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If you were to walk into our tiny home right now, barge yourself up to our bathroom and pull back the shower curtain in one fell swoop, you may be shocked to find the bare-bones tub that we bathe in. The amount of products that we allow ourselves are few and far between. I never realized before that it was uncommon to house only a single bar of soap in the shower. It wasn’t until my mother-in-law stayed with us for a few weeks and commented on how “bizarre” our bathroom was that I thought to myself, “Maybe we ARE outliers.”
When I asked her why, she mentioned how most people would have products up the wazoo strewn over their bathing areas. I suppose it never occurred to me that some people have soaps, shampoos, conditioners, face moisturizers, loofahs, and whatever else (I don’t even know what else as I’ve run out of things to list). She said that most couples have his and hers products, because the beauty industry would like us to think that we need separate goods.
So we don’t own many things, and she may have stayed with us back when we were practicing zero plastic living much more stringently, hence the singular bar, but in our defense we’ve lightened up a bit on both counts since then. There are a few luxuries that we’ve afforded ourselves recently, one of which is this beautiful Japanese body scrub, which said mother-in-law gifted me for Christmas. And while the tub still usually holds only a bar of soap and this loofah hung up to dry on the shower curtain rod, we also own gifted bottles of Aesop products which we take into the tub occasionally.
I know that I may not get most people on board with me on this one, but may I pitch the idea that minimalist bath routines are the way to go? Firstly, we can reduce our environmental impact by just limiting the products that we buy. There is no need for his and hers segregation. Even though they are advertised as such, I don’t see why he and I need different products. Is that weird?
Secondly, we reduce packaging by reducing our consumption. In fact, people may find this odd, but we shampoo perhaps one to two times a week. We use the conditioner less frequently than that. We own beautiful products that were gifted to us but this miniature Aesop body soap has lasted me six months. Not because I never wash, but I don’t use it in excess. A tiny drop is good enough to bathe in. The shampoo and conditioner have also lasted us just as long, and we aren’t close to finishing. I would gander that the conditioner would last us the entire year.
Yes, they are in plastic bottles. No we are not perfect. Perhaps being gifted these and using them isn’t a sin. I like to think it’d be more eco-conscious than shipping more ethical shampoo and conditioner options across the country? I don’t know.
From a frugalist’s perspective, Aesop products are not cheap. In this case, they were free, but even if they weren’t, limiting consumption of Aesop bath products could save you more money than a person squandering Dove products on the daily. With less products to use, you can also reduce your monthly water bill. I like to shower in less than five minutes and Mike turns the water off every time he uses a bar of soap.
Phew, after this discussion, perhaps we are whackos. Just out of curiosity, how may items do you have in your bathtub?
Also, two of my favorite companies have 20% off sales on their entire site this weekend, which is sort of post related.
+ Bath towels and accessories from Parachute is 20% OFF through Monday. My favorite is this classic starter bundle in the color Bone.
+ Territory design also has 20% off everything and that is where my mother-in-law bought this body scrub.
Growing up, I was always impressed by still-lifes and images of homes. Museum-like staging of historical dwellings on field trips and home-decor magazines alike had me imagining what my ideal house would look like. As an early twenty-something, I would peruse magazines and circle with a pen the items that I would love to own one day. Along the way, I collected trinkets here and there every time I visited Ikea, Crate and Barrel, and Target … until one day, I woke up to having too much stuff. I realized that instead of the clean, well-manicured homes that I looked up to as a teen, what I had was a very dirty rented room that held a hodge-podge of mismatched items and styles. I didn’t know who I was, which style was “me”, and I suffered many hours keeping things tidy.
These, of course, weren’t my biggest life problems – only a reflection of other aspects that bothered me about myself. After spending months (then, years after the first phase) of de-cluttering, I decided that I was not going to put in all that effort just so I can fill my space back to an over-whelming state, where I had to spend most of my free time organizing stuff, tidying up after trinkets that find their way out of their proper places like the toys from Toy Story.
Like with everything else, I decided to slow. it. down. Limit what I purchased and bought for my home, so that I could discover the whos, whats, whens, and whys of things. I wanted to be the curator of my own museum, and while homes aren’t meant to be museums themselves – they’re meant to be lived in and touched and loved and messed up, even – neither are they meant to be storage units holding symbols of our financial status. But as curator, I wanted to make sure that what I had was worth keeping.
The skill of curating doesn’t magically come from a bout of de-cluttering. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a completely separate ability that places more importance on our stewardship of what we allow in, rather than our selection of what we get rid of. You could be very good at de-cluttering without being good at maintaining your clutter. You need both skills to be able to create a minimalist space that allows for maximalist function.
With books up the wazoo about how to properly de-clutter a space, and movements that have people Marie-Kondoing their homes, I think what people still struggle with the most when creating a minimalist home is the inundation of stuffs through our doors – aka: the curation itself.
A curator for a museum needs to have a passion for the job, a knowledge about history and the arts, an eye for detail, patience and superior organizational skills. They research different pieces before deciding on one and manage the finances and lending needed to get the best piece for their space.
A curator of the home requires similar things, requiring knowledge of the self, patience, and the willingness to research options before a purchase.
Personally, I simplify the process down to three questions – which I ask of myself before I make a purchase. I ask them in the following order of importance:
Is it beautiful?
Beauty is my first question because I find that without beauty, I can easily fall out of love with something and lust after a nicer alternative. And while there are always nicer options, when you fall in love with the beauty within an everyday thing rather than the thing itself, no matter what happens to that thing or to you, you will have a sentimental connection with the piece that makes it hard to even look at another. Metaphors aside, I find that beautiful things hardly feel like clutter. A hand-made ceramic mug left sitting on the table with coffee drips dried from the lip is an artful piece on its own. A beautiful cardigan thrown over a chair looks almost staged when in reality, it was flung there forgotten after a more pressing life-matter beckoned. We are attracted to beautiful things, and of the three, sentiment is the strongest decision factor as to whether an item earns its keep. Because when something no longer becomes necessary or breaks and become dysfunctional, when it has lost its purpose and meaning, a person may still choose to keep it simply because it is beautiful.
Is it functional?
I like to think that what I own earn their keep. They do the hard work for me. They help me to not only live, but also to thrive. My things deserve my deepest gratitude for the sole reason that without them, my life would be a little less than. So it goes that my second question is to the functionality of a piece. Will it do it’s work? Is it practical? Will it hold against the tests of time? Things considered include the brand (is it reputable?), the material (I prefer iron, wood, ceramics, and linen), the maintenance (I don’t like delicate thinks that require looking after) and whether it does the job well (it must be efficient as well as easy).
Is it necessary?
This is the last question that I ask of myself, because sometimes, after you’ve determined that something is both beautiful and functional, you may also realize that you already own something else that does the same. And if two things fill the same void, then one of them will, eventually, have to go. An example that I have is tupperware. We love to cook. And we always run out of tupperware. But our tiny tupperware cabinet is 80% full with containers when all are available. I could choose to buy more containers so that we never run out, but I would hate to have a weekend where all are empty and spilling out of the tupperware cabinet. That is the exact definition of clutter! Not to mention the stress and waste of time spent on said weekend organizing tupperware into kitchen cabinets. So I refuse to buy more. Instead, I look for alternatives. I grab a casserole dish and put a lid on it. I store things in glass jars that we’ve kept instead of recycled. Currently, on our kitchen island is a dutch oven holding everything bagels with the pot lid on to keep them from going stale. These and more, just so the home doesn’t accumulate things for the sake of having them. It’s a fun game I play. The less stuff you have, the more creative you can get. What I’ve learned from this experiment is that in the moment, we may feel the need for something, but the moments often pass, the need – temporary. Most times, it is this final question that stops items from entering our home.
Surely, there is a long list of people who have Marie-Kondoed the ish out of their homes during quarantine. To you, I say congratulations. Before we all re-enter back into what once was, I wanted to share this tip on curating. Good judgement about what to consume can easily be clouded when we are stressed, which tends to happen at our usual pace of go-go-go. So before we return to “normal”, do recall that normal wasn’t working, and de-cluttering was more than a trend. This period has shed light on what was uncomfortable and what you felt was most important, so let’s hang on to that just a bit longer. And continue to take it slow.
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I was sitting in yoga class after a strenuous hour of being berated by a room full of heat, which I was convinced was too high for the particular class that I took, side-swaddling my right arm underneath my cheek bone, facing my husband as he reaps his benefits off of his mat and practice, when our instructor’s calm voice soothingly asks of us one thing before lifting ourselves off of the mat to end class:
Find gratitude in all the things you have in your life…
And gratitude in the things that you don’t.
As the rest of class pushed themselves gently up from their preferred side to continue on with their day, I stayed lying still a heartbeat longer to process what I just heard. I think I was in momentary shock.
If I am being quite honest, I have been lacking, the past few months, a sense of satisfaction with the way life has turned out to be. With the advent of taking on 6 days of dentistry for the first time in my life at the turn of the decade, while trying to manage a bakery, dog sit a few days a month, and partake in an international project to Sustain the Maldives with Bogobrush, my world has been in a state of overwhelm that has been hard to combat. My only saving graces are my husband, Starting From Within’s guidance, a few books, and yoga class.
At times like these, the standard advice of listing all the things you are grateful for in order to keep chins high appear to be good advice … at first glance.
However, the practice of acknowledging all the things one can be grateful for can feel a bit anti-climactic for minimalists, whose lists tend to end soon after it’s begun. Let’s face it, the list of things for minimalists are generally not very long. Which leaves one feeling like there isn’t much to be grateful for.
But what if we take a step back and look at the big picture. The world remains balanced, whether we recognize it or not. In order to have complete understanding, we need to extend our gratefulness to encompass both sides of the coin. After all, a list in gratitude of only the things we owncan rob us of our enoughness. In order to grow our appreciation for the life of our choosing, we must compliment this list with all the things we don’t have, in gratitude. Such as…
Social constructs and norms
And for all minimalists, a long list of things that would otherwise steal our time and attention.
So when you feel life’s gotten away from you a bit, and that nothing seems to be going to plan, re-center and list all the things to be grateful for – whether you have them or not. Your world of positivity will expand, and perhaps you’ll start to notice a change in perception.
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The founder of Irro Irro, Marie Miao, is a kindred spirit of sorts, balancing a career in the medical field with an entrepreneurial creative endeavor. Her company was born out of the recognition that the fashion industry was lacking in their inclusiveness of people with medical disabilities. Her experience with cancer patients has given her a unique perspective and her dedication to making a difference in the lives of those affected is very inspirational. Her efforts in creating an eco-lifestyle brand inclusive of adaptive lives is apparent in Irro Irro’s minimalist yet functional designs. More wondrous is her determination to create social change and her brazen advice for others who wish to do the same through creative work.
Hi Marie! Before we begin talking about Irro Irro, can you let our readers know a little bit about yourself?
Hi! Thank you for having me.
Outside of Irro Irro, I wear a few hats as a mother, wife, and oncology social worker. I am Japanese, but much of my early childhood was spent in Hong Kong, so I identify with Chinese culture as well. I am a total extroverted introvert. I push the extrovert out during pop-markets and social gatherings, but love and crave complete solace to rejuvenate.
I, too, am an extroverted introvert! Sometimes this polarity helps to grow a person and stretches their ability to fill in different roles. For example, I heard that your career as a social worker in the medical field inspired the creation of Irro Irro. How did that inspiration come about?
The inspiration came when I started making my own clothing for work. I have never been a slacks person, and find tight clothing uncomfortable (except during hot yoga), so I made a similar version of the current Chloe dress in our soft double gauze. When I wore the dress to work, I started receiving comments from my patients stating, “I wish I had something like this to wear during treatment.” That was my “AHA” moment … the moment when both of my passions (fashion and helping others) aligned.
From there, I altered the pattern knowing the physical ailments and side effects that can come from treatment. I also interviewed physical and occupational therapists and individuals that encounter daily hurdles with dressing. Simple tasks like putting clothes on/off can be the biggest frustration for someone’s morning, and if I can ease some of that, I think it’s a start. There are very few modern adaptive clothing lines, and I’m hoping I can make a difference for a community that is often overlooked.
I think it’s wonderful that you’ve made medical inclusivity a pillar of your branding. It doesn’t cross the minds of most, and I feel that it is important to bring this awareness into the fashion industry. The ability to dress yourself, among other tasks, is a very powerful, albeit simple, affirmation for medically compromised patients.
But your dedication does not stop there. I heard that you also have a philanthropic pursuit that gives back to cancer patients?
You are too kind, thank you. Currently, 1% of Irro Irro proceeds goes to Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery (CLIMB). CLIMB provides training to clinical professionals (like myself) to incorporate CLIMB into their hospital or Cancer Center, which allows the organization to provide a support group for children ages 6-12 whose parent has been diagnosed with cancer. I run the program where I work, and I have personally seen the impact it can make on a family who is feeling lost or overwhelmed by a Cancer diagnosis.
Often the children and family members are overlooked because the main focus is, of course, the patient. But usually, the patient’s first thought is, “How do I tell my children?” or “How do I support my family?” This program provides a bridge for some of those worries, and I’m hoping as the brand grows, the percentage of proceeds will grow as well.
I am curious… what your feelings are about how the creative aspect of Irro Irrro feeds your medical profession, and vice versa? Do you feel as if the two are unrelated or work hand-in-hand?
Initially, I thought it was unrelated. As I grew more confident in the brand, I started to question “Why the divide?” Irro Irro wouldn’t be what it is without my professional background but naturally, the inner dialogue in my head kept minimizing my knowledge because I didn’t come from fashion. It’s interesting though, to be part-time corporate and part-time entrepreneurial and seeing the pros and cons to both. I’m not sure what the future will look like, but I’ve realized that this is part of my story, my unique journey, and I have to embrace each part.
Surely, working two professions requires more time and effort than working one. How do you find a balance between the two?
I’m not sure there’s a perfect balance, but I do prioritize self-care and I am an avid planner (with a color coordinated physical planner). To be honest, I am NEVER balanced in all areas of my life. Some days, I feel like an awesome mom, and some days, I’m left with guilt because I’m focusing on the business. My daughter is at an age where she loves to help, so I do try to involve her as much as possible, which helps with the guilt. And really, the mom guilt will always exist, I’m just learning to cope with it.
The biggest help for me to stay emotionally, mentally, and physically sane is hot yoga. My life has changed drastically since practicing hot yoga. It has challenged me in all aspects of my life, and I feel like I’m flushing out the toxins out of my body every time I take a class. It’s also one hour to myself to unplug, be in silence, and meditate. I make sure to add hot yoga in my calendar at least 3-4x week. It’s also helpful that I have a supportive husband who cheers me on even when I’m stuck in the office when he’d rather I be on the couch watching TV next to him. The sacrifices are real!
And vacations! Those are necessary even if it’s a stay-cation. It’s hard to shut my entrepreneurial brain off sometimes, but vacations help me feel passionate, inspired, and rejuvenated.
“Irro” is a Japanese term, isn’t it? Would you care to share what Irro Irro means?
Irro Irro together means variety. I have always been fascinated by colors and I could stare at abstract paintings for hours just enjoying the depth and uniqueness of one color. It’s funny you ask, because while I’ve been trying to add more colors, many of my customers request black (which I totally get)! I’m working on a project that involves more color, so I’m hoping I can share that next year.
I am definitely one of those guilty of requesting black (or gray or beige…)! Your brand, however, still embodies a very minimalist design. How do your roots play a factor? Have you always been attracted to neutral palettes and stream-lined shapes?
Traveling to Japan and other countries always brings me some sort of inspiration, but I have always loved my neutrals and the sense of calm, peace, and centered-ness that they bring. I’m embarrassed to share how many white shirts I own!
I do love a good bold color and pattern though; it evokes a different type of feeling. I think the same goes for shapes. My go-to’s are usually clean shapes but once in a while I love big statement pieces, especially for outerwear. One day, I hope to incorporate that into Irro Irro, as well.
I love how you mentioned centered-ness. I believe that simplicity helps to create space for a meaningful lifestyle. What are your thoughts on how minimalism (both in fashion and in the everyday) can foster an intentional life?
I do believe a minimalist lifestyle brings forth intention, challenging you to only purchase what you need, and purchasing items that will bring long-term value into your life. Since fostering a minimalist wardrobe and lifestyle, I don’t press the “purchase” button so quickly, and scouring secondhand gems have been a fun challenge. It’s also challenged me to be creative, styling what I already have differently, and shopping around the home when re-decorating. I’ve always related a clutter-free home to a clutter-free mind. Simplifying all parts of my life, not over-extending myself (although I’m still working on that one!), and keeping routines as simple as possible has improved my overall mental health.
In this space, I try to highlight not only small businesses, but more specifically, people trying to create environmentally conscious products in socially responsible ways. Would you mind sharing with our readers ways in which you are trying to ethically produce your products, source materials that are eco-friendly, and reduce the amount of waste from your production line?
Of course! All of our textiles are 100% cotton or organic cotton and we are newly launching an up-cycled home line with the left over scraps from our production! I am also conscious about how our items are packaged, minimizing the amount of labels, using recycled wrapping paper, and bio-degradable mailers. I produce in small batches, so once the items are sold out, the color or style may never come back, making it more unique. Some other eco-friendly options I have been looking into are other textiles such as hemp, linen, recycled cotton, up-cycled denim, and incorporating more pieces made out of deadstock. I think there’s always room for improvement in this area, and I’m constantly thinking of ways to be better.
How would you advise others wishing to leverage creativity for social change?
What I love about creativity is that there is no right or wrong, and the sky is the limit. You could specialize in the most logical or scientific field and still be creative. I think if you’re passionate about bringing change into the world, just go for it! You are your own best advocate, and no one will have the passion and tenacity like you would about a fight you believe in. If you’re angry or frustrated about something, use that anger to bring positive change.
I have been told numerous times that Irro Irro wouldn’t succeed, but that has pushed me to prove them wrong. It’s helpful to have clear goals about the change you’d like to see, then start planning from there. Bringing social change can be uncomfortable for some people, so while it may take a bit longer, keep up the perseverance. It has been a roller coaster since the beginning, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’ve already accomplished so much with Irro Irro, having launched a mommy and baby line, as well as a number of accessories. How will Irro Irro grow from here?
Thank you. There is so much I want to do with the brand, with some bigger projects that has been in the works behind the scenes. But for now, my goal is an eco-lifestyle brand inclusive of adaptive lives – adding in more modern adaptive styles for adults and children. I am self-funded, so the growth is taking longer than I’d like. But, I also believe good things take time, and I’m enjoying the journey for what it is.
Lastly, would you care to share some of your favorite socially and environmentally conscious brands?
There are so many that I love and admire, but a few that I personally love because of the people behind the brand are Hey Moon Designs, Two Days Off, and Selah Collection.
In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing afallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.
My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!
LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!
These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.
As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.
I believe that many people live their lives in search of happiness. I also believe that the search for happiness is a misguided path. The way I see it, our souls are actually in search of something else. It isn’t happiness that we seek, but rather, novelty. Happiness just happens to be a by-product of a novel experience.
It is unfortunate that many companies target consumers who think that the search for happiness is what we live for. Companies sell the idea that purchasing new products will bring buyers happiness, as if somehow happiness can be found in an article of clothing, or a brand new car. We are deluged into thinking that, indeed, happiness does lie in new things because the invitation of a new thing into our homes is a novel experience, and so, for a moment, we are happy. We are confusing the two. We must stop to realize or remember that the joy we felt when trying on a new outfit at the store was quite short-lived. And the thrill we felt when driving a new car died with its first scratch. When we pause to think of these truths, it becomes easy to know that our things do not actually keep us happy. But knowing this is not enough. It is arguably more important to understand why.
When we buy something new, it is a novel experience. But once something we wanted suddenly becomes ours, it shifts our perspective. Our minds adjust and the thing that was once new immediately becomes old. For example, we forget about that new tank top we bought at the beginning of summer, and we get too lazy to wash our cars. We start to suddenly covet OTHER things. The mind is a fickle thing.
Understanding that our brains adapt to the current state (and in a rather quick manner) means that we are aware of the ways in which we can control our ability to be happy. Having more makes ourselves used to the stimuli of novelty, which decreases our perception of happiness with each additional thing. Much in the same way, having less actually returns us to a level of excitability with the smallest of stimuli. It lowers the bar that triggers our ability to have joy. In lowering this bar, we can become happy, more.
Fugio Sasaki, author of Goodbye, Things is one of the most celebrated minimalists in Japan. He has decluttered almost all of his things, living with very little. He is a great exemplar of reducing down to the bare necessities. For example, when it comes to towels, he now uses a single hand towel for drying his hands, his body, his dishes, and more. By getting rid of the fluffy towels that many homes house, he has reset his bar to just the one hand towel. His comments how quickly he adjusted to this tiny towel being the norm. Note that the mind does not perceive this towel as subpar. Our ability to adjust for variance is a gift, in that way. But, when Fugio does use a nicer towel to wipe his hands with (say, at a restaurant or at a friend’s house), that experience leads to a spark of joy. A momentary feeling of happiness. A perception of luxury, one that a person who regularly uses such towels will not experience. Therefore, by ridding ourselves of the excesses in life, by becoming minimalist, we are giving ourselves more opportunities to have novelty in our lives.
It is human for things to never feel enough, and that’s okay. In order to make life enough, we need to work at being more aware. And minimalism is the practice that attunes us to that higher awareness. Having less is a practice. It doesn’t come natural … not to me, anyway. It’s an intentionality that gives us the opportunity to live in a certain space. And that space allows for more opportunities to be happy.
The Dental Series was created in collaboration with Bogobrush in an attempt to make dental health care not only important, but COOL, too! In it, we answer common questions and address current topics in the dental field. When Bogobrush is not helping spread the word about oral healthcare, they act as a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program catering low-income communities that may not have access to something as simple as a toothbrush.
When it comes to mouthwash, I am unabashedly not a big fan, for multiple reasons. One unfortunate thing about mouthwash is the packaging. Always packaged in plastic bottles, it’s enough to make any zero-plastic-user cringe at the sight. Secondly, some mouthwashes contain more than 20% alcohol. Think of the strong smell that you experience when you open a bottle of Listerine. How about the burning sensation you feel when you swish the solution around, waiting for the moment that you could spit it right back out? That’s the alcohol’s doing. Sometimes, the alcohol can be a bit strong for the gums, and I would typically suggest choosing a mouthwash that is labeled “alcohol-free” for a gentler rinse. Additionally, the health benefits of mouthwash are disputed in the dental community. Some claim that people who rinse with mouthwash more than three times a day increase their chances of oral cancer. Some say it slightly elevates blood pressure. While I am not sure whether I completely believe those two claims, when it comes to protecting your teeth from cavities, many dental professionals agree that mouthwash doesn’t come close to the effectiveness of a toothbrush or floss. While it gives people that false sense of confidence in their oral health, mouthwashes arguably only temporarily improve one’s breath. And lastly, they’re expensive! As a frugalist, a recurring cost for a mouth rinse with limited pros does not really jive with me. In general, I do not find that the pros of using mouthwash outweighs the cons.
I treat people in a low-income community, mostly, and when they come to me looking for mouthwash advice, I give them a recipe for a minimalist one. No surprise here. What IS a surprise is when I tell them that I do not buy mouthwash myself, and that my rinse of choice is nothing more than warm salt water, twice a day, swished for thirty seconds. Salt water rinses are great especially for the gums. It is my first line of defense whenever I see gum inflammation. I liken it to how salt water at the beach can heal the skin. So what makes it so great?
HEALTH BENEFITS OF A SALT WATER RINSE
It works by increasing the pH balance of your mouth. Bacteria likes to multiply in acidic environments, so by making the oral cavity more alkaline, we are making it more difficult for the bacteria to survive. This includes the bacteria that make our breath smell bad in the first place!
It is not irritating to mucous membranes, because it has a similar concentration of salts and minerals as our bodies do.
It is affordable and accessible to ANYONE.
It’s simple to make (see recipe below).
It is more widely embraced, especially when treating people who prefer holistic, natural methods. Not everyone wants a prescription for an anti-microbial rinse when they come to you looking for advice regarding puffy gums. Some are just searching for better oral hygiene practices, and maybe a rinse recommendation.
“Doesn’t the salt abrade the teeth?”
Well, this is why warm water is important! Once salt is added to warm water, it dissolves immediately and we don’t have to worry about the grittiness of it. Our enamel stays safe.
“But how does it improve my breath?”
It works by reducing the bacteria that causes bad breath in the first place. Some patients complain that they don’t feel as if they’re breath is “as fresh” as when they use Listerine. I think that’s what makes people return to these mouthwash companies. But “fresh smelling breath” does not necessarily equate to a healthy mouth. It’s an illusion. When I ask people what fresh breath smells like, they say “minty”. When I ask them what fresh breath feels like, they say “cool” or “cold”. Neither of these are natural. They are socially taught. They are also very strong habit-forming experiences. Mouthwash companies want you to keep returning to their product. So they essentially make a product that, when it is missing from your life, is blatantly missing. Getting used to being without store-bought mouthwash takes time but once we’ve gotten that expectation of cool, minty freshness out of our minds, it becomes a simple matter of moving our point of reference. I have had people return and say that once they’ve gotten used to warm salt water rinses, they now view Listerine as “excessively strong and pungent”. Which it is. I remember the first time I ever tried mouthwash. I had that burning tingling sensation, and watering eyes. I was probably in my late teens. Over time, I’ve gotten immune to that feeling, expectingit even. It’s what makes people feel like they have a clean mouth, when in reality, they may not.
“Do I need to rinse my mouth at all?”
If you were using store-bought mouthwash, I would say it’s debatable, because I am not sure of its efficacy. But I do recommend salt water rinses twice a day for EVERYONE, to keep up with your gum health. Brushing and flossing will ultimately, still, be the best for your teeth.
A MINIMALIST MOUTH RINSE
Dissolve 1 tsp. of salt in 8 ounces of warm salt water. Swish for 30 seconds, twice a day, morning and night. Voila!
OVER -THE-COUNTER MOUTHWASH
There are two types of mouthwashes, generally speaking, which can be bought over the counter: Cosmetic and Therapeutic. If you wish to buy a therapeutic mouthwash, check the ADA’s site for a list of mouthwashes that have been granted an ADA seal. Look for this seal when perusing your store’s shelves. If you wish, you may seek out mouthwashes with the following ingredients:
These ingredients are found in therapeutic mouthwashes. Additionally, I would opt for mouthwashes that contain no alcohol. It is also important to note that mouthwash is not recommended for children under 6 years of age.
So there you have it. My quick, holistic, minimalist, zero-plastic, frugal, professional two-cents on mouthwash.
I am thirty, and I have still yet to own a couch of my choosing. Every couch that has permeated my living space has either been already provided by previous tenants or handed down to me by someone I know. What does that say about me, exactly?
While it is quite obvious that our personal successes are not defined by an ability to own a couch, I think it is implied that a medical professional of thirty would have been able to afford one by now. But buying a couch is no easy thing. In fact, buying ANYTHING for me is never an easy thing these days. The entire process involves a hefty amount of serious pondering and a mild case of deep-skin writhing.
In this line of work, I am approached by others in general for my thoughts on stuff. In a sense, my job here is to help make a value judgement. I am presented with the following questions: Who made it? How is it made? Where is it made? What materials are used? Why is it necessary? Which option is best, in terms of sustainability both in terms of the environment, the social implications, the global effects, and least importantly, my personal repercussions. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a matcha whisk, or a set of pajamas. It’s even more pressure on large scale purchases, such as a brand new couch.
I have been in search for a sustainable couch for years. Ever since my husband (then-fiance) and I moved into our own place two months after I graduated dental school in 2016. Specifically, I have looked for a couch wherein I can trace exactly where it was made, whose hands were used to make them, and in what environmental conditions. I have yet to find one that comes close. Most furniture companies don’t even bother to tag couches as sustainable, and those that do only involve a small level of sustainability (like using reclaimed wood without any consideration for the fabrics of the upholstery) that I cannot even take them seriously.
So then I started to reach out to acquaintances about possibly fabricating a couch. Our favorite piece of furniture in our home is a 12 foot dining table hand-made by the two girls who provided our wedding furniture. We thought maybe we could do the same with the couch. I reached out to a fellow wood-worker-baker and an at-home clothing seamstress to ask about making a sustainable wood frame and sourcing end-of-the-mill fabrics. But sourcing the fabric will take lots of work researching jobbers and the wood-worker friend was busy with current projects as well as a baking schedule. It wasn’t the path to take.
So we turned to the next sustainable option, which is to buy a used and unwanted couch from Craigslist, which would prevent an additional item from entering a landfill. I know that it would put us in the same spot as before, owning a couch that’s a hand-me-down of sorts, but at least it would be a couch of our choosing. When we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at a really nice AirBNB, and we fell in love with a mid-century modern couch in their living room.
I was surprised to find a similar couch made by West Elm selling at Craigslist for $800. The same couch is still selling at West Elm for double the price. While West Elm sells some sustainable products, couches are unfortunately not one of them. But sustainability as defined by environmental impact is achieved with this option, and the fact that it was already owned means the buying of this Craigslist couch does not have an ADDITIONAL social impact or global effect, except for the positive effect of side swiping it from the landfill. So where’s the hitch?
It all came down to sustainability as defined by my personal life. $800 is no chump change. Maybe in proportion to brand new couches (why do they cost so much?) $800 seems like a steal. Perhaps it is. But in terms of my personal financial goals, $800 is almost double what we set aside each month for travel. $800 is almost three months worth of groceries, or eight months worth of dining out. $800 is a year’s worth of cat food for Theo, and probably all the Christmas and birthday presents we want to buy. It is one-third of our portion of the mortgage, which is helping us build equity – can a couch do that? It is 12% of our monthly loan payment, which is buying us freedom. How much freedom can a couch buy you?
In the end, we chose the most sustainable couch, which is the couch we already had. It buys us freedom from the cycle of continually searching for something better. It helps build us equity by not taking way from our ability to build equity. It fuels our financial goals, without taking away from our time. In the end, it came down to the answer of not which couch is best, but which couch is good enough. That’s what sustainability is all about.
I sometimes wonder how well these superlatives, and our quest for the best of something, end up serving us. What about the possibility of replacing better or best with good enough? The reality of my own day-to-day life is that living simply and keeping a pared down collection of well-loved items often isn’t about having the best. It’s about making the best of what I already have.
Like Erin, we search for ways to make the best of what we have. It’s the ultimate way to live without forever needing to chase. In our space, we have shades where walls should be, wooden panels where doors should be, and a bed where some might put a living room. But it ISenough, and there we still sleep soundly.