Intentional Living: Half Year Resolutions

Part of mindful living is a constant evaluation of where we are currently. Without the guilt. Without the need to be elsewhere. But with an intention to hone in on the parts that don’t feel aligned. There are sometimes when I think, “No that’s not right. It does not FEEL right. Maybe it’s time for change.” Other times, I simply wonder, “What if…?” So then we try something new and we learn something new. And the process continues.

It’s July and I thought maybe I’d jot down a few. I’ve had more time this past month to allow myself observation. Just a note-taking of sorts. I don’t actually make a point to have half-year resolutions. It just so happens that I want to change a bulk number of things, and it’s still July. So call it what you will.

Mid-year habit shifts. Considered for the rest of 2019.

  • Dinners on the patio for the rest of summer. A few days ago, I lamented to my husband how quickly the summer has passed us by. Barring our trip to Alaska, there have been no beach trips, pool-side reads, sandy-books, or bonfire pits. What a shame. So, in an effort to enjoy the left-over-summer on a daily basis, we’ve made a new rule to have dinners on the patio for the rest of it. More opportunity to breathe air, be outside, soak in some Vitamin D, and sweat in tanks and tees.
  • Rise early each morning to write. I have already written about how to make early mornings productive, but I have not yet dedicated them to one activity. To try, I wanted to dedicate my early mornings to writing. Early mornings are when my mind is most clear, my obligations are the least, and my distractions are limited to the cat kneading the sheets.
  • No screen time 1 hour before bed. Studies that show that bright screens can affect our ability to sleep (and sleep well) have inspired me to say, no more. In line with the previous point, I used to do a lot of my writing at night. This forces me to do it some other time, hence the mornings when it’s better anyway. I predict this will be helpful, too, with the avoidance of Insta-scrolling and web-surfing. Instead…
  • Read before bed each night. I’ve replaced screen time with book time. I’m a routines person, and sometimes creating a routine is part of simple living, Decision fatigue IS a real thing, after all. The routine in the evenings are this. When it’s time to charge the phone and close the laptop, I turn on the kettle to make myself some tea. If my husband is sitting on the computer facing our bed, I situate myself on the couch. Vice versa, if he’s dabbling with a piano or guitar on the couch, I curl up on the bed. Either way, I’ve got a cup of tea cooling to room temp as I read a book. I never drink my tea right away. I have a cat’s tongue and prefer room temperature for most drinks. I just let the aromatic smells waft my way, as I read a book. After about twenty minutes, I’ll hold the mug and sip the tea, never chug. You know what I mean? The ritual takes about forty five minutes, by which time I fill a glass of water to set by the nightstand and hop into bed for an early night’s sleep.
  • Keep all surfaces clear. I have an awful tendency to act like a tornado. I blame my multi-tasking habit. A day off could start with a clean slate, and by the time Mr. Debtist comes home from work, the entire 12 foot dining table is covered with stuff, the kitchen sink is full of dishes, and the cat is probably meowing for food. But I truly believe that a house is a reflection of a person’s mind. I find that the days when I do very few are the days when the house is most clean, which coincide with when I feel most calm. So a simple gesture to take on is to keep all surfaces clear. An action to remind me to slow down, to re-assess, and to take the time to have a calm environment in which I thrive most.
  • Limit Instagram to 15 minutes per day. I am really bad with self-control when it comes to Instagram. It’s an addictive platform for me that’s intertwined with a well-formed habit. However, after reading this book on the power of habits, I realize why that is so and what I need to do to change it. In order to break a habit, one needs to identify the pleasure trigger that keeps one coming back. For Instagram, it’s that dose of public approval. It’s true that I am highly motivated by a people-pleasing streak, ever since I was a child. It made me a teacher’s pet, an aunt’s favorite, compatible with classmates, et cetera. It’s a curse being a yes-woman. But in recognizing that, I know exactly what to change. I give the excuse that I need Instagram to grow the blog or my bakery, neither of which is likely true. What I need to do is limit Instagram to 15 minutes per day, the fifteen minute opportunity for me to share something about either venture, and to redirect my public approval to somewhere more productive (and dare I say, REAL?). Perhaps more interaction with people willing to buy my bread. Perhaps more public approval from scheduled interviews, blog features, and answering questions from financial independence seekers. Maybe it’s finding a finance community in my actual community. Putting an actual face to a person, listening to a live voice. Going back to reality, woah there goes gravity.
  • Walk to work every day. After two years of intentional living, I can FINALLY say that I have created a life where I do not need to commute for work. For any of my work. I have never been more proud of this and a blog post about it is to come shortly. The resolution is to walk to work every day for the rest of 2019. Get rid of the need for a car. I switched my dental office from one that’s 25 miles, 40 minutes away to one that is 0.6 miles, 10-minute-walk away. I quit Rye Goods which was a 16 mile, 15 minute commute and committed to the humble start of my own bakery in my own kitchen. My dog sitting venture requires dog owners to drop off their dogs at our house, which eliminates the need to travel to other people’s homes. And off course, this writing thing that I do comes from the end of our dining table or on our leather hand-me-down couch. I’ve wanted to eliminate my commute since I first heard about it on ChooseFI, and it took a while to make all the right adjustments, but I’ve finally accomplished it. Meanwhile, the average commute for a Californian remains to be 1 hour a day, to and from work. The average commute for the nation remains at 32 miles a day, to and from work. Not only do commutes make people less happy, they also make people less healthy. Static posture decreases the cardiac healthy of a person significantly. Meanwhile, I get to be outdoors, breathing fresh air, walking a brisk walk to and from work every day, as my car sits in the garage, not gaining mileage, needing less up-keep… and didn’t I say this was going to be a separate post?
  • Do fifteen push-ups a day. I yoga each day but I cannot get myself to have a better exercise routine. I don’t like to run, I don’t want to pay for a gym membership, and while swimming is my forte, we have no pool around. My excuses are endless. But adding a simple routine of fifteen push-ups a day is a first step. Planning to add more to this, later.
  • Spent time doing nothing. I’m really bad at doing nothing. See point number five. Yet I know that in times of nothingness are where we get the most thinking done. The most organizing of our heads. The most calming of our thudding hearts. So I wish to spend some time doing nothing, every day.
  • Get outdoors. The previous point about walking to work every day will help with this. But still, there is so much of the world we have yet to see. I mean, let’s revisit the lamentation on point 1. I’d like to get outdoors more, and the surrounding downtown does not count.
  • Add in more self-care routines. I have been very bad about self-care but have recently been shown its importance (thank you age for bringing this to my attention). So on top of my already changed facial routine, I have created a list of more mindful things like rubbing lotion on my feet every night before bed, slipping on these earrings my sister-in-law got for me on my thirtieth birthday, wearing sunscreen on my face before facing the sun, making tea in the evening, steaming my clothing… It’s a revelation how much more beautiful life gets with these simple acts.
  • Eat simple, wholesome meals. We cook, every night. But sometimes, when we learn new recipes, we look up complicated ones with one-time uses for bizarre ingredients. Recently, though, we’ve come to appreciate concocting things in 30 minutes or less, using pantry staples stored in mason jars. This book has helped tremendously.
  • Less hobbies, less obligations. This one is a toughie. I suffer from the paradox of choice, not in things, but in identity. I always have. Some would attribute it to my astrology, others to my creative tendency. But I prefer to be a jack of all trades, never honing in on one. I dabble, and don’t allow time for me to excel. It’s a character trait (not flaw). However, after 6 months of chasing whirlwinds, my decision became less hobbies, less obligations. I’m still being pulled towards wanting more, but I think that’s part of knowing yourself and who you’re meant to be. I have to force myself to hold back and take baby steps, even when leaning forward makes me feel like I’m about to fall.

What are some things you’ve noticed lately in your life? Questions I asked myself to get here, for those hoping to get a starting place:

What makes me frustrated?
What do I think are necessities?
When am I most tired? Or excited? Or joyful?
When was the last time I read a book in one sitting?
How does my stomach feel right now?
Which muscles ache? Why is that the case?
When do I feel overwhelm?
How is my relationship with my phone?
How is my relationship with REAL people?
What do I think are most important in my life?
What is hard for me to give up? Why?

Feel free to share with the community what habit shifts you’ve got on your mind.

 

Less Waste: The ZERO-PLASTIC Diet

Welp, so I’ve thought it up. A new diet that promises weight-loss for those who are on the heavier side struggling to lose weight. A diet that I think will really work wonders for most of America. And the premise of the diet does not rely on ingredients or organic produce or additives in the form of powders and things. In fact, the diet does not even tell you what you should and should not eat. Revolutionary, I know. The diet only has one requirement, and it is this: No food that you purchase may come in plastic packaging.

That’s it.

The true secret to how Mike and I stay skinnier than a pair of ski poles.

I get what you’re probably thinking. Another promised cure-all solution, with a side of a rolling of the eyes. No. Not a cure-all. It’s not going to make skinny people more skinny. It’s not going to cure diabetes. It’s not going to make scrawny men buff, or short children grow tall. But, it is going to be a healthy lifestyle shift that may help those who are considered overweight and are having difficulty losing a few pounds.

How does the zero plastic diet work?

Committing to eating only foods sans plastic requires you to eliminate a lot of the unhealthy substances that many Americans consume.

For example,

  • Frozen foods and all their preservatives
  • Chips, snacks, cookies, candies, candy bars and other junk foods that are store bought and laden with even more hidden unhealthy ingredients, most of which are non-naturally occurring
  • Jams, Condiments, pre-concocted sauces filled with sugars and preservatives
  • Fruit juices and sodas, full of added sugars
  • Meats that have been pre-frozen and thawed
  • Cereals, pre-made pastas, and white bread, none of which are actually healthy
  • Low fat yogurts, ice creams, et cetera
  • Most fast food restaurants or quick dine-in options
  • Processed foods such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables, roasted nuts
  • Pre-made soups and stock, usually swimming in sodium

These are just a few of the worst foods to eat, and all are packaged in plastic. The zero plastic diet works because if you want to eat cereal, you have to buy granola in the bulk section of the store. If you want to eat bread, it’s better to buy grain and make it fresh yourself. If you want to drink juice, you squeeze fresh oranges. If you want to eat meat, you’d have to opt for fresher cuts rather than the pre-packaged (likely pre-frozen) ones. If you want to eat fruit and veggie, you’ll need to grab fresher produce from a Farmer’s market (you know, the kind that goes bad in a few days?) rather than plastic packaged ones at Trader Joe’s that mysteriously last forever. If you want pizza, you’ll have to use the fresh produce and bread dough that you just made instead of heating up frozen pies. You learn to make chili from fresh beans and spices, and hummus is healthier made from chickpea, olive oil, lemon and garlic (ONLY!). And although there are non-plastic to-go places that we STILL go to, that one extra step makes fast food less accessible, which also translates to less frequently eaten.

This diet works because it cuts out all the hidden chemicals and preservatives and sugars and sodium and god-knows-what-else that we don’t even know exist in the food that others pre-package and pre-prepare for us.

This diet works because we are in control of what we eat.

This diet works because maybe we have to forego the cheese occasionally when we can’t find a way to get it without plastic packaging. Sometimes we have to forgo dairy, or meat. Sometimes, the only plastic free option until the next Farmer’s market or trip to the butcher is, well, veggie.

So this diet requires one to eat healthy. Why is it better than other diets?

Well, in my mind, the reason why other diets don’t work, is because it promises new solutions to weight loss. Innovative ones that we are putting our bodies through, albeit haphazardly, in a game of trial-and-error. Keto, paleo, organic, sugar-free… and the food industry plays on all of these new diets and creates NEW products that promise alternatives to all the things we are trying to cut out. The problem is, all of these new alternatives have been un-tested by any length of time. But what the zero plastic diet gives you is a diet that forces you back to the olden ways, of yore. The foods that our species have had plenty of time to adapt to. The one our bodies actually embrace. See also: Perhaps Gluten Isn’t to Blame. Our bodies, they don’t evolve overnight. They don’t even evolve over a few decades. We are not THAT adaptable. And we are introducing new alternatives at a fast clip ever since the Industrial Era, which frankly, wasn’t too long ago. Our bodies will not cannot change as fast. In fact, they will become intolerable to the changes.

At the end of all this raving, I guess I’m not hear to say that this is for everybody. I am only here recording what has worked for us. In an effort to reduce plastic, I’ve discovered that we’ve lost the extra weight that has been following us around since our beer-filled college nights, and then maintained a consistent number on the scale for the past year and a half. We don’t exercise although we really should as I’m sure our muscles are wasting away. We eat a good amount of food and don’t count calories or ration out portions. We aren’t gluttonous by any means, but we never leave the table hungry. The only thing we’ve done is to eliminate plastic packaging. So maybe it’s worth a try for those who are sick of substituting sugars, cutting out starches, calculating calories and rationing out portions. It’s a very simple approach to dieting, and one that your body (and the planet) will thank you for.

Aspirational Clutter

Seeing as how I manage a blog about how to live with less, you would think that I am very good at de-cluttering my life. Alas alack, there are many forms of clutter and while I do really well with ridding our home from physical clutter and my mind of mental clutter, one type of clutter plagues my heart. I suffer from an intolerable case of aspirational clutter, and it is this clutter that I would argue has impaired my life the most.

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Aspirational clutter invades every aspect of my life, and sufferers will know just how paralyzing it can be. In the physical realm, aspirational clutter includes all the things you purchased that you never use but you hold on to for the “one day I will”s. For example, a surfboard purchased in the hopes of learning how to surf despite being a night owl. Or the outfits that aren’t really your style but maybe when you lose weight or become more comfortable in your skin, or whatever the excuse might be, you might throw it on then. Or in extreme cases, it’s the house located in a posh neighborhood that can’t really be afforded but that can be used to pretend like you are a status above reality. And though the mortgage is killing you and you can barely make the rent after each paycheck, you still funnel even more money into home improvements and invite whoever may grant you their time to show them what you have been able to “buy”. It could be the ski poles purchased by those who hate the cold, or coffee gadgets purchased by tea lovers, it could be the tickets to an opera purchased by opera haters who want to seem “edu-ma-cated”, you see what I mean? Escaping aspirational clutter requires a solid sense of who you really are and an ability to not give two cents about where you think other people want you to be. A practice in the de-cluttering process is actually very helpful with addressing aspirational clutter in the physical sense, and I have honed in on this part over the course of two years and really know what things define me.

In the mental realm, aspirational clutter is the thing that prevents the monkey mind from calming done. As the monkey swings from tree to tree, the human brain swings from to-do list to to-do list. Even meditating is part of the to-do list, and those who suffer from this type of aspirational clutter think about checking off “meditating” in the middle of meditation so that they can move on to the next thing. Aspirational clutter in the mental realm is the barrier between you and the present. Most sufferers live their lives in the future. There is no way to address this type of mental clutter but to train the brain into quieting itself and retreating into the recesses of nothingness. For me, I was able to escape with years of yoga and sitting in solace, which I was luckily always comfortable enough to do. Once in solace, the brain doesn’t just stop, as insomniacs will tell you. Frankly, sometimes, that’s when it wants to speed up most. Sometimes people think that the secret to commanding your brain to behave is to concentrate on the task, but I have found that letting it go is what works best. And giving it time. In the same way you let a child run wild versus trying to control them by telling them to sit still in a corner. Telling them to sit will result in a very twitchy child, but letting them go rampant gets rid of the jitters. Eventually, the energy will be spent and there’s nothing left for them to do but to lay down and rest. Same as the brain. Unfortunately, most people do not give their meditating enough time and space to get to that point.

But after suffering and overcoming both of these, I have found that there is still plenty of work to do. Because the thing I have not yet escaped from is the aspirational clutter that plagues my heart. It’s the one that causes me to dream up multiple lives for myself. It’s the one that pulls me to become a dentist, a dog-sitter, a writer, a baker, a photographer, a teacher, a world traveler, and who knows what else. At the root of it all is essentially a wish to be someone I’m currently not. It’s a suffering that is centered around a mild dissatisfaction with what I’ve accomplished thus far. That’s what aspirational clutter is, a wish to have more than what you do, be somewhere else rather than where you are, or be someone else that you are not.

In my case, it isn’t that I dislike dentistry. But the student debt has affected me so greatly that I have unrest with what dentistry has had to offer versus what it has cost. We all know that I think the trade-off was askew. It is this imbalance that has me searching for something else. I am pursuing jobs and professions that do not require me to return to school. Maybe I’m trying to prove that you can have a meaningful life, job, and purpose without needing formal education. I want to show people that you can start a business, become a writer, or a baker, without needing a business degree, an english course, or culinary school. I think that with the advent of technology, so many things can be self-taught and I would like to rid people of their dependence on formal education systems. But maybe more than this, I want to prove it to myself, because I am so upset at who I am and how I had gotten here.

I remember that time period after New Zealand really well. It was mid January, and I did not want to come back here. I did not want to look at my loans again or go back to work. We just backpacked through farmlands and slept in ramshackled houses surrounded by nature every day. I did not want to go back to being a piece of city living. I came back feeling very depressed. I got sick, for multiple weeks. The weather was damp and gloomy and grey. I kept looking out my window and seeing only flooded streets and homeless people, a contrast to the summer days and green valleys and hills that we had just left behind. Mike was still in a rut at his previous company, and he, too, was feeling a bit depressed at the current state of affairs. I remember reaching out to Sara from Rye Goods when I applied for the job. I said, “I am searching for something to complete my life, but I don’t know what.” When she offered me the gig, I threw myself into it.

So far, I have been doing swell. I’ve managed to continue working four to five days as a dentist, I’ve managed to create this space to write and landed two podcast recordings and a few interviews and features, I’ve established a dog-sitting gig on Rover.com, I’ve worked as an early-morning-baker for Rye Goods and I have opened my own bakery at Aero Bakery. This past week, I was asked to be the sole baker for me and Mike’s favorite coffee shop (which is the biggest honor EVER!) located across the street from where we live. They would rely on my bread and pastries entirely for their shop, but would require freshly baked good 7 days a week. Essentially, it would require of me a daily midnight shift. You would think I would be stoked, and I AM! But I also recognize this as the turning point, the point where I realize that I am greatly suffering from my aspirations themselves.

This opportunity is a wonderful opportunity. I would have the ability to really get my bakery going. Aero Bakery will be introduced to the local community. I will be able to support the work of local farmers trying to preserve heritage grains more fully. I have an opportunity to work together with a rotating coffee menu to create a matching seasonal baked goods menu. I would have a consistent source of support for the bakery. The production schedule would be forseeable, unlike when I accepted individual orders. My “job” as a baker will conveniently be at home without the need for a commute. My deliveries would change from multiple locations to just one across my street. I would fulfill my dream to be a baker, on my own terms, in my own house.

But I am tired. I quit Rye Goods in June because the midnight shifts were getting to be too much. I stopped Aero Bakery in June so that I could continue with Rye Goods and give myself a birthday break. During this time, I caught a glimpse of what life was before we got back from our trip to New Zealand. Before I became unsettled with the life I was leading and pursued baking. I had time to write, and read, and reflect. All of the things that gave me a very happy, calm, and peaceful life. Ever since I started my journey as a baker, I have been so busy that I never really noticed how much I gave up in terms of space and time. I was tired all the time, although the coffee masked it well. I lost ten pounds, although I never had any social time so that someone could point it out. My house became disorganized, and I started to rely more on conveniences. I lost a lot of the intentionality that I had established over the last two years.

Aspirational clutter can really hurt you. Down one path, it could spread your life too thin, make you run around like crazy, go through the hoops and even if you get out unscathed, it usually doesn’t give you enough time to stop, smell the roses, enjoy the journey. It allows you to live a life well-lived, but zaps your life of much of its essence. Alternatively, the opposite can be equally as intolerable. If you let an opportunity go, it could make your heart yearn for what could have been. It can make you wonder, “What if I had just gone for it?”. It could make you go stir-crazy. It could make you sad with the choice you’ve made for yourself, and resentful at all the factors that caused you to give it up.

I was attracted to my husband because he is the opposite from me. Unlike most people, he doesn’t suffer from any form of clutter. When I first met him, it made me worried. He didn’t seem to have any aspirations at all, which in our society tends to be viewed as a bad thing. Over time, I have seen and fallen in love with this lifestyle. His lack of aspiration stems from a whole-hearted contentment with his current life. His gratitude for what he already has been given is extremely grounding. I think it’s what allows him to be very happy and at peace at all times. It’s how I started to get into slow living in the first place, and recognize that a life full of aspiration could be detrimental, too. This is part of the reason why I married him. I needed this grounding, a daily reminder that we are enough as it is, and happiness lies in accepting that.

In fact, there was a study performed aimed at understanding why it is that younger people tend to pursue more things, have more social obligations, and do more in general, whereas older people tend to do less, socialize with a small group of close friends and family, and are content with simple daily tasks. They wondered if it was aging that prevented the older people to do more, or if it was wisdom. They wanted to know how these choices affect quality of life. Over 200 people from different age groups were followed for many years, and every five years, each one was contacted 35 times over the course of a two-week period to report their mood at that very moment. What the study showed was that the elderly had a higher level of happiness and contentment with their life. Could it be less stress? More meaningful relationships? Or is it an overall gratitude that keeps them from searching for more and makes life content?

So now I’m at a cross roads. My personality makes me want to chase a baker’s life. See where it leads me. But in my mind, and perhaps somewhere very deep in my heart, I also know that letting it go would be the choice that would give my life most peace. Am I so jaded with the student debt that I am running away from the profession I chose? I know that I could live an equally meaningful life focusing on dentistry alone, and then focusing on myself when I have moments at home. I have time to write and reflect, and this blog will continue to grow. I would be able to touch more young people and educate them about student loans and what not to do, and perhaps prevent more new grads from suffering the same thing that I am now. I could start over and work on getting back to where we were before I came back from New Zealand. It could be simple again. I could let the bakery go, bake only for myself and my family and have that be enough. If I was a good de-cluterrer, this is what I would do.

Or I could be a fiery little thing, take all that energy and funnel it into all the things. Break down barriers and make my home also my work place. Demolish the space and time I have so carefully created. Possibly crash and burn, take myself along with it, but potentially leave a mark. Be an example of living life to the very fullest. But will it ever be enough? I know the answer to that, but will I be strong enough to listen? Brave enough to say that this isn’t sustainable, that I’m only selfishly human? Humble enough to not need the bakery in order to know that I’m good at baking? Kind enough to forgive myself for choosing otherwise?

This is what aspirational clutter does. This is what I suffer from the most.

 

Small Space Living

Tip 05 // Thriftily Thriving

Thrifty‘ and ‘thriving‘ are two words you don’t often see in the same sentence, let alone together, side-by-side. The first insinuates a sense of meagerness while the second boasts of abundance. Yet in terms of small space living, it is important to establish both, and when small spaces are done well, one can do so without compromise.

Small space efficiency is a an underestimated selling point for having less square footage. Benefits of small space living include more affordable housing, more efficient heating of spaces, less material consumption, less time wasted and money spent on maintenance, et cetera. In this way, small spaces can help one be thrifty.

Small spaces also pave way for intimate relationships. Cozy is a term I like to use. Think winter cabins and snow storms with your closest college friends. This closeness can elicit a sense of connectedness with the inhabitants, and their guests … especially when the openness in a home makes every room visible regardless of where you stand. This ‘forcing’ of community is an example of how small spaces can help you thrive.

Not only are we small space dwellers, but I am also a fan of ‘less is more’. Influenced by Japanese culture (in terms of decluttering and caring for items – see Marie Kondo) and an admirer of Scandinavian design, I find that the ability to thriftily thrive lies in the way we give purpose to our small spaces. There are many ways in which a person can thrive, but our environments play a large role in that act. For me, having bare white walls supports a creative head space. For our family, an open floor plan facilitates intermingling. For visitors, having one large dining table in the center of the home gives us a reason to look each other in the eyes as we sit down and share a meal.

Below, I will detail a few aspects of our home that make it extremely functional for us, yet that require less than what is expected. I will also explain how these aspects help to make our lives more maximilist, although others would consider it minimal.

Open Floor Plans

Occupation of modest space calls for an open floor plan. The addition of walls can make a space feel smaller, and could be considered stifling, at best. Fluidity in movement, light, and air is helped by an excess of open space. In our home, the open space give Mike and I a sense of connectedness. I could be sitting on the bed,  reading a book with the cat, and look across the way to see Mikey in the living room fiddling with his guitar strings. Likewise, I could be sitting on the couch surfing the web on my laptop, and peer above the screen to see Mikey playing video games in the bedroom. When people are over, guests are within eyesight of each other at all times, since the kitchen opens to the dining area which faces the living room. I have yet to hear a guest ask me where someone is.

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The view of the living spaces from our bedroom, where I might be sitting as Mike plays guitar on the couch.

In our home, the use of screens encourages engagement between moving parts, while granting privacy when space is needed. When Mike and I are alone, we usually have conversations that travel from the bed to the couch. When guests are over, the screens are usually pulled, to give a sense of privacy to those sleeping on the pull-out couch. The same goes for rooms as intimate as the bathroom. We have a wooden panel that slides to reveal a laundry tucked away into a corner of the home. It also functions as the door to our bathroom. Unless someone is using the loo or shower, the panel is usually covering the laundry machines, thus leaving the bathroom open to the rest of the home.

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The use of screens create partitions and privacy, when needed.

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Natural Lighting

Natural lighting is the one criteria that I have for my homes. Give me the smallest cranny, but please don’t take away my sunshine. My mood is greatly influenced by sunlight, which also means that my ability to create is hindered by low levels of light. In our home, we have floor to ceiling lighting on both sides of the house. We have sheer pull down screens to sift the light, which we occasionally pull down in the evenings to limit the glow from street lamps coming into our home. But the minute I wake up, I pull the screens up to allow as much sunlight as possible. I throw the windows open, in hopes to invite more air in, as if the house was gasping for breath. And since the opposing walls of the home are covered in windows, it allows for a steady breeze to flow straight across – in one side and out the other. Both ample light and ventilation enhance the perception of space, so it is very important for small dwellings to have both.

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24 foot floor-to-ceiling windows let in ample amounts of light.

Multi-Purpose Rooms

Because I err towards having less, I am a big advocate of making the most out of what we have, rooms included. Just as I tend to avoid items that are not used on a daily basis, I think the same way of rooms. When people’s homes have too much space, nooks and crannies tend to go untended. Useless, unwanted. What’s the purpose? To sit and look pretty?! No thank you.

We should consider how spaces can be used for multiple functions. Our living room acts as our theatre room, our relaxation area, our music room, and occasionally, our guest bedroom. The couch folds down into a double sized bed, the coffee table has drawers to store a guest’s belongings. As aforementioned, our screen acts as a divider to give guests privacy. In the “dining room” three steps away, our 12 foot table serves as a means to throw dinner parties, to hold baked goods on a busy baking day, and at times, as my desk for blog work. In the kitchen only a mere hand’s reach, we have an island that we use as a breakfast table, a meal prep area, and a baker’s bench for shaping tens of loaves.

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This couch was a hand-me-down from college roommate in dental school. It folds down into a double bed, and acts as a sleeper for overnight guests. We move the coffee table aside, which I found at a consignment center when I was searching for furniture before heading to college, in order to center the bed. The table has drawers on the side, which acts as storage space for our guest’s things. 
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Guitars line the walls of the living room. 
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Mike’s Fender within easy reach.
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Our living room doubles as a music room.

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We have countless movie nights in our living room with the aid of our projector and black out curtains. 
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Our kitchen island acts as a place to eat breakfast, prep meals, and shape bread loaves for the bakery.

Quality Over Quantity

I wrote, once, about how our happiness does not lie in double vanity sinks. Maybe I’m alone in thinking that one bathroom suffices for all our toilet needs. But it is true. I only need one couch, and dare I say it, one living room (even if it lacks in formality). I don’t need a breakfast table and a more formal dining table. I don’t need a guest bedroom for ghosts to collect in. I mean, we have one closet for goodness sake! But it’s large enough to stash everything we own, and is that not enough?

Instead of giving me a couch that’s only for formal gatherings, give me one that I can fall asleep on and drool. Instead of having dinnerware saved for special occasions, give me a set of reliable and unfussy china that won’t break with daily use. Instead of different decor for the changing of seasons, give me bare walls, you feel me? The quality of our lives is not measured by how must stuff we have.

Maximalizing Small Spaces

I maximalize our space in multiple ways. Other than having ample lighting and blank slate walls, our home meticulously selects for items of similar materials. The floor is one single concrete slab that runs through every room (even the bathroom and bedroom). It is a light gray color, and lighter colors make spaces seem bigger than. A unifying floor also is better at maximalizing than having different floorings between each room.

Likewise, smaller spaces benefit from a unifying color palate. The materials we choose usually flux between dark wood, brown leathers, silver and chrome industrial metals, and straw and paper baskets and things. Our color schemes reflect natural color states, and only small pops of vibrancy (in the form of greenery and fresh fruit from the market) permeate the home. We try to balance the warmth from our wooden coffee table with the coolness of our exposed ventilation system. We juxtapose the softness in our linen sheets with the hardness of the iron side tables nearby. Despite having an Industrial vibe mixed with an organic collection of goods, the flow from one room to another flourishes with the help of a continuous color scheme.

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Organic materials such as straw baskets juxtapose industrial cement floors.
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A unifying color scheme works to make the space feel larger rather than divvy up rooms into individual entities.
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When we bought our home, our first instinct was to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms. Isn’t that what HGTV taught us? But frugality and the drive to focus on paying down our student debt won. Over time, I have come to love these wooden cabinets and chrome handles. The island was a hand-me-down left by the previous owner, along with these two rickety chairs. I’ve quite grown to love them and appreciate them for the way they connect the kitchen and the dining area. 
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Pops of vibrant color in the form of live greenery and jewel-toned blankets.

In terms of items, I am very selective with what’s visible to the naked eye. I consolidate all of our belongings into closets, organize them behind kitchen cabinets, corral them into bathroom drawers. If I could, I would also tuck away the fridge behind pantry doors, and the microwave into its own cabinet. We do have open shelving but when it comes to items sitting on that shelf, I have one basic rule:  Only the most beloved possessions get that privilege.

A Sense of Community

We use our humble abode as a vessel to create a community. We gather people who would otherwise be far away from each other due to our urban lifestyle. Our home is especially good at making people feel close-knit. Mostly, because there’s nowhere else to go! When people visit, there are really only so many seating areas. We have to mingle like we used to. No one can surf their social feeds unobserved. This isn’t the place for that. Likewise, on a daily basis, our roommate preps dinners and lunches in the same kitchen. We watch movies together, or play boardgames after dinner. Even Mike and I are forced to resolve whatever arguments we have within minutes, because hiding away to the bedroom does not mean you steal away from eyesight. In this way, our home has brought us closer to each other.

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The first thing you see when you walk up the stairs into our home is a 12 foot dining table which was hand-built by the two ladies who supplied our furniture for our wedding. It lies in the heart of the home, separating the living room from the kitchen. We frequently throw dinner parties for large groups of people and host boardgame nights for our friends, so this table is what brings everyone together.

Going Forth

As much as I love our haven, our small space also promotes a relationship with our surroundings. Our home is for slow living, but when the bread has been baked, the meals have been prepped, the guitars have been strummed, and the eyes have gone crossed from all the reading, there isn’t really much else to do. That promotes slow living in the sense that we do a lot of observing, imagining, pondering, and sitting. But it also promotes a life lived outside.

We live in the heart of downtown. Our bedroom window overlooks Yost Theatre, and we can feel the bass thumping from the bar down the street at half past midnight. We get ding dong ditchers at 2am. At first, I hated it. But now, it is growing on me. Couple our location with living in a tiny home and what do we get? A husband and wife who will find joy in stepping outdoors. We walk to the market to buy groceries. We accompany people who want to dine out across the street. We walk to our favorite coffee shops and support local brewers. Monthly art walks draw us out after eating dinner at home. When the dogs I’m sitting feel a bit restless, out we go in search of grass. I am finding that as much of a sanctuary we make our home to be, it is equally important in being the place from which we go forth.

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Living in the heart of downtown, our home provides a haven as well as a starting point from which to go forth.
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The view from my bedroom window.

 

 

Intentional Living: Predawn Priorities

Early mornings, and I mean REALLY early mornings, are not to the naked eye beautiful things. At first, getting out of bed is a painful process, with the body a heavy weight, the cement floors feeling dreadfully cold as your bare feet softly swing down from the side of the bed in search of slippers. You try to gather the strength to stand, the courage to start the day, the energy to fight the gravitational pull back onto the mattress and under the sheets where it’s still warm from your body heat. You may look back and see that the cat has quickly reclaimed your spot, curling up in the still-depressed parts of the bed, where the smell of your skin give him a sense of comfort as he dozes off into his reveries. Even for the early worm, the darkness can slow down the stirring of the mind and the movement of the joints. But early mornings, to the soul, are dreadfully precious things. Not easily seen, there are benefits to starting the day BEFORE the day, if you know what I mean.

Some of the greatest of minds used the early morning as a haven. Georgia O’Keeffe was reported waking up to the sound of her dogs barking, making some tea, and taking a morning stroll. Henry David Thoreau made a habit of rising in time to hear the first birdsong. For these people, early mornings were opportunities to live slowly. To peruse and ponder, to ruminate over coffee cake and romanticize. There are others, too, who use early mornings to pursue passions. Sylvia Plath woke at 5am to write before caring for her young children, and Frank Lloyd Wright developed architectural designs from 4 to 7am before a day of business work ensued. For all of them, the predawn hours were the most golden of hours.

Early mornings are sanctuaries that need protecting. These are spaces that should be reserved specifically for the soul’s well-being. It is not for getting ahead at work, or for zombying over a social media feed. Ignore the menial tasks, the dishes that need to be washed from the night before, the emails that need opening, the laundry and the grocery lists. All of these are distractions. All of that can wait. They will get done because there is always time for such things. The mornings should be reserved with what feeds you, what gives you life. A passion project you’re working on, a new language you’re trying to learn, a moment of meditation, a morning of idleness, peace, and quiet. Even if you do nothing at all, whatever it takes to revitalize.

For me, it’s a medley of things. On some mornings, I wake up as the bars outside my window facing the main streets of downtown are closing up shop and night owls meander their ways home. I wake up at the last moment possible and slip on my baker uniform (a pair of jeans and a black tee), grab the water bottle and phone sitting on the dining table from the night before, slip on my Birkenstocks and look for the car keys on the hook. I slip into my car and head to the bakery, where I join another bleary-eyed baker, equally as passionate about the craft, equally as crazy to sign up for these midnight shifts, both of us working sixty to seventy hour weeks with baking as a ‘hobby-turned-hustle’. Four hours later, I arrive home, feed the cat, and put the hot water in the coffee pot as I hear Mikey rustling out of bed, about to start his day. These are mornings meant for passionate things.

Other mornings when I do not have a baker’s shift, I wake at exactly 6am to our sweet cat mercilessly meowing for food. I drink from the cup of water by my bedside before getting up to feed the cat as Mikey heads off to shower. It is here that I spend the first thirty minutes awake writing in a journal, or pulling up this blog. Sometimes I’ll pick up a book from the night stand and read where I’ve left off. Other times, I’ll yoga when Mike and I have to carpool. After his shower, he hops back into bed and reads to himself. At around 7am, we both stop what we’re doing and head to the kitchen. We prep breakfast and lunch pails. Occasionally, one of us will make coffee. We sit down at the table and talk, or stare out the window. Our roommate comes up to do the same, and leaves before we’re even done eating. I put the dishes in the sink as he does a few morning exercises. He brushes his teeth, I clear the dishwasher from last night. He says goodbye, and Theo peeks downstairs until he is out the door. Only then will I start on chores or look at my phone. It is now 8am, the screen says, and I have an hour and a half to get some tasks out of the way before I myself start my day.

The suggestion for dedicated early mornings actually came from Mike. I’ve always been an early bird, but he likes the snooze button. Earlier this year, he came across a study that says that our learning is best the few moments before sleep and the few moments after. He suggested we both wake up when Theo signals us it’s time, and instead of slipping back under the covers, we learn something new. Being a creative person, I took that to apply to my own desires, and I broadened the term ‘learn’ to mean something more than gaining knowledge. I wanted to learn about myself through writing, I wanted to learn about the world through reading, I wanted to learn about gratitude and forgiveness through yoga, and I wanted to learn about sacrifice and love through baking.

But how to rise every day when it seems so difficult to do? I think firstly, you need a ‘why’, a reason that is strong enough to make you do what you least want to do. Secondly, you need a routine. Perhaps you need to set out the Chemex the night before, maybe you prepare the tea into bags. For baker mornings, I have my bottle of water filled to the brim sitting next to my small clutch on the dining table, and my clothes laid out in the bathroom to facilitate the dressing. For the other days, I have a cat to feed, and that love is motivation enough to get me out of bed (the incessant meowing helps too). Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to have a favorite sweater at the foot of the bed, something to slip on as you slink to the desk and open up a journal. Other times, I leave my book on the night stand, within easy reach. Whatever routine you choose, it’s a ritual that you must cherish.

Regardless of how it looks like to you, these predawn hours are for creating spaces of intention. Deliberate in everything we do, no matter how big or small. Even if it means waking up a few minutes early to sip (rather than gulp) your coffee. Even if it means opening a book before the alarm goes off for the kiddos. Or taking the dogs out on a walk to get away from the house itself. Maybe you can brave a surf, put on your baker hat, run a couple miles, work in the garden, or sit still staring out at the streets below. All of this opens you up for a more intimate life. And some days, you will feel that mid-afternoon lull. And that’s okay. These are all signs of lives well-lived, and days well-spent. Who doesn’t want to live in these golden hours?

Above: A photograph of a hike we did at Mt. Cook in New Zealand. There were so many days we left our beds before the sunrise, so many drives in the darkness as we tried to reach isolated destinations. This particular hike was one that we decided to embark on after a day of rain prevented us from seeing it the day before. We had only a few hours before we had to check out of the AirBNB, and when we got here, the trails were still empty and the people camping at the foot of the mountains were only starting to step out of their tents looking for coffee. The mist was still lingering as the sun started to shine onto the glacial snow. We had the trails almost entirely to ourselves. These are the moments I speak of. 

Less Waste: Facial Skin Care with Aesop

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

I’d be the first to admit that in an effort to rid our house entirely of plastic waste, I’ve been neglecting many aspects of skin care, and after a year and a half of doing so, it has started to show. In all honesty, walking down aisles of grocery stores in search of self-care products can be a bit nauseating for the environmental enthusiast. Almost every bottle promises some magical cure packaged in plastic capsules, listing a number of chemical compounds that stray far from being natural. Not a big fan of beauty products anyway, I decided it would be easier to rid my life of this added complexity by just ousting the need to buy. And while that has worked well with some aspects such as make-up routines, and substituting bars of soap and refillable aluminum bottles for daily necessities such as shampoos, conditioners, and lotions, I’ve found that when it comes to facial skin care, my skin has suffered and has started to rebel.

Admittedly, this past winter in California was the driest that we’ve had in a while. I woke up some nights with an itchy throat that needed clearing, and made a habit of having a glass of water by my bedside easily within reach. I recognized the dryness when our adopted toothless cat started to have asthma attacks in the evenings, waking us up and worrying us to death. And I couldn’t deny it any more when my facial skin started to itch, form a rash, and flake, when it has never reacted like that before.

Part of the irritation lies in the fact that I wear a dental mask every day, and the itchiness is localized around where my mask touches my skin. A visit to a dermatologist told me that it’s nothing that a good skin care routine couldn’t fix. She prescribed me a routine that required buying moisturizers, facial cleansers, sunscreens and ointments in plastic bottles, and at first I resisted. The resistance only lasted so long until my body signaled with fervor that it’s in need of some attention. Eventually, I did get her prescribed regimen, and I saw some improvement right away. My skin seemed satisfied, but I was not. I could not, in good conscience, bear to buy another round of plastic bottles filled with chemicals.

Then I remembered that when we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at an apartment that was furnished with only amber glass bottles. I quickly started researching Aesop and was quite pleased with what I found. Packaged in those amber bottles were little doses of formulations created with meticulous attention to detail for one’s body needs. Their focus was to source plant-based ingredients mixed with lab-made ingredients that have proven record of both safety and efficacy. Headquartered in Melbourne, I was glad to learn that they had a store here in Southern California.

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Searching for something to soothe sensitive, dry skin, the knowledgable staff at the store was able to guide me towards a selection of bottles lined up on their walls, but only after offering me tea and refreshments. They then helped me sample the products and the experience was akin to being at a spa and being waited on hand and foot. They massage the oils into your hands while talking you through the best treatment methods and tips. They detail the differences in ingredients and explain why each one has a purpose. Every item smelled heavenly, and best of all, they were packaged in glass! The only plastic to be seen are the caps and lids, which is much better than the alternative options. Plus, when you take them home, they are sent home in beautiful linen bags that can be re-purposed for such things as jewelry bags and stationary tool kits.

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Off course, the price point is a little bit higher, but to be honest, not much different from the prescribed routine by my dermatologist. And you may call it a misperception due to my obvious affinity towards the brand, but I do believe it worked wonders much better then the Western medicine that was prescribed. Either way, I received these as gifts and took them home with care. Using them in my own bathroom elicited the same type of spa-quality that I experienced in store due to the fresh aroma and high tactile quality of the products. Lighted candle use, optional.

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So here’s to new facial skin care routines. Mine specifically:

This Gentle Facial Cleansing Milk  – panthenol, grape seed, sandalwood. $35 for 3.5 fl. oz.

This Parsley Seed Toner – parsley seed, lavender stem, blue chamomile. $43 for 3.4 fl. oz.

This Primrose Moisturizer – sage leaf, rosemary leaf, lavender stem. $49 for 2.1 fl. oz.

Mr. Debtist also walked away with this hand balm, for hard-working hands.

 

Intentional Living: Switching the Lens

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

My birthday is a gift in that it falls in the middle of the year. I use it to re-assess not so much what I have accomplished, but rather, where to steer life’s trajectory. With this framework, we look on the bright side of things while avoiding the guilt of not being where we thought we were meant to be. We are always where we’re meant to be. We just need the occasional shift in perspective, is all.

Retrospection is one of those practices that can be likened to a double-edged sword. In one respect, we need to be wary of the tendency to live in the past, the mulling of our histories which prevents us from living out the joys of today. When the retrospecting is on something not entirely good, it can put us in quite a rut. A reminder hence that sometimes, the best course of action is to live and let go. On the other side of the coin, however, is a warning against racing haphazardly onwards without direction. As freeing as that may feel, perhaps a moment’s pause would be beneficial, and also, necessary. As always, striking balance is just the stuff. Myself, I lean towards retrospection partnered with a ridiculous will for chasing what I want, so in that way, I suppose I find balance. Retrospection to me doesn’t require so much the mulling, but more so a switching of the lens.

In this re-assessment, I make a list of actionable steps. Minor tweaking of daily life practices, with deeper intentionality behind each one. For example, a desire to physically switch my camera lens from the standard one to a fixed 50 mm lens for the rest of the year. Reason being…? Reason being that the 50 mm lens forces me to switch my camera to a manual setting, thus avoiding the automatic point-and-shoot capturing of daily life. In this single action, I am inserting a forced habit of creativity. I make photographing a bit more difficult. I slow the process. I make the framing more intentional. I have to take the time to focus the lens on what I want to see. A method of mindfulness.

This and others. Here, a short list.

  • Switching the camera lens and turning the manual switch on (to instill mindfulness in creativity).
  • Spending the first thirty minutes of being awake writing, reading, or creating (for better mental health).
  • Applying moisturizer and sunscreen daily (as an act of self-care)
  • Plugging the cell-phone in once I enter the home (and leaving it there).
  • Keeping the lights turned off as far into the evening as possible (and substituting candles in its wake).
  • Read more (mindfully).
  • Sleep 8 hours every night, uninterrupted (like I used to).
  • Keeping clear surfaces around the house (for more clarity).
  • Switching to decaf … or no caff … during the week (now that I’ve cut the midnight shifts).
  • Carrying around a notebook (in the hopes of jotting down more introspections such as these).

How about you guys? Birthdays not required, what are some ways you hope to change trajectories for the rest of 2019? 

Intentional Living: Gift-Asking

Gift giving has been a difficult topic to approach these last couple of years. I’ve written previously about my thoughts on gifts and my no-gift-giving letters, all efforts to eschew the matter entirely. I’ve written gift guides that hopefully elicit mindfulness. I’ve written how we can change the way younger generations view gift-giving. But still, the separation between theory and practice has been hard to achieve. Despite efforts on my family’s side to comply and efforts on my side to be understanding and grateful, disparities can be quite discouraging for both.

I had an aunt once thoughtfully purchase bars of soap without the wrapping, only to hand the stack of them surrounded by a wad of the thickest cellophane I’ve ever felt and, I kid you not, a number of bows, all in the name of “proper presentation”. And so I wrote about alternatives. I’ve had cases where family members would hear in passing of my desire for an article of clothing, and in an effort to give me my wish, they bought me a knock off of similar variety without any history regarding the maker, the working conditions of, or the source of material, all of which I heavily research before choosing to purchase. Likewise, there have been gifts that people thought would add to my home, but which unfortunately detracts from the peace.

I liken the experience to my childhood, when I would sit in a corner to read a book and all the well-meaning adults would send the kids my way to ask me to play. A declined invitation attributed to shyness. Stillness mistaken for boredom. Solidarity confused with loneliness. A personal preference completely misunderstood.

Despite all of this heartbreak, over the years, I’ve slowly learned. Not just on how to communicate better, but on how to re-frame all-together. Because at the root of all the misunderstanding is an honest desire to show love in the only ways people know how. I’ve found that sometimes asking for nothing isn’t the best course of action. This is because people are socially wired to give, with the act of giving tired to affection. So instead of saying, “Give me naught”, maybe the answer lies in the complete opposite. “Give me only one thing that is so specific it cannot be mistaken as something else.”

Case in point: last year Mike and I shared a joint birthday that was wildly successful. In it we requested that all gifts come in the form of a donation to an organization of our choosing. We wrote them a letter detailing the specs of the event, which you can find here. In exchange their donation bought them a ticket to a brunch at our house featuring the morning buns and croissants that would later become a favorite at the bakery. Together we raised enough money to feed 3,285 meals to Americans with food insecurity!

In a similar line of thought, this year I requested that loved ones support the bakery by purchasing baked goods. All profits will be put back into expanding the bakery in the form of buying utensils or ingredients, or paying for licenses and marketing. Although I took the month off to focus inward on my life journey thus far, I allowed for this one catered event to take place and am using the bakery as my way of thanking the ones I love most dear for being a part of my life. It’s a win-win system in that the guests get to take home something made by myself for their own families, and I feel as if my gifts are well-earned. Additionally, it makes it easier to sleep at night knowing that their gifts create a meaningful impact without harboring waste, impact which include the supporting of local farmers and projects preserving ancient heritage grains, as well as the spreading of healthful, gut-friendly bread.

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Which goes to show that maybe telling people how to show affection isn’t as effective as showing affection in return. With these last two birthdays in tow, I think we are finally moving the needle forward.

For other specific asking of gifts, try here.