Aspirational Clutter

Seeing as how I manage a blog about how to live with less, you would think that I am very good at de-cluttering my life. Alas alack, there are many forms of clutter and while I do really well with ridding our home from physical clutter and my mind of mental clutter, one type of clutter plagues my heart. I suffer from an intolerable case of aspirational clutter, and it is this clutter that I would argue has impaired my life the most.

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Aspirational clutter invades every aspect of my life, and sufferers will know just how paralyzing it can be. In the physical realm, aspirational clutter includes all the things you purchased that you never use but you hold on to for the “one day I will”s. For example, a surfboard purchased in the hopes of learning how to surf despite being a night owl. Or the outfits that aren’t really your style but maybe when you lose weight or become more comfortable in your skin, or whatever the excuse might be, you might throw it on then. Or in extreme cases, it’s the house located in a posh neighborhood that can’t really be afforded but that can be used to pretend like you are a status above reality. And though the mortgage is killing you and you can barely make the rent after each paycheck, you still funnel even more money into home improvements and invite whoever may grant you their time to show them what you have been able to “buy”. It could be the ski poles purchased by those who hate the cold, or coffee gadgets purchased by tea lovers, it could be the tickets to an opera purchased by opera haters who want to seem “edu-ma-cated”, you see what I mean? Escaping aspirational clutter requires a solid sense of who you really are and an ability to not give two cents about where you think other people want you to be. A practice in the de-cluttering process is actually very helpful with addressing aspirational clutter in the physical sense, and I have honed in on this part over the course of two years and really know what things define me.

In the mental realm, aspirational clutter is the thing that prevents the monkey mind from calming done. As the monkey swings from tree to tree, the human brain swings from to-do list to to-do list. Even meditating is part of the to-do list, and those who suffer from this type of aspirational clutter think about checking off “meditating” in the middle of meditation so that they can move on to the next thing. Aspirational clutter in the mental realm is the barrier between you and the present. Most sufferers live their lives in the future. There is no way to address this type of mental clutter but to train the brain into quieting itself and retreating into the recesses of nothingness. For me, I was able to escape with years of yoga and sitting in solace, which I was luckily always comfortable enough to do. Once in solace, the brain doesn’t just stop, as insomniacs will tell you. Frankly, sometimes, that’s when it wants to speed up most. Sometimes people think that the secret to commanding your brain to behave is to concentrate on the task, but I have found that letting it go is what works best. And giving it time. In the same way you let a child run wild versus trying to control them by telling them to sit still in a corner. Telling them to sit will result in a very twitchy child, but letting them go rampant gets rid of the jitters. Eventually, the energy will be spent and there’s nothing left for them to do but to lay down and rest. Same as the brain. Unfortunately, most people do not give their meditating enough time and space to get to that point.

But after suffering and overcoming both of these, I have found that there is still plenty of work to do. Because the thing I have not yet escaped from is the aspirational clutter that plagues my heart. It’s the one that causes me to dream up multiple lives for myself. It’s the one that pulls me to become a dentist, a dog-sitter, a writer, a baker, a photographer, a teacher, a world traveler, and who knows what else. At the root of it all is essentially a wish to be someone I’m currently not. It’s a suffering that is centered around a mild dissatisfaction with what I’ve accomplished thus far. That’s what aspirational clutter is, a wish to have more than what you do, be somewhere else rather than where you are, or be someone else that you are not.

In my case, it isn’t that I dislike dentistry. But the student debt has affected me so greatly that I have unrest with what dentistry has had to offer versus what it has cost. We all know that I think the trade-off was askew. It is this imbalance that has me searching for something else. I am pursuing jobs and professions that do not require me to return to school. Maybe I’m trying to prove that you can have a meaningful life, job, and purpose without needing formal education. I want to show people that you can start a business, become a writer, or a baker, without needing a business degree, an english course, or culinary school. I think that with the advent of technology, so many things can be self-taught and I would like to rid people of their dependence on formal education systems. But maybe more than this, I want to prove it to myself, because I am so upset at who I am and how I had gotten here.

I remember that time period after New Zealand really well. It was mid January, and I did not want to come back here. I did not want to look at my loans again or go back to work. We just backpacked through farmlands and slept in ramshackled houses surrounded by nature every day. I did not want to go back to being a piece of city living. I came back feeling very depressed. I got sick, for multiple weeks. The weather was damp and gloomy and grey. I kept looking out my window and seeing only flooded streets and homeless people, a contrast to the summer days and green valleys and hills that we had just left behind. Mike was still in a rut at his previous company, and he, too, was feeling a bit depressed at the current state of affairs. I remember reaching out to Sara from Rye Goods when I applied for the job. I said, “I am searching for something to complete my life, but I don’t know what.” When she offered me the gig, I threw myself into it.

So far, I have been doing swell. I’ve managed to continue working four to five days as a dentist, I’ve managed to create this space to write and landed two podcast recordings and a few interviews and features, I’ve established a dog-sitting gig on Rover.com, I’ve worked as an early-morning-baker for Rye Goods and I have opened my own bakery at Aero Bakery. This past week, I was asked to be the sole baker for me and Mike’s favorite coffee shop (which is the biggest honor EVER!) located across the street from where we live. They would rely on my bread and pastries entirely for their shop, but would require freshly baked good 7 days a week. Essentially, it would require of me a daily midnight shift. You would think I would be stoked, and I AM! But I also recognize this as the turning point, the point where I realize that I am greatly suffering from my aspirations themselves.

This opportunity is a wonderful opportunity. I would have the ability to really get my bakery going. Aero Bakery will be introduced to the local community. I will be able to support the work of local farmers trying to preserve heritage grains more fully. I have an opportunity to work together with a rotating coffee menu to create a matching seasonal baked goods menu. I would have a consistent source of support for the bakery. The production schedule would be forseeable, unlike when I accepted individual orders. My “job” as a baker will conveniently be at home without the need for a commute. My deliveries would change from multiple locations to just one across my street. I would fulfill my dream to be a baker, on my own terms, in my own house.

But I am tired. I quit Rye Goods in June because the midnight shifts were getting to be too much. I stopped Aero Bakery in June so that I could continue with Rye Goods and give myself a birthday break. During this time, I caught a glimpse of what life was before we got back from our trip to New Zealand. Before I became unsettled with the life I was leading and pursued baking. I had time to write, and read, and reflect. All of the things that gave me a very happy, calm, and peaceful life. Ever since I started my journey as a baker, I have been so busy that I never really noticed how much I gave up in terms of space and time. I was tired all the time, although the coffee masked it well. I lost ten pounds, although I never had any social time so that someone could point it out. My house became disorganized, and I started to rely more on conveniences. I lost a lot of the intentionality that I had established over the last two years.

Aspirational clutter can really hurt you. Down one path, it could spread your life too thin, make you run around like crazy, go through the hoops and even if you get out unscathed, it usually doesn’t give you enough time to stop, smell the roses, enjoy the journey. It allows you to live a life well-lived, but zaps your life of much of its essence. Alternatively, the opposite can be equally as intolerable. If you let an opportunity go, it could make your heart yearn for what could have been. It can make you wonder, “What if I had just gone for it?”. It could make you go stir-crazy. It could make you sad with the choice you’ve made for yourself, and resentful at all the factors that caused you to give it up.

I was attracted to my husband because he is the opposite from me. Unlike most people, he doesn’t suffer from any form of clutter. When I first met him, it made me worried. He didn’t seem to have any aspirations at all, which in our society tends to be viewed as a bad thing. Over time, I have seen and fallen in love with this lifestyle. His lack of aspiration stems from a whole-hearted contentment with his current life. His gratitude for what he already has been given is extremely grounding. I think it’s what allows him to be very happy and at peace at all times. It’s how I started to get into slow living in the first place, and recognize that a life full of aspiration could be detrimental, too. This is part of the reason why I married him. I needed this grounding, a daily reminder that we are enough as it is, and happiness lies in accepting that.

In fact, there was a study performed aimed at understanding why it is that younger people tend to pursue more things, have more social obligations, and do more in general, whereas older people tend to do less, socialize with a small group of close friends and family, and are content with simple daily tasks. They wondered if it was aging that prevented the older people to do more, or if it was wisdom. They wanted to know how these choices affect quality of life. Over 200 people from different age groups were followed for many years, and every five years, each one was contacted 35 times over the course of a two-week period to report their mood at that very moment. What the study showed was that the elderly had a higher level of happiness and contentment with their life. Could it be less stress? More meaningful relationships? Or is it an overall gratitude that keeps them from searching for more and makes life content?

So now I’m at a cross roads. My personality makes me want to chase a baker’s life. See where it leads me. But in my mind, and perhaps somewhere very deep in my heart, I also know that letting it go would be the choice that would give my life most peace. Am I so jaded with the student debt that I am running away from the profession I chose? I know that I could live an equally meaningful life focusing on dentistry alone, and then focusing on myself when I have moments at home. I have time to write and reflect, and this blog will continue to grow. I would be able to touch more young people and educate them about student loans and what not to do, and perhaps prevent more new grads from suffering the same thing that I am now. I could start over and work on getting back to where we were before I came back from New Zealand. It could be simple again. I could let the bakery go, bake only for myself and my family and have that be enough. If I was a good de-cluterrer, this is what I would do.

Or I could be a fiery little thing, take all that energy and funnel it into all the things. Break down barriers and make my home also my work place. Demolish the space and time I have so carefully created. Possibly crash and burn, take myself along with it, but potentially leave a mark. Be an example of living life to the very fullest. But will it ever be enough? I know the answer to that, but will I be strong enough to listen? Brave enough to say that this isn’t sustainable, that I’m only selfishly human? Humble enough to not need the bakery in order to know that I’m good at baking? Kind enough to forgive myself for choosing otherwise?

This is what aspirational clutter does. This is what I suffer from the most.

 

Recent Reads: And Books on the Shelf

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

I used to never give up on reading books that I’ve started. Call it stubbornness or pride. The thinking was two-fold. Firstly, I didn’t want to stop reading a book because I would not be able to add half-finished books to my list of ‘Books I’ve Read’, and what a “waste of time” that would be. Secondly, I didn’t want to be known as someone who didn’t have the GRIT to see to the finish line something I started. I wasn’t so concerned about knowing the end of the story as I was with the reflection of not finishing the book. Now that I’m older and a much different person, less concerned with other people’s perception, I have an easier time with letting these things go. My perspective has changed on the matter. I find that finishing a book for the sake of finishing is now what I consider a “waste of time”. I am more concerned with time well-spent over a list of accolades to brag about. I recognize the value in enjoying a book (perhaps only for the first half) and allow for the entertainment or the education that that book provided to be worthy enough of the time I spent reading it. Once things lose my fancy, there’s no use hanging on. And so I say farewell to Anna Karenina. 4 books of appreciation, but my heart is now elsewhere, and there’s nothing wrong with listening to your inner workings and abandoning all else. Anyone feel the same way?


Whenever we travel, I can’t help but be attracted to bookstores and libraries. It seems that whenever we walk by one, there is a lustful calling and I just have to step inside. Our recent trip to Seattle was no different. Out of it came a list of books that I am dying to read. Hence the need to thank Anna Karenina, let go, and move on.

Books On The Shelf:

Calypso

Moonwalking with Einstein

 

Gift Guide: Self-Care In Your 30’s

It’s June first. Can you believe it?
We are on the cusp of entering summer time,
I am on the cusp of leaving my twenties behind. 
And while my body has carried me through all these years,
It’s time to return the favor and think of ways to care.
On self-reflection of my current state,
I wish to focus on space to create.
In preserving bodily health,
A list of gifts that signify wealth,
In things that matter most to me,
Longevity of life that exists to be.


 

Finance: How We Paid Off $145K in Student Debt in Two Years

On the heels of the previous post, a word on how we paid off $145k in Student Debt the past two years. I think it’s one thing to inspire people to pursue a road less traveled with the hopes of reaching a more ideal life, but it’s another thing to give any meaningful sort of advice on the matter. It is the latter that I wish to address in this post.

I’d be the first to admit that tackling half a million dollars in student debt is a daunting task. However, with a few pointers under your belt, the task becomes much easier. Here are some steps that we took ourselves, listed in the order we took them.

Steps to Paying Down Debt

  1. Figure Out Your Why. The pillar to every debt pay-off story is the “Why”. Why are you pursuing financial freedom? How does paying off the debt lead you to a life you want to lead? What will keep you going? These are the questions you must first answer. You need to build that fire within you, the one that burns so achingly that you’ll never forget, turn around, or give up on the reasoning behind why you decided to take that first step.
  2. Hire a Professional. While not for everybody, I highly recommend this if you are like us and do not come from a lifestyle geared towards financial independence. As you can see from my money egg, I had a long history with money that makes me hyper-aware of excess consumption. Each person has their history with money and it shapes the way you view your finances. I knew when I graduated from dental school that I did not come from a place of wealth, and neither do I have experience with dealing with large sums of money. I also did not want to be the person dealing with a looming debt hanging over my should. I had to talk to someone, and fast! While colleagues were buying homes and cars with their first paychecks, the first thing I paid for was a financial planner. And it changed our lives! If you are swimming in a large amount of student debt like I am, then I would highly recommend a conversation with Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link). He helped us save thousands of dollars on our journey, and as you can tell from our Itunes interview (here) he has no problem telling you how to optimize your repayment journey … which is exactly the type of person you would need in order to get great feedback! He broke down why we could optimize our path better (from a financial standpoint) by waiting 25 years and investing our money instead, but I chose to follow what I felt was right, and pay it back aggressively instead. The good thing is, you can discuss options and a good professional will make sure that you are aware of all the ways you can tackle the debt, but in the end, you are the decider about what to do.
  3. Educate Yourself. Admittedly, we did this with a financial planner holding our hands. We learned about budgeting strategies, loan repayment options, ways to optimize our health insurance, options with our retirement funds, and more. Off course, you don’t need a financial planner. There are plenty of books, sources and inspiration out there. The more you get educated on personal finance, the more options you will have. As you learn new ways to battle the same thing, you will become more innovative in your solutions, and doors which you never knew existed will open. Knowledge will only facilitate the process.
  4. Get Budgeting Down. It’s difficult to direct money towards paying down debt when you are always scrounging for money in order to live. Living paycheck to paycheck would indicate that there is nothing left-over to funnel towards your goals (student loans included). Creating a budget and sticking to it will help. Start with my course on creating a budgeting tool, and go from there!
  5. Manage All Other Debts. The last thing you want to do is to focus on student debt so much that you ignore all other debts, or worse, accrue an even larger number of debts! For us, managing all other debts meant paying down higher interest debts such as credit cards. We paid these off within the first month of marriage. However, for those with lower interest rates than my student loans (that is, lower than 6.8%), we paid only the minimum payments. For example, Mike’s car loan has a lower interest rate AND a lower total amount. Therefore, the money would be of better use towards my student debt, rather than eliminating the car loan.
  6. Get a Good Job. Let’s face it, a good job will largely affect how well you can pay off your loans. A job that’s consistent, reliable, and pays well. As much as I would love to explore being a temp, I also know that working more days as a dentist will help us on our repayment path. So there must be a balance. I can’t just cut down dentistry to one day a week and then pursue all my other creative endeavors. And if you’ve got a large debt, unfortunately, it wouldn’t behoove you either.
  7. Consider Side Hustles. Once our spending habits were controlled with a good budgeting tool, I started to think of ways to increase income. Actually, I started to explore hobbies that I like to do, and found ways to use that to make extra money. I started side hustles at the beginning of 2019, and the returns have been increasing steadily. I cannot wait to see where this year of side-hustles will take me.
  8. Be Kind to Yourself Along the Way. Lastly, but most importantly, find ways to make this lifestyle sustainable. The importance of enjoying life, rewarding yourself for your hard work, and having grace cannot be stressed enough. If everything in your journey is harsh, then it will be difficult to continue on when the days get rough. Because they do. I can recognize when I feel bogged down by the weight, tired by the work. When I do, I schedule a day of rest, or force myself outdoors, or meditate to reset. I send all my focus towards taking care of me, and in doing so, the loans find a way to take care of themselves. Ways in which we make this journey more sustainable include finding creative joys – I dabble a lot in the arts, Mike dabbles in music, and we both fulfill recreational activities in the form of travel, hiking, board games, and get-togethers with friends and family. In the end, you have to do whatever it takes to feed the fire.

Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

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

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

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

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

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

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

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

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Advent Calendar for a Slow Holiday Season

When we were younger, we would go to the grocery store with my mom and see advent calendars up for sale. I would beg my mom to get me one, excited about the promise of opening a chocolate-filled container every day until Christmas. But my mom would refrain, telling us that we have chocolates aplenty at home and we don’t need a calendar in order to eat it. Still, I would think to myself, what a wonderful way to spend the holiday, looking forward to a little self-indulgence once a day in anticipation of Christmas morn.

Needless to say, nowadays my concerns aren’t centered so much around chocolate as they are about intentionally living each day to their fullest. (Well, sometimes they are.) Yet, living with less is a form of indulgence in-and-of-itself. How many times do I see people at the mall in angry moods, stressed by a floor-length gift list, or families rushing to check off boxes on their holiday to-do list. Put up the lights, check. Wrap the gifts, check. Pictures with Santa, check. Write the letters and bake the cookies, check. Order the holiday cards and mail them, check. It is this time of year especially that I am aware of the ways in wish we constantly fill our lives and rush through the days, missing the season completely. As with most things, we spend our lives looking to the future, and by-passing the present entirely. Therefore, my efforts are concentrated around my only goal for the holiday season, which is to simplify it.

Along those lines, I love the idea of creating an advent calendar that is constantly reminding us to take it slow. Ironically filled with activities to-do galore, the calendar is meant to insert an activity intentionally bringing us to the present. Each card details either a way to connect with others, to do good, or to wind down. And let’s not forget activities for ourselves, too. A little self-love in the form of mulled wine. Or a coffee date with a loved one.

Off course, the calendar isn’t meant to be rigid, which would add another stressor in our lives. Numbered one to twenty four, the fulfillment of said activities need not be done in sequential order. Think of it as a mere suggestion. If it’s rainy today and a walk in the neighborhood will surely bring displeasure, then swap for a different activity. If two activities sound great on the same day, then maybe double up. Skip one after a long day of work. The intention is not to add another check box to the list. Simply, it’s a physical reminder to be here.

Additional points if you create the advent calendar with the rest of the family members, like we did. (As you can probably tell when you get to activity #22.) Enjoy our suggestions, and I hope you have a few great ones, too.

  1. Watch a Christmas movie together as a family. We’ve already done Home Alone with my brother and roommate, but there are more classics to be seen. My personal favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  2. See the lights at the Newport Boat Parade. We usually bundle up in our coats and gloves and beanies and stand on the bridge leading up to Lido Island as we watch the boats float by. Waving to the occupants, optional, a warm mug of hot chocolate is not.
  3. Make Christmas cookies. Sugar cookies and snickerdoodle are fun, but chocolate chip will always be my go-to.
  4. Deliver cookies to neighbors. Because we don’t know our neighbors as well as we should.
  5. Put up the tree and decorations with family. Re-living some childhood mems, we have invited my parents and brother over to join us in putting up the tree. In the interest of frugality, my parents have lent us their old 9 foot tree to put up in our home, lights included.
  6. Group gift wrapping event. It’s more fun when you wrap gifts with others, rather than alone. Instead of a chore, make it an event. Invite some pals, serve cheese and bread.
  7. Cover a Christmas song with Mikey. This requires a bit more time, and patience, on both our parts. Letting others hear the end product is up to you.
  8. Take a walk in the neighborhood to look at the lights. Every year, my parent’s neighborhood has a light contest. It’s a pretty big area, and it would likely take a few hours to walk a decent amount of it. But we’ll make the time.
  9. French Toast breakfast, for dinner. Or for breakfast, up to you. Add a smear of persimmons, perhaps.
  10. Coffee date at our favorite coffee shop with sketchbooks for sketching passer-bys. This is a true indulgence, one that requires spending. It’s been a while since we’ve ordered coffee out, what with No-Dining-Out November barely behind us. I’m sure our barista will welcome us with open arms.
  11. An evening dedicated to reading. If I could do an entire day, I just might. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to pick up a book and finish it on the same day!
  12. Bake home-made croissants for a local office. I was asked to bake my home-made croissants for an entire office team back in July. I’ve put it off for a while, because it is a lot of work. But when the croissants got mentioned again at Thanksgiving, I thought, what a perfect way to spread holiday cheer. So I will be spending a weekday off baking for others.
  13. Bake a pie. I have never made a pie. But I want to experiment using our bread. I am taking filling suggestions, if you have some.
  14. Make mulled wine and relax after a long day. In Germany when we were walking the Neuschwanstein castle with our friends, they brought us to a stand and ordered us some Gluwhein. Mulled wine is a common drink during Christmas time in Germany and Austria, served piping hot steeped with fruit and topped with a big of sugar. The perfect way to decompress after a long day.
  15. Make hot chocolate and take an after-dinner walk. Sometimes, after dinner, we just get in that mode of clean, wash, and lounge til bed. I really want to make the effort to step outside and just take the night in.
  16. Make Christmas cards and send via email. We make our Christmas cards digitally, and send them via email, to reduce waste and postage costs. Typically, we flip through the past year’s photos, making this a great way to reminisce on our best moments, as good as the day they were taken.
  17. Spend an afternoon playing boardgames. Because who doesn’t like a little friendly competition?
  18. Have a bonfire at the beach. Mike has been wanting a bonfire since the summer days. It’s time we actually do it, and bring smores along, too.
  19. Go on a hike. Get a breath of fresh air.
  20. Declutter and make space for the new year. In fact, make space for the now.
  21. Turn up the records. Neglected the past couple months, sitting on a shelf, it’s time to give em a little love. Listening to a vinyl is just way different than asking Siri to turn on Spotify.
  22. Make milkshakes and race to see who can drink them the fastest. To use a straw, or not to use a straw?
  23. Light a candle. Avoid turning on the lights. Add a little hygge and eat by candle light. Better yet, write by candle light, with paper and pen!
  24. Gather with friends. The generic-ness of this statement reflects the difficulty, as this is the busiest time of the year. Snag moments whenever you can.

Other ways to practice slowing down for the holidays.

  • Write down one thing you’re grateful for every day and put it in your stocking. Read all your gratitudes on Christmas day.
  • Put limits on everything. Limit the number of gifts you get, the number of parties you attend, the amount of minutes on your cell phone. Replace with moments of silence for a peaceful holiday.
  • Create a children’s book advent calendar.
  • Call old friends and far-away family members on the phone. Just to say hello.
  • Pick up good habits. Greet everyone you pass. Look at people in the eyes. Put away cell phones during social interactions. Say good morning every morning, give your loved one a hug every night.

Dear College Kid: Pursuing Medicine Will Not Get You to Financial Independence Faster

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Have you ever heard of the term FI? More importantly, do you know of the FIRE community? Standing for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, FIRE is a concept that aims for the option to be free from needing to spend forty years of your life working. Not to be confused with your life’s work, FI aims to free people of your job, if and when you choose to do so, in order to do your life’s work.

What I am here to tell you is this. If you’re dream is to pursue FI, then the medical profession is not the best, most practical route. I’m a dentist, who graduated from dental school at age 26 with more than half a million dollars in student debt. Now imagine being a doctor finishing residency at age 30, or an oral surgeon finishing at age 34. What you have as a college kid that I no longer do is time on your side. Time to get a head start, time to reach freedom more quickly and efficiently. Time to start opening doors.

At 21, I had no idea FIRE existed. It’s unfathomable for me to even think that I would have understood that work is not necessary in order to live a good life. A 21 year old graduating with zero (or very little) student loans, pursuing a desk job and saving  their income will have a 5-10 year head start on a 30 year old medical professional graduating with hundreds of thousands of student loans and saving none of their income because it is all tied up in debt. I will start at 36 years old at $0 in the bank if I spend all my income right out of school and funnel it to paying down my student loans (something I’ve talked about before). Meaning, the 21 year old with the desk job will have 15 years ahead of me in savings. On top of that, those savings have been racking up compound interest for 25 years. Assuming a moderate 6-7% return rate, those 15 years makes a whole heck of a lot of difference!

Off course, if you are pursuing the medical field, I am not dissuading you entirely, if it is what you WANT to do. The medical field is great! I love my job, but that’s because I did not go into it for the money. If you want to become a medical professional because it’s what you want to do for a long time, then by all means, you will be very happy! If you want to enter the medical field because you want to be RICH and that’s your goal in life, then you will be successful. BUT, if you are pursuing freedom or FIRE, and you think the medical field will get you there quicker because of the higher salary, you are incorrect. There are people in the FIRE communities who retire at 30 years old. If you go into the medical field, unless you have relatives that can pay for your entire tuition and you graduate debt free, well, you’ll still be at net-zero at 30 years old, but at least you have the means to get to FIRE by mid-to-late thirties perhaps. Most parents, however, cannot support med school, and if you graduate with a medical degree AND a ton of student debt, then you’ll be reaching FIRE later than your other FIRE friends. See what I mean?

This does NOT mean, pursue a desk job that you hate in order to reach FI. We reach for FIRE in order to be happy. There is no point putting yourself through misery in order to get to FI because you’ll be giving up happiness in order to do it. Some people say, “Well, I’ll just put in the work and hate my job but get to FIRE faster and THEN I will be happy.” But will you really, though? Reaching the end and never working a day in your life does not guarantee you will be happy. True FIRE pursuers recognize that it isn’t about the end goal, but the journey. It’s about gaining your freedom in the future, without giving up your freedom now. Otherwise, you’ve read FIRE all wrong.

Alternatively, FIRE is not entirely about Retiring Early. It’s about having the option to not work at a job, in order to pursue something else in life that will lead to more happiness. Ultimately, this all boils down to entering a profession for the right reasons. If you find a profession you love, you may not need to retire at all. I find myself happier than a lot of my colleagues, some of whom have only been out a few years and are already “sick of it”. They want out! Unfortunately, they are far from being free because of their lifestyle, or their debt, or a combination of the two. I am happier because I did not enter the field solely for money. I am happier because I do not need as much money in order to live, and can therefore choose how much of my life I need to give up in order to live a happy one. As I’ve said many times before, having money dictate the way you live your life is not a good thing. Whether that’s a lack of money, or a plethora of money. My dream is to free myself from student debt, go FIRE, and eventually travel the world and work for free as a dentist in third – world countries. To give back to communities that dentists never touch. I will likely never be “rich”, but my life will be. I am very, very happy, because I am doing what I love.

So in summary, enter the medical field if it is something you are very interested in or really want to do. (Sage advice: enter ANY profession because it’s what you want to do.) Do NOT enter the medical field, thinking it is the quickest way to get you to financial independence. It’s not the fastest, and it’s not the easiest, either.

For those just hearing about FI, here are a few of my favorite blogs and podcasts:

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

Property Ownership: Taking Renovations Nice and Slow

Buying a home comes with so many strings attached to your emotions, and its got you moving in all sorts of directions. One of which is this desire to create your fantasy dream home, RIGHT AWAY. In this post, I am going to avoid digging into the recesses of our social upbringings to address how we are shaped to want such a thing (*cough* HGTV *cough*) for the sake of time, which I am admittedly currently short on amidst all the property fixes, the packing, the moving and student loan tackling. Rather, what I am going to say is this: Take renovations nice and slow.

First off, Congratulations! You have a new home! Have you even  taken the time to celebrate that? We are trained to seek more, more, more, that few of us take the time to be grateful for what we have. I know I am much the same. It isn’t long after I’ve accomplished something that the following words are out of my mouth: “Okay, what next?” How about stopping, taking a breath, and seeking the NOW? As cliche as it sounds, take time to smell the roses.

Now, if you’re like most people, you likely had to take out a mortgage for your newfound space. Which also means you likely spent a good chunk of change for the down payment. Dare I say that for a number of people, the down payment makes up a majority of your life savings, especially if you are young and just out of college like me. I can attest. We took 100% of our emergency fund, and spent it ALL to make a 5% down payment on a $499,900 home in Orange County, CA. While you judge us however way you wish in the way we spent that money, we are now starting from where we were two years ago, when I graduated with $575,000+ in student debt while owing my then boyfriend, now husband, an additional $20,000. Except we have paid down $100,000 towards that debt and we now have a home. I have faith that we will be just fine.

If you could get over the judgement, here is what I have to say. The focus is not to renovate the space into a dream home. It’s to build your life around something that makes you ultimately happy. Comforts of an emergency fund included, digging yourself further into financial debt is not. Rebuilding our emergency fund is where a majority of our focus will be for now. So what if the counters are cheaply made of wood, and have minor signs of water damage? So what if the sink does not properly fit into the counter-tops and caulk was used to seal it up? Never mind that the cabinets have multiple holes in them from the handlebars that were there previous to the current ones. Or that the bathroom stall has glue stuck to the walls. Yes I want a brand new couch to replace the hand-me-down that I received from my college roommate in dental school. But I’ve lived with it for five years, and looking back and seeing what I’ve done with my life says maybe it’s worth sitting on that couch a few years more.

I can tell you that most buyers, myself included, can find unlimited furniture upgrades, faulty appliances, and remodeling projects, all of which will quickly deplete the incomes of even the rich and famous. In the voice of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” These temptations will prevent the most frugal among us from saving their hard-earned incomes. Some even rack up high interest credit card consumer debt! Feeling a squeeze in the budget is normal, but you have control over that constriction. I would recommend taking a very lean approach to your budget, and take renovations nice and slow. Personally, my goal is to go ham with the student loan debt while rebuilding that emergency fund (substitute your important financial goal here). I assure you that you will be able to transform your place into something beautiful, in time. Meanwhile, be glad that you have a comfortable place to sleep, a functioning stove, a roof over your head – all things that many people around the world can only dream about.

If you are at the point where you want to take on renovations, you may be asking, where to start? Surely, not with the cosmetics. We are fixing only those that require most attention. For example, the bathroom in our roommates space only emits hot showers. And while hot showers are nice, we do need to add cold water for fine tuning. Additionally, the fridge that’s included with the space has no water filter. So we’ve installed a water filter under the sink, to avoid plastic bottles. Lastly, we spent our entire weekend taking off the shelving and wooden floorboards that the previous owner left behind. With that comes wall spaces that needed patching and re-painting. There was a closet door on the first floor which they’ve cut a hole into, so we bought a piece of wood and cut it to create a new door. I then painted it to match the rest of the house. A majority of the work we did on our own, with the help of a cousin and uncle. Someone quoted us $500 to remove the floorboards, so we did it for free instead. Alas, here is the “nice” part to the “nice and slow”. Doing the work ourselves saved us a lot of money, taught us a few things about property maintenance, and strengthened us as a team.

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Meanwhile … we have started the re-financing process!!