Why I am (trying to be) a Vegetarian

“Be careful, buddy” is what I say every time I avoid hitting wildlife crossing the road. And for those that weren’t so lucky I  offer a “Rest in peace, good luck in the next lifetime!” I have a hard time hurting or killing anything. I’m that person who takes a cup and a piece of cardboard to embark on a wasp rescue mission. The only exception I make are mosquitoes and I’m not proud of it but I claim self defense. Despite my love and compassion for animals, I have eaten meat my whole life. A typical German child, I was practically raised on meat and potatoes. For most of my life I chose to ignore the fact that eating a piece of meat required for an animal to die. When the time came that I could no longer ignore the obvious, I soothed my guilty conscience with  excuses such as “one person isn’t going to make a difference” or “the cow’s already dead, I might as well eat the steak.” Once aware that those excuses didn’t cut it, I felt like a hypocrite with increasing frequency. Telling a cute deer to be careful out there on my way to the supermarket, then loading up the shopping cart with pieces of dead cows, pigs, and chickens didn’t work for me anymore, especially because of the way these animals are raised and killed. Unfortunately, the majority of meat that we purchase isn’t coming from farms where animals get to live happily until they are killed with as little suffering as possible. It’s coming from factories, in every sense of the word. It’s mass production with conveyor belts and automated processes (including the killing). The meat industry is exactly that – an industry. And it’s a disgusting one.

So a few months ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a hypocrite. It’s part of human nature to be hypocritical. We make excuses to justify fucked up decisions when it suits our needs. We all do that. My goal is to do less of  it. Not being involved in the inhumane killing of animals seemed like a good place to start. Have I slipped up since making that decision? Absolutely. Hungry on the road late at night and the turkey sandwich seemed like the best choice? I went for it. My lunch crew at work wanted to try the new chicken place? I made an exception, justifying it with a half-assed google search about the idyllic farms this place sources their meat from. Mediterranean restaurant with an Adana kebab (lamb) special that tastes just like it did back in Turkey? Yes, please, for old times’ sake. Over time, those exceptions have become less frequent, and I’ve gotten better at finding things to eat that don’t invoke images of terrified baby animals that will never get to be nurtured and protected by their mothers because they’re being whisked away on a conveyor belt as soon as they can stand on their own two or four feet (see below). What I’m trying to say is this: I find the meat industry fucking terrible and disgusting on multiple levels and I don’t want to support it any longer.

What the fuck took me so long to get here? First, convenience. Especially as an athlete, meat is an easy source of protein. It fills you up and it’s easy to prepare (the grilled chicken, not the perfect filet mignon). There are significantly more entrees including meat than there are vegetarian ones on the average restaurant menu. It also tastes great, especially when some of your favorite childhood memories involve a juicy piece of meat coming fresh of the grill, made with love by your dad. I also thought I would be doomed to eating copious amounts of beans and carbs in order to ever feel full and that I would therefore have copious amounts of gas. The good news is (TMI alert): not any more gas than while eating meat. Also, not more pizza or baked goods than while eating meat. It really hasn’t been that hard, it hasn’t been a constant struggle to resist temptation. And if when there is temptation, it’s overpowered by feeling like less of a horrible person.

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The Minimalism Challenge – Day 30

The grand finale is here. The last 30 of 465 items are leaving this apartment. If I counted every single thing in today’s pile individually, there might be close to 100 items. In fact, that’s what I thought I would have to do to make it through the later days of this challenge when I first started. I was prepared to count every single paper plate and every single plastic fork. Needless to say, I didn’t have to and there’s most likely enough stuff in this apartment to do this whole thing all over again. I don’t think I will do that but I will try to continue to let go of items until all of my possessions either brings me joy or fulfill a purpose or, in other words, add value to my life. I’ll let you know when I get rid of something good. But for now, let me tell you about the last pile of junk for this challenge.

I started in the bathroom, the only room I hadn’t really visited (for the challenge that is). Bathroom highlights include:

  • My electric toothbrush: It’s a good one (and was expensive) but it’s an older model and the replacement heads are nearly impossible to find. Back to analog brushing.
  • A battery-powered toothbrush that has been rotting in the cabinet under the sink for years.
  • Bath beads: I don’t take a lot of baths and have never taken one in this apartment. I have never seen my wife take one either. Our 20 square feet bathroom doesn’t exactly scream wellness oasis.
  • A pouch full of old pills, mostly pain killers, that must date back to at least 2010 because I can tell they were given to me during my active basketball days.
  • A bottle of sunscreen that I regretted buying after the first use because it’s too liquid and makes the skin feel sticky. Besides, every summer I buy new sunscreen anyway and forget about the bottles that are stored away from the last vacation.
  • An at-home teeth whitening kit. I don’t have any severe insecurities about my physical appearance but if there’s one thing I would like to improve, it’s my teeth. I bought this kit after my last dental check up and never used it because I don’t really trust that I’m not going to destroy my teeth. In throwing this out, I’m making the determination to spend the money on a professional whitening at my dentist’s office.

Outside of the bathroom I found some random items including a plant that didn’t strive due to the lack of green thumbs in the family; a supposedly pumpkin scented candle that smells like nothing and has little decorative value; and a bunch of lonely socks that cannot go on without their partners who’ve abandoned them.

From the kitchen, I bring to you various items of plastic trash, primarily in the shape of utensils and containers. I also purposely saved the “Celebrate 30” party items for this momentous occasion. (See what I did there?) They were left over from my 30th birthday party, which feels like it happened many moons ago although I just turned 32 this January. It was a great party (from what I remember). There will not be another 30th birthday party in this household unless my wife and I have a child and live long enough to see them turn 30. Seems excessive to hold on to these paper cups and plates until then.

Well, dear faithful reader, this is it. 30 days and at least 465 items have taught me a lot. I learned that I have wasted a lot of money in the past 32 years of life but I’m hoping that this new awareness alone will help me avoid doing that in the future. From now on, I will ask myself questions like “does this add value to my life?” before purchasing something. I have also learned that we don’t need things to keep our memories alive. You might say “Duh, Katja” and I agree with you but having a concept of something and internalizing it are two different things. That doesn’t mean that I’m not holding on to sentimental items, there are plenty of them that I chose not to touch during this challenge. It takes more than 30 days to truly cultivate a different (and arguably better) way of living.

Besides the lessons learned, there are other gains that resulted from this challenge. I now know exactly what is located where in our apartment because I have turned over every figurative stone in my search for superfluous stuff. I can now open a closet and cabinet door and immediately see whatever I need because it’s not hidden behind a wall of other stuff. I was also able to clear things off the floor and put them away because storage space has become available. Overall, I enjoy living in this apartment more. Cooking is more fun now that the counter is less cluttered. Getting dressed is less stressful now that my closet isn’t overflowing. So far, this minimalism thing is working out well for me.

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The Minimalism Challenge – Day 29

I took another look at my closet today to see if there wasn’t anything else that didn’t fulfill the “brings me joy” or “has a purpose” criteria. I found a couple of cotton t-shirts, a button up, and a few office shirts that haven’t been worn in a long time because I have new favorites that I prefer. I also grabbed a pair of black jeans that I have pulled out and put back multiple times throughout this challenge. They are men’s jeans and I precisely remember buying them although I didn’t love them in the store. Note to self: if you don’t even love it in the store while in a shopping mood, you’re not going to love it once you get home. I bought them in Germany, where I do most of my shopping. Believe it or not, but my hometown in Germany has better shopping options for me than New York City. (For the new readers: I’m 6’8″ and buying clothes is complicated.) Back to the black jeans: I wanted a pair of black jeans, my tall girls store didn’t have one for me, so I went to the the tall men store and found this not so awesome pair that I wore a handful of times. Money wasted, lesson learned. Rounding out the clothing portion of today’s pile are weird leg warmers that my wife bought years ago from a Chinese seller on Ebay. Never wore them.

If I counted all the individual items in the pile that resulted from cleaning out two old wallets, I would almost have enough for Day  30. Instead I decided to make sub-piles within the junk pile. Categories include:

  • Metrocards (fare cards for the subway here in NYC)
  • My own business cards from my job that are useless because I (a) don’t go to a lot of meetings, (b) already know the people at the meetings that I do go to, and (c) are not important enough for people I don’t know to ask me for a business card
  • Expired bank cards
  • Expired student IDs (I kept the gem from college, it was too sentimental an the hair cut too ridiculous)
  • Store bonus cards (probably also expired)
  • Expired health insurance cards
  • Business cards from various businesses around the world including Germany, Turkey and Brooklyn (I do realize that Brooklyn is not a country)

I also found a single movie ticket coupon from 2013, a fake greencard from when I first started dreaming of a life in America, a few old photos that are shitty quality and don’t show anything exciting, and more loveless wedding cards. I need to clarify here that we also got a lot of cards full of love, humor, and support. Those will be much harder to let go of. That would make me a minimalism pro but for now I’m an amateur.

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The Minimalism Challenge – Days 27 & 28

I was tired last night and should have probably just gone to sleep but looking for superfluous stuff to get rid of has become a habit. I also want to see this challenge through now that I’m so close to the end. So I did what any aspiring minimalist would do: I looked under the bed and opened a junk drawer. What I found under the bed was basically a messenger bag worth 40,000 dollars. That’s about how much I paid for grad school and what I walked away with was a free messenger bag and a bunch of blue folders full of notes and hand out. I also got a diploma and a full time job out of it, so I suppose there was some return on my investment. But back to the class notes: Why do we keep things like that? Unless you’re continuing your academic career towards a doctorate degree you will most likely never look at any of it again. It will end up under your bed and you will forget that you even had it.

The junk drawer held a stack of cards given to us for our wedding. None of them were heartfelt or funny, and that’s okay. But there was simply no reason to hold on to them, or scan them, or read them again and then get rid of them. Don’t get me wrong, we are appreciative of the generous gifts but even more appreciative of the people who genuinely root for us and want us to be happy. Speaking of the wedding: there was also an empty ring box in the junk drawer. I proposed to my wife but I never did the getting down on one knee and opening the box like they do on the Bachelor. If you really get technical, I didn’t propose myself, our dog did. I put a cute custom shirt on her and attached the ring to it with a safety pin. Julie couldn’t say no to puppy eyes. I guess the point of the story is that the box holds no meaning even though it once held the ring that was part of an incredibly important moment in my life. The same goes for the maps, free tourist guides, and postcards that were never sent from our honeymoon on Kauai, the Hawaiian adventure island. I can pull up the memories from that amazing trips at any moment. The 17 mile kayak tour along the breathtaking Napali coast, the almost getting lost in the dark on a hiking trail, the helicopter ride, the snorkeling, the beautiful beaches, sunsets, romantic dinners, and roadside fruit stands. I don’t need any of the marketing materials in our junk drawer to trigger those memories.

28 days and 406 items down. 2 days and 59 items to go. I’ll try to make them count and maybe revisit those things that I’ve held in my hands and then put back into the closet over the past 4 weeks. Or maybe I will find some more socks and loveless cards.

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The Minimalism Challenge – Days 25 & 26

As this experiment is nearing the end, it still isn’t very hard to find things to get rid of. And I haven’t even really looked under the bed yet. I didn’t have to as the scarves drawer  was cracking at the seams with scarves (duh), hats, and gloves. To be quite frank, it still does now that the collection is 25 items smaller. Based on the number of scarves I (still) own alone, I can’t quite call myself a minimalist. But then again, minimalism comes in all different forms and is not about how many items you owe or don’t owe. It’s about constantly evaluating what you need in your life and what brings you joy. Not all the items that remain in the scarves drawer fulfill these criteria. Some of them are sentimental items (for example gifts from my mom) that I’m not ready to deal with or let go of. However, I have a feeling that some of them will eventually make their way into a charity clothes drop-off box as I hone my minimalism skills. Sometimes when trying to gauge the severity of my sentimental attachment to stuff, I ask myself “would I be devastated if this burnt in a fire?” With the scarves my mom gave me , I wouldn’t be devastated and neither would she. She as a rather frugal person would, however, cringe if she knew how many of these items still have tags on them or have been worn less than a handful of times. It makes me cringe, too. I got most of my character traits from my dad and frugality isn’t one of them but I don’t love the way I feel when I waste money. But I like the feeling of holding on to stuff I don’t use or love even less. Holding on to these scarves doesn’t bring back the money that was spent on them.

While I enjoyed laying out the Day 25  items in a 5 x 5 rectangle, I went back to the good old pile method for Day 26, which suited the random hodgepodge of items much better. The folding chair that everything else is resting on or centered around is part of the medley. It was taking up some of the already very limited (and fought over) closet space, its sole purpose being an extra seat just in case we have a lot of people over. Guess what, on the few occasions that we’ve had more people in our apartment than could fit on our couch and four chairs, we never even remembered that we had an extra chair. I also didn’t remember that we had his and hers vampire Halloween costumes (that we never got to wear because I got sick the day of the party) or the paint roller. I did, however, remember that I had the grey and neon green zip up hoodie because I didn’t buy it to long ago. That somehow makes it harder to let it go. Maybe because the feeling of wasting money is stronger since I didn’t get the use out of it that I hoped for. Maybe because I have to admit to myself that I got lured into an impulse buy with a sales sign and a color combination that I really like. No one likes to admit to themselves that they made a bad decision. Future bad decisions were possibly avoided by getting rid of a flask. The rest of the pile included a few more items from my closet (two button up shirts, two long sleeves, a cardigan), some random kitchen items, a once loved hat that is now worn and stretched out, a cheap garment bag, an old purse, a small travel bag, a couple of hangers, and probably some other shit that I’ve already forgotten about. IMG_7035.JPGIMG_7037.JPG

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The Minimalism Challenge – Day 24

Not only is today International Women’s Day, it is also Day 24 of my Minimalism Challenge. You decide what’s more important. I had a really long day today and part of me didn’t want to do this tonight but I always feel better after. I meant to go through our overflowing scarf drawer but need Julie’s stamps of approval for that but her office hours were done. Expect some scarves and hats in the next few days. Today, it turned into this random collection of stuff:

#277: Yet another decorative plate. I don’t get it.

#278: A sleeveless workout shirt. I have held this in my hands many times in the past 24 days and always put it back, thinking I might need it for the next yoga class. I haven’t taken a yoga class in about a year.

#279: Got the okay from Julie on this foxy red pair of gloves just before the end of her office hours.

#280: A souvenir from the 2013 US Open. They hand these out for free. It was the first US Open Julie and I went to together. I actually wore that hat once or twice but it has been forgotten for so long that it should be put out of its misery.

#281:  Handbags often come in other bags. I never quite understood what the point is. Who puts their handbags back into these protective bags once you start using them?

#282: My old kindle. This one hurts. This is a first generation kindle with a really nice leather case. It traveled around the world with me. I read Anna Karenina and War and Peace on it when I had a little bit of time on my hands while waiting for my leg to heal. I used it for studying in grad school. It even provided entertainment for my mom (who hates electronic devices) when she ran out of German books to read during my parents’ visit to New York a couple of years ago. This thing had a purpose and it gave me immense joy but last year it somehow got fried when charging it and it seems to be beyond repair. Bye bye faithful companion.

#283: A “travel mouse” with a retractable cord. It has been living in a junk drawer for a long time.

#284: A workout long sleeve shirt that doesn’t fit well.

#285: A pair of pillow cases that have not been used in at least three years.

#286: A sad, solitary glove. I bought it and its lost partner in college. They’ve served me well.

#287: Another sad, solitary glove.

#288: A strap whose purpose is unknown to me.

#289: A sad, solitary shoe insole.

#290: A camera bag for a small digital camera that may or may not exist anymore.

#291: A grad school souvenir, which makes me nostalgic because it reminds of a really special time in my life. But since it’s been stuck next to our bookshelf since I moved in, I suppose I can go on without it.

#292: A pair of cheap fitness gloves. Not needed anymore since I have started building calluses on my hands from crossfit (sexy, I know.)

#293: A rain jacket. Let’s be honest, when it pours hard enough to require this type of waterproofing, I’m staying inside.

#294: A passport case (stocking stuffer from last Christmas). Not only is it a terrible color combination, my German passport also doesn’t quite fit in it.

#295: Headphone replacement parts for headphones that have most likely fallen victim to this challenge.

#296: A belt that neither my wife nor I have worn in at least the last two years.

#297: A laptop case. My laptop is so busted up that it would be laughable to put it in a case.

#298: A phone case for an older model.

#299: A weight lifting grip aid I got for my wife, which never quite lived up to its promise.

#300: A travel case for our bluetooth speaker. I find this utterly unnecessary.

I cannot believe how easy it was to get to 300 things. 6 days and 165 things to go.

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The Minimalism Challenge – Day 23

After hitting up the sex drawer yesterday, I involuntarily ended up in the kitchen today (boooorrrriiiinnnng). I had just started cooking my rice and was looking for a lid to cook the rest of the meal, a path that led me to the low cabinet next to the stove. (Insert horror movie music and suspense here.) I immediately got attacked by droves of plastic bags and sticky plastic containers. The actual items that this cabinet is intended for (large cookware such as pots and pans) were buried and out of reach. So I did what any aspiring minimalist would do: I took a before picture. I then proceeded to tear stuff out of there like a mad woman and spread it out on the floor to see what was worth keeping. Worth keeping in the minimalism word can be determined by an affirmative answer to either of the two questions “does it have a purpose?” and “does it bring me joy?” None of these items bring me much joy in particular but they do have a purpose. Wok? Looking forward to the next stir-fry. Glass tupperware? Just bought these to replace the sticky plastic ones. (I will refrain from preaching about why glass tupperware is better than plastic tupperware. You’re on the wrong wordpress site.) Water filter? Needed to hydrate and minimize the use of plastic bottles. Colander? I do strain stuff from time to time.

The process of figuring out why items should stay is just as valuable as determining why they should go. Here are the things that no longer fulfill a purpose or bring anyone in this household joy (not even the dogs and they get excited about EVERYTHING):

  • Three cutting boards. Plastic cutting boards get just as nasty as plastic tupperware (or really plastic anything) over time.
  • An oversized, very fine, over-the-sink strainer. This was a total impulse buy at Aldi. I love Aldi. It reminds me of Germany.
  • A metallic candle holder for large candles that I have never seen being used.
  • A cake server. I have never served a slice of cake in this apartment. (Plus, there are more cake servers in the kitchen.)
  • A burger flipper. We don’t flip burgers, we order them from the diner across the street.
  • A spatula. We don’t use spatulas around here.
  • Two large, superfluous plastic spoons, one skinny and white, the other fat and clear.
  • Plastic containers.
  • Plastic container lids.
  • An old, scrape up pan. We have four other pans (not including the Wok). That doesn’t sound very minimalist but you have to crawl before you can run, right?

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Before

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After (I even had room to store our cooler bag, which opened up floor space.)

PS: Dear Reader, Thanks for bearing with me while I experiment with different writing and formatting style. This is as much about trying to cultivate a passion for writing as it is about throwing shit out.

 

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