The 7 Experiment – Clothes

This summer I began taking a class at a local church based on a popular Christian book called “The 7 Experiement” by Jen Hatmaker. The ‘experiment’ looks at 7 areas of life that a large population of Americans typically over indulge in. This includes food, clothes, possessions, waste, spending, media, and stress. The book seeks to make the reader address their own habits in these various categories and reflect on connecting it to old and new testament scripture.

This class has come into my life at the perfect time. I have been trying hard this year to grow and mature as I continue transitioning from a young college student into a full-time adult. While I am still in graduate school, adult responsibilities and decisions are more than ever being presented to me daily. I have been inspired to work hard this year to begin setting the foundation of the adult I am striving to be. “7” is another stepping stone to do some serious self-reflection, create a deeper and richer relationship with God, and to simplify these areas of my life to make room for things with more value.

This week the topic the class is focusing on is clothes. I don’t want to say that every American has a closet stuffed with clothes because that is leaving out large portions of the population that don’t have the same luxury of having closets filled to the brim. However, as a wealthy nation, there are also large portions of the population that do have walk-in closets stuffed with clothes – and I, am/was one of them (more detail to follow).

I love clothes, fashion, and styling. Since about 2007 I started following fashion blogs, personal style blogs, and poured over issues of InStyle, Elle, and Marie Claire. I got really into thrifting and shopping at Forever 21 because I was a teenager/young adult and didn’t have much money. Also, a lot of the bloggers I followed did a lot of vintage/thrifting and I loved seeing all the remixing of thrifted items. Doing this though left me with a closet stuffed full of clothes (combined with other shopping done with family or clothes bought for me by others). I even started a blog where I would post pictures of my daily outfits.

I was also dating a guy who also loved clothes from 2007 to 2009 so that only increased the frequency of my shopping. After that relationship ended in 2009, I entered into a period of a lot of self reflection and decisions of what the next chapter of my life would be like.

I became a practicing Christian in 2007 and was heavily involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a college Christian Ministry, at my community college. I had already been learning a lot about the life of Jesus, what it meant to follow Him, and what God had planned for the life of His people. This journey of following God lead me to the book, Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne. This book, combined with the two years of teaching from InterVarsity, was the tipping point for me in terms of a lifestyle change and steering me into a new direction. The book is heavily focused on Jesus’ call to social justice and living to serve the poor and vulnerable in the ways that Jesus did.

I began volunteering at an after school program in a low-income community where I would monitor kids, help them do homework, and participate in activities. Fellow InterVarsity students and I then collaborated with the Pastor who lived in this community to help run a youth group on Friday nights. We would prepare, games, food, and lessons each week covering topics about relationships, dealing with conflict, going to college, etc.

In the summer of 2010 I participated in InterVarsity’s Fresno Institute of Urban Leadership (FIFUL) intern program, also known as the Fresno Urban Internship (FUI). There I was placed at a Christian non-profit called World Impact where I helped run kids day camps. We would play games, put on skits, and provide free lunches.

While at FUI we lived in community – i.e. several interns lived in one large house that was subdivided into four apartments. On top of tight communal living, we could only bring a limited amount of possession, our own sleeping mats or air mattresses, could only use our phones once a week (as well as internet or computers), and had to live off of small monthly stipend to pay for food and living costs. The house was located in poor and high crime area of Fresno and the idea was to give us an immersion experience into the life of those living with limited incomes and resources. We also took urban poverty classes once a week.

This experience made me incredibly aware of my privilege and the luxuries that were ‘normal’ to me in my life. As a white, middle class, educated woman, I knew I was born with a lot of privileges that many don’t get to experience from birth. It was uncomfortable but liberating to be immersed into a more simple lifestyle than what I experienced at home. It also taught me that a lot of people in this world don’t get food everyday, don’t have expendable income, don’t get new clothes, and get looked down on by society because they look different or are poor. These facts made me incredibly sad and heart broken for the urban poor. This post is about clothes though, so I’ll elaborate more on this later.

I missed the comforts of my phone, internet, my closet, and possessions – but the experience helped break me of the bondage that those things can have. My time became more about working with the kids in my program, spending time with other interns, going to class, and reading. I became less focused on wasting time on the internet, thinking regularly about shopping and my appearance, and learning to be less vain. I also became more grateful for the food, clothes, and resources that I was able to have.

When I came back home, it felt a bit overwhelming to be back around all my stuff – the abundance of clothes, a room full of things, and 24/7 access to TV/computer/internet. I purged a lot of things – clothes and items that I didn’t use anymore. It was a rewarding and life-changing experience, and one that that still has still had a profound impact on my choices for the future (again, more on that another day.)

I had a relapse though while attending UCSB from 2011-2013. I had a family member who loved shopping and would often take me on weekend shopping trips to big malls. It was difficult to not be enticed by the abundance of cheap clothes at Forever 21 and I started accumulating a lot again. I was also in a rough place emotionally those two years and started doing a lot of ‘retail therapy.’ I had a small closet and limited storage space at UCSB but I stuffed it as much as I could.

In the fall of 2014, when I moved to San Luis Obispo for graduate school and began to get my emotional health in a good place, I was able to start the process over again. I purged a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear, didn’t fit well, and just didn’t align with my lifestyle. I now try to always keep a giveaway bag in my closet to toss items in throughout the year to donate later.

I still have a good size wardrobe that I am in a constant state of tailoring. My goal is to get my closet to a place where everything in it is well used and I am happy wearing it. When I buy something now, I do a lot better job evaluating if I will really wear it or not and envision how it will fit in with my other clothes.

I don’t want to be wasteful with clothes or money anymore. I want to feel happy and confident in the clothes I have. I want to honor God more in all areas of my life.

For the “7” experiment, we have to fast from clothes in some way. My fast will be using a small gym bag and only being able to wear and use whatever I can fit in it. This will include shoes, toiletries, make-up, and all clothes (included pajamas and workout clothes). I’ll live out of that small bag for the week. I have to dress for business casual, casual, work out, and sleep. I’m looking forward to the challenge of living simply and reflecting on the realities that not everyone gets to experience the same privileges and luxuries as I do in what they wear.

This is where I’m coming from in the start of this week and reflecting on the experiences of my past that have influenced and shaped what I wear and how I feel about clothes. I think it will be a good experience to continue to delve into that and hopefully come out with more knowledge and understanding of myself and God.

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Bike Art

As a planner you talk a lot about biking, bike safety, creating more bike lanes, etc. I came upon some bike artwork that used bikes to create art. It seemed very planner appropriate!

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Artist Thomas Yang used 7 different types of bicycle tires to create this image of the Empire State Building in NYC. Very cool!

Source

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Riding the Bus

During my first quarter of planning school, my professor returned to the class research papers we had been working on, and apologized for the sloppy written notes, explaining that she had graded most of our papers while riding the bus. She told us that she actually does almost all of her grading on the bus and how that despite having a longer commute, she was amazed at the amount of time she gained when she began using the bus.

Moving to San Luis Obispo (SLO), I too became a frequent bus rider. While doing my undergrad at UCSB, biking was the easiest means of travel, and I never even considered using the bus. I also had my own personal vehicle, so any other trips were made in the convenience of my own car. At UCSB, biking was also often much quicker than driving to campus. As at many universities, the parking lots were always packed, and were always a long walk from class.

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SLO is a much hillier area, I live farther from campus, and I only own a cheap bike. Fortunately, my apartment is on the same street as a bus stop that can get me to school. My first observation from riding the bus was how long it took to get anywhere. With the bus, you have to add on roughly 10-30 minutes to what it would normally take by car. It takes me about 20-30 minutes to travel 3 miles to school.

I felt like I was wasting a lot of time every morning just sitting on a bus, waiting to get to class. I didn’t see it as an opportunity – of new, small increments of my time, now added to my schedule. When my professor made this comment, my outlook changed. I wasn’t losing time by riding the bus, but gaining time.

In driving a car, there isn’t opportunity do anything, except, well, drive. Which is good for safety reasons – drivers should be alert and attentive to what they are doing. The contrast with public transit is that you have the space and freedom to do other things, while still traveling to your destination.

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A lot of this applies to taking the train as well. I recently took the Amtrak for the first time on a class trip to Los Angeles this last quarter. It was the most relaxing experience I have ever had traveling to L.A. – no traffic, beautiful coastal views, comfortable chairs, and a snack cart. It was great. I was able to socialize with classmates, do homework, and relax.

It is popular in planning to push public transportation for all of its environmental benefits, but let us also look at the simple personal benefits public transit has the opportunity to provide. With my new outlook on bus riding, here are the top 5 things I find myself doing with this new free time:

5 Things to Do While Riding the Bus

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1. Get work done. Like my professor, use that extra commuting time to get a head start on work that you can carry with you. Review those documents, get a head start on class reading, etc.

2. Read – for fun! As a student this idea sometimes feel foreign. I have been trying to use this extra time to read books that I want to read, not that are just required for school. It is nice break from the academic life.

3. Catch up on news and current events. Browse through your favorite news source on your phone or bring a magazine or newspaper.

4. Catch up on replying to texts, emails, and social media. Instead of procrastinating important work and tasks to do this, use your time on the bus to text back your friends, reply to important emails, or catch up on your facebook/twitter/instagram feeds. Also, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people trying to inconspicuously snapchat on the bus. We see you taking your selfie.

5. Turn off all media and just relax. I do this fairly often on the bus. Most of the day is spent staring at my phone, tablet, or computer – reading, working on my to-do list, writing, researching, or procrastinating online. It is nice to just put your phone away, sit next to a window, and enjoy a few minutes to just relax, enjoy your surroundings, watch people, have a conversation with others on the bus, whatever it may be.

While driving a car may get you to your destination quicker, bus riders gain the opportunity to get a head start on work or simply to take some personal time to catch up on reading, news, or relaxation.

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Incoroprating Faith into City Planning and Academia

I recently came upon a podcast posted by Urbanophile entitled “Faith and City Planning.” I am a Christian and aspiring Urban Planner, so I was immediately intrigued. The podcast is a discussion between two MIT urban planning professors, Annette Kim and Phil Thompson. The full podcast can be found here.

While the podcast does address this topic in regards to city planning, it highly focuses on the role of faith in academia in general. The professors discuss how faith ceases being talked about once a student enters the classroom. Kim says that although you’re still catholic, once you are in class, you don’t talk about it.

Thompson tries to tie in the Civil Rights Movement as an example of major social movements being faith centered. He states that it was the essence of the Civil Rights Movement, and that if we don’t talk about that, then we’re not telling the whole story.

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He also gives an example of Native American spirituality, and the idea of seeing everything as having a spirit, and that if you don’t see that, you won’t survive. He continues on as to how this idea is also central for environmentalism.

Kim discusses how this type of discussion does not fit into the academic realm and that their is a climate of silence and fear. She says that it feels like something we are not allowed to talk about because it is not “intellectual” or “valid.” However, she believes that students should be encouraged to explore their moral development and wisdom, along with their intellect and critical thinking.

Kim discusses that a major reason that the idea of faith should be talked about in planning is because most students go into planning for moral reasons. Students are seeking to learn what is better, what is right, and the ways to make things better.

What I found interesting as well in the discussion is their emphasis of understanding how faith has motivated people throughout history (such as the Civil Rights Movement). What stood out to me as well, is when Kim states that we have to understand how oppressed people survived so long, and where their hope came from.

They continue to discuss the fact that faith is rich and complicated, and that adding this to academic discussions will only make us more intelligent.

Overall, the podcast tied in faith, social justice, diversity, and academics in a really interesting and thought-provoking way. I was really intrigued by the discussion of how faith has played a huge role in several social justice movements and how it has been key to several oppressed peoples survival. I also thought it was interesting to encourage academia to help develop students morals and ethics, which will only help increase their intellect.

I also do believe their are several educators out there who do a great job already of some of these suggestions, and that these statements do not apply to everyone. However, I believe there are benefits to minimizing discussion of one’s personal faith in the classroom. I know in a lot of situations, people are not always as understanding of each others beliefs, and it could make some students feel uncomfortable and interfere with the learning process. Also, if educators too strongly push their own beliefs, it can make students uncomfortable to share their own viewpoints. The goal would be to create the safest space possible, where educators can facilitate discussion of religion, morals, and ethics with students able to freely share without judgement or ridicule from others. This is an ideal situation though, and I understand it is not always easy to achieve.

Also, I don’t believe you need to follow set religious parameters in order to be a moral person or believe strongly in social activism. The podcast discussed that the social movements of today may not be as effective as they were in the past due to a lack of faith as a motivator. While I certainly believe faith can be a huge and prominent motivator in social action, I do not believe people cannot bring social change if they do not identify with a religion.

I wish they discussed a bit more on incorporating faith and ethics into city planning, but I do believe this is worth a listen. Definitely check it out and let me know what you think! 🙂

Or rather, what role do you think faith, religion, ethics, or morals should play in the classroom? How do you balance encouraging intellect with moral development? 

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How City Planning Creates Social Improvements

I came across this article recently from Architecture in Development regarding the significant social impacts quality city planning has had on the city of Medellin, Colombia.

Medellin was suffering from economic, social, and violence issue resulting from drug trafficking and conflicts between communist guerrillas and paramilitaries. It was even ranked  as one of the most dangerous cities in the world in 1992.

Mayors Luis Perez (2000, 2003), Sergio Fajardo (2003-2007) and Alonso Salazar sought to improve the safety and quality of life of Medellin through a comprehensive strategy that sought solutions to mobility, governance and education, along with the recovery of public space and green areas.

What stood out to me the most. and which I believe is key in this scenario, is that their strategy revolved around recovering the poorest sectors of the city (which were dominated by communist groups, paramilitaries or drug smugglers).

Several of the projects being implemented have had a strong focus on the most marginalized areas of the city. Mayor Fajardo’s goal was to improve these areas through “Social Urbanism” which helped improve the education system through new schools, libraries, and parks with high architectural value. He saw this as a “New Medellin” that illustrated how violence can be fought by means of cultural development and social inclusion.

Urban solutions in Medellin had to revolve around its topography. It is very limited by the space development and had to implement alternatives to solve problems of space and mobility. For example, the “Metro Cable” was created out of the need to connect informal settlements in the upper parts of the city with the metro system at the lower valley. This project decreased travel time from over an hour, to just ten minutes.

Metro Cable Medellin CC. J. Drissen

Metrocable of Medellin

Medellin still faces many issues, but it is impressive to see the amount of progress it has made with such a short history in urban planning. I think it sends a strong message to the world of how quality urban design can tremendously benefit the poorest cities in our world. The article writes, “The urban and social development of the city is remarkable, the number of violent incidents has decreased. The unemployment rate is low and the perception of safety on the people of Medellin is positive. This is made possible through integral collaborations between planners, designers and politicians to highlight areas of the city that have been ignored.”

I highly suggest reading the full article here.

It is stories like this that inspire me to continue the path of becoming an urban planner. The structure of cities can play a major role in the social welfare of those who inhabit them. It is amazing to me to see how, if done well, city planning can be a tool to prevent severe social inequalities and violence that many of the urban poor are faced with daily. It can be a strong tool of social justice.

Anyways, I was very inspired by this article, and hope you will be too! Feel free to comment, I would love to continue this discussion!

P.s. Yes, this is my first post on WordPress. If you would like to learn more, please visit my About Me page. 🙂

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