Less Waste: A Vision of an Eco-conscious Dental Office

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

The medical industry can hardly be excused for their participation in plastic waste production. Medical facilities are notorious for creating plastic waste on a daily basis, and in exorbitant amounts.

As a dentist, the role I play in creating waste does not escape me. It’s a fact that has never sat well with me, and I’ve found it an unsettling part of my profession that does not align with my personal values. If I am being honest, some of the waste that we produce is unnecessary. 

The need for disposable items for the sake of sanitation is a fallacy. It’s a shame that patients expect disposable and replaceable medical tools in order to feel safe. But where do you think plastic suctions and mirrors are made? Factories? Stored in plastic bags? Shipped in boxes on a truck? Placed into drawers? Pulled out for your visit.

Sanitary? Hardly.

But it is expected.

What if I told you that we can create a safe, sanitary dental office that is more sustainable by using re-usable instruments that are properly sterilized? What if the key to creating a cleaner tomorrow lies in changing patient perception?

Education lies in the hands of dentists and doctors dedicated to creating eco-conscious offices. We can show patients it is more sanitary to use an auto-clavable, heat-sterilized metal suction than pulling a plastic straw suction from a drawer. Likewise, the driving force for change lies in the patients asking for alternatives to plastic from their providers.

I have a vision.

I haven’t implemented it yet because between the zero-plastic bakery, helping with building an all-sustainable Hard Rock hotel on a zero-waste island in the Maldives, working six days of dentistry a week, dog-sitting for pets in need of a home, and writing here, I just don’t have the time.

But today, I’d like to share the vision that I have for a more sustainable practice, in hopes that other dentists would aspire to it, too.

Why?

Healthcare facilities in the United States generate 14,000 tons of waste per day. Up to 25% of this waste is composed of plastic products, including packaging of disposable items. In my office, we have the problem of an overflowing the trash bin and recycle bin with waste. We have been cited by the city multiple times, but with the patient pool that we are seeing, we are creating more waste than the current bins can hold. This cannot continue.

With environmental awareness rising, the issue of medical waste has never been more pertinent. We are a dump-and-cover society but we can’t stop from knowing that plastic never disappears. It can only break down into micro-plastics that end up in landfills and oceans and then enters our food chain which then affects not just the environment and other species, but us as well.

Can medical care exist without waste?

Maybe not completely, but we can definitely get closer.

We HAVE to get closer.

WHO?

We need to do this not for ourselves, but for the younger generations of tomorrow. Young people today are overwhelmed by the daunting task of cleaning up after past generation’s messes. We need to alleviate that pressure from them, and it needs to start now.

Practitioners can educate their patients on what cleanliness really means. Explain to them your efforts in going zero-waste. Millennials will support sustainable efforts. They will come to your office if you advertise yourself as doing more than taking care of their health. If they see that you care about the environment, it will show them your character, and if you care for the environment, how much better care will you be able to provide for your patient?

My friend recently opened a dental practice in Irvine called Blue Brush Dental and his new patient and recall patient goody bags are all organic cotton tote bags that a patient can re-use for their market needs. Imagine what that says to a new patient. The value of your practice is tied to the values that you portray. A practitioner making efforts to create a cleaner tomorrow speaks volumes. Younger generations will appreciate that you care about THEM.

Patients, on the other hand, need to demand zero waste practices. Say “NO” to those free plastic toothbrushes. Ask for alternatives. Opt for recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable toothbrush options such as Bogobrush, and don’t be afraid to start a conversation and ask the office to get them. Deny goodie bags made of plastic.

We need to work together. We are all responsible.

WHAT?

A sustainable dental practice begins with a physical office, and the best office is a LEED certified building. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environment Design and it was implemented in 1993 to promote sustainable design in architecture. There are four levels of LEED certification, based on a points system wherein points are awarded for different categories.

LEED certified buildings:

  • reduce usage fees by 40% in energy and water bills
  • are good for the environment and occupants
  • have higher occupant rates and higher lease rates per square foot
  • have increased visibility in the community

LEED buildings implement a number of structural and architectural designs that decrease energy consumption. Skylights and wide windows in operatories allow for more natural light which then reduces the need to use electricity during the day. Some buildings use geothermoregulation via flooring systems. The use of LED lights also reduce energy consumption and is an easy change that offices can start implementing TODAY. Likewise, using tile carpeting makes it fairly cost-effective to switch out high traffic areas with a new tile rather than redoing the entire flooring all together.

Check out this pediatric dentist’s LEED certified practice, for inspiration.

HOW?

Having an eco-conscious practice is not only what building we work in but also how we do our work.

Digital technology has allowed for the removal of much of the materials that we used to use in dentistry.

  • Digital x-rays eliminates the need for film, and the chemicals needed to produce the film which sit in plastic cups and are purchased in plastic containers.
  • Digital scanners eliminate the need for impression material, plastic cartridges, plastic tips, impression trays, and packaging used to send models to and from the lab.
  • A Cerec Milling Machine eliminates the need for a second appointment (which would need another chair set up and more head rest covers, bibs, suctions, and syringes), as well as a model and a temporary crown.
  • Clinical notes on a computer eliminates the need for paper charts and filling forms out online prior to the appointment rids us of paperwork to be scanned.
  • Signature pads record consent directly on the computer.
  • Text appointment and recall reminders eliminate the need to mail postcards.
  • Social media eliminates the need for physical marketing strategies.
  • Digital reading material can replace paper magazines in the lobby.

On top of going digital, we can substitute alternatives that use less plastic overall. Sometimes, instead of looking to new gadgets, the trick lies in using old school stuff. Below is a list of examples, both old and new:

  • Sterilization Casettes and Enviropouches eliminate disposable sterilization pouches.

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  • Cloth head covers and bibs are alternatives to plastic head rest covers and water resistant bibs. Not even having head covers and simply using Cavicide between each patient is also an option.
  • Sterilizable metal suctions and water -syringe tips instead of disposable plastic ones are the dental equivalent of metal straws instead of plastic straws.

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  • White coats instead of disposable clinical gowns are an option, depending on the extent of your treatment.
  • Wood wedges instead of plastic wedges for composite restorations are the way to go. Some argue the contacts are better with the plastic versions, but they now make flared wooden wedges that fit fine, even with isolated matrices.

Image result for wood wedges dentistry versus plastic VS Image result for wood wedges dentistry versus plastic

  • Paper Dri-Angles instead of plastic ones can be used. Even though the plastic version can isolate for twice as long and requires less triangles, the plastic itself will NEVER disappear from this Earth. The paper versions will degrade, even if there are twice as many.

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  • Reusable prophy angles that can latch onto a slow-speed hand-piece can reduce plastic disposable versions from entering the landfill.

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  • Prophy paste in ten flavors individually wrapped in plastic tubes increase plastic waste. Why not buy prophy paste by the tub in a limited number of flavors, such as mint or cherry? These tubs will last a VERY long time.

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  • Installing a water distiller in the office for the water lines instead of having distilled water tubs delivered to the office every week is an option. It will not only save the Earth from plastic gallons, but also from emissions related to a water delivery service.
  • Disposable scented nitrous oxide gas masks are nice for kids, but why not try sterilizable gas masks with a touch of essential oil for the scent.
  • Reclaimed, Recycled or Up-cycled furniture for the lobby is preferred over brand new furniture. Try to choose sustainable materials such as wood instead of plastic chairs and tables.
  • Wooden toys for the kid’s toy box in the lobby are an aesthetic AND sustainable touch.
  • Avoid plastic goodie bags after hygiene appointments. Try paper bags! Better yet, recyclable market totes made from organic cotton like this one from BlueBrush Dental give goodie bags a lasting purpose.

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Image result for reusable dental eye protectors VS Image result for reusable dental eye protectors

Other ways in which we can commit to reducing waste in our dental offices.

  • Walk or bike to work. Find a job close to home and nix the commute. Carpool, if you must, with your co-workers.
  • Bring your lunch in Tupperware rather than dining out. Bring a reusable water bottle or coffee mug from home.
  • Implement the use of a water fountain instead of a Sparklett’s water station.
  • Don’t allow for disposable utensils, plates and cups in the break room. Choose metal utensils and durable, washable tableware.
  • Instead of a Keurig machine that uses coffee pods, invest in an old school coffee machine with paper filters. Buy coffee beans in bulk and grind them yourself.
  • When you buy a dental practice, don’t gut the place entirely and renovate the whole thing. Use the existing cabinets and give them a paint job. Changing artwork? Use the existing frames and swap out the paper images. You get the drift. Don’t be in a rush to buy everything BRAND NEW.

These are just some basic ways in which we can create change. Most of these we can do immediately. Some of these may take months to get to. But it’d be great if we all start working towards it.

I’m not saying do ALL of these. But I ask you implement one or two new things every few months. Work towards a more eco-conscious practice. We won’t get to zero-waste, but if someone can try to create an All-Sustainable Hotel built on a Zero-Waste island, why can’t we get close with a dental office?

Want more? Here are 80 ways to make your dental practice go green!

Curating Closets: One Work-out Outfit

I have never been one to stick to a work-out routine long-term. I find that we train our minds to have grit with certain things, but with physical activity, I haven’t had much practice. However, with the turn of the decade, for the world but also for myself, my thirtieth birthday brought on an awareness of muscle aches, tenderness, and fatigue. Instead of dwelling on the regretful lack of physical activity in my earlier years, I decided to start setting it all straight.

Since there are only two exercises that I ever liked, swimming and yoga, I decided to sign up for an unlimited membership at CorePower. I did this a year ago and regretted my decision from a financial perspective. But I realized that without the discipline for sticking to a regular workout routine, I would not get anywhere without a financial reason to push me. Spending money is a great motivator for someone who seeks getting the most value. The last year has taught me the value of outsourcing certain things in order to get high returns. I knew it was the right choice for me.

Which brings us to the topic of work-out clothes.

Having Just One

For those curating closets, I am here to tell you that one work-out set (a top and bottom) is enough for all of your work out needs. I attend yoga classes at least FIVE TIMES a week, and I have one set. In black, of course, not that that’s a pre-requisite for all. Just for me. (Why black? I like to streamline my clothes so that it works for every season. Your color could be rainbow, and that wouldn’t matter so much as the fact that it’s a color that works for you despite changes in weather or mood. For me, black looks good whether my skin is tan or not, whether my nails are painted a bright color or nude, and just makes me feel confident and comfortable overall. Curating closets, after all, is about knowing yourself.)

Maintenance

The secret with having a singular outfit is being pro-active with keeping work-out wear clean. The yoga sessions are heated and intense, and I don’t have an anti-sweat recipe up my sleeve. Yes, I do come out of those sessions drenched. But I shower right after those sessions and in the shower, I hand wash my top and bottom and hang them to dry. I am not so good (yet!) as to attend back-to-back sessions, so my workout attire can typically hang to dry until the next day. In the morning, I take the drying towels and yoga wear and toss it in my “yoga bag” which is nothing more than a ten-year-old enlarged shoulder tote that happens to fit a water bottle, my workout attire, and a yoga towel. At the end of every week, I toss the workout set into the wash with the other clothes.

Avoiding Decision Fatigue

One of the best things about having a curated closet is the avoidance of decision fatigue. Our brains require energy to make decisions and it is not proportional to the size of the decision. This means that making little decisions is just as taxing for our brain as making larger, life-altering decisions. To save brain power for the important stuff, I avoid having to choose for the smaller things in life, yoga attire included. Imagine how much stress and energy it takes to decide which outfit works well for you today while you are rushing to make class. My timelines are always filled with to-do’s, so it isn’t worth wasting time and energy on the mundane. Plus, I guarantee you’ll enter yoga class with a clearer mind, ready to accept all the benefits that the class has to offer, instead of fretting about whether you made the right outfit choice.

Easier Organization

I have met many girls who struggle with organizing their workout wear. Intricate straps make it difficult to hang and bulky to fold. Silky leggings slip right off the hanger. Drives a neatnik quite mad.  It helps to choose workout wear that skips all of that. For me, I have a T strap top with no inside bra cups to lose in the wash. It has an empress style body to hide the fact that I just engulfed a burger prior to class. The bottom of the top has a cinch that can tighten around my hips, for yoga inversions that tend to be unsuccessful. The leggings are cropped right underneath my knee caps, with enough coverage for the winter and enough air flow for the summer. The pants are fairly light, with a drawstring around the waist and no pockets.

Instead of trying to hang my slippery workout wear, I fold my clothes into tiny squares and toss in the bag. The bag hangs on a hanger in our bathroom, making it easily accessible when I’m ready to dash out the door and keeping it off the floor. The hanger is on a rod next to the shower, where I wash the clothes. When wet, the clothes hang on a shower curtain rod to drip into a tub until dry. The next morning they are dry enough to toss into the bag, which helps control clutter, and eliminating the need to search for them later on.

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Accessories

I have only a few accessories for yoga. The first is a Maduka yoga mat which is inside a yoga mat bag that stays in the back of my car at all times. Inside this yoga mat bag is a yoga mat cleaner and a lock for the locker room. Additionally, in the cold winter months, I wear a white Eileen Fisher sweater. This sweater is dedicated to yoga only. I don’t wear this sweater for other occasions, and it stays inside the same bag as my workout clothes. I do not change the sweater I wear to yoga either. It is always the same (see “decision fatigue” above). Lastly, I have one yoga towel that I lay over my mat. This yoga towel is also folded inside the bag that holds my clothes. I lay this towel over my yoga mat, and also hand wash the towel with my clothes. I use this same towel to dry myself off after my showers, too. Then it gets hung up to dry on the shower rod, just like everything else.

Having a routine helps me focus on the yoga itself. It makes gym-going a calm and easy experience. For anyone looking to curate their closet, I would highly recommend trying this! If you already own a ton of workout wear, I wouldn’t get rid of them right away. Pick one and see if its an outfit that jives with you. See if you can do without the others. When you’re ready to finally pull the trigger and slim your closet down even more, donate!

I’d love to hear some of your curating closet tips! Leave a comment and say hello.

Plant Paper, A New Toilet Paper Alternative for Body and Eco-Conscious Individuals

This post is in partnership with Plant Paper, a toilet paper company focused on creating an everyday product that is both body and eco-conscious. All thoughts and opinions are my own. If you wish to check out Plant Paper in person, they can be found at OtherWild General – a bulk and zero waste store located in Los Angeles, CA. 

Environmental change isn’t going to happen overnight placed in a consumer’s hands. At least, not enough of it. Sufficient change required to turn the tide will involve support from large organizations and changes at the macro-level by government bodies. But as a person who believes in the strength of the smallest of action, I also think we, as consumers, have some power. That power is strengthened when our product choices are intentional, especially when buying products required for daily activities whose redundancy magnifies the effect of our actions.

So here we are again, talking about toilet paper.

Toilet paper is a privilege, which I spoke about in my original post featuring Who Gives a Crap.  But for most people in the United States, toilet paper is a “necessity”. And when certain household products are viewed as such, it becomes more urgent to source these products mindfully. If we can curb the way we use, purchase, and choose toilet paper, then we can really make an impact.

So after a year of advocating WGAC, which is based in Australia, I was ever so excited to come across a California company also shedding light on creating eco-freindly toilet paper alternatives.

Introducing … PLANT PAPER!

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Plant Paper is a company imagined by Lee Reitelman and Joshua Solomon, two individuals who recognized that the ways in which we produce toilet paper does not align with neither our bodies nor our environment. The two then partnered with Scott Barry, creative director of LA’s all day breakfast joint, Sqirl, and on a December morning in 2019, I was able to hop onto a call with Rachel Eubanks, business and life partner of Scott.

The calling to create new toilet paper came after Reitelman and Solomon recognized the amount of energy, formaldehyde and chlorine it takes to convert wood to soft paper. We have a tree-based system of toilet paper-making that was not in effect until the Scott Brothers and Dupont Chemical got into the business. Prior to their invention of the toilet paper that we now see in our minds, toilet paper was made from hemp and sugarcane, both materials that take less chemicals and water to dissolve. The first person to ever invent toilet paper was actually Dr. Gayetty and his T.P. was of hemp!

Interestingly enough, when Gayetty first introduced toilet paper to the public, it did not take. Most consumers at the time could not fathom why one would pay for paper that you throw away. It wasn’t until after the 1880’s that toilet paper began to be seen as a product that signifies upper middle class status – and when you have a product that sells a lifestyle, well, it sells itself.

One thing’s for sure. With the growing attention on climate change, intentional living, and ethical consumer consumption, Reitelman and Solomon are right. “Tree paper should be, and will be, a thing of the past.”

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Great for the Environment, Swell for the Bum

The focus of Plant Paper is to create a toilet paper that is good for the body and the environment. The amount of chemicals used in the production of paper used to wipe butts is a long list – the most toxic ingredient included is chlorine which is used as chlorine bleach.

When you think of toilet paper, what color comes to mind? Usually, white. All white toilet paper require a bleaching process that turns the paper from a natural brown tree-color to a color that is deemed “sanitary”. Plant Paper wishes to change consumer perception of what toilet paper looks like. Plant Paper is BROWN, and avoids harsh chemicals such as bleaching agents and formaldehyde. If we can get people to embrace naturally colored toilet paper, then we can eliminate unnecessary chemicals that we are essentially wiping all over our bodies.

In fact, I would wager that not many Americans are aware of the fact that 37 gallons of water go into every roll of tree paper, plus a gallon of chemicals. Chemicals such as bleach and formaldehyde are known to cause UTI’s, hemorrhoids, and fissures in our bodies. But these are things we’ve grown accustomed to because we don’t stop to think that there is another way. 50 to 60% of women will get UTI’s in their lifetime and half of all people will get hemorrhoids by age 50. Something to think about.

Additionally, we must consider the environmental implications. Options on the market for eco-conscious toilet paper include recycled paper such as that of Seventh Generation, which is where most conversations stop. However, the resources required to recycle paper are often more than simply producing from new trees. In a world where resources in general are running scarce, we must consider more than the number of trees we save. We must consider the true cost. Recycled paper is no longer an option that is good enough.

Plant Paper looked at alternatives to both trees and recycled paper. They landed on the notion of using a type of grass to produce their toilet paper. Grasses grow incredibly faster than trees do. They first considered hemp as an option but eventually landed on bamboo, one of the fastest growing grasses in the world. Bamboo can grow up to 36 inches every 24 hours. Because of this choice, they had to turn make their production China-based, which means there is the logistic of still shipping their toilet paper half-way around the world.

When asked how they mitigate that choice, Rachel from Plant Paper explains that they try to reduce the impact by shipping in containers and sending in bulk. This reduces the shipping frequency, and all fulfillment of orders originate from centers in North Carolina. Currently, all orders may only be made via their online site, but the goal is to bring ethical toilet paper to locations near you.

Their dream is to eventually create a dispensary system where people are encouraged to bring their own bag and take as many rolls home as they need. Currently, they have their toilet paper stocked at OtherWild General in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. You can find Plant Paper in the Zero Waste/Bulk Section of the general store. Hopefully, these babies will start popping up at more folk shops and zero waste stores.

Beyond Environment and Health

To say that the environmental and health benefits are secondary to the real reason behind the creation of Plant Paper is true. This goes beyond current consumer trends and green washing and embracing the new status symbols of upper middle class. The true reason to buy a product like Plant Paper is simply because it is the best product out there.

We are a society trained to be content with unsatisfactory products and to accept that “it is what it is”, so much so that we even have a saying for it. We can no longer settle for mediocrity. We got to the point where we created recycled toilet paper with Seventh Generation, ticked off the box that said we were eco-conscious consumers, and stopped further conversation. But that’s not where it ends.

Plant Paper pushes the envelope to do more. How can we replace trees with a more sustainable material? How can we deconstruct the expectation that toilet paper should be white and thereby get away from all the chemicals? How can we reduce the amount of toilet paper usage all together? Perhaps we raise awareness of the recentness of toilet paper, and tell the story of it’s initial rejection by society. Perhaps we shed light on the fact that it is a monopoly controlled by one company, and that is why change at the macro-level is so difficult to achieve. All of this was discussed in my one hour conversation with Rachel, and it has got me excited about this company.

As Reitelman and Solomon worded it in another interview, we’ve created a hybrid car but the end point is an all electric vehicle.

The Verdict:

So now, the question most of you wish to be answered: How is the quality of toilet paper?

Plant Paper is double-sided and 3-ply. One side is soft and silky, what the team jokingly say is for dabbing, whereas the opposite side is textured, you know… for grabbing. With a smile on my face and a giggle in the air, I can see that it is this kind of whimsical thinking and creativity that has the power to change the world.

The branding for Plant Paper is simple, at best. Unlike Who Gives A Crap’s enthusiastic and colorful branding, Plant Paper may appeal more to minimalists who wish not to inundate their bathroom with colorfully wrapped rolls. If I am being honest, I myself prefer a more calm loo environment that reminds me of a zen spa and am relieved to know that such an eco-conscious option exists. Additionally, I prefer the buy-as-you-need approach of Plant Paper over the bulk orders of Who Gives A Crap. I think that what separates Plant Paper from Who Gives A Crap is their vision to be a wellness product in addition to being an environmentally friendly product, but what sells it to me is their hope to change a social norm by getting consumers to question, “Why?”

If you wish to try Plant Paper for yourself, I highly do recommend. I do not receive a commission from Plant Paper for your purchase.

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Living Slow: Season of Becoming

This post is in partnership with East Fork Pottery,  a company slinging hand-thrown, timeless pottery in Oregon using regionally-sourced stoneware clay. Their beautiful food-safe glazes are made in house and lend their pieces character, but in an unfussy and classic manner. The collection is, truly, a treasure trove.

It’s been a bit quiet here for the past week, which should be indicative of the fact that I’ve been restless in real life, struggling with a personal decision that’s difficult to make. Usually that’s how it is. Cyber silence equates to a madness that requires its own space and time. But I wanted to put thought to digital paper for a moment, as an observance of this period of growth.

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Last week, I was presented with an alternative job opportunity that, when on paper, holds better weight than my current position. However, there are some non-practical reasons why I want to keep my current position. Ultimately, it came down to production limited by the number of days, or production limited by fees. I had to consider adding a 1.5 hr  round-trip daily commute to my currently non-existent one in exchange for much easier work. I had to decide whether having newer and better materials that made my job easier was more important than sweeter and easier patients who made my job easier. I was pulled between something new and something familiar. It was a week full of angst, emotion, and pressure to make a decision. I sat by the window sill staring into space, deep in thought, reflection, and sometimes just straight up brooding. Tears were involved.

If I took the easier job that is farther away which has more difficult patients but newer materials, I would only work 2.5-3 days a week, and still make the same amount of production at 4 days a week. But when you add the hours of commute and subtract the amount of money spent on gas, those 3 days really equate to 3.6 days, and is that difference worth it. The physical work will be easier due to newer materials, but demanding patients increase the mental and emotional energy required to work. The gratitude will be centered around the ease of work, rather than meaningful work. Both cups are half-full. Which would you choose?

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The paradox of choice is real. Both options are starkly different, but both are also good. My husband pointed out that I couldn’t go wrong either way. It’s a fantastic position to be in. But the fear of choosing wrong is what cripples. If the opportunity didn’t present itself, it wouldn’t be hard for me to continue what I was doing. There would be a distant nagging of the things I could improve if the practice were my own, but I wouldn’t be restless like I am now. When there is an alternative, it is much harder to ignore what could be.

Equally crippling is the feeling that a choice needs to be made. If I am going to leave  the first office, it would be best to tell them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the office of opportunity is waiting on the sideline, seeing if I would take their job offer. I think it’s hard to be in-between. The pressure prevents any real growth.

In my life, I‘ve tried to reduce choice in order to increase bliss. In general, it has worked very well. While I don’t like choicelessness, I like having reduced options. But I know making choices is the hard part of growth. So choices need to be made.

I have an evasive tactic that I turn to when faced with difficult decisions. I just pick one -the one that intuitively seems most appealing – and then I move on with my life. I do that because I know I can always pivot. I do that because I know that there are worse things to choose from, and that outcomes in general are not bad  in the grand scheme of things. But I also know that I do it to alleviate the guilt, stress, and responsibility of that choice. I am only ever choosing one real thing – to run a way from my own discomfort.

This has led me to even deeper consideration for things beyond the job itself. The job, it’s just a stage in my life. In the end, neither choice is perfect, but neither is also wrong. Both are transient, not one being the end point. But I’ve thought about my tendency to run when things get difficult. My wish to reduce, in order to ease. My need to asphyxiate in hopes of control. My obsession with doing, instead of just being.

I can say I’ve been much better the past two years. Slow living has been a great mentor in that. But this is one of those moments where I need to tell myself, “Wait“. Instead of searching for clarity, wait for the fog of emotions to roll out and clear. Instead of wishing to tell people about it, wait for them to ask you of your thoughts. Instead of trying to get every answer imaginable, wait for that inner knowing to surface from within. Stay to see what happens, instead of going to see where the river runs.

I came across this quote  from @trustandtravel’s Instagram, and it spoke.

“Do not fast-forward into something you are not ready for, or allow  yourself to shrink back into what’s comfortable. Growth lives in the uneasiness. The in-between. The unfinished sentence. You are a season of becoming.”

-Danielle Doby

Becoming is a hard thing. But it’s also necessary. So much of the time, we do, and therefore we are. But we never just “be”. How do we ever expect to become?

The espresso cups in soapstone are perfect for tiny hands, mid-afternoon espresso shots, as well as after dinner green tea. For the bold, sake shots and other libations fit well within this tiny vessel. We are very much in love with this cups and can only speak highly of the quality and the beauty of these products. They are not placed in cabinets with the other dinnerware but are on display on open shelving. Today only, East Fork will be having a Seconds Sale. A discount of 30% will be applied to a handful of clay goods that did not quite make the cut. Although with slight blemishes, these pieces are still functional and beautiful. I urge people who have been hankering for dinnerware to consider salvaging these pieces and including them in your home. I appreciate East Fork for their zero waste attempt. Seconds sale begins at 12pm EST, and pieces will go fast (or so I hope). This post contains affiliate links and TheDebtist may receive a commission if  you so choose to purchase.

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Prepping for a Mindful Holiday Season

It’s mid-November and I’m left wondering where the first half of the month went, let alone the majority of the year. It seems that as we age, our perception of time quickens,  as if a reminder that the time we have left dwindles. Perhaps this is why mindfulness becomes more relevant as we get older. Perhaps it’s why senility exists, as a pungent way to signal the world that we are focusing on the things that don’t really matter. I wonder if this blog brings that same sort of light, without the heartbreaking undertones of senescence. Hopefully, it has brought you something.

Today, I want to take the time, before holiday rush, to instill mindfulness in the home before good cheer takes away all thought in our fervent search for comfort and joy. Let us welcome the holiday season in all the right ways. We will be wishing and receiving all season long, which isn’t wrong per say, but I think it would behoove us to approach it with some serious thought so as to avoid the need to de-clutter and figure ourselves out all over again amidst the noise in 2020.

A few suggestions, nothing unheard of especially in this space, if I may.

  • Take stock. Make a mental note of everything you already own. Figure out ways in which they can do double duty in function. Find what is enough in your life, with an intention to add less.
  • Declutter. Always declutter. It seems my advice runs redundant but it signifies the habitual act of. Get rid of the noise distracting from the important parts of the holiday season. Hone in on what brings you true joy. Strengthen the ability to know what holds value and what does not. This will also help with the selection of which social obligations you commit to, lest you run amok trying to please everybody and not enjoying the season at all.
  • Write your wish list early. And then publish it late. In the meanwhile, edit, edit, edit. Treat your wish list like a draft. It’s similar to pausing prior to purchasing things. Sometimes, it’s even more important to do because of the ease with which we can ask for things. Sleep on it. Search the house for dopplegangers of stuff (are you asking for things you already own?). Prioritize, putting needs at the top and considering making do without the wants. Perhaps you’d like to request consumable giftsFor ideas, a simple holiday gift guide.
  • Focus on the non-material. Not just in gift-giving and wish-making, but also in the doing. Forego the stresses of perfect Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. Rather, revel in the gathering. Spend less time thinking about what to wear in to the holiday party and more time focusing on the conversations you wish to have. Et cetera. If you need a reminder, create an advent calendar for a slow holiday season. If you’d like to take it a step further, write a no-gifting letter or say no to Secret Santa.
  • Simplify. Instead of asking for ten things from one person, ask for one or two thereby lightening their need to make even more decisions. Instead of decking halls this year, maybe go bare to save you from entering 2020 with a large amount of un-decorating to do. Instead of ordering holiday cards, email a digital picture. There are many ways to simplify, some of which I’ve written about here and here.

I am always of the mind that we need to prepare for the holidays in different ways. In doing less and thinking more. It’s worth a try, in hopes that we all enter the new decade with truer joy, and a lot more peace.

 

Intentional Living: Speaking Less

I’ve been thinking lately about speaking less. The irony of using a post to share this does not escape me. But how many times a day do we fill our lives with useless words? Trivial commentary that gets us nowhere, rhetorical questions that waste one’s breath, small talk?

I think about questions specifically. We ask each other questions not because we are looking for knowledge but rather, permission. As kind as it is to seek permission, what it actually does is inflate the number of choices that need to be made.

For example, I noticed that I ask the following questions of my husband on the daily.

  • Is this enough food? (when piling on a plate)
  • Do you want to sit here? (when deciding where to perch at a restaurant, coffee shop or even at home)
  • What do you want to do today? (or tonight, this week, or weekend)
  • What do you want to eat for dinner? (or breakfast or lunch)
  • Do you want coffee this morning? (or tea in the evening)
  • Shall we watch something tonight? (when deciding what else to clutter our minds with)

All of these questions are not rhetorical and require a response.

All of them give him additional decisions to make.

All of them are quite unnecessary.

I think about how many more I ask at work. I think about how this asking affects our lives. As if we didn’t have enough decisions to make. It’s no wonder we live in overwhelm. By asking permission, we are creating more decisions to make. In our empathy, we are wasting brain power on making choices in a society already suffering from the paradox of choice.

It’s no wonder that children these days have no direction. There are too many choices to choose from and they are so busy choosing from an early age that they never learn how to focus on one. I hear parents ask children what they want to eat for dinner. I remember growing up and never being asked that question. We simply ate whatever was on the table. More brain-power for play time outdoors. I see parents asking kids what color backpack they want for the first day of school. My parents just went and purchased my supplies for us without even taking us to the store with them. More brain-power for focusing on getting ready for the Fall semester. I see parents proudly say that their kids chose what to wear today. I wore a uniform until middle school. Think of the brain power it takes to have a kid decide what to wear, then compare them self socially with what their desk mate wore, then go home and look to their closet and see what they can wear the next day to be at least equal with their desk mate.  With Christmas around the corner, I bet kids will be writing down their lists. I didn’t write a list for my family until I was thirteen years old. My parents just bought us what they think we would want, or better yet, what we needed.

It’s no wonder college students have no idea what they want to do in life. A majority of them go to undergrad undeclared. When I was in undergrad ten years ago, half of my friends had switched majors before graduating. My own brother switched direction AFTER undergrad. Many younger people get multiple masters in different fields. Some of my closest high school friends didn’t figure out what they wanted to do until they were 25. In dental school, a quarter of the dental students had switched careers. We had engineers, doctors, lawyers, with the oldest student in his 50’s. There is simply too many choices to make.

We have created this fallacy that we live in a world where we are free to choose. But we are constantly making choices, and we have lost the freedom to accomplish much of anything else.

It’s no wonder we get home at the end of a work-day exhausted. Then to have to answer if the food on the plate is enough?! Why do we waste such energy?

I am trying to be better. I am trying to simply put food on the plate, and accept that if he wants more, he will go back for seconds. I am going to just pick a spot to sit. If he wishes to sit elsewhere, I will trust that he will say so. I am simply going to make a batch of coffee and pour half into my cup. If he ends drinking the other half, I can make a second batch if needed. Instead of asking what he wants to do this weekend, I will tell him what I would like to do and see what he responds with.

We don’t need to speak so much.

If we truly want to practice empathy, let us empathize with the excess that we all already deal with.

Let us reduce the overwhelm so that we can reserve our brain waves for the decision-making that is more important.

Intentional Living: A Sample Morning Routine

Firstly, a mere word on routines. Routines are founded on habits, and part of habit creation requires that one just bites the bullet and trains the self to have muscle memory. I was not born with great habits, nor am I always good about them. Habits continually shift, depending on your needs of the season. In my case, it’s due to an ever-changing philosophy. My list undergoes a remodeling quite frequently. I find that I work best when my habits have triggers – events that remind me to do something. Additionally, I have found that the reward system does not work well on me. I don’t care for rewards too much, so they are not good motivators. The best motivator for me lies in the doing. An afternoon in idleness makes me glum, so routines help me stray from that negative territory. Pursuit of happiness, et al. Of course, your routine formation and motivations may be different. This difference will change the way your routines are made, or even which ones you end up adopting. When I list my routines here, it is not the end-all by any means. Consider it just a sharing of what I do.

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For me, my morning routine looks like this:

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays

  • 6am – Trigger: Theo the cat meowing –> Habit: Get up to feed the cat.
  • 6:01am – Trigger: Turn on the kettle on the stove –> Habit: Don’t go back to bed, lest you forget the kettle.
  • 6:05 am – Trigger: Kettle has hot water –> Habit: Make a pour over to take back to bed.
  • 6:10 am – 6:20 am – Trigger: Coffee in hand –> Habit: Sip on coffee and stare out the bedside window as the world wakes. Daydream, plan the day, reminisce on the past, what have ye.
  • 6:20am – Trigger: Coffee is awakening the senses  –> Habit: Read a book or write.
  • 7 am – Trigger: Mike starts his shower –> Habit: Get up and start putting last night’s dishes away and preparing breakfast
  • 7:20 am – Trigger: Mike gets out of the shower –> Habit: Eat breakfast together, pack lunches
  • 8:00 am – Trigger: Mike leaves for work –> Habit: Yoga session
  • 8:45 am – Trigger: Yoga is over –> Habit: Wash the morning dishes, sweep the floors, clean the house
  • 9:00am – Trigger: Dirty from cleaning and yoga –> Habit: Get ready for work.

Leave for the dental office at 9:00am.

Tuesdays and Thursdays

  • 6am – Trigger: Theo the cat meowing –> Habit: Get up to feed the cat.
  • 6:01 am – Trigger: Pull out the mixer –> Habit: Mix bread
  • 6:15am – Trigger: Bread mixed –> Habit: Make Coffee
  • 6:30am – Trigger: Need to add salt to dough –> Habit: Read afterwards or write
  • 7am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Start making breakfast
  • 7:30am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Eat breakfast and prep lunches
  • 8am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Yoga session
  • 8:30 am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: write, write, write
  • 9am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: More blog work
  • 9:30am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Finish computer work.
  • 10am – Trigger: Shape dough –> Habit: Start the rest of the day

The reward is  singular and the same: A productive morning by the time the day actually starts.

If you are having difficulty with changing habits, sometimes it is best to rely on others to make us accountable. Why not try creating a habit with a group? Lastly, in order to create a habit, one must have belief – in the cause, as well as the ability to change.

Care to share your morning routines?

Need help making one? May I suggest the following resources: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.

 

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.