Rituals of Improvement

A Cultural Inventory of a University Classmate

Ceramic Pineapple on WR’s TV Stand

WR is a 4th year undergrad Urban Studies major at the University of Texas at Austin. At a young age, his family of four relocated from the Philippines to New Jersey and eventually landed more permanently in South Austin. In March, they moved from their long-term family home into a temporary apartment, only a short distance from where their old home was, where they all, including WR live now.

As we talked, I discovered how these moves throughout his life have shifted not only his physical locale, but his mindset. He described his household to me as “a typical Asian Household,” but then stopped himself to add in that he feels they are more family oriented. He explained to me that when the Philippines were invaded by the Spanish aspects of Spanish culture, an emphasis on family as well as Catholicism, were introduced into Filipino culture. WR told me that his roots in the Philippines aren’t something he considers in everyday life. Rather he reconnects with his culture once a year for the festival Sinalog, a 9 day Filipino Catholic celebration of the Santo Niño de Cebú (Baby Jesus), as well as through the Filipino language.

Santo Niño de Cebú (Baby Jesus) that is celebrated at the week long Philippino Celebration, Sinalog

Although links to WR’s Filipino culture are found throughout his family’s home, I found that WR prefers his room as a place to establish himself as an individual. Each person in his family has their own space, and the only other space WR regularly uses is the kitchen because of his close relationship with his sister and to cook. His dad spends most of his time on the beach recliner in the living room, his little sister works in the kitchen, and his mom cultivates plants on the balcony.

WR’s room in his family’s new apartment is his carefully cultivated space for Self Improvement. This overarching theme in his room and life is displayed through his individualism, intentional organization, and methodical rituals.

What is Self Improvement?

The dictionary defines Self Improvement as the improvement of one’s knowledge, status, or character by one’s own efforts, but to WR it is his life. He told me he was an extremely shy and anti-social kid, and he used to be generally unhappy with himself. In high school, he decided to make a change. To him, Self Improvement is “all about making me the best version of me.”

Individualism

Defined as the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant. It is inherent in the philosophy of Self Improvement. WR’s choice to spend most of his time in his room is the physical manifestation of him choosing to be someone separate from what his parents and Filipino culture want.

The first step on his journey of self improvement was to gain a sense of style. It’s the start of him going on his own path and separating himself from what his parents wanted. He now runs a fashion blog as a passion project. Expressing his love for fashion was a simple first step in being more confident with himself and it translates to his meticulously kept closet.

He systematically organizes his apparel based on type of clothing, formality, and how often he uses them. He told me “I don’t want to wash my pants all the time because it degrades the quality of jean, so I keep my dirty clothes in separate place away from my work clothes.” This meticulous care and organization for his clothing was the beginning of his own self care.

The excitement over his closet is evident as well as the care for his possessions by the way he stores his shoes in their boxes and his bedding in the original packaging.

Personal Grooming has become a large part of WR’s self care, but surprisingly his bathroom is not where he stores many of his grooming products or any of his extensive cologne collection.

WR and his younger sister share this bathroom, and she has more influence on this space. He only keeps a few products in this one drawer.

WR’s sister’s shower curtain

As a self declared “fragrance connoisseur,” he takes great care and pride in collecting smells. He keeps them in his room in a special cabinet, rather than the bathroom, to preserve their quality. His passion for fragrance stems from the developed interest in fashion, and he views it as an extension of that. It’s another way to establish himself as individual, and he extends that special attention he gives the things he cares about to it. In a symbiotic way, he is caring for them because they help him care for himself.

Cologne Collection

His cologne collection is a way to shed the old version of himself who wanted to avoid being noticed. He now expresses himself through the sense of smell. For WR, he feels fragrance is “very artistic” and “visionary” and his own way of calling attention to himself. It’s his way of saying I’m here.”

A special selection from his cologne collection

Organization

Generally defined as having one’s affairs in order so as to deal with them efficiently, WR fits the mark. However, organization is more than that to him, it is about “getting control of your life.

Desk and TV Setup in WR’s Room

At the core of his Self Improvement philosophy is organization, and without it he feels “lost, stressed out and less likely to achieve.” When his family moved recently he welcomed the change because he was able to shed the mess of his old room. Described as 20% him and 80% mom, his old room was representative of a life before he dove into self improvement. His room now is deliberate and organized for maximum productivity.

This physical switch to an organized space has led him to a mental switch to “being more happy with where I am and knowing I can achieve.” Each area in his room now has an intended use and was placed there based on where the light hits at certain times of day. Inevitable clutter has been planned for in the space left by the head of his bed.

Organized clutter

As well as a space in his closet…

Closet Clutter (normally hidden by clothes)

He believes you “control the environment to control you” and because “this room is different, I can be different.”

Rituals

WR’s Desk

Although WR denies any tie from his Filipino upbringing to his discovery and love for self improvement, I see a correlation between his love for the Filipino festival Sinalog, which is full of religious rituals, and his own rituals to better himself. He is creating his own micro culture of improvement in his space when he completes his rituals.

Every day WR spends his first 30 minutes in bed on his phone, and when he gets up he immediately starts drinking water. He then works out and tracks his progress and reps in an excel sheet.

Part of his morning ritual is the physical act of writing down his plans for the day by the hour in his bullet journal. When he doesn’t do this he feels he “is less likely to accomplish anything that day.”

These simple acts are “all about making me the best version of me,” and by completing these rituals he is making a commitment to himself.

Conclusion

Ceramic Pineapple filled with fortunes

Every time WR gets Chinese takeout he keeps the fortune and stores it in this ceramic pineapple on his TV stand in what might appear to be a thoughtless act. But everything WR does is methodical, so when I asked him why and he just said he tended to save them, I was surprised. It seemed odd to me that his philosophy is built on using individual choice to create your own fortune, yet here he is collecting ones given to him. Maybe it’s his nod to not being able to control everything or maybe he wants to keep these futures contained. I’m still unsure, but I am sure that he will continue on his own path of improvement.

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