Curating Closets: When You Have None

It’s been a while, since I’ve written about curating closets, but closets have been at the forefront of [our] minds lately. Mostly, because we have none. I revealed in this post that our living space on the second floor has absolutely no closet space, not even in the bedroom.

Or pantry space.

Or a bathroom door.

Or a bedroom for that matter, technically. Loft living for the win.

So where to put storage? Our lifestyle is salvaged by a lone closet underneath the stairwell, located on the first floor (in the business space). We’ve placed a rod in this “coat closet” and have hung most of our clothes there, underneath the linens. There’s shelving above it, wherein sits our few sweaters that avoid hangers, to prolong their sweet little lives. The space is limited, and what minimalist closets we once thought we had have proved to be, well, not minimal enough. The husband owns too many tees, while I own too many formal a dress. So, a few words on curating, once again.

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It’s dawned on me that the de-cluttering process is one of the most mindful practices I engage in. And I do it repetitively, because there’s still room for self-improvement, as well as self-reflection. Here’s what this new “space” has reminded me:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I keep returning to this quote. I first discovered it perusing a shelf of cards at Daydream Surfshop in simple black lettering across a blank card. I loved it so much that I gave it as a birthday card to our roommate. When curating closets, I ask myself these two questions: “Does it have a purpose?” and “Do I love it?” Some may say “love” is a bit too extreme of an emotion, but I have found that liking something is not enough to stand the tests of time.

When you must choose between practicality and an item you love, sometimes it pays to choose the loved and less practical.

I was standing in a dressing room stall, holding two pairs of pants in my hands. I had been hiding away in there for thirty minutes or more, and the dressing room lady has checked in on me five times by now. Surely, she must wonder whether I’m in there solely because of the free AC. Not entirely untrue. But also, I was going through a tough dilemma, arguing with myself back and forth. Do I get the pair of practical denim which goes with everything in my closet and which can be worn on most days in casualness, or do I go with the auburn pant that wears beautifully, matches with a lot of my basic tops, but that I might hesitate doing some cooking in, lest it gets dirty? The truth of the matter is, I needed neither. In the end, I had walked out of the store with the pair of red pants in my hand. While practicality would have landed me a pair of denims that have everyday usability, I chose the thing that will make me ultimately the most happy. With something practical, one can wear it every day and never notice anything different. The practical one would not add anything to my life, except maybe a reason to de-clutter other denim pants that I already own. The red pair, on the other hand, will add joy to the every day. Plus, I’ve come to realize that when you love something, you end up using it as much as you possible can anyway. The moral is to choose actions that makes life happy, which is ultimately what we are living for. And when it comes to having items around,  living surrounded with items that you actually care about is the thing that matters most.

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Know what you need for your particular lifestyle.

Speaking of having items around, know what works for you. I have been guilty before of buying things that other people have, with the illusion that I myself may need them too. However, as I grew to know myself, I have found that my lifestyle is quite different from other people’s lifestyle. There were so many things we owned previously that we found we didn’t use at all. A toaster that we had asked for on our wedding registry. Cosmetics that I thought every girl required. A beer tasting set, ’til I realized I no longer wish to consume beer. Specifically for wardrobes, I used to think I needed high heels to compensate for my height, and short dresses to make my legs appear longer. I used to think that tight clothing helped me, and that having my hair curled made me appear more adult. Today, I’d likely grab a tee, prefer overalls, and get itchy when my hair is anywhere near my face. Also, I enjoy the freedom that walking, running, jumping (?) in flat shoes afford me. My lifestyle has slowed down quite a bit, so blogging on couches does not require the same attire as going out to happy hours do. Coffee shops are more forgiving than clubs and house parties. Denim pants are more suited to bread baking than mini skirts. You get the gist.

Learn to recognize sentimentality and guilt. Learn to let the burden go.

The most difficult, and final advice. Too many times have I stared at an item which has not been touched, used, or even looked at for many months [ahem, years], yet still it remained in my possession. Always, the culprit holding me back from saying sayonara was sentimentality, followed by guilt. Handkerchiefs handed down to me from my mom when I was 8 years old, for example. The thought of letting something go makes me feel like I was stabbing someone I cared about in the back with a knife of betrayal. The wild imagery pulls me towards being a “good person” and keeping it for the sake of sentiment, and also, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. We must learn to recognize these moments, and then to ask, “what is it’s purpose?” If the only thing the item does is weigh us down with emotional burden, is that really worth keeping? Surely, your loved one did not mean to cause you such turmoil. I have found that creating space gives a higher ability to receive, while releasing negative physical, emotional and mental energy. Be kind to yourself, and know that the weight of the relationship should not come down to material things.

How about your closet space advice? I could use some inspiration. One day, I hope for that downstairs closet to have decent breathing room.

Property Ownership: Taking Renovations Nice and Slow

Buying a home comes with so many strings attached to your emotions, and its got you moving in all sorts of directions. One of which is this desire to create your fantasy dream home, RIGHT AWAY. In this post, I am going to avoid digging into the recesses of our social upbringings to address how we are shaped to want such a thing (*cough* HGTV *cough*) for the sake of time, which I am admittedly currently short on amidst all the property fixes, the packing, the moving and student loan tackling. Rather, what I am going to say is this: Take renovations nice and slow.

First off, Congratulations! You have a new home! Have you even  taken the time to celebrate that? We are trained to seek more, more, more, that few of us take the time to be grateful for what we have. I know I am much the same. It isn’t long after I’ve accomplished something that the following words are out of my mouth: “Okay, what next?” How about stopping, taking a breath, and seeking the NOW? As cliche as it sounds, take time to smell the roses.

Now, if you’re like most people, you likely had to take out a mortgage for your newfound space. Which also means you likely spent a good chunk of change for the down payment. Dare I say that for a number of people, the down payment makes up a majority of your life savings, especially if you are young and just out of college like me. I can attest. We took 100% of our emergency fund, and spent it ALL to make a 5% down payment on a $499,900 home in Orange County, CA. While you judge us however way you wish in the way we spent that money, we are now starting from where we were two years ago, when I graduated with $575,000+ in student debt while owing my then boyfriend, now husband, an additional $20,000. Except we have paid down $100,000 towards that debt and we now have a home. I have faith that we will be just fine.

If you could get over the judgement, here is what I have to say. The focus is not to renovate the space into a dream home. It’s to build your life around something that makes you ultimately happy. Comforts of an emergency fund included, digging yourself further into financial debt is not. Rebuilding our emergency fund is where a majority of our focus will be for now. So what if the counters are cheaply made of wood, and have minor signs of water damage? So what if the sink does not properly fit into the counter-tops and caulk was used to seal it up? Never mind that the cabinets have multiple holes in them from the handlebars that were there previous to the current ones. Or that the bathroom stall has glue stuck to the walls. Yes I want a brand new couch to replace the hand-me-down that I received from my college roommate in dental school. But I’ve lived with it for five years, and looking back and seeing what I’ve done with my life says maybe it’s worth sitting on that couch a few years more.

I can tell you that most buyers, myself included, can find unlimited furniture upgrades, faulty appliances, and remodeling projects, all of which will quickly deplete the incomes of even the rich and famous. In the voice of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” These temptations will prevent the most frugal among us from saving their hard-earned incomes. Some even rack up high interest credit card consumer debt! Feeling a squeeze in the budget is normal, but you have control over that constriction. I would recommend taking a very lean approach to your budget, and take renovations nice and slow. Personally, my goal is to go ham with the student loan debt while rebuilding that emergency fund (substitute your important financial goal here). I assure you that you will be able to transform your place into something beautiful, in time. Meanwhile, be glad that you have a comfortable place to sleep, a functioning stove, a roof over your head – all things that many people around the world can only dream about.

If you are at the point where you want to take on renovations, you may be asking, where to start? Surely, not with the cosmetics. We are fixing only those that require most attention. For example, the bathroom in our roommates space only emits hot showers. And while hot showers are nice, we do need to add cold water for fine tuning. Additionally, the fridge that’s included with the space has no water filter. So we’ve installed a water filter under the sink, to avoid plastic bottles. Lastly, we spent our entire weekend taking off the shelving and wooden floorboards that the previous owner left behind. With that comes wall spaces that needed patching and re-painting. There was a closet door on the first floor which they’ve cut a hole into, so we bought a piece of wood and cut it to create a new door. I then painted it to match the rest of the house. A majority of the work we did on our own, with the help of a cousin and uncle. Someone quoted us $500 to remove the floorboards, so we did it for free instead. Alas, here is the “nice” part to the “nice and slow”. Doing the work ourselves saved us a lot of money, taught us a few things about property maintenance, and strengthened us as a team.

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Meanwhile … we have started the re-financing process!!

Intentional Living: Setting Boundaries

Once upon a time, when I was young and naive, I thought it would be most ideal to become the best “YES”-woman out there. That was my life goal. To take on the role of a fictional superhero, one that was capable of juggling a million things, and additionally, excel at them. I was deemed a bright star, but like all bright stars, I eventually burned out and, to some extent, was reborn. Existential notions aside, today I aim for a different life. One that is of a slower pace, one that has awareness with each step, and mindfulness with each passing thought. With this new life comes a new role, one that involves setting many boundaries.

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Intentional living cannot be achieved without knowing how to set boundaries. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a to-do list, social obligations, or financial debt? All of this may indicate that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, making it difficult to be intentional about any of your actions. You are doing so many things on such a short timeline, how would you have the time to consider what the repercussions and consequences of your actions are? How will you have time to explore alternatives? You won’t have time to think about what’s good for you, let alone what’s good for others.  Nothing about a fast lifestyle is intentional.

Some may argue that setting boundaries is selfish, but I beg to differ. Not having enough boundaries indicate a low self-esteem. Essentially, you are saying, “I am not important enough to be put first.” You spend your life trying to please others. I myself was once a people-pleaser. It made me extremely happy to make others happy. The problem was that my happiness was dependent on others, which was ultimately, destructive. It’s nice to make others feel good and to help others, but our own happiness has to come from within. Therefore, self-love is a key to happiness. Self – love is not equivalent to selfishness. Self-love invigorates us with life.

Off course, recently, I have been trying to separate boundaries from barriers.

Boundaries are always shifting, are growing with you, and are forgiving and kind. Barriers are definite, closed-off, and distancing.

Still, I struggle between the two, but I am learning. I have a tendency to require myself to show up and be accountable in terms of absolutes. I have difficulty allowing myself failure, allowing missteps and set backs. But once in a while, I am reminded of the need to be flexible, to mold with situations, and to move in a way that defines freedom rather than constriction.

Where to begin?

Know Yourself: You can’t set boundaries if you don’t know what you need. Many people have difficulty avoiding the stresses of the grind, because they don’t know what sets them off. When you are feeling tense, take time to identify the cause. Try to figure out how you can prevent it from happening again. Trust your feelings, honor them, and learn who you are and what values you uphold.

Select Your Crew: They say that you are only as good as the average of the five people you spend the most time with. While that may be oversimplifying things, it’s true that sometimes, we keep relationships that are negative. Surround yourself with people who build you up, who invigorate you, who make you feel passionate about something. Keep those who support  you. For those that are unaligned with your values, set boundaries, not barriers. One of the ways in which I have a tendency to put barriers up is by cutting out negative people from my life. It’s been for the better, but it wasn’t entirely kind. Additionally, cutting people out entirely does not allow room for growth, in either party. Even I can learn in this regard.

Limit Social Obligations: As an introverted couple, we exercise this more heavily than others. Social parties for us can be draining. One-on-one situations are better than group events, and shorter gatherings at home feel more comfortable than long weekend vacations. We know this about ourselves. I limit my social obligations because I know that I need time for myself, too. I let close friends and family know that we need time aplenty to mentally prepare, and to plan for a recovery period of recluse afterwards. It’s about knowing who you are.

Work Responsibilities: Work should never be taken home. That’s a rule that we practice in our household. Once we clock off, we respect our time to be spent with our loved ones and with each other. Once the lines between work and home start to blur, so do your priorities.

Web Surfing and Social Media: This is a recent one, but one of the utmost prevalence. Eyes have a way of gravitating to screens and hands have a way of reaching for phones. It’s like a magnetic force pulls us towards our electronic devices, and we must resist our ingrained tendencies. Setting aside specific times to use social media or surf the web is a great way to set boundaries. I try to limit use of Instagram to the morning hours on weekdays, before I head off to work. That includes using the Gram for blog stuff as well. I also have implemented the practice of consuming once, producing twice. Meaning, for every hour I consume media (whether that’s movies, videos, podcasts, reading blogs, and scrolling through social media), I try to spend two hours creating (examples of which include coloring, drawing, practicing guitar, writing on the blog, singing, or working on something else productive). What I’ve found is that the act of producing has this snowball effect that then fuels even more creation, which ultimately affects what I choose to consume. It keeps me from consuming random, unrelated stuff, but rather, I am spending my time learning about things I am working on. I consume other blogs that I could learn from, or music that inspires me to learn guitar. I listen to podcasts that motivate me with my financial journey. Et cetera. By allocating where I spend my time, I am also limiting what enters my life. Need help? Try these.

What I Need to Work On:

Mostly, I need to focus my attention on setting boundaries of the mental kind. Warding off worry, or negative perspectives of certain situations. Trying to grasp more control over my own happiness, by controlling the way I react to situations and people. Trying to be more fluid rather than rigidly standing strong. Despite all our trials, we need to keep our hearts warm. We need to remember the words of N. Waheed.

Stay soft. It looks beautiful on you.

 

Intentional Living: Create Empty Space

A question was posed by a dear cousin of mine this week on Instragram: “How do people get good at the ‘mindful living’ thing?” Not easily. “Does it ever come naturally?” I find that no, it does not. It takes a lot of work, which makes mindful living intentionally slow. For myself, I prefer the term intentional living. In my personal journey, I’ve found that it’s quite difficult to do. Once in a while, I find myself slipping, too, getting caught up in life’s quick pace, getting tangled in the feels.

I figure we could all remind each other how it is that we get to intentional living. How it is that we slow down. Since it’s not something that just happens because we wish it upon ourselves, we need to remind ourselves to reset, and re-orient towards the path we want to be on. There is a process in making an intentional life, with actionable steps along the way. An experimental journey, there are little equations that are reproducible, just the same as with any science. Having this lifestyle requires creating an environment for this lifestyle. This is where I suggest we all start. Because without the proper environment, a mindful life will struggle to thrive.

The Challenge: Creating Empty Space

I discovered ‘slow living’ closely after I discovered the process of de-cluttering. It only makes sense that the two come hand-in-hand. The aftermath of creating space in my life resulted in a slowness. Something that was once filled now had an emptiness to it, and because of that, there was either an opportunity to fill it with more, or to keep it intentionally empty.

Becoming Comfortable with Emptiness

Poor emptiness! The word itself has this negative connotation around it. It seems as if we are all terrified of emptiness. We associate the word with having “less than”. I mean, just look around. Every surface in our homes is filled with stuff. We don’t want an empty shelf, or an empty table. We are uncomfortable with sitting in emptiness. We turn on a TV, we turn on music, we grab our phone, or we open a book. We break the silence. We do everything we possibly can to fill empty space. At least for myself, it was an almost immediate reaction.

Having empty space gives us a place for eyes to rest. Gives us space to expand, or to enjoy, or to feel peaceful. That space and time of nothingness is where we unpack things. It’s where we process thoughts and create ideas without being distracted. It’s the environment that we need to help facilitate all other modes of intentional living.

The challenge

Empty one surface in your home every week for a month. It may be a dining table, a bedside table, a coffee table. It may be a drawer or a shelf, in your closet or your pantry. It may be an entire wall wherein you remove all of the picture frames and decor hanging from it. Remove every single item on the surface you have chosen, and live with it empty for the entire week. It’s a practice to start to get you to feel comfortable in the emptiness.

The mindful part? Pay attention to your reactions to that empty space. Listen to the stories you tell yourself. Do you feel weird at having an empty dining table? Do you ask yourself if guests who come over will think your unprepared, or boring, or dull? Do you start to fear that others will think that you have too little, because a shelf is empty? Are you scared that people will think you don’t have enough things? Pay attention to the voice inside our heads telling us why we think there ‘should’ be things there. It’s a great start for realizing the motivations behind the stories and reasons that explain why we are so uncomfortable with the thought of emptiness.

Additionally, there is an added benefit to this experiment, and that is the realization of what stuff we actually miss and what stuff we don’t. Living with it for a week, you will soon see which things you hardly miss, and which things you miss dearly. It brings awareness to the items you actually value. So often, we live with stuff just because it’s there and that’s how it’s always been and we forget what their roles are in our lives (if there ever was such a role). Doing this experiment gets you asking questions and makes us more intentional about the things we keep. It gives you an opportunity to just put back the things you really like, or the things that you use.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  – William Morris

And you could, as well, miss everything you put away, and that’s fine too. But this is when you should interject and dig a bit deeper and ask yourself, “Why is it that I miss the stuff I miss?” And if you enjoyed this process, maybe start to apply it to every surface. Just remember to take it slow, a week at a time, otherwise, you’re back to a fiendishly hyperactive life.

A Very Debtist Birthday

Birthdays are kind of a tortuous thing for me these days. At some point, I think we all kind of went a bit astray and, may I say it, b-o-n-k-e-r-s, with the whole celebrations thing. I understand celebrating an event or accomplishment, but the whole excess consumption tied to each holiday really bothers me. I wanted to do something very different for this year (and hopefully here on out).

Over the past year, Mike and I have been struggling with trying to relate to family and friends that we want celebrations to be centered around less stuff. When we tell them we don’t want gifts, they insist that we must get something. What ends up happening is that they get us random things, or things we don’t even need, and these things literally immediately go to someone else, or get donated to Goodwill, because we do not want more stuff. So then we started to tell them specifically what things we want with an emphasis on the fact that we want to stray from plastic and excess waste. But then the packages show up wrapped in layers of colored paper and plastic ribbons tied to plastic balloons. Those who want to gift us money put them on plastic gift cards. I mean the whole ordeal has just been very difficult.

We have finally come to a point where we have wrangled down the gift giving quite a bit. Our immediate families STILL insist they get us a gift, so we have an agreed upon one from each side, instead of one from each person. My family got me pasta roller attachments so I can make pastas at home, and Mike’s side got me a pizza stone and peel so I can ramp up our homemade pizza game. As for the others, I wanted a solution. It’s so complicated explaining to 30 relatives why we don’t want gifts and then fighting their resistance against our request. It was time-consuming to make a specific list for them last Christmas, and then frustrating to find that our “bar of soap purchased without wrapping” was wrapped in cellophane with bows. I am not ungrateful, but I AM almost near hysterical. When did we all get so carried away? When did celebrations become tied to wayyyy more than just gathering together to relish in the joys of our accomplishments? Why is it so difficult to untangle people’s perceptions of what a party should look like from the actual party?

My vision of a birthday celebration includes:

+ A get together at a park (or beach, or home).

+ Sharing a meal cooked by loved ones.

+ A home-made birthday cake.

+ Sitting around a circle, telling stories or jokes.

+ Taking photos, or sharing old ones.

+ A birthday song, perhaps.

+ Hugs, kisses, and high-fives.

Not much more than that.

This year, I got a little inspiration from Mr. Money Mustache, and we found a way to do our birthday in a very Debtist way. In the past, we would dine out with our friends and families, usually at a restaurant, for our birthdays. Each person’s meal would cost $15-$25 per person. If we weren’t doing that, someone would be throwing us a party, paying $50 for a cake, the same amount for balloons, confetti and decorations that we would trash that day, and so on. I used to count how many presents I would get each year at my birthday or during Christmas, and it would always be more than 20 gifts. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a waste to have people spend ludicrous amounts of money to throw parties and give gifts, while there are people who exist and barely have any food to eat.” So, I spoke to Mike, who feels the same torture as I, and whose birthday is two weeks away from mine, and we decided to do something different this year.

We created a FEED supper instead. The idea is simple. One hosts a supper (or in our case, a brunch) where each guest makes a donation to provide meals for families in need across the country before attending the event. 100% of the FEED supper donations will provide meals to American families through Feeding America. An estimated 42 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meals are coming from. By coming together “to truly share a meal”, we can help change that.  We wrote our families and friends the following letter:

We can do a world of good.

Hi all,

For us, a simpler birthday is a more meaningful birthday. Instead of asking for gifts or inviting you guys to dine out this year, we request your help in feeding those in need! This year, we are hosting a FEED supper (erm, well, brunch…). For those who are able, we request a donation to FEED and in return, every person who makes a donation is invited to come over to our place on Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. for home-made pastries and coffee! I have gotten into quite the baking habit and Mike makes wonderful coffee selections from local coffee roasters. 

This helps to avoid stressful shopping and allows folks to focus dollars where really needed.

The best present for us is getting together with you.

It’s hard to believe that over 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We can do something to change that.

Please consider making a small donation before attending this FEED Brunch, where we can celebrate our collective impact together.  

It only takes a little to make a big difference. By giving just $10, you can provide 90 meals to American families through FEED’s domestic giving partner, Feeding America. Our goal is to raise $500, but if we go over, even better!  100% of the proceeds will go towards Feeding America. 

Learn more about FEED Supper at feedprojects.com/feedsupper

We love you, and we appreciate your help in making a difference in the world.

Sincerely,

Sam

The letter links them to a website where they can make a donation of their choice. We have also invited them over to our house for pastries and coffee on a day between our birthdays. It’s something simple, but also something Mike and I are passionate about! We are very excited to see familiar faces, not only to celebrate our birthdays, but also to celebrate our impact!

Even after all of this, we were still asked to go out on my birthday to grab food by friends and family members. It took everything I had in me to flat out decline. It’s so hard to say no because you see the disappointment in their faces and hear it in their voices. But I had to stand my ground, otherwise I would have been the unhappy one. I gave them the spiel about how I did not want to do ANY spending on my actual day of birth. I emphasized the fact that we created the event to bring awareness to the excess consumption that advertising and social media has melded with the idea of celebration. I offered alternatives, such as joining us for a hike, or a bonfire. Interestingly, no one took us up on our offers, not even my parents. My mom was insisting we go out for breakfast at Lola’s Cafe, and when I said no to that, she insisted going to Breugger’s Bagels, because it is a cheap way to celebrate. She said, “We just want to spend time with our daughter on her birthday.” But when I declined again and asked if we could hike or go to the beach instead, she said they were busy. I think doing something so mundane was not considered a celebration, even though the celebration itself is internal, no?

Anyways, yesterday ended up being a good day. After helping my patients at work, and visiting with my family for an hour after work, Mike took me on a three mile hike to circumnavigate the only natural lake in Orange County. We then went home and made pasta. He had previously picked up a Coffee, Whiskey, Peanut Brittle Ice Cream from Kansha Creamery on his way home from work Friday (in a re-usable container, off course) and we dipped into that with a week-old left-over slice of cake from my mom’s end-of-the-school-year party. It was, I think, very reflective of the things I valued and what I envision my life to really be about in the upcoming year. More importantly, it was what made me happy. It’s a slow process, and maybe people will never understand the repercussions of our extravagant, Great-Gatsby lives. At least this year, I didn’t have to contribute.

The Privilege of Everything I Talk About

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

Yesterday, I was reminiscing on the broad spectrum of topics that I address on this blog, which fall under the categories of finance, minimalism, ethical consumerism, ecofriendly habit shifts, and slow living, with occasional pesky posts spilling outside of these confines. I addressed on Instragram the difficulty with sticking to all the things that make up a whole “me”, adding a friendly reminder to always do “you”. The one thing that I did not speak aloud but which was ever present in my conscious mind was the fact that every one-way conversation I have on this site (and other platforms) has privilege written all over it.

There, I’ve said it.

Privilege is a word that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social context. When I bring up privilege in a conversation, people tend to act in a very defensive way, as if I had called them a name or said a bad word in front of the kids. They usually comment how they are not at all privileged and that they fall under a meager “middle-class” title. Do not get me wrong. I am not “wealthy” by American standards. As you all know, our net worth is negative half a million dollars, we rent a space and rely on co-housing in order to save money, we use travel rewards to travel, and our grocery budget is $50 a week. Still, I am able to say that as a middle-class U.S. citizen, I am extremely privileged.

When it comes to finances, it is apparent that I am of a well enough financial status to be able to look at my money and direct where it is going. I am able to have the access to loans in the first place to get a good education and to secure a career. I am then able to make enough to pay down the debt and to plan for a future. People around the world cannot even plan for a meal to eat tonight, let alone a safe place to “live”. Having a way to choose to budget my way towards financial freedom at a young age is something I feel very lucky to be a part of.

When it comes to minimalism, I have enough stuff that surrounding myself with only things I love requires constant re-evaluation. The problem that we face when people refuse to honor our request for no gifts on special occasions is a problem many others would embrace. The fact that we are in a constant state of de-cluttering is only a painful and embarrassing reminder to myself that there are other people in the world who would beg for these things, but to whom I cannot get access to give these things to.

When it comes to ethical consumerism, I have access to markets that are mindful with their practices in production. I have the monetary ability to support ethical companies, and I have the material excess to not support unethical ones. I am able to be selective and can choose to go without when the price is too high, or when the ethics is absent. There is a quote that states that every dollar we use to consume goods is a vote towards the world we want to see. However, I recognize the unfairness of that quote. A mother in a third world country who does not have the money to pay for an expensive, ethically-made shirt is not automatically a mother who does not want to see a better world for her child.

When it comes to eco-friendly habit shifts, I am aware of the resources needed in order to create lifestyle changes for the better of the environment in the first place. It is already difficult enough to find the resources to be eco-friendly in a well-off community of Orange County, California. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a Filipino to find sources of clean water outside of plastic bottles. As the island sinks underneath its own waste, don’t you think it has crossed their minds that this is unhealthy to the environment? And yet I ask, where do you expect them to get clean water?

When it comes to slow living, I have the space and time to reflect on ways in which I can have less in my life. I run away from having too much. I have a career that allows me time away from work in order to focus on myself. Me, me, me.

The complexities of privilege are so immense, and so conflicted, and so twisted, that it’s hard to describe exactly where each of us falls. What I know is this. If you are reading this blog, and you are trying to attempt financial freedom, or be an ethical shopper, or curb your environmental footprint, or embrace minimalism and slow living, please pause and recognize that you are of the privileged. Please use that privilege to make a difference in the world by being extremely intentional in the way you live, and the way you consume all things. Not just for the factory worker or child laboring in a far off land, but also, for the mother in your neighborhood who lives off of food stamps and does not have the extra dollars to “cast a vote for the world she wants to see.”

In writing this, I am not a martyr or a saint. The martyrs and saints are swimming in poverty, faced with disease and famine, caught in a state of war, plagued with injustice and ill-fate, and still, are trying to raise their children to be good people.

Slow Living: Slow Decision-Making on Having Children, or Not

It’s a funny thing, being married and not having children. Typically, the first question past somebody’s lips are, “Are you pregnant yet?”, regardless of their relationship to you, or lack thereof. “Yet” being the most offensive word in the entire inquiry. “Yet” as in, implying it was expected years ago. “Yet”, as in reminding every female of a biological clock ticking away in the distance. “Yet”, as if securing child-bearing as a factual part of every woman’s life, so as to rob her of freedom of choice.

We’ve had grandparents come up to us and tell us, “I want to have great-grandkids already (some of them already do, and still, their eyes turn to us)”, and our own parents saying “I want grandkids too!”. How noble of you to volunteer us for such an intensive endeavor. Sometimes I just want to tell them, in a very matter-of-fact way, that my purpose in life is not to serve them forever (oh, master), just as their calling in life is to not live through me forever (your highness).

Having children is a decision that I’ve tossed around, mulled over, succumbed to, and fought against. It’s a discussion that I’ve spilled out on the table to Mikey, and that we’ve shoved back into a closet. I have always been a very deliberate, and intentional person, who strives to have my actions reflect my values, although I was never able to recognize that before in my youth. My thinking has always been of a psychological nature. I was attracted to books that taught me more about the human nature than all my human interactions combined. Maybe that’s why I am deeply attracted to psychological thrillers, and equally, as deeply affected. I used to consider myself a secret rebel, because I had an urge to initially resist and go against whatever I was taught, with the assumption that what the world feeds me is not necessarily right. “A girl who thinks too much”, they said. I don’t think too much, I simply think. Whether that’s a short-coming on my part is debatable, one that I’d heatedly deny. Regardless, I continue to dissect my actions, my thoughts, my feelings to unfathomable depths until I reach some form of inner peace. This is just a small look into my extremely complicated, weirdo mind.

Child bearing is a concept whose importance is so heavily ingrained in a multitude of cultures, since the beginning of man-kind. There is a large part of myself that feels a resistance to the idea, despite being raised with the notion that this was my future written in stone. There was always this timeline that was assumed and impressioned on me, as I am sure it was impressioned on you. One that entails schooling, a career, marriage, a home, a new car, the first child or pet, a renovation of the home, the second child or pet, forty years of servitude to the man, and retirement on a Caribbean island. It’s a cycle that so many have lived through and wrongly romanticized, but we all don’t fit in the same shaped box that the world wishes to conform us to, do we now?

For many people, after marrying, they have this expectation of having kids as the next step. Whether they are aware of the puppet strings manipulating their decision to do that or not, it just “naturally” happens (tongue in cheek). It’s such a common assumption, that any random stranger meeting you for the first time and learning that you’re married will probably ask about your children within the first five minutes. This would occur in almost every part of the world.

It isn’t to say that having kids doesn’t turn out well. A majority of the time, it turns out wonderfully. It’s something that happens that many do not express regret over. It is, after all, a gift. Unfortunately, this does not mean that it was a decision that many people felt completely in control of. In fact, I would wager that a majority of people cannot completely explain why they chose to have kids in the first place. Answers I would typically hear include, “I wanted to experience the joys of motherhood”, “I wanted to embark on a journey with my husband”, “I want to learn from my children”, and “I wanted the challenge of raising a child right”. But these all sound like reiterations of extremely vague explanations-past that have no depth and crumble right after I ask the question, “Why?”

Some mothers immediately recognize their lack of control over the decision making process AFTER giving birth to their child. There is a line that is crossed wherein a person loses their singularity once a child is born. The unexpectedness of this loss, or the unpreparedness to understand that part of yourself (and your life) is now shared by someone else can be very depressing.

Post partum depression is increasing in occurrence among women in the United States. CDC research reports that nationally, 1 in 9 women experience post partum depression, and that some states, 1 in 5 women experience post partum depression. The cause is yet unknown and some would like to attribute it to hormonal changes, but there is no definitive truth. I took a Women’s Course once in college and I vividly remember research that argued that hormonal changes during menstruation and post partum actually cause women to have a heightened sense of awareness and a deeper connection spiritually and intuitively. In some indigenous cultures, these awakened abilities of women are so highly valued that women actually leave in groups once a month to go to the top of the mountains or in isolation somewhere to have the space to fully tap into this awareness. The class compares that to first world countries’ explanation of PMS, which could be the result of a woman’s awareness of their position or role in society, and the rage they feel at the injustice of it all. Likewise, post partum depression could be the sudden realization that they have just sacrificed a part of their lives for society. And while some may argue that hormonal changes could be the cause of depression, it is interesting to me that the risk factors and symptoms are non-hormonal at all, but rather societal.

Risk factors for Post Partum Depression Include

  • Difficulty getting pregnant.
  • Low social support.
  • Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
  • Being a teen mom.
  • Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications.
  • Having a baby who has been hospitalized.

Symptoms of Post Partum Depression Include

  • Feelings of anger.
  • Withdrawing from loved ones.
  • Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby.
  • Worrying that you will hurt the baby.
  • Feeling guilty about not being a good mom or doubting your ability to care for the baby.

This indicates to me that there is more to the depression than a scientific explanation of excessive neurochemicals floating around in one’s bloodstream. Whether it’s natural to feel our own humanness, or it’s due to a realization of an incomplete understanding of our undertaking, post partum depression at times happens but many are able to conquer it and move on to being fantastic and wonderful parents.

What I am going to say next may offend people because of my lack of experience in parenting and my statements regarding the task, but this is what I’ve observed and learned from deep discussions with current parents. Being a parent is romanticized as being a joy in life. A correction to that statement would be that it is a joy in life, at times. It cannot be denied that there are moments in parenting that are frustrating, infuriating, annoying, tiring, and downright unbearable. Raising a little human is much more difficult than raising a little fish. It requires more of ourselves than we would like to admit. It’s nice to pin on social media the good moments, the perfect family photo, the tenth photo you took that captures that “one moment” of child-like goodness, but it could also be extremely misleading to young would-be-parents to paint an image of perfection.

There is a devotion to being there for another human being that is required from all parents that I think really conflicts with my ambition to serve society with the aim of reaching a higher good. These two things are completely incompatible ends. There is going to come a point in my life, where my would-be child would likely ask me to play a game of hide-and-seek in the exact moment that I should be rushing out the door to get to work. I would have to either make a choice to play hide-and-seek without reserve or distraction for that child and be late to my first patient of the day, or to deny my child the game to see my first patient as promised. When I brought this up to Mike, he had the insight to say it could also be detrimental to both. Maybe you start the game of hide-and-seek which ends in frustration of being late and the need to end it early, thus resulting in you being a few minutes late for another human being. Now you’ve failed both the child and the patient. Which is why I am so angered by this idea of Life Work Balance that is being glamorized by the media. It’s this false lifestyle that can be really damaging to the human psyche. It’s an expectation that we have created, not only for women, but men and fathers too, that sets them up for failure. We pretend as if this can be transcended, when it can’t. It would be impossible for any human being to equally service everyone and everything at all times, day-to-day.

With that said, and with the knowledge of the human limitations for achieving SuperMom status, any devotion that I give to a fictitious child would hamper my strive to give to my community. Some might argue that you will be improving the community by raising a child right, with valued morals and principles, thus giving them the ability to contribute to THEIR community when they grow older. But isn’t that thinking a bit too much on the small-scale of things? I think I would have a greater effect on society if I could somehow touch multiple parents with my work. Whether that’s dentistry or my writing or my lifestyle. If I could influence a whole community of parents, whose child-rearing thinking, techniques and habits shift to raise a whole generation of better children, does that not make up for the one child I choose not to have? Instead of giving to one child, why not give to an entire world of children? I am not so egotistical as to think I would have this world-changing effect on society, but maybe I can change one or two or ten people through my work, who then pass it on to THEIR children, and is that not better already?

I was reading Ashlee Vance’s book on Elon Musk and an interview with Elon revealed to me that he was a huge proponent of procreation. Specifically, he reprimands smarter women for not procreating more. He notes the correlation between highly educated, career-driven, “successful and intellectual” women, and decreased child-bearing. He states that “smarter women” should have children, as an evolutionary responsibility to our race’s future. At first I was floored by this very influential and highly-educated man’s insistence on highly-educated women having children. For a second I was convinced. But then I had flashbacks from my evolutionary biology courses. Evolution is not generational. Evolution occurs over extremely long periods of time. It depends more on a mutational change that can permeate throughout the species and survive over numerous generations. Unless there is a mutational change that would make a smart woman’s child smarter than a regular human being, there is an unlikelihood that her having children will have an impact in the evolutionary progression of intelligence. Additionally, even if an intelligent woman has a child who is also more intelligent than his peers, there has to be the guarantee that that child will procreate with an equally intelligent human being. If the child procreates with someone with a lower IQ score, then there is no progress. There are other factors that could affect evolutionary intelligence. The technology which we are creating, at an increasingly rapid speed, is causing us as a species to access less and less of our brains. Atrophy of certain aspects of the brain due to an easier lifestyle can affect evolutionary intelligence more than the decision of one woman to have a child. Even something as simple as reading books, which was invented way before computers, is considered a fairly recent advancement in our society that arguably require us to draw less from niches in our brains that deal with imagination or memory.

Lastly, I would like to challenge the idea that intelligence is measured solely by biological factors. It has been discovered that IQ tests do not test intelligence alone, but rather motivation as well, which I would argue can be taught. Environmental factors can greatly shape a person’s motivation to learn. It would be wrongly assuming of anyone to think that a highly educated woman’s child will be born smarter than a child born in a third world country to two parents who work in factories. It has been shown time and time again that people from third world countries tend to tap into their potentials more than people from first world countries, given the same resources. Perhaps it is the survival-of-the-fittest in us all and an early introduction to how pressing the survival call actually is during our childhood years that help to shape this. Regardless, I think to myself at times, that maybe the smarter thing to do would be to not have children, but to give a child in need the resources and the ability to be able to reach their hidden potential.

I think this humanitarian ideal calls more to me now than ever before. There are plenty of children in this world already. I am one of those children who was born in a third world country. I have done outreach programs to third world countries multiple times in my life. I know that there is a need for help. Nicole Kidman’s role as Sue Brierly in Lion captured it best.

“Having a child, couldn’t guarantee it will make anything better. But to take a child that’s suffering like you boys were. Give you a chance in the world. That’s something.

I think about this quote all the time. I wonder about whether wanting children is a selfish thing. Historically, having children came from a selfish need to increase the number of hands on a farm, or a need to carry the family name that we so wear with pride. The more modern reasons for wanting children that I touched on above all insinuate a sense of selfish pleasure out of the entire experience. It would be wrong of me to say that having children is just yet another social status symbol that we portray to the world, saying we are successful and happy, although partially, I believe that is true. Congratulations, yet another box you’ve checked off on your to-do list! Off course, I wouldn’t deny in the same breath that there is more to it than that. But the reasons that I hear always center around “I”. “I wanted to experience the joys of motherhood”. “I wanted to embark on a journey with my husband”. “I want to learn from my children”. “I wanted the challenge of raising a child right”.

But what is it that we want to give? And can we do that with what we already have?

The game plan for me was always to have children of my own. But it’s on pause right now, while I try to riddle through past influences and determine whether that choice was really made by me, or by someone else. This is just the transitional phase, and as with any transitional phase, it involves some heavy soul-searching, unearthing, and re-configuring. Undoubtedly, it would be insane of me, and completely degrading, if I decide to have children simply because someone else wants me to. Then again, people will call me insane for digging this deeply on a decision that some would unwittingly make in a heartbeat. There is a sense of “Hurry up already!” that we feel, like a scent seeping into a room. But as with everything else … slow and intentional, mindful and true.

Freedom: Why I Choose to Stay Part Time

When I first graduated from dental school, I imagined myself working as many days as possible at multiple offices to lead a “successful” and rich lifestyle. The goals were like any other typical goals, pay down student debt, buy a huge house in Southern California, travel the world, buy nice things to fill the house, start a family and raise children, etc. I wasn’t quite as intentional back then with my lifestyle as I am now, as you can probably tell. But I was ready to enter the workforce and “getter done”. After so much schooling, I felt like I was behind everyone else and I needed some catching up to do.

So how did I end up here?

The first person who ever suggested I work part-time was my financial advisor. We had just met and we were delving into what our goals were for the future and what our ideal lifestyle model would be like. When I rushed headlong into my ideas of working 6 days a week at multiple offices, for the rest of my life until I retire at past 65, he stopped me then and there and asked me to consider an alternative. Burnout is a prevalent result in dentistry. Due to the high stresses of the job, a majority of dentists experience burnout at an earlier age than they would like, which causes them to either cut down significantly on the days they work or quit dentistry all-together. My financial advisor, who deals with mostly newly graduated dentists, have seen time and time again, young new grads quitting dentistry a few years out of school. Despite my whole-hearted belief that this could never happen to me, he highly recommended that I limit myself to only four or five days a week. Long-term, he says that that would be most conducive to the lifestyle that me and Mike were trying to live. Off course, with anything anyone says to me, I took it with a grain of salt, but was still slightly stubborn in my ways. I had barely started work at that time, and was really feeling professionally driven. To me, I have watched my parents before me, and my friends around me, work the usual 9-5, Monday to Friday every week, and I (arrogantly, pompously, and ignorantly) assumed that I was more capable than that. I felt like I could take on the whole world at that point in life. We all feel like superheroes when we are young and naive.

And maybe we could, but does it mean that we should? The second person who insisted I work part-time was my boss. A little back story on where I work and my relationship with my boss. I started working at an office five minutes from my house at the age of 19 years old. I was a volunteer at first, but the office manager (who happened to be the wife of the dentist who owned the practice), saw my drive and interest and decided to train me from scratch to be a dental assistant. She paid for my x-ray licensing exams, bought me scrubs, set up one-on-one training sessions with the dental assistants, etc., etc. She basically became my second mother and took me by the hand and showed me the ropes. She held a lot of belief in me and I grew confidence and independence under her wing. She saw my love for writing, and actually had me write the entire website for the office from scratch. Every single written word on that site was mine, and I became so proud of it. She was very trusting, patient, and just all-together generous with her time. Eventually, I started working as a dental assistant on the IV sedation team, which was being run by the owner of the practice. He, too, had the same generosity as his wife, and shared so much knowledge, tips, and advice. I knew I wanted to be a dentist since I was eight years old, but I did not come to love dentistry until I worked with them at this office. These two people became my second parents, and did as fantastic a job as my first (real) parents in raising me to find my self-worth, as well as instilling in me the core need to put others first when it comes to doing dental work. When I graduated dental school, I reached out to them and they made room for me in their two practices to start my journey. Again, they’ve trusted in my abilities, although I do not know what they ever see in me, but I hold a lot of respect and feel a lot of gratitude towards these two people. They are the type to hold the best interests of those around them to heart, and I trust them fully and hold their opinions quite highly.

So when I started working with my boss and he asked me how many days I hoped to work, again I said 6 days a week. He looked at me kind of funny, as if seeing his former, younger self with the same fire in my eyes, shook his head, and then said to me, “You don’t want to work six days a week. It’ll burn you out. You’ll feel too tired to think and then you will make mistakes, and then you will feel less and less confident. Plus it wouldn’t be giving your best standard of care to your patients. In fact, I don’t want you working six days a week.” I was kind of surprised, but at the same time, I recalled my financial advisor saying the same thing and I said, “Okay.”

Initially he gave me three days a week, and then he bumped it up to four days a week, and then five days every other week. But I think he saw that I was looking for more. When one of the doctors at one of the offices left to fulfill her own dental dreams, he had me cover for her until he hired a new doctor, which then had me working six days every other week, and five days every other week. I was so excited for the chance, I jumped at it and went to town. I worked so much, and though I loved my job and went to work every day with a smile on my face (and, more importantly, left work every day with a smile on my face), I started to see what he meant. Burn out is a real thing, and although you may not feel it, it IS reflected in one way or another. Perhaps it is in your work, or the way you treat others. I started to lose that time that I used to take with my patients, and I was practicing more of an in-and-out type dentistry. The Hi- Let’s get to work – Bye! It wasn’t just dentistry either. I started to bring that home with me, relishing the space that I needed for myself, and taking away from the time I should have given to Mike and my family and friends. It only lasted a month or two before we hired a new doctor that fit well with our practice. But I saw what I needed to see, which was this.

You cannot take care of other people if you do not take care of yourself first. My job is built around helping others, whether that’s helping them out of pain, helping them feel confident with their smile, helping them learn about hygiene techniques that will prevent future disease, or just helping them understand more about teeth. I entered dentistry for this aspect of it, and to detract from my ability to help others to a high level of standard is selfish and wrong, especially when the driving force is money. Luckily, I also found a shift in my “needs and wants” in life, and I realized that I don’t need the money as bad as I thought. Sure, I still have bills to pay and loans to be free from. But I also used to spend on things that were simply wasteful. I cut that out and found that I do have the time, and space, to give to myself, before I give unto others.

My brother once asked me why I did not work more if I was so concerned about paying off my student loans really quickly. Fair question, since that’s all I seemingly preach. My answer is this. The reason why I want to pay off student debt quickly is not so I can be rich quicker. It’s so I can be free. If working more days now is required to get rid of the debt quicker, then all I am doing is trading freedom now for freedom later. The result of that trade would be a worn down, energetically deprived me, who would get less out of life in my earlier years than if I were to continue at a more moderate pace. The truth is, I just don’t think the trade is worth it. If freedom is what you seek, then there is no need to get more freedom in exchange for freedom. I think it all comes down to the question, “What do you value?” To be able to answer that question requires a lot of deep soul searching that I am not completely sure is even complete yet. But so far, I’ve come to the conclusion that things I value include aspects of life that cannot be found in the workplace. I value space – for a reset, to be mindful, to be open and to think clearly. I value health, which is prolonged by the avoidance of stressors and physical ailments via static postures. Speaking of stasis, I value trying to avoid stasis in all aspects, by always learning something new. I find that if I was at work all the time, I would not have the space or time to learn new things, which would be a shame, since I also value creativity and self-expression. Lastly, I value taking care of people, and it’s easy to forget that we are people too.

In 2017, I worked an average of 3 days a week. It’s almost laughable, that a young, arguably driven dentist, would work less than half of the year. Even though I worked alternating 4 and 5 day weeks, and a few months of 5 and 6 day weeks, I took multiple long vacations, some as long as 2-3 weeks. I no longer seek to fill my time solely with work. I am more mindful about drawing boundaries and really saying no in order to have the space to increase my own self-worth. I aim to learn new things about the world, and where my place lies in it. The time off has given me a better understanding as to why I do things the way I do and how I could live life in a way that is better for the planet and for the people. More importantly, I am able to implement that change. It’s not just all talk, but I actually get to experiment with different lifestyles and really DO. I spend a majority of my weekends solely with family members and friends, because I have my own weekdays off where I can spend it on myself. I like that I don’t have to detract from other people’s time. Time is like any other resource we have. Like money, if you have an excess amount of time, you are more likely to be liberal in giving it away to others. If you have little time, then you will be more stingy with it, wanting to keep it for yourself. Now I know that time is a better thing to earn than money. Off course, I could go out there and find other offices to work at on my days off, but honestly, I have come to realize the value of working part time. What started as a recommendation by my financial planner and a command by my boss has become an autonomous choice to choose freedom above all else. I wouldn’t trade the peace and happiness that I’ve found for a house, or a new car. Would you?