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.

 

Intentional Living: Half Year Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Aspirational Clutter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Intentional Living: Predawn Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intentional Living: Switching the Lens

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

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

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

This and others. Here, a short list.

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

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

Intentional Living: Gift-Asking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For other specific asking of gifts, try here.

 

Intentional Living: Regaining Tidbits of Our Power

Amidst the chaos surrounding the recent announcements regarding limiting abortion in particular areas of the United States, there surfaces this topic of maintaining our individual rights in decision-making and control over our own bodies (read as: lives). And while it may seem as if we are powerless in our ability to do so, wrangling against governmental institutions, societal norms, and even local community judgement, it is important, now more than ever, to acknowledge our own innate capabilities (women, especially). Instead of worrying about the goings-on of our surroundings, may I suggest starting from a place of here-ness, with our individual self in the very center. Instead of focusing on the things we are told we cannot do, let’s focus on the things that we know within ourselves that we can. Let us regain tidbits of our own power, and trust that in doing so, the world begins to move around that tiny action, regardless of what our society dictates.

There are two ways in which I think people can start regaining tidbits of their power. The first involves being mindful about what we choose to consume. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you are not happy with how you feel about something, change the contexts and the inputs that are coming in. It’s that law of theory that whatever you focus on, you attract more of. Start by making your inputs positive. Be intentional about what you choose to fill your feed. Make them things that connect you to like-minded people, or things that inspire, or make you happy. We need to be more selective about the inputs we are allowing into our life. We are in control of making the situation worse (or better).

Following people who make you feel bad (even those who do so unintentionally) by whatever they are “selling” is not really what you need. Likewise, by following news such as abortion laws and by following Instastories of other people protesting against such news, you are allowing all that negative energy into your world which does not really have a direct effect in your life. In reality, we know what is possible and regardless of how you feel about it or which camp you sit in, the choice is ultimately up to you and if you think a location can prevent you from accessing that, then you are already succumbing to a little bit of the control that you are trying so hard to escape from. On the flip side, by removing those inputs all together, by ignoring the goings-on in that system and trusting in your OWN system which is led by your inner guidance, we are creating a place that is ultimately uplifting, and may I say, more applicable, let alone real. As a true believer in our realities being shaped by our own minds and belief systems, I don’t spend my time or energy wasting on the rest.

The second way to regain our power centers around how we react to what we do end up consuming. Some have a difficult time dissociating from the external goings-on of the surrounding environment, or some simply choose not to (which is by no means an incorrect way to live but rather just a different one), and for these people, the second way to regain power involves the following advice.

You have ultimate control over what you choose to infiltrate your boundaries and give your power away to. If you think about the colleague or friend that is continually putting you down, pointing out your flaws, or instilling some insecurity, you have two choices. You could make what they say or do mean everything to you, or you could make that mean nothing. We need to start empowering women by having them visualize how many people currently hold some of their power in this way. How many people (and places and things) holds little bits of power – where you are waiting for THEM to change and respond differently, to make YOU feel better in your body? And when you think about it like that, you realize that YOU have given all of this power away, to people who YOU have decided has a right to a say. With this really simple visualization, you can call it back in. You need to take the dependency that is scattered among other people, those little bits of yourself that you’ve allowed other people to affect and control, and reel it back in. We need to remember that NO ONE is going to ever change enough to get the anxiety out of our own bodies. This is how we’ve been keeping ourselves powerless, in a way. Able-bodied woman have choice far beyond other people and so we need to look for where we’ve intentionally given that power and where we can easily call it back.

And so I guess, in much the same way, the latter advice follows the former.

As you can see here, worrying about what someone says we can and cannot do is yet another way we give away our power. Interestingly, as more and more people “stand” up against the injustice of this recent abandonment of women’s rights, more and more people are giving up their own power by acknowledging that it is so, and by assuming that we can’t do differently, if we wanted to. In essence, our acknowledgement is actually what is causing the very things we wish to change to be. What our minds believe to exist, does, and likewise, the opposite is true.

I’ve been told that I tend to live in my own world. Which is partially true. I refuse to partake in keeping up with the news or choosing a political party or what have you, because as far as I am concerned, none of it affects me. And people have resisted this notion, calling this mindset privilege, which it possibly is, but I simply believe in an individual’s ability to do as they please. That’s always how it’s been for me. Some may call that courage and others ignorance. But by being even a tiny bit involved (emotionally, physically, mentally) in the government systems that are in place, we are ultimately following THEIR system and allowing them to do what they had set out to do, which is to have power and control. Instead, I just ignore it and live my truth. I follow only one system, and that’s my inner guidance system. If more people did the same, there would be no need to stand up to a government that does not have the power to control anyone. We regain our power by beginning with ourselves, and living life with our self in the center. I trust that the world will move around us.

Intentional Living: Early Morning Routine

Early mornings speak to me, and always have. This isn’t to say that I have always been the first one up at the crack of dawn. That would be my sister. And admittedly, I have a history in my family of sleeping in when I can. But I am the person who is quick with getting up. Not in the rushed sort of way, but when my eyes flutter open and I wipe away the sleep, my energy levels are already almost at one hundred percent. There isn’t any need to roll around in bed, dawdle in the covers, pretend that it was still night time. And stepping outdoors in the wee hours when the sun has just peeked over the horizon to lend the few stray rays of light is probably one of my favorite feelings in the world. Granted, it’s California, and there’s no need to fight off a bone-shaking cold (most of the year, anyway), but there’s something about the way mornings smell that really attracts the soul. It smells fresh, and full of opportunity.


As of late, I’ve definitely honed in to a new early morning routine what with taking on the early morning baker’s shift at Rye Goods. Three days a week, I begin my days at one thirty in the morning, early enough for the late night party-goers in downtown Santa Ana to still be mingling back to their cars on their way home. Although the getting up is a bit rough, I set my alarm at the very last second so that there isn’t any other choice but to get up right away, and once I’m up, I’m going. My first few hours of the day entail baking off over one TWO hundred pastries and loaves with a fellow baker. This may seem like a fast-paced job, but there is a slowness to bread that only a baker will understand.

Our mission: to be finished with baking by five thirty in the morning so that the delivery crew can get these baked goods to local coffee shops in time for opening.

Our job: a smattering of duties that requires presence of mind, but at the same time, has become memorized by rote motions. The danishes get a dash of sugar, the cookies get sprinkled with sea salt, but oh, do remember that there are five minutes left for the pop-tarts before they start to turn too dark of a color. We have a timeline, but the baking can’t be rushed. The pastries will proof on their own time, the bread will take almost half an hour to rise, and you can’t cut the banana bread until it’s calm and cool.

At six in the morning, I leave the bakery smelling like bread, and you would think, tired from lifting trays of pastries, juggling sixteen lodge pans, and washing a ton of dishes. But in general, I walk out with a smile on my face to the sound of birds chirping as they wake to greet the morning sun. I see the lights inside neighbors’ homes, turned on as they prepare for a day of work. I catch a hint of the first few rays of morning light. Sometimes, I even finish my shift before the sun is ready to get up. I walk to my car with a sense of peace.

On these mornings that I bake bread, I come home to a cat, ready and begging for his breakfast, and a still sleeping husband who stirs when I walk up the stairs. I feed the cat, turn on the coffee machine in case it’s an espresso kind of day to allow it to heat up, and feed my starter. I’ll either do a smattering of movements around the kitchen, like put away last night’s dishes or organize a few things, or sometimes I’ll change out of my bakers clothes and sidle into bed for thirty minute rest before my husband wakes.

When he gets up for work, I usually get up, too. I prepare breakfast, pour coffee if needed, and write down a to-do list in my planner. We prepare our lunches (usually, baker days are my days off from dentistry), sit down for breakfast, and talk about what we have for the day or what we dreamt of at night while sipping from mugs of coffee. Occasionally, our roommate joins us as she prepares her lunch prior to heading off to work.

By eight thirty, they both leave for work, and I wash our dishes, pick up the the cat litter, clean around a bit while my energy is still high, and then when the house has quieted from the absence of both my husband and roommate, I lie down to make up for lost sleep and nap for a few hours.


On days when I am not a bread baker, I also practice slow mornings. After a good night’s sleep, I wake up around the same time that I would be getting home from my bread baking shift. If I am a bit sleepy, the cat is sure to let me know that it’s time to eat. I usually slip out of bed, and the first thing I do is pick up the glass of water by my bedside. I finish the left over water, which usually is full from when I’ve placed it there the night before, and walk to the kitchen counter while the cat runs and meows. I refill his kitty bowl, and when he’s busy eating, I refill my glass, and walk slowly back to bed. The cat will join us when he’s done.

It is at this time that I pick up the book that I had lain on the floor by my house slippers, and open it up to read. If I’m lucky, I’ll get thirty minutes before my husband wakes. Thirty minutes of reading is a habit that I started to require of myself this year. It’s a way to give myself that self-care. Thirty minutes is never enough.

By the time my husband is out of the shower, we repeat some of the same activities that we do on my days off. However, once the morning conversations and tidying up has ended and the house is all to myself once again (my dentistry shifts don’t usually start until 11am), I usually sit down on my yoga mat and do my daily hour of yoga in the first few hours of my day. (On baker days, I reserve yoga for the first few moments after I wake up from my morning nap). I don’t do yoga as a chore to be done, another check box to be addressed, another golden star next to my name. I do yoga to take stock. To notice how my body is feeling, to gauge how I should treat myself for the rest of the day. If there’s a soreness, then I need to be slower in my movements. If there’s a tension, then I need to be lighter in my mood. If there’s impatience, then it’s a day to practice grace. Once I’ve figured out what I need for the day, it begins.

I sit down at my computer and write. Not always for this blog. Sometimes for others, sometimes, only for myself. Sometimes I pick up a pen, and other times, I turn on the screen. Not always in paragraph form, sometimes I write short poems to share, mini-monologues for Instagram, lists of dreams for my planner. Sometimes, I even do the bland and write e-mails.

And therein lies another habit that I gift myself. First the reading, then the yoga, now the writing. All of these I try to do daily, and all of these I sneak into my morning routine. Notice that when you add bread to the mix, I essentially do everything that I love in during my first few waking hours. I set up my day not for success, as would be ideal for most people, but for a bit of happiness, a bit of calm, and a whole lot of life.

I make a huge effort to not pick up my phone in those first few hours. The phone used to be the first thing I touched when I opened my eyes. It’s the first thing people do, judging from how many people view my Instastories after an early morning baking shift. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. But embracing slow-living means avoiding the fast-paced interruptions of social stories, advertisements, and overall digital consumption that goes hand-in-hand with a phone. In fact, since we’ve moved to this home (six months ago!), my phone has not rested at my bedside table, but rather, at a far-away-sill where one must get up with awareness to go and pick it up.

I also make an effort to not open my emails until I’ve done other things. I’m not ready to jump straight-away into doing what other people need from me. I want to have the time for myself, for my life. The e-mail requests can wait a few hours. My mind needs the reset.

Lastly, I like to avoid additional noise. My sister and brother love to turn on music in the mornings, especially during their morning shower. My husband loves to peruse reddit and watch videos once he can pry his eyes from sleep. My dad turns on the TV. I avoid all forms. I’m not exactly a music hater but for the past few years, I’ve really embraced the silence. Even my commute to work is quiet. I would occasionally listen to a podcast, but most days, I drive without distraction. I’d prefer to be without cacophony. So it makes sense that no music plays in the early mornings. The sounds you would hear would be the birds chirping, the cat meowing, the cars on their work commute driving by the window, the keyboard click-clacking, the coffee dripping, the sound of me crunching on a slice of toast, and maybe the computer humming.

It goes without saying that the early mornings are for me, and me alone. And that slow living requires not so much that you do things slow, or that you do less. Only Instagram would have you believing this is so. Slow living is really, at the root of it, about intentionality. And I live every morning with as much intention as I can muster. Only the most important things are allowed in those first few hours. It sets up the rest of your day for, maybe not success, but something much more important which is happiness.
Whatever happens to the rest of the day happens. But it’s nice to know that by 9am, you’ve already lived your very best.

More importantly, what about you guys? Morning routines to share?