Curating Closets: Reliable, Ethical Shoes with Nisolo + a 20% discount!

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

When it comes to curating closets, the process is simplified when there are particular brands that you trust. Ones that would have your back, or in this case, support your feet. For shoes, I undoubtedly have a single preference, and that would be Nisolo. Nisolo means “not alone”. Founded on the longing to foster the interdependencies of relationships between consumers and producers, Nisolo has since its foundation expanded to encompass not only social impact, but environmental sustainability and social good as well. One only needs to look at their impact report to understand why it is that we need to support companies such as these. The report opens with their unique vision:

“To push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction— where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price—a direction that not only values exceptional design, but the original producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer.”

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While the above images are simply highlights of what the report details, it summarizes what the sixty-plus page report says. Additionally, some things to note.

Certified B corporation

B Corp certification is similar to fair trade, but determines environmental and social impact beyond product attributes or production processes. Rather, the assessment takes a deep look into a company’s leadership, governance, suppliers, employees, communities, etc. in order to determine (and ultimately score) the social and  environmental impact an organization has on all of its stakeholders.

Environmental sustainability

To minimize their carbon footprint, the majority of Nisolo’s raw materials are intentionally sourced and processed in close proximity of their production facilities. Third party suppliers to the factories are frequently visited, and encouraged to use environmentally friendly practices. When possible, they purchase from tanneries that have received certification from The Leather Working Group, the most well regarded third party certification in leather processing.

All Nisolo jewelry is made from upcycled materials in Nairobi, Kenya, and their first venture into vegetable tanned leather, a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly tanning process, has come via their new partner factories. Unlike most tanning methods that use chrome and other chemicals (which can create a severe impact on the environment if not properly disposed), vegetable tanning uses natural oils from bark or plant tannins, which reduce the product’s environmental impact. 

Defying Gender Norms

Nisolo has a female co-founder, as well as an executive team that consists of  40% female. Of the current staff, over 69% are female.

Education

Nearly all of the Peruvian workers had ended their education early due to a financial situation. To help combat this, Nisolo works with two universities in Trujillo to offer their producers discounted rates and opportunities to attend school at nights and during the weekend. 

They are proud to share that 100% of their producer’s children are attending school, and of the students in the university, 100% will be first generation graduates.

With that being said, I am proud to be an affiliate for a company that I so whole-heartedly believe in and support. To learn more about the ways in which Nisolo is pushing the fashion forward to a better future, read the entire impact report here.

The Shoes Themselves

Company ethics aside, what of the shoes? It is important to note that I have graduated (happily) from that stage in my life where I thought uncomfortable shoes were pretty. In fact, when curating my closet, comfort sits quite high on the list of boxes to check off. Additionally, shoes must be simple and versatile. I want them to match multiple outfits so that I could make use of them as much as possible. Shoes are meant to be worn. There was a time when I used to own over fifty pairs of shoes. Blame it on a pair of feet that never grew since the eight grade, but really, it was just a disgusting habit of over-consumption of very cheap products that were so trend-specific that they were essentially useless, most of the time. There was a neglecting of forty of those pairs, because they matched only one or two outfits in my closet, at most. However, simplicity does not mean plain. The shoes that I look for still have to be stylish and in line with my taste. Also, what I love about Nisolo shoes is that they are affordable, especially for the high-quality material and attention to detail that you get. A factory-produced Nike shoes is comparable in price to a pair of environmentally-conscious leather shoes that support an artisan who otherwise would have no access to a market. To me, the choice is very easy. Lastly, I want them to be timeless, and I want them to last. These two must go hand-in-hand, for timelessness explains the longevity of the style and the latter explains the longevity of the physical product. Without the other, the shoe would enter a landfill way too soon. I would like to confirm that Nisolo has definitely passed all of these requirements with flying colors, time and time again, which is why I keep coming back.

Below are some of the shoes I own from Nisolo’s Women Collection. They just recently released a curated Mother’s Day collection that features some products perfect for mothers at a 10% off rate. Also, subscribers will receive 20% off their first order, so do head over using the link above, scroll to the bottom of the page, and subscribe with your email to enjoy this awesome discount.

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With summer just around the corner, this is going to be my go-to shoe for the upcoming season. It was last year and it will be again this year. There is something so traditional and timeless about a pair of Huaraches. Excited to announce that new colors have been recently released!

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This is undeniably my most worn shoe outside of work. The Sophia Slip On is so versatile, that I have half a mind to also purchase the Sophia Slip On in brandy as well, which happens to be on sale right now. It’s easy to put on, very comfortable, but also sleek and elevates any outfit.

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These Ava Ballerina flats are easy to dress up or down, and are probably my most versatile shoe. I can see toe-cleavage-haters extremely disliking this shoe, but personally, I’ve got no problems.

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These are my favorite boots. They are Nisolo’s chukkas from 2016, although for 2018, they have their Isa Chukka Boot in the light oak, an updated version that looks pretty similar.

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The Oliver Oxfords are so comfortable that these are actually my every day work shoes. Which means I wear these five days a week and am able to run from room to room, maneuver a foot pedal, and still get compliments on my footwear. If you prefer a more modern style, check out the James Oxfords or the Emma D’orsay Oxfords.

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I get people asking me about these flip flops all the time! Which just goes to show that the simplest of silhouettes can be extremely attractive. These Isla Slides are fantastic, and new versions are soon to be released! Stay tuned!

These are just some of the Nisolo shoes I own, and I absolutely enjoy every single one of them. Mike as well is very fond of Nisolo’s Men’s Collection, so much so that he donned Nisolo shoes for our New Year’s Eve Wedding.

How about you guys? Reliable shoes?

Recent Reads: A Baker’s Year by Tara Jensen

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

Sometimes in your life, you come across a kindred spirit. Usually, it’s at a time when you least expect it, and in the most unusual of characters. Fictional, for example, or in people who you have never met. Despite these peculiarities, you just know that they are of the same spirit and mind as you, even if they are miles away. Tara Jensen is one of these kindred spirits. When I picked up her book and sat it across my lap in a hidden, dusty corner of Barnes and Nobles, I was not expecting to meet anyone kindred that day. But after the first few words, I just knew. Her book, A Baker’s Year, “chronicles twelve months of baking and living the simple life at the Smoke Signals Bakery”, smattered with a few recipes and baking techniques, which is what roped me in in the first place, but it was her story that made me stay. Better yet, she was able to summarize a collection of very deep-rooted feelings that even I was not able to bring to the surface until her words dug them from their graves, feelings which all too entirely shape the view that I have of the world today, as well as drive the actions that I choose to take in my daily living. I think everyone could benefit from her words, even if they are not interested in baking bread for their communities. Below is an excerpt from the book that struck a chord with me so many times over the course of two pages (!!). Below is the story of Camille. 

“Camille came to Madison County in 1972 with her husband, Dave. Dave’s father had grown up here, moving to Detroit at the age of nineteen for a better life. He couldn’t believe Camille and Dave wanted to return to what he remembered as a desolate region with nothing to offer. They were warned not to come, but their minds were set on it. Enraged by the Vietnam War, they wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible and learn directly from those who could still teach the way of the land. Less income meant minor tax payments, resulting in fewer dollars toward war machine. They took on cows, chickens, rabbits, sheep and a garden. “A farm is a big name for what we had,” she says.

What was big was their ambition. It had to be. It was up against a lot. War was a symptom of an entire broken social system fueled by overconsumption. Refusal of business as usual was crucial to Camille. “I know we have to live,” she pointed out, “but we don’t need to do it at this level – we don’t need to destroy.”

Camille had already experienced the horrors of war. In 1944, her childhood home in Normandy was bombed, and although everyone was safe, the devastation left only a corner of the original house. Her family first took refuge in a nearby graveyard, surviving only on milk. There her father decided they would take the two-day walk to his parent’s farm, where he was certain food could be found. In the summer, they returned home to rebuild.

Normal weekly rituals ensued, one of which was a trip into town for bread. One afternoon, her sister returned with more than a sack of loaves; she also bore toys she’d found scattered on the roadside. Thin metal rods, like long pens, with a coil wrapped around the middle. They played with them for days, knocking them on rocks like drumsticks. But they weren’t toys. They were cast-aside detonators, and while her mother was busy with the wash, one exploded in Camille’s hand, causing the loss of her right arm at the age of two.

A decade into their life of resistance, Dave was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The long list of daily chores became difficult to maneuver. The cow jumped the fence. The sheep ran away. The dog chased the chickens into the woods. They allowed their responsibilities to dwindle, eventually eating the cow. “It was part of the economy,” Camille explained, a firmness still in her tone. Despite changes in physical comfort and energy, they were as true to their original intentions as they possibly could be.

After Dave passed, Camille carried on the design of their home and land, every nook and cranny meticulously thought out and crafted. Stairwells fashioned after the golden spiral, massive mosaic projects, wood scraps and windows everywhere: ideals for a gentle society radiate from the walls. “I never had a course in building,” she said, “just an interest. I could look at an old building, I would see that it was still standing, and I would think, That is good.” Although Dave is gone, his presence remains, amidst a host of new and radical projects.

Never short on determination, Camille hired a carpenter to frame a door into a dirt wall so that she might dig herself a basement. Rigging up a bucket, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow, she chipped at the top of the wall, directing the dirt downward into the bucket. When the bucket was full, she’d take it to the wheelbarrow and empty it. When the wheelbarrow was full, she’d haul it outside and dump it in the gully. She kept at the work for days and months until rumors began to surface.

Her apprentice who frequented the local bar came to report back on the widespread speculation about what exactly Camille was up to. “You’ll never believe what they’re saying about you, Camille. They say you are digging out your basement single-handedly with a spoon!”

She chuckled. “Well then, let them think just that.”

I spoke with Camille recently. We wondered if it was even possible for future generations to go back to the land. There is increasingly less land to go back to, and the old-times who knew the plants and the ballads are passing each year. Besides, living the rural life isn’t for everyone. It seems that each spring, a new crop of young homesteaders arrive bursting with ideas, and only some of them make it to the next year for one reason of another. Many leave when they have children, and divorce is common under the stress of poverty. I like living here because it is so unchanged, and yet sometimes I forget there is a world past the blown-out streetlight. This landscape is a jungle that does not bend to human will easily. Some like the challenge. Some don’t.

Yet what we lack in finery we make up for in freedom. We have a choice. We can choose the detonator or the spoon. What will you leave behind? What will your legacy be? Free, gentle, and diverse is the culture I want for myself, my community, and my bread. Be an instrument for peace. Choose the spoon.”

To learn more about the nuances of simple living, or to learn about baking bread, please do go on and read A Baker’s Year. Our society can benefit from her words in more ways than one. 

Refill, Reuse, Rejoice with Plaine Products

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

I’ve already said my piece here regarding reducing plastic waste in my daily hygiene routine, by switching to bars of shampoo and conditioner and soap. But what of lotion? What of wintry dry skin, flaking away at the shudder of a cold, harsh winter wind? We live in sunny Southern California, but nonetheless, sensitive, scaly skin prevails in this dry desertland. Surely, there is no lotion bar? At the very least, I have yet to discover it.

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There is, however, the introduction of a new company called Plaine Products. Focused on the idea of reusable containers, sisters Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine created a way to offer shampoo, conditioner, body wash, AND lotion in aluminum reusable bottles. The stuff itself is quite lovely and aromatic, with two scent options. A rosemary, mint, and vanilla combination for the fall and winter, and a citrus lavender for the spring and summer, or so I like to think. Associate with the scents whatever seasons tickle your fancy. I must admit that I was ready for an alternative that would allow me to switch back to liquid conditioners. Bar soap shampoos are fine in my book, but my hair was starting to hang a bit too heavy, giving it a sadder appearance than my cheery personality would like. Nothing Plaine Products couldn’t save. After one day of switching to liquid shampoo and conditioner, the flounce of the hair has been returned. And the lotion has got my skin feeling silky, without my conscience feeling plastic-guilt. It’s a thing, I swear!

The concept behind the refillability (not a word?) of the bottles is simple. It’s a wonder why it is not more widely implemented. A subscription can be shipped to your door in a box (made of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste), which can act as the same vessel to return your already used and empty bottles back to the company. The bottles are then refilled, thus giving them a new life. You can opt to order the new bottle without the pump, if you already own a pump that’s easily reusable. The box is reused, the bottle is reused, and the plastic pump is reused. Multiply that to account for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion, and we’ve got ourselves quite an impact. Currently, face wash, hand wash, and face moisturizer products are in the works.

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In an effort to be all around environmentally friendly, the contents are well considered. The products avoid animal testing of any kind, is devoid of sulfates, parabens, and pthalates, and is designed to biodegrade more easily than typical, chemical products. The specifics of the contents can be found here, if microanalysis of such details are your thing, just as they are mine. Proudly vegan, the main component of their products are none other than Aloe Vera. The same extract that my mom would scrape from the plant leaves and weave into our hairs before a night’s rest. Less sticky, less messy, less fuss and crying and wails of discontent (sorry mom!).

I must admit, I do still have to deal with the internal struggle of whether the back-and-forth shipping of subscriptions really outweighs the long-term consequences of the plastic that never degrades. The elusiveness of the topic at large feeds the frustration I feel when well-intentioned actions are unclear in their effects. It’s as if a cloud is purposefully shifted above the whole matter, making it difficult to really measure the impact of hauling our goods versus increasing plastic waste, which alternatively blankets our ability to measure the opposite as well. While we could discuss this topic for a long time and perhaps stay stagnant in our search for an answer, I would like to say that for now, Plaine Products gives us plastic-avoiders a welcome alternative. As does nixing shampoo all-together, a step I admittedly am not ready to make.

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Care to give them a try? Order your first Plaine Products today! TheDebtist readers will receive 10% off of their purchase when the code thedebtist10 is entered at checkout. The shipping was quick, and hassle-free, with an option to subscribe to their products for regularly spaced deliveries, if simplicity is kind of your thing.

This post was sponsored by Plaine Products. All opinions are my own.

Getting to Know: Molly Acord of Fair + Simple

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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. 

Zero Waste: Consumable Christmas Gifts

Nothing makes me more happy than receiving a thoughtful gift that procured zero waste in the process of its making and of its giving. Recently, I have preferred consumable gifts over material gifts. This could be something as literal as food or drink, and as metaphoric as a e-book or experience. The idea is that the gift can be enjoyed by the receiver, but does not linger after the enjoyment has concluded. It doesn’t require additional storage, and does not call for de-cluttering at the end of the experience.

If you are interested in such a gift idea, may I recommend homemade Christmas treats? My best friend from high school and her family make homemade treats every year, namely chocolate covered toffee, peanut brittle, and candied almonds. When I asked her what started this tradition, she says that every year, her family makes peanut brittle to ship to her grandpa in Pennsylvania. She just started to make more treats in additionto ship to their friends and family as a Christmas present. The positive outcomes are two-fold. First, it requires a bit of spending time together (gasp!) and gathering as a family to create something for other people. In the spirit of giving, it gives the gift of time, hard work, and personal touch. Second, it creates what I would consider a zero waste present, that is enjoyed and then, well, digested. It may be argued that she does use a shipping box and paper to package the thing and ship to the home, an easily skipped process if one would like to deliver in person. But personally, I love opening my mail box and finding the surprise every year. If you can stomach the small price to pay in order to surprise someone, then wonderful! If not, wrap furoshiki style and deliver at the next gathering, which I hope are many during this time of year. In either case, here’s a little how-to, for some last-minute gift wrangling, minus the excessive spending.

Candied Almonds

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Ingredients:

  • 12cup water
  • 12cups sugar
  • 1teaspoon cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • 1lb almonds, with skins

Directions:

  1. Bring water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil;stirring constantly.
  2. Add almonds and toss to coat.
  3. Remove almonds with slotted spoon.
  4. Arrange on greased baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, basting twice with reserved syrup.
  6. Cool.
  7. Store airtight.

Peanut Brittle

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Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Grease a large cookie sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.
  3. Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14×12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

Chocolate Covered Chewy Caramel Candy

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound milk chocolate
  • Your favorite chewy caramel candy

Directions:

  1. Melt milk chocolate in a saucepan
  2. Cover caramel candy and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  3. Place tray in the fridge to cool.

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.

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+ 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.

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+ 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!

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+ 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.

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+ 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.

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+ 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.

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+ 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.

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+ 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.

Welcoming the holiday season

I always love the first day of November. For me, it marks the beginning of the holiday season (sorry Halloween!). There are only a little over sixty days left to the year, and you start to feel that magnetic pull towards the new beginning promised by the following year. The holidays hold a different meaning for different people. Many look forward to gatherings over candlelit dinners surrounded by loved ones and an assortment of delectable dishes. It becomes more of a nightly occurrence compared to the rest of the year. Some envision twinkly lights hung on decks and shrubs and trees, peeking out of dark windows and above fiery fireplaces. The holiday music comes on the radio, and everywhere else, which could be a good or bad thing, depending. The wish lists are being placed in stockings, the stores are being filled with toys, and the malls are being filled with people, gathering to see the tallest of Christmas trees be lighted for the first time. The parties and celebrations may start snowballing, passing the days by until suddenly, you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, “Happy New Year!” The holiday season is fleetingly beautiful and joyous, and is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year.

This has always been the holiday season that I knew growing up. But now that I am a little older, I try to hold on to the days a little longer, and anticipated November and December happenings start to shift towards other things. Quiet mornings with my husband and slow risings out of a comfortable bed. Blanketed humans with gloved hands, holding warm mugs, both on couches and walking the streets. Turning the Christmas music off to hold conversations or listen to a crackling fire. Focusing on being present, rather than buying presents. Writing down a list of things I’m thankful for and reading it aloud on Thanksgiving day instead of placing it in a stocking. Looking at old photo albums with my parents, rather than taking another photo with Santa.  Counterintuitively making slowing down a priority, and creating space a mission.

Admittedly, I will still continue to do traditional holiday things. But the hope is that it doesn’t consume my season with traditional activities for the sake of doing traditional activities. With only a smattering of dates left for the year, these few months, days, and hours really matter. So let’s find the space to fill them with what matters most.

 

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.