Minimalist Wardrobe Expat Style

How do you know how many clothes you’ll need for a year in a different country? If you only want to move with a suitcase and a backpack which pieces are most important? These are hard questions to answer. Andreas and I wanted to bring the minimal amount that we might need with us to Germany. We had to plan for three seasons, a month in the Arctic and other travel. (The institute Andreas is doing research with provided us with cold weather gear in the Arctic. We didn’t expect that)

Off the coast of North West Greenland in a borrowed jacket and trusty sweatpants. Andreas saysI shouldn't wear these pants in public because they're too American. I wonder what gives them away? Photo by Andreas Muenchow
Off the coast of North West Greenland in a borrowed jacket and trusty sweatpants. Andreas says I shouldn’t wear these pants in public because they’re too American. I wonder what gives them away? Photo by Andreas Muenchow

Today I took a photo of everything we brought to wear and then a second photo of what we’ve actually needed from summer through winter.

Andreas, being a guy and having a job that doesn’t require a lot of dressing up, was better prepared to pack with less choices. He only owns two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants to begin with.

Andreas' winter gear. A fleece jacket under a wind breaker with a hat. He says he's warm enough... Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Andreas’ winter gear. A fleece jacket under a wind breaker with a hat. He says he’s warm enough… Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I on the other hand had more options to choose from. Even though I try to have only the essentials in my closet, my life required a few “costume” changes during the day. I used to begin my day as a teacher in a business casual costume, then come home and change into jeans and a t-shirt to go shopping or for a walk. If my private art students were painting or if I was going out with friends I would change again in the evening.

Layers and rainbows is how I roll. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Layers and rainbows is how I roll. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

In Germany I can work from home (sweatpants and a t-shirt) and when I leave the apartment, I trade the sweatpants for jeans. Still a costume change but an easy choice. I tried to only pack the minimal amount of clothing I would want physically and psychologically. I figured that if I really needed anything, I could go shopping. I was mostly afraid of boredom from wearing the same clothes every week. This is why I brought fourteen t-shirts and eight scarves, so I would have variety. Honestly, I’m so happy to be able to wear comfortable clothes everyday that I’m not bored at all by limited choices. My husband isn’t bored looking at me in the same clothes everyday because he’s not paying attention to those things.

All of the clothes that Andreas packed for a year abroad. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
All of the clothes that Andreas packed for a year abroad. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

So, what did we bring and what did we need? Andreas brought: shoes 2, sweaters 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 8, pants 2, shorts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarf 1, hats 3. What he actually needed or has worn: shoes 2, jackets 3, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 4, pants 2, biking rain gear 1, gloves 0, scarf 0 and hats 2. So, he was pretty right on. The only things he over packed were dress shirts, sweaters and jackets. He doesn’t feel the cold so much.

The clothes that Andreas has needed and worn this year minus 1 pair of pants, 1 t-shirt, a fleece jacket and a windbreaker. (Things that he wore to work today) Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The clothes that Andreas has needed and worn this year minus 1 pair of pants, 1 t-shirt, a fleece jacket, Birkenstocks and a windbreaker. (Things that he wore to work today) Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
All of the clothes that I thought I would need for one year in Germany. Photo by Dragonfly LeathrumAll of the clothes that I thought I would need for one year in Germany. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
All of the clothes that I thought I would need for one year in Germany. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I brought: shoes 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 14, pants 3 (1 jeans, 1 sweatpants, 1 leggings) shorts 2, skirts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarves 8, hats 4, bathing suit 1. What I’ve used: shoes 3, jackets 3, t-shirts 10, pants 3, shorts 1, skirts 1, biking rain gear 0, gloves 1, scarves 8, hats 2 and bathing suit 0. Pretty close, but I could have packed less and been happy. We also packed seven pairs of underwear and socks each. The socks are wearing out fast because we walk and bicycle instead of drive.

The clothes that I've actually needed and worn in eight months. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The clothes that I’ve actually needed and worn in eight months. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

So, how much do you need and which pieces are important? I’d say enough for a week and of course, everyone has different needs. When we travel around Europe, we bring a t-shirt, underwear and socks for each day, a pair of pants and a jacket. We’ve never wished that we had brought more.

When in doubt go rainbow. Easy matchy matchy. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
When in doubt go rainbow. Easy matchy matchy. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I wrote this blog as a reminder to us that we don’t need to pack so much and that we are just as happy with less. I hope that when we return home, we (we mostly meaning me) will continue to live with a smaller wardrobe and cut down on shopping. Also, a reminder to our traveling friends to relax about packing, and that it’s easier to travel with smaller lighter bags.

Planes, Trains and Zodiacs

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Our home for almost five weeks docked in Adventfjorden, Svalbard. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

Our ship arrived in Svalbard; it was wonderful to see land again, especially the mountains, glaciers and Fjords of Spitsbergen. I awoke early Tuesday, September eleven to take photos of the sunrise in Adventfjorden, a bay of Isfjorden. Gulls and the occasional fishing vessel greeted us as we sailed towards Longyearbyen. There was no room for us in port so we dropped anchor in the harbor and traveled by zodiac and rescue boat from the ship to shore to see the small, stark town.

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Sunrise in Isfjorden. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

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Longyearbyen as seen from the R/V Maria S. Merian. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Longyearbyen is the northern most town in the world at 78º North with coal mines, a small university, and polar bears. The polar bears are an actual concern. Recently a guide from a cruise ship tour was killed as was an English Boy Scout camping close to town. There are posted road signs everywhere with warnings of polar bears. Exploring mountains and glaciers beyond tight town limits, you need a gun and a guide. I was happy to read that they use scare tactics and don’t shoot first. (The guides, not the bears) We spent an afternoon on the small main street drinking coffee and picking up a few souvenirs. I’m not a souvenir buyer by nature but this was a special circumstance. I am pretty sure that I will never have the opportunity to return, although never say never, I did not expect to show up here in the first place. Hell, I had never even heard about this town until last spring. Two mates from the ship Andreas and Andreas had fun geocaching in town which left me with time to take photos as I walked with them. Being in Longyearbyen at the end of summer it is hard to imagine the place in the winter. I was already wearing a winter coat, hat and gloves. The parking lots are filled with snowmobiles instead of cars because, like in the movie Pleasantville, all roads end at the edge of town.

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Andreas W. and Andreas M. document their geocache find at the oldest building in Longyearbyen. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

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The main shopping street in Longyearbyen. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

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The glacier at the edge of town. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Returning to the ship late afternoon, we packed and cleaned our cabins and laboratories prior to our departure the next day. The wind was strong and icy and the sea choppy, so we had to put on survival suits to protect us in the small rescue boat that ferried us back to shore where a bus was waiting to bring us to the airport. The airport was super tiny and the runway super short. The pilot apologized in a few different languages for the bumpiness of the runway and explained that the pavement breaks up every summer. No big deal. The views at take-off were amazing.

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A view of the Merian in the harbor from Longyearbyen. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

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Shipmate Uli waits for his flight in the Longyearbyen International Airport terminal. This room is the only terminal/ gate. There is a room next to this of the same size with a few ticket counters and security. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Instead of heading straight back to Bremerhaven with our housemate (there is no “straight” back from Svalbard), Andreas and I decided to spend a few days in a small town south of Copenhagen in Denmark. We stayed in a quaint, dusty Airbnb in Nykøbing with a garden full of apple trees and a bicycle for Andreas to escape on to find more geocaches in a forest along the Baltic Sea. It was a beautiful Danish town founded around a 12th century medieval castle. After the Reformation the castle was the residence of widowed queens from Denmark and Germany. Many streets were permanently closed to vehicles and turned into a maze of pedestrian areas with bookstores, shops, and cafés where we spent our time. Seeing the green of the trees and grass was a bit of a shock to the eye after looking at the ocean for so long. Andreas told me that this happens to him every time he returns from long sea voyages. It was interesting to witness it for myself. On our second night the town had a DJ concert in the main square and the bass rocked the place for blocks. We found a little restaurant below street level where the occasional bass sound from the concert penetrated the thick stone walls. The bass reminded us of the engine rumble of the ship. The “land sickness” I was experiencing since leaving the ship made it feel even more so. Luckily, I only felt dizzy when sitting at a table and was fine walking and biking.

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Nykobing Falster, Denmark. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

It’s good to be back in Germany and each of us is trying to remember and re-establish our former routines. Our housemate, Andreas’ graduate student, is looking for an apartment. Andreas joined a competitive table tennis club and goes to practice three nights a week while I am catching up on blog writing, organizing the few thousand photos I took last month, and drawing and painting. I’m also reading a great book we found in Denmark written by Mark Twain called “The Innocents Abroad.” It describes his European travels by ship 150 years ago. It is hilarious, especially after my own European adventures.

Written by Dragonfly Leathrum 9/26/2018