Simple, Sustainable Gift Wrap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

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

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

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

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

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

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

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

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curating Closets: When You Have None

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

Or pantry space.

Or a bathroom door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Know what you need for your particular lifestyle.

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

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

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

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

Having Less is Good, Wanting Less is Better

I have difficulty writing about de-cluttering and simplifying at times, mostly because I don’t want to enforce the misconception that de-cluttering is the end game. It would be wrong to assume that the act of de-cluttering and separating yourself from your stuff will somehow fix all of your life problems. In a world constantly on the go, people seem to be searching for quick fixes. Correct the situation, then move on. No one seems to want to learn about the process. But it’s the process of the thing that will teach you about character. The process is what will shape you and the lifestyle you lead. It is the part that contains self-discovery, and builds self-worth. De-cluttering is just the very beginning of that process.

After ransacking and rummaging through my belongings to rid me of that which does not “spark joy” (which I know realize is such a funny measurement to go by), I got to a point where I’ve siphoned my heart out and was left surrounded by only that which made me happy. Reaching the end, however, did not make me feel complete. So I started the process over again (and again, and again…). With each re-start, I found even more things that I could let go of, which taught me a lot about my perception of this idea of stuff. Initially, when I finished de-cluttering, I felt a sense of pride in my success with clearing away 80% of my belongings. Why shouldn’t I? It IS a success to take the little steps that add up to something bigger. But then I kept thinking to myself, well, I could do better. So when I tried a second time, I found even more stuff that did not bring me joy. And the same went for the third, and fourth, and fifth… Eventually, I learned the lesson that the stuff itself does not spark joy. Seriously. It took me long enough! How could an inanimate piece of furniture, or a piece of clothing spark joy? It can’t. Therein lies my first lesson in de-cluttering. Surrounding myself with things that spark joy is a whole bunch of baloney!

Of course, the immediate result of de-cluttering was not the freedom from things. The immediate result was an additional problem to deal with, which was the sorting of and pawning off of the newly unwanted stuff. If you’ve ever looked long and hard at a pile of, (may I say it?) trash, you will understand the sadness I speak of when I say that our decisions to consume will directly impact our children’s ability to see green grass and turquoise waters. I embarked on a journey to try and re-sell the stuff, at thrift stores and Craigslist. The problem was that the thrift stores were already getting a large load of “donations” from other people that they had to be very selective in what they can take in. Most of the time, that was hardly anything at all. And people were not scouring for used items on Craigslist by the thousands. Meaning the rest of the stuff either gets sent to a landfill, or to another organization that then has to sort through the trash. The truth is that at the end of the day, a large percent of the stuff that you never even needed in the first place cannot be saved and will end up in a landfill. Even pulling up to the back of a Goodwill, you see trash bins into which donators can drop of their unwanted stuff. As kindly and gently as I’ve tried to drop my things, there is still a loud thud as they reach the bottom of the large abyss, where my short arms cannot quite reach. I feel the same thud as my heart drops to my stomach, knowing that Goodwill may also decide that this too, is unsavable.

Some thrift stores will actually incentivize you to buy even more stuff, amidst dropping stuff off. They will give you a higher monetary value if you choose “store credit” instead of “cash back”. An early mistake that I used to befall involved choosing the more “bang for buck” option and going home with, you guessed it, MORE stuff. Which I had to go through a few months down the road and de-clutter anyway. What I realized was that, we just have to cut our losses, and use the loss of money (by choosing the cash option) to constantly remind our future selves that we do not NEED anything more. No more stuff, no more money (which would tempt you to buy more stuff), no more de-cluttering projects, organizing parties, and wasting of time doing said things.

With every session of unburdening, I was able to detach myself more from the things. More importantly, I had a better grasp on the things that tie us down. Like having to work five days a week in order to save money for stuff. Or spending my hours on a day off cleaning objects that were collecting dust. Or organizing them into storage bins so that they didn’t collect dust. Or de-cluttering them so that you didn’t need to buy more storage bins.

I also had a better grasp on things that mattered. That tugged at my heartstrings and broke me down. When my dad had a heart attack last year, I was reminded that people matter more than things. As I started to need less, I started to work less. As I worked less, I had more time to grab lunch with my friends, cook dinner for my parents, spend one-on-one time with Mike. I had more time to talk to my brother about his career, and to hear a new-grad’s view on life. I also started to focus on actually living. I took many classes, delved into hobbies, started writing, tried to learn guitar (and three new languages), and more. I dedicated time every morning to give back to my body by doing daily yoga. I stopped adding back unnecessary things right after I’ve gotten rid of them. I simplified everything, and learned how to avoid turning around and complicating it again. We are so attracted to complications these days. “Life is so hard”, or “Life isn’t as easy as it used to be”. These statements are being thrown around carelessly, as if we’ve somehow forgotten that we are in control of our lives and that we have the ability to make the decisions.

This is what I mean when I say that de-cluttering is not an end-all, fix-all thing. You can de-clutter your entire home, from the foyer to the bathroom drawers, but nothing will ever change until you also stop adding stuff back in. Decluttering itself does not simplify your life. It is the process (which I recommend doing repetitively), that will define your values and solidify your character. And when you’ve done that, THEN you will have more control. When you no longer have a complicated life, your judgement is not clouded. You are not too busy to stop and lend a helping hand. Life isn’t going so fast that you don’t have time to do the right thing, which usually is the hard thing. The process will never teach you anything if you are just doing the same thing over and over again. If after de-cluttering, you add back in only to land back on square one of the game board. De-cluttering is not only about letting go, but also about understanding WHY we want things. We learn how much society plays a factor in determining for us what we want. It’s about having less, but more importantly, wanting less.

 

Minimalism: How to Pack Light When Travelling

As a human that barely skims over five-foot-one who fails at being an avid gym member and who can barely wield a plateful of food, with a fifty-fifty chance of straining a wrist along the way, I am a strong proponent of packing light. Stemming from a sincere interest in not inconveniencing my significant other every time we board a flight, I have made it a goal to pack in a very minimalist way. While my gusto has sometimes gotten the better of me (as I reminisce on spilling coffee on the only pair of pants I brought with me to New Zealand, without a washer and dryer in sight), I take pride in the fact that I lived, and survived, and it’s all fine and good.

While having a pared down wardrobe is extremely helpful in also paring down my luggage, there are some additional tips that I have in mind, for what it’s worth.

With our upcoming trip to CDMX approaching in the next five days, I figure this would be an opportune moment to showcase what exactly goes into my bag. Enjoy!

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It starts with a small bag.

Start with a small-sized luggage. Initially, it may feel like you’ve gone a bit bonkers, thinking a whole week’s vacation can fit in such a small space, but trust me, it is the first criteria to securing success. The small space will really require you to assess, and possibly reassess, what you can take and what you need to leave behind. I’ve been known to go on weekend trips with just a purse or a backpack. Understandably, there are situations where this advise simply isn’t feasible. For example, if you are going to another country specifically to shoot wildlife, then it is quite obvious to me that your professional camera gear may not be suitable jammed in with your clothes. In which case, we make do.

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A pair of stretchy, elevated pants worthy of a yoga session. A poncho that doubles as a scarf, at times. A vest that looks equally as great over a tee and underneath a jacket. A beanie, for the ears.

Pack enough clothes to get you through a week, and then maybe a little less. I like to pack for only a week’s worth of stuff, regardless of the length of the trip. Mostly because, as aforementioned, I simply cannot carry much more than that. But also, because I like to let go of the what-ifs and just flow with the tide. What if it rains and I didn’t pack an umbrella? Then I get wet. What if I spill coffee on my only pair of pants? Then I wear it for the rest of the day, then hand wash it in the sink and let it dry overnight. I lived.

Additionally, I am extremely resourceful with my packing. A poncho that acts as an over-sized blanket and turns into a scarf or a hijab, depending. A pair of jeans that I already wear every-day and matches every top. Tee shirts only, with the exception of silk camisoles, my secret weapon for nicer events. A sweater that looks equally great over a tee or a dress, as well as under a jumper or a jacket. You get what I mean. In the case of a true state of emergency, and not a fashion emergency, you can likely get whatever you need where you are at.

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A pair of sandals for the AirBNB stay.
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Shoes packaged in muslin bags for easy storage and minimal space.

Be comfortable. I’m looking at you, shoes. There was once a time when I thought dresses looked good only with five inch clogs, as if the additional height would justify the additional weight. Gone are those days, replaced by a more vested interest in exploring the city untethered by fashion ideologies. Also, gone are the dresses, mostly.

Embrace the monochrome, or do away with the care. Monochromatic schemes just make it easier on me. I still have a particular likening to looking put-together, and am impartial to mismatching colors, so this is where I am at. For some, loud outfits give them the giddies, allowing them to pack all sorts of colors, and interchanging countless combinations. Or rather, just do away with the care.

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Tees galore, in black and stripey whites.

Wear the bulkiest of items on the flight. My internal temperatures reach “cold” before anyone else in a room, so I absolutely welcome any extra layers on the plane ride to our destination. I always wear the bulkiest items on the flight, in order to reduce the things I have to carry. Easy for me to say, due to my small stature, and significantly larger leg room and overall space.

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My plane outfit consists of the bulkiest of items, which works well for me since I also tend to freeze upon take-off.

Lesser toiletries. A bar of shampoo & a bar of soap. A jar of deoderant, and a re-fillable bottle of lotion. Not enough to fill a dopp kit, thus the lack of need for a dopp kit.

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A bar of soap and shampoo, for sharing between Mike and I, atop my pajamas.

Limit the make-up. Thanks to a minimalist make-up routine, this advice doesn’t stray entirely from my day-to-day. The requirements? A tube of lip balm, one eye-liner pencil, one eye-brow pencil, mascara, and hardly any room at all. Besides, who am I to meet perusing the streets in a foreign city with the only man I plan to impress?

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Additionally, a camera, which I was using to photograph. 

Make room for the indisposables. I consider some items on my packing list indisposable, literally and figuratively. I have to make room for a reusable water bottle, in order to cut down as much plastic bottle use as possible. In the case of Germany, it was a highly successful endeavor, since we could safely fill our bottles with tap water from bathroom faucets. On our upcoming trip to Mexico, likely not so much. I will update you on our solution once there, but I have it with me in an attempt to reduce as often as I can. Likewise, since we partly travel for coffee, the KeepCups come with. Due to an interest in sharing our adventures with family, the camera is also a must. And lastly, reading material (or two). I prefer to carry around a Kindle when I travel, since it is light and minimal, but it’s hardly the way I prefer to enjoy the task, otherwise.

Lastly, all of this, and a little more, fit in that bag. Mission accomplished.

 

 

Letting Go of Perfect

I grew up in a world where perfection was taught as the ideal. I was surrounded by critical (yet loving) adults during my childhood, and each shortcoming that I had was never missed, and pointedly brought to my attention. While a positive take on this particular upbringing would include a constant desire for continual self-improvement, to which I attribute my acquisition of a wide array of knowledgeable tidbits and how-tos, I would like to argue that perfectionism in excess could be damaging to any human being, and even more so, to a child.

We are all human. Meaning we all make mistakes. Perfection is not attainable by any means. Yet it is societally portrayed as an achievable goal. At an early age, we are taught to reach for perfection. Examples of this include staying within the lines when you first learn to color. Using a ruler when drawing a line. Organizing your desks into rows and columns. Dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Aim for 100% on every exam. An A+ is the most covetable grade, would you not agree? This extends into our later school years, when we have to practice our speeches before we present. When we try out for Club sports teams, or for a part in the school play. And so the cycle goes long after we’ve graduated. When we see coworkers getting promotions, friends buying new cars or new homes, advertisements showing off the latest gadgets, Instagram photos of so and so still looking fly at age 30 while you’re trying to hide the dark circles under your eyes. We get graded our whole lives, judged, measured against our peers, our progress monitored with the hope of seeing some improvement. Alas, I am not saying improvement isn’t good. I am only saying perfection is not.

For the entirety of my first decade on earth, and for the majority of the second, I believed that creating a life as close to perfect as possible will yield a very successful life. I remember my personal frustrations when I would fall short of perfect. I would throw tantrums, loathing myself for my humanness. I would watch kids close to my age and aim to beat them in everything I can. My competitive spirit urged me to fight, until I left everyone behind in the dust. If I lost a game, I would be livid. If I didn’t get the highest score on a test, I would not allow myself any joys. Once I did start getting the highest scores on the test, it stopped being enough. I also had to be the first to turn the test in. I had to be the kid with the highest grades in the highest classes with the most volunteer hours while balancing multiple jobs. I was doing well at striving for perfect. I now realize that perfectionism is unsustainable, and if I had continued down that path, I would end up exhausted, burnt out, and defeated, because I would have never, no matter how hard I tried, ever reached the point of perfection. I would have spent more years of my life, afraid of being judged, but being judged anyway.

I got to a point in my early teens where I felt I was never good enough. My ego was deflated to something akin to paper thin. I think if striving for perfection is forced at a very early age on children, it can lead to a number of insecurities that, misguided, could have life-long detrimental effects. I, luckily, am not such a child, but how many teenagers today feel a vast emptiness in their lives? How many people develop eating disorders, depression, or suicidal tendencies? How many adults play “Keeping up with the Joneses”? How many people spend every day trying to be somebody they’re not? I was able to escape the rabbit hole towards perfection before it all together consumed me. It did however, define my early teen years. I was a very shy young girl, who was not confident at all in my abilities, despite achieving more than my peers. I felt like my accomplishments always fell short, although I kept on trying, and because of that, I had a tendency to undersell myself. More importantly, I lived in constant fear that whatever I was accomplishing in life was not good enough by other people’s standards. Because of this, I kept my accomplishments mostly to myself. I was afraid to share ideas, to ask questions, or to take a risk when opportunities arose. I was hesitant to meet new people, to start trends, and to step outside of my comfort zone, avoiding activities such as sports or acting. Public speaking scared the living daylights out of me. I once had to stand up and give a speech in front of a class for Academic Decathlon. I was so afraid, I remember shaking like a leaf. A funny classmate of mine yelled, “Is the wind blowing in here?” I remember starting to cry in front of twenty other students. Not exactly the best impression. The teacher never made me do a class presentation for the rest of the year, and I was forever ear-marked as a sensitive student. Ironically, six months later, I won third place for my speech, in all of Orange County, out of more than five hundred students. It’s not that my speech wasn’t good the first time, or that I improved my delivery dramatically by practicing for the competition. It was because I was presenting in front of twenty peers who I was afraid would not understand my writing style, my topic, or my delivery, VS speaking to two judges who I felt understood multiple writing styles, topics, and deliveries. I would have forever been doomed to this constant, insecure state, if it weren’t for art.

My savior came in the form of an art teacher in 11th grade named Mr. Welke. He was an older fellow who had a gray handlebar mustache, wore a leather jacket, a white tee, and jeans every day, played guitar, and rode a bright blue motorcycle to school. He was my hero. I decided to take art class because, well, I loved to draw, and paint, and make things out of nothing. I didn’t take an art class before that point because it wasn’t considered “productive”. I was only able to take it when I was finishing up a majority of my requirements to graduate and I still needed a fifth period class. Creativity has always been an attractive soul mate, a kindred spirit that stayed the course with me from childhood until now. My problem was that whenever I created something and showed it to a grown up, there was always room for improvement. Additionally, if I ever created anything remotely avant-garde, it would be scoffed at for being a bit too creative, which, little did I know, does not exist. Repeatedly redirected to copying other famous artists’ work, or redoing mine own to be a bit more perfect, I fell into a cycle of non-creativity. I was told I was making art, when really, I was RE-making art. The same art that already exists.

When I started art class, I thought I was going to be great at it. I thought it was going to be an easy course to add to my five AP classes (zero period included), and will allow me time to relax at school. However, for the first few months, I struggled. Not because I had awful hand-eye coordination or lack of attention to detail. Mostly, because my fear of falling short of perfect crippled my ability to produce anything. I fell behind due dates, turning in assignments such as drawing vertical lines without a ruler and making circles with the left hand very late. I remember I struggled most when we were asked to make a self-portrait of ourselves in pencil. I must have stared at myself in the mirror for a hundred hours, scrapping every attempt I made because I felt like none of them resembled a hard-copy photograph of the mirror. I think he recognized my struggles, and one day told me that I was trying way too hard. He gave me a small speech and though the words are now lost to me, the message never left.

You cannot be an artist and perfect at the same time. Aiming for perfection will handicap you in more ways than one. You will not be able to produce, and you will not be able to create. You can only copy what has already been done, and continue to re-do it forever and ever, because there is no end with perfection. True art, or any form of expression of self, cannot coexist with something so definite. If you want to be a genuine creative, you have to let perfect go. The point of art is to produce. At the end of the day, if you made one thing, regardless of what it looks like to others or to you, you have still made one thing. It’s a product that you can sign, or not sign, share, or keep to yourself. You can do whatever you want with it, because it is yours and only yours. A true artist needs to learn to genuinely express what is inside their being, without fear of being judged. An audience should never shape what you are trying to make, or else they will rob you of your true self. You would be a complete waste, if you do not create for the rest of your life.

While it took me many years to start implementing this advice, and I continually tweak it even today, it taught me what it meant to be the real me. At first, I applied it solely to my art. I started to turn in paintings and drawings that were unfinished, but on time. I learned that to finish something, I had to stop spending my time lolling, overthinking, overanalyzing, and scrapping. I stopped running in circles until I was ragged, and started drawing straight lines without caring about their lack of straightness. I stopped being so hard on myself, and I started to love the freedom of making a blob and calling that art. I started to answer questions, then ask them myself. I started to challenge multiple thoughts, and reach out to other people I didn’t know. I conquered the fear of tackling any task that might initially seem too big. I stopped believing in limits. I started living life, one day at a time. My goal is to no longer be perfect. My goal is to be free. Every morning, I wake up with one mission. To be slightly better than I was yesterday. That’s it. I don’t have to reach a milestone. As long as I work towards improving myself in even the slightest bit, then I have already created a better me in a better place. I can put my signature on it, and share it with the world, or keep it to myself. By wanting to become an artist, I learned to reach for something beyond perfect. I started to reach for something completely human.

Minimalism: In the shower

Before you even begin to think that this post is going to be a bit too TMI for your taste, it’s not, I promise. Just hear me out.

I had a house guest once who stayed a few days at our place, and obviously, at some point, she did have to shower. I walked her upstairs to our bathroom and gave her a tour, to show her where everything is. The first thing she said was, “You have absolutely nothing here!” She was literally quite astounded. At first, I did not understand. I had everything anyone would ever need in a shower. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She said that in her own shower, and in other people’s showers where she’s visited, there would be a whole collection of products strewn across the sills and the floor. In my head, I thought to myself, what products? I guess there is more to showering than just soap, shampoo, and conditioner. When I asked her how many, she said ten to twenty! And here I was thinking I was going overboard by having conditioner around. No joke, I thought about nixing it. So the next time I went to my parent’s house, I looked in their shower, and sure enough, there were about ten items there. A bar of soap, but also, a bottle of Bath and Body Works Body wash. There was a second bottle of body wash for men, likely my dad’s effort to not smell like Cinnamon Apples. A plastic loofah. There were separate shampoo and conditioner bottles, one of each specifically catering to men and to women. There was a facial scrub, as well as an exfoliating scrub, which I’m assuming is for the rest of the limbs. Thus, my count added up to a total of ten products, just as she said! So I guess her shock was accounted for.

I wonder what happens if she ever stays over again, for our bathroom has gotten a tiny bit sparser than before. She may be even more baffled that all three of our products (soap, shampoo, and conditioner) now come in bar form at our house, and stay in one tidy little corner of the bathing area, tucked neatly away in a row. This is a pretty recent development in the household, but one that I won’t turn away from any time soon. In an effort to seriously reduce my plastic waste moving forward, I reconsidered many household items that came in plastic but had alternatives, shampoo and conditioner being two of those. Mike and I were already using soap bars, and have been for years, but bars for the hair was a revelation to us. There are people who say they can never get used to the feeling of using a bar for their hair. Fair enough. For me, it reminds me of younger years in the Philippines where we would just use the same bar for our bodies and for our hair. It wasn’t a big deal then, so to me, it’s not a big deal now. The shampoo bars create really great suds actually, and my hair feels much cleaner, and less oily, than when I use the liquid alternatives. Then again, a different (likely drier) hair type may consider it too dry. To each their own. Lucky for me, these work.

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To further reduce plastic waste, our bars are purchased without packaging. Now, these bars could get a bit pricey, I must admit. We have found some go-to brands at places like Whole Foods, Mother’s Market, as well as other local stores for around $2/bar. It’s still more than your Dove bars of soap (unfortunately packaged in either a box, or a set of boxes, wrapped in plastic), but the extra cost is worth it to me. The shampoo bars can be even pricier, with Lush Cosmetics selling them at about $12/bar. However, they do last 80 washes, which is about a month and a half for us two. And the conditioner bars at Lush are equally as expensive, but since I consider hair conditioner as a luxury, I don’t use it on the daily, and if we run out, I just go without for a while.

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So frugal me, how do I cope? We make do by asking for them as Christmas and birthday presents. We specifically ask for no plastic packaging of any kind. Most give us our gifts without packaging at all, which is perfect! Sometimes, soaps wrapped in paper get thrown in, but we recycle that right away, so I can still sleep soundly at night. It’s a consumable gift that brings me a lot of joy (knowing that it came package free) and that brings me a very pleasant experience (if you’ve ever used a Lush shampoo bar, you would understand). This past Christmas, we asked for bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner from a lot of our loved ones, and I think we received enough to get us through March or April. Which is convenient because our birthdays come around in June and July. So we can replenish our stocks once again, in due time.

I’m not saying every one needs to switch to bar form, right this moment. I’m just saying, if our house guest was correct in saying that everyone does have ten to twenty products in the shower, then as long as every household cuts that number in half, what a difference that would make in plastic waste! You don’t even have to get rid of the bottles if you really don’t want to. If men and women could share the same product and not buy into the advertising, then they can purchase in bulk, larger bottles, and produce less waste overall. Perhaps Mike is lucky in the sense that I have absolutely no interest in smelling like a walking flower. Good scents to me include cotton, charcoal, sage, and lemon verbena. Maybe I’m the lucky one, since Mike actually likes scents of Lavender and Vanilla, too. Whatever the case may be, there must be a mutual ground somewhere. Why not choose a scent or product that can work for both? Or why not just forget all the hype about scents and go with a good ole bar of non-smelling soap. Gasp!

Either way, I am pretty happy about my minimalist shower. I don’t even consider it minimalist at all, really. Sure, I may get push back after posting this post. Maybe some people will tell me I just don’t understand their skin type or their hair type. How they have needs to prevent flaky skin or flat hair. How they easily get split ends, or oily foreheads. I almost didn’t want to post this after writing it. But then I think back to when I used to join kids and shower in the middle of the street when it rained. Where a bath meant taking a bucket from a pot of hot water and carefully making sure to rinse as much of myself off as I could, so as not to waste it. I think of families who don’t even have a means to heat up their water, of kids who have to walk to a river. I think of people swimming in plastic waste in small islands such as the Philippines and Tuvalu, because of the prevalence of single use containers. How This Documentary Shows Us What Our Plastic Trash is Doing to Animals and the Environment

And I thought to myself, yeah, I’ll post it. These bars of soap are indulgences. They don’t come cheaply, and their value (and ethics) is worth way more to me than choosing a brand name, or smelling a particular way. All I ask is for you to consider it. Please.

Other things I consider when purchasing GOOD soap: 

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Palm oil free: I first learned about palm oil when we went to New Zealand, last year. We were at the zoo, listening to the talk about orangutans when the topic came up. At the time, both New Zealand and Australia’s governments were trying to pass a law requiring the labeling of all products with palm oil, so that Kiwis could decide which products not to buy. A country very invested in issues surrounding sustainability and conservation of species and habitat, they were very aware of the illegal deforestation resulting from the growth of palm oil for product use. The deforestation is affecting many species, orangutans included, by depleting them of their habitats. I try to look for soaps that are palm oil free, but unfortunately, most aren’t labeled appropriately, so you just never know. I am particularly fond of GOOD soap, which can be found at Whole Foods, and which uses only Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

Ethically made and sustainability: A majority of the soaps I purchase advocate Fair Trade principles in order to get the ingredients for the soap. Additionally, I tend to prefer brands with sustainability in mind. All of this takes extra work and care to produce. This is part of the reason why the prices of these products are higher. Since we always revert back to buying GOOD soap when we run out of holiday gifted soaps, here is a list of ingredients used to make their soap.

Primary, Active Ingredients:
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter (Certified Fair Trade)
Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil (Certified Fair Trade)
Sodium Palmate (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil)
Sodium Palm Kernelate (Certified Sustainable Palm
Kernel Oil)
Water (Aqua)
Glycerin (Vegetable Source)
Goat Milk Powder
Minor Ingredients (less than 0.5% by weight)
Lavandula Hybrida Grosso (Lavender) Oil (Lavender Only)
Sodium Citrate (helps with lather in hard water)
Titanium Dioxide (natural color)
Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex (Fresh Mint only, natural color)
Iron Oxides (natural color)
Natural Fragrance (non-synthetic scent from plant oils and extracts, added in Sunshine, Prairie
Rose, Fresh Mint and Coconut bars)

– Societal Impact: There are an increasing number of products being released that have efforts to give back to less privileged communities. Good Soap sales fund Alaffia community empowerment projects in West Africa. Alaffia aims to empower individuals and their communities through long-term, effective projects with the end goal of
poverty alleviation, gender equality and human rights for all. Alaffia’s community projects include:

  • Alaffia Bicycles for Education: Since 2006, Alaffia has distributed over 6,300 bicycles to rural, poor students in Togo. With emphasis on girls, the goal is to reduce the high dropout rate (91%) by providing a means of transportation to and from school.
  • Alaffia Maternal Health: In sub-Saharan Africa, 400 women die each day due to pregnancy or childbirth related causes. Alaffia provides pre-natal and delivery care to 1,000 disadvantaged women each year in rural Togo, saving mothers and babies for strong families and sustainable futures for our communities.
  • Alaffia Reforestation: Alaffia has planted over 42,600 trees in an effort to help our Togolese communities better withstand effects of climate change, to slow  desertification and to increase food security for families.