Having Less is Good, Wanting Less is Better

I have difficulty writing about de-cluttering and simplifying at times, mostly because I don’t want to enforce the misconception that de-cluttering is the end game. It would be wrong to assume that the act of de-cluttering and separating yourself from your stuff will somehow fix all of your life problems. In a world constantly on the go, people seem to be searching for quick fixes. Correct the situation, then move on. No one seems to want to learn about the process. But it’s the process of the thing that will teach you about character. The process is what will shape you and the lifestyle you lead. It is the part that contains self-discovery, and builds self-worth. De-cluttering is just the very beginning of that process.

After ransacking and rummaging through my belongings to rid me of that which does not “spark joy” (which I know realize is such a funny measurement to go by), I got to a point where I’ve siphoned my heart out and was left surrounded by only that which made me happy. Reaching the end, however, did not make me feel complete. So I started the process over again (and again, and again…). With each re-start, I found even more things that I could let go of, which taught me a lot about my perception of this idea of stuff. Initially, when I finished de-cluttering, I felt a sense of pride in my success with clearing away 80% of my belongings. Why shouldn’t I? It IS a success to take the little steps that add up to something bigger. But then I kept thinking to myself, well, I could do better. So when I tried a second time, I found even more stuff that did not bring me joy. And the same went for the third, and fourth, and fifth… Eventually, I learned the lesson that the stuff itself does not spark joy. Seriously. It took me long enough! How could an inanimate piece of furniture, or a piece of clothing spark joy? It can’t. Therein lies my first lesson in de-cluttering. Surrounding myself with things that spark joy is a whole bunch of baloney!

Of course, the immediate result of de-cluttering was not the freedom from things. The immediate result was an additional problem to deal with, which was the sorting of and pawning off of the newly unwanted stuff. If you’ve ever looked long and hard at a pile of, (may I say it?) trash, you will understand the sadness I speak of when I say that our decisions to consume will directly impact our children’s ability to see green grass and turquoise waters. I embarked on a journey to try and re-sell the stuff, at thrift stores and Craigslist. The problem was that the thrift stores were already getting a large load of “donations” from other people that they had to be very selective in what they can take in. Most of the time, that was hardly anything at all. And people were not scouring for used items on Craigslist by the thousands. Meaning the rest of the stuff either gets sent to a landfill, or to another organization that then has to sort through the trash. The truth is that at the end of the day, a large percent of the stuff that you never even needed in the first place cannot be saved and will end up in a landfill. Even pulling up to the back of a Goodwill, you see trash bins into which donators can drop of their unwanted stuff. As kindly and gently as I’ve tried to drop my things, there is still a loud thud as they reach the bottom of the large abyss, where my short arms cannot quite reach. I feel the same thud as my heart drops to my stomach, knowing that Goodwill may also decide that this too, is unsavable.

Some thrift stores will actually incentivize you to buy even more stuff, amidst dropping stuff off. They will give you a higher monetary value if you choose “store credit” instead of “cash back”. An early mistake that I used to befall involved choosing the more “bang for buck” option and going home with, you guessed it, MORE stuff. Which I had to go through a few months down the road and de-clutter anyway. What I realized was that, we just have to cut our losses, and use the loss of money (by choosing the cash option) to constantly remind our future selves that we do not NEED anything more. No more stuff, no more money (which would tempt you to buy more stuff), no more de-cluttering projects, organizing parties, and wasting of time doing said things.

With every session of unburdening, I was able to detach myself more from the things. More importantly, I had a better grasp on the things that tie us down. Like having to work five days a week in order to save money for stuff. Or spending my hours on a day off cleaning objects that were collecting dust. Or organizing them into storage bins so that they didn’t collect dust. Or de-cluttering them so that you didn’t need to buy more storage bins.

I also had a better grasp on things that mattered. That tugged at my heartstrings and broke me down. When my dad had a heart attack last year, I was reminded that people matter more than things. As I started to need less, I started to work less. As I worked less, I had more time to grab lunch with my friends, cook dinner for my parents, spend one-on-one time with Mike. I had more time to talk to my brother about his career, and to hear a new-grad’s view on life. I also started to focus on actually living. I took many classes, delved into hobbies, started writing, tried to learn guitar (and three new languages), and more. I dedicated time every morning to give back to my body by doing daily yoga. I stopped adding back unnecessary things right after I’ve gotten rid of them. I simplified everything, and learned how to avoid turning around and complicating it again. We are so attracted to complications these days. “Life is so hard”, or “Life isn’t as easy as it used to be”. These statements are being thrown around carelessly, as if we’ve somehow forgotten that we are in control of our lives and that we have the ability to make the decisions.

This is what I mean when I say that de-cluttering is not an end-all, fix-all thing. You can de-clutter your entire home, from the foyer to the bathroom drawers, but nothing will ever change until you also stop adding stuff back in. Decluttering itself does not simplify your life. It is the process (which I recommend doing repetitively), that will define your values and solidify your character. And when you’ve done that, THEN you will have more control. When you no longer have a complicated life, your judgement is not clouded. You are not too busy to stop and lend a helping hand. Life isn’t going so fast that you don’t have time to do the right thing, which usually is the hard thing. The process will never teach you anything if you are just doing the same thing over and over again. If after de-cluttering, you add back in only to land back on square one of the game board. De-cluttering is not only about letting go, but also about understanding WHY we want things. We learn how much society plays a factor in determining for us what we want. It’s about having less, but more importantly, wanting less.

 

Cultivating Happiness by Going Back to the Breath.

When I first stepped into a yoga studio, I was not in search of an awakening of sorts. I was twenty and I had not started the search for my life’s purpose or meaning. I wasn’t even aware that I had yet to find my true self. In a way, Yoga was the one who found me, and has been creeping into life’s little crevices ever since, teaching me that only one thing keeps us fully alive, that which is our life source: the breath.

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I attended my first yoga class to support a best friend from high school , J. Lowe,  (pictured above and throughout this post) who just discovered yoga and was teaching her first class. A third bestie completed our trio and we brought along Mike and a roommate of his. I saw the class solely as an exercise routine. Although we were being reminded throughout class to return to our breath, I was too busy concentrating on the sweat dripping down from my forehead to my toes, causing me to slip and slide from my mat like a waterslide laid out amidst summer grass. My mind, a restless wanderer, was constantly wondering whether anyone was looking at me and what they thought of my stance. I was shy of my newbie skill set and the inability to hold postures as gracefully as some of the other swans in the room. I was exhausted ten minutes in, and realized that I didn’t have a single thread of muscle in my puny body. I kept wondering when the hour would be up, looking forward to eating something soon, despite the late hour. I thought that this would be way easier, if only I didn’t have bangs. I was looking around to see what posture to hold, what everyone was wearing, how my friends were faring.

At that point in my life, I had what they call a monkey mind. All these thoughts that had nothing to do with the yoga itself kept barging in and disrupting me and my process. Accompanied with these thoughts were a collection of emotions. Shyness, frustration, insecurity, loneliness, tiredness, empathy, embarrassment, anger, happiness, restlessness, hunger, to name a few and not necessarily in that order. It was an accurate representation of what my life was, a mirrored reflection of a million particles squeezed into a tiny space and creating tumultuous friction as they collided and fought for my attention.

A chase is a word I so lovingly use to describe my past lifestyle. Fast forward a few years later, where I started to do a bit of soul searching to answer one main question. How can I find happiness? I started with the question, “What will make me happy?” and I didn’t stop asking follow up questions. Even now, I still haven’t stopped.

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If you ask somebody what will make them happy, they may say, money will make me happy. Okay why money? Because I will have the ability to pay for food on the table. Okay why food? Because I want to go through every day knowing that I won’t go hungry. Okay why don’t you want to go hungry? Because I don’t want to suffer or feel pain. What will make you feel pain? Being constricted. What else will make you feel constricted? A work schedule, a timeline, expectations… and so on and so forth. And when you strip it down to the barest ingredient, what I found in all my answers was that external forces, things you cannot control, those are what causes a majority of our negative emotions. These external causes of unhappiness include material goods, status, pressures, expectations, and so on. Internal forces, those that we can control because they are inside of us, are the weapons with which we can yield and carve and create our own happiness. They say that happiness comes from within, and I wholly believe in that. I write all the time about how all these things we try to purchase and achieve and accomplish, maybe they will bring us happiness, momentarily, but that happiness will fade. And like some addicting drug, you will then need more to trigger that happiness again, and then even more. The chase will have you wasting your life away trying to find a happiness that is temporary, when you can slow life down and find happiness that is constant.

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As with the yoga example, the external forces are what create a majority of our discomfort on and off the mat. When I was first learning the poses, I would remember being uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of having pain, in some of the more advanced body configurations. What was even worse, was the narrative that quickly followed that pain. My monkey mind would ask me questions like, “What am I doing here?”, “There’s no way you can make it until the end of the class”, “Everybody is watching you fail”, “You’ll never get to be as good as them”, etc. And with that story comes the emotions listed above. As those emotions got triggered, the physical pain would actually feel worse, solely because it is perceived as larger than what it truly is, after being brought to the forefront of the mind. Much of the suffering comes from the emotions we tie to the actions, rather than the action itself. It’s the story that kills us. Slowly, over time, I developed a way to let these thoughts go, which then allowed me to control the amount of suffering there was. Once I let the narrative float by, like clouds, or the thoughts run through, like water, I became more able to sit in those positions with a feeling of groundedness, or contentment. There is a sense of peace that comes with letting things go and returning to the breath, focusing on the one thing that really matters in our life. I learned so much from this lesson than any other lesson about what it really means to be a human being.

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“There are inevitably going to be these pains that arise, whether they are physical, emotional, loss of a loved one, things not going exactly as you want them to go. But the story that we layer on top of that… that actually creates a more intense layer of suffering that can impede this deeper layer of happiness that we are often looking for.”                                                                                            -Corey Muscara

Do you ever notice how a lot of tension in our lives come from the resistance towards things that are happening to us? Instead of pushing back, trying to reshape what happens, forcing control over situations, try to just let it happen. Once I got into that space, I started to really feel free. It was not that everything became one hundred percent perfect, la-dee-da in my life. There were still days when I felt tired, when Mike and I had different viewpoints, when money seemed to control everything, when I had an explosion of emotions, and when my thoughts continued to be all over the place, but my relationship towards everything has shifted to a place of disconnect from these external factors, and somehow, I ended up more grounded. Imagine being tied down to all of these things when the hypothetical tornado hits. These things will just fly up in the air, and you along with it. But to be fully free from it means that you will find an easier time planting your feet solidly on the ground. The ability to watch a whirlwind of life’s surprises pass you by without being swayed is a superpower that we have, but we fail to cultivate. I have found only one way of strengthening that power, and that is to return to the breath.

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To try, at home.

Try to sit cross-legged in a room for even five minutes and focus on your breath. If this is the first time you are trying this, it will be very difficult. Your mind will wander through a rabbit hole, and may possibly never come back. But try to allow these thoughts to simply pass. Practice letting it go and coming back to the breath every time.

Do this at least once a day when your space and mind is clear. I do this while going through a flow in my living room in the early mornings, as the sun peaks through our glass door. Usually, it’s after my roommate and Mike have left, so that the space is quiet and still. Typically, I prefer to do this prior to work, just to clear my head and reap all the benefits. Sometimes, it’s good to come back to in the evenings before bed, just to let everything go. Whatever works for your schedule will be fine.

It has taken me years to get to the point I am at now, but it is still nowhere close to the point I want to be. I have an outlandish dream of being ordained as a monk at some point in my life, and while that seems too crazy to come to fruition, I try in my everyday life to at least be a bit better at letting go. While I am not writing this as a way to get all hippie on you, I am hoping that sharing this experience will (even minutely) increase happiness in the world.

For flows from my friend J. Lowe, check out her YouTube channel or subscribe to her newsletters.

New Norms: Saying No to Secret Santa

As we continue with the holiday season (Christmas is less than two weeks away!), I continue reassessing the traditions that come with it. I find myself participating in festivities for the sake of tradition, which is never a good reason to participate in the first place. Tradition keeps people repeating the same thing over and over again, is based mostly on emotions associated with the past, and usually involve rigid practices. There is no room for creativity with tradition, no room for forward thinking. Awareness sheds light on the fact that it isn’t really I who wants to partake in the yule tide carols, just like I realized long ago that it wasn’t really my choice to go to church. But every Sunday I woke up and went to church and sang in the choir for 12 years. I attended every single Easter Vigil Mass, Palm Sunday Mass, and Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, until there came I point where I felt it strongly in my heart that it was not my own decision and to continue doing so would be fraudulent. I still live a selectively Roman Catholic lifestyle in terms of ethics, but without the absolution and the rituals. I took some of the lessons with me, but got rid of those that did not serve me. Likewise, I carried that mindfulness over to the holiday season. Picking and choosing which parts of the holiday I still want to keep for myself is difficult to do without feeling like much of a Grinch, if it weren’t for the core group of like-minded people I’ve surrounded myself with to support me.

I vividly remember going out to lunch with a high school best friend the week before Thanksgiving. Prior to high school, I moved 10 times in my life, so the high school friends that I kept in touch with over the years are technically my longest friends. Everyone else before high school, I have lost touch with, mostly because I was young, and partially because pen pals stopped being “a thing” in early 2000s. There are only a few high school friends that I still talk to today, and they are the people who have the same views on life as I do. Those who I grew apart from I don’t have contact much with, because like tradition, keeping in touch with someone for old time’s sake is, to me, a waste of time.

But I digress. My high school friend and I met up for our occasional lunch dates on a day that I had off. Typical of our usual dates, I would drive to her work place and she would take her lunch break after I have arrived, so that we could go and grab something to eat. We were sitting outside in sunny California weather, when she brought up the topic of Secret Santa at the workplace.

“I hate Secret Santa,” she said to me. She explained that every year, her workplace does Secret Santa with a minimum spending limit of $25. However, people at work don’t really know each other on a personal level. So every year the presents are the same, generic presents, usually alcohol-related or Starbucks gift cards, or if you’re unlucky, an item that you don’t even want. My friend doesn’t drink alcohol, like myself, so I can see why the alcohol bit is a turn off in the first place. Plus, she said something that made an imprint in my memory. “If I want Starbucks, I can buy myself Starbucks. I don’t need someone to be required to buy me my own coffee.” She was so frustrated with the whole thing and with an exasperated sigh, she told me, “So this year, I told them I wasn’t going to do it.” I kind of just looked at her, until something in my brain clicked. You can say no. I think I had that OMG-AHA! moment, and she laughs lightly and says, “So far, I’m the only one who said no. Let’s see what happens.” She shrugged and I laughed with her and told her that she was a genius.

The funny thing is, as early as October, I sent my extended family on both sides quite a long email about how I do not want presents for the holidays this year because I was trying to be more mindful. Every year, I get about 20 presents from my extended family, mostly stuff I do not want or need, and within the first few months, I have to find a way to de-clutter it all. So I wrote to them explaining that there is no need for presents and if they wish to gift, to consider maybe donating to charity. So the concept of opting out isn’t new, but for some reason, I never thought to extend that to other groups of people, with other traditions.

So off course, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, someone came around my work handing out little pieces of paper for our Secret Santa. They asked me to list three things on it, and to return it to them at the end of the day. I grudgingly took the piece of paper, and remember thinking about it, folding it up, and tucking it in my lab coat, as if in slow motion. During downtime throughout the day, I kept thinking, what do I want? I even took out a little black notebook from my purse and a pen to jot down ideas. I came up blank. I couldn’t really think of what to ask for, because the few things I wanted, I had already asked my parents and brother and sister to get for me. And then I thought of it. What I want is to not participate this year. If I had to rack my brain to come up with even ONE thing to ask for, I do not actually WANT that one thing. I only want it because I was told that I need to want something.

I texted Mike right away and told him that I was asked to do Secret Santa but that I don’t feel like doing it. That same day, Mike had been debating about going to a work lunch outing. One of his managers was leaving, and the team was going to go out to celebrate, at lunch, AND after work at Happy Hour. Mike didn’t want to celebrate twice, spend twice as much money, and twice as much time. He had been talking to me about this the last few days, and I told him, well, you could skip the lunch? I could tell that he felt the pressure to join the entire team to take their manager out to lunch, but that he really did not want to go out twice. So when I texted him about my Secret Santa dilemma, he texted back and said, “Okay, don’t do it. I told them no to the lunch thing. You can do it too.” And just like that, I texted Mike a quick “Thanks!” and texted my high school friend saying, “Guess what! I’m saying no to Secret Santa too, just like you! I don’t want to spend $50 to buy someone a present when I can’t even think of a single thing I want someone to buy for me.” To which she said, “$50?!?! People ARE insane.”

I did not mention the Secret Santa to my coworkers for the rest of the day. Towards the end of the day the office manager asked for my slip of paper. I looked at him and simply told him, “I’m sorry. But I cannot think of one single thing I want to ask for. I don’t want to participate in the Secret Santa.” Surprisingly enough, he just smiled and said, “Okay!”

And the snowball kept on rolling. Here are other things we’ve done to change up so called traditions.

  • Me, Mike, and the sister in law trying to convince Mike’s mom’s side to drop Secret Santa. When we got a lot of push back, convincing them to decrease spending from $50 to $25.
  • Texting the girlfriends and asking not to exchange gifts this year.
  • Cutting our spending on our family members’ gifts by half. Asking family members if we can split their gifts with other family members.
  • Switching up which extended family gets Christmas Day.
  • Not agreeing to attend my family’s yearly Las Vegas trip.
  • Backing out of some family Secret Santa’s, AFTER the names have been drawn. Telling them to re-draw names, because we no longer want to participate in gift exchanges for parties we aren’t even able to attend.
  • No longer continuing the tradition of buying Christmas decoration during Christmas time. Exception: The Christmas tree. Still debating if it was a worthy purchase, but enjoying its scent and bareness. Likely to be a continued tradition.

Here are traditions we still kept:

  • Gift exchange with immediate family members and one secret santa exchange with our core group of ten friends
  • The aforementioned Christmas tree
  • Occasional Christmas music

Decisions still to be made:

  • Will I attend the holiday party this year? I am absolutely dreading it. I was talking to Mike last night about how much I did not want to go. I work at two different offices, owned by the same guy, but with two completely different Christmas parties. One is more reserved and polite, and the other is just straight up rowdy. This year, I am working with the latter on the day of the party, which means that is the party I am invited to. Every year, they go out to a restaurant or bar as a group, and there’s lots of tequila shots being passed around. Stories of people getting hammered and blacking out continue on to the following Christmas. Stories of continuing the party afterwards at some club. I would rather go home and read. I’m leaning towards skipping out on those “festivities”, though I’ve already had multiple people questioning me whether I can make it. It’d be nice not to.

Grateful for my high school friend, Mike, and the sister in law for being of the same mind. Grateful for our families who have been very open and accepting of our new no gifts rule. Grateful for change, and the ability to think for myself. Grateful for old traditions, but even more so, newer traditions.

How is your Christmas changing?

All consumption is not bad consumption.

As we near the holidays, and our ever increasing list of presents to buy continue to surmount to a mountainous thread of bullet points and check boxes that far surpass Santa’s naughty or nice list, I want to go ahead and say it. All consumption is not bad consumption.

But aren’t I a minimalist? Don’t I hate the idea of buying things? Doesn’t that make me pro-consumerism? Sometimes, labels are a bad thing. As much as I want this world to be black and white, good or bad, easy or difficult, it just isn’t. My husband will repeatedly remind me that there are areas of gray that we cannot escape. The majority of our lives is in grayscale, not in color.

I know that I always ding typical American consumerism as bad, but it does not mean all products you ever buy is a terrible purchase. It doesn’t mean I live under a rock and refuse to buy stuff completely. It DOES mean that there has to be an awareness to the fact that we were all raised to believe that continually reaching for more stuff will make us more worthy of people’s love and acceptance. The ding is against excess consumption, wasteful spending, gluttonous hoarding tendencies for things that do not matter. The ding is against devaluing goods (and the people who make them) in exchange for a few rungs to climb yet higher up the social ladder. Against tying yourself to decades of job enslavement for a few likes and thumbs up from your neighbors and friends. The ding is there for the destruction of the equating of more stuff to more success. This is where I funnel my displeased passion towards, not the stuff itself.

It all revolves around my own past shortcomings in my relationship with stuff. And I never want to go back. There is the saying that it doesn’t matter what you subtract, what matters is what you add in. So we must always be mindful of what we add in. It is the mindlessness of the entire thing that bothers me. I could blame the marketing, but the marketing fooled ME, so I am as much to blame as them. I am still slowly crawling out of the trap.

The point is to ascertain that I do not judge people for their consumption habits or their decision on what to include and not include in their lives. I am a minimalist, in the sense that I only surround myself with things I love. If I fall in love with something I don’t own yet, then that will be added to my wish list or to my list of things to save up for. I do not live without things.

I like certain goods.

I can appreciate good design.

I am drawn to a certain esthetic.

I appreciate good companies that help the environment or support good social causes.

I feel good when I support a local market or artist.

I like when my lifestyle is improved or made more convenient.

I show my appreciation for others by buying gifts.

But there is thoughtfulness behind the goods I choose to buy. it’s having the ethics at the heart of all of our purchased goods. This is originally why I felt it was right for me to add “Good goods” as a section to my blog. Because we can still buy what we need or want, in moderation, within good reason, and with good reasons. And I wanted to highlight those goods.

A minimalist may read this and roll their eyes. An already financially independent person may start to think that this slows down my progress towards my own personal independence, thus making me unsuccessful. Just like a regular person may read “anti-consumerism” and be turned off by the pros of being more cognizant of our day to day decisions and the reasoning behind them.  But the world is not in absolutes. We cannot label ourselves assuming that we will never choose to be something else. I am a million parts of one person, with multiple personalities, multiple objectives, multiple thoughts. By assuming that we are a believer of only one idea, we put a pressure on others to conform to one thing, to be less of themselves. The judging begins, and it doesn’t end, until the one being judged walks away. Which is a shame, because the door closes towards discussion about things such as mindful purchasing power before it has even opened. The most important conversations never reach the table, because we’ve pushed too hard. .  And wouldn’t that be a waste? What we need more of is forgiveness in the labels we place on ourselves. We need flexibility. When we don’t fit a cookbook recipe of what the whole world expects from a single word description, that’s when we start to define our uniqueness.

So let it be that you buy a gift for yourself, or someone else. All consumption is not bad consumption. I’d love a world that keeps it that way.

See also how we can be more than ourselves.

A Simple Holiday Gift Guide – 10 gifts for the holiday season

Call yourself frugal, minimal, mindful, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There’s still the matter of gift giving for the holidays. Unless you’ve found a way to completely let go of gift giving without hurting or disappointing your closest loved ones, there’s the issue of buying more material goods that could do the planet more harm than good. Gift giving is a bit of a funny thing. You hand someone something to celebrate a birthday or holiday, as a way of saying, “Here’s a piece of the Earth I killed for you in your name.” Extreme much? Yeah, I am sometimes, but there’s a little bit of truth to that statement, don’t you think?

It’s taken a bit of time for me to find a balance in my gift giving strategy. There is the issue of giving someone something they actually want. If there’s a specific list or wish, I don’t stray much from that, only because the point of gifts should be making someone else, and not yourself, happy. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could do an alternative. And for those people that didn’t insist on a particular item, there are always these options. Here are my top ten gifts for the holiday season.

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+ Home baked cookies – wrapped in linen napkin or placed in a reusable container (also being gifted). If your group of friends or family is anything like ours, bring it to a party Pizookie style. We recently served a pizookie this way at our Friendsgiving dinner, and it was way more fun to grapple over each other, digging in with our own spoons, and frantically trying to eat more than your neighbor. It was an awesome way to end a group dinner, bringing us together to literally share our meal. Grossed out by the idea of sharing? Make traditional individual cookies, plate, and top with a heaping scoop of ice cream.

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+ Your best homemade sauce in a mason jar. This is great whether it’s pasta sauce, a secret dressing, or a favorite dip. It is a sure way to bring a little piece of your home into someone else’s. Mike and I share a love for Mexican food, and in the last year, we’ve found a Tomatillo Sauce recipe that tastes almost as good as our favorite sauce in Valle de Guadalupe. Made from scratch, we wanted to share this sauce with our friends and family. We gave away little jar samples as a gift for attending our Thanksgiving dinner. The “Thank You” email sent the next day included our three go-to ways to cook with this tomatillo sauce, from something as simple as chips and salsa, to chilaquiles and enchiladas, which added even more of a personal touch!

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+ A bouquet of everlasting flowers from a local flower shop. I am a huge fan of supporting local farmers, florists, and small shops. Stop by your local florist and ask for a bouquet of flowers that dry beautifully. These in particular are Everlasting bouquets from Petals and Pop, a local floral shop in Huntington Beach. These bundles will last through multiple seasons, and technically, could last forever if left alone. Place in a mason jar or a vase to your liking.

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+ A bar of soap, without the wrapping, tied with a reused bow. My favorite gift that Mike and I ever received during the days leading up to our wedding was a single bar of soap, unwrapped, from my friend Jo as a housewarming gift. On it was a handwritten note tied with a single bow that read, “In my culture, a bar of soap symbolizes prosperity.” The simplicity of the gift stunned me, but it’s something I never forgot. It was my favorite present because she gave us a gift that symbolized a wish.

+ A mini Christmas tree for holiday cheer. Having an early party this season? Bring in a mini Christmas tree, small enough to stand on a coffee table or on the floor. Nothing beats bringing some natural element or other into the home. Plus, the smell of pine is a winner.

+ A reusable shopping bag, with some produce bags and linen bread bags, or mason jars, collected over time. I love these items, and they are particularly useful and actually friendly to the environment. I have a couple of tiny produce bags for fruits and veggies, and a disarray of totebags. The point isn’t to match (although matching is a plus!) but to have a sense of sensibility and practicality when it comes to shopping for those holiday dinners your loved one is about to throw.

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+ Homemade candles, infused with your favorite scents. There is nothing I love more than lighting scented candles. These are easily homemade in a mason jar or a jar that once held a previous candle. It’s great for lighting dark afternoons, when the sun has just gone done but the sky isn’t dark enough to turn on the lights. I love working by candle light in the evenings. There’s something romantic and peaceful about that, and it reminds me of childhood days in the Philippines when the electricity would go out and we only had candles to get us through to the morning. Click here to learn how to make one of your own.

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+ A stack of your favorite books that you’ve read this past year, ready for de-cluttering. I had a goal of reading through the leftover unread books that I foolishly hoarded in my early twenties this past year. But the year flew by so fast, that it seems I only got through seventeen or so books. With my new ways, I no longer feel the emotional tie to books like I once did, and can’t wait to part with them once I have sucked all the knowledge out of their beautiful smelling, yellowing pages. But what to do with them has been a dilemma. I’ve donated a bunch to my sister’s charter school, which does not have a library and wherein she is trying to create a collection of books for her high school students to read. Some of my favorites, I’ve held on to and gifted to fellow bookworms for their birthdays. So why not do the same for the holidays? Choose some of your favorite reads, add a review or synopsis, and wrap them stacked and with a bow. Their book lives are not yet over.

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+ A bottle of wine, brought to a holiday dinner party. Since giving up alcohol, I have constantly been trying to pawn off bottles and bottles of wine at every dinner party we’ve hosted at our house, and then some. It’s a great, merry addition to a party, and a good gift for any host or hostess. Plus, you and the guests may get something out of it too!

+ Handmade cards, for future birthdays and other well wishes. I love giving cards with every gift, but I hate paying $5 for them. I have recently acquired a novice level skill of using a calligraphy pen and could use some practice. I figured, why not practice by making a set of handmade cards? I started to do just that, then grouped ten cards together to gift to someone else for the holidays. Practiced a new skill, and saved someone $50 worth cards for the following year. Win win.

** All gifts were given sans wrapping paper, and tied with a bow that has been re-used from previous gifts that I’ve received.

About minimalism and letting go.

For the past few weeks, I have fallen into the trap (again) that everyone befalls at multiple points in their lives. The trap of putting living life on hold and falling into the endless cycle of worrying about money. Money is a tricky thing. It enters your mind and takes root, and it requires great force not to allow the roots to delve deeper and deeper into your body and eventually get under your skin. And while money was very easy for me to dismiss in terms of buying things and acquiring social status symbols, it nearly all together consumed me when it became the one thing holding me back from what I thought I wanted: Freedom. After all, I am human. So this blog post is a recap of what ensued the past few weeks, where-in I catapulted from practicing minimalism, to searching for financial independence, and then returning to minimalism and letting the rest go. One step forward, two steps back, and onward with the cycles of everyday life.

I’ve written endlessly about my transition from being a typical compulsive consumer representative of middle class America to being a loosely defined minimalist. A common misconception people have about minimalism is that it requires you to get rid of all your stuff and live with very little. I like to embrace the concept of getting rid of the excess stuff, and keeping the things that hold meaning or things that you love. Our home is far from bare, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job stripping it of its excesses. If it doesn’t pull at our heart strings, it is donated for someone else who could love it more. What you learn from minimalism is that it is a constant reassessment of your life, and as you rid yourself more and more of the excesses, it becomes easier and easier to realize that there are far greater and important things in life than just stuff.

So I entered a stage where I was reassessing other aspects of my life, and I became interested in a community practicing financial independence. As I dug deeper into the specs of the FI community, I was enamored by this idea of financial freedom, and the one thing holding me back from said freedom, is an already previously mentioned and endlessly bemoaned massive student loan debt hovering above our heads. Now we’ve done a great job controlling this student loan debt, decreasing it from our original 25 year plan, to 10 years, and currently, we are on track for 8 years of pay back. Not bad for something double the amount of a mortgage for a five bedroom mansion in other parts of the United States. But I digress. In the past few weeks, this student loan debt had the upper hand and did an equally great job controlling me.

I came upon the realization that we could save a year and a half of freedom by downsizing our current home. When Mike and I first talked about moving in together, we dreamed about living in a loft. When we started to look after I graduated from dental school, we miraculously found a space immediately, located in Orange County approximately equidistant from our two jobs. (“Approximately” because he will adamantly insist that his is a few miles farther than mine. Fair enough.) We fell in love with it immediately, and there was no going back. I don’t even think I thought through the pros and cons. The heart knows what it wants, I guess, and there were no doubts in our minds that we could be happy here. We happened to be the first people to respond to the advertisement and even though there were other applicants, we were given the first opportunity to snag the space. Snag we did.

We’ve been living in this loft for almost a year and a half, and it has been our dream space. 1600 square feet of space and 3 floors for a couple seem excessive, but it’s what we love. We are introverted and usually spend our time on different floors of the house, chasing our own interests and hobbies. We come together on the second floor to watch football or play board games, and we love to host parties and dinners for close friends and family. We often joke that we are so lucky to come home to a vacation home every night. So we’ve been practicing minimalism, a perfect example to show that even though a massive loft is a thing, and it may seem excessive for two, there is forgiveness in the practice because it allows you to keep those that you love. It’s not about getting rid of as much stuff as humanly possible, because it is inhumane and impossible to lead a happy life with deprivation from the actual components that make you happy.

But a life of deprivation is what I started to consider. I found that we could save about $1000/month if we downsized our home, which multiplied by twelve months per year, then extrapolated out to five years, and we are free at age thirty-four instead of thirty-six. I became obsessed about searching for a space that would fit our needs and cut the costs. I would wake up every morning and refresh the Zillow page that was left open on my computer screen from the night before. I was prowling the internet for deals, and killing myself slowly with the stress. I eventually found two contenders that I liked, given the circumstances. One was a vaulted ceiling loft with a deck situated right on a lake. You walk out of a sliding door that spans one wall of the space onto a wooden deck where you can hang your feet into the lake filled with minnows and ducks. All it required was cutting the size of our space by more than half, demoting Mike’s Lotus from a garage to a covered parking spot, and moving farther away from both our jobs to a neighborhood that is old and less ideally situated and more un-kept. But the space itself was nice (so long as you didn’t step outside), and I could live in the smaller square footage. The appliances were all new and the internal was completely renovated and we would be the first people to live in it after the renovations. The second consideration was a beautiful studio apartment, albeit quite small, less than one third the size of our current home (I think it was listed at 478 square feet), and steps away from the beach. In fact, the only thing separating our apartment from the sand was PCH, and a row of homes. Like the other, it was beautiful on the inside, but also stripped the Lotus of a garage and now stripped my Scion of any parking spot at all. It increased my commute to both offices, while keeping Mike’s the same, and we had no laundry unit, nor did we have much closet space. There was also the tiny problem that our furniture did not fit in this studio, and we would have to hang our guitars on the walls to save enough floor space for the couch. I think our bed literally has to sit next to half of our dining table (because the other half of it won’t fit either). Part of me was actually looking forward to sizing down this much, since I have been talking to Mike about tiny homes for a while, and I wanted the challenge of really practicing resourcefulness and mindful living. I don’t know what it is about tiny apartment living that seems so glamorous to me, perhaps because Reading My Tea Leaves makes it looks so easy and fun. We went so far as to look at both places and submitting our applications.

It wasn’t until we got the offer for the first space (the beach apartment), and then the second space (the loft), that I started to get cold feet. Maybe I was already over-stressed to the point that I could not make a decision. The poor real estate agents, we gave them a run around with our “yes, no, yes, no” answers to their offers. I must have seemed like a crazy lady, not making up my mind like that, and poor Mike had to be dragged down with me. Mike was my saving grace throughout this whole process. His only requirement was a garage for his car and motorcycles, and I got him two places without garages and hardly space for both vehicles. But he was on board with trying either space, if it meant making me happy, or otherwise, stopping me from my stressful constant obsessive search for the ideal house. All he wanted for me was inner peace. But when it came to decision time, the stress got worse. He coaxed me into trying to figure out what I liked about each space, and what I did not like. I had a lot of fear that once I moved into the tiny apartment, I would learn that space is more valuable to us than I thought, and it would put a strain on our relationship (introverts unite!). Or that moving into a (possibly) less safe neighborhood could put his other love-of-his-life, Elise (car), in danger. He helped me realize that my fear of regretting the move is an indication that the move is just not right. Compromise was needed if we moved into either home. A hundred percent happiness could be achieved by staying. My mind was continually telling me to move, but something deep down in my chest (my heart perhaps?) was pounding on the walls and screaming no. On the inside, I felt like a two year old toddler throwing a fit, wanting one thing but resisting. Like I said, Mike was my saving grace. He said, “I will move for you, if it means you will have internal peace.” It was then that I realized that Mike did not want to move, and perhaps, neither did I. Maybe it was life’s way of reminding me that sometimes, you just have to let it go. Control freak as I am, I get carried away trying to shape my life course towards one direction, instead of just letting it tread its course the way it was meant to. So, we decided to stay. Giving up happiness was not worth gaining a year and a half of financial freedom. And back I go towards practicing minimalism. And practicing letting go.

The problem with financial independence is that money is at the forefront of the conversation. And as I started to state at the beginning of this post, money is a tricky thing. But minimalism, I can do. Instead of money, it puts happiness at the forefront of the conversation. It focuses on what brings your life meaning and joy. It may not give you financial freedom as early as you would like, but it frees you from being tied to money, even if you are still tied to money. And that type of freedom, money just can’t buy. Call me a failure at being financially independent. Mister Money Mustache will laugh at my face if he ever gets the chance to. Call me fearful of trying tiny living, though I may accept the challenge one day, for it still has a little glamour in my eyes. Call me a faux minimalist, call me whatever label you want, including happy and content to live here another six months more.

So here we are, one step forward and two steps back. Letting go of financial freedom for a few more years, and letting go of trying to control life. Trying to pursue love and happiness. Onwards.

Minimalism: Curating closets

The true cost of fast fashion has been exposed multiple times throughout many media forms, my blog included (here), and the change is slowly starting to happen (yes!). There is a growing awareness that fast fashion allows for underpaid workers, unsafe working environments, unfair labor laws, and unethical trade, in exchange for the consumption of “low-cost” seasonal goods that flow and ebb faster than a rising tide. Thankfully, there are ways to slow it down, or get rid of this trend all-together. We can start by curating our closets in order to have a clear vision as to what stands in between us and them. I can tell you right now, the answer is simple and lies within our clothes. But how do we get started?

  1. Although it may seem as if getting rid of all your clothes is what you want to do, the opposite is actually true. You want to use as much clothes as you already own instead, and prevent yourself from accumulating new ones. Lightly broken down articles of clothing could be patched or saved. When things break down, try to salvage them instead of replacing them with something new.
  2. Now, if there are clothes that you know you do not wear anymore (or never have worn because you are waiting for the day when it will finally fit right), then donate them, with the lesson learned that compulsory buys are not the answer. Another human being was part of the process of making those clothes for you, and while we donate our clothes, it is important to understand that so many clothes are being donated that a majority of them end up at the landfill because there is just not enough space to house them all.
  3. Which brings me to my next point. Buy used. If you have to buy, buy from my favorite, a vintage store. Help remove some of the waste we create. I personally love to go to the following sources to buy used clothing:
  4. Consider borrowing instead of buying. Especially in the case of one-time special events and occasions, such as a wedding or a performance, consider borrowing a dress from a friend or family member. To be worn one time, and then returned. A much better alternative than shopping for a specific dress that you know will be out of season before your next wedding.
  5. Practice mindfulness when selecting your apparel. Now that you’ve gone through steps 1-4, you know exactly which items speak to your heart. Everyone has that favorite shirt that they wear once a week even those it’s got tattered sleeves and holey arm pits. If you are acquiring a new piece, not only evaluate how much that sparks joy for you, but also how often you will wear it and how long it will stay in style. Try to avoid trendy pieces and go for timeless and versatile additions. Instead of cheap materials, go for ones that are durable, but also soft on the environment. It isn’t so much what we subtract as it is what we add back in.
  6. And if you must buy new, please support ethical companies who either promote fair trade, fair wages, environmentally friendly materials, and/or most importantly, transparency. You can find a small list of my favorites here. The costs of these goods are high, yes, but just think of the true cost of cheaper goods. I like to look at it a different way, and use the high price as a constant reminder to evaluate whether I really need to be shopping right now or not. Really love a piece before committing to buy it (this also applies to used clothes!). If you have any doubts, it can wait. Mull it over in your sleep, and honestly, if any doubts arise, it likely isn’t something you are pining for anyway. If you find yourself constantly obsessing about it after a few days, then yes, listen to your heart and go ahead and buy it. At least you went through the process of thinking about the real reason why you felt like you needed said item. Try to consider these questions.
    • Is it to impress others?
    • Is it to be a part of a trend in the hopes of being one with the cool crowd?
    • Is it to fill a void?
    • Is it to achieve a certain social status?
    • Does it spark joy?
    • Is it practical?
    • Is it ethical?
    • What is the true cost? Is it worth that?

 

Spotlight: Daydream Surf Shop

I wanted to start a new series called Spotlight, to share with you guys companies, shops, and individuals who I think are doing great things. I believe it is important to acknowledge others who have similar values and who are doing something good in order to make this world a better place.

I wanted to start this series by sharing with you Daydream Surf Shop’s mission statement and story. I like their coffee, sure, but I like their welcoming, positive attitudes, their curated style, and their overall philosophy even more. Visit them to experience the good vibes for yourself!

Opened in the Winter of 2016, Daydream is the creative, experimental love child developed by Becca Mantei and Kyle Kennelly, who have spent years building their own and combined contributions to a space that serves to promote the overall intention of good vibes.  As our fellow beach children mature into adulthood, Daydream is there to guide them to a refined and higher vibrational lifestyle with a focus on design, quality, and functionality. Becca draws from her background in fine art and interior design to bring the community unique goods that bring a higher appreciation to the objects in our lives. Kyle, draws his main inspirations from his connection to nature and his community. He has been a long time advocate of getting folks together and into the ocean. Whether it’s rounding up his pals for coffee before a morning dawn patrol or planning weekend surf safaris, Kyle believes that a group’s stoke is greater than the sum of its parts. In the same spirit, Daydream will act as the aquarian surfer’s club house to enjoy a morning coffee or tea and ponder the ideal board/wave pairing to maximize stoke, creativity, and good vibes.

 

We want everyone that comes into our shop to walk out with a treasure that makes them feel special every time they look at it. Whether its a present to a friend or yourself, you deserve to come into contact with things that brighten your day. Beyond the goods we carry, Daydream’s coffee shop offers unique coffees that aren’t found anywhere nearby in a effort to give people the jump start they need to a productive, feel-good day that hopefully leads them to the ocean at some point. Our Surf Club program is one of the most important aspects to our shop, in an effort to break down the price tag barrier that comes along with surfboard experimentation, we seek to provide wave sliders looking to experiment with all types of high quality boards from hulls and logs to bonzers and keel fishes so that they can tap into a style of surfing that suits them best.

 

Daydream seeks to move us towards objects with soul that are built with love and ethical business philosophies. Inside you’ll find a diverse mix of hand shaped surfboards, beautiful crafts, both new and vintage clothing, rad records, and cosmic coffees. The majority of these items are currently not available in the county.

 

The world as we know it is experiencing a cultural shift and it’s becoming apparent slowly in many different ways. One place that we’ve noticed this shift most is the way people look at their possessions, rather than wanting a larger quantity of things, people are seeing that quantity is not necessarily important and that what really matters is having belongings that hold meaning in your eyes. In addition, the transparency of information regarding how goods are produced has led to a great deal of attention being placed on the ethics of labor that is employed in the production process. When we buy something today we want to make sure that it is sending a signal that we agree with the creators production ethics and that it isn’t just another basic object that we are eventually going to throw away one day. This philosophy of consumerism can be transferable to everything from surfboards and wetsuits to ceramics and coffee. We want to give people good options to participate in this shift. We go through all the hard work of making sure that the items we carry in our store are of the highest quality and created in an ethical manner.