Beyond Vanity: Why Taking Care of Your Appearance Matters


How do we attend to our appearance without becoming superficial and/or shallow? Can we hold on to our inner truth, yet concern ourselves with outer appearance? Will the practicalities of life consume us, or can we stay present and alert, while yet neat and nice?

The practicalities of everyday life

My first blog had the subtitle: Life is first and foremost practical. One of my early mentors told me some famous psychologists said this. I do not remember who the psychologist was, and it does not really matter. I am not even sure it is true. But there is a truth to the saying. Life has a lot of practicalities, and life is very often something we do, tasks we resolve, jobs we finish, and things we need to fix. 

Coming back to living on the bus after another road trip sure made us feel practical. The children had to re-learn to participate in everyday tasks, as we, without thinking, did not really ask them to do this while we made the Andalusia trip, and we, the parents, made long to-do lists. And begun immediately from the top. Things needed reorganizing, repair, updating, cleaning, and minimizing.


Appearance matters

We did upgrade lists and just started on one end. Every little detail needs attention, and if we let go and just hang loose, enjoying beaches and study projects, our clothes will, in the end, be too worn, and we will be out of sharp knives, have broken cables, and rust on our vehicles. 

All in all, coming back to the bus DID actually, in some ways, feel like coming back from vacation. In that respect, it was a big change back to something we already knew. At the same time, we are working on where to go over winter, and are not back in any resemblance of a rat race, still free to enjoy life from whatever location we like, and as such, we are still nomads. 

It feels good to attend basic stuff, but it also feels overwhelming. Once you start, it seems there are things to do everywhere. Cleaning, fixing, upgrading, redoing, shopping for spare parts, upgrading computers, re-organizing, sewing, gluing, greasing, sanding, painting, and cleaning again. It's a good thing there are lots of hours of sunshine and good podcasts to listen to while working. 


Public appearance

So, why does appearance matter? We just re-posted an old text I wrote about children's hair, about letting go and not stressing about the look of your children. My point of the old article is, that you should never let the appearance of your children reflect back on your self-esteem as a mother. Comb their hair, when it feels right, not to satisfy anyone else. Or your idea about what they think. 

So, now we are back to the same theme and actually talking as a family about how appearance matters, and how it does matter how you look and how you present yourself. This is as true about the body as about your home, vehicle, or handbag. 

We are not trying to become stylish perfectionists. But we do realize attending to personal appearance is a way to send clear signals to the surrounding world about who and how we are, and also sending the same signals to ourselves. As we have become travelers, we see, this signaling as more important, as we are 

  1. Looked at more, 
  2. Being studied and interviewed by “strangers” more often
  3. Representing another group of people (the digital nomads)
  4. Being kind of agents for our lifestyle (or lifestyles: radical unschoolers, nomads, vegans)
  5. In a way, being agents of our home country (Denmark, the North)

All of this is another kind of responsibility. It simply matters more. To us and to the people, our choices reflect back upon. We do not live within our own culture and our own network and networks of networks, and we do not share language and history with the people we meet. Having a physical appearance that does not stick out makes our way around the world more smooth, makes people meet us with open minds, and we can start talking about more interesting stuff, without getting around fixed ideas about our lifestyle. 

We have always been clean and organized; at this point, we just decided to upgrade the routines a bit, being less tolerant of small holes in clothes, worn-out bags, or other signs of too much letting go. 

What is different now, is we realize, we just have to set aside some time to actually do the work of the re-organizing, repairing, updating, and so on. This is new; this is what we decided to occasionally invest more time in - in order to upgrade the appearance. 


Order on the outside, order on the inside

Another benefit of the focus on appearance is the fact, that when we live in an organized space, our minds tend to be calmer. When we have peace in our surroundings, the mind can calm down. The same holds true for physical appearance. When we tend to it, the small acts reflect back as self-love and self-esteem, and we raise our heads just a bit more. 

We have a general rule, we want our home – whether it is the bus or the green van or somewhere else – to be ready for visits at any time. We are not ambitious; we do not need it to be perfect in order to invite anyone inside, but we want to be always happy about it and proud of it. The bus is being shown to bypassers very often; it is part of the game. 

In a way it comes with the tiny house lifestyle: Living in a small space makes organizing often necessary, and we do a bit more cleaning for the same reason. In a small space, it is worse to live with sticky stoves, dirty floors, and greased windows. 

The question of stuff

Now, we are, in a way, minimalists or trying to be. Not in our deep nature, but in our lifestyle choices, we want to live with a minimum of stuff. But not an extreme minimum, not with less than we feel we need to have fun, have adventures, have learning processes, and evolve skills and ideas.

So, maybe we are not minimalists, just us in a tiny space and with the knowledge that stuff will hold us down and back if it is not attended to and does not point to our future. We have danced around this question many times in this life, and we just have to accept, that stuff accumulates.

Being aware of the problem of waste, we want to upgrade, repair, reuse, or recycle everything, but this often means we have thousands of small and big items, that might be used sometime in the future, could be used for some upgrade or given to someone. Letting go of all this, especially when it can not be donated, feels like an unnecessary waste, but on the other hand, holding on to it holds us down and cramps up our lives. 


 To tie a bow on a project

And worse: Very often, stuff is a derivation of a project we have finished. But not tied a bow on. You can probably not say this in English, but I shall teach the English-speaking world now:

My beloved grandmother told me this often: You have to tie a bow on your projects. This means finishing whatever you do, cleaning up, reflecting on it, and tying a bow. That would be making sure there are no loose ends, and you have finished with grace. 

I find this impossible. 

But I will never stop trying to learn. 

In our life, it comes in waves: Sometimes, we clean the clutter, and this also means finishing projects, letting go of things we are not doing, finishing with style, and letting go of the leftovers. 


The practical life

So, we have focused some weeks on the practical stuff. We want the bus to work fixing details of the motor; we want our home inside the bus to have what we need and no more; we want the gadgets to be up to date, our backpacks to be filled with what we need and no more, we want to clean and be clean, and we want inner and outer peace. 

This has been the project focus of the first week back in Catalonia, our new home base. 

The adventure life

But life never stops being an adventure. We had the great experience of visiting guests from France, our wonderful Keith and Magalie, and 2 of their children. We spent wonderful hours with them. 

We also worked with the animals at Bassa, which is always an adventure, re-met the people of the community, studied the Spanish language and Islamic art, read books, and did craft projects. We would not be able to be practical all of the time. But it sure is soothing to sometimes dive into the practical stuff, improving it and making more things work. 

So, yes, we focused our attention on the whole circus of stuff and appearance, but not so much so; there was no space for adventure, relations, animals, nature, blue sky, and stars at night. 


 Summing up the question of appearance

How do we attend to our appearance without becoming superficial and/or shallow? Can we hold on to our inner truth, yet concern ourselves with outer appearance? Will the practicalities of life consume us, or can we stay present and alert, while yet neat and nice?

So, how can we find the balance? It is interesting, and I am not sure, I can provide the answer. I am very conscious of a shallow and superficial world of fashion, stress, insecurity, and vanity, and we will not enter it. Yet, we ARE living on the same planet as everyone else, and we have to somehow embrace it. The healthy side of attention to appearance will always need us to be awake and aware, so we do not fall into these traps of the modern world. It is not about vanity; it is not about self-staged un-reality. Taking care of our appearance is taking care of ourselves, making sure we are clean, whole, and ready. The balance is delicate, yet important. Let it be a self-loving project and a life-loving project, and also a respect for everyone around us, sending clear signals of who and how we are. 

That includes ourselves. We are worth the cut fingernails, the clean clothes, the orderly home, and the organized space. In this context, we thrive and enjoy more and better, and we also listen with clear and ready minds to the signals and songs from the Universe. 

Thank you for reading the blog. I write to share our experiences and perspectives and would love to hear yours. Please comment in whatever way feels right to you: Facebook, personal e-mail, text message, or whatever you like. It brings a lot of joy in the bus when we hear from readers.

Thank you, and may the sun shine on your path.


Cecilie Conrad

Comments on this article from my old website:

Sarah Beale

I find this is tricky balance in some ways too - I don’t want my children to see me obsessing over appearance but I do like to present well. Not because of ego or competition but I feel good if I look a way that reflects who I am. I happen to have 2 daughters watching closely and currently receive makeup tips often from my 12 year old - mainly that I don’t wear enough!

My younger children don’t enjoy the work involved with keeping clean and maintaining hygiene practices - mainly I think because it’s not a priority yet for them. We don’t push it, instead leading my how we act. I know they’ll all be teenagers soon enough and probably we’ll be lining up for the bathroom!

The maintenance of ‘stuff’ is interesting when you live a travelling life - small spaces are easily cluttered, bags often remain unpacked, washing clothes may not be as regular as when staying in one place - but I find it less of a chore and more enjoyable than when we lived in our own large house.

I like what you say about ‘representing’! I often find my children’s appearance and exuberance leads to deep discussions about our life, our priorities and our radical life!

Redefining Home: My Family's Journey from City Living to Nomadic Life
Getting things done


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