Minimalism: How to Pack Light When Travelling

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

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

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

It starts with a small bag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tees galore, in black and stripey whites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Curating Closets: Letting Go of Trends

Fashion trends are a funny thing. Always, I’m reminded of the day I sat in my college biology class and watched hundreds of lemmings following each other until they’ve all jumped to their perilous death in a state of herd mentality amidst a migration. I think back to my own succumbing to the scrunchy frenzy, the bell bottoms fad, the constriction of skinny jeans, the poofiness of fur vests, et cetera, et cetera. If these trends seem a bit outdated, well, it may be because at some point, I kind of got tired of following, perhaps shortly after watching cute lemmings jump off a cliff. I must’ve said to myself, “Let me be a lemming no more!”

I spent 7 years of my late teens and early twenties in a shopping mall, because that’s where I worked. I spent five of those years working at a retail store. Four of those years, I held the titles of merchandise specialist and visuals specialist. This endowed me the responsibility of displaying products in such a way that makes them appealing to buy. I enjoyed my work because I usually had autonomy over it, working solo in the wee hours of the morning before the mall doors opened to thousands of customers. I was creating beautiful imagery with my work, highlighting certain products in covetable ways. Suffice it to say, I know all about trends.

I know how fast they come about,

How forcefully they are pushed into people’s minds,

How they can shape a person’s wants even before walking into the store.

I have seen them fly off shelves,

The same day they are placed.

I’ve seen disappointment in people’s faces,

when they come a day too late.

I also know how fast they fade,

For the next week, I am back at my job,

Placing a new “It” thing to be chased.

I am not above fashion trends, in the sense that I, too, fell for every single one of them. However, over time, I started following the beating of my own drum, in fashion and other things, and I kind of fell out of sync with fashion trends. As I grew older and delved into de-cluttering and implemented “slower fashion”, I found that fashion trends leave me feeling a bit sick. For one group of people to sway an entire population’s opinion on what is “beautiful”, it has got me wondering whether we’ve got ourselves a real-life state of Panem in our midst. The Capitol would be proud.


One day, my  I was walking in the mall as my twenty-six-year-old self, when I saw a large quote plastered on the wall.

“Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is about being yourself.”                                                                                     -Oscar De Le Renta

I remember stopping in front of the escalators and turning to fully face the words, re-reading the quote multiple times. I had flashbacks of the discomfort of skinny jeans, the itchiness of colored stockings, the chafing of jelly shoes, and the hazards of five-inch platform clogs. I remember feeling not-quite-myself when wearing clothes that someone else decided looked good. I, admittedly, was a bit loony for thinking Aviator glasses can look good on everyone, and that I had to buy corduroy pants in every Fall color. There were times where I also felt short of “enough”. The V-neck tee craze had me buying V-necks in multiple colors, and then lamenting my pre-teen bod that had nothing to show off in a V-neck. But they had everyone wearing V-Necks, even the men.

I looked down at my own outfit that day and knew that I was doing something right. I had on a grey sweater over a black tee and my favorite denim. This post isn’t to brag that I’ve done away with vanity all together. I am human, and I still look in mirrors, you know. But I want to look in a mirror and see myself. I still appreciate being polished at times, and elevated, and all-together looking F-I-N-E. But I don’t want to look good only momentarily, until the next trendy thing comes along. Before you know it, you’ve got the trends running the show. Once the new IT thing comes out, whatever IT thing you wore yesterday should no longer be worn, lest you be mocked for being behind the times or wearing something that is so ridiculous that, why again did we think that was cool?! Instead of having the previously 2-4 seasons a year, fashion now has 52 seasons a year, with new trends being released each time. Trends keep you reaching for the next thing, and like life, it’ll have you in quite the chase. It’s a little too exhausting for my style.

So I’ve let the trends go. I’d hate to say that I avoid them completely, for if there is something that I happen to like wearing (and always have liked wearing), and then some guy up in the cloud somewhere decides that this thing is trendy, I’m not going to go out and start renouncing the thing all-together! No, I just let trends do their own thing in a space separate from mine, and I’ll be over here, singing my own tune.

So if you’re looking for curating closets advice, here it is. You do you. You find whatever expression makes your little heart happy, whatever combo you find comfy, and you just remember that your biggest accessory is found in your smile and the way you carry yourself and how you treat others. That’s all the advice I can give you, and I hope it helps you in your curating, to let go of some things that you have been holding on to, maybe because a hypothetical someone once told you you needed to.

Curating Closets: Neutral Palettes

When it comes to curating my closet, practicality reigns supreme. In order to facilitate dressing up with ease, I naturally gravitate to a more neutral color palette. It isn’t to say I am above colors, for I still tote my single neon yellow summer blouse bi-weekly in the warmer months, and my favorite deep purple, velvet dress during holiday season, but I do have a tradition of choosing more subdued colors for ninety percent of the year. Frustrating past mistakes of taking home a recently purchased colored article of clothing, only to realize that it is in need of something to match it still haunt my memory. A case of needing more begets more. You may be compelled to buy yet another article of clothing, just to wear the one. Or you might do the opposite, and just never wear the new item. Possibly, you wear it still, without purchasing anything, and just revel in the total freedom that mismatching gives you. For me, versatility is key. I have curated my closet well enough to have confidence that things can liberally mix and match. And while neutrals will match with almost anything else, just keeping most things neutral makes it all the more easier, so that that neon yellow shirt does not end up atop bright pink shorts.


My morning routines are made more efficient when I know to reach for a standard black tee. I actually have five black tees, and by Saturday, I’ve likely used them all. If I am feeling a bit adventurous, I may reach for my dark grey, or a blue and white stripe. Never have I felt comfort in a white tee, so despite the fact that they look extremely polished in the winter and cool in the summer, I cannot get myself to own one. It may sound that I have a tee too many, but they are all continually being used. I hardly reach for anything else. Tees are versatile, thanks to the perfect eighty-degree weather that is SoCal.


Add to that my repertoire of beige cover-ups, egg-shell sweaters, and off-white jackets. I almost ran out of adjectives to describe something so vanilla. Softer hues are nice for colder days, when the moods reflect something calm and sleepy. Sweaters in gray are in full stock as well, not because I go out there and buy gray often, but because over the last ten years, that’s just the hue I seem to embrace. I have my 18 year old frame to thank for these collections.


As far as bottoms go, I mostly grab blacks and blues. Jeans are my everyday armor, and I wear black pants to be a bit more sophisticated. I hardly stray from those colors. I think my biggest regretful purchase would be Nike athletic leggings in neon pink and atrocious purple, tie-dye fashion. While I haven’t quite gotten to de-cluttering it, because it is practical to keep workout pants, I hardly find myself wanting to wear them ever, not so practical. Keeping it for the just-in-case, something I can improve on in the near future.

Now I do have certain colors that I allow into my space at times, but to be honest, they don’t stray far from being neutral. Mostly, olive greens, and muted oranges that border closer to tan than yellow. And tawny hues find their way into my heart occasionally. For some, a minimalist wardrobe may involve a different color scheme, cloudy blues or fierce reds. For others, a minimalist wardrobe is defined by a collection of their most loved pieces, no matter how loud. To each their own.


Minimalism: In the shower

Before you even begin to think that this post is going to be a bit too TMI for your taste, it’s not, I promise. Just hear me out.

I had a house guest once who stayed a few days at our place, and obviously, at some point, she did have to shower. I walked her upstairs to our bathroom and gave her a tour, to show her where everything is. The first thing she said was, “You have absolutely nothing here!” She was literally quite astounded. At first, I did not understand. I had everything anyone would ever need in a shower. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She said that in her own shower, and in other people’s showers where she’s visited, there would be a whole collection of products strewn across the sills and the floor. In my head, I thought to myself, what products? I guess there is more to showering than just soap, shampoo, and conditioner. When I asked her how many, she said ten to twenty! And here I was thinking I was going overboard by having conditioner around. No joke, I thought about nixing it. So the next time I went to my parent’s house, I looked in their shower, and sure enough, there were about ten items there. A bar of soap, but also, a bottle of Bath and Body Works Body wash. There was a second bottle of body wash for men, likely my dad’s effort to not smell like Cinnamon Apples. A plastic loofah. There were separate shampoo and conditioner bottles, one of each specifically catering to men and to women. There was a facial scrub, as well as an exfoliating scrub, which I’m assuming is for the rest of the limbs. Thus, my count added up to a total of ten products, just as she said! So I guess her shock was accounted for.

I wonder what happens if she ever stays over again, for our bathroom has gotten a tiny bit sparser than before. She may be even more baffled that all three of our products (soap, shampoo, and conditioner) now come in bar form at our house, and stay in one tidy little corner of the bathing area, tucked neatly away in a row. This is a pretty recent development in the household, but one that I won’t turn away from any time soon. In an effort to seriously reduce my plastic waste moving forward, I reconsidered many household items that came in plastic but had alternatives, shampoo and conditioner being two of those. Mike and I were already using soap bars, and have been for years, but bars for the hair was a revelation to us. There are people who say they can never get used to the feeling of using a bar for their hair. Fair enough. For me, it reminds me of younger years in the Philippines where we would just use the same bar for our bodies and for our hair. It wasn’t a big deal then, so to me, it’s not a big deal now. The shampoo bars create really great suds actually, and my hair feels much cleaner, and less oily, than when I use the liquid alternatives. Then again, a different (likely drier) hair type may consider it too dry. To each their own. Lucky for me, these work.


To further reduce plastic waste, our bars are purchased without packaging. Now, these bars could get a bit pricey, I must admit. We have found some go-to brands at places like Whole Foods, Mother’s Market, as well as other local stores for around $2/bar. It’s still more than your Dove bars of soap (unfortunately packaged in either a box, or a set of boxes, wrapped in plastic), but the extra cost is worth it to me. The shampoo bars can be even pricier, with Lush Cosmetics selling them at about $12/bar. However, they do last 80 washes, which is about a month and a half for us two. And the conditioner bars at Lush are equally as expensive, but since I consider hair conditioner as a luxury, I don’t use it on the daily, and if we run out, I just go without for a while.


So frugal me, how do I cope? We make do by asking for them as Christmas and birthday presents. We specifically ask for no plastic packaging of any kind. Most give us our gifts without packaging at all, which is perfect! Sometimes, soaps wrapped in paper get thrown in, but we recycle that right away, so I can still sleep soundly at night. It’s a consumable gift that brings me a lot of joy (knowing that it came package free) and that brings me a very pleasant experience (if you’ve ever used a Lush shampoo bar, you would understand). This past Christmas, we asked for bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner from a lot of our loved ones, and I think we received enough to get us through March or April. Which is convenient because our birthdays come around in June and July. So we can replenish our stocks once again, in due time.

I’m not saying every one needs to switch to bar form, right this moment. I’m just saying, if our house guest was correct in saying that everyone does have ten to twenty products in the shower, then as long as every household cuts that number in half, what a difference that would make in plastic waste! You don’t even have to get rid of the bottles if you really don’t want to. If men and women could share the same product and not buy into the advertising, then they can purchase in bulk, larger bottles, and produce less waste overall. Perhaps Mike is lucky in the sense that I have absolutely no interest in smelling like a walking flower. Good scents to me include cotton, charcoal, sage, and lemon verbena. Maybe I’m the lucky one, since Mike actually likes scents of Lavender and Vanilla, too. Whatever the case may be, there must be a mutual ground somewhere. Why not choose a scent or product that can work for both? Or why not just forget all the hype about scents and go with a good ole bar of non-smelling soap. Gasp!

Either way, I am pretty happy about my minimalist shower. I don’t even consider it minimalist at all, really. Sure, I may get push back after posting this post. Maybe some people will tell me I just don’t understand their skin type or their hair type. How they have needs to prevent flaky skin or flat hair. How they easily get split ends, or oily foreheads. I almost didn’t want to post this after writing it. But then I think back to when I used to join kids and shower in the middle of the street when it rained. Where a bath meant taking a bucket from a pot of hot water and carefully making sure to rinse as much of myself off as I could, so as not to waste it. I think of families who don’t even have a means to heat up their water, of kids who have to walk to a river. I think of people swimming in plastic waste in small islands such as the Philippines and Tuvalu, because of the prevalence of single use containers. How This Documentary Shows Us What Our Plastic Trash is Doing to Animals and the Environment

And I thought to myself, yeah, I’ll post it. These bars of soap are indulgences. They don’t come cheaply, and their value (and ethics) is worth way more to me than choosing a brand name, or smelling a particular way. All I ask is for you to consider it. Please.

Other things I consider when purchasing GOOD soap: 


Palm oil free: I first learned about palm oil when we went to New Zealand, last year. We were at the zoo, listening to the talk about orangutans when the topic came up. At the time, both New Zealand and Australia’s governments were trying to pass a law requiring the labeling of all products with palm oil, so that Kiwis could decide which products not to buy. A country very invested in issues surrounding sustainability and conservation of species and habitat, they were very aware of the illegal deforestation resulting from the growth of palm oil for product use. The deforestation is affecting many species, orangutans included, by depleting them of their habitats. I try to look for soaps that are palm oil free, but unfortunately, most aren’t labeled appropriately, so you just never know. I am particularly fond of GOOD soap, which can be found at Whole Foods, and which uses only Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

Ethically made and sustainability: A majority of the soaps I purchase advocate Fair Trade principles in order to get the ingredients for the soap. Additionally, I tend to prefer brands with sustainability in mind. All of this takes extra work and care to produce. This is part of the reason why the prices of these products are higher. Since we always revert back to buying GOOD soap when we run out of holiday gifted soaps, here is a list of ingredients used to make their soap.

Primary, Active Ingredients:
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter (Certified Fair Trade)
Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil (Certified Fair Trade)
Sodium Palmate (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil)
Sodium Palm Kernelate (Certified Sustainable Palm
Kernel Oil)
Water (Aqua)
Glycerin (Vegetable Source)
Goat Milk Powder
Minor Ingredients (less than 0.5% by weight)
Lavandula Hybrida Grosso (Lavender) Oil (Lavender Only)
Sodium Citrate (helps with lather in hard water)
Titanium Dioxide (natural color)
Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex (Fresh Mint only, natural color)
Iron Oxides (natural color)
Natural Fragrance (non-synthetic scent from plant oils and extracts, added in Sunshine, Prairie
Rose, Fresh Mint and Coconut bars)

– Societal Impact: There are an increasing number of products being released that have efforts to give back to less privileged communities. Good Soap sales fund Alaffia community empowerment projects in West Africa. Alaffia aims to empower individuals and their communities through long-term, effective projects with the end goal of
poverty alleviation, gender equality and human rights for all. Alaffia’s community projects include:

  • Alaffia Bicycles for Education: Since 2006, Alaffia has distributed over 6,300 bicycles to rural, poor students in Togo. With emphasis on girls, the goal is to reduce the high dropout rate (91%) by providing a means of transportation to and from school.
  • Alaffia Maternal Health: In sub-Saharan Africa, 400 women die each day due to pregnancy or childbirth related causes. Alaffia provides pre-natal and delivery care to 1,000 disadvantaged women each year in rural Togo, saving mothers and babies for strong families and sustainable futures for our communities.
  • Alaffia Reforestation: Alaffia has planted over 42,600 trees in an effort to help our Togolese communities better withstand effects of climate change, to slow  desertification and to increase food security for families.



Minimalism: Letting Go of Sentimental Things

Today, I lost my wedding ring. With the dramatic plunges in temperature in SoCal lately (My God, it’s 60 degrees?!), my scrawny little fingers naturally got scrawnier as my body tried to conserve heat against this frigid winter. All joking aside, I DID note the day before that my ring was slipping through my fingers too easily for comfort, as of late. So when I was running errands today, in between going to Mother’s Market down the street and picking up the mail, my finger started to get a bit chilly. I looked down and it was no wonder why, because all of a sudden, all my fingers were bare. My first thought was, “Oops!” My second thought was, “Well, it was bound to happen anyway.” I was glad that I didn’t choose to spend my life’s savings on that band of gold, or worse, take out a loan for it, and neither was it new. There weren’t any gut twists with the realization that I had a naked finger all of a sudden. No heart-wrenching pulls at the heart strings. I’m not a robot I swear. It had emotional value, sure, but it’s nothing to get emotional about. I immediately thought of this other flimsy fake gold ring that I owned which I had bought in high school for $5, and figured, well, that’ll do.

Herein lies the power of minimalism.

When I tell people that I try to live a minimalist lifestyle, I usually get the response, “You mean, like living with nothing?”, or some other variation of this sort. I even had a friend joke, “Well good, because you have nice stuff, so you can just give all of that to me.” Sorry friend, but I still want to keep my stuff. The point of minimalism is not to own nothing. Rather, the point is to not let things own you.

The ability to own things control a lot of people’s state of being. How many people covet the newest gadget, so much so, that it is all they think about? They start to experience anxiety, waiting for something new, hoping to beat everyone else to buying it right after its release. How many people spend their money buying frivolous niceties, at the expense of working even more hours and giving up more of their precious time to the hamster wheel that so well represents our day to day life? How many people have an excess of stuff, so much so that they spend a lot of time putting them away, or looking for them in forgotten places? How many people buy MORE stuff in order to organize the stuff they already own? How many people get angry, sad, frustrated, upset, heartbroken, when things break or are lost?  It sounds like the simplest idea, to not let things own you, but you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to accomplish, especially when it comes to things with sentimental value.

We all have sentiment. It is part of what makes us human. Unfortunately, at a young age, we have been taught to tie that sentiment with things. I don’t know about you, but both my mom and Mike’s mom are very sentimental about things. I call my mom a hoarder all the time (jokingly off course, otherwise it wouldn’t be as funny). My parents pay a monthly fee for a fairly large storage unit to hold stuff that they never access. Hidden among the “just-in-case” items, are memories tied to random stuff. Embarrassing kid projects from our elementary school years, boxes and boxes of photograph books, even old furniture that my mom so loves, but no longer needs ever since they sized down from a four-bedroom two-story home to a tiny apartment. She has piles of artwork that I made when I was in high school, the not so good kind. They have all our plastic trophies from our AYSO soccer days. You know, the ones for participating? Barbie dolls, happy meal toys, children’s books, legos, you name it, and they will still have it. Recently, I told my dad I wanted to get into soccer again, and he offered to pull out my high school soccer cleats, after 11 years of dust and disuse. I appreciate the gesture, but, was it worth paying a monthly storage fee to be able to offer the shoes to me? I denied it anyways, and asked him to de-clutter it instead. To this day, it’s still there. My mom kept her wedding dress, her wedding china, her wedding favors, her wedding shoes, and more. When I got married, my parents paid for my dress. I found my Vera Wang dress for sale at a 60% discount of $500 at David’s Bridal. Still a ridiculous price to pay for a dress, in my opinion. After I got married, I offered to sell it for my parents, so that they could recoup their money. The style was still considered pretty recent, and I knew with the Vera Wang label, it would sell quickly. Since I got it for so cheap, I figure it would sell pretty close to what I bought it for. My mom was heartbroken and said she couldn’t part with it, this dress that wasn’t even hers. Since they paid for it, I said that off course, they could do what they wished with it. So now it sits in a box, somewhere, in an effort to preserve it like her own dress. She says I will appreciate her saving it one day, and maybe I will. Who knows, maybe I am too young to understand its sentimental value. But then again, maybe not.

The funny thing is that their sentimental value is only equal to the sentiment with which we attach to it. For example, a lot of people extremely value their wedding ring. But some upgraded their preciouses a couple of times over the course of their lifetime. So they must have had a lot of sentiment towards the first ring, but when they decided it was “time to upgrade”, they stopped feeling the same sentimentality towards the first one. And again and again with each upgrade. Similar to a high school kid loving his first car, and then disposing of it once he feels like he has a stable job and has “earned” a brand new ride. If we can change the sentimental value of an object that easily, then why is it so hard for us to lose certain things?

I know plenty of people who would bemoan the loss of their wedding ring. The soaking of their valued photographs. The breaking of their expensive gadgets and toys. Some people enter a state of agony.  We think we can’t replace these things, but in actuality, we can. Want to know what we can’t replace?




Extinct species.

Real memories.

Our memories are stored in our brains, and metaphorically, in our hearts, not in our things. I will never forget the night we got married, until time takes away my ability to remember anything at all. Likewise, if I lose a wedding ring, it doesn’t mean I love my husband less. These are important things to know. Because until we can remove the sentimentality from our things, our things will still be able to control us, in one way or another. Minimalism is funny in that respect. You surround yourself with only things that you love, yet with an understanding that you will be okay parting with everything you own. If my house burned down today, I would be fine with losing everything in it. I know this may sound super insensitive in the light of recent California brushfires, but honestly, this is true. So many people will make a long list of what they need to grab in case of a fire. Family heirlooms, photographs, certificates, trophies, and whatever else. Usually, people gravitate towards things with sentimental value. But they’re still just things. As long as my husband and family and friends are safe, then I can let go of all the things. I know I have it in me to rebuild my life again from scratch. And I think THAT is a very empowering thing.

When I lost my wedding ring, I informed my husband via text, then proceeded with my errands. After I was finished with my errands, I came home and calmly walked upstairs to check our room. Not to be found there, I walked back to Mother’s Market, and then to the mail area. Still I could not find it. So I went home. I emptied my purse, and there was my ring, at the bottom of my Sseko bucket bag. And I thought to myself, “Good thing I didn’t cry about it.” When my husband got home from work, I told him I found my ring and he said, “Yeah, I was going to text you to say don’t worry about it. You can always get another one.” Life, as it should be.

Bogobrush: Raising social and environmental awareness, one toothbrush at a time.

This post is sponsored by Bogobrush, a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program towards low-income communities, wherein a toothbrush is considered a commodity for the privileged.

In case I can convince you of the importance of choosing the right toothbrush for you and your loved ones, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers a special offer (full details below).

There are many folks out there who believe that a dentist’s main purpose is to sell treatment. Numerous patients have voiced to me some past experience or other with dentists who tried to sell them whiter teeth and nicer smiles for the sake of esthetics. So while this may be true for some, it isn’t how I operate or how I practice my work. I would say I fall heavily towards the more conservative side of practicing dentistry. A majority of my time is spent trying to teach patients how to prevent the need for dental treatment, via proper oral hygiene techniques at home and frequent follow ups and dental visits. I like seeing my patients twice a year, if not only to hear how their children are doing at school or how their holidays went. I prefer to think that they enjoy doing the same with me. In general, I am pretty hesitant on agreeing to cosmetic treatment, especially so with treatments such as veneers. When patient’s come to me wanting such treatment, I kindly voice the truth, which is the fact that nothing will ever be as strong (or beautiful) as your natural dentition. Removing tooth structure will always weaken the tooth. Enamel is the hardest part of your body, stronger even than bone. A veneer will possibly pop-off, since it is only bonded to your tooth on the facial aspect, and preparing the teeth for a veneer could cause sensitivity. If the patient is young, in their twenties or thirties, they must consider the likelihood that they will have to replace these veneers 3-4 times throughout the rest of their life. Quite a costly price for a cosmetic fix. Off course, if the patient insists, then autonomy prevails, and I will succumb to what will make them happy, but only after failing to convince them otherwise. To each their own. Some would consider my method a bad business move (because it is), but I didn’t enter the profession for money, so I don’t really have a motive to promote such options.

A majority of my time is spent trying to achieve a patient’s goal via the most conservative path possible. My favorite word during diagnosis is to “observe”. More often than not, the patient will be happiest to. My focus at work revolves around prevention. I would rather teach prevention of caries and other dental problems so that my patients return every six months needing nothing but a cleaning. Easier for me, easier for them. It saves them money, and saves me time, which could be used teaching even more patients the power of prevention. And so the cycle continues.

When I first entered dentistry, I knew that my model would revolve around teaching. I tutored for ten years prior to dental school, and it has undoubtedly shaped my world view about learning. I paid a lot of money going to dental school to learn about dental health care, so that others wouldn’t have to pay a lot of money to care for their teeth. As I volunteered in multiple third world countries, and farming communities within our own state, I learned that empowering is more important than giving. That equipping with knowledge is more important than aiding. It is the idea that it is better to teach a child at an early age how to brush their teeth properly thus empowering them with a life-long skill to improve their health, rather than aid an adult in extracting all their decayed teeth and replacing them with a denture. This is what it means to have TRUE impact that will change communities, even after you are gone and no longer around. I refuse to be a part of cycle that creates further dependency, but rather, prefer to create groups of people who are self-sufficient and independent.

With all of this in mind, there is one thing I sell on the daily. Toothbrushes. And with this came multiple considerations that I felt did not align with my truest of values. Specifically, toothbrushes are created from plastic (most times), which are carelessly disposed of without a thought in the world.

Did you know that 450 million toothbrushes end up in US landfills every year?

Additionally, toothbrushes are usually packaged in clear plastic, but don’t ask me why. And then there is the issue of having multiple toothbrush companies, claiming that they can outdo all other toothbrushes. There are toothbrushes with hard bristles, medium bristles, soft bristles, even extra-soft bristles. There are toothbrushes with different handles, with grips claiming to improve ergonomics, with handles that are bent, handles that are straight. There are electric toothbrushes that move in circular motions, toothbrushes that vibrate left and right, toothbrushes that light up when you’ve brushed for the appropriate amount of time. Worse, there are advertisements, companies, and, let’s face it, some dentists, who sell these different types. I am here to say that while these toothbrushes could aid some groups of people, particularly those with arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease, or anyone else who has difficulty with holding and maneuvering a regular toothbrush, the efficiency of brushing teeth lies mostly in your technique, rather than the toothbrush itself. Sure, a change in toothbrush can get you closer towards increased plaque removal, but so could improving your brushing habits and methods. What if one increases plaque removal by practicing the proper technique? Then we could focus on buying a toothbrush based on other characteristics. Such as sustainability. Such as responsible and local manufacturing. Such as toothbrushes that give back to low-income communities.

Bogobrush 1

Enter Bogobrush! A toothbrush that is in harmony with many of my values, and one I would be happy to sell. Bogobrush was created with two things in mind: a product that was good for the planet, and for the people who live on it. The masterminds behind bogobrush are a brother sister duo from a small town in North Dakota, whose father was a dentist. The name BOGObrush comes from the idea of Buy One, Give One, a pillar of what Bogobrush is about. With each toothbrush you buy, another is given to someone in need through their partners. Created was a simple way to protect the planet, buy ethically-made, and give back.


There are two toothbrush options:


Recycled Plastic: A toothbrush that can be recycled repeatedly, forever. We are taking plastics destined for the landfill and giving them a second chance at life. The toothbrushes are made from recycled plastic number 5, and can be placed in your recycle bin. To facilitate the process, please remove the non-recyclable bristles with small pliers.

bogobrush 7

Biodegradable: A composite material made from biodegradable plants, which can be composted at the end of its life. The current design is made from flax, but a new design is in the works for a plant-based material made from hemp! Recycling options include curbside or backyard. If you have a curbside compost bin, simply discard there. If not, you can toss the handle into your backyard compost pile. As organic matter, it will degrade into carbon monoxide, water, and humus (a soil nutrient). As with anything, it may take a few months or a few years to decompose, since the time of degradation depends on the health of the compost pile and is affected by factors such as humidity, temperature, and biodiversity. The bristles are not compostable so please pull them out using small pliers. However, if bristles do end up in the compost stream, they will break down into little pieces with time. Not the best solution, but a step towards the right direction.

Ethically Made:

Despite the higher cost of producing in the United States, these brushes are manufactured here, a sacrifice worth making. It allows for easier communication with the developers, facilitates site visits, and creates more personal relationships with those who source Bogobrush materials. The focus is to have transparency regarding the supply chain, with the knowledge of the who, what, where, and when of each part of the product, down to the bristles!

Giving back:

More than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care.

This statistic can affect aspects in daily living that we take for granted, including education, work, and overall health. Imagine how much less access there is, to something as simple as a toothbrush, throughout the rest of the world. A toothbrush is a privilege, something I’ve learned throughout my journey volunteering in under-privileged communities. This is something we can change. The hope of creating a more balanced world was so important, that the name itself comes from the idea of buy one, give one.

Currently supporting:

  • Covenant Community Care: Detroit, MI. Serving the people of Metro Detroit through six health clinics across the city. They provide medical, dental, and behavioral health care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.
  • Apple Tree Dental: Twin Cities, MN. Dedicated to providing complete dental care to people throughout Minnesota through its clinics and innovative mobile dental unites. They give away 20,000 toothbrushes annually.
  • Family Healthcare: Fargo, ND. Providing personal, high quality medical and dental care to anyone in the Fargo region, regardless of ability to pay. They also offer significant tools to aide healthful lifestyles.

Minimalist Design:

Admittedly, part of what initially grabbed my attention was the minimalist design. Here they are selling a toothbrush without the frills. Without the batteries, without the lights. A simple design that can be just as effective is always appreciated, in my book.

Bogobrush 3

Option to purchase a stand, also in a minimalist form.


Bogobrush 4



Most of my patients are surprised when I tell them that, ideally, we want the toothbrush to be replaced every 3-4 months. A frayed toothbrush has decreased efficiency with plaque removal, and depending on the method of use, a toothbrush can easily fray within a few months. Some tell me that they’ve had their toothbrush for over a year! With Bogobrush, you could subscribe so that a toothbrush is delivered to you every 2, 3, or 4 months. So you’ll never forget. You can also mediate how many shipments you receive. As incentive, the price of each toothbrush decreases with a subscription, in case all the other incentives above were not enough.

As even further incentive, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers their first subscription for free. Cancellation is allowed at any time, if you are not satisfied with the product. A link is placed on the sidebar, in case you are interested in making a change. You must subscribe via my personal link below or in the sidebar in order to receive the promotion. I hope you join me in the movement. If I am to support a product, I want it to be a product that will bring both social and environmental awareness into people’s everyday lives. A toothbrush is a product many of us use every day. And we have a choice.


Thank you for supporting the brands that harmonize with The Debtist’s internal values and external intentions. And thanks to Bogobrush for inspiring me to be a better dentist and a better teacher. Starting today, there will be a series on my blog regarding all things dental, to promote dental education, without the student loans.





All consumption is not bad consumption.

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

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

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

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

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

I like certain goods.

I can appreciate good design.

I am drawn to a certain esthetic.

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

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

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

I show my appreciation for others by buying gifts.

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

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

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

See also how we can be more than ourselves.

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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