Recent Reads: The Creative Habit

Twyla Tharp’s guide to The Creative Habit has got me analyzing everything about the way I process the world and my art. The book details steps in which we can unravel our creative intricacies and understand the ways in which we work best. It also provides exercises that hope to unlock even more of our potential, as well as unnerve some of our fears. Below, I discuss some of my most recent thoughts as to how I live a creative life under the guidance of well-formed habits, and I study my own battle between being an artist and honing in that artistic quality into something more productive.


My whole life, I’ve struggled with choosing between following good habits for structured creativity and the transience of going with the flow. I  lean towards following the former although my natural tendency is the latter. The dichotomy is what makes my life so productive and my art good but internally, it’s chaos.

It is now obvious to me that I was born with a creative soul to a mother who preferred a rigid structure. Growing up, I must have not been very good with a linear way  of thinking, which explains why so much of my mother’s energy was spent on teaching me focus. My sister, to whom all subjects came naturally,  was allowed to run more wild as reward for finishing her tasks efficiently. I was the child who was not allowed to get up from my chair until my work was done (and re-done) to standard, until all the food was eaten from my plate, until all the boxes were checked off of the list. My daydreaming always got the better of me, and I would watch my sister run off to play while I soured in acknowledging that it was my own darn fault  for letting my imagination take the best of my precious time. My observant mother saw that my tendency to dawdle and dwell would hinder my ability to get anything done. At a very young age, she taught me some of my best habits for a productive life.

  • Sit down and focus.
  • Mute all distractions.
  • Create a plan at the very beginning of your day.
  • Make a strict timeline for all tasks.
  • Aim for improving your efficiency.
  • Figure out your weaknesses, and tackle those first.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Record every step.
  • Re-assess (for improvement, always).

Eventually, I learned how to follow the lines, I learned how to ignore all distractions, and I learned to reject play. I was taught that if I just focused hard enough, I could finish sooner and would therefore have more time to do what I wanted. Ironically, once I developed these habits and became efficient, what I wanted to do started to embody exactly what I have been doing to be free. In other words, I spent my free time following the steps I was taught, making plans and listing improvements, and it was my sister who ended up having bad focus and less discipline (she’s still efficient though!).

Yet I see that structure is not my most natural way of unfolding. It’s evidenced by the fact that I am always late (to work, social obligations, class, et cetera). I tend to want to do things sporadically, out of order, based on emotion – so it’s great that my mother taught me how to prioritize and make lists, otherwise I would never even make it to work. Real work to me is not a job. It is the work inside of me. I see it in the tornado I leave behind on my days off when creativity strikes. I hear it when my excitability gets the best of me and my conversations jump from thought to thought. Sometimes it drives my husband bonkers, because I’ve asked seven questions before he can even get a word in. Structure is no good to me and I don’t like people telling me what to do or having society define my life. I know this is true when my math always requires a paper and pen. Don’t get me wrong, I was the best at it when I did it, but without every step written out, numbers got lost and left behind unlike words which I could always keep track of even if they’re left floating in my head, even when the sentence runs on and on. Most of all, I know it is so when I explain emotion with color, when I feel a connection with dough, when I empathize with a wilting flower or a forgotten pen.

Because of this dichotomy, I am constantly at war with myself. I wish to write, but I have a million ideas. I’ll want to pull out pen and paper, type on my phone, grab my camera, pull up social media, and soon enough, I’ve got a “text cursor” blinking forgotten and every art supply laid on my desk because somehow what I was typing about gave me an idea that I jotted down on paper which reminded me to take note of it on my phone but upon getting up to grab my phone from the sill I saw something that I wanted to photograph and put up on social media where the first image on my feed called for inspiration to pull out a pencil and draw. Such is life.

Or, I’ll pick up a book to relax but read a line that touched me enough to draw my head up to ponder and then see a bird outside my window that reminded me of a time when we were in New Zealand which made me feel like being an expat and now I am drafting a new plan to make my loans paid off faster to pursue the expat life – and how can I get my baking gig to take off to supplement this dream? And so you see the way my heart works.

Now imagine my mind trying to wrangle all that in. I pull myself from my drawing to relocate myself to my desk where the blinking cursor awaits. But now there’s a mess on the kitchen table and I cannot focus so I get up to clean the mess so that I get rid of the distraction even though the getting rid of  distraction is distraction itself. I make a strict timeline for the writing to be done but because of all the creative interruptions, I am missing my marks. And because of all the structure, I am impeding my creative flow. So I try to chase my thoughts but it hinders efficiency thus in order to be efficient I force myself to do one thing at a time. Somehow between all this warring, some things get done. It’s a crazy back-and-forth process, but I do believe that this defines efficiency for a creative life.

I know people who are creative at their core, but unproductive in the real world. I know of people who have brilliant ideas, but also brilliant fear – without the structure to dismantle that fear. I know people who get bogged down by emotion but cannot find a release. It’s a shame when that energy burns a person from the inside. And so it goes that a creative person will not create without having the habit of creating, which is, simply put, good habits.

And after that stressful narrative of the inner workings of my mind and soul, I find comfort in knowing that somehow, I’ve got it right. The balance, which off course runs differently for each person. If you’ve got some creative juice in need of direction, I would highly suggest reading this book. It has a gold mine of thoughts and exercises which may change the way you pursue your most creative aspirations. If anything, I hope it brings you a closer understanding of who you are, as it did me. I highly recommend!

Words of Affirmation

Some days just don’t turn out right.
The bottom of the bread burned,
You didn’t meet the patient’s expectations,
The oat milk flowed over the latte mug,
It might as well be
The sun didn’t rise.

For a moment you feel all the disappointment,
You worry about the loss,
You apologize for the short coming,
You clean up the mess.
Then the moment passes
You’re standing on your own two feet.

It is here you see the sliver of sun.
How good is life that you can connect with bread,
Help others heal,
Make art in your drink.
How good is life that you had a choice
About how to spend it
And how to react
And who to be.

Rise my darling.
You are the sun.
You make the light.
It’ll be all right.

De-cluttering Photos

The past few weeks have been spent revisiting the act of de-cluttering. I came to the realization that while I followed Marie Kondo’s rules about the severity with which to get rid of stuff and the order in which to let go of items, I never did really finish the work. Sure, I de-cluttered my stuff. It was easy to “touch up” on the physical things, since I no longer own many clothes or books. Our furniture and rooms are sparse. The kitchen items increased in volume after the wedding with gifts that I now regret adding to the registry but those were quite easy to acknowledge and forgive. It took less than half an hour to reaffirm the bathroom has only what we need. In the physical realm, it was easy to make everything right.

However,  there are two categories that still remained untouched – digital clutter and sentimental items. Marry the two together, and I am now faced with the sorting of digital photos with a sudden realization that I am a photograph hoarder. I have always had a careless way with the camera, snapping picture after picture desperate to freeze moments in time. Likewise, I struggle with letting these so-called memories go. Many excuses come to mind, such as, “What if I write a blog post about that sometime?”, or “How will I keep track of every place we’ve ever traveled to?”. “What if I need more photos to showcase my bread?”, or “What if I get forgetful one day and want to remember even the smallest span of time?” I didn’t know until now how much attachment I felt towards pixels on a screen.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that it comes as both a blessing and a curse that the work is never quite done. You think you’ve reached a level of understanding about the world and yourself, and then you find some little part of your life you haven’t quite looked at before and discover still more improvements to be made. It’s a curse that personal growth never reaches an end because we spend our whole lives trying to figure ourselves out. But on the flip side, it’s a blessing because … what else would we do if we already knew everything?

Besides, we cannot maintain a level of understanding if we stop trying to understand. The world will change and us along with it, and the worst one can do is assume they’ve got everything figured out and stand still. How can WE figure it out when a lineage of ancestors could not? Surely, the beauty lies in the process.

Speaking of process, there I was the past few days, making grueling work out of organizing photos and getting rid of 80% of them (which was hardly enough as evidenced by five different storage drives) when yesterday, on my day off when I thought I would get the most work done, my memory card became corrupt and was reformatted. Which in layman’s terms meant that all data was lost. I couldn’t believe it. It was like some wind had come and swept everything I worked hard for away from me. Oh the lessons life had yet to teach.

When I finally overcame the grief thirty seconds later, I realized with shock the relief that overcame me. The heartache of the last few days’ work turned into excitement, when I realized there were less days ahead being wasted sorting that stuff out. I realized quite quickly how disengaged I was from those photos, how little of my heart they truly held. I had organized snapshots to keep, ones filled with smiling faces and beautiful scenery, but when they were gone I found that it didn’t take away from the fact that they’ve touched me somehow. I think losing all of that proved to me that our memories are not tied to paper or lit up screens. And if one day, I do become completely incapable of memory, well, then maybe I will finally learn to live in the present moment without anything to hold me back.

There are still 4 more hard drives to address. But after losing one fifth of my work, I continue the task with a lighter heart and an easier mind as I press the delete button with more frequency and delight. I will still enjoy taking photos, but the joy will remain in the act of taking photos themselves. By the time the images become registered, it would have already served its purpose. I finally understand what Marie Kondo was trying to say when it comes to de-cluttering photos.

“With this method you will only keep about five per day of a special trip, but these will be so representative of that time that they will bring the rest back vividly. Really important things are not that great in number. “

I’d like to keep that last part on repeat.

Minimalist, Sustainable, and Frugal Suitcases with InCase.

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

My carry-on gave out. It was bound to happen. After all the years we’ve been through, hopping from AirBNB to hotel, thrown into multiple airline bins, and staying with friends and loved ones, it was time for my carry-on to move on with its life. Unfortunate that it happened to be as we were heading to our Alaskan destination, already at the airport and too late to do anything about it. Probably its way of protesting against being selected at the TSA check, inspected for “Taboo” of all things. (The boardgame, I mean.) Afterwards, the handle refused to unlock, as if to say, “Enough!” I respected its resistance. It was gifted to me by my parents when I turned twenty-one, right before Mr. Debtist and I took our first trip as a couple to Hawaii of all places. Nine years of hard work should always be respected. But as kids these days say, the struggle was real. I tried sitting on it and wheeling myself around like the five-year-olds sitting on their dog-leashed suitcases. I tried carrying it but obviously did not pack light enough and I did not go far. Mostly, I broke my back pushing it down airport hallways in this weird half-lift yoga position.

Since then I’ve had to do without, borrowing my husband’s carry-on thereafter and trying the hiking backpack strategy, without any luck. So when we were lounging poolside with a few friends at Santa Rosa on one particular wedding weekend, a friend of mine made a recommendation to buy an Away suitcase. Seemingly a very popular brand these days, I had to look into it. But despite all its allure as the suitcase every millennial needs, it just wasn’t for me. The price range was out of reach, even though affordability was one of its selling points. Additionally, research into the company yielded no efforts to be sustainable. And it was too trendy and not minimalist enough. But her comment did lead me down a rabbit hole, and I happen to find a solution with InCase.

I’ve heard of InCase previously as a company dedicated to creating cases for Apple products. That was as far as I went, since tech isn’t exactly my forte. Maybe I saw an Iphone7 case years ago when I went to Best Buy last, who knows. However, I was not aware until recently that they also make luggage. They have some really nice options for different types of people, including techy, minimalist, frugal friends, and environmentally conscious consumers. Okay, so it isn’t posh and trendy like Away bags, but isn’t minimalism its own trend these days? Seeing Marie Kondo on the cover of magazines and Netflix make it seem like so.

Regardless, I’m in love and I’ve jotted a few thoughts of my new InCase luggage below.

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WELL-PRICED

While Away has disrupted the suitcase market for its accessibility, I would love to point out that I nabbed my InCase Novi 4 Wheel Travel Roller at $59.99 when a similar carry-on from Away costs $225! You can also get the larger check-in versions of the Novi luggage at $67.49 and $74.99 now! Compare that to $275 and $295 at Away, and I think it’s pretty obvious which choice the frugalist would go for. At least, which one this frugalist chose. Plus, it’s quite simple to order online. Since the San Franciscan based company is only a short way from SoCal, I was able to receive my suitcase within a few days. Talk about accessibility!

TECH-FRIENDLY

Techy geniuses out there will also have plenty to appreciate with this brand. In particular, there are suitcases that open to display all your tech gear in a TSA approved manner without removing your digital-ware. Multiple pockets allow for easy organizing of chords, chargers, and other gadgets. As a blogger and photo-enthusiast who is always carrying around her camera, I love that their suitcases are well designed for tech. I also like that their cases sport a built-in TSA approved lock, which gives me an added feeling of security for my carry-on.

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MINIMALIST STYLE

In contrast to Away’s multitude of color options, the InCase luggage sports only a few neutral  colors. For example, the carry on that I purchased only came in sleek black or asphalt grey. As a huge proponent of eliminating the paradox of choice, I appreciate that the color choices are minimal, which prevents overwhelm (or worse, the feeling that you need a suitcase in every color to match your mood). I am a true believer in limiting options, to save our brain power for more important, relevant, novel, and progressive thinking. Their medium check-in luggage has more color options and to rid myself of the noise, I refused to even consider it. I chose the small carry-on in asphalt grey and am very happy with its sleek look. If you are worried at all about scratching the hard shell, the case comes with a fabric protector that you can slip on once everything is packed and you’re past the TSA check (assuming you don’t open and close your luggage frequently). Then you can throw it into the overhead bin with ease of mind. However, in my most honest opinion, I don’t think I’d bother. That’s just one extra thing you’d have to do (another example of intentionally saving brain power), and I greatly enjoy the aesthetics of the asphalt grey. Lastly, I am not a big fan of brand labeling and would much prefer the understated tiny font on the suitcase over the bold printed branding on the fabric cover. That may just be my own personal protest.

Other details include removable wheels in case you’re living in a tiny home with a lone closet and wanting to store a carry on inside a bigger luggage to save space (which I do). The interior the luggage is very minimal. It unzips in the center, and there is a mesh cover for the top half of the suitcase so that clothes remain well organized and intact upon opening. The center divider is a ziplock bag perfect for laptop storage, thus making it very easy to remove or access. The divider also doubles as a separator for the bottom half of the case. There is also a tiny pouch big enough to hold the most basic necessities (such as toothbrush and toothpaste). Some may argue that the interior does not have enough pocket space, but a minimalist would disagree. If anything, time to practice those light-packing skills and welcome to the club. The suitcase also comes with a draw-string laundry bag, which I love since we usually bring carry-ons on our longest of trips so it comes useful when separating used from fresh clothes. My only gripe with the case is that there is only one handle at the top, when I think a second one on the side would help with loading onto an overhead bin. But since I always travel extremely light, lifting the thing can’t be too much of an issue.

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SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS

Also, this case in particular was made with (dare I say it?) plastic! And while there was a more sustainable option within the company,  price and minimalism outwon sustainability. But, I still felt comfortable with my purchase knowing that it contributes to a company that is making efforts to be sustainable and eco-friendly. Their Ecoya line has a carry-on called the EO Roller that is catching the attention of many frequent fliers. It was voted a top pick by Business Insider and it’s easy to see why.

Ecoya fabric is used for this case which is created through an eco-dyeing process that introduces coloration in the raw material stage instead of at the traditional yarn phase. This process reduces CO2 emissions and uses 89% less water than conventional yarn dyeing methods. It also results in a more colorfast fabric that stands up better to light, water and washing.

AND MORE

In terms of practicality, I love the four wheels. The case glides very easily and doesn’t get hung up when I do 360 degree turns. In fact, the wheels are one of my favorite features. Hubless, they make the case feel much lighter, and the double wheel gives it a great aesthetic, and added bonus to its exceptional function. The handle easily unlocks with a simple push button. The exterior is hard cover but extremely light. I feel quite relieved knowing that the laptop lies in the middle divider at the center of the bag, so even if the case gets dropped, it will be cushioned in between soft clothes. And quite honestly, I like that it looks good. The asphalt gray reflects natural sunlight and has a sheen to it. It matches every outfit and is unlikely to get dirty. I expect scratches and scuffs to be better hidden in the gray than in the black. Overall, I know that I will be traveling well with this case and could not be more happy with my purchase.

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If you are looking to shop InCase for your travel needs, you can use my affiliate link and the code AFF151 to receive 15% off.

Save 15% Off at Incase

Intentional Living: How Minimalism Creates Happiness

I believe that many people live their lives in search of happiness. I also believe that the search for happiness is a misguided path. The way I see it, our souls are actually in search of something else. It isn’t happiness that we seek, but rather, noveltyHappiness just happens to be a by-product of a novel experience.

It is unfortunate that many companies target consumers who think that the search for happiness is what we live for. Companies sell the idea that purchasing new products will bring buyers happiness, as if somehow happiness can be found in an article of clothing, or a brand new car. We are deluged into thinking that, indeed, happiness does lie in new things because the invitation of a new thing into our homes is a novel experience, and so, for a moment, we are happy. We are confusing the two. We must stop to realize or remember that the joy we felt when trying on a new outfit at the store was quite short-lived. And the thrill we felt when driving a new car died with its first scratch. When we pause to think of these truths, it becomes easy to know that our things do not actually keep us happy. But knowing this is not enough. It is arguably more important to understand why.

When we buy something new, it is a novel experience. But once something we wanted suddenly becomes ours, it shifts our perspective. Our minds adjust and the thing that was once new immediately becomes old. For example, we forget about that new tank top we bought at the beginning of summer, and we get too lazy to wash our cars. We start to suddenly covet OTHER things. The mind is a fickle thing.

Understanding that our brains adapt to the current state (and in a rather quick manner) means that we are aware of the ways in which we can control our ability to be happy. Having more makes ourselves used to the stimuli of novelty, which decreases our perception of happiness with each additional thing. Much in the same way, having less actually returns us to a level of excitability with the smallest of stimuli. It lowers the bar that triggers our ability to have joy. In lowering this bar, we can become happy, more.

Fugio Sasaki, author of Goodbye, Things is one of the most celebrated minimalists in Japan. He has decluttered almost all of his things, living with very little. He is a great exemplar of reducing down to the bare necessities. For example, when it comes to towels, he now uses a single hand towel for drying his hands, his body, his dishes, and more. By getting rid of the fluffy towels that many homes house, he has reset his bar to just the one hand towel. His comments how quickly he adjusted to this tiny towel being the norm. Note that the mind does not perceive this towel as subpar. Our ability to adjust for variance is a gift, in that way. But, when Fugio does use a nicer towel to wipe his hands with (say, at a restaurant or at a friend’s house), that experience leads to a spark of joy. A momentary feeling of happiness. A perception of luxury, one that a person who regularly uses such towels will not experience. Therefore, by ridding ourselves of the excesses in life, by becoming minimalist, we are giving ourselves more opportunities to have novelty in our lives.

It is human for things to never feel enough, and that’s okay. In order to make life enough, we need to work at being more aware. And minimalism is the practice that attunes us to that higher awareness. Having less is a practice. It doesn’t come natural … not to me, anyway. It’s an intentionality that gives us the opportunity to live in a certain space. And that space allows for more opportunities to be happy.

 

A Guide to Staycations

For two and a half years since we’ve said the words “I do”, we’ve spent every holiday getting away to see the world. This Labor Day, we’ve decided to slow it down from the traveling and relish in the beauty of our home. We had just returned from three back-to-back travel destinations (Seattle, Juneau, and Santa Rosa) and I was feeling a bit like I was missing out on the joys of being home. Perhaps that’s a sign of aging? We thought it’d be great to try and re-create vacation vibes in our own city… and our own living room. While everyone is fighting for limited space on highways tonight, higher hotel and flight prices over the weekend, and surely every last little bit of summer sun, maybe you could turn your home into a vacay oasis too, without opening your wallets or car doors (too often).

We always took off whenever we had a bit of freedom from work, which was in essence every holiday that has ever been granted, because we felt that time was precious and tough to come by. So when it finally did, we seized the opportunity. But that’s exactly it! Time IS tough to come by, even in the comforts of our own home. Actually, ESPECIALLY in the comforts of my own home, where I do multiple jobs as a home baker and home writer after long shifts at the dental office. And now that we are homeowners, I have finally come to feel that there can be more time spent valuing this sanctuary, in a city that we so love.

Yet staycations are a tricky thing. The trick lies in re-creating the feeling that you are actually on vacation. There are a few things we feel when we are away – relaxed as we are freed from our daily responsibilities, excited as we explore to see something new, and warm as we connect with others whether that be friends and family that we are traveling with, newly met locals, or fellow wanderers. Sometimes, traveling is a way for us to simply escape from our norm. Whatever it is that you seek when you travel, you must also seek in a staycation. Your mind must be in its own wonderland and you must be focused on establishing that feeling of “elsewhere”, lest you return to work after the long weekend feeling like you’ve wasted your staycation cleaning up around the house.

To focus on creating a REAL staycation, you have to clearly know in your mind what you want to achieve. What is this staycation meant to be?

This is for all those times you had to spend balancing work and life, getting home after a long day only to complete a list full of chores. This is for the days you wished you could wake up late, and lounge in bed all morning long like a teenager on a Saturday, contemplating which would draw you out of bed first – the beating rays from a high sun or the smell of bacon and eggs. This is a time for sitting down and reading an entire book from beginning to end, undisturbed. This is for staring out of a window instead of at a screen, for playing with your cat and not giving up when he wins. This is for having breakfast in bed, and possibly never leaving the bed at all.

Here, a few guidelines for creating the perfect staycation.

Break Routine

The secret to feeling like you’re on vacation when you’re actually where you were yesterday is to distance yourself from as many daily occurrences as possible. Avoid doing the laundry, sweeping the floors, organizing your shelves, if only for one weekend. If anyone could understand how hard this first step is, it would be me. But it is essential to creating success. A way in which we’ve prepped for this at Casa Debtist is by doing all the laundry on the weekdays prior. Now we have a full closet, freshly steamed. We’ve cleaned our home as well, so our floors are looking polished, our bathroom sparkling. The sheets are newly washed, without any cat hair (for now) and the bed will be made when our staycation starts. I’ve finished my organizing in the kitchen, a project that I was hoping to tackle for some time, and the counters are finally bare, the appliances wiped down, and the dishware beautifully displayed behind closed cabinet doors, just the way I like them. Last week, we purchased enough groceries to last us through the holiday weekend, plus a bottle of wine, our attempt at feigning luxury for under $10. Usually, the cat wakes us up at 6am on the dot every morning and we get up and go about our day, but perhaps we’ll crawl back into bed and banish the sun for a few more hours. If you typically prefer showers, maybe soak in a bath with a bath bomb? Color the tub pink! I don’t normally have scented things around the house, but for this weekend I’ve situated PF candles of in each room, for lighting during the most mundane tasks of showering, lying in bed, and reading a book. In essence, we are trying to act as if we are waking up to a buffet breakfast on the resort of an island or awaiting a foot massage at a spa. In fact, I would be first to admit that part of the allure of travel time is the beautiful AirBNB homes that we get to live in, which goes hand-in-hand with the façade that we were living some other life. So I guess staycationing requires also that nostalgic façade, but in the comforts of our own home.

Avoid Screens

This is a rule that was important to establish in our home. Mike is a frequent Redditor and avid gamer (especially after the release of World of Warcraft this past Monday) and I am a workaholic who types words onto a digital page all day long. But when we travel, we don’t have access to computers. My minimalist self abhors at the idea of lugging around a heavy laptop, so I never do. Which means, more times off screens and looking at each other in the eye. This weekend, we’ve decided on a zero-computer policy. I’ve got a few blog posts with publish dates on queue, and the rest can wait. Which gets doing other things, or better yet, nothing at all.

Connect with People

Traveling has always been about connecting with people. At first, we were trying to connect with locals and other expats, probing their minds for other world views. Lately though, we’ve been traveling with friends and family, and relishing in the moments that can steal from the everyday, moments that we once shared more frequently when we were young. This weekend, we wanted to re-create the Santa Rosa trip we had only two weeks ago. On Saturday, our friends are invited to our abode for a gathering of sorts. We plan to go out to dinner as a group, then come home and drink leisurely with a game of beer pong as a few Switches are streaming multi-player games on our projector screen. In essence, re-creating our college days when none of us had jobs, we were all poor still figuring things out, and life was at its prime. On Sunday, we have a gathering at an Aunt’s beach house with Mike’s whole side of the family. Lounging on their patios overlooking the ocean, eating veggies and dip and having dinner outdoors under twinkling lights as the sun sets over glasses of wine.  Lastly, Monday is dedicated to Mike and I, discovering new coffee shops and restaurants, lounging in bed and in the sand, and watching movies in the theatres regardless of whether there’s a movie worth spending our free movie tickets on.

Act Like A Tourist In Your Own City

Aside from getting away from the daily grind and connecting with people, the final perk of traveling is having excitement in discovering something new. Mike and I live in a city but due to our frugality and my love for cooking meals, we recommend the same three restaurants when friends come over to eat. This weekend, we’ve decided to get to know our neighborhood more. We wish to try a new coffee shop, dine at a new restaurant (with friends), and act like a tourist in our own town. There are so many spaces to discover yet and we want to learn everything we can about our surrounding area. Plus, part of our plan to avoid daily habits is to cook as minimally as possible, for less clean up! So, making the city our symbolic kitchen and living room will help with that.

If you’ve actually read through this whole post, I’d wager that you haven’t made plans for the holiday yet. Or perhaps you’re considering bailing on those plans. If so, I hope this helps with creating an alternative to travel. And if you ARE getting away, maybe this will inspire you to stay next time. Maybe your home (and your wallet) will thank you for it. Either way, we wish you a happy holiday.

A Minimalist Mouthwash

The Dental Series was created in collaboration with Bogobrush in an attempt to make dental health care not only important, but COOL, too! In it, we answer common questions and address current topics in the dental field. When Bogobrush is not helping spread the word about oral healthcare, they act as a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program catering low-income communities that may not have access to something as simple as a toothbrush.


When it comes to mouthwash, I am unabashedly not a big fan, for multiple reasons. One unfortunate thing about mouthwash is the packaging. Always packaged in plastic bottles, it’s enough to make any zero-plastic-user cringe at the sight. Secondly, some mouthwashes contain more than 20% alcohol. Think of the strong smell that you experience when you open a bottle of Listerine. How about the burning sensation you feel when you swish the solution around, waiting for the moment that you could spit it right back out? That’s the alcohol’s doing. Sometimes, the alcohol can be a bit strong for the gums, and I would typically suggest choosing a mouthwash that is labeled “alcohol-free” for a gentler rinse. Additionally, the health benefits of mouthwash are disputed in the dental community. Some claim that people who rinse with mouthwash more than three times a day increase their chances of oral cancer. Some say it slightly elevates blood pressure. While I am not sure whether I completely believe those two claims, when it comes to protecting your teeth from cavities, many dental professionals agree that mouthwash doesn’t come close to the effectiveness of a toothbrush or floss. While it gives people that false sense of confidence in their oral health, mouthwashes arguably only temporarily improve one’s breath. And lastly, they’re expensive! As a frugalist, a recurring cost for a mouth rinse with limited pros does not really jive with me. In general, I do not find that the pros of using mouthwash outweighs the cons.

I treat people in a low-income community, mostly, and when they come to me looking for mouthwash advice, I give them a recipe for a minimalist one. No surprise here. What IS a surprise is when I tell them that I do not buy mouthwash myself, and that my rinse of choice is nothing more than warm salt water, twice a day, swished for thirty seconds. Salt water rinses are great especially for the gums. It is my first line of defense whenever I see gum inflammation. I liken it to how salt water at the beach can heal the skin. So what makes it so great?

HEALTH BENEFITS OF A SALT WATER RINSE

  • It works by increasing the pH balance of your mouth. Bacteria likes to multiply in acidic environments, so by making the oral cavity more alkaline, we are making it more difficult for the bacteria to survive. This includes the bacteria that make our breath smell bad in the first place!
  • It is not irritating to mucous membranes, because it has a similar concentration of salts and minerals as our bodies do.
  • It is affordable and accessible to ANYONE.
  • It’s simple to make (see recipe below).
  • It is more widely embraced, especially when treating people who prefer holistic, natural methods. Not everyone wants a prescription for an anti-microbial rinse when they come to you looking for advice regarding puffy gums. Some are just searching for better oral hygiene practices, and maybe a rinse recommendation.

FAQs

“Doesn’t the salt abrade the teeth?”

Well, this is why warm water is important! Once salt is added to warm water, it dissolves immediately and we don’t have to worry about the grittiness of it. Our enamel stays safe.

“But how does it improve my breath?”

It works by reducing the bacteria that causes bad breath in the first place. Some patients complain that they don’t feel as if they’re breath is “as fresh” as when they use Listerine. I think that’s what makes people return to these mouthwash companies. But “fresh smelling breath” does not necessarily equate to a healthy mouth. It’s an illusion. When I ask people what fresh breath smells like, they say “minty”. When I ask them what fresh breath feels like, they say “cool” or “cold”. Neither of these are natural. They are socially taught. They are also very strong habit-forming experiences. Mouthwash companies want you to keep returning to their product. So they essentially make a product that, when it is missing from your life, is blatantly missing. Getting used to being without store-bought mouthwash takes time but once we’ve gotten that expectation of cool, minty freshness out of our minds, it becomes a simple matter of moving our point of reference. I have had people return and say that once they’ve gotten used to warm salt water rinses, they now view Listerine as “excessively strong and pungent”. Which it is. I remember the first time I ever tried mouthwash. I had that burning tingling sensation, and watering eyes. I was probably in my late teens. Over time, I’ve gotten immune to that feeling, expecting it even. It’s what makes people feel like they have a clean mouth, when in reality, they may not.

“Do I need to rinse my mouth at all?”

If you were using store-bought mouthwash, I would say it’s debatable, because I am not sure of its efficacy. But I do recommend salt water rinses twice a day for EVERYONE, to keep up with your gum health. Brushing and flossing will ultimately, still, be the best for your teeth.

A MINIMALIST MOUTH RINSE

Dissolve 1 tsp. of salt in 8 ounces of warm salt water. Swish for 30 seconds, twice a day, morning and night. Voila!

OVER -THE-COUNTER MOUTHWASH

There are two types of mouthwashes, generally speaking, which can be bought over the counter: Cosmetic and Therapeutic. If you wish to buy a therapeutic mouthwash, check the ADA’s site for a list of mouthwashes that have been granted an ADA seal. Look for this seal when perusing your store’s shelves. If you wish, you may seek out mouthwashes with the following ingredients:

  • Cetylpyridinium Chloride;
  • Chlorhexidine;
  • Essential oils;
  • Fluoride;
  • Peroxide.

These ingredients are found in therapeutic mouthwashes. Additionally, I would opt for mouthwashes that contain no alcohol. It is also important to note that mouthwash is not recommended for children under 6 years of age.

So there you have it. My quick, holistic, minimalist, zero-plastic, frugal, professional two-cents on mouthwash.

Recent Reads: The Power of Habits

I wrote once about the word negligible, and how I refuse to allow it in my vocabulary. I believe in the power of action. I believe in our ability to change things, to move needles, to push past walls that were built. This belief itself is a habit that allows me to accomplish things which other people can only dream to. A quote from The Power of Habit sums up the importance of this belief. 

“Later, he would famously write that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits. Habits, he noted, are what allow us to “do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all.” Once we choose who we want to be, people grow “to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folded, tends to fall forever afterward in the same identical folds.”


A habit of mine growing up was to always say yes. Granted, with the advent of minimalism and slow living, I have come to realize that such action easily leads to a place of overwhelm. But within that habit was born a particularly positive outlook towards our abilities as a human being. By saying yes, I was continually telling myself and others around me, “It can be done.” And whenever I failed at something, I always thought in the back of my mind, “If only I had done this”, serving as ammo for the next attempt I make. “Impossible” was not a valid excuse. Perhaps lack of resources, lack of focus, lack of inspiration were the causes of failure, but nothing that could not be improved or fixed.

When people start to dream of the life they wish to lead, there is a tendency to immediately berate ourselves with a list of reasons why dreams are separate from reality. But the truth of the matter is that our realities are shaped by us in our own heads, in the exact same space where dreams lie. The only thing separating the two is your ability to believe in their oneness.

All I promise is this.
It gets easier, by the day,
until eventually, you realize
you’re the writer of your own story,
a magician of your making,
and the creator of your universe.