A Call for Movement in Our Sedentary Lives

I was sitting cross legged on the hardwood floors of my friend’s house, immersed in a board game that took three hours of our day and a hundred percent of my concentration, when one of us took the gold and the end of the game dawned on us, as well as a realization that our bellies have been grumbling for half an hour. As I pushed myself up, I felt that achey feeling in my hip joints, as my knees struggled with the unbending. My twenty-eight year old comrades were also having difficulty lifting limbs without cracking joints. It took a few seconds before the pain started to go away, as blood started to flow again. I’m not sure if you’ve ever felt this, but I feel this all the time. Even sitting in bed for an hour writing a blog post can trigger this spasm as I force my body into a new configuration.

A few months later, I read about how people in Japanese culture hardly have trouble at all with their hips and knees. I thought to myself, how could it be that an entire group of people in a particular culture could escape the achey pains that I attributed to age? As I looked more into the topic, I realized that these joints see a lot of movement in their lifestyle, since most meals are eaten on the floor with low tables, and beds are made of futons lying on the ground. Even Japanese worship comes in the form of kneeling and meditating on mats, rather than sitting or standing. Which got me to thinking, how does our sedentary lives affect our physical bodies? And down the rabbit hole I flew, constantly evaluating how non-movement in our everyday is slowly deteriorating our bodies over time.

Many of our physical ailments in later life are masked by medical terms. We give them a name, such as high blood pressure, and arthritis, and diabetes, and high cholesterol. Some say it is for lack of exercise, but I would like to dismantle that theory and say that it is caused by one thing: our lack of movement due to our sedentary lifestyles. We are humans, and our bodies need movement. It blows my mind that the common prescription by medical professionals is exercise. Exercise in the form of gyms and sports, an hour or two of our days before or after work, dedicated to, essentially, movement. But what’s the point of it all if it is negated by sitting (or standing) at a desk for 8 hours a day? We return back to being still, weighing down our joints, starving blood of flow anyway.

When you think about it, what a strange “need” exercise is. Growing up, my idea of exercise was composed of physical education classes (ugh!), gyms, yoga studies, tracks and machines; things that just don’t grow on trees. For this thing that we physically need, does it not seem strange that it doesn’t occur in nature? We know that the nutrients we need in food grows from a tree in the ground and is present in other living organisms which makes a lot of sense. The fact that the Earth contains what we need makes sense to me. But the fact that this exercise that I needed required factories and metal bars and air conditioning and music seemed a little bizarre. But that’s just it.

I don’t think our answer lies in exercise. I think it lies in movement. It also lies in the way we move. If we move in very stressful ways, trying to make gainz as some would call it, our bodies will be taxed. But constant gentle movement throughout the day can do us better. Why is it that we need to go to the gym? It’s so we can offset the rest of our lazy days. Think about how we moved as a species in earlier times. We moved to harvest our food, to collect water from a stream, to carry our babies. Now we have groceries, water filters, and strollers to do our work. It seems to me as if a life of convenience is the reason why we live sedentary lives.

Think of the implications of this one item: a chair. We choose to sit in chairs, rather than the floor. We go to the gym for an hour at a time to do squats. If we just get rid of the chairs in our home and workplaces, we would make this same squatting motion a hundred times throughout the day. Katy Bowman, a biomechanist who has been studying movement for twenty years recognizes the implications of this one piece of furniture. After the realization that movement is what keeps us healthy (not exercise), she has chosen to embrace couch-less living, futon sleeping, on-the-floor dining and barefoot walking. She has two young children, which some may argue calls for chairs, but they have no chairs at their home. She has chosen to implement these intentional addition of inconveniences for the improvement of their health. Creating a home that requires one to move is a way in which we can turn away conveniences and choose a healthier lifestyle for ourselves.

“If aliens came down and looked… it would be clear that we prioritize sedentarism, culturally… that that’s of value, so that we can maximize our time gathering income through the least amount of effort as possible. That’s actually our culture in a nutshell….As the culture, whether they are aware of it or not, buys into the idea that less movement is better, (aka: more convenience is better, because those statements are inter-changable), it becomes more and more challenging in our habitat to find movement because the technology is there before we can even request it”

-Katy Bowman

She has even gone so far as define these everyday movement as nutritional. We all know that we need food,  and we know that not all food is equal. There are more nutritional foods that our bodies need to be healthy. Likewise with movement. We all know we need some form of movement, but it has been sold as simply exercise. But our bodies need more than exercise. Movement needs to come in different ways, with certain frequencies, engaging multiple body parts. The fact is that movement should be elements of all parts of our day.

What happens, though, when we tell a group of people that they need to move more? An avalanche of excuses start to collect. Most frequently, the excuse that we do not have time in our day, which is far from the truth. We need to prioritize body movement more than work and money. What is the point of being rich and successful when your body ails you? I don’t know about you guys but I don’t want to be forty and creak like the floorboards of my grandma’s home. What we are talking about is not something unattainable or difficult to do. Take a few minutes each hour to do hand stretches. Make chairs taller so that your feet can’t reach the ground, and you can kick, kick, kick. Put phones far away from your reach, so that you physically have to get up and get it. Take an interest in fixing things at home for yourself, instead of hiring a handyman. Eat with your hands once in a while. Walk barefoot on the lawn. Bike to work, if you can. Take a walk on your lunch break as you eat a sandwich, instead of sitting in a break room watching TV. Take the stairs to the sixth floor of your office instead of an awkward elevator ride. Park your car as far as you can from the entrance of your workplace. Carry your babies on your back when you are traveling or running errands. Add inconvenience back into your lives, for health’s sake.

How the Mr. Debtist Implemented A Zero Waste Change at the Workplace

We all have potential to make change. I am a firm believer in one’s ability to be an influencer for others in the name of good. But I was still extremely surprised (and very impressed) when I learned that my own Mr. Debtist implemented a change of his own at his workplace.

As you all may know, Mike is a big coffee lover. He has a friend at work who owned his own coffee roasting company, and his coffee beans were featured at our wedding. Between the two of them, they alternate bringing local third wave roaster’s beans to work, making a batch of pour-over each day. Typically, each batch will result in left-over coffee, so they’ve made a habit of sharing the left-over with co-workers who are in need of a cup of Jo.

The problem Mike was seeing was that people kept coming up to them to fill up disposable styrofoam cups provided by the break room. He realized that their coffee sharing has resulted in 2-3 styrofoam cups entering the landfill each day. So one day, he spoke up. He said that he is trying to live a zero waste lifestyle and that he does not want to contribute more plastic to our environments. Because of this, people can only drink the left-over coffee if they bring a re-usable cup.

The amazing thing is that now, every co-worker around them comes with a re-usable mug. Maybe the free coffee was worth the change. But by simply speaking up, Mike has been able to implement a zero waste policy amongst his nearby co-workers at his workplace. It was a reminder, even for me, that we all hold potential. And that staying silent can do no good. So if there is some change you want to see in your own environment, remember that it starts with you.

 

The Student Debt That is My Privilege to Own

I frequently write on the blog about the effects that my student loans have on my lifestyle. Specifically, the weight of such a heavy thing to bear, and the astounding cost that it takes to pursue a dream career. It’s shaped so much who I’ve become, that I have even adopted the cheeky, and equally lame, pseudoname “The Debtist”. Amidst the writing, one thing in particular may have been misconstrued. That is, this whopping student debt, though extreme to say the least, is my privilege to own.

I never spoke about this before, but my mother wanted to become a doctor. It’s hard to say which came first. If she wanted to become a doctor and that’s what led me to decide on dentistry at a young age of eight years old, or if I voiced my dream to become a dentist which prompted my mom to share her own aspirations to become a doctor. Either way, one dream came true, and the other remained just a dream. My mom is a very highly motivated and smart person. She was the top student of her class, from kindergarten until high school, which, in the Philippines and in the 70’s, having a female as the top of the class was not a common thing. She was the first feminist I have ever met, and I would say that she was way ahead of her time. In the Philippines, there is no such thing as undergraduate school. After high school, you go to college for your chosen career and work right out of college. When it came time to applying for college, my mom applied to two majors: one was medical school, and one was engineering school. Why did she apply to both?

She was born to a family with eight children. Of the eight, she was the middle child. Despite being a relatively well-off family, providing for a family of eight with one working person in the Philippines is still not an easy feat. Money can be tight, at times. Back home, there was no such thing as student loans. In order to go to medical school, one would have to pay for the tuition costs up front, in cash, 100%. And medical school is very, very expensive. If my mom were to go to medical school, she would need to come up for the money herself, because her parents were busy trying to keep a family alive.

She remembers the story well, and every time she re-tells it, it makes my heart sink. She chose engineering as a back-up because it was inexpensive, and still a math and science related career, the two subjects she excelled at most. The day they found out if they got into their schools of choice, the results of the engineering school were released first. A list was posted on a school wall with the names of the students that were accepted. When she found out that she got accepted to the engineering school, she immediately accepted it and never looked back. She never did look at the results of the medical school, which were released later that day. I asked her why she never looked to see if she got in, and she says, “Why would I? There was no way I would have been able to go anyway. I might have just been sad my whole life knowing that I was accepted and could not have gone.”

Having student loans is the reason that I am a doctor and my mom is not. Although it does not cost half a million dollars to become a doctor back home, there lies an even bigger barrier, which is the lack of access to an opportunity to create an equal ground for all citizens. Student loans are a heavy toll, but they are what allowed me to pursue my dream in the first place. Because without them, I would not have been able to afford dental school, either.

I became a dentist because of a deep interest in helping others. I was recently asked in an interview whether I knew what I was getting myself into. Specifically, if I knew the cost of dental school prior to applying and if I knew the average salary of a dentist in my area that I would be making when I got out. My answer was no. It may seem absolutely foolish to enter a career without knowing those facts, but at the same time, I didn’t become a dentist to be rich. So to me, money was not at the forefront of my thoughts. The implication was that I did not know what I was getting into and this is why I am in this mess in the first place. But that isn’t true. Money was not my motivating factor, so I doubt it would have been a deterring one either. Money never made it into my life equation. The minute money dictates whether one pursues a dream is the minute that money wins. I was going to become a dentist so that I could help those in need, no matter the cost. Even now, I look at my loans and realize that 100% of my income goes towards paying for my education over the next ten years. Essentially, I will be working for free until I am in my mid to late thirties. However, I simply attribute that as a medical professional’s responsibility, to sacrifice a bit of our lives for others. Don’t get me wrong. The high cost of education still irks me, and I still question the value of the money that goes into the schooling in terms of what you get out of it, but I understand that this is just part of the process of becoming who I am in this particular educational system.

If anything, I have my loans to thank for creating such a meaningful and intentional life. I can’t say for certain that I would have ever created such a disconnect from material goods and money, or a heavier importance towards gratitude, giving, and general non-maleficence if it didn’t come from a necessity to live with less. The loans have forced me to live without the trivial things, thereby adding value in the form of the priceless. This is why the loans are so much a part of who I am, and why I am willing to identify myself as a Debtist. In the interview, I realized that the loans were misunderstood as something that is all-bad, but they are not. Instead, I am using them as my driving force for good.

I would like to thank my mom for being the inspiration that pushed me through with my decision to pursue dentistry. Even though I may not be financially free, I am grateful to have had the freedom to become whoever I wanted to be, with the understanding that being able to pursue the thought of financial freedom is a privilege in and of itself.

Thoughts on: The Power of Small Changes

I live my life through small changes. Every moment is a chance to traject the course to destinations anew. Wanting to make change can be disheartening, if expectations are misguidedly unrealistic. It’s easy to view change as a beginning and an end. The tendency for most is to skip over the middle. Thus, embarking on a journey towards a lifestyle shift can feel, at times, as if you’re going nowhere. Trust me, I know after making $84,000 in student debt repayment and just barely reducing the initial principal by $34,000. More importantly, trust the process, and never underestimate the power of small changes.

The tried truth of the matter is, there is a middle that we never see. Success stories aren’t as cool when we linger on the drudgeries. Passions aren’t so epic when we highlight the failures. No one is EVER going to sit through a TV interview of a millionaire explaining that he became a millionaire by being frugal. None of those are exciting stories, so none of them sell. But these stories are more helpful to those that are pursuing a dream, because they are closer to the truth. So when people ask me how I got to slow living, how I woke up from zombielike reverie and jumped off the hamster wheel, they expect me to say that some point in my life, some experience, led me to where I am now. But that isn’t true. I simply started to watch a lot of documentaries, read a lot of books, reflect on my experiences, and it wasn’t one particular book or documentary or even moment in time that resulted in an epiphany. It was the slow accumulation of knowledge that little by little, moved me in the direction of making small changes towards slow living. Even today, the journey continues. I can’t give you a one word Hollywood answer, a simple solution to your own search for a slower life. But I can stress the importance of the middle.  

We cannot expect results to be instant. More importantly, we cannot give up when they are not. Trusting the process means that we understand that by doing something (anything!), we are by definition, never standing still. I had a friend once ask me to explain how I seem to get so much done. “Do I have a to-do list? Is it made daily, weekly, or monthly? Do I set goals?” Every question was focused on an end. The answer is, I do create a to-do list. I create a monthly one at the beginning of every month, and I create a daily one for the days that I do not have to go to work. The monthly list gives me a general direction, but more importantly, allows me to reflect on what I want for myself in the near future. The daily list is only made on my days off, when I have so much free time that I want to make sure I do not idle away too much of it.

The same friend returned to me about two months later. I asked how his progress was with some of the goals and dreams he shared with me a few months ago, and his answer was “slow”. He placed a lot of them on hold, because he felt too much overwhelm. He reported that he had tried to make a list every day and to check it all off, but he could never finish as much as he wanted. The result was a lot of frustration at his inability to make change. This frustration then led him to take a break.

What I failed to mention to him, which I clarified at this later conversation, was that the list is there to serve as a light. I jam pack my list with all the things I want to accomplish, but I hardly ever get to check all of them off. The mindset differs in the fact that I look at the ones I did check off, and think to myself, “Look how far I’ve come.” As for the rest, they are re-written again for the next list on another time, another day. The ability to do this lies in the non-expectation of an end result. When I want an end-result right away, I too, feel frustration, stress, anger, and insufficiency. I’ve been there, many times! But that does no one any good. So instead, look at it from a place of gratitude. You were gifted with one additional day, and you added to your life in different ways. Forget that you didn’t get to the end. There is so much joy to be found in the anticipation of an end result, that more often than not, the end seems a bit underwhelming when we DO reach it anyway.

So here is a short, quick guide on how to implement small changes in order to achieve even larger ones, at a slow, steady pace.

  • Start with a list. As mentioned above, I write a list in the beginning of the month that I want to see myself accomplish. Something as simple as “Read Two Books” or something more complicated like “De-clutter my Life”. Obviously, the latter requires a bit more work. These more difficult ones, I break down into steps on my daily lists. For example, I would have on my to-do list “De-clutter the closet” on one day, “De-clutter the pantry” on another day, “De-clutter relationships” on yet another day, and so on. The most important thing is to act on these small changes, without expecting to accomplish the big change. Eventually, the small changes add up, and you’ll soon realize that you’ve accomplished the big one, even if it IS a few months down the road.
  • Let go of the list. Give yourself the space to NOT accomplish, and that will be more helpful than locking yourself in with the pressures that cause you to give up completely. Sometimes, we don’t finish, which simply means that there’s another time and place for that change to occur. Let it go, and revisit later.
  • Create mini challenges. I absolutely LOVE mini challenges. I do them ALL the time. Sometimes I call them my own personal social experiments. When I wanted to stop contributing to plastic waste, I started with the challenge of bringing a reusable bottle all the time. I then moved up to not using plastic grocery bags. And then I challenged us to not buy any plastic grocery shopping. Eventually, we graduated to the challenge of not buying take out foods which use plastic. We created the challenge of not using a straw whenever we order a drink. The funny thing is, all these mini experiments are small changes that end up sticking with us and changing our habits. We now hardly introduce any plastic into our lives, through the slow process of adding in one small change at a time. Imagine if we embarked by cutting out all plastic completely, and at once. Would we have been able to push through without feeling despair? Probably not! Creating mini challenges are an absolute fun, easy, light-hearted way to change a lifestyle.
  • Be Optimistic. I don’t believe in the word negligible. I am very optimistic about how far our actions can take us, as well as how we can change a world. Be optimistic and trust that the small changes you are making do have an effect, even if you can’t quite see it yet.
  • Let Go of the Expectations. Expectations could be the most detrimental part of the journey. It makes us feel as if we aren’t enough. Let all that negativity go, and just go with the flow.
  • Slow and steady. But mostly, steady. This is another way of saying, keep it going. Small changes are great in that they are akin to a snowball. Once you make a change, the next change becomes easier, and easier, and easier. Once we see the world in a different way, we become more open to different perspectives. Once we question how society raised us, we find less fear in questioning everything. When you ask the question, “Which is stronger, a rock or a river?”, it is easy to say a rock. But when you look at the way a river forms a canyon, and you can see how the steady flow of some small force can be strong enough, over time, to change a larger structure. Slow and steady wins a race, but mostly, steady.

 

Seeking Discomfort

We all know what comfort feels like. If you are reading this blog post, you most likely have access to a computer and the internet, and you have a place to sit in which to read this post from, which indicates to me that you probably have more than what you need to live a comfortable life. Comfort makes us feel more content, and contentment makes us feel happy. However, sometimes, I absolutely dislike being comfortable.

When I feel comfortable, I know I am not growing. I know that I am doing what I am good at or what I have experienced before. Typically, I am not doing anything new. I know that I am not pushing myself, or creating changes in a default society. None of these things make me feel comfortable at all. Thus, I am always searching for points of discomfort.

When you experience discomfort, you suddenly notice all the things you had that made you comfortable before. You become grateful for your life and the surrounding circumstances that keep you content. There is this moment where one realizes that other people may be in more unfortunate situations, which lends said person a small insight into their existing fortunes. Mike and I had an experience in New Zealand where we decided to do a three day trek through the Fiordlands. Unfortunately, on the day we set out, a massive storm came to pass. We were being jostled in the wind, drenched to the bone (underneath supposed water-proof clothing), and exhausted after being beaten down by Mother Nature on a six hour journey up a mountainous land. When we got to the lodge, we were never more grateful. The roof kept us dry, the showers were warm, and we were off our feet. Simple things became things of great pleasure, and were suddenly considered luxuries! So, discomfort can be good, because it reminds us true differences between basic needs, and excess wants. Our perspective is refocused and we are able to look at the world anew.

Aside from refocusing our perspectives to places of gratitude, it is also good to seek discomfort once in a while, in the name of progress. My boss always tells me, “I like being uncomfortable! It means something new is happening. It means I am learning, I am growing, and at the very least, I am trying.” I love that constant drive to keep moving forward, rather than standing still.

We all feel uneasy when we go outside of our comfort zone. It’s instilled in us from birth, to protect us as a species from potential harm. But all of mankind’s greatest achievements would never have been achieved if no one powered through that feeling of unease, sometimes for the sake of curiosity, sometimes for the sake of necessity. Thus, I am always in search of things that bring me slight discomfort. I don’t throw myself carelessly into questionable situations. I do not riot against society for the sake of rioting. But I ask questions. I put myself out there. I agree to do new things, always, even if I am afraid (also always). There is this misconception that great people become great because they are made of the right stuff. It’s easy to believe that they were born with some drive that the rest of us were not. It gives people the excuse to continue being, well, where they are. The truth is that they are made of the same stuff as you and I, filled with the same fears and the same doubts, born with the same small voice that shouts “Go with the flow” when they are pulled in an opposite direction. The separation lies in the fact that they know deep down that, failing at something is NOT worse than failing to try. And I feel a little bit of that, too.

 

 

The Privilege of Everything I Talk About

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

Yesterday, I was reminiscing on the broad spectrum of topics that I address on this blog, which fall under the categories of finance, minimalism, ethical consumerism, ecofriendly habit shifts, and slow living, with occasional pesky posts spilling outside of these confines. I addressed on Instragram the difficulty with sticking to all the things that make up a whole “me”, adding a friendly reminder to always do “you”. The one thing that I did not speak aloud but which was ever present in my conscious mind was the fact that every one-way conversation I have on this site (and other platforms) has privilege written all over it.

There, I’ve said it.

Privilege is a word that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social context. When I bring up privilege in a conversation, people tend to act in a very defensive way, as if I had called them a name or said a bad word in front of the kids. They usually comment how they are not at all privileged and that they fall under a meager “middle-class” title. Do not get me wrong. I am not “wealthy” by American standards. As you all know, our net worth is negative half a million dollars, we rent a space and rely on co-housing in order to save money, we use travel rewards to travel, and our grocery budget is $50 a week. Still, I am able to say that as a middle-class U.S. citizen, I am extremely privileged.

When it comes to finances, it is apparent that I am of a well enough financial status to be able to look at my money and direct where it is going. I am able to have the access to loans in the first place to get a good education and to secure a career. I am then able to make enough to pay down the debt and to plan for a future. People around the world cannot even plan for a meal to eat tonight, let alone a safe place to “live”. Having a way to choose to budget my way towards financial freedom at a young age is something I feel very lucky to be a part of.

When it comes to minimalism, I have enough stuff that surrounding myself with only things I love requires constant re-evaluation. The problem that we face when people refuse to honor our request for no gifts on special occasions is a problem many others would embrace. The fact that we are in a constant state of de-cluttering is only a painful and embarrassing reminder to myself that there are other people in the world who would beg for these things, but to whom I cannot get access to give these things to.

When it comes to ethical consumerism, I have access to markets that are mindful with their practices in production. I have the monetary ability to support ethical companies, and I have the material excess to not support unethical ones. I am able to be selective and can choose to go without when the price is too high, or when the ethics is absent. There is a quote that states that every dollar we use to consume goods is a vote towards the world we want to see. However, I recognize the unfairness of that quote. A mother in a third world country who does not have the money to pay for an expensive, ethically-made shirt is not automatically a mother who does not want to see a better world for her child.

When it comes to eco-friendly habit shifts, I am aware of the resources needed in order to create lifestyle changes for the better of the environment in the first place. It is already difficult enough to find the resources to be eco-friendly in a well-off community of Orange County, California. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a Filipino to find sources of clean water outside of plastic bottles. As the island sinks underneath its own waste, don’t you think it has crossed their minds that this is unhealthy to the environment? And yet I ask, where do you expect them to get clean water?

When it comes to slow living, I have the space and time to reflect on ways in which I can have less in my life. I run away from having too much. I have a career that allows me time away from work in order to focus on myself. Me, me, me.

The complexities of privilege are so immense, and so conflicted, and so twisted, that it’s hard to describe exactly where each of us falls. What I know is this. If you are reading this blog, and you are trying to attempt financial freedom, or be an ethical shopper, or curb your environmental footprint, or embrace minimalism and slow living, please pause and recognize that you are of the privileged. Please use that privilege to make a difference in the world by being extremely intentional in the way you live, and the way you consume all things. Not just for the factory worker or child laboring in a far off land, but also, for the mother in your neighborhood who lives off of food stamps and does not have the extra dollars to “cast a vote for the world she wants to see.”

In writing this, I am not a martyr or a saint. The martyrs and saints are swimming in poverty, faced with disease and famine, caught in a state of war, plagued with injustice and ill-fate, and still, are trying to raise their children to be good people.

Things to do on Earth Day

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

For those looking to celebrate Earth Day, here are some fun, and simple suggestions.

  • Join a group for a beach clean up.

Or gather a group of friends and family and do it on your own. Also applicable to nearby parks, lakes, neighborhoods, and more. Make it a fun event so that more people will want to go. Here’s a local option in Orange County, if you are around.

  • Make a habit shift.

For example, when you do groceries this Sunday, try our No Plastic Challenge. We make an effort to never leave a grocery store with single-use plastic containers, even if they ARE recyclable. There are many habits worth shifting. If this challenge is too difficult, then start with something small, such as carrying a reusable water bottle.

  • Ride bikes everywhere you go.

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Every weekend, Mike and I make an effort to bike and walk everywhere. Last week, we biked to our coffee shop to refill our re-usable Cold Brew Howler. We walked to a restaurant when we wanted to dine out, and we bike to the library when we have to drop off books. Anything to try to limit car usage. In Mexico, I was very impressed to see that every Sunday, they close down the roads from 8 am to 4 pm so that people can bike and roller blade all day. It not only promotes physical activity and community, but also eco-friendly habits. Once we realized how close and accessible everything was on a bike, we started to use it more and more. Try it out for yourself!

  • Plant an herb garden.

While planting trees would be ideal, some such as ourselves do not have a backyard (or front yard for that matter). But I DO dream of planting an herb garden on our balcony one day. Why not start on Earth Day?

  • Simply get outside.

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Notice the sun warming your face, the sound of trees moving in the wind, the smell of an ocean breeze. We can’t learn to appreciate the Earth if we don’t take the time to acknowledge it’s worth.

How about you guys? Doing anything fun this Earth Day? Leave comments and suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Thoughts On: Why I Was So Adamantly Against An Engagement Ring

There are things in life that we grow up learning as expected pre-requisites toward the next stage. These expectations are formed from previous generations’ own experiences and life journeys, wherein older folks have already traversed the path towards a certain life goal. As a child, I have always been one who challenged these expectations. I was stubborn, curious, and a down-right resister of things that I was told I “had” to do. I would have likely formed my own resistance, and I sure did try to create movements with my sister, much to the frustration of my parents, no doubt. A lot of these life expectations are societal norms that are entirely, all too bogus in my opinion, engagement rings being one of them.

I had a normal childhood. My parents are not divorced. I did not have any hateful relationships. I watched Disney (in fact, that was ALL I watched), and grew up with the Princes and the Princesses. Even though television was limited at our house, I still saw advertisements for jewelry stores and movies with proposals in them. All of this to say, I did not live under a rock and I was not traumatized, which I consider is a necessary statement considering the looks some people gave me when I told them that there was no engagement ring.

When we started telling our family and friends that we were getting married back in 2016, the first question was either “Where is your engagement ring?” and “How did he propose?” To which we replied that there was neither a ring nor a proposal. The first thing my family did was look at me with a quizzical look. But I think they knew me well enough to immediately deduce that I was the mastermind behind this decision-making and did not question us further. Those who didn’t know me, however, ganged up on poor Mike, who was only following my wishes. They questioned why he didn’t just get one anyways, despite my request (demand?) not to have an engagement. They were upset that he did not come to them first for advice, as if they knew better what was best for us. They told him it was a mistake and it was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. The poor soul. And then they came to me and said that I definitely wanted to get a ring from him, to secure the deal, as if a rock on a gold band can keep a man from leaving or changing his mind. As if I would want to keep the man who would prefer to leave. The whole traditional thinking behind the matter is quite laughable to me.

So why was I so against engagement rings? I find engagement rings to be ridiculously expensive, utterly useless, and an honest offense to, dare I say it, REAL displays of affection? I am mortified at the idea of someone needing to give me a highly expensive item to convince me to stay with them for the rest of their life. I am not so useless that I need someone to buy me an expensive ring, either. If I wanted a ring, I can buy it myself, thank you very much. I never looked forward to the feigned surprise of those being proposed to, as if they actually did not know, or never gave it a thought. Firstly, if they never gave it a thought, then maybe there shouldn’t be a proposal in the first place. Secondly, if they actually did not know that he was interested in spending the rest of his life with them, then I suspect there is a lack of communication, somewhere.

I think, too, I was shocked to hear of people our age taking out loans in order to buy engagement rings? I mean, talk about starting marriages with financial hardship. Trust me, I would know, what with my massive student debt, that this is not where anyone would want to be. And I was absolutely not okay with accepting whispered words of requiring a ring equivalent to three months worth of pay.  I remember thinking to myself that the world has gone mad. Do we no longer rationalize things for ourselves? I think it is very important to discuss with younger generations why we are so brainwashed to think that an engagement ring is necessary, or even a coveted thing. The simple answer is that a company (DeBeers) in the late 1800s decided that they were going to take this rock and make it shiny and create this idea of scarcity around it so that it could be equated with a high social status and then sell this rock to the wealthy people of the world. Eventually, he figured out that to make this mainstream will earn him even more income, and thus, this excessive social status that was once only available to very very rich people, started to be advertised to the middle class as something covetable, and worse, attainable and necessary.

The sad thing is that while women covet the darn thing, the men are the ones who are entirely afraid of not buying it. When I told Mike that I did not want the ring, he must have asked me “Are you sure?” over the course of a half a year. Because if he did not get it, what would people think of him? Would I turn around in the future and use it against him? Would we regret this decision? Do I want to be surprised? This assumption that ALL women want an engagement ring is part of what fuels ALL women feeling like they need an engagement ring. Therefore, equally as important as having a discussion with younger generations is having a discussion among partners. I hear guys all the time say they want to propose to their girlfriend but have no idea what to buy for the engagement ring. So then obviously, my immediate question to them is, “Do they even want an engagement ring?” To which they say, “I don’t know. What girl doesn’t want one?” Obviously, we need to communicate better. Ask them. “What of the element of surprise?”, they would say.  Well, then maybe girls should be equally accountable for bringing this subject up, as well. I can’t have been the only one bothered sick with the notion of receiving one, can I?

How did it get brought up for us? I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, but it was entirely my doing. I straight out asked Mike in a very matter-of-fact way, the following questions: “Do you think we will ever get married? When would you expect to get married? Where do you see us in __ years? What are your thoughts to no engagement ring?”, most probably in that particular order. The answers weren’t immediate or hurried, as all answers to big decisions ought to be. In fact, it took us a few months to rationalize whether it was optimal to even get married. And after we finally talked it through and made our decision, as two equals weighing in on something that affects both of us, without the pressures of answering a question at one particular moment while one suffers on bended knee and the other suffers from feigned surprise, I started to list out all the things I would rather have than a rock.

I couldn’t list a single reason to want an engagement ring, but I could list hundreds of things I would have rather spent that money on. Upon the realization that I would hate to see money go to waste, we decided to allocate some money towards a vacation, prior to announcing to everyone that we were going to get hitched. When I say some money, I still mean way less than three months pay, and I entirely mean splitting the trip evenly between two equal partners. It’s 2016 (or it was at the time) and I do believe in equal contributions to any relationship. The vacation was a four day get-away to the Bahamas, and it was our second international trip as a pair. We knew from the get-go that travel was very important to us. It has been an underlying theme in our relationship, and this was another commitment to each other that travel will continue to be a way in which we grow together as a couple. So yeah, I chose to travel instead of strap a band on my finger.

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That’s just it. Just because engagement rings worked for your parents, it does not mean it works for you. My advice? Talk about it honestly and openly. How do we ever expect to break the chains that keep us on a hamster wheel if we are too afraid to ask people questions that could hurt, or more frequently, questions that require even an ounce of thought or soul searching?

And if for some reason it’s difficult for one person to break free from the thought of engagement rings, look, I get it. Advertising is strong, drug-like almost. But then, DO talk about the finances of it. More specifically, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to have it. Prioritize your future goals as a couple. If you want a house or a lifetime of travel or financial independence or the freedom to do whatever you want, try to calculate how many years you would be willing to take off from your other priorities in order to have that ring. Maybe, then, you’d come to a different conclusion.

A fantastic read about engagement rings, and the history of, here.