Recent Reads: The Creative Habit

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words of Affirmation

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

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

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

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

Intentional Living: How Minimalism Creates Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Guide to Staycations

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

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

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

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

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

Here, a few guidelines for creating the perfect staycation.

Break Routine

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

Avoid Screens

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

Connect with People

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

Act Like A Tourist In Your Own City

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

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

Recent Reads: The Power of Habits

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

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


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

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

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

Mushroom and Sweet Potato Tacos with Almond Sauce

In the Kitchen is a series created to inspire others to cook more for themselves. It’s an effort to make healthful eating attainable in a zero-plastic way. It’s an ode towards the one life hack that keeps us well on our financial track. Hoping to slow people down this fast-paced track, I suggest giving up the dine-out and to-go habit, even for just a day a week. Some recipes are meant to be shared with your community, lest it be two or twenty. Others, more decadent and perhaps meant entirely for yourself. In either case, these are some of our tried, true, and favorited. 

This recipe, like most of our recent ones, is adapted from Kinfolk Table. At first, I thought maybe I would greatly dislike this recipe. Sweet potato and mushroom translates to, well, mush in my head, and I thought the combination between this and soft tacos topped with an almond paste would make me feel a bit like an old person trying to eat. Surprisingly, with a few changes that added texture and crunch to the taco, it became not so much the case. Also, the almond sauce and sweet potato makes the taco a bit sweet in my opinion, but by topping the tacos with home-made Siracha sauce, I was able to add another dimension that really elevated the taste.

I would admit that the prep work is not the quickest. I found myself focusing entirely on the recipe. I think that the best way to go about the prep work is to prep the potatoes and let them bake in the oven. As they are cooking, the mushrooms are best made next. And lastly, the almond sauce. Everything should finish around the time that the sweet potatoes are ready. A great thing to do would be to pre-prep the different parts of the taco prior, and then simply re-heat and assemble the tacos during dinner time. Despite the long prep-time, this isn’t a very difficult recipe to make. It would make a great tapa for any dinner party or happy hour gathering. Just have someone else make the cocktail.

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Ingredients:

For the almond paste:

  • 1 large head of roasted garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup of canola oil

For the tacos:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Large pinch of ground cinnamon
  • Large pinch of ground cumin
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 10 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Twelve 6 inch corn tortillas
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Sliced Almonds or Chopped Pumpkin Seeds

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The Process:

  1. If you haven’t any roasted garlic, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, cut a garlic in half, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season the cut sides with salt. Press the garlic halves together and wrap in foil. Roast in the oven for one hour. Transfer the foil to a rack and reserve for the sauce. This should be done prior to prepping this meal.
  2. Meanwhile, cut up the sweet potatoes and toss with cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until tender. You can easily see why this is the rate-limiting step.
  3. Next, place the almonds for the sauce in a medium sized bowl and add enough boiling water to cover them by an inch or so. Let soak for approximately ten minutes, then drain.
  4. While they are soaking, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about three minutes or until the mushrooms begin to release liquid. Add the three cloves of minced garlic and cook for five more minutes while stirring continuously so the garlic does not burn. The mushrooms should be a golden color. Stir in the parsley, remove from heat, and set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, using the same skillet, heat one tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Cook the shallot, paprika, coriander, and a pinch of salt for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallot becomes translucent and soft. Transfer the shallot to a food processor.
  6. Drain the almonds and add to the food processor, along with the vegetable stock, lemon zest, and if ready, the roasted garlic squeezed from the skin. Pulse until creamy. With the mixer running on high, pour the remaining 3/4 cup of olive oil and the canola oil through the feed tube and continue processing until the oils are completely incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and reserve.
  7. The sweet potatoes should be finishing up soon. Heat the tortillas directly on the stovetop flame for thirty seconds each side. This is Mr. Debtist’s favorite part. He has a particular preference for a bit of char along the edges. Me, I’m just happy if it’s warm.
  8. When potatoes are ready, assemble the tacos by filling each tortilla with sweet potatoes and mushroom. Plop a decent serving of the almond sauce. Top with cilantro leaves and either sliced almonds or chopped pumpkin seeds. The seeds are what give it texture. Drizzle siracha generously or to your liking. Enjoy!

Note: This is one of those meals that don’t have to be piping hot to taste good, which is why it makes as a great thing to serve for tapas or appetizers at a friendly gathering. 

Getting to Know: Gina Stovall of Two Days Off

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

Gina Stovall is a climate scientist and the founder of the ethical clothing line Two Days Off. Her move from New York City to Los Angeles catapulted a series of changes that had her pursuing a slower, more intentional life, one which involves a balanced mesh between her practical implementation of climate solutions and her creative love for sewing. Below, we chat about her career(s), her thoughts on sustainability, a hobby-turned-side-hustle, her love for coffee and plant life, and mindful living, in general.

Sooooo, may we start at the beginning? Could you give our readers a little synopsis about who you are and what you do, in case they are not yet familiar?

Absolutely! I am Gina, and I am the founder and designer behind Two Days Off, an environmentally conscious clothing line. I am originally from NYC but relocated to Los Angeles with my partner a year and a half ago; shortly thereafter I founded my Two Days Off. My professional background is in geology and I build a career conducting climate change solutions and working with cities on implementing climate solutions. My concern for sustainability and their societal implications led to my personal interest in  intentional and mindful living, minimalism, and conscious capitalism which I talk a lot about on my personal instagram. All of these interests and values are interwoven into Two Days Off.

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Meet Gina Stovall. 

Out of curiosity, how has being a climate scientist influenced the way you consume and purchase things? 

I never saw consumption as a bad thing. As a scientist you learn that it is all about maintaining a balance within a system. The issue with climate change and environmental degradation is that we humans over-consume the planets resources, and do so at astonishing rates. I use to get anxiety thinking that I can’t consume anything if I want to help get humanity out of this mess, but that is unrealistic in the society we live in. Instead I just look with a critical eye first if I really need something or think it will bring significant value to my life. Then I consider how long it will last. Is it well made and can be used and passed down, or will I have to throw it out at some point. Next I consider the materials it is made out of. Will they biodegrade? Did someone destroy a habitat to make this? And finally I think of the embodied energy it takes to produce it and try to find a second hand option so I am not creating additional demand for a product that may exist already. I know if seems like a lot to consider, because it is! I think most people are “trained” to buy the cheapest, most readily available and well marketed option, but it is going to take a lot of people being a lot more considerate and pushing companies to produce products that are smarter for our species to survive the climate crisis. 

I love the way you approach this. It seems to me that you have a very positive outlook on one’s ability to have an impact in preserving our environment. I, too, am a firm believer that our individual, everyday choices can make a difference. Would you mind sharing some of your best life hacks regarding a lifestyle of less waste. 

I am very optimistic about our future. Peace activist, author and president of the SGI Daisaku Ikeda has said “Hope is a decision… even in the face of the severe crises confronting humanity today, I cannot side with the advocates of apocalypse. We can best negotiate the challenges we face when guided by hope, not when motivated by fear.” I completely agree. Humankind has immense potential. We already have all the technologies to solve the climate crisis, all that is left is to harness the will to implement them fast enough. My biggest hack on living a lower-waste lifestyle is to engage on the issues politically. It’s our policies and regulations that help drive forward the biggest impact and make it easier for us as consumer to have access to low waste-products. All the work shouldn’t be on the purchaser and the power we hold is to make our lawmakers hold companies accountable. Then I say vote with your dollar. Don’t support companies that are okay with sending you a bunch of plastic waste when there are great sustainable options out there for example. Two Days Off is a tiny business in the early stages and yet to turn a profit, but I have found a way to send eco-friendly packaging and use natural and recycled materials so big companies should too. And finally, reconsider if you really need something and buy only what you decided you do need or really want. Lastly, for the things you don’t want anymore, never throw them out. Repurpose, recycle, donate, et cetera. 

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Eco-friendly packaging of Two Days Off.

While all of this is great, I can see how it can seem a bit overwhelming to someone just looking to start a journey of less waste. I was hoping to probe your mind on the importance of grace when it comes to sustainable living.

I love that you used the term grace, because that is precisely what we need to have with each other and ourselves when trying to live sustainably. If people are policing one another it will discourage more from making the small steps we need to overcome the environmental and social crisis we face. Success will be everyone imperfectly trying to be sustainable, not a handful of people doing it perfectly.

Let’s talk about Two Days Off! From where did the inspiration come? Was it born directly from your line of scientific work, or was it mostly a creative outlet that required exploring? Perhaps a marriage of both?

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“I have been sewing since I was a teen.”

I have been sewing since I was a teen. I’ve always loved designing and playing with textiles so in that sense Two Days Off is a creative outlet. But my desire to create a business out of my hobby came a few years ago when I started learning about the fashion industry and fast fashion in particular. I had very little insight into the massive contribution to climate change fashion played, nor did I understand that most of the clothes I was purchasing came from the hands of garment workers working in unsafe and at times violent factories. I took making my clothes more seriously in 2016 and started to share it online. Over time and with the urging of friends I realized there may be a space in the slow fashion market for me. The slow fashion community is small and not everyone had the time or interest in making their own clothes so I wanted to contribute to the list of sustainable options out there and help shift the industry in my own way. I make all of my pieces from deadstock, essentially recycled, fabric here in LA. I take a lot of time designing and constructing pieces that are durable and hopefully timeless. I try to minimize waste, and any textile waste I produce gets recycled. 

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Dead-stock sourced fabrics turned into timeless pieces.

I have seen your clothing line and am absolutely in L.O.V.E. with the minimalist styles and stream-lined cuts. I, myself, own the Olivia top in white and the Suki crop top in Slate Blue. I love the versatility of both! As a person who tries to make getting dressed as simple a process as possible, do tell, what are your ideal criteria when it comes to your own clothing choices, and how does that translate into the pieces that you choose to make?

Thank you so much! I, too, want getting dressed to be simple, fast, and fun. I want to feel polished and even a bit elegant, but know that I will be comfortable all day. If I don’t notice my clothes except when I look in the mirror then I know that I am comfortable. I design clothes made from natural fibers that I know will breathe well, feel good on the skin, and last for years. I spend a lot of time sourcing my deadstock fabrics because it’s all about the handfeel, color and print for me. And lastly, I like to design silhouettes that are beautiful, unfussy, and all about the quiet details like a pocket here or a subtle neck line that hits at the perfect place. 

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Minimalist approach to getting dressed.

You and I are very similar in that we have science-related professions by day and passion-driven projects by night/weekend/every other free moment possible. As a dentist-turned-baker who happens to write on the side, I often get questioned how my lifestyle could possibly reflect slow-living. And yet, it does. I often say that slow-living isn’t so much what we DO, but rather, HOW we do it. Would you like to share your perspective on how, despite a busy schedule, slow-living is still the lifestyle that you embody? 

I think that your perspective is spot on for me too. When I lived in New York City I worked full time but had all my weekends and evenings and despite that I always felt on the go and busy. Since moving to LA and starting my business and working full time, sure I always have a lot to do, but I also have the balance of going to the beach and resting my mind or taking an evening to be inspired. I am not about rapid growth with my business, I want to do things true to my values and that takes time. I am growing slowly and enjoying the process. That’s how I live my life now, slowly and despite doing a lot I still think this is the mentality of slow living.

I see that you share the same affinity for indoor plants and coffee making as I do. What is your favorite plant and coffee drink (to make at home or order to-go on a busy day)?

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Coffee and plants fueling a side-hustle.

My favorite coffee drink right now is a flat white! I love the frothy texture of the milk and am still working on getting that same quality of froth at home. Favorite plant is very very hard. I love all of my plant babies so much. But if I have to choose, I would have to say my monstera deliciosa because mine has had a major growth spurt recently after having a really rough winter. I finally found a spot in the house she just loves and I just love letting her take up as much space as she can (something I am learning to do more of!).

Do you have any references (books, articles, or podcasts) that you would recommend for those wishing to learn more about environmental solutions?

Yes! the books Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (I liked the audio book because it was so long!) and Goodbye, Things but Fumio Sasaki totally changed how I perceive my material possessions. And Drawdown by Paul Hawken is excellent to get a feel for what the solutions to climate change are so you can spread the word and advocate for them! I also love Simple Matters by Erin Boyle, she has a blog that inspires me to live more sustainably and her book is packed with solutions and lifestyle hacks.

Simple Matters is one of my favorite books. Erin Boyle is just amazing, and her book is part of what helped me be, not only okay, but absolutely in LOVE with a life of less. Last question: Where to next? 

That’s a big question, I am one of those people with a pharmacy receipt-long list of next projects but immediately I have one major and ambitious priority. I want to make Two Days Off circular and share more of the process behind that. I am thinking about creative ways to handle waste and consider every aspect of my products, cradle to grave. 

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For those interested in Two Days Off clothing, may I be the first to say that her articles of clothing are so very versatile and comfortable. For those curious about how the styles fit a 5’1″ petite 30 year old, see how I styled them on my trip to Seattle, WA. I would highly recommend them and I’ve got my sights on Indya dress next! The first four photos in this post were captured by Summer Blues Collective, and the last four were captured by Two Days Off.

Small Space Living

Tip 06// The Most Sustainable Couch

I am thirty, and I have still yet to own a couch of my choosing. Every couch that has permeated my living space has either been already provided by previous tenants or handed down to me by someone I know. What does that say about me, exactly?

While it is quite obvious that our personal successes are not defined by an ability to own a couch, I think it is implied that a medical professional of thirty would have been able to afford one by now. But buying a couch is no easy thing. In fact, buying ANYTHING for me is never an easy thing these days. The entire process involves a hefty amount of serious pondering and a mild case of deep-skin writhing.

In this line of work, I am approached by others in general for my thoughts on stuff. In a sense, my job here is to help make a value judgement. I am presented with the following questions: Who made it? How is it made? Where is it made? What materials are used? Why is it necessary? Which option is best, in terms of sustainability both in terms of the environment, the social implications, the global effects, and least importantly, my personal repercussions. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a matcha whisk, or a set of pajamas. It’s even more pressure on large scale purchases, such as a brand new couch.

I have been in search for a sustainable couch for years. Ever since my husband (then-fiance) and I moved into our own place two months after I graduated dental school in 2016. Specifically, I have looked for a couch wherein I can trace exactly where it was made, whose hands were used to make them, and in what environmental conditions. I have yet to find one that comes close. Most furniture companies don’t even bother to tag couches as sustainable, and those that do only involve a small level of sustainability (like using reclaimed wood without any consideration for the fabrics of the upholstery) that I cannot even take them seriously.

So then I started to reach out to acquaintances about possibly fabricating a couch. Our favorite piece of furniture in our home is a 12 foot dining table hand-made by the two girls who provided our wedding furniture. We thought maybe we could do the same with the couch. I reached out to a fellow wood-worker-baker and an at-home clothing seamstress to ask about making a sustainable wood frame and sourcing end-of-the-mill fabrics. But sourcing the fabric will take lots of work researching jobbers and the wood-worker friend was busy with current projects as well as a baking schedule. It wasn’t the path to take.

So we turned to the next sustainable option, which is to buy a used and unwanted couch from Craigslist, which would prevent an additional item from entering a landfill. I know that it would put us in the same spot as before, owning a couch that’s a hand-me-down of sorts, but at least it would be a couch of our choosing. When we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at a really nice AirBNB, and we fell in love with a mid-century modern couch in their living room.

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I was surprised to find a similar couch made by West Elm selling at Craigslist for $800. The same couch is still selling at West Elm for double the price. While West Elm sells some sustainable products, couches are unfortunately not one of them. But sustainability as defined by environmental impact is achieved with this option, and the fact that it was already owned means the buying of this Craigslist couch does not have an ADDITIONAL social impact or global effect, except for the positive effect of side swiping it from the landfill. So where’s the hitch?

It all came down to sustainability as defined by my personal life. $800 is no chump change. Maybe  in proportion to brand new couches (why do they cost so much?) $800 seems like a steal. Perhaps it is. But in terms of my personal financial goals, $800 is almost double what we set aside each month for travel. $800 is almost three months worth of groceries, or eight months worth of dining out. $800 is a year’s worth of cat food for Theo, and probably all the Christmas and birthday presents we want to buy. It is one-third of our portion of the mortgage, which is helping us build equity – can a couch do that? It is 12% of our monthly loan payment, which is buying us freedom. How much freedom can a couch buy you?

In the end, we chose the most sustainable couch, which is the couch we already had. It buys us freedom from the cycle of continually searching for something better. It helps build us equity by not taking way from our ability to build equity. It fuels our financial goals, without taking away from our time. In the end, it came down to the answer of not which couch is best, but which couch is good enough. That’s what sustainability is all about.

I  sometimes wonder how well these superlatives, and our quest for the best of something, end up serving us. What about the possibility of replacing better or best with good enough? The reality of my own day-to-day life is that living simply and keeping a pared down collection of well-loved items often isn’t about having the best. It’s about making the best of what I already have.

Erin Boyle, ReadingMyTeaLeaves, Simple Matters

Like Erin, we search for ways to make the best of what we have. It’s the ultimate way to live without forever needing to chase. In our space, we have shades where walls should be, wooden panels where doors should be, and a bed where some might put a living room. But it IS enough, and there we still sleep soundly.