De-cluttering Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Guide to Staycations

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

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

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

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

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

Here, a few guidelines for creating the perfect staycation.

Break Routine

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

Avoid Screens

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

Connect with People

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

Act Like A Tourist In Your Own City

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

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

A Minimalist Mouthwash

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


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

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

HEALTH BENEFITS OF A SALT WATER RINSE

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

FAQs

“Doesn’t the salt abrade the teeth?”

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

“But how does it improve my breath?”

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

“Do I need to rinse my mouth at all?”

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

A MINIMALIST MOUTH RINSE

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

OVER -THE-COUNTER MOUTHWASH

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

Simple, Sustainable Gift Wrap

I am not one to take in an eye-sore kindly. I would call that one of my biggest flaws. Things just have to be aesthetically pleasing to be pleasing to me. For that, I am sorry. So when it comes time to start putting presents under the tree, it follows that I cannot just shove them there, unwrapped. It isn’t that I feel the need for another person to be surprised, although surprises are quite nice. It’s that I need the presents to look cohesive, for my own sanity. Which brings me to the following dilemma: less waste for a time of the year when gifts abound.

Last year, I wrote about the art of furoshiki gift wrapping, as a means to produce absolutely zero waste by using excess fabric lying about the house. But after a year has come and gone, I am without any more fabric left to wrap gifts in. It appears that everyone wanted to keep the fabric pieces for their own re-use. This year, I find a not-so-perfect zero waste (zero-ish waste? less waste?) solution from the following:

+ Less gifts, in general. Call me Einstein, but with less gifts comes less gift wrap, and therefore, less waste. This year, I have narrowed down our gifts to ten. That includes required Secret Santa’s at work and holiday parties, and our most immediate family members. Part of this comes from our public renouncement of the gifting of material things, right this way.

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+ Simple methods of wrapping. One of the very first memories I have of being conscious of my wasteful lifestyle involves wrapping gifts at Christmas time. I was 20 years old and I had volunteered to help my aunt wrap the gifts for my cousins (all forty-something of them). I was previously taught by my mother how to make gifts look pretty by adding in additional folds in the wrapping paper and using multiple bows. By scrapping sticker tags when my hand-writing was too ugly to bear. I went about my usual methods of wrapping gifts when my aunt questioned why I was folding the wrapping paper in such a way. I replied, “Because it looks pretty.” To which she laughed and said, “It wastes paper.” Confused, I didn’t understand why that mattered. Off course, my mind mulled the comment over and over again in my head as I continued to wrap. By the end of the wrapping session, I was embarrassed at the waste of gift wrap that I had cost my aunt. I was embarrassed of my frivolous lifestyle. And I saw a glimpse into the world of minimalism that I had yet to discover. Nowadays, I just wrap the paper once around, barely enough to cover the good, and call it a day. A more refined self finds this way of wrapping more attractive anyway.

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Simple materials. I avoid plastic as if I was allergic to it, that you may already know. These days, I find comfort in choosing materials that are natural, biodegradable, or at the very least, recyclable. For Christmas this year, I’ve stuck with twine, string, paper wrap (the non-glossy kind), brown boxes, and re-usable stamps. The color scheme itself is simple, making it easy for me to satisfy my need for cohesiveness. To fill excess spaces in the boxes, I’ve opted not to purchase tissue paper, but rather, use left-over packing paper that has survived our move into our new home a few months ago.

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+ Less wrapping of the gift wrap themselves. If I have to buy gift wrap in order to appease my need to have everything look cohesive, may it be the least-dressed gift wrap there is. This tip goes out to the minimalist (or minimalist hopefuls), to the environmentalists, to the pursuers of mindful living. This year, I went to a local stationary store (and by local, I mean I live across the street from it), and chose a brown paper gift wrap rolled up sans one of those cardboard rolls that you typically find in the center of a tootsie pop wrapping paper. Additionally, it was not wrapped up in cellophane, as they usually are. It was held together by a piece of paper detailing the company from which it came. I also purchased paper tape, with a little green decorative charm, holiday-esque enough to spruce up plain brown boxes (see what I did there?). I purchased yarn that was wound around a cardboard roll, and without the plastic covering (why are they even necessary?!). Lastly, I whipped out my wooden stamp collection and cut up a piece of sketch pad paper to make the name tags. All of this to say, it doesn’t take much to appease my need for pretty. We don’t have to indulge our presents in excessive gift wrap, but I am completely okay with allowing myself something simpler. It’s not perfectly zero-waste, but we can’t always be beating ourselves up for their inabilities to be perfect. We are, after all, human. The point is, we try.

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Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

When was the first time you were introduced to the concept of gifts? If it’s like most people, it was likely at an age when you were not yet capable of comprehending what a gift was! Growing up, we all were taught to expect gifts and to ask for things, even when we were too young to expect anything at all. From our very first birthday, we were taught that gifts come hand-in-hand with any celebration. Aunts and uncles would ask for wish lists, and parents would prompt you to write a letter to Santa. In this sense, gifts were one of the first factors in propelling our lifestyles towards one of consumption. This Christmas, I implore you to change the way we talk about gifts with children.

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

Instead of asking children what they want to receive for Christmas, ask them want they want to do. Avoid the talk of gifts all-together. I ask kid patients who come into the dental office what they have done thus far to prepare for the holidays rather than ask them for their wish list. If a child says, “bake cookies”, I ask them if they plan to give some to their next-door neighbor or friends at school. If they say “write a letter to Santa”, I ask them if they are also going to write a letter to their sibling, telling them how important they are. If a child brings up gifts, I ask them to tell me the one thing they have in their life right now that makes them feel most gifted, whether that’s their family, their warm bed, a hobby, or a special moment.

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

If you are writing a letter to Santa as a family, perhaps challenge a child to write only ONE material item that they “want”. I am not saying deprive a kid of STUFF. I am simply saying to limit how much of it surrounds them. Your child likely does not need a dozen more toys. A statistic states that the average child in the developed world owns more than 200 toys, but plays with only 12 of them on average a day. Additionally, the US children make up 3% of the children in the world, but owns over 40% of the toys in the world. So as a non-mother, I do dare say that your child should only ask for one material item. My suggestion? Ask them to request experiences instead. Perhaps your child will ask for their favorite meal, or a venture to the movie theatres. Mayhaps they ask to adopt a pet, or to spend an afternoon helping others at a soup kitchen. Maybe they’ll ask to see far-away grandparents this year, or for world peace. Children are so brilliant when it comes to ideas. They may surprise you, let alone Santa.

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

If you ARE gifting kids something, start a conversation with them about where their gift comes from. Let them know that their item affects the environment, and the people on it. Tell them how. Spend some time with them researching who made the gift, and what purchasing the gift means. It’s important to have them understand that things do not just magically appear from the sky, even if Santa does. In knowing this one simple fact, they will become more mindful about the source of everything that enters their lives, rather than dismissively assume that our consumption has no effect. In doing this, we can raise children with enough awareness to question.

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

There are many ways to start the conversation with mindful gift-giving.

  • Fair + Simple launched their Fair + Little line this year. The collection consists of curated goods hand-sewn by women in the Philippines. Each gift is meant to change the way children views stuff. There is a card for every purchase, telling the child a little bit about the maker, and how the gift helps others. There is also a call to action that prompts each child to get out in nature, and become treasure hunters. Inside the pockets are hidden treasures from the founder, Molly. To learn more about Fair + Simple, check out my interview with the founder.
  • KrochetKids has a collection of children’s knitted goods, ranging from beanies to stuffed animals. Each product is hand-signed by its maker, thereby opening the doors for you to tell them that their items are made by hand by a human being, not a machine. You can also have them write a Thank You letter to their maker, and send it to them online!
  • Farmer’s Market and Artist Fairs are great ways to have a child actually meet the hands behind their gift. They can even speak with the maker and ask them questions, such as how they got started making these things and what was the hardest part about its production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decluttering A Shoe Closet with Nisolo’s Shoe Reclamation Program + Get $30 OFF!

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

I have a fairly minimalist shoe closet, but it was not always so. I am the first to admit my past self’s infatuation with owning shoes, and at my highest point, when I embarked on this journey of minimalism in a state of constant overwhelm from being surrounded by so much STUFF, I counted more than fifty pairs! Embarrassingly, a majority of which were cheaply made goods of mostly plastic materials, undoubtedly constructed in less than ideal working conditions. My shoe collection now is a fraction of my past, but I still likely wouldn’t pass the Instagram and Pinterest-worthy versions of what a  minimalist shoe collection entails. But who wants their image to fit in a box? All I know is that I am less wasteful and much pickier about adding to my collection. So how did I get from point A to point B?

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Certainly, not without a whole lot of anguish caused by the realization that in order to de-clutter, the shoes had to go elsewhere. And where else might shoes go after being worn by particular feet? I will guarantee you that not many people out there are willing to wear well-loved shoes. And when there are no people wanting your shoes, what fate is there left to befall them but to (try) to return to the Earth? Despite all hope of plastic products bio-degrading eventually, deep down we all know that they will never disappear quickly enough.

Thankfully, a shoe reclamation program with Nisolo exists to increase the longevity of your kicks, while also giving to those in need. I myself participated in the reclamation program a month ago, when more of my shoes were considered unnecessary and ready to be passed on. Creating a more circular fashion model, this system ensures that products and their materials are reused and recycled. In partnership with Soles4Souls, the shoes donated will be given to micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries, such as Haiti, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Moldova and other countries in Africa, for a chance to clean, repair, and re-sell unwanted shoes. These micro-entrepreneurs are given the chance to start their own small business when they would normally not have the resources to do so. Additionally, the shoes are being redistributed to an under-served local population. Nisolo’s goal is to collect 5,000 shoes by 2020. Last month, our household donated six pairs. In return for your donation, Nisolo will give you a $30 OFF discount code for every pair of shoes donated, to be used at their shop at any time. If you’d like to join the movement, here’s how.

I speak about this program in the hopes that those looking to live a life of less can do so with a sigh of relief, rather than with heavy hearts. Additionally, I write in preparation for #GivingTuesday, a day fueled by social media on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to get people rethinking about what it truly means to give. If you are preparing for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, perhaps you’d like to pre-emptively donate shoes, in order to receive a discount code to be used at checkout. More importantly, as the holiday season approaches, may we remember not to be entangled in the “giving process” so much as to tie our wallets down in the name of gifting. Instead, may we look to those in need and ask ourselves the question of how we can make a difference and bring joy.

For those interested in my shoe collection, here is a list of my shoes as they are depicted in the photos, left to right, top to bottom.
Cover photo: Heeled boot from Everlane (a similar one here), Elizabeth Slides from Nisolo, Sofia Slip Ons from Nisolo (a similar shoe)
Photo 1: Harper Chukkas from Nisolo (a similar one here), Paloma Mule from Nisolo, Smoking Shoe from Nisolo
Photo 2: Clifton Sneakers from Eileen Fisher, Huaraches from Nisolo
Photo 3: Isla Slide from Nisolo

Curating Closets: When You Have None

It’s been a while, since I’ve written about curating closets, but closets have been at the forefront of [our] minds lately. Mostly, because we have none. I revealed in this post that our living space on the second floor has absolutely no closet space, not even in the bedroom.

Or pantry space.

Or a bathroom door.

Or a bedroom for that matter, technically. Loft living for the win.

So where to put storage? Our lifestyle is salvaged by a lone closet underneath the stairwell, located on the first floor (in the business space). We’ve placed a rod in this “coat closet” and have hung most of our clothes there, underneath the linens. There’s shelving above it, wherein sits our few sweaters that avoid hangers, to prolong their sweet little lives. The space is limited, and what minimalist closets we once thought we had have proved to be, well, not minimal enough. The husband owns too many tees, while I own too many formal a dress. So, a few words on curating, once again.

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It’s dawned on me that the de-cluttering process is one of the most mindful practices I engage in. And I do it repetitively, because there’s still room for self-improvement, as well as self-reflection. Here’s what this new “space” has reminded me:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I keep returning to this quote. I first discovered it perusing a shelf of cards at Daydream Surfshop in simple black lettering across a blank card. I loved it so much that I gave it as a birthday card to our roommate. When curating closets, I ask myself these two questions: “Does it have a purpose?” and “Do I love it?” Some may say “love” is a bit too extreme of an emotion, but I have found that liking something is not enough to stand the tests of time.

When you must choose between practicality and an item you love, sometimes it pays to choose the loved and less practical.

I was standing in a dressing room stall, holding two pairs of pants in my hands. I had been hiding away in there for thirty minutes or more, and the dressing room lady has checked in on me five times by now. Surely, she must wonder whether I’m in there solely because of the free AC. Not entirely untrue. But also, I was going through a tough dilemma, arguing with myself back and forth. Do I get the pair of practical denim which goes with everything in my closet and which can be worn on most days in casualness, or do I go with the auburn pant that wears beautifully, matches with a lot of my basic tops, but that I might hesitate doing some cooking in, lest it gets dirty? The truth of the matter is, I needed neither. In the end, I had walked out of the store with the pair of red pants in my hand. While practicality would have landed me a pair of denims that have everyday usability, I chose the thing that will make me ultimately the most happy. With something practical, one can wear it every day and never notice anything different. The practical one would not add anything to my life, except maybe a reason to de-clutter other denim pants that I already own. The red pair, on the other hand, will add joy to the every day. Plus, I’ve come to realize that when you love something, you end up using it as much as you possible can anyway. The moral is to choose actions that makes life happy, which is ultimately what we are living for. And when it comes to having items around,  living surrounded with items that you actually care about is the thing that matters most.

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Know what you need for your particular lifestyle.

Speaking of having items around, know what works for you. I have been guilty before of buying things that other people have, with the illusion that I myself may need them too. However, as I grew to know myself, I have found that my lifestyle is quite different from other people’s lifestyle. There were so many things we owned previously that we found we didn’t use at all. A toaster that we had asked for on our wedding registry. Cosmetics that I thought every girl required. A beer tasting set, ’til I realized I no longer wish to consume beer. Specifically for wardrobes, I used to think I needed high heels to compensate for my height, and short dresses to make my legs appear longer. I used to think that tight clothing helped me, and that having my hair curled made me appear more adult. Today, I’d likely grab a tee, prefer overalls, and get itchy when my hair is anywhere near my face. Also, I enjoy the freedom that walking, running, jumping (?) in flat shoes afford me. My lifestyle has slowed down quite a bit, so blogging on couches does not require the same attire as going out to happy hours do. Coffee shops are more forgiving than clubs and house parties. Denim pants are more suited to bread baking than mini skirts. You get the gist.

Learn to recognize sentimentality and guilt. Learn to let the burden go.

The most difficult, and final advice. Too many times have I stared at an item which has not been touched, used, or even looked at for many months [ahem, years], yet still it remained in my possession. Always, the culprit holding me back from saying sayonara was sentimentality, followed by guilt. Handkerchiefs handed down to me from my mom when I was 8 years old, for example. The thought of letting something go makes me feel like I was stabbing someone I cared about in the back with a knife of betrayal. The wild imagery pulls me towards being a “good person” and keeping it for the sake of sentiment, and also, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. We must learn to recognize these moments, and then to ask, “what is it’s purpose?” If the only thing the item does is weigh us down with emotional burden, is that really worth keeping? Surely, your loved one did not mean to cause you such turmoil. I have found that creating space gives a higher ability to receive, while releasing negative physical, emotional and mental energy. Be kind to yourself, and know that the weight of the relationship should not come down to material things.

How about your closet space advice? I could use some inspiration. One day, I hope for that downstairs closet to have decent breathing room.