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.

Intentional Living: Life Without TV

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It’s shocking to most that we do not own a TV. Neither have we ever. If you’ve been around this space for a while, you will know that it is partly due to my need to be minimalist. Having a screen around (and a large one no less!) to me seems a bit cluttered, unsightly, and makes me feel a bit like a character out of 1984. Additionally, they are heavy, expensive, and seemingly always upgrading to bigger and better qualities. As you all know, my life goal is to NOT spend my days keeping up with the Joneses.

Why I do not watch TV.

Historically, I have not had any strong affiliations with the tele. I am every grateful to my mother for limiting my TV time to 30 minutes per weekday, and am also grateful for her ‘forcing’ us to watch whatever she wanted to anyway, aka DragonBall Z or Sailor Moon. By taking away the paradox of choice, TV became this thing that we simply did together as a family activity, and my fantasies laid with the many fiction novels I could choose to read, instead. It also helped that my tolerance for movies and television shows lied within a small range of genres, since I could not watch anything scary, suspenseful, or action-related, unless I plan on not sleeping that night due to my wild imagination and tendency to have very vivid imagery prancing around in my head. I also disliked a lot of grossly romantic stories, while documentaries in those younger years bored me. So I only had cartoons or comedy to entertain me. Instead, I filled my time with books, from which I got my fair share of crime and murder mysteries, classic novels, and sci-fi fiction. By the time I was in high school, my life was filled with so many extra-curriculars, that I was hardly ever in the same room as a television screen.

Perks of a life without TV.

Upon deep thought on the topic of having a TV versus not having one, there were many reasons that I came up with as to why I do not want a TV in my home:

  • Frugality: TVs are expensive. No joke, but TVs these days are so expensive. No wonder people line out the door on Thanksgiving night for crazy slick deals. That’s not the life I want! TVs can easily cost over $1k. For the price of a small sized TV, you can get a projector that has a screen that would probably cost you $3k or more!
  • Frugality: Cable is expensive. Part of the success we’ve had in paying down $550k in student debt is due to the ways in which we have decreased our recurring monthly payments. We have NEVER had cable. I doubt we ever will. I would rather spend those few hundred dollars a year on things that are more meaningful.
  • Everything is online, these days. If we want to watch a show, we will just log into Netflix and look to see what they have. Mike’s dad has a Netflix subscription, which gives access to the gramps and grams, the parents, and the kids. If you are looking to do a subscription, may I suggest asking around and seeing if friends and family are willing to share access? Most likely, you will find someone who won’t mind, or a group of friends who would be willing to split the costs. It seems a bit wasteful for every household to pay for their own subscription.
  • Intentional Living: Avoiding commercials and consumerism. This is a big one! Firstly, does anyone else get bothered when the program is interjected with little mini-breaks? It ruins the flow of the movie, the suspense of the series, or my train of thought while watching a documentary. Secondly, those mini-breaks are ways in which companies can stream advertisements into households that promote consumerism. Steady streams of ‘updates’ as to the products out there can only induce one thing: the need to buy. Lastly, hidden underneath those ads are socially constructed ideas about what is ideal. Subliminal messaging about gender roles, racial stereotypes, ‘covetable’ status symbols interspersed with not-so-subtle messaging about an ideal lifestyle. I would like to avoid that all-together. Nothing warms my heart more than when mothers in our dental office change the channels for their little ones every time commercials come on because they refuse to allow their kids to be influenced at a young and early age by such propaganda. Go MOMS!
  • Intentional Living: Avoiding the news and negativity. Of a similar token, I absolutely dislike the news. Why? Not because I prefer to live under a rock. But I find that the news contains a disparaging amount of negativity bundled up in reports. I actually consider much of the news as not news at all. I recognize that all news is biased. There are motives behind each minute. The job of the news channels is not to keep one informed but rather, to keep one watching. That’s the truth of the matter. I am not less informed by not watching the news. And I am not stuck sitting on a couch thinking the whole world is falling apart. Instead, I am actively learning by other mediums, and more importantly, actively trying to create change in the every day. Instead of feeling like there is no hope, I see all the positivity in fellow, active citizens. I am motivated by the change others make and inspired by groups of people who are creating a better tomorrow, rather than sitting at home watching a worse yesterday.

Reach Your Dream Life Faster Without TV

The most important perk of not having a TV is that it takes away from “wasted time”. If you are having trouble reaching your life goals or catch yourself mid-sentence stating again and again that you “don’t have time”, maybe it would behoove you to analyze where your time is actually going. That is the first step to fixing the time problem. I am not here to hate on TV, because this applies to a great many things, like social media and video games as well, but what I am trying to say is that maybe there IS TV time that we can cut out of life in order to achieve bigger, better, dreamier things. Here are a list of a few things that you can do in lieu of TV.

  • Experience new things, like traveling to some part of the world, or discovering some street in your neighborhood that you’ve never taken the time to walk through before.
  • Learn something new, like how to play an instrument or how to speak another language. Likewise, learn something new that will get you towards reaching your dream faster, like how to invest and let your money work for you, or how to do household repairs on your own to get you closer to achieving the house of your dreams.
  • Strengthen your relationships. So many people I know lament not having enough time to be with people they care about. Cancel that two-hour TV time or that binge-watching session, call a friend, and spend some much-needed quality time.
  • Do ACTIV-ities. Have you been saying you need to get the gym for years? Cutting out TV can get you an hour’s worth of time, which will allow you to finally get that exercise in. And it doesn’t have to be a gym membership. Why not go to the park, throw a frisbee around, kick a soccer ball, and run with the family dog? Or go to the beach, play volleyball, swim in the ocean, and kayak in the marina. Whatever it is, your body will thank you in the future for putting in the active time instead of sitting lazily on a couch.
  • Do things around the home. Is de-cluttering on your to-do list but you can never seem to get around to it? Are there things to organize? Have you been wanting to make some home improvements, but you don’t want to hire an outside source to do them? Now’s the time!
  • Make extra money. Okay, sometimes we DO need money in order to fuel our dreams. So instead of complaining about the money we don’t have now, why not make extra money instead of fantasizing about other people’s lives on TV? There are so many side-hustles one can pick up, and many of them CAN be related to things you’re actually interested about.
  • Help others and make change. This, I think, is the most important and most rewarding. People always lament about “the world these days” with a slight shake of the head but nary an inclination to do something about it. I think that TV helps with that disposition of feeling like there’s nothing one can do to make an impact. But we must not ignore the power of small changes. The best things I have ever done is to try to help others, and the rewards have been plenty fold. On top of the gratitude, there is a realization that there are many others trying to make an impact as well for a better future. Getting out there and just doing is better than sitting at home and hoping. What I have learned is that the future IS a positive one, not a negative one like the newscasters would like for us to believe. Likewise, it lies not in our histories but in TODAY. How can we make the world different so that tomorrow is the world we want to see? I can guarantee it’s not by sitting at home and taking in what other people have to say. It’s by putting out there what YOU believe in.

How many hours do you spend watching TV or Netflix per week? Of the same token, how many hours of social media do you consume per day? Just like budgeting money, we can also budget our time. In order to start doing it wisely, start keeping track of where your time goes. You may be quite surprised at how many hours PER DAY you dedicate towards your screens. I hope this post gets you out there and one step closer to living the life you seek!

A Very Debtist Birthday

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

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

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

My vision of a birthday celebration includes:

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

+ Sharing a meal cooked by loved ones.

+ A home-made birthday cake.

+ Sitting around a circle, telling stories or jokes.

+ Taking photos, or sharing old ones.

+ A birthday song, perhaps.

+ Hugs, kisses, and high-fives.

Not much more than that.

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

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

We can do a world of good.

Hi all,

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

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

The best present for us is getting together with you.

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

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

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

Learn more about FEED Supper at feedprojects.com/feedsupper

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

Sincerely,

Sam

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

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

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

Curating Closets: How A Capsule Wardrobe For Work Saves Me Money AND Time

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

A bit too often, I hear people say the following statement: “I need to buy clothes for work.” While we all want to look professional (try convincing patients you’re a doctor whilst being cursed with a teenage girl’s body), there is no actual need for a recurring shopping spree for work clothes in most careers. Spend your efforts impressing your colleagues with your hard-work, your moral character, your drive, and your knowledge, rather than your suit. That’s what I say, anyway.

So what do I do? I have a capsule wardrobe for work. In short, a capsule wardrobe consists of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of style and can be minimally updated or altered seasonally. It is important to note that in Southern California, the “seasonally” part matters very little. Also, my work is indoors, so even though I may don outerwear in between the car and the office, there really isn’t much need for it outside of those parameters.

I work at two dental offices. In the first office, I work 2 days a week, every other week. We are allowed to wear scrubs which simplifies the equation. When I started dental school, we were required to purchase 7 pairs of scrubs. Before leaving dental school, I sold 5 of those pairs of scrubs to students who felt the need to have more than 7. I kept two pairs of scrubs, and they have proved useful. I only wear those two same pairs of scrubs (7 years later!) to work. If it’s particularly cold, I have one green sweater that I wear over the scrub top. I wear the exact same sweater every time.

At my second office, I work 3 to 4 days a week, on alternating weeks. We are required to dress business casual. I cycle through three pairs of pants, the exact same brand, and the exact same style, purchased at the exact same time. The pants are in black, dark navy, and cream.They’re ankle-length, and made of a stretch material, which makes them very versatile and comfortable. I cycle through only four sleeveless silk camisoles. (A side note on silk camisoles. They are my secret go-to weapon, no matter the season. They look dressed up because of the material, but can also be worn casually with jeans and not feel too stuffy. They are comfortable under thick knits, and just as breezy in desert heat.) The types I own are similar to these (actually, two of them are this exact shell). I have four of them, three of which are in black, and one is a dark charcoal grey. All of them pair with the pants nicely. If it’s cold in the office, I have 2 cardigans and a three sweaters that I always turn to. As mentioned previously, outerwear only gets me in between the car and the office door.

As for shoes, I wear the same pair of shoes every day for work, and have been ever since my first day, a year and a half ago. I invested in a pair of leather shoes, these Oliver Oxfords from Nisolo, and regardless of whether I am wearing scrubs or business casual, these are the shoes I wear. I do not wear these shoes on other occasions outside of work, to have it last longer. I also do not wear other shoes to work, for the same exact reason. Rheostats are not very friendly to nice shoes.

As for jewelry, if I wear any, I will typically wear my giving key that says “Create” on it, and my wedding ring. I tote the same bag every day, to work and outside of work, and that’s my Sseko bucket bag. I carry the same lunch pail, and the same water bottle to work too. Since I am digging in people’s mouths all day in my glamorous job, my hair is always in a ponytail.

I have not purchased clothes “for work” since I started. It is important to note that investing in good quality clothing that is timeless is important in creating a capsule wardrobe. I do not plan to shop (well, for the rest of the year, but specifically…) for work clothes in the near and moderate future. It has been a year and a half since I graduated dental school and started working. I have yet to have someone comment on the repetitiveness of my outfits, or to tell me that I need to look more professional.

Getting ready for work has never been easier. It takes me five minutes to get myself ready, partly thanks to my minimalist make-up routine. I am never standing in front of the closet debating about what to wear today. In my early to mid-twenties, it seemed like that’s all I did. I remember the angst of whether my clothes looked right for the particular occasion or whether I felt too short in them or too skinny or too fat. Cue up the insecurities that comes hand in hand with the paradox of choice.

For those looking to simplify their attire, I recommend checking out The System by Eileen Fisher. High-quality, ethically made, eco-conscious clothing that could be everything you need to get through the work day, for years to come. Currently, the Oliver Oxfords from Nisolo are on sale, along with all their other oxfords.

How about you? Care to share your capsule wardrobe?

The Privilege of Everything I Talk About

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Yesterday, I was reminiscing on the broad spectrum of topics that I address on this blog, which fall under the categories of finance, minimalism, ethical consumerism, ecofriendly habit shifts, and slow living, with occasional pesky posts spilling outside of these confines. I addressed on Instragram the difficulty with sticking to all the things that make up a whole “me”, adding a friendly reminder to always do “you”. The one thing that I did not speak aloud but which was ever present in my conscious mind was the fact that every one-way conversation I have on this site (and other platforms) has privilege written all over it.

There, I’ve said it.

Privilege is a word that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social context. When I bring up privilege in a conversation, people tend to act in a very defensive way, as if I had called them a name or said a bad word in front of the kids. They usually comment how they are not at all privileged and that they fall under a meager “middle-class” title. Do not get me wrong. I am not “wealthy” by American standards. As you all know, our net worth is negative half a million dollars, we rent a space and rely on co-housing in order to save money, we use travel rewards to travel, and our grocery budget is $50 a week. Still, I am able to say that as a middle-class U.S. citizen, I am extremely privileged.

When it comes to finances, it is apparent that I am of a well enough financial status to be able to look at my money and direct where it is going. I am able to have the access to loans in the first place to get a good education and to secure a career. I am then able to make enough to pay down the debt and to plan for a future. People around the world cannot even plan for a meal to eat tonight, let alone a safe place to “live”. Having a way to choose to budget my way towards financial freedom at a young age is something I feel very lucky to be a part of.

When it comes to minimalism, I have enough stuff that surrounding myself with only things I love requires constant re-evaluation. The problem that we face when people refuse to honor our request for no gifts on special occasions is a problem many others would embrace. The fact that we are in a constant state of de-cluttering is only a painful and embarrassing reminder to myself that there are other people in the world who would beg for these things, but to whom I cannot get access to give these things to.

When it comes to ethical consumerism, I have access to markets that are mindful with their practices in production. I have the monetary ability to support ethical companies, and I have the material excess to not support unethical ones. I am able to be selective and can choose to go without when the price is too high, or when the ethics is absent. There is a quote that states that every dollar we use to consume goods is a vote towards the world we want to see. However, I recognize the unfairness of that quote. A mother in a third world country who does not have the money to pay for an expensive, ethically-made shirt is not automatically a mother who does not want to see a better world for her child.

When it comes to eco-friendly habit shifts, I am aware of the resources needed in order to create lifestyle changes for the better of the environment in the first place. It is already difficult enough to find the resources to be eco-friendly in a well-off community of Orange County, California. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a Filipino to find sources of clean water outside of plastic bottles. As the island sinks underneath its own waste, don’t you think it has crossed their minds that this is unhealthy to the environment? And yet I ask, where do you expect them to get clean water?

When it comes to slow living, I have the space and time to reflect on ways in which I can have less in my life. I run away from having too much. I have a career that allows me time away from work in order to focus on myself. Me, me, me.

The complexities of privilege are so immense, and so conflicted, and so twisted, that it’s hard to describe exactly where each of us falls. What I know is this. If you are reading this blog, and you are trying to attempt financial freedom, or be an ethical shopper, or curb your environmental footprint, or embrace minimalism and slow living, please pause and recognize that you are of the privileged. Please use that privilege to make a difference in the world by being extremely intentional in the way you live, and the way you consume all things. Not just for the factory worker or child laboring in a far off land, but also, for the mother in your neighborhood who lives off of food stamps and does not have the extra dollars to “cast a vote for the world she wants to see.”

In writing this, I am not a martyr or a saint. The martyrs and saints are swimming in poverty, faced with disease and famine, caught in a state of war, plagued with injustice and ill-fate, and still, are trying to raise their children to be good people.

Curating Closets: Special Occasions + Up to 40% off Nisolo Shoes

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Curating closets for special occasions can be a bit of a tricky thing. For one practicing minimalism, it is fairly easy to determine which clothes can be used on repeat, day after day, but anything that categorizes into the minimalist camp can fall into something short of, well, special. What of weddings and other such occasions where a basic tee and denim jeans just won’t cut it? The magic is not in the noteworthiness of daily garments , but in the versatility of special occasion attire, shoes included.

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A wedding, in particular, is the one social event that most people partake in. It is probably the best example of a special occasion there is, and the peak of the season is right around the corner, so it is here that we focus our attention. Leading up to the event, everyone from the bride and groom, to the wedding party, to the guests, are concerned about one common thing: what to wear. We are not going to probe into whether our concerns should be focused on other, less vain things, because the truth of the matter is, that’s what people are obsessing about, socially constructed or not. Today, I just want to answer the question: “How would a curated closet hold up to a social occasion?”

When I got married, I wore two pairs of shoes. The first was a pair of very old wedges that I had purchased 5 years prior, where the fake pleather (redundant?) was peeling off of the sole and edges. I decided to wear these for the sole reason that they were 5-inches tall and got me just a tad bit closer to my 6-foot-3-inches soon-to-be-husband. But the practicality of these shoes were close to none, so I also had a plan B, which was to switch into my second pair of shoes once the pictures were over with. My second pair was a pair of Keds sneakers.

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Old, reliable wedges, for photo-taking.
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Sneakers, for dancing.

The point is that both of these shoes had purposes other than looking pretty on my wedding day. One was very old with a well-used past, and one was new but had potential for a well-used future. On the contrary, my mom has her wedding shoes still kept in a box. I am not sure if she wore it any time else other than on her wedding day. I know for some, the sentimentalities of wedding shoes and dresses are strong, but those simply do not line up with a minimalist or practical lifestyle.

I would implement this same thinking when it comes to dressing up the rest of yourself for these events. I have a handful of dresses that I would be equally as willing to wear on a warm summer day or a cool winter evening. Never mind that the material is a bit nicer than cotton and linen. What’s the point of having clothes if you never wear them? No one cares how pretty it looks drooping from a hanger in a neglected section of a dark closet. These practical reasoning are what will guide you towards building an intentional and minimal collection.

Taking it a step further, same goes for jewelry. There are three necklaces I rotate every day. I would feel comfortable wearing those to any occasion. I used to like these over-the-top gaudy bits and baubles, the type where you’re blinded the minute you step out into the sun. Or these heavy chains back when rock-star-metal-meets-delicate-dresses was “in”. If you missed the fad, you didn’t miss a thing. Nowadays, I would rather go without. I’m more comfortable with myself that way anyway, eliminating the constant worry about whether I chose the appropriate accessory or not. I’ll opt for the simpler life that lends to a more peaceful state of mind.

So to answer my question, a curated closet will hold up quite well to special occasions, if it is appropriately curated. It isn’t to say, categorize all the fancy schmancy stuff under “useless”. Rather, verify that the fancy schamncy stuff is not so over-the-top that it fails to be somewhat useful. Also, maybe change perspective about whether a party dress can be worn in the fields on a summer day. Let go a bit of the sentimentality of things, and understand that they are just things, which, if not enjoyed, will lose purpose. Be fond of only attire that makes you comfortable on all occasions. And lastly, sometimes, just do without the special. The word itself implies the singularity of an item, the fact that it can only fall under one occasion. Instead, work with what you’ve got. That’s the advice we told our wedding party. Mismatched? Newsflash: No one on the dance floor even notices.

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On that note, Nisolo releases a Party Collection today, which in actuality is nothing but a curated gathering of their already-existing everyday footwear. Sounds a bit like my routine! If you have a hankering to outfit the entire wedding party with practical wear, up to 40% off their shoes. Women, this way. Men, over here. But honestly, just enjoy the party!

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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.

 

Minimalism: How to Pack Light When Travelling

As a human that barely skims over five-foot-one who fails at being an avid gym member and who can barely wield a plateful of food, with a fifty-fifty chance of straining a wrist along the way, I am a strong proponent of packing light. Stemming from a sincere interest in not inconveniencing my significant other every time we board a flight, I have made it a goal to pack in a very minimalist way. While my gusto has sometimes gotten the better of me (as I reminisce on spilling coffee on the only pair of pants I brought with me to New Zealand, without a washer and dryer in sight), I take pride in the fact that I lived, and survived, and it’s all fine and good.

While having a pared down wardrobe is extremely helpful in also paring down my luggage, there are some additional tips that I have in mind, for what it’s worth.

With our upcoming trip to CDMX approaching in the next five days, I figure this would be an opportune moment to showcase what exactly goes into my bag. Enjoy!

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It starts with a small bag.

Start with a small-sized luggage. Initially, it may feel like you’ve gone a bit bonkers, thinking a whole week’s vacation can fit in such a small space, but trust me, it is the first criteria to securing success. The small space will really require you to assess, and possibly reassess, what you can take and what you need to leave behind. I’ve been known to go on weekend trips with just a purse or a backpack. Understandably, there are situations where this advise simply isn’t feasible. For example, if you are going to another country specifically to shoot wildlife, then it is quite obvious to me that your professional camera gear may not be suitable jammed in with your clothes. In which case, we make do.

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A pair of stretchy, elevated pants worthy of a yoga session. A poncho that doubles as a scarf, at times. A vest that looks equally as great over a tee and underneath a jacket. A beanie, for the ears.

Pack enough clothes to get you through a week, and then maybe a little less. I like to pack for only a week’s worth of stuff, regardless of the length of the trip. Mostly because, as aforementioned, I simply cannot carry much more than that. But also, because I like to let go of the what-ifs and just flow with the tide. What if it rains and I didn’t pack an umbrella? Then I get wet. What if I spill coffee on my only pair of pants? Then I wear it for the rest of the day, then hand wash it in the sink and let it dry overnight. I lived.

Additionally, I am extremely resourceful with my packing. A poncho that acts as an over-sized blanket and turns into a scarf or a hijab, depending. A pair of jeans that I already wear every-day and matches every top. Tee shirts only, with the exception of silk camisoles, my secret weapon for nicer events. A sweater that looks equally great over a tee or a dress, as well as under a jumper or a jacket. You get what I mean. In the case of a true state of emergency, and not a fashion emergency, you can likely get whatever you need where you are at.

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A pair of sandals for the AirBNB stay.
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Shoes packaged in muslin bags for easy storage and minimal space.

Be comfortable. I’m looking at you, shoes. There was once a time when I thought dresses looked good only with five inch clogs, as if the additional height would justify the additional weight. Gone are those days, replaced by a more vested interest in exploring the city untethered by fashion ideologies. Also, gone are the dresses, mostly.

Embrace the monochrome, or do away with the care. Monochromatic schemes just make it easier on me. I still have a particular likening to looking put-together, and am impartial to mismatching colors, so this is where I am at. For some, loud outfits give them the giddies, allowing them to pack all sorts of colors, and interchanging countless combinations. Or rather, just do away with the care.

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Tees galore, in black and stripey whites.

Wear the bulkiest of items on the flight. My internal temperatures reach “cold” before anyone else in a room, so I absolutely welcome any extra layers on the plane ride to our destination. I always wear the bulkiest items on the flight, in order to reduce the things I have to carry. Easy for me to say, due to my small stature, and significantly larger leg room and overall space.

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My plane outfit consists of the bulkiest of items, which works well for me since I also tend to freeze upon take-off.

Lesser toiletries. A bar of shampoo & a bar of soap. A jar of deoderant, and a re-fillable bottle of lotion. Not enough to fill a dopp kit, thus the lack of need for a dopp kit.

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A bar of soap and shampoo, for sharing between Mike and I, atop my pajamas.

Limit the make-up. Thanks to a minimalist make-up routine, this advice doesn’t stray entirely from my day-to-day. The requirements? A tube of lip balm, one eye-liner pencil, one eye-brow pencil, mascara, and hardly any room at all. Besides, who am I to meet perusing the streets in a foreign city with the only man I plan to impress?

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Additionally, a camera, which I was using to photograph. 

Make room for the indisposables. I consider some items on my packing list indisposable, literally and figuratively. I have to make room for a reusable water bottle, in order to cut down as much plastic bottle use as possible. In the case of Germany, it was a highly successful endeavor, since we could safely fill our bottles with tap water from bathroom faucets. On our upcoming trip to Mexico, likely not so much. I will update you on our solution once there, but I have it with me in an attempt to reduce as often as I can. Likewise, since we partly travel for coffee, the KeepCups come with. Due to an interest in sharing our adventures with family, the camera is also a must. And lastly, reading material (or two). I prefer to carry around a Kindle when I travel, since it is light and minimal, but it’s hardly the way I prefer to enjoy the task, otherwise.

Lastly, all of this, and a little more, fit in that bag. Mission accomplished.