that we have a shitton of polyester and nylon laying around, so turning a blind eye to it is not a solution and, due to the nature of the material, not much can be done about it on an individual consumer level. Flint has this frontier woman flair of textile autonomy which is very attractive but could be as well from 100 years ago when we weren’t all drowning in cheap polyester.

The same ‘this is not an issue because I do it in my backyard’ logic is applied to ethics and animal products. While I don’t like to engage in wool and silk vegan debates, because they shift the focus away from more urgent issues, Flint brushes off any such concerns with a mix of ‘but if I can do it well, we all can’ in case of wool and leather (+ the leather is just meat industry by-product’ argument – 1, 2, 3) and an esoteric elevation of the ‘but we use plants’ argument that every vegan has heard too many times for silk (basically saying that silkworms are shit animals with no quality of life anyway) and coming this close to talking about natural cycles of everybody feeding everybody else in one way or another. As with fiber preferences, Flint’s views on animal agriculture and usage of parts of dead animals in human apparel is a bit too much Little House on the Prairie for my taste.

The repeated eye rolling about the notion of organic cotton. While admitting that labeling something organic has a narrow meaning that doesn’t include water use or posterior dyeing, Flint is baffled that a synthetically dyed garment with whatever trimmings (remember that 100% synthetic thread is the industry standard) would still be labeled as organic cotton. D-oh! It’s ‘organic cotton’, not ‘organic garment’, unfortunately, but that label does not lie.

And just an example of how unfortunately blasé I am about all the pollution that surrounds me (and I think you could use a first person plural there), my reaction to her synthetics dye outrage because skin is a large and absorbent organ was along the lines of ‘buah, not even everything I put inside me (stomach and intestinal linings are much more absorbent surfaces) is pesticide and other poison free, so…’ My bad, but I relativization is the only mental tactic that keeps me sane.

The radical mending that sound so well as a manifesto is hard! Even achieving a moderately acceptable level of reasonably functional fix requires skill. I’m learning it the hard way. The same goes for dyeing and garment-making described in this book. Coming from a person who has spent all her life playing with textiles, practices she describes meditative and empowering can get frustrating very quickly. With the additional rub that you’re failing at fugly mending…

So I suggest you read it when you have already covered the general textile and fashion industry basics, at least I’m happy that for me it happened in this order.

My takeaway inspirations (and caveats) are:
(a) to be more serious about phasing out the pure synthetics from my wardrobe and bringing in natural fibers (though I already failed at that miserably during the May swap),
(b) to take a second look at threads available at my local mercerías in an effort to move towards cotton ones (although I also have my mother’s sewing treasure box in Rīga with rainbow synthetic threads that could last me a lifetime; ugh the awful choices between ‘use up what you have’ and ‘purchase better’),
(c) to maybe dip my toes in some very basic avocado or onion skin dyeing for my stained whites… I’ll let you know!

What interesting sustainable fashion books have you read lately? Is there any one book that changed it all for you?

The reading matter: part 2 – Save and sustain

The first part = The reading matter: part 1 – Art and inspo

My information diet is almost as lean as my closet: I have unfollowed everybody except my mother, my partner and some pages on Facebook, I don’t read press, I don’t use Twitter as a source of reading matter… I watch a Spanish late-night comedy show to keep up with the local news, Stephen Colbert to keep up with the American news and have my feeds to keep me warm. C did a search for a new RSS feed organizer when Google killed it’s Reader and found Feedly. It’s not perfect (very few things are, ugh), but does its job of bringing my news to me instead of me having to go after them. I really don’t get the ‘check my latest post’ logic on Instagram – if I like your content, I already have it in my reader, thank you very much!

So I’ll show you my reading lists… only the fashion and sustainability related folders, though, if you want recommendations for recipe blogs, illustrated sex toy reviews or my favorite academic journals, just ask.

Folder 2: Save + sustain
Eco-fashion, zero waste, financial independence, etc…

I’ve postponed this post for a long time due descriptions I wanted to write, as done is better than perfect, here you have them in descriptive categories.

Sustainability in general:

Ethical and green living with Lucy Siegle

Sustainable America

Fashion as Business:

The Fashion Law

Sustainable fashion / Fashion as Business:

Elizabeth Suzann

Sustainable fashion / Garment Stories:

Patagonia’s Worn Wear

Sustainable fashion / Conscious Dressing:

Kate Fletcher

Style Bee


Good on You

Sustainable fashion / Conscious Dressing / Minimalism:

Anuschka Rees

To Universe, With Love

Sewing / Upcycling:


Zero Waste:

Zero Waste Home

Paris to Go

Wasteland Rebel

Zero Waste / Whole Foods Plants Based:

Mama Eats Plants

Plastic Free:

(In Spanish) Vivir sin plástico

Zero Waste / Minimalism:

(In Latvian) Seek the Simple


(In Spanish) Orden y Limpieza en Casa

Spark Joy Podcast

Financial Independence:

J.L. Collins

Mr. Money Mustache


Bonzai Aphrodite

Madame Manumus


What are your favorite feeds for sustainability inspiration? Is there anyone out there in the blogosphere that changed your life? Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home is often the answer to this one, i know. Whom am I missing in my list? Suggestions are more than welcome!

The reading matter: part 1 – Art and inspo

The second part = The reading matter: part 2 – Save and sustain

My information diet is almost as lean as my closet: I have unfollowed everybody except my mother, my partner and some pages on Facebook, I don’t read press, I don’t use Twitter as a source of reading matter… I watch a Spanish late-night comedy show to keep up with the local news, Stephen Colbert to keep up with the American news and have my feeds to keep me warm. C did a search for a new RSS feed organizer when Google killed it’s Reader and found Feedly. It’s not perfect (very few things are, ugh), but does its job of bringing my news to me instead of me having to go after them. I really don’t get the ‘check my latest post’ logic on Instagram – if I like your content, I already have it in my reader, thank you very much!

So I’ll show you my reading lists… only the fashion and sustainability related folders, though, if you want recommendations for recipe blogs, illustrated sex toy reviews or my favorite academic journals, just ask. Keep in mind that while I might be critical (see the ‘nothing’s perfect’ note above), this is the content I enjoy.

Folder 1 – Art + inspo:
These are the pretty picture blogs that don’t care about sustainability or minimalism.
Also, a lot of illustration.

A Clothes Horse: breathtaking photography, orange hair, great style. I think I re-pin Rebecca’s photos the most. While she is neither into sustainability nor minimalism and a lot of content is sponsored, this is real style inspo for me.

A Curious Fancy: Indian, plus size, into all things cute. Think lace tights, thoughtful accessorizing, and very nice photography + an occasional essay on bodies, like this one.

A Robot Heart: Polish, sews some garments, occasional post-soviet anthropological references. Lately a lot of sponsored content, but time by time a styling gem like this session appears there.

African Prints in Fashion: I really tried to find some African fashion blogs with an aesthetic that resonated with me after I came back from Cape Town in late 2017 (oh, the amount of ’10 African fashion bloggers that are slaying it’ articles with broken links that I went through). This is one of the few satisfactory ones I found.

All You Need is a Wall: illustrations by Alexandra Dvornikova. If Clarissa Pinkola Estés would have been born Russian and more recently, this is what she’d be doing.

Edits All the Way: the classiest moodboards on Tumblr.

Cupcake’s Clothes (defunct): I’m so sad Georgina stopped curating her blog! It was the perfect over-the-top sweet plus size hybrid. And when C thought that the cat ear headband was too much, I threatened him with getting one of Georgina’s antler creations from her Etsy shop.

Gemma Correll’s illustrations on her Blogspot, Tumblr and Facebook page. She is great, dedicated to feminism, introverts and animals, so I find her merch so hard to resist.

Annya Marttinen’s Tumblr – her work is a lighter, more childish version of Dvornikova’s ‘she lives in a dark forest and runs with the wolves‘ vibe.

Taryn Knight’s work: What can I do, I love me some nice drawings… and hers are excellent.

Johanna Öst’s art and occasional dark pin-up outfit – Oh, when people live their art!

Kate Tokley’s blog: I came across this via #FashRev, I think. She crochets, she deals with anxiety, tries out capsule wardrobes. It resonates, I don’t know why.

Pauline aka Punziella who went viral with her casual Disney princesses. So much talent, so cute!

Madison Ross: again, a lot of wild women art I find hard not to buy.

Martha Anne illustrations. Defined borders, clear colors, female characters, and food! What’s not to love?

Miss Pandora: Oh, Louise! Elaborated editorials, background in art history and all that in French only. Rarely truly my aesthetic (too much heels and make-up to start with), but so undeniably cool.

Nancy Zhang: or when fashion blog meets illustration. Move over, Garance, this is the real deal!

Olga Valeska: Her photos, paintings, collages, etc. etc. are so stunning I don’t even care for her religiosity, and that’s rare! Truly breathtaking and makes my 19th century Russian-aesthetics-loving heart rejoice.

Pagnifik: another source of ‘wax hollandais‘ magic.

Serina Kitazono’s illustrations.

Zuzana Èupová’s aka Suwi’s illustrations.

Third local: a Ugandan now in France, urban, mostly pants and very cool. And a side of beautiful photography to go with it.

And just for fun in the same folder also Pusheen and Heart & Brain live.


What are your favorite feeds for pretty pictures? Whom am I missing in my list? Suggestions more than welcome.

Fashion, sustainability and tidying books I read in 2017

For the second year in row I’ve had the ambition to read more books than there are weeks in a year, and for the second year in row I’m failing miserably. I ended 2016 at 42/52, so 81%. At the moment I’m at 37/52, so 71%. Disappointing! However, 12 of those 2017 books were blog-related either touching the whys (sustainability, climate change, consumerism), hows (sustainable fashion) and aesthetic pleasures (style!). Here’s the list in the order I read them:


Tuite, Rebecca C. 2014. Seven Sisters Style: The All-American Preppy Look.

A pretty look-book explaining the rise of the preppy look which I’ll always eagerly repin despite the class bias. The funniest part is that styles that we now associate with arrogance and careful selection to “look the part”, was born out of quest for comfort and were seen as highly inappropriate and rebellious at their time. What can I say, give me a mix of nice knits and emancipation of women any time!


Black, Sandy. 2008. Eco-chic: The Fashion Paradox.

A bit outdated and avant-garde focused sustainable fashion book. A reminder that less than ten years ago sustainable fashion was an artsy fringe activity nobody expected to become relevant to the mainstream.


Carson, Rachel. 1962 [2005]. Silent Spring.

Yes, I hadn’t read the seminal book that launched the environmentalism. And now I have. It still is a very powerful reminder of the arrogant recklessness of the industrial management of nature (that tends to bring unintended consequences of colossal scale). Although the pesticides of today are not exactly as horrible as the organochlorine pesticides that Carson was focusing on, we have more than enough toxic messes around the world continuing the proud tradition of human hubris.


Sontag, Susan. 1977 [1979]. On Photography.

Aha, another classic that I finally read this year! While not neatly fitting in the overarching theme, a recommended read to everybody taking daily selfies. Somehow I do feel relieved that Sontag did not live to see Instagram… Diagnosis? We are all sick, but that won’t stop us from documenting the illness.


Gilman, Charlotte P. 1915 [2002]. The Dress of Women: A Critical Introduction to the Symbolism and Sociology of Clothing.

Oh, this was such a treat! Gilman, the ultra-rational feminist hero – read her What Diantha Did for a 1910 (!) answer to the still-relevant housework issue! – charging against the stupidity of fashion. Early social scientists just wrote what they thought, interpreting their participant observations from the armchair (OK, like Bauman and other theorists of postmodernity still do / did until they left us). You cannot trust them as describing a representative reality, but they surely reflect certain stirrings of their time. This one is fascinating! I already mentioned this book here and here.


Corn, Wanda M. 2017. Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.

I got this gem thanks to Marina who was willing to cater to my “see an exciting book in a museum shop, decide later” whims. For me this book was just the right mix of art and personal style without entering personal life. Bravo! The argument is very convincing, and more so with O’Keeffe than with others: if the artists has spent decades carefully curating (and making) her wardrobe and surroundings, it makes perfect sense to analyze them alongside her paintings.


Fletcher, Kate and Lynda Grose. 2012. Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change.

Another sustainable fashion textbook, better than Black’s, worse than revised 2014 Fletcher below. In 2017 I was eager to build up an adequate knowledge base to start with, now I think I’m good, thanks! But I have to agree that in the last decade the sustainable fashion industry has moved with an incredible speed.


Fletcher, Kate. 2008 [2014]. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journey.

For a still-relevant overview of the sustainable fashion industry from the point of view of design (and lots of optimistic hope about the designer’s power to be an influence for good), read this one! Fletcher is the fashion philosopher of NOW (of, the notion of “craft of use” is irresistible), but if you have other favorites, let me know in the comments.


And then I went on a Marie Kondo binge you can read about here

Kondo, Marie. 2010 [2014]. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.


Kondo, Marie. 2017. Spark Joy.


Kondo, Marie and Yuko Uramoto. 2017. The Life-changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story.


Monbiot, George. 2006 [2007]. Heat: How Can We Stop the Planet Burning.

I read Heat for the first time in 2008, and it was a game-changer for me. I took several small, individual steps to reduce my carbon footprint but didn’t stop flying (bad, bad me…). Not being a home- or business-owner, those were really tiny, but the book cemented my convictions that (1) climate change is happening (I know that in the USA “climate change” is understood to be the doubting term vs. much stronger “global warming”; however, assuming that words have meaning, not only spin, the shit storm that has already started goes beyond warming and is changing the climate in a multitude of ways, for example, when the Gulf stream stops, we won’t see much warming happening)  and we made it happen, obviously; (2) we have enough knowledge since long ago about the causes, so in principle we could have stopped it; (3) but we are shitty animals, our brains cannot deal with gradual and impersonal danger, so deserve to die and leave it to lizard-people to build the next civilization. That third part is not Monbiot’s, he really tries to be optimistic about the whole thing, but re-reading ten years later and knowing that we are even more fucked now, oh, well! Monbiot’s book started my climate change education and nothing has changed my climate pessimism since I read it for the first time.


What were your sources of wisdom and brain-food in 2017? Do you have any information-consumption goals for 2018? How about less screens and more books?