Getting to Know: Molly Acord of Fair + Simple


Molly Acord is the founder of Fair + Simple, a company created around the act of gift-giving. Desiring to give people a simpler way of gifting products that are fair trade and that have a humanitarian impact, Molly created a gift card that can be redeemed for any item in an ethically sourced collection. “Gift giving is my love language, handmade is close to me, and serving others is a privilege. This is where I fit.”

What inspired you to start Fair and Simple?

There was a point when I realized that my buying practices were likely having a negative impact on the world, and I began to educate myself on how to change.  It is so overwhelming, and almost paralyzing, at first.   I was inspired to start Fair+Simple from a desire to make it simple to give a cause-based, socially-conscious gift.

Where does the name Fair + Simple come from, and what does it represent?

The idea for a simple gift card fell from the sky, and I knew immediately it was a calling.  I called my husband, a school-teacher, and right away pitched the idea.  He also received an equally excited call a few minutes later with the idea for our brand name.  Fair means that every gift in our collection is fairly-traded and cause-based.  Simple represents this idea that a recipient of a F+S card can redeem it for any single item in the collection.  When you don’t know what to get someone but you want to shop ethically, you can give a card and let them choose their own gift.

Fair trading | Simple giving.


What values do you want your company to represent?

We desire to offer a meaningful gift that simplifies our customer’s life, while positively impacting the person behind the product.  We value sustainability which involves both ethical manufacturing and intentional design.

What do you hope to change in the way we as a society consume products?

Gift giving is a unique time to make a difference.  Instead of defaulting to a Starbucks gift card (no offense to Starbucks!) every time someone isn’t sure what to give, I want customers to use that opportunity to support fair-trade artisans around the world who have need.  Instead of careless and easy, it’s careful and simple.

What is the humanitarian impact of the companies F+S supports?

We seek to benefit those in high need.  The gifts in our collection support a series of impact including clean water initiatives, a recovery house for women, fair paying jobs for impoverished people, vocational training, micro-loans, and educational sponsorships.  While I love culturally rich and highly skilled artisan products, my heart is more geared for the marginalized people who have nothing: no skills, no startup money, no market access.


 Does Fair + Simple look into eco-friendly products as well, or do you focus more on the social impact primarily?

To me, environmental and social responsibility are inextricably linked.   I believe social impact starts at the supply chain.  If you are using natural fabric, that means it starts at the seed and the farmers who grow it.  This extends to how a product is made, how it is used by customers, and how it ends its life cycle.  People and planet are all over these steps.  We have also noticed that the fair trade world is a bit inundated with items like jewelry, scarves, and leather goods.  We will always have these items in our collection where impact is the greatest, but we are currently making strides for some products that support our values for simple living and high impact sourcing.


How do you go about choosing which companies to partner with?

We look for companies that have both a beautiful mission and product.  I believe women and education are the main catalyst for change in a community, so we primarily work with companies that support these two initiatives.  We also need to have a well-rounded collection, so this plays a factor in which companies are in the collection.  No matter what, the cause of the company must be the main reason why they exist and they need to align with our developed standards of production.  I have a deepening desire to connect customers with the person behind the product, so I have started to work directly with groups where there is a high need.  This includes single moms weaving coop in Peru and a sewing coop in the Philippines! These products are scheduled to launch in the Spring.  I only have so much buying power, so I make it count.


In a perfect dream world, what is your ideal future in terms of the way consumers and makers interact and trade and purchase goods?

In my dream world, consumers are intentional about purchases.  Over-consumption is obsolete, and people buy what they need and take care of what they have and give where there is need.  Less disposable, less carelessness, less disconnect.  More reuse, more intention, and much more connection.

To help with your gift-giving endeavors, Fair + Simple is offering TheDebtist readers 15% off with the coupon code debtist15“. As always, every item in the collection gives back to a partner company’s mission. Offer valid until March 31, 2018. 

Thoughts on: The Blackest of Fridays.

Today is a sad day, and will likely continue to be a sad day for me for the rest of my life. It is with a heavy heart that I reminisce on past Black Fridays that I regret ever participating in. Growing up, my family held a huge emphasis on acquiring material goods and symbols of social status and wealth. Hence, Thanksgiving was never the real holiday. The real holiday was the day after turkey day, Black Friday, and it consisted of doing only one thing. Shopping.

I remember as kids, we were told to go to bed early on Thanksgiving so that we could wake up early to hit up the stores for their sales. Me and my cousins would all wake up early and, in a flurry of excitement, get dressed and pour over discount advertisements at the breakfast table while we ate left-over food for breakfast. Then we would all hop in vans and be driven to the outlets and malls by our parents and dropped off. We would separate into groups, with me managing the money my parents gave for myself, my sister, and my little brother. We spent the whole day walking, visiting every store and checking out the best deals. We wouldn’t make our decision until the end of the day, when we have exhausted every deal out there and picked the best deal that we saw, or the item we ended up most wanting that day. Some days, we would go to multiple outlets, then return to the outlet with the store with the supposedly best deal. What a waste of gas and precious time. We weren’t going out there to shop for something we actually wanted. We went out there with a mission to spend a certain amount of money that we were given on something that gave us the best-short-term-longing-feeling. And we HAD to spend it that day, otherwise, we would “miss out” on a good deal, and that money would be “wasted”. Talk about experiencing the real FOMO as early as 13 years old.

In addition to being taught awful habits regarding spending money, as well as de-valuing money throughout this entire process, you would not imagine the stress we went through on the blackest of Fridays. First world problems, I know, but seriously, it’s a true problem! We ran ourselves ragged, searching for the perfect thing. I was holding all the cash for my siblings and myself, and they would be running back and forth to me asking for a certain amount of it, and returning the change, and asking me how much they had left. I was a walking calculator zombie, not a human being. And then imagine the amount of thought and aggravation that went into deciding what to buy. The constant doubt of whether I was spending my money “wisely” on the best deal possible. The debate between getting a bang for your buck, or something you actually like (I say “like” and not “want” because I doubt we truly “wanted” any of that stuff. Don’t get me started with “need”). And oh, the comparisons afterwards! We would sit together at the end of the day, at In N Out or some other harmful fast food restaurant, and discuss what we spent our money on and how one deal was better than the other. It would pretty much be a show of who got the best thing, as if that was a measure of our self-worth, as if it was equivalent to our best life accomplishments.

Rather than spend time with each other, we spent time alone, in our own minds, as well as physically. The parents would drop off the kids and the kids would separate from the parents. In order to pursue and peruse our different interests, the kids would break up into groups. A group would enter a store, and then the individuals would look on their own. The only time we ever came together was when we wanted to gather all our resources or divvy up allocated money. Sad, sad, sad, I told you this was sad.

And now, Black Friday begins on Thanksgiving Day in the evening. I think of future generations and wonder what they will learn from all of this. I understand getting a good deal on something you may need, but watching videos of people line up, race through the doors, kick, shove, push, fight, I mean, is that really what life has turned into? It’s like the scene from Mean Girls where the shopping mall turns into a jungle scene. Now that I’m becoming less and less attracted by typical American consumerism, I sit back and can’t help but feel slightly disgusted with my past self. Our day of thanks is slowly turning more into a day of thanks for things rather than for things-that-truly-matter.

This year, Mike and I made sure to set aside time for our family and friends, the only things that really matter to us. We opened our doors and offered our home to everyone, as a way to say, “This is what we want to spend our time doing. The doors are open for you to come into our lives any time.” We have no desire to go out today, on the blackest of Fridays, to shop for ourselves and buy things we do not need. I have no desire to be surrounded by demanding customers and exhausted teenage clerks. I am not trying to depress myself the day after Thanksgiving. We both have the day off, and I think we are going to go out on this beautiful 85 degree weather (in late November! Thank you California) and enjoy the outdoors, at the park or the beach. Something to acknowledge all the blessings we have in our lives. And to spend time with each other, after spending the past few days with everyone else.

If you must go out there and get some early Christmas shopping done (I am still an advocate of getting to do lists checked off), then please consider shopping for meaningful gifts. Companies have started using Black Friday as a way to give back to charities and communities. Consider the following companies, so that at least the money you spend is used for a greater good somewhere where they don’t have money to spend.


Pantagonia – 100% of sales* to grassroots organizations working to create positive change for the planet in their own backyards. We’re determined to use every means at our disposal to defend our world’s climate, air, water and soil. In these divisive times, protecting what we all hold in common is more important than ever before.


Everlane – This year’s Black Friday fund goes towards building an organic farm in Vietnam, where pesticide use is so out of control that it is difficult to find safe food.


Check out more stores, here, and here, if you must. Or better yet, volunteer your time to an organization this holiday season, and give back what you can. Consider making a donation to a charity under someone’s name. More meaningful gift guides to come in the future, perhaps.


New Norms: Co-housing

There seems to be this taboo in the United States about having roommates after you are married. The general concensus is that once you are married, you two should symbolize your ability to provide for yourselves by living in your own home. When you continue to live with your parents or family, people almost look down on you and judge you, saying things like, “They aren’t capable of living on their own. Why did they get married then?” Couples who live with family members or friends are almost embarrassed to reveal this to others. People who are serious about each other or who are married feel this pressure to hunker down and find their own home. An even greater pressure exists for people to BUY their own home right after they get married, because that’s the next thing to do before having kids, right?

This is not common in other parts of the world. Couples live with families to create communities that act as support for their growing families. Some would argue that most families do this out of need, maybe in third world countries, because they do not have the resources to care for themselves. But this isn’t true. In Denmark, which is known as the happiest country on Earth, there are co-housing communities where there are 20 or so homes in the same area for non-related families. These housing communities were featured on the documentary “Happy”. They work together to cook, and clean, and care for the children. Each family member has a day of the month where they have to cook for everyone, say 40 people in the case of the documentary below. Even though it takes 3-4 hours to cook that one day, the rest of the month, they don’t have to worry about coming home to cook. We deal with stresses all the time about buying groceries, figuring out what to make, cooking every day, doing the dishes every day, etc. Imagine doing that only once a month, and then the rest of the month, you come home, shower, and you have 3-4 hours to relax and be with your kids. There is also a sense of community and support that your family receives. The kids have friends at home that they can grow with, and they have plenty of adults who they know will care for them. This is one of the things that sets Denmark apart, but it is being embraced more and more by other countries such as Canada. What people have started to realize is that the community is really enriching and plays a huge role in one’s happiness. Compare that to the United States, where most families with young children experience a lot of stress and feelings of isolation, countries with communal living tend to report higher satisfaction with life among their citizens.


Mike has spent his whole life with roommates, and for the most part, so have I. Rather than “live together” the way most couples do, we spent my last two years of dental school “living together” in a house with 2 of his college friends, and we both had separate rooms. We enjoyed this version of communal living. Each of the four roommates had their own bedroom and we came out and hung out with each other in the common living areas. I lived at home throughout my whole undergrad and I was used to always having people over, eating dinner together as a group, and sharing chores. When I started dental school, I lived by myself for the first year, but I was honestly hardly ever home. Talk about your biggest financial mistake. My second year I lived with one roommate and I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed living with other people. When I lived with Mike and the boys, I realized even more that there was a lot of value with communal living. Whenever I was stressed, there was always some way to relieve it, whether it be hanging out with our friends or talking with them and asking them for advice.

When we decided to get married, we did what any other couple would do, which was find our dream home and move into it, just he and I. We’ve loved every minute of it, but there is just too much space for the two of us. There has been a lot of talk about potentially moving the last few weeks. We have been considering downsizing, looking for smaller apartments to rent in order to save money but also simply for the sake of downsizing. And then I did what I usually do and started re-assessing.

Two of our closest friends just got married last month to each other. They have been renting a house with a third roommate for the past year or so. When asked if they were going to move into their own space, my friend said, “Why would I do that?! My dream is to buy a house and have all my friends live in it in the separate rooms and help me with the mortgage.” Absolute genius, I tell you. They liked living with their friend, and it was a smart financial move to keep living with each other. The three of them wouldn’t have to hassle with finding a new place and physically moving all of their stuff. Nothing changed after they got married, and why did people make it feel like it had to? And just like that the stars aligned.

The day after Mike and I decided not to commit to a potential rental and to continue living at our loft, we learned that my brother’s recently graduated girlfriend found a job in Irvine and is looking for studios in Fullerton or Orange. She was looking at rentals at the price of $1300. We offered her the entire first floor of our three story loft, with her own bedroom and full bathroom for half the price. We are very excited to say that we now have a new roommate joining us around me and Mike’s one year anniversary. We cannot be more excited to welcome someone else into our home! Frankly, I’ve been missing my roommates dearly. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to find a cheaper rental without sacrificing the coolness of our space. And I highly enjoy spending time with our new found roommate. This couldn’t have been a better opportunity. She will have a significantly decreased rent, without the need to buy the usual household items new-grads have to buy when they start living on their own. Mike and I save on rent and can put the extra money towards my student loans. And we will all have additional company and people to hang out with and help around the house. Rather than moving to a new place, we took a step back and moved towards the right direction.

Yet another way we are challenging social norms with the intent of getting closer to living the life that’s right for us. And hey, who knows! Maybe over time, the United States could start to embrace the co-housing community concept too.

This post is dedicated to our friend Chad, who made us see an alternative to the housing strategy. Thank you.


About minimalism and letting go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom: Re-thinking Early Retirement

For my generation and the coming generations, I would like to pose an alternative to the “wonderful” idea of early retirement. This alternative is not new, and it was not discovered by me, but it is embraced by many communities, including minimalists, money mustachians, and financial independents. Whenever I ask people my age where they see themselves in twenty, thirty or forty years, many of them respond with a goal of retiring early. That means that between ages 40 through 60, depending on their current financial situation, or their belief in their ability to get out of financial dependence on their job, or their optimism (you pick), they plan to quit their jobs and have a house already purchased, and plan to spend the rest of their days vacationing on a yacht they may have bought or raising their grandkids. This is what our parents did and our grandparents did, and it sounds like a lovely life, albeit too late to make the most of your prime years. But it isn’t for me, and maybe some of you are scratching your heads and wondering if there is another way.

There’s a theory, which I’d call my life mission or goal. Theoretically, this life mission may work out for me, and possibly for you. When I was first asked the question of where I want to see myself in 30-40 years, it was my financial planner asking. Being a financial meeting, my first answer was that I saw myself out of financial debt, and with financial stability. I also said I saw myself working (still) a few days a week, and pursuing all my hobbies and interests on the days I have off. I saw myself physically fit enough to enjoy life, and continuing to travel the world. I would like to have the time to see my family and friends frequently, and never feel dependent on someone else financially or physically. That sounds a lot like retirement, minus the working part, right?

So he clarified and said, “Do you see yourself retiring early?” I had an answer that flew off my tongue before I could even think. “I do not want to retire until I can no longer physically work.” I think that is a very good answer (and not because I was the one who came up with it). Time itself is not the decision-maker, and neither is age. It is our ability to continue pursuing a passion. Now, we all know that dentistry has a short life span for many, because of physical ailments that result from the profession, usually involving back aches and side aches and neck pain and carpel tunnel, and the list goes on. But notice that I did not say I saw myself practicing dentistry, but rather, I said I saw myself working. I believe that working into our 60’s and 70’s will keep us mentally active, physically fit, and spiritually alive, at a time in our lives when we need it most. But if we are financially stable, or hopefully more than stable by that age, then money will never dictate what we do. And once money does not dictate what you do, work can become whatever passion you want to pursue. I mean, ideally work should be your passion now. Who knows if I will still be passionate about dentistry in 30 years?! Quite possibly, I will be doing part-time dentistry for a very long time. I mean, working one day a week as a dentist is not a bad gig. But hey, I could dream big and think, maybe I will be working as a barista at that time. Or making clay pots to sell at a store. Who knows where life will lead me, or you.

But how is working into the wee years of your elderly life sustainable? Burn- out is something a lot of dentists experience. A few years out of dental school, and many of them already hate their jobs. And they’re going to do this for the rest of their career??! It’s sustainable if you never experience burn out (duh!). This can be accomplished in many ways. For example, you could work less hours than the grueling 5-day work week now. Or if you still very much love your job, invest in delving deeper into the practice. The more you pursue a passion, the less it feels like a weight that you are dragging around. Avoid doing something just to go through the motions. Really love your job in its entirety and it won’t bring you down. Most people experience burn out because their job is physically exhausting, without the mental, emotional, or spiritual reward. In other words, they no longer feel passionate towards what they do. When you do experience burn out, switch to doing the next thing you love. Motivation and inspiration are key to fueling your drive to continue working late into your life time.

You may be asking, “Okay, so when do we get to enjoy our lives?” My answer is simple. How about now? What if, instead of early retirement, you do partial retirement, starting now? You get to enjoy life for the entirety of your life, not just for the last little bit when you’re tired and want to sit on a rocking chair on the porch and stare out all day. Think of all the pros of starting to live now. You’re young enough to invest in your future physical fitness by working out now rather than sitting in a desk all day, which will prolong your healthy for more years down the road. You get to balance work and play. It can’t be all play like in the other model of retirement, but even playing all the time gets boring for me. I have to feel like there is some direction in my life, like I am getting somewhere. It’s the only way I feel alive. I think retirement could possibly turn me into a sack of flour (metaphorically) and bore me to death. So, you gain balance in your life. You get to travel the world, while you can still hike, or at least walk five miles in the city center. You get to spend real quality time with your family, instead of squeezing in time in the morning, before work, and at night, when you’ve exhausted all your energy into your passion. So many parents miss out on their child’s life, because they have to work in order to provide for that child. Maybe we need to start re-thinking of the word provide. Provide food and shelter, sure, but after that what? Time and love. Seriously. Now some of you may give me the money argument. The “you’re-so-lucky-you’re-a-dentist-and-you-make-bank” argument. I started my dental career later than my peers because of the additional schooling with a debt of over half a million dollars, equivalent to a mortgage loan that many of my friends have already spent four years paying off. If anything, right now, I am at the same place as you, or worse, in terms of net worth. But it’s the way you think about money that will really save you. At the end of the day, money is just money, and things are just things, right? Another blog post to come on re-thinking how we view money. Maybe we should start re-thinking everything.

Now I know we are all different, and yes, some may continue to dream about the glorious days of relaxing for years on end. But I tried that already, when I had the gap after dental school waiting for my license. And it drove me nearly insane. Even travelling for three weeks in a gorgeous country with a lot of planned activities every day made me long for something more. I don’t think I can do the early retirement thing. More importantly, I don’t want to miss out on my life. The present moment is the most valuable to me. And hey, I do all the things my working friends do. I am close with my co-workers, and hang out with them outside of work. I practice my skills and learn something new every day at work. I still have set hours that I clock in and clock out for. I work out before or after work. But I also do everything my retired aunts, uncles, and grandparents do. I travel frequently. I dedicate time to pursue additional hobbies. I can schedule coffee mornings and mid-day lunch dates with my family and friends. This weekend, I plan to sit on lake front property and enjoy fall weather on a boat surrounded by family, which is what you dream of too, except I’m not sacrificing my body to get to that point and I am going to do it now, thirty years before you. Then again, perhaps you’ll decide to do it too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I must admit. There has to be a sense of simplicity to this lifestyle. You can’t go on imagining that you will become a multi-millionaire this way and swim in pools of cash. That kind of lifestyle probably will require you to work tirelessly during your prime years. But give me the simpler one, and I’ll be a happier person. It’s just an alternative, it’s not the way. There is no ideal way to live life. Just an ideal life for you.

Minimalism: Curating closets

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

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


Environmentally Friendly: KeepCup.

“If I would not use a new baby bottle every time I fed my child, why would I do the same for a coffee cup?”

This is what Australian Abigail Forsyth, owner of Bluebag cafes in Melbourne, thought when she decided to create her product, the KeepCup. Frequenting coffee shops on the regular, I could not agree more. In American culture, getting coffee to go is a very common part of one’s day. The amount of to-go cups I see consumers go through in every coffee shop is astounding.

A woman smiles while sitting holding a glass coffee cup, open plan office through window in background.

“I thought, ‘this is revolting’, there is so much packaging that is just being wasted.”

-Abigail Forsyth

In 2008, KeepCup was first manufactured in Melbourne, Australia, where the coffee industry is booming. Disturbed by the amount of waste that customers produced, the KeepCup was created with both the customer and the barista in mind. Most re-usable cups at the time were a hassle for baristas to use, because the height and width of the cups were usually not compatible with the spouts of espresso machines. There is nothing more discouraging than to go to a coffee shop and asking to use your own cup, then seeing the barista roll their eyes at you. But Forsyth thought, if we could create a cup that baristas would be cool with, then customers leave with the feeling that they did something right. So she created a cup that had the width compatible with coffee machines, in sizes that common drinks came in, namely 4oz, 6oz, 8 oz, 12 oz and 16 oz. A band is placed on every cup which mimics coffee sleeves and prevents customers from burning their hands on their hot beverages. The lid to the cup has an optional cover so that the sipping hole can be completely covered and then tossed into your bag, making it a great portable option.

Originally made from PP, LDPE and silicone, there are now glass options with cork bands, since a lot of Americans did not embrace the plastic material that the KeepCups were made of. Although they were very mindful of the plastic materials they were using to manufacture their cups, a lot of Americans were wary of all plastics, especially those containing hot beverages, after the BPE scare. Listening to her consumers and hoping to increase the use of reusable cups globally, she created the cup that I choose to carry around, to calm people’s concerns about the emission of toxins in plastic products.

Ever since its creation, the KeepCup has gained popularity, but not as much as we would hope, especially in the U.S.  This could partly be explained by the fact that the coffee culture boomed in the U.S. before a barista-friendly re-usable cup was produced, making Americans accustomed to their usual disposable cups. Breaking a habit is much more difficult than creating one. In an interview with Drift magazine, Forsyth proposed a way to make this trend more globally widespread by introducing KeepCups to countries such as China, which are on the brink of starting their coffee boom. If we could get people to embrace it early on and create a habit, it could really make a difference in the long run.

Others say they would prefer to carry the cups of the shops they frequent, with their logos and labels on it, as a way to show others, “This is where I like to get my coffee, but I am too busy to stay there and drink it.” Hearing this, KeepCup has started partnering with coffee businesses to imprint their logo onto their cups. You can usually walk into a coffee shop in Southern California and find a KeepCup on their shelves with their signature logo on the front. But even this isn’t enough. You are more likely to see these cups on the shelves rather than in a customer’s hand. What we find is that most people claim to be ethically conscious and express interest in such a product, but then reach for that disposable cup when they are at the cafe.

I think that the major reason why the KeepCup has not taken off in the United States is due to our particular culture and mindset. Countries such as Australia, Germany, and New Zealand are more environmentally aware, especially with the legal banning of Styrofoam, to-go containers, plastic and harmful chemicals cropping up here and in other parts of the world. It’s safe to say that America lags a little behind other countries when it comes to leaving behind a green footprint. When Americans were asked why they would not carry a disposable cup, the consensus is that they view a disposable cup as an inconvenience. To remember to carry a disposable cup every time they go to get coffee is too much work. The honest truth is that it isn’t any more work than remembering to take your wallet with you or a jacket when it’s cold. Lack of interest in decreasing waste in general is common in the United States. It’s the mentality of, “We can’t stop global warming, so why bother try?”

Here’s the bad news:

  • Half of the plastic used in the world today is for single use disposable items.
  • Every minute, over one million disposable cups are discarded to the landfill.
  • In the United States alone, 58 billion disposable cups are thrown out annually, with the majority ending up in the landfill. That is, 158 disposable cups for every U.S. inhabitant.
  • The 500 billion disposable cups used in the world each year placed end to end could circumnavigate the earth 1,360 times.
  • World paper use has exploded by 400% in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees of 35% of the total trees chopped down are used in paper industries on every continent.
  • Very little recycled paper is used to make disposable cups because of contamination concerns. Because most disposable cups are coated with plastic, both composting and recycling of disposable cups is uncommon. Most disposable cups are lined with polyethylene which makes them non-recyclable. Disposable cups that are “compostable” require commercial composting to biodegrade.
  • Urban rubbish has increased ten-fold over the course of the 20th century, from 92 to 1242 pounds of pure product waste per person per year. At this rate, we discard approximately 14.4 times our body weight in waste every year.

But there is also good news.

The KeepCup compared to a disposable paper cup (including coffee) sees a 36-47% reduction in global warming carbon emissions, 64-85% reduction in water use, 91-92% reduction in landfill waste annually. Over one year, the KeepCup, when compared to disposable cups, reduces landfill by at least 99%, greenhouse gas emissions by up to 92%, and reduces water use by up to 90%. You can monitor the amount of disposable cups you save from the landfill with Reuse HQ, a program KeepCup started to better monitor the progress it was making. And the best news of all. Most people open up to the idea of using a KeepCup when they see others using it. I get questions every day from baristas and consumers alike asking where I got my “cool” cup. Some people in line or baristas behind the counter pipe up and answer for me or tell me of their own alternatives. What it does is it starts a conversation. I learn new alternatives to re-usable containers (today I learned about HuskeeCup) and people learn of the benefits of using any re-usable cup. Awareness and inspiration are what we need most. Actions speak louder than words, and I can’t think of a better way to show the world the impact one cup can make than to carry it around with me at all times. I can spit out facts all day, but most people will brush it off and continue with their usual routine. It isn’t until we do what changes we say we want to see that perspectives shift ever so slightly towards the right direction.

Living Slow: Creatively Escaping Mental Clutter

Raise your hand if you were born with a brain that never stops thinking. Aren’t we all these days? Most of the time, I find myself constantly wondering about what is going to happen next, what I need to accomplish, where I plan to go, what goals I set for myself. I am constantly planning for the future, and when I am not, I am constantly reminiscing on the past.

We are taught from a very young age that in order to be successful, you have to make a plan to get there. We are also instilled with a sense of attachment to things that have passed, because we assign emotions to events, people, and things. Very few of us are taught to notice the present for what it is now. For example, try to sit still, close your eyes, and focus all your attention on the present moment. I bet it takes less than a minute for your mind to wander to something in the past or in the future. When you do realize you’re thinking of this, can you let the thought pass you and return to the present moment? Can you accept the fact that your leg is itching because you’ve been sitting still for so long, and not reach out to scratch it? Can you just observe and continue observing and do absolutely nothing?

For me, this is a very difficult task. There is only one thing that could remove me from my constant state of agitation and longing, and that is creativity. I find that when I do something creative, the part of my brain that is constantly doing calculations shuts off temporarily. I first noticed this when I was a teenager, and I used to draw and do art. I would start dabbling in the middle of the afternoon on my sketchpad and not even realize that it has turned dark until I finish my work or someone snaps me out of my reverie. The same thing happens when I sing or try to play music. I could sing for hours and not even realize how much time has gone by. Sometimes, after spending hours singing, the part of my brain that is measuring my success in terms of achievements turns back on and makes me feel angry at myself for “wasting” so much time. We are so ingrained to measure our worth in terms of how much our salary is, how many titles and medals we have received, how many things we have accumulated, how many relationships we form, that we forget to create anything for ourselves, or rather, to create anything at all.

Now I am at a point in my journey where I have de-cluttered most of my possessions, removed unhealthy relationships, and allocated the appropriate amount of time to the things that add value to my life. However, after ridding my life of a lot of the excess noise, I have been left with a LOT of time left to my disposal. Prior to now, my entire life has been a race against time. I was raised to always seek achievements and had so many activities to the point where I was constantly over-whelmed in middle school and high school. I worked three jobs during my undergraduate career and still finished undergrad in three years with cum laude honors. There was never enough time to do everything I wanted to do while I was going to dental school because of the dedication it required. This is the first time in my life that I have extra time to use however I want to. Part of what gave me that freedom is really the appropriate allocation of my resources towards the things that really matter. This practice has given me plenty of time to reflect and day dream, which helps focus my attention to who I was and who I want to be. However, neither reflection nor daydreaming allows me to fully appreciate the present moment, since both require my mind to be either in the past or in the future. What I’ve found is that tapping into my creativity is the only thing that releases me from this cage of constantly assessing and re-assessing. Even if the creation is only for myself, only creativity allows me to enjoy the present moment wholly and completely.

Some may argue that if you work hard now, you will have more time in the future to be creative, but that isn’t necessarily true. This may be true if you are extrapolating in a certain way so that everything happening now is occurring or improving at a constant rate. But the question which I always use to judge what is right for me to do today is, “What things would I regret not doing if I were to die tomorrow?” As morbid as that sounds, it accounts for the single truth, which is that we are only guaranteed the present moment, and nothing more. If you spend your life working hard, looking forward to the rest of forever and forever never comes, then you just spent your life working hard and that is it. You would have accomplished much, but whether or not what you accomplished or created has any meaning past earning money or acquiring a certain status is questionable. And even if we assume you get to a later stage in life where you had once expected to spend every waking moment doing what you love, what if you couldn’t? What if a debilitating disease capable of preventing you from playing a musical instrument or creating art takes over your body? What if you suffer from an unpredictable accident? I can tell you one thing. There are many more things in life other than work that I would feel empty without. These happen to be the only things capable of diminishing the mental clutter to nothingness. Creativity is my antidote towards the incessant firing of neurons, the constant buzzing of notifications, and the little voice inside my head telling me, “You are not enough.” We are all enough.

This isn’t to say we should all stop planning our futures completely and solely be creative beings. Under-stimulation and lack of progress does not improve your life meaning. This is only to say there should be a balance. So press pause, and enjoy the now. In the end our life, fully lived, will be our best work.