Simple, Sustainable Gift Wrap

I am not one to take in an eye-sore kindly. I would call that one of my biggest flaws. Things just have to be aesthetically pleasing to be pleasing to me. For that, I am sorry. So when it comes time to start putting presents under the tree, it follows that I cannot just shove them there, unwrapped. It isn’t that I feel the need for another person to be surprised, although surprises are quite nice. It’s that I need the presents to look cohesive, for my own sanity. Which brings me to the following dilemma: less waste for a time of the year when gifts abound.

Last year, I wrote about the art of furoshiki gift wrapping, as a means to produce absolutely zero waste by using excess fabric lying about the house. But after a year has come and gone, I am without any more fabric left to wrap gifts in. It appears that everyone wanted to keep the fabric pieces for their own re-use. This year, I find a not-so-perfect zero waste (zero-ish waste? less waste?) solution from the following:

+ Less gifts, in general. Call me Einstein, but with less gifts comes less gift wrap, and therefore, less waste. This year, I have narrowed down our gifts to ten. That includes required Secret Santa’s at work and holiday parties, and our most immediate family members. Part of this comes from our public renouncement of the gifting of material things, right this way.

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+ Simple methods of wrapping. One of the very first memories I have of being conscious of my wasteful lifestyle involves wrapping gifts at Christmas time. I was 20 years old and I had volunteered to help my aunt wrap the gifts for my cousins (all forty-something of them). I was previously taught by my mother how to make gifts look pretty by adding in additional folds in the wrapping paper and using multiple bows. By scrapping sticker tags when my hand-writing was too ugly to bear. I went about my usual methods of wrapping gifts when my aunt questioned why I was folding the wrapping paper in such a way. I replied, “Because it looks pretty.” To which she laughed and said, “It wastes paper.” Confused, I didn’t understand why that mattered. Off course, my mind mulled the comment over and over again in my head as I continued to wrap. By the end of the wrapping session, I was embarrassed at the waste of gift wrap that I had cost my aunt. I was embarrassed of my frivolous lifestyle. And I saw a glimpse into the world of minimalism that I had yet to discover. Nowadays, I just wrap the paper once around, barely enough to cover the good, and call it a day. A more refined self finds this way of wrapping more attractive anyway.

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Simple materials. I avoid plastic as if I was allergic to it, that you may already know. These days, I find comfort in choosing materials that are natural, biodegradable, or at the very least, recyclable. For Christmas this year, I’ve stuck with twine, string, paper wrap (the non-glossy kind), brown boxes, and re-usable stamps. The color scheme itself is simple, making it easy for me to satisfy my need for cohesiveness. To fill excess spaces in the boxes, I’ve opted not to purchase tissue paper, but rather, use left-over packing paper that has survived our move into our new home a few months ago.

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+ Less wrapping of the gift wrap themselves. If I have to buy gift wrap in order to appease my need to have everything look cohesive, may it be the least-dressed gift wrap there is. This tip goes out to the minimalist (or minimalist hopefuls), to the environmentalists, to the pursuers of mindful living. This year, I went to a local stationary store (and by local, I mean I live across the street from it), and chose a brown paper gift wrap rolled up sans one of those cardboard rolls that you typically find in the center of a tootsie pop wrapping paper. Additionally, it was not wrapped up in cellophane, as they usually are. It was held together by a piece of paper detailing the company from which it came. I also purchased paper tape, with a little green decorative charm, holiday-esque enough to spruce up plain brown boxes (see what I did there?). I purchased yarn that was wound around a cardboard roll, and without the plastic covering (why are they even necessary?!). Lastly, I whipped out my wooden stamp collection and cut up a piece of sketch pad paper to make the name tags. All of this to say, it doesn’t take much to appease my need for pretty. We don’t have to indulge our presents in excessive gift wrap, but I am completely okay with allowing myself something simpler. It’s not perfectly zero-waste, but we can’t always be beating ourselves up for their inabilities to be perfect. We are, after all, human. The point is, we try.

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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.

Writing A No-Gifting Holiday Letter

My favorite time of year is upon us. A time of brisk morning air, evening fireside chats, excuses to snuggle and wear socks to bed, and gathering for no jolly good reason at all except for the fact that it’s that time of year. Intermingled among all this is the season of gift giving, interlaced with all sorts of well-meaning intentions designed to show affection and care. How then, to break one’s bubble and tell them not to give gifts at all, in order to avoid waste, excess consumption, and negatively impact livelihoods and the planet? Such Grinch-like talk will surely get you uninvited to Aunt Sally’s Christmas dinner. But lack of such talk could keep you in a cycle of forever contributing to unnecessary waste production and consumption. Which idea can you be more at peace with?

For myself, preceding any sort of wish list requires a conversation, which could be substituted by a letter if you’ve got some ‘splaining to do for a large number of people or if the face-to-face interaction is just too awkwardly painful to sit through. It requires bravery fortified by resolve, THAT I can guarantee you. It also requires an openness on my part, since I have no control over the openness on their part. Meaning, I must accept the possibility of rejection. For some, gift giving is just something very much ingrained in their being. I know it once was the case for me. There used to be a time where everyone I knew got a gift from me, whether they wanted to or not. I used to think it was the best way I could spread joy and show love. Today, I see the holidays as a heavily marketed event that promotes large amounts of consumption packaged in the form of gifts. Not everyone shares my view point. But I know that I’ve changed, and maybe over time, they may too. Regardless, allow people to be themselves. It is important to share your view point and stand strong as a mountain around your values, but it is equally important to allow others around you to be fluid and flow as a river, going their own way. Be open to being denied your wish to veer away from gift giving, because it is, after all, a wish.

The hard part, off course, lies in finding the best way to communicate that wish. Each family is different, and the way you communicate greatly affects the way the wish is received. With my immediate family, I have had endless conversations (throughout the year) about my stance. But what of extended family and friends? The easiest thing to do if your family is keen on sending each other wish lists is to include a letter addressed to all. Every year, people ask me for a wish list. And when I say “You don’t have to get me anything”, they typically respond with, “Just send it to me, anyway.” So I do, attached with a written letter. I have included this letter last Christmas, for my most recent birthday, and yes, this Christmas as well. May you find inspiration and support.

Dear all,

Please do not feel the need to get me a Christmas gift this year. I’d rather Christmas be about spending time, not money. I am more than happy to receive NOTHING. Actually I would feel a weight lift, since I feel stressed knowing that our consumption choices do affect the environment. Our resources could be used elsewhere, like buying a Christmas meal for a low-income family, or sending the gift to a child in a third world country. Please consider.

On that note, if you cannot keep yourself from the gift giving spirit, I ask that you kindly respect my wish for having as little negative social and environmental impact as possible. I request no plastic packaging, which requires either picking up these items from the store or writing letters to the companies to request zero plastic packaging in the shipping. No gift wrap is necessary, but if you wish to wrap, please be mindful and avoid plastic wrap, including ribbons and bows made from cellophane. There will be no need for plastic tags stickered onto gifts as well. Lastly, please use the links specified in this document if you choose to gift. Do not substitute products with other products as a majority of these are chosen specifically for their sustainability in material, fair trade, or direct global impact in poor communities.

Future thank you, regardless of what you choose to do.

XOXO,

Sam

Yes, it takes guts. Yes, it may not be well received by some. But after sending letters of the like twice before, here is the change that I am happy to see.

  • This year, my siblings were open to limiting the gifts to under $25. We used to spend $100+ on each other, and limiting it to a small price really allows us to focus our dollars on what we truly need.
  • This year, my sister-in-law approached us and asked if her, Mr. Debtist and I could skip gifts this year. She said that she had also asked her closest friends to do the same, and it was received with open arms. She only felt comfortable asking us this because we have made it clear in the past that gifts are not important to us. The conversation had already been started.
  • We have requested to participate in only the Secret Santas for the parties we are attending. Meaning, for the years that we are attending the other side’s extended family’s party, we will be skipping gift giving for the side we aren’t attending.
  • My husband and I will not get gifts for each other. We gift to each other throughout the year in forms of travel, quality time, and everything else we do to create an intentional lifestyle. At the end of December, we will be traveling to Australia and New Zealand, which is “gift” enough.

I hope that in sharing these moments, you find the courage to speak up for the lifestyle you want to lead. Change can happen, no matter how minute, but it all starts with awareness about how our actions today affect the world we create for tomorrow.

How Switching Your Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Can Save You Thousands of Dollars!

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

How would you like to save thousands of dollars a year, simply by switching the loan forgiveness program you are on? We know we did! A recent conversation with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner informed us that we could speed up our loan repayment simply by switching from IBR to REPAYE! The information that Travis shared with us was so valuable, because it could in fact save us thousands of dollars on our student loans! That’s equivalent to refinancing to a lower rate, thus cutting down our repayment timeline, while still allowing us the safety net of being in a loan forgiveness program. After conversing with Travis for an hour, I would highly recommend Student Loan Planner as the starting point for any student or new grad looking for student debt advice.

So how do we save $$$ this year? It’s simple. All we need to do is to switch from IBR to REPAYE. Today, I will outline why.

Related Posts

A Case Study: IBR VS REPAYE

We were under the IBR program since we embarked on this journey to repay our student debt of $574,000. Before you consider which loan forgiveness program you want to choose, you should probably read Finance: Student Loan Forgiveness Options: IBR VS PAYE VS REPAYE. We had initially chosen IBR despite the fact that the monthly payments would be 15% of discretionary income vs REPAYE’s 10% of discretionary income because of this one factor: IBR allows you to file taxes separately as a married couple and it will only consider the loan holder’s income, versus REPAYE which will consider the income of your spouse as well. Since Mr. Debtist also makes a six figure number, we figure that we would have the better deal using solely my income.

Here is an example of how to calculate that:

Let’s use estimates from our personal story to calculate the difference.

Assume that our loan is an even $550,000, my income (the debt holder) is $125,000 and Mr. Debtist’s income is $120,000.

Under IBR, they would calculate our yearly loan payment by multiplying my income by 15%.

125,000 * 0.15 = 18,750

Now we divide that by 12 months to find the monthly payment.

18,750 / 12 = 1,562.50

Therefore our monthly payment would be $1,562.50 under IBR.

Under REPAYE, we need to use the total household income of $245,000 to calculate the yearly payment, however we will only be paying 10% of our household income.

(245,000 – 1.5 * 16,460) * 0.10 = 22,030.85

To find the monthly payment, divide by 12 months.

22,030.85 / 12 = 1,835.90

Therefore our monthly payment would be $1,835 under REPAYE.

As you can see from this example, IBR would be the better payment plan because you would be paying the cheapest amount per month and allowing the program to forgive as much as possible.

HOWEVER, there is a rule with REPAYE that IBR does not have. REPAYE will subsidize 100% of the interest accrued for the first three years for subsidized loans, and 50% of the interest accrued after the first three years, which changes the game. Note, if you have unsubsidized loans or GRAD PLUS loans, they will only pay 50% of the interest accrued, period. Let’s see how.

Under REPAYE, the government will subsidize the interest that does not get covered by your minimum payment. In my case, I took out GRAD PLUS loans, so that would be 50% of the interest that accrues. We have already calculated the monthly payment to be $1,835.90. Let’s convert that to yearly payments.

$1,835.90 * 12 months =  $22,030.85 owed this year under REPAYE

This year, based on last year’s income, we owe $22,030.85 in total payments under REPAYE. We also know that interest on $550,000 at 7% is $38,500. Therefore, our payments under REPAYE are not even enough to cover interest, as is usually the case with a loan this large.

So the difference is calculated as follows:

$38,500 – $22,030.85= $16,469.15 * 0.5 = $8,234.58

Which means that for our case, the government will subsidize over $8k per year! You would be missing out on thousands of dollars just by being on the wrong program! We certainly did.

Why We Stuck with IBR in the past

We decided to be under IBR right when I got out of dental school, BEFORE we decided to pay back our loans aggressively. The reason being in my first year, I only worked for the last three months of the year, having waited for my license to be approved after graduating in June. In my first year’s taxes, I made $25,000. So taking 15% of $25,000 would be cheaper than 10% of $145,000. Now in the second year, the numbers completely changed since I started working full time for the entire twelve months. My salary jumped from $25,000 to $125,000. The ultimate question: Why didn’t we make the switch?

In April of my first full year of work, we had decided to pay back the loans aggressively. Meaning, our monthly payments were MORE THAN the minimum amount required. In order for there to be excess interest accrued on the loan, our monthly payments should not exceed the interest gained, which was about $3,000. But since we were paying our debt like CRAZY, we were actually paying $6,500 towards the loans, so no interest was accruing and it did not matter if we stayed in IBR or went to REPAYE.

Or so we thought…

We were VERY wrong!

A Common Misconception

According to Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner, REPAYE calculates the difference between the interest accrued and the amount paid back on the loan at the beginning of the year. REPAYE assumes that you will only make your minimal payment each month, which means that they lock in the assumption that $11,500 would be accruing in interest (for our particular example). Every month, they will subsidize a portion of your loan to make up for the interest that will supposedly accrue, REGARDLESS OF THE MONTHLY PAYMENT YOU ACTUALLY PAY. It doesn’t matter if we pay $6,500 towards the loans or if we pay the minimum amount. Either way, REPAYE will subsidize the difference between the minimum payment and the interest that’s being charged. So we have actually missed out on an opportunity here! What’s passed is past, but we are definitely jumping from IBR to REPAYE ASAP!

What Switching from IBR to REPAYE will save us.

We need to make this jump because of the following:

  • It will save us tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.
  • Making the change will be the equivalent of refinancing to a lower rate without actually having to refinance! Which then gives us the safety net of staying in a loan forgiveness program. If ever life throws us a curveball (such as an accident, layoff, disability, sickness, or our worlds fall into chaos and we cannot work), then the loan forgiveness program will give us the flexibility to not HAVE to pay $6,500 per month.
  • After all the money we save, we can cut our repayment timeline down to 7.5 years!

Off course, not everyone under IBR should automatically jump to REPAYE! You have to pick the financial path that is right for you, considering your personality, your goals, your lifestyle, and more. If you are looking for sound advice on how to create a student loan repayment plan customized for your situation, don’t hesitate to contact Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, using my affiliate link. It will be a very rewarding hour! And check out my second podcast episode with Travis, to be released in 2019! Stay tuned.

Decluttering A Shoe Closet with Nisolo’s Shoe Reclamation Program + Get $30 OFF!

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

I have a fairly minimalist shoe closet, but it was not always so. I am the first to admit my past self’s infatuation with owning shoes, and at my highest point, when I embarked on this journey of minimalism in a state of constant overwhelm from being surrounded by so much STUFF, I counted more than fifty pairs! Embarrassingly, a majority of which were cheaply made goods of mostly plastic materials, undoubtedly constructed in less than ideal working conditions. My shoe collection now is a fraction of my past, but I still likely wouldn’t pass the Instagram and Pinterest-worthy versions of what a  minimalist shoe collection entails. But who wants their image to fit in a box? All I know is that I am less wasteful and much pickier about adding to my collection. So how did I get from point A to point B?

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Certainly, not without a whole lot of anguish caused by the realization that in order to de-clutter, the shoes had to go elsewhere. And where else might shoes go after being worn by particular feet? I will guarantee you that not many people out there are willing to wear well-loved shoes. And when there are no people wanting your shoes, what fate is there left to befall them but to (try) to return to the Earth? Despite all hope of plastic products bio-degrading eventually, deep down we all know that they will never disappear quickly enough.

Thankfully, a shoe reclamation program with Nisolo exists to increase the longevity of your kicks, while also giving to those in need. I myself participated in the reclamation program a month ago, when more of my shoes were considered unnecessary and ready to be passed on. Creating a more circular fashion model, this system ensures that products and their materials are reused and recycled. In partnership with Soles4Souls, the shoes donated will be given to micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries, such as Haiti, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Moldova and other countries in Africa, for a chance to clean, repair, and re-sell unwanted shoes. These micro-entrepreneurs are given the chance to start their own small business when they would normally not have the resources to do so. Additionally, the shoes are being redistributed to an under-served local population. Nisolo’s goal is to collect 5,000 shoes by 2020. Last month, our household donated six pairs. In return for your donation, Nisolo will give you a $30 OFF discount code for every pair of shoes donated, to be used at their shop at any time. If you’d like to join the movement, here’s how.

I speak about this program in the hopes that those looking to live a life of less can do so with a sigh of relief, rather than with heavy hearts. Additionally, I write in preparation for #GivingTuesday, a day fueled by social media on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to get people rethinking about what it truly means to give. If you are preparing for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, perhaps you’d like to pre-emptively donate shoes, in order to receive a discount code to be used at checkout. More importantly, as the holiday season approaches, may we remember not to be entangled in the “giving process” so much as to tie our wallets down in the name of gifting. Instead, may we look to those in need and ask ourselves the question of how we can make a difference and bring joy.

For those interested in my shoe collection, here is a list of my shoes as they are depicted in the photos, left to right, top to bottom.
Cover photo: Heeled boot from Everlane (a similar one here), Elizabeth Slides from Nisolo, Sofia Slip Ons from Nisolo (a similar shoe)
Photo 1: Harper Chukkas from Nisolo (a similar one here), Paloma Mule from Nisolo, Smoking Shoe from Nisolo
Photo 2: Clifton Sneakers from Eileen Fisher, Huaraches from Nisolo
Photo 3: Isla Slide from Nisolo

Rye Pecan Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

When it comes to cooking, I find joy in creating complexity out of the most simple and base ingredients. Take carrots, for example. A boring carrot stick is something you pass by on your weekly grocery run in the produce aisle. Orange, stiff, sometimes with carrot top still intact (in which case, a no-waste carrot top recipe, here). A long ways from extraordinary. But when I think of  a well-made carrot cake, my eyes can’t help but twinkle, my mouth salivates. The marriage between sweet, earthy, and spicy undertones signifies a TRUE carrot cake, not disguised by extreme amounts of sugar, as they usually are. The colors of the cake itself remind me of the beauty of fall – orange from the carrots, brown from cinnamon and brown sugar, purple and mossy green from the rye.

Too often, carrot cake is done a disservice. Fatty and sugary sweet isn’t the cake I dream of. If it comes out of the pan shiny, covered in grease and oil, then you know it’s not done right. The texture should be moist, but grainy too. It should be fluffy and crumbly. My favorite way to make it is to keep the carrot shreds long, so that they break up the cake and are featured in their own right, rather than disappear into the flour, overshadowed by bread. With this recipe modified from East of Kitchen, I was able to create such a cake for a Friendsgiving gathering, with plenty of left-overs to boot.

It’s time to do carrot cake justice.

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For the cake:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pecans, roughly chopped
  • 5 cups carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Rye flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 large free-range eggs
  • 2.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups coconut oil
  • 3 tsp pure vanilla extract

The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Grease two 9-in cake pans and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and grease that, too.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy, about 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until the batter has thickened.
  5. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the coconut oil in a slow and steady stream.
  6. With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined.
  7. Dump the grated carrots and the pecans in the batter and incorporate with the aid of a spatula.
  8. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  9. Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before removing to a cooling rack. When it is completely cooled, cut lengthwise through the middle with the aid of a serrated knife.

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For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp lemon zest

The Process:

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and cream cheese on low speed until everything is blended.
  2. Add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, with mixer running on low, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and zest.
  3. Refrigerate at least one hour prior.

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To assemble the cake:

  1. Place the first cake layer on a serving plate.
  2. Wrap wax paper around the circumference of the cake to create a tall wall to support the building of the cake.
  3. Spoon 2 tsp of milk over the cake. This will keep the cake moist.
  4. Spread a layer of the frosting evenly on top, then place the second layer over.
  5. Spoon 2 tsp of milk, and them spread another layer of frosting.
  6. Repeat with the third and fourth layers. Spread frosting evenly on top. There should be more than a fourth of the frosting reserved for the top layer. Reserve a small amount of frosting for the sides of the cake.
  7. Place the cake into the freezer without removing the wax paper. Let sit in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
  8. Remove the cake from the freezer and remove the wax paper. Ice the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Place in the fridge for at least one hour to allow the frosting to set.
  9. The cake should be ready to eat afterwards. If you wish, decorate with sprigs of rosemary stems.

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Habit Shift: Teeth Grinding

The Dental Series was created in collaboration with Bogobrush in an attempt to make dental health care not only important, but COOL, too! In it, we answer common questions and address current topics in the dental field. When Bogobrush is not helping spread the word about oral healthcare, they act as a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program catering low-income communities that may not have access to something as simple as a toothbrush.


We all have habits and tendencies. I’d be the first to admit that some of them are not good – such as always needing to eat a sliver of dessert after dinner, or never drying our good knives after washing them. I have a history of even worse habits during my teen years, such as chewing my nails, or chewing on the caps of pens, neither of which are good for my teeth. But like most habits, these I have direct control over, and I can change them whenever I so please, like when chewing on your nails turned from cool to gross. Unfortunately, there are some habits that are subconscious, and therefore much more difficult to break. An example of such a habit is teeth grinding, otherwise known as bruxism.

I am a heavy bruxor, meaning that I have the tendency to grind my teeth at night. Like so many others, it was undiagnosed until I landed myself in a dental chair due to a painful ache on my lower left tooth. I was prepared for a root canal and a crown, convinced that something this painful must be caused by a severe infection involving hateful bacterial species. So I was surprised when my co-worker showed me the x-ray and there was an absence of any signs of decay. Wait, then was going on?

Bruxism!

Bruxism is the subconscious habit of grinding your teeth. It is also considered a sleep-movement disorder. It is not uncommon for people who have other sleep disorders (such as snoring or sleep apnea) to grind their teeth as well. While some people grind their teeth from side to side, others chomp and chew, and yet others, like myself, clench really, really hard. It has even been reported by loved ones that their partner’s grinding habits are so loud it keeps them up at night! However, most people who grind their teeth are undiagnosed until they start to experience pain. The pain can be anything from mild to severe, and can be persistent or transient. Sometimes, bruxism is so severe that it causes to the teeth to fracture! This can then cause you to lose your tooth, depending on how it breaks. In order to prevent this from happening to you, it’s important to be aware of the most common signs and symptoms, as well as to try and protect your teeth from the effects of heavy grinding.

Bruxism

Signs and Symptoms

There are many signs and symptoms for bruxism, and they are different for every person. The severity depends on the frequency, duration, and weight of your bruxing habits.

Common sign and symptoms include:

  • Abfraction Lesions – These look like little chipping of your teeth around the gum line. Teeth are anchored in the jaw, and when we clench and grind, we are causing these teeth to flex in all sorts of directions. As they flex, the part of the tooth closest to the gumline (where it is most tightly anchored) experiences the most stress, causing these areas to be prone to chipping.
  • Flat Occlusion – As we grind our teeth, we are slowly grinding away at the top portion of the enamel. Eventually, heavy bruxism may lead to completely flat teeth.
  • Fractured Teeth – Under the stresses of grinding and clenching, part of the tooth itself can give way and fracture. Teeth with large existing fillings are more prone to fracturing than a complete tooth or a tooth with a crown. When we start to see the first signs of cracking or microfracture, we want to take precaution and monitor the tooth closely. Sometimes, it may be beneficial to remove the cracked portion and place a crown, to help prevent any unpredictable and unfavorable fractures in the future.
  • White Lines Inside the Cheeks – Look inside your cheek to see if there is a white striation. These are formed from the repetitive sucking motion related to teeth clenching and grinding.
  • Tight or Tired Jaw Muscles – It may be that you are spending the entire night working your jaw left and right. Your jaw joints may then get tired, or feel very tight. If you ever wake up in the morning with a soreness in your jaws, you may have just experienced a night of heavy grinding!
  • Tooth Pain or Sensitivity – Teeth can experience sensitivity to hot, cold, or pressure if they are continually experiencing trauma from bruxism. There are nerves running to each tooth, and repetitive trauma to the tooth can cause these nerves to become hypersensitive. If treated right away, the hypersensitivity can be reversible.
  • Migraines and earaches – The nerves that innervate your teeth run up along the sides of your head. If they are hypersensitive, they can also cause migraines and earaches.
  • Sleep Disruption – Some people wake up in the middle of the night due to the sounds of bruxism. Others awaken due to aches and pains. Untreated bruxism can definitely take away a good night’s rest!

Causes of Teeth Grinding

The exact cause of bruxism is difficult to pinpoint. It could be a myriad of factors, so it’s important to evaluate whether any of the following apply to you.

  • Stress or Anxiety – The most common cause of teeth grinding is stress. I will always ask my patients if they are experiencing any stressful events in their lives lately when they report bruxism. Most people identify a difficult time at home, or a job change, or a recent move. Identifying the cause of stress and trying to manage or decrease it is really helpful in treating bruxism!
  • Abnormal Bite – Children often time experience grinding when their teeth first erupt and again when their adult teeth start to erupt. Sometimes they outgrow it, and sometimes they don’t. I have also noticed that bruxism is more common when people are missing teeth. A theory would be that an abnormal bite or a bad occlusion can lead to grinding.
  • Side Effects of Medications – Some medications are known to cause grinding. If you have recently started taking a new medication, ask your doctor whether grinding could be a possible side effect. Antidepressants, for example, have been shown to cause grinding.
  • Weight Gain and Sleep Disorders – Recent weight gain can make breathing more difficult when one is sleeping. Soft tissues around the neck and throat tends to push downward when we are lying down, thus obstructing the airway. This can lead to a number of sleep disorders, including snoring, sleep apnea, and grinding!

How to Protect Your Teeth from Grinding

There are many ways to protect our teeth! Unfortunately, since grinding is subconscious, eliminating the habit can be very near impossible to do. Therefore, we must find other ways to help prevent further wear and tear on our pearly whites!

  • Wear a Night Guard

Getting a night-guard is the best way to protect your teeth from the effects of bruxism. Since bruxism is a subconscious habit, it can be difficult to catch yourself doing it, let alone to stop yourself from grinding or clenching. A night guard is a protective plastic piece that sits on either your upper teeth or on your lower teeth. The plastic piece acts as a barrier between upper and lower teeth while you are grinding, so that you are not placing as much forces on your teeth and you aren’t wearing them down. The upper night guard works really well, but can feel very bulky for some. The lower night guard is a much more comfortable fit for first time users. You have the option of either buying universal night guards over-the-counter or making a custom-fit night guard with your dentist. Off course, the custom-fit night guard will protect your teeth better, but I can understand if you don’t want to spend that much money until you’ve tried an over-the-counter one to see if you can tolerate sleeping with a night guard. It will take awhile for you to get used to! It took me about two weeks. One thing is for sure: Once I started wearing my night guard, the pain went away. And if I ever forget, the pain will come back, which shows me that the night guard is doing its job!

  • Reduce Stress

There are many ways to reduce stress. I was first diagnosed with bruxism during dental school, which no doubt was a very stressful time. I find that I clench my teeth while I work or concentrate on something. When I involve myself in stress-reducing practices, I find that I clench less. Below are some ways to alleviate stress or anxiety.

    • Avoid stressful activities an hour before bed.
    • Drink caffeine-free tea in the evening after dinner.
    • Avoid screens in the last hour before bed. Try reading a book instead, or listening to calming music.
    • Choose exercises such as yoga in the late evenings, rather than hitting the gym and working out.
    • Write positive events or affirmations down. Gratitude has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety levels greatly. Try a 5-minute journal.
    • Spend time with your family, friends, or pet.
    • Practice deep breathing, and letting thoughts go.
  • Lose Weight

If you’ve recently gained weight and have noticed that you started grinding your teeth, try to get back to your previous weight. As mentioned above, weight gain is a common cause of grinding. Many patients have found success in decreasing bruxism by simply losing weight.

  • Regular Dental Visits

Regular dental visits are important when you grind your teeth. Make sure your dentist knows of your bruxism. They will be able to detect early signs of tooth fracture. When you start to see a hairline fracture, it shows that your tooth is giving way underneath all those chewing forces. You want to treat a small fracture with caution. It may be that a crown will be needed in the near future to cover the tooth and help protect it. A small crack can grow into a big one, and there is never any telling when and how a tooth will break. Sometimes, a tooth breaks and we can save it with a filling, a crown, and/or a root canal. However, other times, it breaks in a completely unfavorable way, and you may end up losing your teeth. Speak with your dentist about the best preventative practices you can engage in to save your teeth!