A Very Debtist Birthday

Birthdays are kind of a tortuous thing for me these days. At some point, I think we all kind of went a bit astray and, may I say it, b-o-n-k-e-r-s, with the whole celebrations thing. I understand celebrating an event or accomplishment, but the whole excess consumption tied to each holiday really bothers me. I wanted to do something very different for this year (and hopefully here on out).

Over the past year, Mike and I have been struggling with trying to relate to family and friends that we want celebrations to be centered around less stuff. When we tell them we don’t want gifts, they insist that we must get something. What ends up happening is that they get us random things, or things we don’t even need, and these things literally immediately go to someone else, or get donated to Goodwill, because we do not want more stuff. So then we started to tell them specifically what things we want with an emphasis on the fact that we want to stray from plastic and excess waste. But then the packages show up wrapped in layers of colored paper and plastic ribbons tied to plastic balloons. Those who want to gift us money put them on plastic gift cards. I mean the whole ordeal has just been very difficult.

We have finally come to a point where we have wrangled down the gift giving quite a bit. Our immediate families STILL insist they get us a gift, so we have an agreed upon one from each side, instead of one from each person. My family got me pasta roller attachments so I can make pastas at home, and Mike’s side got me a pizza stone and peel so I can ramp up our homemade pizza game. As for the others, I wanted a solution. It’s so complicated explaining to 30 relatives why we don’t want gifts and then fighting their resistance against our request. It was time-consuming to make a specific list for them last Christmas, and then frustrating to find that our “bar of soap purchased without wrapping” was wrapped in cellophane with bows. I am not ungrateful, but I AM almost near hysterical. When did we all get so carried away? When did celebrations become tied to wayyyy more than just gathering together to relish in the joys of our accomplishments? Why is it so difficult to untangle people’s perceptions of what a party should look like from the actual party?

My vision of a birthday celebration includes:

+ A get together at a park (or beach, or home).

+ Sharing a meal cooked by loved ones.

+ A home-made birthday cake.

+ Sitting around a circle, telling stories or jokes.

+ Taking photos, or sharing old ones.

+ A birthday song, perhaps.

+ Hugs, kisses, and high-fives.

Not much more than that.

This year, I got a little inspiration from Mr. Money Mustache, and we found a way to do our birthday in a very Debtist way. In the past, we would dine out with our friends and families, usually at a restaurant, for our birthdays. Each person’s meal would cost $15-$25 per person. If we weren’t doing that, someone would be throwing us a party, paying $50 for a cake, the same amount for balloons, confetti and decorations that we would trash that day, and so on. I used to count how many presents I would get each year at my birthday or during Christmas, and it would always be more than 20 gifts. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a waste to have people spend ludicrous amounts of money to throw parties and give gifts, while there are people who exist and barely have any food to eat.” So, I spoke to Mike, who feels the same torture as I, and whose birthday is two weeks away from mine, and we decided to do something different this year.

We created a FEED supper instead. The idea is simple. One hosts a supper (or in our case, a brunch) where each guest makes a donation to provide meals for families in need across the country before attending the event. 100% of the FEED supper donations will provide meals to American families through Feeding America. An estimated 42 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meals are coming from. By coming together “to truly share a meal”, we can help change that.  We wrote our families and friends the following letter:

We can do a world of good.

Hi all,

For us, a simpler birthday is a more meaningful birthday. Instead of asking for gifts or inviting you guys to dine out this year, we request your help in feeding those in need! This year, we are hosting a FEED supper (erm, well, brunch…). For those who are able, we request a donation to FEED and in return, every person who makes a donation is invited to come over to our place on Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. for home-made pastries and coffee! I have gotten into quite the baking habit and Mike makes wonderful coffee selections from local coffee roasters. 

This helps to avoid stressful shopping and allows folks to focus dollars where really needed.

The best present for us is getting together with you.

It’s hard to believe that over 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We can do something to change that.

Please consider making a small donation before attending this FEED Brunch, where we can celebrate our collective impact together.  

It only takes a little to make a big difference. By giving just $10, you can provide 90 meals to American families through FEED’s domestic giving partner, Feeding America. Our goal is to raise $500, but if we go over, even better!  100% of the proceeds will go towards Feeding America. 

Learn more about FEED Supper at feedprojects.com/feedsupper

We love you, and we appreciate your help in making a difference in the world.

Sincerely,

Sam

The letter links them to a website where they can make a donation of their choice. We have also invited them over to our house for pastries and coffee on a day between our birthdays. It’s something simple, but also something Mike and I are passionate about! We are very excited to see familiar faces, not only to celebrate our birthdays, but also to celebrate our impact!

Even after all of this, we were still asked to go out on my birthday to grab food by friends and family members. It took everything I had in me to flat out decline. It’s so hard to say no because you see the disappointment in their faces and hear it in their voices. But I had to stand my ground, otherwise I would have been the unhappy one. I gave them the spiel about how I did not want to do ANY spending on my actual day of birth. I emphasized the fact that we created the event to bring awareness to the excess consumption that advertising and social media has melded with the idea of celebration. I offered alternatives, such as joining us for a hike, or a bonfire. Interestingly, no one took us up on our offers, not even my parents. My mom was insisting we go out for breakfast at Lola’s Cafe, and when I said no to that, she insisted going to Breugger’s Bagels, because it is a cheap way to celebrate. She said, “We just want to spend time with our daughter on her birthday.” But when I declined again and asked if we could hike or go to the beach instead, she said they were busy. I think doing something so mundane was not considered a celebration, even though the celebration itself is internal, no?

Anyways, yesterday ended up being a good day. After helping my patients at work, and visiting with my family for an hour after work, Mike took me on a three mile hike to circumnavigate the only natural lake in Orange County. We then went home and made pasta. He had previously picked up a Coffee, Whiskey, Peanut Brittle Ice Cream from Kansha Creamery on his way home from work Friday (in a re-usable container, off course) and we dipped into that with a week-old left-over slice of cake from my mom’s end-of-the-school-year party. It was, I think, very reflective of the things I valued and what I envision my life to really be about in the upcoming year. More importantly, it was what made me happy. It’s a slow process, and maybe people will never understand the repercussions of our extravagant, Great-Gatsby lives. At least this year, I didn’t have to contribute.

Thoughts on: The Power of Small Changes

I live my life through small changes. Every moment is a chance to traject the course to destinations anew. Wanting to make change can be disheartening, if expectations are misguidedly unrealistic. It’s easy to view change as a beginning and an end. The tendency for most is to skip over the middle. Thus, embarking on a journey towards a lifestyle shift can feel, at times, as if you’re going nowhere. Trust me, I know after making $84,000 in student debt repayment and just barely reducing the initial principal by $34,000. More importantly, trust the process, and never underestimate the power of small changes.

The tried truth of the matter is, there is a middle that we never see. Success stories aren’t as cool when we linger on the drudgeries. Passions aren’t so epic when we highlight the failures. No one is EVER going to sit through a TV interview of a millionaire explaining that he became a millionaire by being frugal. None of those are exciting stories, so none of them sell. But these stories are more helpful to those that are pursuing a dream, because they are closer to the truth. So when people ask me how I got to slow living, how I woke up from zombielike reverie and jumped off the hamster wheel, they expect me to say that some point in my life, some experience, led me to where I am now. But that isn’t true. I simply started to watch a lot of documentaries, read a lot of books, reflect on my experiences, and it wasn’t one particular book or documentary or even moment in time that resulted in an epiphany. It was the slow accumulation of knowledge that little by little, moved me in the direction of making small changes towards slow living. Even today, the journey continues. I can’t give you a one word Hollywood answer, a simple solution to your own search for a slower life. But I can stress the importance of the middle.  

We cannot expect results to be instant. More importantly, we cannot give up when they are not. Trusting the process means that we understand that by doing something (anything!), we are by definition, never standing still. I had a friend once ask me to explain how I seem to get so much done. “Do I have a to-do list? Is it made daily, weekly, or monthly? Do I set goals?” Every question was focused on an end. The answer is, I do create a to-do list. I create a monthly one at the beginning of every month, and I create a daily one for the days that I do not have to go to work. The monthly list gives me a general direction, but more importantly, allows me to reflect on what I want for myself in the near future. The daily list is only made on my days off, when I have so much free time that I want to make sure I do not idle away too much of it.

The same friend returned to me about two months later. I asked how his progress was with some of the goals and dreams he shared with me a few months ago, and his answer was “slow”. He placed a lot of them on hold, because he felt too much overwhelm. He reported that he had tried to make a list every day and to check it all off, but he could never finish as much as he wanted. The result was a lot of frustration at his inability to make change. This frustration then led him to take a break.

What I failed to mention to him, which I clarified at this later conversation, was that the list is there to serve as a light. I jam pack my list with all the things I want to accomplish, but I hardly ever get to check all of them off. The mindset differs in the fact that I look at the ones I did check off, and think to myself, “Look how far I’ve come.” As for the rest, they are re-written again for the next list on another time, another day. The ability to do this lies in the non-expectation of an end result. When I want an end-result right away, I too, feel frustration, stress, anger, and insufficiency. I’ve been there, many times! But that does no one any good. So instead, look at it from a place of gratitude. You were gifted with one additional day, and you added to your life in different ways. Forget that you didn’t get to the end. There is so much joy to be found in the anticipation of an end result, that more often than not, the end seems a bit underwhelming when we DO reach it anyway.

So here is a short, quick guide on how to implement small changes in order to achieve even larger ones, at a slow, steady pace.

  • Start with a list. As mentioned above, I write a list in the beginning of the month that I want to see myself accomplish. Something as simple as “Read Two Books” or something more complicated like “De-clutter my Life”. Obviously, the latter requires a bit more work. These more difficult ones, I break down into steps on my daily lists. For example, I would have on my to-do list “De-clutter the closet” on one day, “De-clutter the pantry” on another day, “De-clutter relationships” on yet another day, and so on. The most important thing is to act on these small changes, without expecting to accomplish the big change. Eventually, the small changes add up, and you’ll soon realize that you’ve accomplished the big one, even if it IS a few months down the road.
  • Let go of the list. Give yourself the space to NOT accomplish, and that will be more helpful than locking yourself in with the pressures that cause you to give up completely. Sometimes, we don’t finish, which simply means that there’s another time and place for that change to occur. Let it go, and revisit later.
  • Create mini challenges. I absolutely LOVE mini challenges. I do them ALL the time. Sometimes I call them my own personal social experiments. When I wanted to stop contributing to plastic waste, I started with the challenge of bringing a reusable bottle all the time. I then moved up to not using plastic grocery bags. And then I challenged us to not buy any plastic grocery shopping. Eventually, we graduated to the challenge of not buying take out foods which use plastic. We created the challenge of not using a straw whenever we order a drink. The funny thing is, all these mini experiments are small changes that end up sticking with us and changing our habits. We now hardly introduce any plastic into our lives, through the slow process of adding in one small change at a time. Imagine if we embarked by cutting out all plastic completely, and at once. Would we have been able to push through without feeling despair? Probably not! Creating mini challenges are an absolute fun, easy, light-hearted way to change a lifestyle.
  • Be Optimistic. I don’t believe in the word negligible. I am very optimistic about how far our actions can take us, as well as how we can change a world. Be optimistic and trust that the small changes you are making do have an effect, even if you can’t quite see it yet.
  • Let Go of the Expectations. Expectations could be the most detrimental part of the journey. It makes us feel as if we aren’t enough. Let all that negativity go, and just go with the flow.
  • Slow and steady. But mostly, steady. This is another way of saying, keep it going. Small changes are great in that they are akin to a snowball. Once you make a change, the next change becomes easier, and easier, and easier. Once we see the world in a different way, we become more open to different perspectives. Once we question how society raised us, we find less fear in questioning everything. When you ask the question, “Which is stronger, a rock or a river?”, it is easy to say a rock. But when you look at the way a river forms a canyon, and you can see how the steady flow of some small force can be strong enough, over time, to change a larger structure. Slow and steady wins a race, but mostly, steady.

 

Frugality: Co-housing, An Update

It has been six months since Mike and I decided to take on a roommate and give co-housing a try. The verdict? It has been such an awesome and wonderful experience! We could not have been happier with our decision, and today, I wanted to share an update, for those who may be considering it themselves, or for those who have never thought about the possibility but are looking for options.

All too often, when we tell people that we have a roommate living with us, we get these incredulous stares or looks of confusion. They ask questions like, “But you’re married, right?” or “Isn’t that weird?” Which implies that there is this societal expectation that explicitly states in a rule book somewhere that a newly wedded couple should be living on their own. I don’t know if the concept is tied to the idea that a couple should be independent, or if it’s a sign of being able to provide for yourselves and therefore is more so tied to responsibility. Whatever it is, I think this expectation is just as detrimental as the idea that once you are married, you are “ONE”.

I believe that it is important to retain your individuality while married. It’s important to discern the difference between finding someone who adds to your life, and finding someone who completes your life. I do not believe in the latter. I do not believe in molding into one, but rather, in retaining our individual two-ness and working together, contributing equally, in our own unique ways. When we see ourselves as a single entity, it is easier to shut the rest of the world out with this “Us VS Them” mentality. When you consider yourselves as individuals, then it is easy to open up your life (and space) to other individuals as well. And maybe this is where our thinking differs from the rest.

Either way, the benefits of having a roommate are multi-fold, and I would like to address the ways in which it has enriched our lives.Obviously, having an additional roommate really helps with the finances. Before we welcomed K into the downstairs floor, we were looking for ways to decrease the monthly recurring rent payment,  which in Orange County, CA is not the easiest thing to do. We were looking at 450 sq. foot apartments that would decrease our rent to, well, what we have now. Adding a roommate allowed us to stay in the 1600 sq. foot space that we love, that was ideally located for both of our jobs, and that had a two car garage. Numerically, the savings have been over $4,000 in the course of 6 months! And it isn’t just on our end. I am not sure I ever mentioned this on here, but K is my younger brother’s girlfriend. She found a job nearby so she was looking for a space and we offered her her own floor downstairs at a much much cheaper price than if she rented a space on her own. It saves her money too! Everyone wins. But there is more to the story than just the finances…

On top of adding an additional person to talk to in the evenings, I actually get to see a lot more of my younger sibling too, which is awesome! I have really enjoyed the Sunday coffee dates we host at home, or random weeknight dinners, or occasional boardgame nights. I think for Mike and I as well, it has been such a difference having a third person to talk to. When it was just us two for the first year of our marriage, there came a point where we had squeezed out every last little story we had to tell. When you add a third person to the mix, the stories abound anew. There are so many fun discussions to be had, different perspectives to be told, and always, a mediator between two people. It’s a reminder that we as humans really do benefit from social interaction. Mike and I learn new lingo from the younger crowd, K teaches us about finance through her her business and accounting background, while we share with her our financial experiences and mistakes, and Mike and I share a lot about bread and coffee (although I am not sure that’s such a fair trade-off). But really, we have so much to share with each other and I just feel like Mike and I have grown so much more by adding someone back into our home.

Also, there is the perk of always having someone to house sit! Mike and I are constantly traveling, and I guess so is K. We usually have someone watching over the loft every time one of us is away, which is a perk I actually never thought about before. When we went Hawaii last year, we returned to a sprinkler flood on the first floor that was occurring for who knows how long. When we returned from Germany, we came back to the annoying, high pitched beeping of a fire-alarm battery dying. We hoped that was not going on for the whole week that we were away! Having someone watching the house allows all of us to go on vacation, worry-free.

We have enjoyed co-housing so much that we decided to renew our six month lease again, with all three of us on board! Which means another $4000 in savings, another 6 months of after-work stories and long chats and weekend adventures. I first learned of co-housing from a documentary about Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world. I am surprised it is not more popular here. I think a lot of our stress comes from our isolation from others and co-housing is a way to decrease some of that unhappiness. I say try it! It’s not much different from living with roommates in our college days. Weren’t those the best days of our lives?

 

Novelty, Unlocked in the Form of Hand-Me-Downs

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Last weekend, K and I were de-cluttering our possessions, as usual, continuing our slow, constant progress towards living a life of less. It’s amazing to discover that you can keep going on this path for so long. While I am not adding much of anything at all back into my life, I am finding hidden, forgotten about gems constantly in the backs of closets, nooks of cabinets, underneath piles of more oft used stuff. I came downstairs for a quick swig of water after lightening my closet for what feels like the thousandth time, just as K was coming up the stairs, carrying her favorite purple North Face jacket (a similar one here).  I must have seen K wear this jacket multiple times as one of her go-to pieces in her closet, so I was surprised when she extended her arm and offered the jacket to me. She voiced that she was ready to let it go, and she asked if I wanted her hand-me-down. I laughed because I had just de-cluttered my own closet upstairs and just finished contemplating how in the world I end up with so much stuff. Funnily, I did want to take the hand-me-down too, because I could use a more muted fleece jacket for the everyday, instead of my bright red one (see, minimalist doesn’t mean owning nothing, or deprivation!). Really though, I was hesitant that this was yet another thing that I would have to de-clutter in the future. But then I thought about it, and decided to hold on to the jacket, and I am glad I did!

If anything, I am prolonging the life of the article of clothing. K mentioned how she did not know where to donate the stuff she is constantly decluttering, and I have also come across this problem numerous times. The amount of clothes that are being removed from homes is extremely large, mostly thanks to the fast fashion industry which is bent on creating 52 seasons in one year. Companies that used to take and re-sell lightly used clothes are becoming more and more critical, and are accepting only a small percent of what comes through their doors, because there is just not enough room. Donations to other charities are also overflowing, and most are sent to third world countries for processing, where the overflow sometimes, ultimately, end up in landfill. A lot of people who don’t want to deal with the inconveniences of finding their old clothes a home simply send them straight to the landfill anyway. So K asked me to take it and I thought to myself, “keep it out of the landfill.”

I haven’t had a hand-me-down since my sister, Dee, and I started fitting into different sizes in college. Only a year apart, the first twenty years of our lives were constantly filled with, “Can I borrow this?” or “I’ll trade you this article of clothing for that!” It used to be such a fun game, frantically looking through my closet for a piece I knew she would want, whenever I wanted to borrow or have anything she had. We were very good about striking deals and bargains, and because of our system, our closets were technically twice the size. Sometimes, we would trade back the pieces we originally had, and it was like new. I was surprised to relearn all of this with the simple act of accepting K’s gift.

I have worn K’s jacket everyday this week, since she gave it to me. The jacket has brought me so much joy and excitement. It’s been a bit cloudy in the mornings (the sun has been slow in waking up this past week) and the office is always cold, so it’s proved useful despite the fact that it’s already June in California. Yesterday, Mike and I were at the beach watching the sunset, and I commented on how I have worn the jacket every day this week, as I was zipping it up to ward off the cooling temperatures. He responded with, “You’re excited to wear it because it’s new.” Which got me thinking. Sure, it isn’t brand new, but in my life, it IS new to me.

Research shows that we are not necessarily constantly searching for newness, but rather, novelty. Advertisement companies and social media understands this human need for novelty greatly, and they use it to their advantage. They sell products as novel experiences to the general population. Buy said product, find happiness. Buy this trip, find peace. Buy this workshop, find creativity. They package novelty as something you need to buy, and time and time again, I have proven that concept wrong through slow living. The truth of the matter is, “buying happiness” is a temporary fix, leaving people feeling empty, and wallets feeling emptier. Creating novel experiences is much easier, leaving people feeling fuller, because it did not come at a cost. Hand-me-downs are a great way to create this novelty. Accepting K’s jacket reminded me of a truth that Dee and I knew as children. Newness does not necessarily mean physical newness. It only requires a sense of newness to us. One day, I will write more about ways I create novel experiences in my life, without spending a penny, and how that is contributing to the observation that I live a happier life than some of my peers. But today, I just wanted to share this story, in hopes to maybe convince more people to creating a hand-me-down system among family and friends. Share, borrow, trade, it’s all fun. See how it makes you feel. Who knows. You may unlock a secret that only kids once knew.

For those interested in finding a place for their used clothes, why not support companies that have programs dedicated to repurposing used goods? Eileen Fisher has a Renew Program which accepts used EF clothes. Depending on the condition, they resell them, refurbish them, or break them down into scraps to make a one-of-a-kind. Nisolo has a Shoe Reclamation Program that accepts used shoes, creating a market for shoemakers in less fortunate communities who can then refurbish the soles and resell the “new” shoes to their communities in need.

Seeking Discomfort

We all know what comfort feels like. If you are reading this blog post, you most likely have access to a computer and the internet, and you have a place to sit in which to read this post from, which indicates to me that you probably have more than what you need to live a comfortable life. Comfort makes us feel more content, and contentment makes us feel happy. However, sometimes, I absolutely dislike being comfortable.

When I feel comfortable, I know I am not growing. I know that I am doing what I am good at or what I have experienced before. Typically, I am not doing anything new. I know that I am not pushing myself, or creating changes in a default society. None of these things make me feel comfortable at all. Thus, I am always searching for points of discomfort.

When you experience discomfort, you suddenly notice all the things you had that made you comfortable before. You become grateful for your life and the surrounding circumstances that keep you content. There is this moment where one realizes that other people may be in more unfortunate situations, which lends said person a small insight into their existing fortunes. Mike and I had an experience in New Zealand where we decided to do a three day trek through the Fiordlands. Unfortunately, on the day we set out, a massive storm came to pass. We were being jostled in the wind, drenched to the bone (underneath supposed water-proof clothing), and exhausted after being beaten down by Mother Nature on a six hour journey up a mountainous land. When we got to the lodge, we were never more grateful. The roof kept us dry, the showers were warm, and we were off our feet. Simple things became things of great pleasure, and were suddenly considered luxuries! So, discomfort can be good, because it reminds us true differences between basic needs, and excess wants. Our perspective is refocused and we are able to look at the world anew.

Aside from refocusing our perspectives to places of gratitude, it is also good to seek discomfort once in a while, in the name of progress. My boss always tells me, “I like being uncomfortable! It means something new is happening. It means I am learning, I am growing, and at the very least, I am trying.” I love that constant drive to keep moving forward, rather than standing still.

We all feel uneasy when we go outside of our comfort zone. It’s instilled in us from birth, to protect us as a species from potential harm. But all of mankind’s greatest achievements would never have been achieved if no one powered through that feeling of unease, sometimes for the sake of curiosity, sometimes for the sake of necessity. Thus, I am always in search of things that bring me slight discomfort. I don’t throw myself carelessly into questionable situations. I do not riot against society for the sake of rioting. But I ask questions. I put myself out there. I agree to do new things, always, even if I am afraid (also always). There is this misconception that great people become great because they are made of the right stuff. It’s easy to believe that they were born with some drive that the rest of us were not. It gives people the excuse to continue being, well, where they are. The truth is that they are made of the same stuff as you and I, filled with the same fears and the same doubts, born with the same small voice that shouts “Go with the flow” when they are pulled in an opposite direction. The separation lies in the fact that they know deep down that, failing at something is NOT worse than failing to try. And I feel a little bit of that, too.

 

 

Travel: How Turo Saved Us More Money Than A Standard Rental Car + $25 OFF on Your First Booking

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When we traveled to Portland, Oregon, we knew we wanted to discover some of the hikes that were outside of the city center. While many of the trails on the Portland side were closed due to the recent fires, the trails on the Washington side across the Columbia River Gorge are for the taking. This required approximately an hour drive from Portland, so we knew we wanted a car. Turo is a car rental company that saved us $$ on our trip!

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Typically, we would go to a car rental website to book a car for our trip. Mike gets a 25% discount from work but even with the discount, the car that we would have booked for our four day trip in Oregon was estimated to cost about $200. If we used credit card rewards points to book a car, it would have cost us a little over 6,000 points per day, adding up to a total of over 24,000 points, a value that is WAY too high. So Mike mentioned the alternative of using Turo.

Prior to this trip, I have never heard of Turo. It is similar to AirBNB, wherein car owners opt to rent out their cars. Together, a pick-up location is decided upon, and you pay a price per day. Our car was $15 per day, which is super cheap! Basic protection (which is an insurance protection through Turo) cost us $9, a delivery fee cost $15, and a trip fee which is retained by Turo cost $8.15. The trip fee goes to Turo for maintaining the site, for their 24/7 customer service, etc. Also, the owner may charge a clean-up fee, just like with AirBNB. For our particular car, if we had returned the car dirty, we would have been charged a $50 fee. Since we returned it in decent shape with the gas tank full, we were not charged any additional fees. For all four days, the car cost us $92.15. That is more than a 50% savings rate than if we had gone with a car rental company that already had a 25% discount!  The money we saved was re-allocated to eating at Pokpok, Salt & Straw, LucLac, and Bollywood Theatre. I’d consider that a score!

Our first experience with Turo was quite pleasant. The owner of the vehicle was very responsive and easy to reach. He had the car waiting at the airport parking lot, ready for us to go. We never met him in person, but that was totally fine with us. He had the keys hidden somewhere near the vehicle and he simply gave us the location. The car was very clean and functioned well. You can choose any car you want on Turo, but it will affect the price. Ours was a Toyota Corolla 2014. It was everything we needed in order to get around the city and to the hike trailheads. When we had picked up the car, the owner had uploaded photos of the car to show what condition it was when we got it. Likewise, when we dropped off the car at the airport on our last day, we were also able to upload pictures of the car the way we left it. We left the keys where we were instructed, parked the car in an agreed upon spot, and boarded our flight! There were no hitches in our trip plans.

I would highly recommend people to try Turo. I cannot believe that I have never heard of it before, but as an AirBNB fan, it is obvious that I would also be a fan of this as well. I mean, $15 a day is a hard price to beat! Check out Turo today using Mike’s referral code and get $25 off on your first trip to see how you like it!

 

Getting to Know: Heather McDougall of Bogobrush

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number. 

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How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?

John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.

What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?

Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.

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Heather and John as little tykes, brushing away.

I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?

Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.

The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.

We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.

I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?

Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!

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Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?

I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!

Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?

To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.

Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.

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Partnership with NDSU Engineers without Borders

Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?

Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to contact@bogobrush.com to get started.

Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.

Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.

How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?

We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.

What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?

Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!

Bogobrush_ Heather and John

How do you guys overcome difficult times?

Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.

How do you unwind and refresh?

Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.

What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?

Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.

One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.

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Bristling the Bogobrush.
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Success! Bogobrush bristles in the making!

If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂

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Canyoning in the Snake Canyon on a trip to Oman. “It was one of the most epic things we’ve ever done!” Heather is on the left with her husband David and John is on the right with his wife Hannah.

Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back. 

Curating Closets: How A Capsule Wardrobe For Work Saves Me Money AND Time

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

A bit too often, I hear people say the following statement: “I need to buy clothes for work.” While we all want to look professional (try convincing patients you’re a doctor whilst being cursed with a teenage girl’s body), there is no actual need for a recurring shopping spree for work clothes in most careers. Spend your efforts impressing your colleagues with your hard-work, your moral character, your drive, and your knowledge, rather than your suit. That’s what I say, anyway.

So what do I do? I have a capsule wardrobe for work. In short, a capsule wardrobe consists of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of style and can be minimally updated or altered seasonally. It is important to note that in Southern California, the “seasonally” part matters very little. Also, my work is indoors, so even though I may don outerwear in between the car and the office, there really isn’t much need for it outside of those parameters.

I work at two dental offices. In the first office, I work 2 days a week, every other week. We are allowed to wear scrubs which simplifies the equation. When I started dental school, we were required to purchase 7 pairs of scrubs. Before leaving dental school, I sold 5 of those pairs of scrubs to students who felt the need to have more than 7. I kept two pairs of scrubs, and they have proved useful. I only wear those two same pairs of scrubs (7 years later!) to work. If it’s particularly cold, I have one green sweater that I wear over the scrub top. I wear the exact same sweater every time.

At my second office, I work 3 to 4 days a week, on alternating weeks. We are required to dress business casual. I cycle through three pairs of pants, the exact same brand, and the exact same style, purchased at the exact same time. The pants are in black, dark navy, and cream.They’re ankle-length, and made of a stretch material, which makes them very versatile and comfortable. I cycle through only four sleeveless silk camisoles. (A side note on silk camisoles. They are my secret go-to weapon, no matter the season. They look dressed up because of the material, but can also be worn casually with jeans and not feel too stuffy. They are comfortable under thick knits, and just as breezy in desert heat.) The types I own are similar to these (actually, two of them are this exact shell). I have four of them, three of which are in black, and one is a dark charcoal grey. All of them pair with the pants nicely. If it’s cold in the office, I have 2 cardigans and a three sweaters that I always turn to. As mentioned previously, outerwear only gets me in between the car and the office door.

As for shoes, I wear the same pair of shoes every day for work, and have been ever since my first day, a year and a half ago. I invested in a pair of leather shoes, these Oliver Oxfords from Nisolo, and regardless of whether I am wearing scrubs or business casual, these are the shoes I wear. I do not wear these shoes on other occasions outside of work, to have it last longer. I also do not wear other shoes to work, for the same exact reason. Rheostats are not very friendly to nice shoes.

As for jewelry, if I wear any, I will typically wear my giving key that says “Create” on it, and my wedding ring. I tote the same bag every day, to work and outside of work, and that’s my Sseko bucket bag. I carry the same lunch pail, and the same water bottle to work too. Since I am digging in people’s mouths all day in my glamorous job, my hair is always in a ponytail.

I have not purchased clothes “for work” since I started. It is important to note that investing in good quality clothing that is timeless is important in creating a capsule wardrobe. I do not plan to shop (well, for the rest of the year, but specifically…) for work clothes in the near and moderate future. It has been a year and a half since I graduated dental school and started working. I have yet to have someone comment on the repetitiveness of my outfits, or to tell me that I need to look more professional.

Getting ready for work has never been easier. It takes me five minutes to get myself ready, partly thanks to my minimalist make-up routine. I am never standing in front of the closet debating about what to wear today. In my early to mid-twenties, it seemed like that’s all I did. I remember the angst of whether my clothes looked right for the particular occasion or whether I felt too short in them or too skinny or too fat. Cue up the insecurities that comes hand in hand with the paradox of choice.

For those looking to simplify their attire, I recommend checking out The System by Eileen Fisher. High-quality, ethically made, eco-conscious clothing that could be everything you need to get through the work day, for years to come. Currently, the Oliver Oxfords from Nisolo are on sale, along with all their other oxfords.

How about you? Care to share your capsule wardrobe?