Battle of the Brushes: Manual VS Electric

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

We all know that prevention is better than treatment when it comes to your teeth. Wanting the finest for our teeth, we search for the best gadgets to aid us in making sure our pearly whites are nice and healthy. The most often used tool, and thus your tooth’s best friend, is the handy dandy toothbrush. But when it comes time to select your toothbrush of choice, the wide array of choices sitting on the shelf or available on the net can be very, very overwhelming. Looking at the dilemma from the macro-level, I think the most common fork in the road occurs where we have to choose between a manual toothbrush and an electric toothbrush. Here, I will review the pros and cons of both options, and then talk about which one I myself choose to use, and why.

WHO COULD BENEFIT FROM AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH?

When patients come to me and ask if they need an electric toothbrush, many of them are surprised when I tell them that the answer is no. There are a few groups of people who could benefit from an electric toothbrush, but it is not necessary for everyone to have in order to maintain good oral health. Electric toothbrushes greatly benefit people with Parkinson’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or other such conditions that could impair one’s ability to hold and maneuver a toothbrush. Spinning and vibrating (and whirling and twirling) bristles are really great at restoring one’s manual dexterity when it has been lost. However, if you do not have any existing conditions that impair movement, then there is likely no need for an electric toothbrush at all.

The Debtist

AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH DOES HAVE ITS LIMITATIONS

An electric toothbrush is useful because you’ve got this machine that moves in certain directions to remove the sticky plaque building up on your teeth, but it does have its limitations. Usually, the direction that a toothbrush head spins or vibrates is singular. With manual toothbrushes, you can vary the direction of your brushing at any time, which can be more effective. For example, if your teeth are slightly crooked, an electric toothbrush that only spins in a clockwise direction may miss a particular spot that a manual toothbrush can reach by moving side to side, or up and down. Depending on where the tight corners in your particular dentition are, you can alter the same toothbrush to move different ways in order to reach very difficult areas. Also, the electric brushes are very strong, which some people are not aware of. Using them requires an even softer hand than using a manual brush. Even though the intentions are good, pushing down on an electric toothbrush can cause too much trauma on the gums, causing gum recession. We like gums as much as teeth, so this is no good. Therefore, using an electric toothbrush may seem easier, but easier does not always mean better.

THE TRUTH: MOST PEOPLE WOULD DO JUST FINE WITH A MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH

The truth of the matter is, most people would do just fine with a manual toothbrush. I understand that it takes some time (and practice) to learn how to use a manual toothbrush, but the same is true of anything else in your life. Once mastered, the chore becomes a habit, and habits are subconscious and therefore become easy. If you can put in the time and effort to learn how to use a toothbrush effectively, then a manual toothbrush would work equally as well as an electric toothbrush! But, if you do not want to put in the effort to learn how to properly yield a manual toothbrush, then yes, you can buy a gadget and it can do the work for you. It makes sense that the results of inefficient manual toothbrush techniques will be subpar with the results of a vibrating electric device. However, what most people do not understand is that learning how to brush really well can yield results that are as good, and sometimes even better, than your new gadget.

WHY I CHOOSE TO USE A MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH

On that note, most patients are surprised to learn that I myself choose to use solely manual toothbrushes. There are many reasons why I opt for the manual brushes. As an advocate of slower-living, a lover of nature and sustainable products, and a fan-girl of the lost art of doing things for ourselves, I am partial towards tooth brushing by hand. Manual toothbrushes give us sustainable product options that are more eco-friendly than their plastic vibrating counterparts. We have manual brushes on the market that are biodegradable, recyclable, or recycled themselves. It allows me to pick a product that is in line with my values and my intention of creating less waste. Additionally, I have more control with a manual toothbrush. I can move the bristles in directions that are good for my particular dentition and I can alter the pressures that I place on my gums a bit easier. And lastly, I find them to be much more cost-effective. My persona as the Debtist easily explains why cost-efficiency is important for me. From a dentist’s perspective, I understand that we can do just as well with a manual as we can with an electric one.

While electric toothbrushes do have their uses and are a huge help to those who need it, I believe we have gotten to a point where they may be a bit over-hyped (and possibly over-sold) for the sake of convenience. It’s an easy answer to the question, “How do I brush my teeth well?” Instead of teaching people to be better brushers, we are making them dependent on a tool to do the work for them, and the cost is more plastic being introduced into our environment at ever-increasing price as less and less people learn how to effectively brush. I tell patients all the time that we are responsible for our oral health, and we shouldn’t depend solely on spinning brush wheels. We need to take our oral health back into our own hands. Quite literally. And with that, the battle of the brushes continue.

The Ever-Growing List of Things I Have Given Up in the Name of Creating Less Waste

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Hearing about the environmental impacts of our everyday lifestyle choices can be a bit overwhelming. The realization that 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year, and that half of that is meant to be single-use can be very depressing. One may want to change that statistic, but it is easy to feel like the power of one is so small. I am here to tell you that it is not. Because the power of one turns to two and then to four, and so on. Imagine, if only 20% of the world’s population changed their consumption so as to create less waste, that would mean that there are 1.52 BILLION people who are consciously choosing not to use a plastic water bottle every day they go to work. Multiplied by the number of days in a year, and you can see the tremendous impact that may have. Extrapolate that to also forgoing plastic bags at the groceries, and to-go utensils at a fast food restaurant, and you’ve got a big dent in plastic consumption already. So we must try. I believe that each individual can contribute to a massive change.

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The question is, “where to start?” That, itself, can be overwhelming as well. I am here to say that starting the process is very simple, and easy. You don’t have to go zero-waste like, TODAY. That’s very unsustainable, and will probably make you want to quit faster than anything. We want the change to be slow, but steady. Choose one change that you can make each month, or week, or if you’re like me, each day. Practice that change and if you slip up, no worries, you learn and you can continue on for the next time. We all have slip ups! And we also all have our limitations. If you try to implement a change and you REALLY cannot stick to it, then that’s fine. Try a different one. Maybe come back to it at a later stage, when you’re more well-versed in letting waste go. All I know is that over time, the changes become easier and easier. I want to show people that creating less waste is a simple act of being mindful of what we do. It is easier than most think, and has impacts more than just environmental, which you must discover for yourself. The only way I can think of showing people, is to make a list of things I do myself.

My tips?

Start with one.

Practice, practice, practice.

Have a reason, “Why”.

Be okay with failure.

Just try.


 

  • Plastic drink bottles – I now carry around a re-usable water bottle wherever I go. The reason is two-fold. First, I am ALWAYS thirsty. And second, you never know if you will have access to water sans plastic where you go. You can be going to a friend’s house and all they still have available is water packaged in bottles. So I take my water with me, everywhere.
  • Plastic Grocery Bags – Bring your own re-usable grocery bags. I was so happy when the law got passed that grocery stores will charge an extra fee for plastic bags, but I was unhappy at how little it curbed people’s habits. People’s number one excuse? “I accidentally leave it at home”. Do what I do, and keep it in the back of your car, always!
  • Plastic produce bags – I never package my produce in plastic anymore. I just grab my fruits and veggies and throw them right into my grocery cart. I also have two mesh bags to keep together bunches of stuff, such as brussel sprouts for instance. Anything that can be difficult to put on the conveyor belt at the check-out stand in one go. But mostly, I go without. Why do we need separate bags for our produce? Even the wet lettuce just gets thrown into the bin. It’ll dry on it’s own.
  • Paper Towels – I wrote about how I nixed paper towels by replacing them with rags. Even better, our rags are a collection of old T-shirts amongst us three roommates.
  • To -go cups – I carry around a Keep Cup in the back of my car at all times. Even though this is useful for coffee mostly, it can also be used for soda from a soda machine. It is actually my universal cup. The lid seals and I can throw it in my purse, even with liquid in there! It’s my favorite.
  • Frozen foods – There are some types of food you just can’t buy without plastic. Frozen foods is one of them. I have not bought frozen foods in over a year. The cost for convenience is just too great. And my health is better for it, too! In general, I try not to buy anything in plastic when we go grocery shopping. Plastic jars are traded in for glass jar alternatives. Meats and cheeses are purchased fresh and wrapped in paper. Pasta and bread and ice cream are made at home, using ingredients that could be bought in paper bags or glass containers. I even bring my own jar to get fresh squeezed orange juice, or cold brew, or peanut butter. The list goes on, here.
  • Plastic utensils – I actually carry around metal spoons, forks, knives, straws and wooden chopsticks in my purse, all the time. I have a utensil holder that keeps them clean and together, too.
  • To – go containers – I have been seen to pull out a tupperware from my purse to package the food that I don’t finish when we dine out.
  • Fast food, in general – This is another one that is better for our health. Fast food is typically wrapped individually, and sometimes contain plastic. We will break our fast food streak once every 2-3 months, to purchase things wrapped in paper, I suppose. But in general, even the paper we try to avoid.
  • Single use products for the menstruating person- I wrote about how menstruating persons should invest in a reusable cup, to get rid of single-use tampons and pads. It’s environmentally friendly, and cost efficient to boot!
  • Plastic covers and wire hangers from the dry cleaners – I am one of those people who goes to pick up my clothes from the local dry cleaners, and strips them off the of hanger and out of the plastic right then and there. They look at me funny, but never say anything. They take the hangar and plastic back for re-use.
  • Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion packaged in plastic bottles – I have switched over to Plaine Products, which packages toiletries in aluminum cans that are refillable!
  • Plastic toothbrushes – We have now switched over to exclusively Bogobrush toothbrushes, although I am open to try bamboo toothbrushes in the future.
  • Deoderant packaged in plastic containers – I buy deoderant in glass jars such as this. I wish it were refillable – I guess my next step would be to make some at home in order to reduce waste all together.
  • Gift wrap and greeting cards – I love the way a present looks wrapped up with a bow, all pretty and sparkling. But then I think about what happens to all that fluff once the present is unwrapped. Most likely, without a two year old to play with it, it would go straight to the trash bin. It’s true that we have cut down our gifting significantly, but even those few gifts that we give, they are now given without gift wrap, or covered in a linen napkin, if anything.
  • Gift cards – Money placed on plastic cards; ugh. If we are gifting money, we either write a check, or better yet, hand over cash, so as to avoid wasting a check.
  • Cosmetics – I never was into make-up. Luckily, I never feel the need to wear it. I have created a very minimalist make-up routine, and since then I have switched over to a traditional pencil eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil, which are sharpened to wee stubs, and which are essentially just wood. I used to wear mascara but when my last one ran out, I couldn’t find an alternative without plastic. So I have actually been going without, and no one has mentioned a thing yet.
  • Driving around everywhere – The best investment Mike and I ever made were two bikes. I guess you can’t call mine an investment, because it was a hand-me-down from my old man. But Mike bought a used one from Craigslist for $100. We have now made a huge effort to reduce carbon emissions by biking on weekends to our coffee shop dates, farmers markets, and groceries. Anywhere, really, that we could bike to.
  • Stuff, in general – I have less of everything, which then creates less waste. Why I ever needed multiples of stuff, I will never know. I used to have like fifteen water bottles, over fifty pairs of shoes, hundreds of articles of clothing and accessories.

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Student Debt That is My Privilege to Own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Debtist Birthday

Birthdays are kind of a tortuous thing for me these days. At some point, I think we all kind of went a bit astray and, may I say it, b-o-n-k-e-r-s, with the whole celebrations thing. I understand celebrating an event or accomplishment, but the whole excess consumption tied to each holiday really bothers me. I wanted to do something very different for this year (and hopefully here on out).

Over the past year, Mike and I have been struggling with trying to relate to family and friends that we want celebrations to be centered around less stuff. When we tell them we don’t want gifts, they insist that we must get something. What ends up happening is that they get us random things, or things we don’t even need, and these things literally immediately go to someone else, or get donated to Goodwill, because we do not want more stuff. So then we started to tell them specifically what things we want with an emphasis on the fact that we want to stray from plastic and excess waste. But then the packages show up wrapped in layers of colored paper and plastic ribbons tied to plastic balloons. Those who want to gift us money put them on plastic gift cards. I mean the whole ordeal has just been very difficult.

We have finally come to a point where we have wrangled down the gift giving quite a bit. Our immediate families STILL insist they get us a gift, so we have an agreed upon one from each side, instead of one from each person. My family got me pasta roller attachments so I can make pastas at home, and Mike’s side got me a pizza stone and peel so I can ramp up our homemade pizza game. As for the others, I wanted a solution. It’s so complicated explaining to 30 relatives why we don’t want gifts and then fighting their resistance against our request. It was time-consuming to make a specific list for them last Christmas, and then frustrating to find that our “bar of soap purchased without wrapping” was wrapped in cellophane with bows. I am not ungrateful, but I AM almost near hysterical. When did we all get so carried away? When did celebrations become tied to wayyyy more than just gathering together to relish in the joys of our accomplishments? Why is it so difficult to untangle people’s perceptions of what a party should look like from the actual party?

My vision of a birthday celebration includes:

+ A get together at a park (or beach, or home).

+ Sharing a meal cooked by loved ones.

+ A home-made birthday cake.

+ Sitting around a circle, telling stories or jokes.

+ Taking photos, or sharing old ones.

+ A birthday song, perhaps.

+ Hugs, kisses, and high-fives.

Not much more than that.

This year, I got a little inspiration from Mr. Money Mustache, and we found a way to do our birthday in a very Debtist way. In the past, we would dine out with our friends and families, usually at a restaurant, for our birthdays. Each person’s meal would cost $15-$25 per person. If we weren’t doing that, someone would be throwing us a party, paying $50 for a cake, the same amount for balloons, confetti and decorations that we would trash that day, and so on. I used to count how many presents I would get each year at my birthday or during Christmas, and it would always be more than 20 gifts. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a waste to have people spend ludicrous amounts of money to throw parties and give gifts, while there are people who exist and barely have any food to eat.” So, I spoke to Mike, who feels the same torture as I, and whose birthday is two weeks away from mine, and we decided to do something different this year.

We created a FEED supper instead. The idea is simple. One hosts a supper (or in our case, a brunch) where each guest makes a donation to provide meals for families in need across the country before attending the event. 100% of the FEED supper donations will provide meals to American families through Feeding America. An estimated 42 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meals are coming from. By coming together “to truly share a meal”, we can help change that.  We wrote our families and friends the following letter:

We can do a world of good.

Hi all,

For us, a simpler birthday is a more meaningful birthday. Instead of asking for gifts or inviting you guys to dine out this year, we request your help in feeding those in need! This year, we are hosting a FEED supper (erm, well, brunch…). For those who are able, we request a donation to FEED and in return, every person who makes a donation is invited to come over to our place on Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. for home-made pastries and coffee! I have gotten into quite the baking habit and Mike makes wonderful coffee selections from local coffee roasters. 

This helps to avoid stressful shopping and allows folks to focus dollars where really needed.

The best present for us is getting together with you.

It’s hard to believe that over 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We can do something to change that.

Please consider making a small donation before attending this FEED Brunch, where we can celebrate our collective impact together.  

It only takes a little to make a big difference. By giving just $10, you can provide 90 meals to American families through FEED’s domestic giving partner, Feeding America. Our goal is to raise $500, but if we go over, even better!  100% of the proceeds will go towards Feeding America. 

Learn more about FEED Supper at feedprojects.com/feedsupper

We love you, and we appreciate your help in making a difference in the world.

Sincerely,

Sam

The letter links them to a website where they can make a donation of their choice. We have also invited them over to our house for pastries and coffee on a day between our birthdays. It’s something simple, but also something Mike and I are passionate about! We are very excited to see familiar faces, not only to celebrate our birthdays, but also to celebrate our impact!

Even after all of this, we were still asked to go out on my birthday to grab food by friends and family members. It took everything I had in me to flat out decline. It’s so hard to say no because you see the disappointment in their faces and hear it in their voices. But I had to stand my ground, otherwise I would have been the unhappy one. I gave them the spiel about how I did not want to do ANY spending on my actual day of birth. I emphasized the fact that we created the event to bring awareness to the excess consumption that advertising and social media has melded with the idea of celebration. I offered alternatives, such as joining us for a hike, or a bonfire. Interestingly, no one took us up on our offers, not even my parents. My mom was insisting we go out for breakfast at Lola’s Cafe, and when I said no to that, she insisted going to Breugger’s Bagels, because it is a cheap way to celebrate. She said, “We just want to spend time with our daughter on her birthday.” But when I declined again and asked if we could hike or go to the beach instead, she said they were busy. I think doing something so mundane was not considered a celebration, even though the celebration itself is internal, no?

Anyways, yesterday ended up being a good day. After helping my patients at work, and visiting with my family for an hour after work, Mike took me on a three mile hike to circumnavigate the only natural lake in Orange County. We then went home and made pasta. He had previously picked up a Coffee, Whiskey, Peanut Brittle Ice Cream from Kansha Creamery on his way home from work Friday (in a re-usable container, off course) and we dipped into that with a week-old left-over slice of cake from my mom’s end-of-the-school-year party. It was, I think, very reflective of the things I valued and what I envision my life to really be about in the upcoming year. More importantly, it was what made me happy. It’s a slow process, and maybe people will never understand the repercussions of our extravagant, Great-Gatsby lives. At least this year, I didn’t have to contribute.

Thoughts on: The Power of Small Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Frugality: Co-housing, An Update

It has been six months since Mike and I decided to take on a roommate and give co-housing a try. The verdict? It has been such an awesome and wonderful experience! We could not have been happier with our decision, and today, I wanted to share an update, for those who may be considering it themselves, or for those who have never thought about the possibility but are looking for options.

All too often, when we tell people that we have a roommate living with us, we get these incredulous stares or looks of confusion. They ask questions like, “But you’re married, right?” or “Isn’t that weird?” Which implies that there is this societal expectation that explicitly states in a rule book somewhere that a newly wedded couple should be living on their own. I don’t know if the concept is tied to the idea that a couple should be independent, or if it’s a sign of being able to provide for yourselves and therefore is more so tied to responsibility. Whatever it is, I think this expectation is just as detrimental as the idea that once you are married, you are “ONE”.

I believe that it is important to retain your individuality while married. It’s important to discern the difference between finding someone who adds to your life, and finding someone who completes your life. I do not believe in the latter. I do not believe in molding into one, but rather, in retaining our individual two-ness and working together, contributing equally, in our own unique ways. When we see ourselves as a single entity, it is easier to shut the rest of the world out with this “Us VS Them” mentality. When you consider yourselves as individuals, then it is easy to open up your life (and space) to other individuals as well. And maybe this is where our thinking differs from the rest.

Either way, the benefits of having a roommate are multi-fold, and I would like to address the ways in which it has enriched our lives.Obviously, having an additional roommate really helps with the finances. Before we welcomed K into the downstairs floor, we were looking for ways to decrease the monthly recurring rent payment,  which in Orange County, CA is not the easiest thing to do. We were looking at 450 sq. foot apartments that would decrease our rent to, well, what we have now. Adding a roommate allowed us to stay in the 1600 sq. foot space that we love, that was ideally located for both of our jobs, and that had a two car garage. Numerically, the savings have been over $4,000 in the course of 6 months! And it isn’t just on our end. I am not sure I ever mentioned this on here, but K is my younger brother’s girlfriend. She found a job nearby so she was looking for a space and we offered her her own floor downstairs at a much much cheaper price than if she rented a space on her own. It saves her money too! Everyone wins. But there is more to the story than just the finances…

On top of adding an additional person to talk to in the evenings, I actually get to see a lot more of my younger sibling too, which is awesome! I have really enjoyed the Sunday coffee dates we host at home, or random weeknight dinners, or occasional boardgame nights. I think for Mike and I as well, it has been such a difference having a third person to talk to. When it was just us two for the first year of our marriage, there came a point where we had squeezed out every last little story we had to tell. When you add a third person to the mix, the stories abound anew. There are so many fun discussions to be had, different perspectives to be told, and always, a mediator between two people. It’s a reminder that we as humans really do benefit from social interaction. Mike and I learn new lingo from the younger crowd, K teaches us about finance through her her business and accounting background, while we share with her our financial experiences and mistakes, and Mike and I share a lot about bread and coffee (although I am not sure that’s such a fair trade-off). But really, we have so much to share with each other and I just feel like Mike and I have grown so much more by adding someone back into our home.

Also, there is the perk of always having someone to house sit! Mike and I are constantly traveling, and I guess so is K. We usually have someone watching over the loft every time one of us is away, which is a perk I actually never thought about before. When we went Hawaii last year, we returned to a sprinkler flood on the first floor that was occurring for who knows how long. When we returned from Germany, we came back to the annoying, high pitched beeping of a fire-alarm battery dying. We hoped that was not going on for the whole week that we were away! Having someone watching the house allows all of us to go on vacation, worry-free.

We have enjoyed co-housing so much that we decided to renew our six month lease again, with all three of us on board! Which means another $4000 in savings, another 6 months of after-work stories and long chats and weekend adventures. I first learned of co-housing from a documentary about Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world. I am surprised it is not more popular here. I think a lot of our stress comes from our isolation from others and co-housing is a way to decrease some of that unhappiness. I say try it! It’s not much different from living with roommates in our college days. Weren’t those the best days of our lives?

 

Novelty, Unlocked in the Form of Hand-Me-Downs

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Last weekend, K and I were de-cluttering our possessions, as usual, continuing our slow, constant progress towards living a life of less. It’s amazing to discover that you can keep going on this path for so long. While I am not adding much of anything at all back into my life, I am finding hidden, forgotten about gems constantly in the backs of closets, nooks of cabinets, underneath piles of more oft used stuff. I came downstairs for a quick swig of water after lightening my closet for what feels like the thousandth time, just as K was coming up the stairs, carrying her favorite purple North Face jacket (a similar one here).  I must have seen K wear this jacket multiple times as one of her go-to pieces in her closet, so I was surprised when she extended her arm and offered the jacket to me. She voiced that she was ready to let it go, and she asked if I wanted her hand-me-down. I laughed because I had just de-cluttered my own closet upstairs and just finished contemplating how in the world I end up with so much stuff. Funnily, I did want to take the hand-me-down too, because I could use a more muted fleece jacket for the everyday, instead of my bright red one (see, minimalist doesn’t mean owning nothing, or deprivation!). Really though, I was hesitant that this was yet another thing that I would have to de-clutter in the future. But then I thought about it, and decided to hold on to the jacket, and I am glad I did!

If anything, I am prolonging the life of the article of clothing. K mentioned how she did not know where to donate the stuff she is constantly decluttering, and I have also come across this problem numerous times. The amount of clothes that are being removed from homes is extremely large, mostly thanks to the fast fashion industry which is bent on creating 52 seasons in one year. Companies that used to take and re-sell lightly used clothes are becoming more and more critical, and are accepting only a small percent of what comes through their doors, because there is just not enough room. Donations to other charities are also overflowing, and most are sent to third world countries for processing, where the overflow sometimes, ultimately, end up in landfill. A lot of people who don’t want to deal with the inconveniences of finding their old clothes a home simply send them straight to the landfill anyway. So K asked me to take it and I thought to myself, “keep it out of the landfill.”

I haven’t had a hand-me-down since my sister, Dee, and I started fitting into different sizes in college. Only a year apart, the first twenty years of our lives were constantly filled with, “Can I borrow this?” or “I’ll trade you this article of clothing for that!” It used to be such a fun game, frantically looking through my closet for a piece I knew she would want, whenever I wanted to borrow or have anything she had. We were very good about striking deals and bargains, and because of our system, our closets were technically twice the size. Sometimes, we would trade back the pieces we originally had, and it was like new. I was surprised to relearn all of this with the simple act of accepting K’s gift.

I have worn K’s jacket everyday this week, since she gave it to me. The jacket has brought me so much joy and excitement. It’s been a bit cloudy in the mornings (the sun has been slow in waking up this past week) and the office is always cold, so it’s proved useful despite the fact that it’s already June in California. Yesterday, Mike and I were at the beach watching the sunset, and I commented on how I have worn the jacket every day this week, as I was zipping it up to ward off the cooling temperatures. He responded with, “You’re excited to wear it because it’s new.” Which got me thinking. Sure, it isn’t brand new, but in my life, it IS new to me.

Research shows that we are not necessarily constantly searching for newness, but rather, novelty. Advertisement companies and social media understands this human need for novelty greatly, and they use it to their advantage. They sell products as novel experiences to the general population. Buy said product, find happiness. Buy this trip, find peace. Buy this workshop, find creativity. They package novelty as something you need to buy, and time and time again, I have proven that concept wrong through slow living. The truth of the matter is, “buying happiness” is a temporary fix, leaving people feeling empty, and wallets feeling emptier. Creating novel experiences is much easier, leaving people feeling fuller, because it did not come at a cost. Hand-me-downs are a great way to create this novelty. Accepting K’s jacket reminded me of a truth that Dee and I knew as children. Newness does not necessarily mean physical newness. It only requires a sense of newness to us. One day, I will write more about ways I create novel experiences in my life, without spending a penny, and how that is contributing to the observation that I live a happier life than some of my peers. But today, I just wanted to share this story, in hopes to maybe convince more people to creating a hand-me-down system among family and friends. Share, borrow, trade, it’s all fun. See how it makes you feel. Who knows. You may unlock a secret that only kids once knew.

For those interested in finding a place for their used clothes, why not support companies that have programs dedicated to repurposing used goods? Eileen Fisher has a Renew Program which accepts used EF clothes. Depending on the condition, they resell them, refurbish them, or break them down into scraps to make a one-of-a-kind. Nisolo has a Shoe Reclamation Program that accepts used shoes, creating a market for shoemakers in less fortunate communities who can then refurbish the soles and resell the “new” shoes to their communities in need.