Intentional Living: Switching the Lens

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My birthday is a gift in that it falls in the middle of the year. I use it to re-assess not so much what I have accomplished, but rather, where to steer life’s trajectory. With this framework, we look on the bright side of things while avoiding the guilt of not being where we thought we were meant to be. We are always where we’re meant to be. We just need the occasional shift in perspective, is all.

Retrospection is one of those practices that can be likened to a double-edged sword. In one respect, we need to be wary of the tendency to live in the past, the mulling of our histories which prevents us from living out the joys of today. When the retrospecting is on something not entirely good, it can put us in quite a rut. A reminder hence that sometimes, the best course of action is to live and let go. On the other side of the coin, however, is a warning against racing haphazardly onwards without direction. As freeing as that may feel, perhaps a moment’s pause would be beneficial, and also, necessary. As always, striking balance is just the stuff. Myself, I lean towards retrospection partnered with a ridiculous will for chasing what I want, so in that way, I suppose I find balance. Retrospection to me doesn’t require so much the mulling, but more so a switching of the lens.

In this re-assessment, I make a list of actionable steps. Minor tweaking of daily life practices, with deeper intentionality behind each one. For example, a desire to physically switch my camera lens from the standard one to a fixed 50 mm lens for the rest of the year. Reason being…? Reason being that the 50 mm lens forces me to switch my camera to a manual setting, thus avoiding the automatic point-and-shoot capturing of daily life. In this single action, I am inserting a forced habit of creativity. I make photographing a bit more difficult. I slow the process. I make the framing more intentional. I have to take the time to focus the lens on what I want to see. A method of mindfulness.

This and others. Here, a short list.

  • Switching the camera lens and turning the manual switch on (to instill mindfulness in creativity).
  • Spending the first thirty minutes of being awake writing, reading, or creating (for better mental health).
  • Applying moisturizer and sunscreen daily (as an act of self-care)
  • Plugging the cell-phone in once I enter the home (and leaving it there).
  • Keeping the lights turned off as far into the evening as possible (and substituting candles in its wake).
  • Read more (mindfully).
  • Sleep 8 hours every night, uninterrupted (like I used to).
  • Keeping clear surfaces around the house (for more clarity).
  • Switching to decaf … or no caff … during the week (now that I’ve cut the midnight shifts).
  • Carrying around a notebook (in the hopes of jotting down more introspections such as these).

How about you guys? Birthdays not required, what are some ways you hope to change trajectories for the rest of 2019? 

Intentional Living: Regaining Tidbits of Our Power

Amidst the chaos surrounding the recent announcements regarding limiting abortion in particular areas of the United States, there surfaces this topic of maintaining our individual rights in decision-making and control over our own bodies (read as: lives). And while it may seem as if we are powerless in our ability to do so, wrangling against governmental institutions, societal norms, and even local community judgement, it is important, now more than ever, to acknowledge our own innate capabilities (women, especially). Instead of worrying about the goings-on of our surroundings, may I suggest starting from a place of here-ness, with our individual self in the very center. Instead of focusing on the things we are told we cannot do, let’s focus on the things that we know within ourselves that we can. Let us regain tidbits of our own power, and trust that in doing so, the world begins to move around that tiny action, regardless of what our society dictates.

There are two ways in which I think people can start regaining tidbits of their power. The first involves being mindful about what we choose to consume. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you are not happy with how you feel about something, change the contexts and the inputs that are coming in. It’s that law of theory that whatever you focus on, you attract more of. Start by making your inputs positive. Be intentional about what you choose to fill your feed. Make them things that connect you to like-minded people, or things that inspire, or make you happy. We need to be more selective about the inputs we are allowing into our life. We are in control of making the situation worse (or better).

Following people who make you feel bad (even those who do so unintentionally) by whatever they are “selling” is not really what you need. Likewise, by following news such as abortion laws and by following Instastories of other people protesting against such news, you are allowing all that negative energy into your world which does not really have a direct effect in your life. In reality, we know what is possible and regardless of how you feel about it or which camp you sit in, the choice is ultimately up to you and if you think a location can prevent you from accessing that, then you are already succumbing to a little bit of the control that you are trying so hard to escape from. On the flip side, by removing those inputs all together, by ignoring the goings-on in that system and trusting in your OWN system which is led by your inner guidance, we are creating a place that is ultimately uplifting, and may I say, more applicable, let alone real. As a true believer in our realities being shaped by our own minds and belief systems, I don’t spend my time or energy wasting on the rest.

The second way to regain our power centers around how we react to what we do end up consuming. Some have a difficult time dissociating from the external goings-on of the surrounding environment, or some simply choose not to (which is by no means an incorrect way to live but rather just a different one), and for these people, the second way to regain power involves the following advice.

You have ultimate control over what you choose to infiltrate your boundaries and give your power away to. If you think about the colleague or friend that is continually putting you down, pointing out your flaws, or instilling some insecurity, you have two choices. You could make what they say or do mean everything to you, or you could make that mean nothing. We need to start empowering women by having them visualize how many people currently hold some of their power in this way. How many people (and places and things) holds little bits of power – where you are waiting for THEM to change and respond differently, to make YOU feel better in your body? And when you think about it like that, you realize that YOU have given all of this power away, to people who YOU have decided has a right to a say. With this really simple visualization, you can call it back in. You need to take the dependency that is scattered among other people, those little bits of yourself that you’ve allowed other people to affect and control, and reel it back in. We need to remember that NO ONE is going to ever change enough to get the anxiety out of our own bodies. This is how we’ve been keeping ourselves powerless, in a way. Able-bodied woman have choice far beyond other people and so we need to look for where we’ve intentionally given that power and where we can easily call it back.

And so I guess, in much the same way, the latter advice follows the former.

As you can see here, worrying about what someone says we can and cannot do is yet another way we give away our power. Interestingly, as more and more people “stand” up against the injustice of this recent abandonment of women’s rights, more and more people are giving up their own power by acknowledging that it is so, and by assuming that we can’t do differently, if we wanted to. In essence, our acknowledgement is actually what is causing the very things we wish to change to be. What our minds believe to exist, does, and likewise, the opposite is true.

I’ve been told that I tend to live in my own world. Which is partially true. I refuse to partake in keeping up with the news or choosing a political party or what have you, because as far as I am concerned, none of it affects me. And people have resisted this notion, calling this mindset privilege, which it possibly is, but I simply believe in an individual’s ability to do as they please. That’s always how it’s been for me. Some may call that courage and others ignorance. But by being even a tiny bit involved (emotionally, physically, mentally) in the government systems that are in place, we are ultimately following THEIR system and allowing them to do what they had set out to do, which is to have power and control. Instead, I just ignore it and live my truth. I follow only one system, and that’s my inner guidance system. If more people did the same, there would be no need to stand up to a government that does not have the power to control anyone. We regain our power by beginning with ourselves, and living life with our self in the center. I trust that the world will move around us.

Slow Living: Early Morning Routine

Early mornings speak to me, and always have. This isn’t to say that I have always been the first one up at the crack of dawn. That would be my sister. And admittedly, I have a history in my family of sleeping in when I can. But I am the person who is quick with getting up. Not in the rushed sort of way, but when my eyes flutter open and I wipe away the sleep, my energy levels are already almost at one hundred percent. There isn’t any need to roll around in bed, dawdle in the covers, pretend that it was still night time. And stepping outdoors in the wee hours when the sun has just peeked over the horizon to lend the few stray rays of light is probably one of my favorite feelings in the world. Granted, it’s California, and there’s no need to fight off a bone-shaking cold (most of the year, anyway), but there’s something about the way mornings smell that really attracts the soul. It smells fresh, and full of opportunity.


As of late, I’ve definitely honed in to a new early morning routine what with taking on the early morning baker’s shift at Rye Goods. Three days a week, I begin my days at one thirty in the morning, early enough for the late night party-goers in downtown Santa Ana to still be mingling back to their cars on their way home. Although the getting up is a bit rough, I set my alarm at the very last second so that there isn’t any other choice but to get up right away, and once I’m up, I’m going. My first few hours of the day entail baking off over one TWO hundred pastries and loaves with a fellow baker. This may seem like a fast-paced job, but there is a slowness to bread that only a baker will understand.

Our mission: to be finished with baking by five thirty in the morning so that the delivery crew can get these baked goods to local coffee shops in time for opening.

Our job: a smattering of duties that requires presence of mind, but at the same time, has become memorized by rote motions. The danishes get a dash of sugar, the cookies get sprinkled with sea salt, but oh, do remember that there are five minutes left for the pop-tarts before they start to turn too dark of a color. We have a timeline, but the baking can’t be rushed. The pastries will proof on their own time, the bread will take almost half an hour to rise, and you can’t cut the banana bread until it’s calm and cool.

At six in the morning, I leave the bakery smelling like bread, and you would think, tired from lifting trays of pastries, juggling sixteen lodge pans, and washing a ton of dishes. But in general, I walk out with a smile on my face to the sound of birds chirping as they wake to greet the morning sun. I see the lights inside neighbors’ homes, turned on as they prepare for a day of work. I catch a hint of the first few rays of morning light. Sometimes, I even finish my shift before the sun is ready to get up. I walk to my car with a sense of peace.

On these mornings that I bake bread, I come home to a cat, ready and begging for his breakfast, and a still sleeping husband who stirs when I walk up the stairs. I feed the cat, turn on the coffee machine in case it’s an espresso kind of day to allow it to heat up, and feed my starter. I’ll either do a smattering of movements around the kitchen, like put away last night’s dishes or organize a few things, or sometimes I’ll change out of my bakers clothes and sidle into bed for thirty minute rest before my husband wakes.

When he gets up for work, I usually get up, too. I prepare breakfast, pour coffee if needed, and write down a to-do list in my planner. We prepare our lunches (usually, baker days are my days off from dentistry), sit down for breakfast, and talk about what we have for the day or what we dreamt of at night while sipping from mugs of coffee. Occasionally, our roommate joins us as she prepares her lunch prior to heading off to work.

By eight thirty, they both leave for work, and I wash our dishes, pick up the the cat litter, clean around a bit while my energy is still high, and then when the house has quieted from the absence of both my husband and roommate, I lie down to make up for lost sleep and nap for a few hours.


On days when I am not a bread baker, I also practice slow mornings. After a good night’s sleep, I wake up around the same time that I would be getting home from my bread baking shift. If I am a bit sleepy, the cat is sure to let me know that it’s time to eat. I usually slip out of bed, and the first thing I do is pick up the glass of water by my bedside. I finish the left over water, which usually is full from when I’ve placed it there the night before, and walk to the kitchen counter while the cat runs and meows. I refill his kitty bowl, and when he’s busy eating, I refill my glass, and walk slowly back to bed. The cat will join us when he’s done.

It is at this time that I pick up the book that I had lain on the floor by my house slippers, and open it up to read. If I’m lucky, I’ll get thirty minutes before my husband wakes. Thirty minutes of reading is a habit that I started to require of myself this year. It’s a way to give myself that self-care. Thirty minutes is never enough.

By the time my husband is out of the shower, we repeat some of the same activities that we do on my days off. However, once the morning conversations and tidying up has ended and the house is all to myself once again (my dentistry shifts don’t usually start until 11am), I usually sit down on my yoga mat and do my daily hour of yoga in the first few hours of my day. (On baker days, I reserve yoga for the first few moments after I wake up from my morning nap). I don’t do yoga as a chore to be done, another check box to be addressed, another golden star next to my name. I do yoga to take stock. To notice how my body is feeling, to gauge how I should treat myself for the rest of the day. If there’s a soreness, then I need to be slower in my movements. If there’s a tension, then I need to be lighter in my mood. If there’s impatience, then it’s a day to practice grace. Once I’ve figured out what I need for the day, it begins.

I sit down at my computer and write. Not always for this blog. Sometimes for others, sometimes, only for myself. Sometimes I pick up a pen, and other times, I turn on the screen. Not always in paragraph form, sometimes I write short poems to share, mini-monologues for Instagram, lists of dreams for my planner. Sometimes, I even do the bland and write e-mails.

And therein lies another habit that I gift myself. First the reading, then the yoga, now the writing. All of these I try to do daily, and all of these I sneak into my morning routine. Notice that when you add bread to the mix, I essentially do everything that I love in during my first few waking hours. I set up my day not for success, as would be ideal for most people, but for a bit of happiness, a bit of calm, and a whole lot of life.

I make a huge effort to not pick up my phone in those first few hours. The phone used to be the first thing I touched when I opened my eyes. It’s the first thing people do, judging from how many people view my Instastories after an early morning baking shift. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. But embracing slow-living means avoiding the fast-paced interruptions of social stories, advertisements, and overall digital consumption that goes hand-in-hand with a phone. In fact, since we’ve moved to this home (six months ago!), my phone has not rested at my bedside table, but rather, at a far-away-sill where one must get up with awareness to go and pick it up.

I also make an effort to not open my emails until I’ve done other things. I’m not ready to jump straight-away into doing what other people need from me. I want to have the time for myself, for my life. The e-mail requests can wait a few hours. My mind needs the reset.

Lastly, I like to avoid additional noise. My sister and brother love to turn on music in the mornings, especially during their morning shower. My husband loves to peruse reddit and watch videos once he can pry his eyes from sleep. My dad turns on the TV. I avoid all forms. I’m not exactly a music hater but for the past few years, I’ve really embraced the silence. Even my commute to work is quiet. I would occasionally listen to a podcast, but most days, I drive without distraction. I’d prefer to be without cacophony. So it makes sense that no music plays in the early mornings. The sounds you would hear would be the birds chirping, the cat meowing, the cars on their work commute driving by the window, the keyboard click-clacking, the coffee dripping, the sound of me crunching on a slice of toast, and maybe the computer humming.

It goes without saying that the early mornings are for me, and me alone. And that slow living requires not so much that you do things slow, or that you do less. Only Instagram would have you believing this is so. Slow living is really, at the root of it, about intentionality. And I live every morning with as much intention as I can muster. Only the most important things are allowed in those first few hours. It sets up the rest of your day for, maybe not success, but something much more important which is happiness.
Whatever happens to the rest of the day happens. But it’s nice to know that by 9am, you’ve already lived your very best.

More importantly, what about you guys? Morning routines to share?

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.

Curating Closets: When You Have None

It’s been a while, since I’ve written about curating closets, but closets have been at the forefront of [our] minds lately. Mostly, because we have none. I revealed in this post that our living space on the second floor has absolutely no closet space, not even in the bedroom.

Or pantry space.

Or a bathroom door.

Or a bedroom for that matter, technically. Loft living for the win.

So where to put storage? Our lifestyle is salvaged by a lone closet underneath the stairwell, located on the first floor (in the business space). We’ve placed a rod in this “coat closet” and have hung most of our clothes there, underneath the linens. There’s shelving above it, wherein sits our few sweaters that avoid hangers, to prolong their sweet little lives. The space is limited, and what minimalist closets we once thought we had have proved to be, well, not minimal enough. The husband owns too many tees, while I own too many formal a dress. So, a few words on curating, once again.

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It’s dawned on me that the de-cluttering process is one of the most mindful practices I engage in. And I do it repetitively, because there’s still room for self-improvement, as well as self-reflection. Here’s what this new “space” has reminded me:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I keep returning to this quote. I first discovered it perusing a shelf of cards at Daydream Surfshop in simple black lettering across a blank card. I loved it so much that I gave it as a birthday card to our roommate. When curating closets, I ask myself these two questions: “Does it have a purpose?” and “Do I love it?” Some may say “love” is a bit too extreme of an emotion, but I have found that liking something is not enough to stand the tests of time.

When you must choose between practicality and an item you love, sometimes it pays to choose the loved and less practical.

I was standing in a dressing room stall, holding two pairs of pants in my hands. I had been hiding away in there for thirty minutes or more, and the dressing room lady has checked in on me five times by now. Surely, she must wonder whether I’m in there solely because of the free AC. Not entirely untrue. But also, I was going through a tough dilemma, arguing with myself back and forth. Do I get the pair of practical denim which goes with everything in my closet and which can be worn on most days in casualness, or do I go with the auburn pant that wears beautifully, matches with a lot of my basic tops, but that I might hesitate doing some cooking in, lest it gets dirty? The truth of the matter is, I needed neither. In the end, I had walked out of the store with the pair of red pants in my hand. While practicality would have landed me a pair of denims that have everyday usability, I chose the thing that will make me ultimately the most happy. With something practical, one can wear it every day and never notice anything different. The practical one would not add anything to my life, except maybe a reason to de-clutter other denim pants that I already own. The red pair, on the other hand, will add joy to the every day. Plus, I’ve come to realize that when you love something, you end up using it as much as you possible can anyway. The moral is to choose actions that makes life happy, which is ultimately what we are living for. And when it comes to having items around,  living surrounded with items that you actually care about is the thing that matters most.

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Know what you need for your particular lifestyle.

Speaking of having items around, know what works for you. I have been guilty before of buying things that other people have, with the illusion that I myself may need them too. However, as I grew to know myself, I have found that my lifestyle is quite different from other people’s lifestyle. There were so many things we owned previously that we found we didn’t use at all. A toaster that we had asked for on our wedding registry. Cosmetics that I thought every girl required. A beer tasting set, ’til I realized I no longer wish to consume beer. Specifically for wardrobes, I used to think I needed high heels to compensate for my height, and short dresses to make my legs appear longer. I used to think that tight clothing helped me, and that having my hair curled made me appear more adult. Today, I’d likely grab a tee, prefer overalls, and get itchy when my hair is anywhere near my face. Also, I enjoy the freedom that walking, running, jumping (?) in flat shoes afford me. My lifestyle has slowed down quite a bit, so blogging on couches does not require the same attire as going out to happy hours do. Coffee shops are more forgiving than clubs and house parties. Denim pants are more suited to bread baking than mini skirts. You get the gist.

Learn to recognize sentimentality and guilt. Learn to let the burden go.

The most difficult, and final advice. Too many times have I stared at an item which has not been touched, used, or even looked at for many months [ahem, years], yet still it remained in my possession. Always, the culprit holding me back from saying sayonara was sentimentality, followed by guilt. Handkerchiefs handed down to me from my mom when I was 8 years old, for example. The thought of letting something go makes me feel like I was stabbing someone I cared about in the back with a knife of betrayal. The wild imagery pulls me towards being a “good person” and keeping it for the sake of sentiment, and also, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. We must learn to recognize these moments, and then to ask, “what is it’s purpose?” If the only thing the item does is weigh us down with emotional burden, is that really worth keeping? Surely, your loved one did not mean to cause you such turmoil. I have found that creating space gives a higher ability to receive, while releasing negative physical, emotional and mental energy. Be kind to yourself, and know that the weight of the relationship should not come down to material things.

How about your closet space advice? I could use some inspiration. One day, I hope for that downstairs closet to have decent breathing room.

Property Ownership: Taking Renovations Nice and Slow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intentional Living: Produce Twice, Consume Once

I would like to start the conversation by saying that I am not entirely against consumption. I am only against excessive consumption. This doesn’t solely allude to buying, or consumption in the physical sense. It also refers to the immaterial, such as the way we consume media and the way we spend our time. In an effort to live an intentional life, I implement a simple rule to combat this tendency: Produce twice, consume once.

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Excessive consumption does not refer to us consuming more than we need, but rather, consuming at levels that are NOT sustainable. Our resources are finite. While it’s easy to define it in terms of material goods, how can we delve deeper in aspects of our life that involve intentional living? The easiest way is to analyze the way in which we spend our time. Do we pile on too much stuff on our to-do list? Do we waste time doing things that does not add value to our lives? We have limited time, limited energy, our souls have limited light. There gets to be a point where our activities are no longer well-sustained by our bodies. With resource depletion comes degradation and reduced health, which applies to us on a personal level, too.

Situated in an environment where consumption opportunities abound, I understand it can be difficult to resist the temptations of everyday, “normal” consumption. But the resistance gets easier with the awareness that we get mired down by the things that we own, and eventually, they begin to own us. The wonderful thing is that we have control over how much we consume. The greatest way to do that is to physically limit the amount of time we have to consume, by filling it with efforts to create.

Purposefully setting aside time in the day to do yoga, jot my thoughts down, make coffee, cook meals, practice guitar, learn a new language, et cetera, means less time to do other things. It’s funny too, but what I do with my life ends up shaping what I consume. As I delve more into getting my finances in shape, I surround myself with podcasts and books on personal finance. As I write about dentistry, I start to network with other tooth-lovers and learn more about the trade. As I make more cups of coffee and bake more loaves of bread, I consume videos and blogs that would improve my skills most. In essence, the goal is to snuff out wasteful activities. I am not advocating total elimination of consumption, but I think what you will soon find is that consumption can be healthy. It just needs direction, and creativity can be really good at directing it.

Like social media, excessive consumption is a self-induced societal disorder – an addiction that can rob us of the life we wish to lead. The question is, will you let it?

Try out my simple life trick. Creativity and production really are just as addicting as consumption. All of them give you that jolt of euphoria, but I’d rather limit the latter. Produce twice, consume once.