Curating Closets: Neutral Palettes

When it comes to curating my closet, practicality reigns supreme. In order to facilitate dressing up with ease, I naturally gravitate to a more neutral color palette. It isn’t to say I am above colors, for I still tote my single neon yellow summer blouse bi-weekly in the warmer months, and my favorite deep purple, velvet dress during holiday season, but I do have a tradition of choosing more subdued colors for ninety percent of the year. Frustrating past mistakes of taking home a recently purchased colored article of clothing, only to realize that it is in need of something to match it still haunt my memory. A case of needing more begets more. You may be compelled to buy yet another article of clothing, just to wear the one. Or you might do the opposite, and just never wear the new item. Possibly, you wear it still, without purchasing anything, and just revel in the total freedom that mismatching gives you. For me, versatility is key. I have curated my closet well enough to have confidence that things can liberally mix and match. And while neutrals will match with almost anything else, just keeping most things neutral makes it all the more easier, so that that neon yellow shirt does not end up atop bright pink shorts.

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My morning routines are made more efficient when I know to reach for a standard black tee. I actually have five black tees, and by Saturday, I’ve likely used them all. If I am feeling a bit adventurous, I may reach for my dark grey, or a blue and white stripe. Never have I felt comfort in a white tee, so despite the fact that they look extremely polished in the winter and cool in the summer, I cannot get myself to own one. It may sound that I have a tee too many, but they are all continually being used. I hardly reach for anything else. Tees are versatile, thanks to the perfect eighty-degree weather that is SoCal.

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Add to that my repertoire of beige cover-ups, egg-shell sweaters, and off-white jackets. I almost ran out of adjectives to describe something so vanilla. Softer hues are nice for colder days, when the moods reflect something calm and sleepy. Sweaters in gray are in full stock as well, not because I go out there and buy gray often, but because over the last ten years, that’s just the hue I seem to embrace. I have my 18 year old frame to thank for these collections.

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As far as bottoms go, I mostly grab blacks and blues. Jeans are my everyday armor, and I wear black pants to be a bit more sophisticated. I hardly stray from those colors. I think my biggest regretful purchase would be Nike athletic leggings in neon pink and atrocious purple, tie-dye fashion. While I haven’t quite gotten to de-cluttering it, because it is practical to keep workout pants, I hardly find myself wanting to wear them ever, not so practical. Keeping it for the just-in-case, something I can improve on in the near future.

Now I do have certain colors that I allow into my space at times, but to be honest, they don’t stray far from being neutral. Mostly, olive greens, and muted oranges that border closer to tan than yellow. And tawny hues find their way into my heart occasionally. For some, a minimalist wardrobe may involve a different color scheme, cloudy blues or fierce reds. For others, a minimalist wardrobe is defined by a collection of their most loved pieces, no matter how loud. To each their own.

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Back to Basics with Miakoda New York

This post is sponsored by Miakoda New York, an athleisure clothing label devoted to producing comfortable, every day wear in an ethical and sustainable manner. 

When it comes to curating closets, I’ve embraced something close to a no-frills policy. Over the past few years, my clothing choices have increasingly gravitated towards basic, minimalist styles, dismissing trends in exchange for timeless classics. I’ve found that this is simply my personal taste, but decreasing the need to keep up with fashion trends is also a plus, since it eliminates the draw towards buying clothing or accessories in order to keep up with the times.

Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.                                                       -Oscar de la Renta

Additionally, practicality has climbed my ladder of priorities, usurping the need to search for statement pieces. I prefer to make statements with my actions rather than my things. Versatility is equally important, to fit my hobby-filled lifestyle. On any given day, you can catch me baking bread, while practicing yoga, writing on my blog, photographing random “lifestyle” moments, learning guitar and new languages, and sneaking in a few pages of my current book at every opportunity in between bulk fermentation sessions for my dough. Those activities may embrace practicing dentistry more half of the week. Top the busy schedule with hours of socializing with family and friends, and one can see why going back to basics was attractive to me. The most ideal pieces in my closet fit together with any other article of clothing, making grab-and-go an easy, and common, occurrence.  Regardless, I try to attempt getting dressed with the utmost intentionality, establishing a sense of comfort for whatever activity may arise, while still attempting a decent appearance, for who ever I end up meeting during the day.

So today, I decided to take Miakoda New York through my daily routine. Their clothing line is composed of athleisure wear, all of which I could see myself toting on any given Sunday. Sunday is my only weekend day off, and while I wear scrubs a majority of my other work days, I like to use Sunday as an(other) excuse to dress as comfortably as possible.

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A huge fan of the basic black tee, you can see me outfitted in just this very thing for half of any given week. In fact, I have about five black tees that I cycle through, but I always find myself running out by Saturday. So here I am, adding another black tee to my arsenal.

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This essential tee is all sorts of comfy, and all I need on any warm, Southern California morning (read as: for two-thirds of the calendar year). I spent the morning taking in the sun’s rays, before ordering my chocolate pretzel, a twist on my usual pain au chocolat.

The boxier fit is less constricting than the body hugging types and honestly, is more flattering for teenage-girl-like physiques like mine. Each tee, as well as other products from their clothing line, is ethically made in a New York factory that the founders personally visit a few times each season. The black one that I’m wearing in particular is made up of bamboo, organic cotton, and spandex. Bamboo lends to the fabric a layer of softness, while the spandex lends some stretch. Both were much appreciated when I continued to wear this tee later in the afternoon on my yoga mat.

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Unfortunately, despite the warm sun rays, it was not long before I started to feel a bit too cool. Comfortable to me usually means a room temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and although we live in So Cal, it IS the middle of January. Sensibly, I am always carrying around additional layers and I couldn’t help but throw on Miakoda’s sweatshirt before we’ve even left our first destination. The sweatshirt kept me warm, and happy, as I continued to gobble up that chocolate pastry.

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The sweatshirt accompanied me on my search for a spritzer for my new Ficus houseplant, and all errands and chores thereafter, including grocery shopping, running the laundry, washing the dishes, etc. It definitely draws me in with its functionality. I can see myself throwing this over scrubs, wearing them to bed as pajamas, or sitting on the couch sinking in its comforts while I type, type, type. In fact, I continued to wear it while I did some writing, cooked meals for the upcoming week with Mike, and relaxed with a late-night movie with Kirsten. (Note: over scrubs, and all other activities, never in the same day). This piece will definitely transition through my day-to-day activities quite nicely.

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For a more refined look, I paired the sweater with light and airy silk drawstring pants. Still laid-back and modest, but slightly more elevated. Averse as I am to putting on the ritz, as some would say, I usually combine cotton basics with more delicate fabrics, to create a discreet outfit that is all-together enticing to the wearer (me) and alluring to the eye. Paired with some sturdy clogs, this summarizes my ideal ratio of practicality and style.

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The boxy nature of the sweater makes it similar to the tee, a brother if you will, with longer sleeves and a thicker, softer composition. You can tell that this sweater was very thoughtfully constructed. Perhaps worth mentioning is Miakoda’s affinity towards using sustainable plant fibers such as organic cotton, bamboo, and soy. From their commitment towards finding ethical fabric suppliers who are using sustainable products, to their investment in partnering with high quality garment factories in New York, one can tell that the company is committed towards creating change in the way clothes are being made.

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With tees and sweaters such as these in tow, I can go on with my hobby-infused lifestyle without a hitch. Suffice to say, writing about ethical companies and about not believing in the word negligible interests me more than writing about the next fashion trend. On the heels of that thought, it’s just as important to me to support companies that are trying to change the way the fashion industry is being run.

Unfortunately, fashion has transformed significantly in the last twenty years. The way we produce, distribute, consume, and then throw away, clothes has sped up to an alarming rate. Larger companies cannot keep up with the supply and demand without hiring megasuppliers, who then hire suppliers, who hire sub (sub-, sub-, sub-) suppliers to produce the clothing. It’s become such a large scale ordeal that it’s difficult to control how large orders are being filled. Case in point, when a factory burned down in Tazreen and sixty percent of the products were being produced for Walmart. Walmart had no idea that their orders were in Tazreen. In fact, they had previously visited the factory and deemed it unsafe and had specifically banned their suppliers from using that factory. So how did their products end up there? Because multiple sub-sub-sub-suppliers pawned off the work to this factory, without ever needing to communicate with Walmart. Other companies’s products were also being produced there, such as Disney and Dickies. Because these companies have specifically banned the Tazreen factory due to unethical working conditions, none of these companies were responsible for compensating the victims of the fire. When the fire first began, some workers asked to leave, and they were told to go back to work. Minutes later, they were enveloped in smoke, and some tried to escape through stairwells that had locked exits. 112 workers were killed in that fire, and many people suffered broken limbs trying to jump out of the windows.

Factories are being audited, but audits don’t necessarily prove that factories themselves are improving, only that factories are improving at making it seem like their conditions are improving. Additionally, as with the case above, audits aren’t really enough to stop orders from reaching these factories. Some orders are even sent to small groups of workers, or at-home workers. It’s gotten so bad that producers don’t know what company their products are being made for. Their orders come from, and are delivered to, middlemen. Alternatively, interviews show that many large companies don’t know in which countries their products are being made, let alone which factories.

Supporting small companies dedicated towards ensuring high quality products and meeting ethical standards of working conditions is important to me. Miakoda’s sustainability and ethics are worth noting. One of the problems we see with people who are aware of the pitfalls of fast fashion is the immediate reluctance to buy anything new at all. As more anti-fast-fashion advocates protest by shopping only vintage hand-me-downs to abstain from supporting unethically made clothing lines and to decrease waste, may I suggest that doing so does not pave the way for an improved future in the fashion industry. By shying away from purchasing new products completely, we do not allow the growth of smaller companies trying to change the fashion scene. As we disappear from the consumer population, those who are left purchasing any goods at all are either unaware of the situation, or are aware but choose to ignore. The hamster wheel of supporting companies that sell cheaply-produced goods at a larger cost to the planet and the living beings inhabiting it will be strengthened, and these companies will continue to thrive. Who will be left to support smaller companies trying to implement change?

In order to ensure that our products are being made ethically, the companies have to be held accountable for the production of their products, down to the very last detail. This doesn’t include just factory workers and hired employees, but also includes the workers who supplied the materials and their working conditions. We need to start thinking about the planet, as well as everything and everyone living on it.

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I understand that this problem goes way beyond our purchasing power. Buying from the right companies will not directly yield immediate abolition of child labor and unhealthy working conditions. Governmental policies need to be implemented in order to successfully produce the changes we want to see. But in order for those policies to go into effect, it requires a call for change. As long as the large majority of the population continue to consume as if we are okay with conditions that violate basic human rights, there will be no pressure created to promote change. Our purchasing power acts as a vote towards the future we want to see.

Miakoda understands that as well. When asked to name the one message that they wish to send out to the world through their work, they answered with this. Everytime you make a conscious decision, you make an impact. Your closet can be filled with fast-fashion, or clothes that you’ve only worn once, but the decision to buy an ethical basic tee that you wear daily does make a difference. I do not believe in the word negligible. We need to feel empowered by our decisions, because they do matter.

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For those who were wondering, the tee was paired with Eileen Fisher denim (similar one here) and accessorized with Nisolos and a gold Giving Key with the word “Create”. The sweater was paired with silk pants, also from Eileen Fisher, and accessorized with another pair of Nisolos and a black matte Giving Key with the word “Fearless”.

This post was sponsored by Miakoda New York, but all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support The Debtist.

Bogobrush: Raising social and environmental awareness, one toothbrush at a time.

This post is sponsored by Bogobrush, a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program towards low-income communities, wherein a toothbrush is considered a commodity for the privileged.

In case I can convince you of the importance of choosing the right toothbrush for you and your loved ones, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers a special offer (full details below).

There are many folks out there who believe that a dentist’s main purpose is to sell treatment. Numerous patients have voiced to me some past experience or other with dentists who tried to sell them whiter teeth and nicer smiles for the sake of esthetics. So while this may be true for some, it isn’t how I operate or how I practice my work. I would say I fall heavily towards the more conservative side of practicing dentistry. A majority of my time is spent trying to teach patients how to prevent the need for dental treatment, via proper oral hygiene techniques at home and frequent follow ups and dental visits. I like seeing my patients twice a year, if not only to hear how their children are doing at school or how their holidays went. I prefer to think that they enjoy doing the same with me. In general, I am pretty hesitant on agreeing to cosmetic treatment, especially so with treatments such as veneers. When patient’s come to me wanting such treatment, I kindly voice the truth, which is the fact that nothing will ever be as strong (or beautiful) as your natural dentition. Removing tooth structure will always weaken the tooth. Enamel is the hardest part of your body, stronger even than bone. A veneer will possibly pop-off, since it is only bonded to your tooth on the facial aspect, and preparing the teeth for a veneer could cause sensitivity. If the patient is young, in their twenties or thirties, they must consider the likelihood that they will have to replace these veneers 3-4 times throughout the rest of their life. Quite a costly price for a cosmetic fix. Off course, if the patient insists, then autonomy prevails, and I will succumb to what will make them happy, but only after failing to convince them otherwise. To each their own. Some would consider my method a bad business move (because it is), but I didn’t enter the profession for money, so I don’t really have a motive to promote such options.

A majority of my time is spent trying to achieve a patient’s goal via the most conservative path possible. My favorite word during diagnosis is to “observe”. More often than not, the patient will be happiest to. My focus at work revolves around prevention. I would rather teach prevention of caries and other dental problems so that my patients return every six months needing nothing but a cleaning. Easier for me, easier for them. It saves them money, and saves me time, which could be used teaching even more patients the power of prevention. And so the cycle continues.

When I first entered dentistry, I knew that my model would revolve around teaching. I tutored for ten years prior to dental school, and it has undoubtedly shaped my world view about learning. I paid a lot of money going to dental school to learn about dental health care, so that others wouldn’t have to pay a lot of money to care for their teeth. As I volunteered in multiple third world countries, and farming communities within our own state, I learned that empowering is more important than giving. That equipping with knowledge is more important than aiding. It is the idea that it is better to teach a child at an early age how to brush their teeth properly thus empowering them with a life-long skill to improve their health, rather than aid an adult in extracting all their decayed teeth and replacing them with a denture. This is what it means to have TRUE impact that will change communities, even after you are gone and no longer around. I refuse to be a part of cycle that creates further dependency, but rather, prefer to create groups of people who are self-sufficient and independent.

With all of this in mind, there is one thing I sell on the daily. Toothbrushes. And with this came multiple considerations that I felt did not align with my truest of values. Specifically, toothbrushes are created from plastic (most times), which are carelessly disposed of without a thought in the world.

Did you know that 450 million toothbrushes end up in US landfills every year?

Additionally, toothbrushes are usually packaged in clear plastic, but don’t ask me why. And then there is the issue of having multiple toothbrush companies, claiming that they can outdo all other toothbrushes. There are toothbrushes with hard bristles, medium bristles, soft bristles, even extra-soft bristles. There are toothbrushes with different handles, with grips claiming to improve ergonomics, with handles that are bent, handles that are straight. There are electric toothbrushes that move in circular motions, toothbrushes that vibrate left and right, toothbrushes that light up when you’ve brushed for the appropriate amount of time. Worse, there are advertisements, companies, and, let’s face it, some dentists, who sell these different types. I am here to say that while these toothbrushes could aid some groups of people, particularly those with arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease, or anyone else who has difficulty with holding and maneuvering a regular toothbrush, the efficiency of brushing teeth lies mostly in your technique, rather than the toothbrush itself. Sure, a change in toothbrush can get you closer towards increased plaque removal, but so could improving your brushing habits and methods. What if one increases plaque removal by practicing the proper technique? Then we could focus on buying a toothbrush based on other characteristics. Such as sustainability. Such as responsible and local manufacturing. Such as toothbrushes that give back to low-income communities.

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Enter Bogobrush! A toothbrush that is in harmony with many of my values, and one I would be happy to sell. Bogobrush was created with two things in mind: a product that was good for the planet, and for the people who live on it. The masterminds behind bogobrush are a brother sister duo from a small town in North Dakota, whose father was a dentist. The name BOGObrush comes from the idea of Buy One, Give One, a pillar of what Bogobrush is about. With each toothbrush you buy, another is given to someone in need through their partners. Created was a simple way to protect the planet, buy ethically-made, and give back.

Sustainable:

There are two toothbrush options:

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Recycled Plastic: A toothbrush that can be recycled repeatedly, forever. We are taking plastics destined for the landfill and giving them a second chance at life. The toothbrushes are made from recycled plastic number 5, and can be placed in your recycle bin. To facilitate the process, please remove the non-recyclable bristles with small pliers.

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Biodegradable: A composite material made from biodegradable plants, which can be composted at the end of its life. The current design is made from flax, but a new design is in the works for a plant-based material made from hemp! Recycling options include curbside or backyard. If you have a curbside compost bin, simply discard there. If not, you can toss the handle into your backyard compost pile. As organic matter, it will degrade into carbon monoxide, water, and humus (a soil nutrient). As with anything, it may take a few months or a few years to decompose, since the time of degradation depends on the health of the compost pile and is affected by factors such as humidity, temperature, and biodiversity. The bristles are not compostable so please pull them out using small pliers. However, if bristles do end up in the compost stream, they will break down into little pieces with time. Not the best solution, but a step towards the right direction.

Ethically Made:

Despite the higher cost of producing in the United States, these brushes are manufactured here, a sacrifice worth making. It allows for easier communication with the developers, facilitates site visits, and creates more personal relationships with those who source Bogobrush materials. The focus is to have transparency regarding the supply chain, with the knowledge of the who, what, where, and when of each part of the product, down to the bristles!

Giving back:

More than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care.

This statistic can affect aspects in daily living that we take for granted, including education, work, and overall health. Imagine how much less access there is, to something as simple as a toothbrush, throughout the rest of the world. A toothbrush is a privilege, something I’ve learned throughout my journey volunteering in under-privileged communities. This is something we can change. The hope of creating a more balanced world was so important, that the name itself comes from the idea of buy one, give one.

Currently supporting:

  • Covenant Community Care: Detroit, MI. Serving the people of Metro Detroit through six health clinics across the city. They provide medical, dental, and behavioral health care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.
  • Apple Tree Dental: Twin Cities, MN. Dedicated to providing complete dental care to people throughout Minnesota through its clinics and innovative mobile dental unites. They give away 20,000 toothbrushes annually.
  • Family Healthcare: Fargo, ND. Providing personal, high quality medical and dental care to anyone in the Fargo region, regardless of ability to pay. They also offer significant tools to aide healthful lifestyles.

Minimalist Design:

Admittedly, part of what initially grabbed my attention was the minimalist design. Here they are selling a toothbrush without the frills. Without the batteries, without the lights. A simple design that can be just as effective is always appreciated, in my book.

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Option to purchase a stand, also in a minimalist form.

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Subscription:

Most of my patients are surprised when I tell them that, ideally, we want the toothbrush to be replaced every 3-4 months. A frayed toothbrush has decreased efficiency with plaque removal, and depending on the method of use, a toothbrush can easily fray within a few months. Some tell me that they’ve had their toothbrush for over a year! With Bogobrush, you could subscribe so that a toothbrush is delivered to you every 2, 3, or 4 months. So you’ll never forget. You can also mediate how many shipments you receive. As incentive, the price of each toothbrush decreases with a subscription, in case all the other incentives above were not enough.

As even further incentive, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers their first subscription for free. Cancellation is allowed at any time, if you are not satisfied with the product. A link is placed on the sidebar, in case you are interested in making a change. You must subscribe via my personal link below or in the sidebar in order to receive the promotion. I hope you join me in the movement. If I am to support a product, I want it to be a product that will bring both social and environmental awareness into people’s everyday lives. A toothbrush is a product many of us use every day. And we have a choice.

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Thank you for supporting the brands that harmonize with The Debtist’s internal values and external intentions. And thanks to Bogobrush for inspiring me to be a better dentist and a better teacher. Starting today, there will be a series on my blog regarding all things dental, to promote dental education, without the student loans.

 

 

 

 

All consumption is not bad consumption.

As we near the holidays, and our ever increasing list of presents to buy continue to surmount to a mountainous thread of bullet points and check boxes that far surpass Santa’s naughty or nice list, I want to go ahead and say it. All consumption is not bad consumption.

But aren’t I a minimalist? Don’t I hate the idea of buying things? Doesn’t that make me pro-consumerism? Sometimes, labels are a bad thing. As much as I want this world to be black and white, good or bad, easy or difficult, it just isn’t. My husband will repeatedly remind me that there are areas of gray that we cannot escape. The majority of our lives is in grayscale, not in color.

I know that I always ding typical American consumerism as bad, but it does not mean all products you ever buy is a terrible purchase. It doesn’t mean I live under a rock and refuse to buy stuff completely. It DOES mean that there has to be an awareness to the fact that we were all raised to believe that continually reaching for more stuff will make us more worthy of people’s love and acceptance. The ding is against excess consumption, wasteful spending, gluttonous hoarding tendencies for things that do not matter. The ding is against devaluing goods (and the people who make them) in exchange for a few rungs to climb yet higher up the social ladder. Against tying yourself to decades of job enslavement for a few likes and thumbs up from your neighbors and friends. The ding is there for the destruction of the equating of more stuff to more success. This is where I funnel my displeased passion towards, not the stuff itself.

It all revolves around my own past shortcomings in my relationship with stuff. And I never want to go back. There is the saying that it doesn’t matter what you subtract, what matters is what you add in. So we must always be mindful of what we add in. It is the mindlessness of the entire thing that bothers me. I could blame the marketing, but the marketing fooled ME, so I am as much to blame as them. I am still slowly crawling out of the trap.

The point is to ascertain that I do not judge people for their consumption habits or their decision on what to include and not include in their lives. I am a minimalist, in the sense that I only surround myself with things I love. If I fall in love with something I don’t own yet, then that will be added to my wish list or to my list of things to save up for. I do not live without things.

I like certain goods.

I can appreciate good design.

I am drawn to a certain esthetic.

I appreciate good companies that help the environment or support good social causes.

I feel good when I support a local market or artist.

I like when my lifestyle is improved or made more convenient.

I show my appreciation for others by buying gifts.

But there is thoughtfulness behind the goods I choose to buy. it’s having the ethics at the heart of all of our purchased goods. This is originally why I felt it was right for me to add “Good goods” as a section to my blog. Because we can still buy what we need or want, in moderation, within good reason, and with good reasons. And I wanted to highlight those goods.

A minimalist may read this and roll their eyes. An already financially independent person may start to think that this slows down my progress towards my own personal independence, thus making me unsuccessful. Just like a regular person may read “anti-consumerism” and be turned off by the pros of being more cognizant of our day to day decisions and the reasoning behind them.  But the world is not in absolutes. We cannot label ourselves assuming that we will never choose to be something else. I am a million parts of one person, with multiple personalities, multiple objectives, multiple thoughts. By assuming that we are a believer of only one idea, we put a pressure on others to conform to one thing, to be less of themselves. The judging begins, and it doesn’t end, until the one being judged walks away. Which is a shame, because the door closes towards discussion about things such as mindful purchasing power before it has even opened. The most important conversations never reach the table, because we’ve pushed too hard. .  And wouldn’t that be a waste? What we need more of is forgiveness in the labels we place on ourselves. We need flexibility. When we don’t fit a cookbook recipe of what the whole world expects from a single word description, that’s when we start to define our uniqueness.

So let it be that you buy a gift for yourself, or someone else. All consumption is not bad consumption. I’d love a world that keeps it that way.

See also how we can be more than ourselves.

A Simple Holiday Gift Guide – 10 gifts for the holiday season

Call yourself frugal, minimal, mindful, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There’s still the matter of gift giving for the holidays. Unless you’ve found a way to completely let go of gift giving without hurting or disappointing your closest loved ones, there’s the issue of buying more material goods that could do the planet more harm than good. Gift giving is a bit of a funny thing. You hand someone something to celebrate a birthday or holiday, as a way of saying, “Here’s a piece of the Earth I killed for you in your name.” Extreme much? Yeah, I am sometimes, but there’s a little bit of truth to that statement, don’t you think?

It’s taken a bit of time for me to find a balance in my gift giving strategy. There is the issue of giving someone something they actually want. If there’s a specific list or wish, I don’t stray much from that, only because the point of gifts should be making someone else, and not yourself, happy. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could do an alternative. And for those people that didn’t insist on a particular item, there are always these options. Here are my top ten gifts for the holiday season.

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+ Home baked cookies – wrapped in linen napkin or placed in a reusable container (also being gifted). If your group of friends or family is anything like ours, bring it to a party Pizookie style. We recently served a pizookie this way at our Friendsgiving dinner, and it was way more fun to grapple over each other, digging in with our own spoons, and frantically trying to eat more than your neighbor. It was an awesome way to end a group dinner, bringing us together to literally share our meal. Grossed out by the idea of sharing? Make traditional individual cookies, plate, and top with a heaping scoop of ice cream.

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+ Your best homemade sauce in a mason jar. This is great whether it’s pasta sauce, a secret dressing, or a favorite dip. It is a sure way to bring a little piece of your home into someone else’s. Mike and I share a love for Mexican food, and in the last year, we’ve found a Tomatillo Sauce recipe that tastes almost as good as our favorite sauce in Valle de Guadalupe. Made from scratch, we wanted to share this sauce with our friends and family. We gave away little jar samples as a gift for attending our Thanksgiving dinner. The “Thank You” email sent the next day included our three go-to ways to cook with this tomatillo sauce, from something as simple as chips and salsa, to chilaquiles and enchiladas, which added even more of a personal touch!

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+ A bouquet of everlasting flowers from a local flower shop. I am a huge fan of supporting local farmers, florists, and small shops. Stop by your local florist and ask for a bouquet of flowers that dry beautifully. These in particular are Everlasting bouquets from Petals and Pop, a local floral shop in Huntington Beach. These bundles will last through multiple seasons, and technically, could last forever if left alone. Place in a mason jar or a vase to your liking.

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+ A bar of soap, without the wrapping, tied with a reused bow. My favorite gift that Mike and I ever received during the days leading up to our wedding was a single bar of soap, unwrapped, from my friend Jo as a housewarming gift. On it was a handwritten note tied with a single bow that read, “In my culture, a bar of soap symbolizes prosperity.” The simplicity of the gift stunned me, but it’s something I never forgot. It was my favorite present because she gave us a gift that symbolized a wish.

+ A mini Christmas tree for holiday cheer. Having an early party this season? Bring in a mini Christmas tree, small enough to stand on a coffee table or on the floor. Nothing beats bringing some natural element or other into the home. Plus, the smell of pine is a winner.

+ A reusable shopping bag, with some produce bags and linen bread bags, or mason jars, collected over time. I love these items, and they are particularly useful and actually friendly to the environment. I have a couple of tiny produce bags for fruits and veggies, and a disarray of totebags. The point isn’t to match (although matching is a plus!) but to have a sense of sensibility and practicality when it comes to shopping for those holiday dinners your loved one is about to throw.

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+ Homemade candles, infused with your favorite scents. There is nothing I love more than lighting scented candles. These are easily homemade in a mason jar or a jar that once held a previous candle. It’s great for lighting dark afternoons, when the sun has just gone done but the sky isn’t dark enough to turn on the lights. I love working by candle light in the evenings. There’s something romantic and peaceful about that, and it reminds me of childhood days in the Philippines when the electricity would go out and we only had candles to get us through to the morning. Click here to learn how to make one of your own.

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+ A stack of your favorite books that you’ve read this past year, ready for de-cluttering. I had a goal of reading through the leftover unread books that I foolishly hoarded in my early twenties this past year. But the year flew by so fast, that it seems I only got through seventeen or so books. With my new ways, I no longer feel the emotional tie to books like I once did, and can’t wait to part with them once I have sucked all the knowledge out of their beautiful smelling, yellowing pages. But what to do with them has been a dilemma. I’ve donated a bunch to my sister’s charter school, which does not have a library and wherein she is trying to create a collection of books for her high school students to read. Some of my favorites, I’ve held on to and gifted to fellow bookworms for their birthdays. So why not do the same for the holidays? Choose some of your favorite reads, add a review or synopsis, and wrap them stacked and with a bow. Their book lives are not yet over.

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+ A bottle of wine, brought to a holiday dinner party. Since giving up alcohol, I have constantly been trying to pawn off bottles and bottles of wine at every dinner party we’ve hosted at our house, and then some. It’s a great, merry addition to a party, and a good gift for any host or hostess. Plus, you and the guests may get something out of it too!

+ Handmade cards, for future birthdays and other well wishes. I love giving cards with every gift, but I hate paying $5 for them. I have recently acquired a novice level skill of using a calligraphy pen and could use some practice. I figured, why not practice by making a set of handmade cards? I started to do just that, then grouped ten cards together to gift to someone else for the holidays. Practiced a new skill, and saved someone $50 worth cards for the following year. Win win.

** All gifts were given sans wrapping paper, and tied with a bow that has been re-used from previous gifts that I’ve received.

Minimalism: De-cluttering the floors

Everyone has their own comfortable ratio of how much stuff occupies a certain amount of space. For me, the illusion of less stuff just embodies a sense of neatness and organization, and if I’m being honest, a lot more inner peace. I like to keep as little out as possible, even if it means stuffing our closets and cabinets and drawers full to the brim. I prefer clear countertops in the kitchen, save for the appliances that we use daily, for practicality’s sake. Although, I have considered putting away the microwave and coffee grinder daily, but living with another person doesn’t make such decisions so easy. Compromise does the world good, I suppose. The dining table is usually twelve feet of pure wood, sans centerpieces, lest we buy fruit for the week. The couch has no pillows, but is still equally as comfortable. And the floors are bare. Which is mainly what this post is about.

When we moved into our current space a year and a half ago, I obsessed about buying the perfect rug. I lost sleep over what size is appropriate for the living room, and the dining room, and the office. I learned about all sorts of “proper proportions” and rug materials and eye-appealing patterns. I even bought a few and tried them out.

Rugs are advertised as the perfect accessory. Supposedly a tool used to separate designated spaces in an open floor plan, they are also useful for muffling sounds and for comfort when you feel like playing board games on the floor. Ever played a board game on hardwood? I have, and my knees still feel a little resentment towards that one afternoon.

Eventually, after exhausting myself thoroughly on the topic, I let it go, and am all the happier for it. You see, no rug felt right. No pattern felt neutral enough to last a lifetime, and rugs were too much of an investment to make do with a few months of use. No rug was wide enough for the 12 foot table, or narrow enough for the loft. The “appropriate sizes” made the whole space feel cluttered, as if the ceilings miraculously shrunk a few feet. And the open space no longer felt open. But the worst thing? Rugs muffled the acoustics of the 24 foot ceilings. And that just won’t do. The thing with advertisements is, they can convince you of needing something you actually don’t.

I’ve found happiness with the beauty of exposed rich, deep, mahogany-hued wooden floors. It’s been a perfect place to lay down my yoga mat. And it’s kept the open layout, well, open. We could play a little furniture tetris whenever we want, depending on the occasion we are hosting. People feel as if there’s more square footage to the place, without there really been much. And sweeping floors has been that much easier. Rejoice for simpler weekly habits. Plus, I just feel so much more sane. So here’s to a little bit of sanity, and to absolutely no rug.

Environmentally Friendly: KeepCup.

“If I would not use a new baby bottle every time I fed my child, why would I do the same for a coffee cup?”

This is what Australian Abigail Forsyth, owner of Bluebag cafes in Melbourne, thought when she decided to create her product, the KeepCup. Frequenting coffee shops on the regular, I could not agree more. In American culture, getting coffee to go is a very common part of one’s day. The amount of to-go cups I see consumers go through in every coffee shop is astounding.

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“I thought, ‘this is revolting’, there is so much packaging that is just being wasted.”

-Abigail Forsyth

In 2008, KeepCup was first manufactured in Melbourne, Australia, where the coffee industry is booming. Disturbed by the amount of waste that customers produced, the KeepCup was created with both the customer and the barista in mind. Most re-usable cups at the time were a hassle for baristas to use, because the height and width of the cups were usually not compatible with the spouts of espresso machines. There is nothing more discouraging than to go to a coffee shop and asking to use your own cup, then seeing the barista roll their eyes at you. But Forsyth thought, if we could create a cup that baristas would be cool with, then customers leave with the feeling that they did something right. So she created a cup that had the width compatible with coffee machines, in sizes that common drinks came in, namely 4oz, 6oz, 8 oz, 12 oz and 16 oz. A band is placed on every cup which mimics coffee sleeves and prevents customers from burning their hands on their hot beverages. The lid to the cup has an optional cover so that the sipping hole can be completely covered and then tossed into your bag, making it a great portable option.

Originally made from PP, LDPE and silicone, there are now glass options with cork bands, since a lot of Americans did not embrace the plastic material that the KeepCups were made of. Although they were very mindful of the plastic materials they were using to manufacture their cups, a lot of Americans were wary of all plastics, especially those containing hot beverages, after the BPE scare. Listening to her consumers and hoping to increase the use of reusable cups globally, she created the cup that I choose to carry around, to calm people’s concerns about the emission of toxins in plastic products.

Ever since its creation, the KeepCup has gained popularity, but not as much as we would hope, especially in the U.S.  This could partly be explained by the fact that the coffee culture boomed in the U.S. before a barista-friendly re-usable cup was produced, making Americans accustomed to their usual disposable cups. Breaking a habit is much more difficult than creating one. In an interview with Drift magazine, Forsyth proposed a way to make this trend more globally widespread by introducing KeepCups to countries such as China, which are on the brink of starting their coffee boom. If we could get people to embrace it early on and create a habit, it could really make a difference in the long run.

Others say they would prefer to carry the cups of the shops they frequent, with their logos and labels on it, as a way to show others, “This is where I like to get my coffee, but I am too busy to stay there and drink it.” Hearing this, KeepCup has started partnering with coffee businesses to imprint their logo onto their cups. You can usually walk into a coffee shop in Southern California and find a KeepCup on their shelves with their signature logo on the front. But even this isn’t enough. You are more likely to see these cups on the shelves rather than in a customer’s hand. What we find is that most people claim to be ethically conscious and express interest in such a product, but then reach for that disposable cup when they are at the cafe.

I think that the major reason why the KeepCup has not taken off in the United States is due to our particular culture and mindset. Countries such as Australia, Germany, and New Zealand are more environmentally aware, especially with the legal banning of Styrofoam, to-go containers, plastic and harmful chemicals cropping up here and in other parts of the world. It’s safe to say that America lags a little behind other countries when it comes to leaving behind a green footprint. When Americans were asked why they would not carry a disposable cup, the consensus is that they view a disposable cup as an inconvenience. To remember to carry a disposable cup every time they go to get coffee is too much work. The honest truth is that it isn’t any more work than remembering to take your wallet with you or a jacket when it’s cold. Lack of interest in decreasing waste in general is common in the United States. It’s the mentality of, “We can’t stop global warming, so why bother try?”

Here’s the bad news:

  • Half of the plastic used in the world today is for single use disposable items.
  • Every minute, over one million disposable cups are discarded to the landfill.
  • In the United States alone, 58 billion disposable cups are thrown out annually, with the majority ending up in the landfill. That is, 158 disposable cups for every U.S. inhabitant.
  • The 500 billion disposable cups used in the world each year placed end to end could circumnavigate the earth 1,360 times.
  • World paper use has exploded by 400% in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees of 35% of the total trees chopped down are used in paper industries on every continent.
  • Very little recycled paper is used to make disposable cups because of contamination concerns. Because most disposable cups are coated with plastic, both composting and recycling of disposable cups is uncommon. Most disposable cups are lined with polyethylene which makes them non-recyclable. Disposable cups that are “compostable” require commercial composting to biodegrade.
  • Urban rubbish has increased ten-fold over the course of the 20th century, from 92 to 1242 pounds of pure product waste per person per year. At this rate, we discard approximately 14.4 times our body weight in waste every year.

But there is also good news.

The KeepCup compared to a disposable paper cup (including coffee) sees a 36-47% reduction in global warming carbon emissions, 64-85% reduction in water use, 91-92% reduction in landfill waste annually. Over one year, the KeepCup, when compared to disposable cups, reduces landfill by at least 99%, greenhouse gas emissions by up to 92%, and reduces water use by up to 90%. You can monitor the amount of disposable cups you save from the landfill with Reuse HQ, a program KeepCup started to better monitor the progress it was making. And the best news of all. Most people open up to the idea of using a KeepCup when they see others using it. I get questions every day from baristas and consumers alike asking where I got my “cool” cup. Some people in line or baristas behind the counter pipe up and answer for me or tell me of their own alternatives. What it does is it starts a conversation. I learn new alternatives to re-usable containers (today I learned about HuskeeCup) and people learn of the benefits of using any re-usable cup. Awareness and inspiration are what we need most. Actions speak louder than words, and I can’t think of a better way to show the world the impact one cup can make than to carry it around with me at all times. I can spit out facts all day, but most people will brush it off and continue with their usual routine. It isn’t until we do what changes we say we want to see that perspectives shift ever so slightly towards the right direction.

A call for materialism

As a society that is described as being too materialistic, I want to pose the question that maybe we are not being materialistic enough.

It’s true, in one sense of the word I suppose. We are too materialistic in that we are ingrained to habits of compulsive consumption. Too many people are trying to keep up with the Joneses, trying to buy the next “IT” thing, lining up on Black Fridays and at Apple stores. Admittedly, it was not too long ago that I did these exact same things. I remember it was a “family tradition” to go out every Black Friday with all my aunts and uncles and cousins to go on a crazy shopping spree. We would spend the entire Friday shopping until we dropped. Nightmarish at best, it was a “tradition” that we looked forward to every year. As consumers, we are caught in an absurd circle of micro trends, which are not really trends at all. These material goods are, simply put, status symbols. People line up at the Apple store with every new release of the iPhone because once a newer, “better” one is created, they no longer care about the one they have. In fact, the one they have suddenly emits a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of unhappiness. We are confused about what will make us happy. As if the consumption of products will somehow magically add up to a satisfying life.

The definition of materialistic is as follows:

  1. Excessively concerned with physical comfort or the acquisition of wealth or material possessions rather than the spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values
  2. adhering to the philosophy of materialism, a theory that regards matter as constituting the universe and all its phenomena
Synonyms include: consumerist, acquisitive, greedy, capitalistic, bourgeois
Not exactly words I want to be associated with in general. But if you think about the philosophy of materialism, it is defined as a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental things and consciousness, are results of material interactions.
If matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and if we are truly materialistic, shouldn’t we be more concerned with the quality of our products? I’d like to ask if, maybe, the problem is that we are not being materialistic enough? We need to be true materialists, as in we need to really care about the materiality of goods. I call for an increase in materialism, which requires an invested interest in the true value of the products and materials that we purchase. It seems as if the stars aligned when “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” fell into my lap at about the same time I first saw the trailer for “The True Cost”. I suggest to anybody who wonders just how materialistic our society is to watch this trailer. Or better yet, the entire movie.
Something clicked and I realized, how was it ever possible to be able to buy an article of clothing for the price of $5. Companies must make a profit, materials must be paid for, so where do they cut the cost? The answer is simple and uncomplicated, albeit unfair and inhumane. Production is outsourced to poor countries with the enticing idea of enrichment. Large corporations addict these countries to the idea of uplifting their people out of poverty, which makes them stay, even when the production costs are reduced over time, enslaving their citizens into a dependency in the fashion industry. At the other end of the spectrum, distributors addict consumers such as ourselves to the idea of always faster, cheaper fashion. According to Liva Firth, “Each year across the world, 1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. These are predominantly made in countries described by the UN as the world’s least developed. All in all, the garment and textile industry is estimated to be worth some $3 trillion. And the bulk of that goes into the pockets of the owners of those fast fashion brands.”

 

It didn’t take much to convince me that a change has to be made. And it had to start with myself. If we are to be materialistic, then so be it. But I believe we can be materialistic while also being spiritualistic, being an intellectual and having solid cultural values. If I am to embrace the concept that matter is the fundamental substance in nature and that material interactions drive our consciousness, then those materials better be the best materials I can lay my hands on. And by best, I don’t mean coolest or most popular. I want to reach for materials that are sustainable, reusable, ethically made, and produced with care and love, not only for the consumer, but for the planet and the producers as well. I admit, it is a work in progress. It’s complicated, and also foggy at times, and it’s difficult to ask the hard questions. I have found a list of brands and companies that I support, but I am still a work in progress. At least I am progressing. And the hope is that society as a whole is also progressing towards the freedom from this cycle of need, want, now, now, now.

 

I’d like to end this post with a scenario posed by Liva Firth. If you see a car crash happen in front of you, would you stop what you’re doing to help the people involved? My answer is yes. The question is this. How far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to help. My answer is that it has to be far enough that I cannot get there in time to be of help. Additionally, how far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to care?

 

We are not far enough away that we are unable to help. Some may be far enough away that they simply do not care.