Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

When was the first time you were introduced to the concept of gifts? If it’s like most people, it was likely at an age when you were not yet capable of comprehending what a gift was! Growing up, we all were taught to expect gifts and to ask for things, even when we were too young to expect anything at all. From our very first birthday, we were taught that gifts come hand-in-hand with any celebration. Aunts and uncles would ask for wish lists, and parents would prompt you to write a letter to Santa. In this sense, gifts were one of the first factors in propelling our lifestyles towards one of consumption. This Christmas, I implore you to change the way we talk about gifts with children.

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

Instead of asking children what they want to receive for Christmas, ask them want they want to do. Avoid the talk of gifts all-together. I ask kid patients who come into the dental office what they have done thus far to prepare for the holidays rather than ask them for their wish list. If a child says, “bake cookies”, I ask them if they plan to give some to their next-door neighbor or friends at school. If they say “write a letter to Santa”, I ask them if they are also going to write a letter to their sibling, telling them how important they are. If a child brings up gifts, I ask them to tell me the one thing they have in their life right now that makes them feel most gifted, whether that’s their family, their warm bed, a hobby, or a special moment.

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

If you are writing a letter to Santa as a family, perhaps challenge a child to write only ONE material item that they “want”. I am not saying deprive a kid of STUFF. I am simply saying to limit how much of it surrounds them. Your child likely does not need a dozen more toys. A statistic states that the average child in the developed world owns more than 200 toys, but plays with only 12 of them on average a day. Additionally, the US children make up 3% of the children in the world, but owns over 40% of the toys in the world. So as a non-mother, I do dare say that your child should only ask for one material item. My suggestion? Ask them to request experiences instead. Perhaps your child will ask for their favorite meal, or a venture to the movie theatres. Mayhaps they ask to adopt a pet, or to spend an afternoon helping others at a soup kitchen. Maybe they’ll ask to see far-away grandparents this year, or for world peace. Children are so brilliant when it comes to ideas. They may surprise you, let alone Santa.

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

If you ARE gifting kids something, start a conversation with them about where their gift comes from. Let them know that their item affects the environment, and the people on it. Tell them how. Spend some time with them researching who made the gift, and what purchasing the gift means. It’s important to have them understand that things do not just magically appear from the sky, even if Santa does. In knowing this one simple fact, they will become more mindful about the source of everything that enters their lives, rather than dismissively assume that our consumption has no effect. In doing this, we can raise children with enough awareness to question.

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

There are many ways to start the conversation with mindful gift-giving.

  • Fair + Simple launched their Fair + Little line this year. The collection consists of curated goods hand-sewn by women in the Philippines. Each gift is meant to change the way children views stuff. There is a card for every purchase, telling the child a little bit about the maker, and how the gift helps others. There is also a call to action that prompts each child to get out in nature, and become treasure hunters. Inside the pockets are hidden treasures from the founder, Molly. To learn more about Fair + Simple, check out my interview with the founder.
  • KrochetKids has a collection of children’s knitted goods, ranging from beanies to stuffed animals. Each product is hand-signed by its maker, thereby opening the doors for you to tell them that their items are made by hand by a human being, not a machine. You can also have them write a Thank You letter to their maker, and send it to them online!
  • Farmer’s Market and Artist Fairs are great ways to have a child actually meet the hands behind their gift. They can even speak with the maker and ask them questions, such as how they got started making these things and what was the hardest part about its production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing A No-Gifting Holiday Letter

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

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

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

Dear all,

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

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

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

XOXO,

Sam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Space Living

Tip 03// Disguising cables

There’s one thing that comes with Mr. Debtist’s love for techy things that I absolutely have difficulty embracing. Cables. A motley crew of them, tangled, multi-colored, snaky things making their way into our rental properties, and now, into our home. I remember the first day I stepped into the boys’ house back when we were all in undergrad, young and carefree. You could say that their cables were of the same nature, a mangled mess, running from the downstairs to the upstairs and in between bedrooms. Even after grad school, their first house that they shared together as working men involved a number of wires and Wi-Fi receptors thrown onto the walls and ceilings, framing doorways, finding their way into boyish loves: computers, TVs, consoles, etc. Complain as I might, there is just no separating my darling husband from his love for video games and reddit, just like there is no separating me from my books. He deals with my books, so I will have to deal with his cables.

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Off course, dealing with the cables can insinuate a whole slew of solutions. The most aesthetic also being the most expensive. Ideally, we would wire the cables within the walls, so that they can snake around, unseen to guests and residents alike. Unfortunately, that would require a permanent solution to the living room, which I am not ready to commit to. We are still living with the hand-me-down couch from my college roommate, a couch that has been in my life for five years. It isn’t perfect, but we are all about making do for now, while we tackle the student debt. But you know how it is. Without the perfect couch, I won’t know the orientation of the room, which means I won’t know which wall the projector will face, which means we don’t know where the speakers will go, et cetera. So the more permanent and ideal solution will have to wait.

I have also considered buying some of those cable covers. The boxy kind that houses pesky wires and run along baseboards, better disguised. We actually had such a thing at our rental, which wasn’t so bad. However, I did not want to buy any more said cable housing knowing the solution is temporary and that it would require creating more plastic waste, not to mention spending.

So along the lines of our daily mantra, “make do with what you’ve got”, I grabbed a stapler and left-over paint from the can sitting in the closet underneath the stairs. I took the wires and stapled them in horizontal tracks along the baseboards, trying to make their way as neatly as possible from the audio box to the projector. I then painted over them in white, LA apartment style. I took a step back, and admired my work.

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It’s been about two weeks since I’ve done this project. To be frank, I have forgotten about the wires. It isn’t so much that they’re disguised completely. They’re only slightly less horrid than before. But there are more important things than worrying about how wiring looks against your baseboards. No one has commented on them, which means no one is really looking at them. Or if they are looking, maybe they approve of the city-style chic my painting over them has tried to mimic. Maybe it feels a bit more New York, emitting the older loft-like vibes of a more mature taste. We look on the bright side of things around here, always.

 

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

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

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?