Thoughts On: Slowing Down

In 2020, I suffered from a period of overwhelm. It was brought on by the flooding of current event updates disguised as news but served unto me as advertisement. The only way I knew how to save myself was to shut off my phone from all the noise.

I found that the proliferation of chatter was the reason behind useless anxiety caused by the need to be plugged into the information (and misinformation) of others. Ironically, this connectedness with the living world led to a disconnectedness from the self which resulted in confusion and agony, leading up to the miseries plaguing our species – doubt, fear, uncertainty, etc.

I wonder, upon looking at those around me, whether the proximity of our noses to our cell phone screens is the factor behind the lack of proximity to other human beings. I wonder how the big companies have won. How the attention economy has grown so that we pay companies in terms of our precious brain cells rather than dollar bills – and when exactly did they decide to target our thinking power and our time?

It’s like they knew that dialing the volume meters on our social media apps is the exact method by which they could silence our voices. By letting us share experiences, they took away the motivation to make our very own – a robot army full of knowledge and lacking any real stimuli.

It worked, you know?

Shutting off my phone to shut up the noise.

Turning off the media was when I started to hear myself.

The cadence of my neuronal firing returned to a humanly beat and reality was returned to me. It isn’t a matter of never subscribing to knowledge or information, but rather, one should learn from slow-living and be concerned by the RATE with which we gather information – lest we be reduced to a tiny node in the homogenous network created by a handful of “thinkers” spreading a singular message of their choosing.

I hope to impress upon others the importance of processing information with adequate space and in due time – the factors that increase our overall human experience and reconnect us to being a part of this planet. It is no longer a matter of having experienced enough if you aren’t even immersed in the experience itself. At that point, it’s like you experience nothing at all.

It bears repeating again and again: Slow. it. down.

The True Cause of a Spending Problem

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

Do you have a spending problem? Are you someone who just can’t make ends meet? Have you found that no matter how much you increase your income, you can’t break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle? Do you find yourself shopping when you are stressed or tired or sad? Perhaps this post is for you.

It may not be what you want to hear, but the truth is this:

A spending problem is the result of not knowing who you want to be, or where you want your life to go.

Emotional spending occurs because a void needs filling. Unfortunately, more often than not, the spending itself fails at solving the problem. Rather, it extenuates it by creating a loop cycle that enlarges the void and brings us further from our true goals.

For example, have you ever tried to treat your stress by shopping online? At first, it felt good, but after a while, regret starts to sink in and your newfound purchase falls short of delivering lasting happiness, not to mention instantly decreases in value. Does it sound familiar to you? Because it sure does to me.

Not knowing who we want to be or what we want our life to look like makes it difficult to know what is worthy of our time and money. If we do not have a clear purpose, goal, or ambition, then it becomes easy to fall into the cycle of spending our resources on what people around us promote, rather than what we need. Because what we gain was never truly for us, it doesn’t fill the void at all, resulting in spending again, and again, and again.

If you want to treat a spending problem, my financial advice is to start with you. Define who you want to be and where you want your life to go. At least, that’s what we did and it worked for us. Because I used to be like you, too. I had $30,000 in credit card debt. I had more than half a million dollars in student loans. I went shopping every weekend in my early twenties and bought avocado toast while I was in dental school. I had a serious spending problem, until I realized who I was and what I wanted.

I am a simple person. I enjoy reading books and baking bread. I find joy in quiet time and yoga. My mind is healthiest when I am outdoors collecting rocks on a beach. I wanted a life of financial freedom. I wanted to be able to choose a job to my liking. I wanted the autonomy to work in a way that is aligned to my values. I want the freedom to call my own hours, to choose days of rest, to pursue other passions, and I understood that I couldn’t do that if I chose material stuff, trends, and status symbols. That’s how this all started.

I was lucky enough to find a financial advisor in my early years who delved deeply into what I wanted for my future. It was only then, when I saw the big picture, did I have the motivation to get rid of my spending problem. And if I am being honest, without a clear picture of where I wanted my life to be, I would just as likely have reverted back to my previous ways. It was the clarity that kept me going.

The true cause of a spending problem is not being intentionally clear enough about your life.

Here are good places to start:

Related Posts:

Getting Back to Okay

We inhabit a world built around a fallacy: that the more we have, the happier we will be. For the fortunate, they reach the “place-of-more” earlier than others, only to realize that they aren’t any happier than when they were ten years old. I am one of those unfortunate fortunates.

I understand that being exposed to this knowledge is a privilege that very few in today’s world experience. People spend entire lives getting to where they want to be. I spent twenty six years, and then decided, it was time to turn back. I graduated from dental school and landed a dream job with my esteemed dream title hand-in-hand with my dream husband and I felt miserable. Every day was a battle, and I knew that I was happier when I was fifteen and didn’t have a dollar to my name. So, I set out to undo the damage, in reverse.

I read books on happiness and living with less, learning about American consumerism and global waste, searched for alternative lifestyles with better environmental and social impact, while also searching for myself daily. I read up on how the mind works, how we process information, how we organize our lives, and most importantly, how to find joy – all with the hope of making sense of things and finding direction. I was lost somewhere underneath the possessions I owned (and thus owned me), the expectations people had, and the norms that wrap our society like a safety blanket. A mountain of more made and meant to keep me (the real me) buried and confused.

The undoing of it all was quite a process. Not only did I have to unwrite the narrative that I told myself, I had to do it while the world repeated that narrative and threw it at my face. I found that the path to what I call “getting back to okay” required one tiny step at a time. Ironically, it was much the same process as having more, but repeated with the thought of having less. I re-programed my mind around ideas and notions that I learned in my youth, in the exact same order that I learned them.

For example, I first learned of materialism when I was a child, watching television commercials for the latest toys or by playing the comparisons game with classmates, who arrived at school with new clothes, notebooks and backpacks. Those were my first exposures to wanting more of material things, and I spent many years trying to collect more stuff. So of course, this was the first thing I got rid of. Decluttering was my process of learning how to live with less.

The second thing I learned to seek is the approval of others. As a child, I tried my best to be agreeable, with my parents, teachers, friends … even people I just met. This turned into a desire for networking in my late teens and early twenties. I spent years trying to make connections and being a yes-woman. That was the second thing I rejected. I decluttered my relationships, almost in a non-conventional way, and kept only close family and a few friends. Rejecting my relationships meant freeing myself from the ties that would have the strongest pull on how I lived my life.

Looking back on it, I had to declutter my relationships in order to negate social norms. It was in high school that I learned the “ideal” progression of college, a profession, a marriage, a home, a family and finally, a good retirement. The thing with norms is that there are always people around you trying to put you in a box. Of course, with the best of intentions, but without really any thought as to what individual wants and needs you may have. I truly believe that if I hadn’t closed myself off from most of my relationships, like a hermit who retreats into the woods, I would not have unlocked the alternative lifestyles that I did. It is difficult to live differently when whispering “wisdoms” turn into urgent persuasions to stick to the status quo. I loved my friends and fam, but self-discovery was something best done on my own.

The last and final thing I decluttered was my achievements and accolades. This was the most difficult for me because I so closely tied what I did to who I was, which are not the same thing. Letting go of my notions of myself felt a lot like losing my identity. It was one of those weird paradoxes: you must lose your identity in order to find yourself.

I spent the last few years discovering what I wanted to do in life, taking up odd jobs as a baker, writer, dog walker, and dentist. Early 2020 slowed me down enough to realize I was approaching this self-discovery with the idea of more, more, more again. Unwriting narratives is hard work!

In March, I stopped dog-sitting to prevent social contact. I closed the bakery that I spent all of 2019 building. I reduced my dentistry hours. And each time I chose less, I got closer to becoming who I was. After all my experiences, I had enough confidence to take one giant leap of faith. In November, I quit my dental job altogether and really let go of everything I associated myself with.

I cannot put into words how it felt. Like a giant weight was lifted and I was unearthed from all that darkness. It was the first time since graduating dental school that I saw light.

Life isn’t perfect, I’ll tell you that. It never is, which is what makes it beautiful. But I’ve gotten to a place where I feel okay. There is peace that comes with that. I want to stay in this space. I fear that getting to a place of “great” is just another way of getting “more” out of life. Perhaps we all need to aim for some middle ground in this already tumultuous world we’re been born into. Perhaps our new marker for success should be getting back to being okay.

What Could Happen If You Let Everything Go?

Aside from sounding like the title of a Dr. Seuss book, the question I pose today can cause a lot of emotions to surface. Raised in a society where the words “less” and “nothing” are deemed failure words, I myself used to feel fear with the idea of letting things go. In my youth, I took pride in being a “yes-woman” – a multi-tasking energetic force that can only be caused by extreme naivete. Today, I find myself in a much different place.

I have learned that letting go can create the negative space necessary for growth and opportunity. Letting go of material things that ground us to a hedonistic lifestyle can free us to alternative models. Letting go of our identity can access our fullest potential. Letting go of our biases can open our minds in a way that leads to kindness. Letting go of our wants can lead to inner peace. But most importantly, letting go of the fear of letting go is the first step to starting the journey to a higher way of living.

While I wouldn’t consider myself a wordsmith, I am keen on word selection. It is, after all, what I do. I often wondered why there was negative emotion tied to the idea of letting go, and I have found that many people ask the wrong question. Often times, the same question is worded with one letter changed: What would happen if you let everything go.

That “w” is enough to confuse even the surest of minimalists.

Letting go of everything would lead to negative repercussions. For example, letting go of my job would certainly lead to unemployment, less money, and no job identity.

Sure, giving up everything would not necessarily lead to better things.

But you know what? It could.

Letting go of work could lead to more travel, more peace, a new identity, a better future, a more enjoyable profession, and a more secure financial situation. It’s not definite, but it could.

We need to start switching the language around letting things go into a more positive one.

What could happen if you let everything go?

Absolutely anything is possible.

How to Fall In Love with a Kitchen

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

When we first moved in, I used to hate our kitchen. I never said it out loud because I didn’t want it to be true. I took feeling this way to be a sign of failure. Oh goodness, I chose a home with a kitchen I didn’t love. Woe is me. It was as if the kitchen negated all the other good decisions we made about buying a home. For months, I couldn’t separate myself from the idea of wanting to replace everything in that space. “One day”, I kept telling myself.

If you told me to make a list of all the things I disliked about the kitchen, I’d tell you “Easy.”

  • The kitchen faced the alleyway where the garages went, an alleyway leading up to a community trash bin followed by a weekend club called La Santa, from whence loud music always came.
  • The location of the kitchen was tucked away from direct sunlight during most of the day, with a small glimmer of hope shining through a lone window in the wee hours of the morning. If you happened to miss waking up early enough to catch it, then all you get for the day is indirect sun.
  • The counter-tops were of the v. cheap variety (with a capital V.). You know the kind, made of chipboard material covered by a plastic stickered surface in this dark gray speckled color. I disliked it’s darkness, plus the undeniable evidences where the counters have gotten wet (especially around the sink area). Pieces of soaked chipboard are, well, chipping away.
  • The cheap, peeling (also stickered) cabinet fronts with their secondary handles. The previous handles had different screw hole locations, which are accentuated by the white plaster material that the previous owners tried to hide them with.
  • The leak underneath the sink every time we ran the dishwasher, which caused flooding in our cabinets creating soaked cabinets floors. My constant worry over mold growth and wood rot. Oh the joy when we finally solved the issue, after having three handimen look at it.
  • The appliances which are black and silver in color. They looked bulky, outdated, and old. The stove and oven were of the cheaper variety, and the fridge jutted past the counter’s edge.
  • Lastly, the previous owner left a kitchen island that was obviously from Ikea, along with two Ikea stools.

I could have rattled this list out in seconds. But sometime between then and now, I have come to love this kitchen. I love it so much that when my friend offered to have her dad renovate the counter-tops that I “hated” for us this week, I started to fear losing them. Which got me to thinking, when did that transition happen? And I realized that sometime between then and now, I simply stopped focusing on all the bad things and started letting the kitchen be what it was meant to be.

After all, I operated an entire bakery in that kitchen. It was where I spent my days for an entire year. I woke up early every morning to mix bread and that’s when I learned of that precious morning light. I put away dishes from a dishwasher that finally worked and as the dough soaked up the water, I made myself a cup of coffee every day. If I set up the pour over to the right of the sink, the light hits the coffee just right to make it look ruby red. I slaved away over that oven, even in the summer’s heat, trusting it to always make my bread rise. I stood around the island, where I shaped thousands of loaves of dough. I settled into those Ikea stools waiting for the next bread turn, sipping hot coffee and writing on this blog. The kitchen and I became best friends, and now I could spew a list of all the things I love, such as:

  • The little corner specifically for our espresso machine, Fellow Stagg Kettle, coffee pour over options, mugs, and coffee grinder. Essentially, a shrine for my coffee making rituals.
  • The way the light enters through that lone window and hits the fronts of the cabinets, giving them a soft dayglow.
  • The reliability of our oven and the largeness of our fridge, both of which have helped me to host gatherings for twelve or more people throughout the year.
  • The cement floors and their coolness on the feet, plus the ease with which I can clean them.
  • The island, which we all use as a common space to meal prep together. And the fact that it’s mobile and contains plenty of storage space.
  • The stove, with enough burners to allow three of us roomies to cook in the kitchen space at the same time.
  • The corner for toasting our sourdough, and the corner for milling our grain.
  • The sink made of steel, which has saved me from shattering my porcelain wares many times over.
  • The fact that the kitchen now exudes Japanese style elements, as well as vintage vibes. Seems silly to put those two in the same sentence, but from some angles, it looks like it’s made from all bamboo wood. And from other angles, it reminds me of a 1950’s progressive Eichler.
  • The fact that the gloominess in the space actually lends a romantic mood all year long. I just want to make coffee or tea and write all day in a sweater.
  • Lastly, the open layout which makes the kitchen center-stage in our home.

With small spaces, I mean, yeah, there are shortcomings. It’s part of the territory. But if we focus on only the bad parts of our lives and homes, then we tend to miss all the good things that, when considered, could lead to love. Because now, I love the kitchen dearly. It is my favorite part of my home.

Finding joy in small spaces requires embracing what you have to work with. Actively searching for beauty in what you already have is more promising than passively pining for what you don’t have. Where will the latter lead you? Most likely, excess consumption of things that give you brief moments of happiness and eventually leave you back at square one.

Once I realized that the kitchen was “good enough”, I stopped saying to myself, “One day.” I started looking forward to saying “Today”. I started to finally live my life.

Today we decided to buy Mike’s dream espresso machine. Since he got rid of his daily work commute, he sold his motorcycle and de-cluttered a few things in order to make up 85% of the machine’s costs. We hadn’t pulled the trigger prior because we kept saying, “Well, if we are getting an espresso machine then we need nicer counter-tops and if we’re getting new counter-tops we might as well address the cabinets and if we’re sizing cabinets then why don’t we make sure we get appliances that lie flush with the new measurements?” After learning to love the kitchen for all its imperfections (wabi sabi and all that), we were able to move on. We’ll just put the espresso machine in our existing coffee corner. It fits just so with the current counter top actually, even though the white will contrast with the gray. I know we will love it either way.

The Pursuit of Doing Nothing

This post is sponsored by Territory Design. By curating a collection of items centered around crafting a life well-lived, Territory inspires the pause needed for grounding us in our everyday living. 

The pursuit of doing nothing is a dying art. Hardly do I ever encounter a human being capable of nothingness. We Americans, especially, are never not doing. We have a bad habit of seeking activity rather than pleasure. We are always looking ahead to the next thing. We are constantly in search of distraction. How many times do you automatically take a moment of stillness and use it to pull out your phone and subconsciously hit that social media icon. BOOM! Time spent, action checked off.

But are you well?

Does it behoove you, the things you cram into your schedule?

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We leave the art of doing nothing to the monks, as if it is an occupation that is not worth our time. Or we make up some excuse, saying we were born this way – our personality is just not meant to sit still.

There’s a reason the monks call meditation a practice. Because even monks were not born to be doing nothing. They are human, after all, with human minds that wish to plan ahead and human hearts that wish to conquer dreams. The practice part of it is required in order to master the art of stillness. It is, even for them, a pursuit.

Many of us get uncomfortable sitting with ourselves for too long, constantly on edge should a negative thought fleet across our minds or a scary imagination flicker behind our closed eyelids. We seem to always be waiting for bad news. Why waste time thinking and worrying? Best we get up and go do something about it. DO, ACT, GO. Or so the consensus goes. There is a certain courage required to pause in the face of discomfort and keep going as if nothing was shaking you to the core. There is growth in being able to take a short-coming and process it in ways that transform you.

The pursuit of doing nothing is a challenge worthwhile. It’s not going to be easy, and certainly the world isn’t making it easier. There will be temptations thrown your way, low-hanging fruit dangling inches from your brow, but don’t be fooled. Everyone else will also be holding on to low-hanging fruit. It’s hardly special, and will always be around. You’ve got a job to do.

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Look at nothingness as an opportunity. Have you ever found yourself saying, “I don’t have the time”? Doing nothing is required to create space for something new. Therefore, the pursuit of doing nothing is preemptive to moving forward. It is old-age culture that is lacking in new-age thinking. No one else around you is doing that. Everyone else is too busy to take on the opportunities, and losing them too, all at the same time.

The pursuit of doing nothing is a dying art, and we, a backwards culture. Since when did we value filling our time with useless action items that are essentially repetitive loop cycles? Get up, go to work, come home tired, eat dinner and barely see the kids, binge watch TV, go to sleep, repeat five times a week, fifty-two weeks a year, forty-five years of our life. Is this what you want to call a living?

I don’t know about you, but I am committed to pursuing doing nothing.

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Thoughts On: This Surprise

I know it’s hard for people to live in a world that feels so reduced. Trust me, you are not. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s quite the sensation feeling like you’ve got nothing left to lose. Like all your decisions led you here. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I know what it’s like feeling enslaved by a system. Despite losing your freedom to move, you still have the freedom to choose
how to continue living when you’re tied to stillness and a snail’s pace. But even snails get somewhere.

You don’t have money, god knows I never did, but you have a brain, your health, love, hope, dreams, a breath. And if it were only one of these things, I’d venture to call THAT a life,
This a phase,
You, a force,
The world, your oyster,
The virus, a lesson.

Because the best thing I ever learned was that nothingness is a gift, and starting from the bottom means there’s an up. Something to look forward to and make life worth living. Nowadays I choose to live with less, knowing ultimately people can’t tell me what I can’t do, and if you dig deep enough into the recesses no one else is willing to touch, you will find that all you need for a good life is with you in the form of a past that no one can take, a future that only you can destroy, and a present which we are always lamenting but the great thing about having nothing is not having anything to lament.

Is it so bad not being able to know what can happen next? I bet it’s the first time in years that you haven’t tried to plan or control your entire life. In a way, I’ve found myself worrying less. Moving with the tide. Sleeping in without guilt. Forgetting the days.

Isn’t this what living is — Letting things unfold in due time?

I don’t know about y’all, but this was a good surprise.

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Healthy Coping Skills During Times of Stress and Anxiety

To brush over this trying time is to do a disservice to all who are negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am not only speaking of those who are impacted physically, which on its own seems to be the global focus of this pandemic and rightfully so considering the number of deaths that we have seen thus far, but I am also referring to those who have suffered financially, mentally, and emotionally.

Many a small business owner is seeing their life’s hard work dwindling before their eyes with hardly a hope of surviving this stay-at-home movement. Many blue collar workers are forced out of a job, having been laid off about a week ago “for the wellness of the community” but at their expense. Many a woman has seen their education and work opportunity wane as they are forced to stay at home to school children who are now being expected to virtually learn. Many children will struggle to find an equal footing in the current educational system, as the ability to have access to the internet or a computer will greatly determine which children learn and which do not. With all of this impact and more, it is safe to say that these are difficult times which may leave people feeling a bit less-than their normal self. 

In an effort to be of help (somehow), I wanted to take the time to share the following words from my sister-in-law and registered therapist, Alexandra, for those who are currently struggling to maintain their mental health or are experiencing more-than-normal levels of stress and anxiety.

Some great tools to aid with anxiety, stress, and loneliness during this time are:

  1. Being active – going for a walk, run, yoga, at-home workout, and getting some sun, if possible.
  2. Create routine – whether that be a work-from-home routine or a morning routine, creating some sort of consistency for your body and mind are important.
  3. Spend time with someone you care about – Don’t isolate. Even if it’s virtual time together, text someone or call someone, at least one person a day.
  4. Take breaks from the media – Take breaks from your phone, the TV, and the news. This helps us not ruminate or over-think, and reduces stress, anxiety, and worry.
  5. Do something for you! – Mindful activities such as baking, cooking, coloring and art, working out, reading a book, taking an online course, or learning something new can really help carry you through tough times. Schedule at least fifteen minutes a day for this.

Off course, you don’t have to do all of these, especially if you are working from home or are out working and helping others. But these are some healthy coping skills that can reduce depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness.

Alexandra Tillapaugh is a Registered Associate Marriage Family Therapist specialized in counseling adults and children with a variety of challenges, including but not limited to, anxiety, behavioral issues, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems. She is also my wonderful sister-in-law.

During this time, she is offering lower cost online counseling sessions to people in need in our community – especially those who are displaced, anxious, and stressed.

“I know many people are anxious right now and stressed. They may need someone to talk to or need help with learning a few coping skills.” 

She is offering a free consultation on the phone so that people of the community may seek help without the pressure of money. It’s a great way to find out if her services work for your particular situation or lifestyle.

“I want to get an understanding of why they want to talk to a counselor prior to any sessions. It’s the best practice.”

To learn more about her services, schedule an introductory call, or simply chat with someone over any hardships you may be experiencing, you can view her website here. To offer helpful tips for those who are suffering, feel free to comment below.