Simple Things: Blue-Light Blockers by The Book Club Eyewear

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When I was a child, I was (subconsciously) vastly irritated by external stimuli. Jarred by sounds, I could not watching movies or television. Stymied by shyness, I preferred not to go out of my way to make friends. In an effort to be left alone, I burrowed my nose in books (quiet things) and spent much of my childhood avoiding tussling with other kids or listening to adults gossip.

At family gatherings, of which there were many, I would sneak into bedrooms to read, or otherwise take up space on the couch, refusing to relinquish my place once settled. On car rides, with typically hours long, I would pack two to three chapter books and read, staying up the entire way using a dim book light. Even at the school playground, I would sit cross-legged on the cement floor with the heaviest novels I can get my hands on. There was no time to waste falling on tanbark and chasing people to tag when there were many other worlds to travel and see. Some children may have found this habit haughty, but I didn’t care what they thought. While they found joy in rough housing, I made myself a personal book club.

A one member only book club.

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This is the Twelve Hungry Bens with the clear Chunk Chain.

Adults in my life would comment the same thing anytime they found me engrossed in a book, face inches away from the page (only the better to smell the yellowing mustiness with), eyeballs tethered to words. “You’ll ruin your eyesight if you aren’t careful.” Reasoning ranging from, “You’re reading much too close” to “The light is hardly bright enough”, landed on my ears as adults prompted me to immerse myself in society the normal way – playing with children my age. In retrospect, they had a point, not about the importance of social interaction (for books can teach you more about society than kids can) but rather about the risk of losing my vision, and I surprise even myself to say that after all these years of incessant reading, my eyesight is still registering 20/20.

This is a shocker considering that 75% of America using some sort of device for vision correction. Perhaps, it was the books that saved me.

You see, I was quite an imaginative child. Reading a book meant lifting my head every few minutes to process what I’ve just read. This would cause me to look at a point farther away from where I was sitting while my  eyes glazed over and my mind transported me to another place. Since I did most of my reading in my room or outdoors, these mini-breaks meant staring at a far-away tree, or watching a sibling across the hallway in play.

When I am engrossed in a truly gripping tale, you’ll find me scatter-brained, flipping through the pages back and forth, trying to skip parts, piecing the story together impatiently. My eyes were trained to constantly move around, not lock in on one distance or place. According to research, this is a good thing. We need  to stimulate our eyes to different focal lengths to prevent fatigue. Thanks to my spacey brain, I unknowingly protected my eyes by doing just that.

Additionally,  I spent a majority of my time away from screens. Saturday mornings didn’t mean early cartoons, because I usually stayed up too late on Friday nights trying to finish a book under the covers. I didn’t watch TV, I didn’t use computers too often (until my junior year of high school when AIM took over my life), and I didn’t play video games. I didn’t own a smart  phone until I was graduating from college. It was a hand-me-down I-phone 4 when the I-phone 6 was coming out. I didn’t take notes on a laptop like 90% of students. I hand-wrote everything, all the way through dental school at the ripe old age of 26 years old, when my classmates took photographs of Powerpoint presentation on their phones instead of write actual notes. I still had pen and paper in hand. I have had about 8 part-time jobs in my lifetime (Jamba Juice worker, Banana Republic Visuals Specialist, Dental Assistant, Math tutor, School Librarian, Dog-Sitter, Baker), none of which relied on computers, and my actual profession, dentistry, has me mostly occupied in an operatory room rather than at a desk

My only screen-time vice would be this space – my beloved blog. Quarantine has made me especially aware of the impact increased screen-time has on my vision. Stuck at home the past few months guilty of habit-scrolling and incessant COVID-update-refreshing coupled with more blog work, I’ve come to notice a slight strain on my eyes that could only indicate fatigue.

Which makes me wonder, does 75% of Americans need vision correction because of eye damage due to an increasingly digital age?

Enter The Book Club. I fell down a rabbit hole of searching for protective eye wear after I started to notice the symptoms of a stressed vision. I first heard of blue-light blockers from Dr. Hyman’s Farmacy podcast episode with Dave Asprey, who created the simile, “It’s like noise-cancelling headphones for the eyes” when describing a similar product. Both the podcast and TBC reported studies that alluded to the fact that blue light exposure has been linked to disruptive sleep patterns (melatonin regulation), headaches, dry eyes, and reduced attention span. After being in quarantine for only three weeks, I knew that I had to get some.

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When I found The Book Club, I fell in love with the Warby Parker-like chic frames that they had to offer. The price range was very affordable considering the health benefits of the product and the fact that it could save you from years of upgrading prescription glasses. If you already have prescription eyewear, not to fear for they also offer differing grades of prescription lenses. Plus, each pair comes with a fabric case to keep your new frames safe.

Lastly, and most importantly, I appreciated the eco-conscious efforts of the company. Their frames are made of 100% recyclable plastic, and their site demonstrates a fairly easy way to recycle so that it is an accessible act to all. Simply pop out the lens and remove the two screws holding the temples in place. Even the chunky chain and accessories that they produce are recyclable! Their frames are packaged in a box in the shape of a novel made from 100% recycled cardboard. The only plastic present was a small window that I assume is for marketing purposes when the product belies stockist shelves.

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After a day of use, I would vouch that there is a difference in the way screens affect my eyes. The glasses are said to block 30% of UV light and screens have a warmer hue when these glasses are in use. I wear them when I use my laptop, scroll through Instagram, or even watch Netflix or Hulu series on the projector. I try not to use them for regular activities or when I am outdoors. I also do not recommend using them when reading a regular book, as the glasses may cause more eye strain than reading without them. Since the main goal of the glasses is to reduce exposure to blue light from screen use and studies are still being done around its full effects or repercussions, I choose to wear them for only times during the day that I use screens.

Perhaps the best solution, however, is to reduce screen-time, but in a world where separation from our screens have become difficult, I am not sure how valid that noble solution may be. All I know is that I am lucky to have had the history regarding eyesight that I had. I am blessed to have a profession that does not require staring at multiple screens for eight hours a day, five days a week. And I am grateful for TBC Eyewear, who has my back when it comes to protecting my eyes.

This post is in partnership with TBC Eyewear. All content, thoughts, and opinions are my own. The mug is from East Fork Pottery in Morel. The glasses pictured are Fan of Seen Labels in Sky with a Chunky Chain and Twelve Hungry Bens in Bourbon

Intentional Living: Tech Boundaries

Creating boundaries is, quite frankly, an incessant hobby of mine. It’s a way in which I organize my world, a way to decide which realities get to partake in my life. Like writing, it’s fun for me, as well as essential to maintaining a sense of inner peace. This is hardly the first time I’ve written about it.

Speaking of, I have found that my inner peace is most jostled by the presence of tech. Not every technological invention, persay, as this blog space has actually been helpful with maintaining my sanity. But rather, tech meant to connect. Media in general, social media in particular, acts as a stressor in my life. Call me introvert, but the stimuli and external input puts me on edge, perpetuates my teeth grinding habit, and to state bluntly, makes me extremely irritable and cranky.

What I’ve come to realize is that all of this discomfort with tech really boils down to a few facts. The first being that I am easily overwhelmed by external stimuli. It throws my inner compass off-kilter. It interrupts my thought processes. My moods sense other emotions and empathizes by mimicking them. Because of this, I have always been a withdrawn child, preferring books or sleep over play-time with other children. I refuse to own a TV because I prefer to avoid the news (which I find to be mostly negative and fear-inducing) and TV shows (which I find to be addictive despite having little substance). Likewise, I dislike technologies that connect me to things  outside of my inner knowing.

But secondly, I have come to realize that this dislike towards tech results from a dislike towards the industry at large. It isn’t the phone itself that I hate. The phone is helpful to daily life. Rather, it’s the scientists, developers, psychologists – all of who are trying to cajole us into spending our time doing things on their agenda. It is this realization that gets me riled up – to the point of saying, “You do NOT get a say in how I spend MY time.” I’ll admit – they are extremely good at what they do. They send us sponsored ads for companies we might like, showing us products we might spend our hard-earned dollars on, which translates to products we spend our valuable time earning money on. They’re also good at creating a feed that gets our attention, under the premise of keeping us connected. They invented platforms that facilitate mindless scrolling … and you all know how I hate mindless activity.

All of this has resulted in a fire in my belly, which I use as ammunition to try my best to resist a dependency on my phone. But also, it has graciously led to a softening of the heart, and has lifted much of the guilt that I used to feel around my “weakness” for staying connected via Tech. We could all afford that bit of forgiveness. Because it’s not just the tech we are battling with. It’s a group of really smart people who are very good at their jobs and who are spending trillions of dollars into trying to get us to spend our valued time on what benefits them. No wonder we are overwhelmed by their constant pushing. I’ve started to realize that it’s alright to be sucked in sometimes, but to find awareness of that occurrence is already one step closer to battling against it.

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What I have found helpful is the creation of boundaries around tech use. I want tech to be what it was originally created for – a tool to do something, not a black hole for mindless scrolling. Below you will find a list of boundaries that have either been helpful thus far or that I hope will help in the near future.

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  • Use physical location as a boundary. I have a specific spot for my phone, and the action I try to abide by is docking my phone at this location which happens to be by the window sill away from my bed. I try to never set my phone next to the bed on the nightstand, a habit born after a friend of mine talked of the possibility of electronic waves and radiation emitting from the device at all times. It’s a habit that has stuck. When I come home, I try to dock my phone by the window sill plugged into the charger. The location is hard to get to due to it’s isolation. It requires me to walk over from other parts of the home and brings with it an extra trigger for awareness. I have time to think to myself, “Why am I walking over to pick up the phone? Is it worth the energy? Is it worth the time? Is it important or necessary to do right now?” Additionally, since it is not by my bedside, it is not the first thing I grab for when I wake up in the morning, and I do not look at it before I go to sleep. I used to spend the first and last hours of the day thumbing through Instagram but after I created this intentional location for my phone, I have not done it once in the last year – which is quite the triumph.
  • Don’t use the phone earlier than a certain time. It doesn’t have to be as strict as a particular hour. But for me, I attribute it to a sect of activities. Since the phone is docked by the sill away from the bed, and my alarm is in the form of a hungry, wailing cat, I don’t feel the need to reach for my phone the minute my eyes flutter open. My habits in the morning are to drink a full glass of water first thing (which I’ve set on my nightstand the night before), to feed the cat (less than half of the days of the week since usually Mr. Debtist beats me to it), and to roll out the yoga mat for a few moments with Adriene before the roommate starts work in the living room. After my yoga morning stretches, I put away the yoga mat and start to make breakfast with my husband in the kitchen. We will eat breakfast together and this is when I first allow myself to pick up the phone – after I’ve already given back to myself, taken care of my body, and spent a few mindful moments with family.

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  • No phones in the evening, especially before bed. This isn’t so much a hard-set rule as a consequence of the way in which I spend my evenings. Perhaps it was after I read that blue light greatly affects quality of sleep that I subconsciously started to avoid the phone at night. More plausibly, it’s a result of my Iphone 6 running out of juice mid-afternoon and the habit of plugging it in after coming home. Plus, our evenings are the times we spend with each other. Even during quarantine, our days are mostly spent to ourselves, with hobbies, chores, blogs, classes, or whatever else we like to do. We reconvene for lunch mid-day, but hardly do we ever hang out after breakfast and before 4:30 p.m. It’s a lifestyle for introverts, that’s for sure. But in the evenings, we come together to make dinner. We made a rule when we married that we will eat our meals together and we haven’t strayed from that, so we will sit down to eat. Then we will do dishes and spend time playing a board game, watching a TV show or movie, making drinks, or lying with the cat. I don’t know why evenings are our “we-time”. It’s probably derived from our previous work schedules, where evenings were all that we had. Regardless, the phone has no place in our relationship come evening. And I certainly don’t bring it to bed with me at night. Once it’s docked for the night, I scarcely look for it or pick it up til morn. Even he has evening restrictions on his phone, turning on his Night mode past a certain hour which changes the screen to Black and White. If you’ve had trouble lately, perhaps the “Do Not Disturb” option will be helpful?
  • Keep the phone on silent mode. Embarrassingly, I turned off all notifications from my phone when I first got one, at 21 years old, because I disliked the sounds the phone made. Pings and rings would startle me from whatever I was doing and cause me to jump. I guess you could say I am highly sensitive to loud sounds. I would literally get scared, and was on edge whenever I had my phone on me. So I kept my phone on silent mode, which prevented me from developing a habit of urgency. I never responded right away, and I usually missed calls. Nobody seemed to mind. I simply got back to them when I had the chance.
  • Remove app notifications. I get annoyed by intrusions, in general. As a child, I would fly into a rage when my sibling or parents interrupted me while I was focusing on a tasks. As an adult, I would feel similarly towards my phone alerting me of an incoming text or social media comment – things that I found unimportant and too frequent for my taste. I never allow apps to notify me – with the exception of text messages and phone calls. Since the phone is already on silent, the notifications don’t really work until I look at my phone, but by deleting other app notifiers, I found the screen to be less cluttered whenever I checked. Both this and the previous tip have helped me to be more present throughout the day and have removed the pressure to always be plugged in.

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  • Placing screen limits or app limits. I really like placing screen limits. Usually, I place impractical limits, ones that I could never achieve such as 30 minutes of phone time a day – but it’s always something to work towards to, which is my main motivator in life. You can limit an app itself (like Instagram) or a general category (like Social Media). You can also limit phone usage en total. If you go over, don’t let it be so disappointing that you give up altogether. Be gracious and remember, it’s an entire industry.
  • Limit the number of apps. Some people really enjoy organizing their apps into categories. Some have a main screen, and then three other screens to swipe right to. I have seen people organize by app color, by app function, by app name. Despite loving organization, too, I prefer to be organized by simply having less. My husband will tell you that I refuse to download apps. I don’t have a ride share app, a food delivery app, or a music app. I don’t even have an e-mail app. The e-mail one was a biggie because when I deleted it, I found myself only checking once or twice a day on a computer, versus, say, every five minutes. I avoid game apps (because I know how addicting they’re made to be and how un-stimulating it is for the mind) and I would say I have fallen behind on social media apps barring Instagram. Plus, as organized as a phone looks with all the apps in their proper boxes and squares, I’d have to say that the screen looks much more polished with less clutter taking up space. A screen clear of apps is similar to a room clear of stuff. Both allow us to focus on the important things in life.DSC03540
  • Turn off the phone when not in use. I did this for a while and I am happy to report that it helps tremendously. I like that the phone is a tool, meant to do something specific, and then meant to be put away. I use the phone mostly in relation to this blog and Instagram, which I wish was a crutch excuse but after many experimental tries to obliviate Insta-use, I know now that it is a necessary truth. Typically my blog work was in the early mornings before a dental shift, so what I did was turn off my phone (completely!) once I clocked in to do dentistry. On my downtime, instead of using my phone, I read a book. I turn it on to check during lunchtime and after work, then dock it on the sill. I did this for a while and it was fantastic! My screen time decreased to my proposed 30 minutes a day (total!) for multiple weeks. Unfortunately, I fell off track when the stay-at-home mandate had me working more hours in this blog space – not entirely a bad thing. But it’s good to know there’s that habit shift to fall to, once dentistry days pick up again.
  • No phones around people. This is the one boundary I am terrible at. However, I am highly inspired by my roommate who is very good at not having a phone out when with people. Instead she is present in conversation, actively listening or doing something with her mates. I, on the other hand, have my phone out at the dining table. I photograph food and coffee. I feel the need to document my time, unfortunately at other people’s expense. I try to keep the phone away when socializing. I find it easier to do when I am at a party or get-together, and more difficult to do when we are out eating dinner. I am drawn into conversation when only a handful few are attending, and use the phone as a means to escape larger, more overwhelming crowds. It doesn’t make it right. This is definitely one boundary I want to practice moving forward.

For those feeling like this is all a bit too much, just pick a few to adapt. Essentially, these are simply habits. Similar to the way your hands automatically reach for your phone, you can train the self to automatically put it away. Not all tips may work for you but it’s the mindfulness that really makes the practice worthwhile. You’ll notice moments where you are more easily drawn, the reflexes more easily learned and less easily broken, and the difference between being connected to your inner knowing versus the world at large.

For the still dubious, instead of completely eliminating phone dependency (an act that can feel too much like a win-or-lose), try crowding out. Crowding out tech use is  something secondary to my lifestyle, which is filled with hobbies and activities that I enjoy doing. I’ve found that I hardly touch my phone when I’m immersed in a book, focused on learning something new, or processing my thoughts in written form. If getting-rid-of-altogether isn’t your way, perhaps think of it as an opportunity to substitute with actions worthy of your time and of your own choosing.

 

Small Space Living

Tip 09 //  Make the most of a tiny city balcony

My favorite part about joining the small house movement is the creativity required to turn barely-there spaces into ones worthy of our lifestyles. You don’t get much surface area living in a tiny abode. It requires being alright with carving out a little nook for the cat litter box, combining your husband’s office with the bedroom, and using the same barn door to close off the laundry closet and the upstairs bathroom. The dining table has to double as a makeshift office during quarantine, the living room acts as a yoga room in the mornings, and the kitchen once doubled as a bakery.

Despite living in what is considered to be a small home, I am proud to say that our cohort of three has thrived in creating extremely intentional lives. If anything, I would say a small space does that to you. It’s as if the smaller the home, the more mindfulness is required in order to create a functional dwelling place.

And now that we have been contained indoors for some time, it has become necessary to add something to our home that would replace what the outdoors once served us. I wanted to add to our habitation something that would function as a reprieve from man-made things, but also, from each other. No offense to my company, but I miss the smell of fresh air, the way wind and my hair fought (the wind always won), the sound of rustling leaves and chirping birds, the feel of warm sun rays and cool grass – I miss the invisible things. Plus, to be completely candid, I wanted, simply, a place to go. I know it’s a lot to ask, what with so many suffering. But I needed space that would allow me to step outside. I love my squad but I wanted to be able to shut a door (it’s been so long). Get some privacy, for once.

Because a part of creating a functional space out of 900 square feet entailed not having any doors or walls to separate space into even tinier space. Before the quarantine, such minimalist living was fine, since I got my breathing room by going somewhere. I got headroom in the yoga studio, I got expansion on the beachy sand, I got personal space at the office. Being cooped indoors brought to my attention my need for the outdoors – a “somewhere else” if I may.

So the project that I came across was our tiny city balcony. I wanted to turn it into more than just an extension of our home that collected dust and made our tomato plant and green onions grow. I wanted to turn it into a breakfast nook, a new work space, a reading area, a place to drink cocktails, a place to tan, and a grassy knoll – all at the same time. This is quite the feat, considering the space is only 59″ x 114″ in size. But, with a bit of planning, it was definitely something we were able to do.

Below are a few tips on how to make the most of a tiny balcony.

  • Use Dual Purpose Flooring – We chose two different types of flooring for our balcony. A grayish wooden slat for half of the space, and fake grass for the other half. The grass is great for sunny afternoons when we want to sit in a lounge chair and drink cocktails or read a book. We hope our cat Theo would eventually meander out there and soak up the rays (he’s still hesitant to step outside). The slats are for when we want to sit on a bistro dining set and pretend like we’re sitting on a Parisian balcony instead of in the heart of downtown. Additionally, I felt like the slats was the more practical of the two options. As much as I loved how the grass reminded me of the parks I was missing, I wanted something more “serious”, for days when I want to work on the blog outside. I guess having both gave us an adult balcony and a whimsically quirky one, too. That’s the thing about creating an intentional space. You want it to fulfill the parts of your lifestyle that you love – both the serious side and the fun side. Probably the best way to make the most of a tiny balcony is to embrace the possibility of duality in much the same way that our indoors operate as different rooms within the same space. Plus, I like the way the two contrast each other, both in functionality and aesthetically. I mean, just look at it.

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  • Choose Minimalist Furniture – When it comes to choosing furniture, be intentional with how it looks as much as how it functions. I like minimalist furniture that require little upkeep. For example, these lounge chairs have a drain-hole at the bottom of the seat for days when it rains. They are also easily wipeable with a cloth rag in case they get dusty, and reviews online report that their white color makes them easy to bleach, in case they get scuffed or become insanely dirty. Also, furniture that is light in weight is a consideration for me. It facilitates their shuffling around, which I oft do to change up their functionality or to change up the space. Fold out furniture like our bistro set is flexible and easy to move around. I like furniture that I can put away to make room for other activities (Step Brothers reference).

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  • Store Things in Practical Ways – When it comes to storing things, I think people fall into two camps. I am of the variety who prefers zero fuss when it comes to storing our stuff. I do not believe in buying “storage solutions”, seeing it as another episode of stuff begetting stuff. Therefore, I prefer things to store themselves, or be beautiful enough to hold their ground when their haphazardly left out in plain site. In the case of balcony furniture, these were my solutions. The bistro set that we chose is foldable and remains so against the walls when not in use. The reason is two-fold: to decrease the collection of dust and rust by limiting the surface area exposed to weather wear, but also, so that the balcony always has s-p-a-c-e. The lounge chairs, on the other hand, are stack-able and made quickly out of the way. This is especially useful if we want to bring out some dining chairs when guests are over for tea or breakfast and we want a nook for four instead of two. Lastly, I purchased a pair of seat cushions for our bistro set, but in order to maintain them well, we remove them every time we fold up the chairs and bring them indoors. They sit on a bookshelf, always clean and ready for the next time we want to set up the bistro set.

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  • Lean towards neutral colors – So grass green isn’t exactly a neutral color. (That’s part of what makes it so FUN). But, in general, the pieces that we picked out are of neutral colors. I have found that design is highly dependent on the colors you choose. Color is the one factor that carries the most weight in determining the vibe of a space. Colors that are too loud can act the same way clutter does – it can distract our attention and detract from a room. Neutral colors help create an environment that allows me to do quality thinking and relaxing. In order to make small spaces seem bigger, I try to go with lighter tones. Colors that I like to stick to include shades of brown, grey, white, and blue. The flooring is a light blue-grey color and the bistro set is beige. The seat cushions are an oat hue to blend in better with the chairs. When you disguise things as one, it is easier on the eyes and is processed much quicker by the brain. There is less stress placed on both organs. Additionally, the lounge chairs are bleach-white. White is the one neutral color I use to create contrast. It looks especially good against the grass and the wooden palette.

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  • Limit the clutter. As you already know, I’m not a fan of clutter. I’m a less-is-more enthusiast, and I apply the rule liberally to all my spaces. I also have found that limiting clutter is the best way to make any space look larger than it is. So when it came to selecting the balcony decor, I went with my usual mantra and kept it to the furniture themselves and nothing more. I skipped planters, umbrellas, wall hangings, shelving, and art. Not only does it bring the cost of the balcony remodel down, but it also decreases the amount of stuff to maintain, leaving us with more time to be able to enjoy the balcony itself. Isn’t that what making the most of this space really all about?

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A final word on making the most of your city balcony (or space, for that matter). Use it to it’s fullest potential. Find ways to enjoy it for more than just breakfast on the weekend or reading in the afternoon. Turn it into a new office space. Stack the lounge chairs and post up the bistro set so that you can roll out the yoga mat. We’ve already got plans to bring out the projector for summer movie nights. This is the best part of small space living; making use of every square inch, squandering every possible memory, and squeezing in as many house guests possible. That’s where the fun in small space living begins.

 

Small Space Living

Tip 08 // Tiny Changes for Tiny Improvements

As a believer that nary an action is for naught, my life has been heavily founded on tiny improvement stacked upon tiny improvement. If it were not for my confidence in this belief, I think I would have already crumpled myself in despair, afraid to face the realities of a ruthlessly crushing world. So it follows that my home remodel, too, has progressed in increments.

As a person who becomes easily anxious over minutiae, I cannot possibly expect myself to land on something so big a challenge as remodeling a space very easily. In fact, my only hope for a mental survival lies in tiny gains, microscopic wins, and fractional chemical releases of feel-good juice. It is, for me, the only way I know how.

I am not the type to make grand decisions easily. When I do, it is usually in a rush to alleviate myself of the responsibility, ending in regretful tears as I sit with my deflated feeble shadow of a self.

I have always found the external world an overwhelming array of stimuli, Childhood parties too loud, classmates too talkative, movies too scary, life too busy … everything was just too. Hence my attraction for simple living.

When I speak of making a house a home, I refer to a slower pace of finding what feels right in a space. It’s been a year and a half since buying our home, but not a single corner feels 100% done. I mean, we’ve just only found a couch for the living room, after five years of living together. I haven’t even started looking for a coffee table.

Sometimes, it’ll feel right for a few weeks (months if I’m lucky), then it’s back to the drawing board. Curating takes a lot of time, patience takes a lot of effort. So if you are looking to vamp your own home, perhaps tiny changes are what’s right for now. I’ll take a gander overwhelm isn’t what we need, and we should probably be saving our dollars for emergencies and rainy days. So don’t shy away from the little things.

Here, a few of the things I’ve attended to whilst staying at home:

  • Organize a pantry. Jessie May is my inspiration for organizing the pantry and the fridge. I already had a ton of bulk products stashed in my pantry but a collection of jars did just the trick for making them actually look nice. Plus, we’ve found a way to make ingredients more visible by moving them to a shallow front-facing cabinet that happened to be at eye level. These ingredients used to reside in a long narrow pantry cabinet where they were easily forgotten and neglected.  We’ve since cleaned out said cabinet, and have started with a clean slate. Our new goal after this pantry clean out? Use the current ingredients before returning to the grocery store to buy more. We don’t hoard by normal standards, but this cabinet is already looking too “cluttered” for me.

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  • Reupholster a sofa. We found the iconic and modular Ikea Soderhamn sectional on Craigslist and picked it up from a young couple newly moved into a apartment about a month ago. This is the most sustainable couch option we could find – one man’s trash is another woman’s new couch, or however the saying goes. We have just ordered a linen cover in Simply Grey, as well as natural wooden legs, from Bemz in order to make the couch more fitting for our space. We should be switching the covers around the end of April, remaking the living room space with  a lighter, Spring-ish vibe. In the meantime, we have actually fallen in love with the deep blues, and have decided to keep it as a cover for the cozy winter months in the following years to come, as shown in Coco Lapine’s own remodel. Which color do you prefer?

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  • Rearrange furniture. We don’t have much furniture to move around. Except perhaps a side table in the living room that doubles as my work-desk, a coffee table, AND a footstool. But I’ve been known to move furniture around none-the-less. The dining table has seen three configurations since we’ve moved in. The house has seen donated sectionals propped against windows, hand-me-down patio chairs used in the living room, and a college fold down couch which has doubled into a guest bed. Rearranging furniture is my favorite way to “remodel” a space for free. Erin Boyle of ReadingMyTeaLeaves has a practical approach to making a house a home, which you can find on either her blog or on the Skillshare course she made about ‘Everyday Minimalism’.

  • Find solutions to clutter. I love the saying, out of sight, out of mind. It applies especially well to the home and has become relevant now that homes have turned into schools and work spaces, too. The less clutter lying around, the more mental head space we’ve got to work with. As moms across the nation roll their eyes at my notion of having a clutter-free home, I have a suggestion that just might work for even them, too. I am not advocating the organization of ALL clutter into proper places at once. I’m just saying, keep them out of sight. My solution has always been to throw things that commonly get left out on the living room into a “junk drawer” per say. But instead of drawers, I prefer baskets. My house has Olliella baskets neatly tucked underneath shelves, next to the couch, and in the bathroom cabinets. Inside these baskets, however, is a hidden collection of random items that are not so neatly tucked, but are well-loved and oft grabbed. Which goes to show that solutions are neither perfect nor permanent nor neat. They’re simply, solutions.

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Now you may be thinking, this post may seem absurdly short, considering the amount of time I’ve had at home. But of this I am immensely proud.  There are others, too, like a patio reno that has been on our mind for some time. Things are ordered but nothing’s set in stone and it’s very likely that things will arrive and I’ll decide none of them work for this space. I’ll just take it, as always, a little at a time.

How about yourselves? A few improvements getting you by?

My grandfather died in the early evening of March 25, 2020.

My grandfather died in the early evening of March 25, 2020. I imagine as the sun was setting, the last rays of light took with them his final breath, the last rays of hope of his seven surviving children and loving wife.

My grandfather did not die of the Coronavirus. In fact, a few weeks ago, he was alive and well, without the usual ailment that one would find plaguing an 85 year old man. But two weeks ago, he was admitted to a hospital due to a stomach ulcer, and afterwards, was released with a list of medications but no energy to take a sip of water, let alone food.

Last Wednesday, he was re-admitted to the hospital due to dehydration. Because of the Coronavirus epidemic, no one was allowed to visit him. We hardly spoke to him and calling the hospital led to dead ends at times, because they had many more problems of their own. I think of what it must have felt like to sit there alone without a face to recognize, without a warm hand to hang onto. To spend the last week alive in isolation, without a breath of fresh air.

At least when he did speak on the phone, he still joked with jubilee, telling my grandma that “there are a lot of beautiful nurses around” as my dad bantered with him, begging to switch places rather than stay at home “with these two oldies.”

It was Sunday night when he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer that had already metastasized. Although my aunts and uncles asked the doctor not to tell him, my grandfather already knew, as my father’s brother, who happens to be a nurse at the same hospital, told us that my grandfather had asked him, “Why have I been moved to the cancer wing of the hospital?”

My grandfather was never a fan of medicine and hospital beds, and had already told us a few weeks before that he did not want to undergo surgery when it came time. “Was he warning us of what’s to come?” my mother later wondered. There was no chemotherapy or radiation therapy to be had. So, per his request, they brought him home on Monday evening via ambulance. Home – where my grandma and aunts and uncles went to see him.

On Tuesday night, my mother called me sobbing, telling me that he was almost gone. That he had no words left to speak and his eyelids failed to even open anymore. She was on her way home and I asked her if she would like to stay with him but she said she was going home to rest.

Wednesday evening, my father called Mike’s cell phone and the minute I heard my mom wailing like the sirens of the sea and making gutteral sounds that could only come from the bottom of hearts, I knew it was over. She was the only one of the seven surviving siblings who wasn’t at his side when the sunset took him away. She was his baby, the favorite according to her own kind, and she wasn’t there.

Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let go when someone we love is near. Maybe it was easier for him this way, to leave silently without the tether. My mother learned to understand that, but of course, at that moment she cursed the gods and herself for the choices she’d made.

He didn’t suffer emotionally, ignorant of the cancer growing within him. He didn’t suffer physically as he peacefully rested his eyes during his last few hours. Every surviving child got to see him one last time between his arrival home and his final destination. It was the best case scenario one could hope for, considering.


Yesterday evening, before getting the call, I read the Little Blaque Blog, the words of Erin Rose Belair. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Into the Blur

by Erin Rose Belair

It is one thing to say, we take this for granted. It is another thing to live in the knowing, to taste it, to have life so close you could reach out and touch it. If only…

The rest of my day is decided by how I spend my morning. I move carefully forward because if I slip, the entire day is lost to fog and worry, and pacing the room so quick I may wear the rug thin. If I make it through the morning hours without reading the news or asking why, then I know I can make it to sun down.

I keep myself busy by doing everything carefully. I untangle my hair in a hot shower. I make coffee slow and drink it even slower. I read poems to the dog and count the waves that come in. I am more grateful for this view than I have words for. We have so much more than we ever realize. I watch the waves come in and count clouds. I miss my mother. I set the table for no one.

I wonder what we will say about all of this later. I wonder sometimes if there is a later. How it will sound on our tongues, some strange fever dream we all slipped into? The lines are more blurred by the moment, night and day, day and night.

I name the days by the things that stand out. The day the bird flew inside. The day they took away the beaches. The day I slept fourteen hours. The day it rained so hard the windows rattled and blurred the horizon. The day you made a table. The day I learned to make bread.

Sometimes the fear is palpable and I envy people I talk to that don’t carry the weight like I am. I try to prioritize, narrow my focus, control my panic but it does little. I open the windows. I cry at night. I worry there is no going back. I worry even worse, that this is not the worst of it, that today will be something I covet in the weeks to come.

Everything that used to seem important feels like a forgone notion.

What I really want is to spend a summer in Maine and eat lobster, and drink white wine, and watch my daughter out the window in the yard of the house we rent for all of July. What I want is to be afraid of things like mosquito bites and too much salt in the salad, and whether or not you still love me like you used to.

It’s all a blur. Maybe we’re there already. Maybe this is all a dream. Eventually we learn not just how to endure it but how to thrive and stay alive in it as well. We still have to make something out of all this.


Every day I’m on here, spinning life as a gift. Every day, I implore y’all to just take things more in stride. Every day I preach that too many of us walk the world asleep. My mother didn’t expect it all to come so suddenly. It was why she was not there by his side.

Or perhaps, as the one closest to him, she knew, too. And she could not bear to see how it all unfolds. I wish I could have done more to shake her awake, but I couldn’t. Words, they only do so much.

But it taught me a valuable lesson in that sometimes, people do walk the world asleep. We do take things for granted. The freedom to walk outside, the ability to visit the dying and sick, the warmth of sun on the sand. We worry about when we can work again, when the kids can return to school, when the parks will re-open. We rush to our phones and laptops to connect, distant yet closer, until tomorrow, but our eyes glaze past our own loved ones, the cat sleeping on the couch, the parts of ourselves we’ve already spent too long ignoring. Even with the opportunity to stay home, where everything most dear supposedly lives, we fight to get some part of ourselves out there, on social media, in the workplace, via selfie and Skype call. Maybe a few times in our lives, we will wake, even for a second, to spot the present moment passing by, as if scenery on the long train ride which we call life.

I suppose all we can do is hold each other and lift each other and do our parts as best we can. I’ll be there today, offering words, even though I know they can’t possibly take the pain, or make the forgetting go more quickly. I can only use them to pass the time by, to fill each second with memory, love, or whatever else she needs right now, until the seconds burst one by one. But as a girl who processes things with words, words are all I have to offer. Words are all I have to write.

 

Productivity In Times of Quarantine with SkillShare

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

On the heels of the previous post regarding creating separate spaces between work and home, I thought I would be completely inclusive here and address people who, like myself, have recently found themselves at home without work, undoubtedly the greater of two evils. Not knowing how long the hiatus will last, it becomes difficult to spin this quarantine into more positive lighting, but spin this I will try.

If you are finding yourself suddenly at a loss (of words, a job, and/or purpose), may I suggest making quarantine time a time of productivity? I have partnered with SkillShare to give those looking for something to-do something to learn. Using this sign-up link, you will receive two months of FREE access to their Premium membership, because seriously, who knows how long this will last?!?

An ideal day of quarantine for me would include a morning of yoga, a rejuvenating shower to face the day ahead, a cup of mindfully made coffee, and a late morning lesson on SkillShare. All of this followed by a healthy lunch, writing for the blog, meditation for the mind, reading for the self, and tending to our home for the soul.

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SkillShare is a platform that features some of my favorite bloggers teaching others their life skills in a succinct series of videos. This list includes Erin Boyle’s course on Minimalism and Kathryn Kellog’s course on Going Zero Waste (now’s the time!). If you for some reason find yourself jobless indefinitely, there are also lessons on SkillShare teaching SEO, how to create branding on social media platforms, how to edit videos and photos, how to launch a fashion line, how to design your first website, and more. Of course, if you wish to take this time to start a blog of your own and are looking for ways to make money, this course on How to Monetize a Blog is by far my most favorite.

I hope that this is helpful somehow to people who are finding themselves with unprecedented time on their hands and aren’t sure what to do. I hope the skills you encounter on this site will fuel your energy towards something fruitful, whether that be a hobby or a new profession. Either way, I hope to help in any way possible, and I think sharing resources for the first few months of uncertainty is a good way to go at it.

Likewise, for those interested in learning budgeting, you can find my own course on Mastering a Budget FREE for all. For those interested in minimalism and creating a lifestyle of zero waste, you can always ask me questions below, or DM me on my Instagram.

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Every time someone signs up for a free-trial on SkillShare, TheDebtist will earn a small commission that will support the continued work in this space, which includes but is not limited to, a sharing for resources for all so that we can rise up from difficulties such as those presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in togetherness. Thank you for your support of this work.

 

Recent Reads: Kitty O’Meara

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Thoughts on: Mundane Action

There are times when I think about what people will think once this loan repayment journey is over. The most likely truth is that most of my journey will be forgotten. All of the middle ground where the suffering happened will be overshadowed by the end result. The happy ending will supersede all. As humans, it is natural to only remember the beginning and the end as we take away the life lesson but forget the mundane events of the everyday.

It makes me sad to think that they’ll look at what we’ve done in paying back $575k in student debt and immediately assume that the going was easy.

Explanations will arise, however inaccurate, that dismiss the difficulty of the task, as people say things such as, “Well, she was a dentist and made a lot of money. Of course it was doable.”

Excuses from colleagues about why it wouldn’t work for them will also ensue. “She had a husband who also made decent income”, “She was fortunate enough to have a bakery that took off”, and “She had her writing to help support such a hefty loan repayment.”

It makes me sad because if that were the case, if everyone forgot the effort, then this would be for naught. People will continue to believe that paying back debt is an unreachable goal. People will still avoid pursuing financial freedom, viewing it as attainable only to those who have luck on their side, or to those who have more than.

But none of that is true.

They say that it would be difficult to pay back debt if it is more than twice your income. Well, mine was almost quadruple my income. But I still pushed myself to do it.

I want people to know that my success will not be a result of me making TONS of money relative to my loans.

It will be because of penny-pinching habits, mindfulness, diligence, and hard work.

I want people to know that any success I have will not be because of sheer luck.

It will be because of a constant refining of the self, a vigilant search for the essentials, and a questioning of the status quo.

I hope people remember that it wasn’t easy. I have days I never speak of, spent curled up in a ball on the floor, my hand in fists, my eyes flooding with tears. There were moments full of self-doubt around both my abilities and my choices. Days when I felt lonely because I worked so much. Days my back hurt from doing dentistry and my shoulders hurt lifting cast iron lodge pans. I have burn marks on my arms and bags under my eyes. It isn’t easy, but it’s a meaningful life, and I want people to remember that.

Maybe then, it would help push them through the tough times when they are most ready to quit.

I was ready to quit, too. Hundreds of times.

This story will never be told as widespread as other stories, because it is not an overnight success. The tabloids, the news, the audience … none of them want to hear about mundane action. But it is mundane action that will make ordinary people do extraordinary things. It’s a shame because, well, the non-telling of my story will mean that Regular Joe’s will never reach their potential to be super-heroes. Students will continue to carry debt. Society will continue on with their life-cycle.

But if my story gets shared once or twice, I have hope that it saves a handful of people.

The younger a person hears a story about personal finance, the easier it is to reach financial freedom. In much the same way, the sooner a person with student debt is convinced of their ability to pay it back, the more money they save. Every day that they wait to refinance is a day wasted and a few dollars lost in interest. Every day a person debates about whether they can dig out of debt, they dig themselves a bigger ditch.

I write to empower people in small ways, which over time lead to big results. After two years of writing this post, I still do not believe in the word negligible.

A water carves its way into solid rock, and over-time, forms the rock into an easier pathway.

This is how I want to transform people.

I am no SuperWoman.

I am so very ordinary.

If there is one thing people remember about me and my story, I hope it is that.