I am thirty, and I have still yet to own a couch of my choosing. Every couch that has permeated my living space has either been already provided by previous tenants or handed down to me by someone I know. What does that say about me, exactly?
While it is quite obvious that our personal successes are not defined by an ability to own a couch, I think it is implied that a medical professional of thirty would have been able to afford one by now. But buying a couch is no easy thing. In fact, buying ANYTHING for me is never an easy thing these days. The entire process involves a hefty amount of serious pondering and a mild case of deep-skin writhing.
In this line of work, I am approached by others in general for my thoughts on stuff. In a sense, my job here is to help make a value judgement. I am presented with the following questions: Who made it? How is it made? Where is it made? What materials are used? Why is it necessary? Which option is best, in terms of sustainability both in terms of the environment, the social implications, the global effects, and least importantly, my personal repercussions. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a matcha whisk, or a set of pajamas. It’s even more pressure on large scale purchases, such as a brand new couch.
I have been in search for a sustainable couch for years. Ever since my husband (then-fiance) and I moved into our own place two months after I graduated dental school in 2016. Specifically, I have looked for a couch wherein I can trace exactly where it was made, whose hands were used to make them, and in what environmental conditions. I have yet to find one that comes close. Most furniture companies don’t even bother to tag couches as sustainable, and those that do only involve a small level of sustainability (like using reclaimed wood without any consideration for the fabrics of the upholstery) that I cannot even take them seriously.
So then I started to reach out to acquaintances about possibly fabricating a couch. Our favorite piece of furniture in our home is a 12 foot dining table hand-made by the two girls who provided our wedding furniture. We thought maybe we could do the same with the couch. I reached out to a fellow wood-worker-baker and an at-home clothing seamstress to ask about making a sustainable wood frame and sourcing end-of-the-mill fabrics. But sourcing the fabric will take lots of work researching jobbers and the wood-worker friend was busy with current projects as well as a baking schedule. It wasn’t the path to take.
So we turned to the next sustainable option, which is to buy a used and unwanted couch from Craigslist, which would prevent an additional item from entering a landfill. I know that it would put us in the same spot as before, owning a couch that’s a hand-me-down of sorts, but at least it would be a couch of our choosing. When we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at a really nice AirBNB, and we fell in love with a mid-century modern couch in their living room.
I was surprised to find a similar couch made by West Elm selling at Craigslist for $800. The same couch is still selling at West Elm for double the price. While West Elm sells some sustainable products, couches are unfortunately not one of them. But sustainability as defined by environmental impact is achieved with this option, and the fact that it was already owned means the buying of this Craigslist couch does not have an ADDITIONAL social impact or global effect, except for the positive effect of side swiping it from the landfill. So where’s the hitch?
It all came down to sustainability as defined by my personal life. $800 is no chump change. Maybe in proportion to brand new couches (why do they cost so much?) $800 seems like a steal. Perhaps it is. But in terms of my personal financial goals, $800 is almost double what we set aside each month for travel. $800 is almost three months worth of groceries, or eight months worth of dining out. $800 is a year’s worth of cat food for Theo, and probably all the Christmas and birthday presents we want to buy. It is one-third of our portion of the mortgage, which is helping us build equity – can a couch do that? It is 12% of our monthly loan payment, which is buying us freedom. How much freedom can a couch buy you?
In the end, we chose the most sustainable couch, which is the couch we already had. It buys us freedom from the cycle of continually searching for something better. It helps build us equity by not taking way from our ability to build equity. It fuels our financial goals, without taking away from our time. In the end, it came down to the answer of not which couch is best, but which couch is good enough. That’s what sustainability is all about.
I sometimes wonder how well these superlatives, and our quest for the best of something, end up serving us. What about the possibility of replacing better or best with good enough? The reality of my own day-to-day life is that living simply and keeping a pared down collection of well-loved items often isn’t about having the best. It’s about making the best of what I already have.
Like Erin, we search for ways to make the best of what we have. It’s the ultimate way to live without forever needing to chase. In our space, we have shades where walls should be, wooden panels where doors should be, and a bed where some might put a living room. But it ISenough, and there we still sleep soundly.
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As thirty days of escrow continue to creep on by, I can’t help but daydream about all the fun we are going to have in our new place. Off course, not all at once and definitely not right away. Buying a home doesn’t completely absolve us of all other responsibilities! No, we’ll be making the home feel more like OUR home at a s-l-o-w pace, as if that wasn’t already expected. No need to rush in, all foolhardy. But for now, a girl can dream.
Currently, the obsession lies with the bathroom, specifically the one upstairs. It will likely be the first room that we plan a renovation for, with the hopes of tackling it sometime next year. Why not right away? Because we believe in YNAB budgeting and maintaining a healthy balance between student loans and property ownership. Because we recognize that renovating any space is a WANT and not a NEED. Because sometimes, you just have to live with the selections of the previous homeowner, and still be grateful there’s a roof over your head, you know? Not in dire need of anything at all, the reno can wait, but my thoughts have a mind of their own. In an effort to source things ethically, here are a few products that I am playing pretend with. All products are either Fair Trade Certified, organically made, solutions for sustainable living, or have a social impact in third world countries. Some of them check off more than one box, too.
+ For clean butts and minimalist styles – Tushy Bidet – I’ve written about a history of not using toilet paper until I was in my teens, here. Plus, friends rave about bidet living and I am pretty much ready to go back to a zero toilet paper life. For now, Who Gives A Crap has my back. But I still dream of a bidet for the sake of reducing my carbon buttprint. The US spends $6 billion on toilet paper alone. That crap is unsustainable. Additionally, in an effort to fight the Global Sanitation Crisis, Tushy has partnered with Samagra and has helped provide clean latrines for over 10,000 families. If you’re interested too, get 25% OFF all original Tushy bidets here! Plus, get Tushy towels for ONLY $5 with the purchase of any bidet. Ends 9/30.
+ For drying off after five-minute showers – Coyuchi Towels – Fair Trade Certified and GOTS certified, these are loomed in India using organic cotton. For a no frills towel, I am looking at these guys, specifically in the slate color.
+ For keeping puddles off the floor – Coyuchi Rug – A matching mosaic canyon bath rug, off course! Organic cotton and hand-woven, also in Slate. Why this infatuation with Coyuchi? Let me count the ways…
+ For vanity above the vanities – The Citizenry Provdencia Mirror – Two matching mirrors over the vanity sinks. You’ve likely heard about The Citizenry by now, but these mirrors hold a special place in my heart. These mirrors were designed by Cristobal and Valentine, a husband and wife duo that lives in Santiago, Chile, and did you know that I, too, lived in Santiago, Chile for a bit? Citizenry gives people access to a market that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and in a fair trade working environment, these mirrors brought together multiple artisans from multiple backgrounds, such as glass, stone-cutting, and wood working. I want to support people from the city I once lived.
+ For the clothes that served us – The Citizenry Hamper – Hand–crafted from locally sourced palm leaves by master artisans in Guerrero, Mexico. Each basket takes three days to complete, from start to finish in a fair trade working environment.
+ To cover up – Ty Shower Curtain – A simple recyclable shower curtain made of #2 plastic material. Unlike other vinyl showers, it does not off-gas and it breathes, making it less likely to grow mildew or mold. Ty is made of 100% HDPE, one of the most common recyclable plastics and is PVC free. At the end of Ty’s life, you may recycle it locally or send it back to Grain to do the recycling. For the artistic, they also sell a customizable version here.
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My height is officially 5 foot 1 inch. I have been this tall since I was a freshman in high school. You could say I peaked at 14 years old. No growth spurts ever visited me again (I am not sure if they ever did to begin with). At around this age, I was learning about super models, reading magazines, watching Project Runway, and working for clothing companies as a style specialist who dressed mannequins that were 5 foot 8 inches tall. The concensus was universal and the messaging was definitive: Taller girls are prettier. Taller girls are more desirable. Clothes are made for taller girls.
As young as sixteen years old, I started experimenting with making myself appear, or actually be, taller. I fitted my tiny feet into even tinier high-heeled shoes and walked around everywhere in them. I wore them to high school, and ran in them occasionally in order to get to my next class on time. I remember returning home with bruised feet and pounding heels. I wore them to work as an eighteen year old, climbing ladders as I made the window displays of my retail store pretty, dressing and undressing those towering mannequins. Even with heels on, I barely reached their shoulders.
When I met my husband in college, I started wearing 4-5 inch wedges, with the desperate desire to get anywhere near to his 6 foot 3 inches frame. Obviously, I was never close. But it was a booster to my self-esteem.
To this day, I thank providence that my husband was the person I ended up meeting. A very simple man, he never noticed things of vanity and outward appearances. After eight years of being together, he still can’t tell the difference between when I wear make-up and when I don’t. He won’t realize that I’ve chopped my hair, unless I’ve already told him before-hand. To be fair, he has pointed out time and again that I don’t realize when he’s shaved off three weeks worth of beard, either. All of this to say that he has taught me the lack of importance of outward appearances.
I remember when we first started dating, I became overly obsessed with stocking up on very tall shoes. I asked for them for birthdays and Christmases. One particular Christmas, I even requested he buy me these ridiculous, tall and spikey Sam Edelman heels, which sell for $200 a pair. Ugh, the joys of being naïve, and the qualms of being reckless. But he just didn’t understand it. I think the only reason he noticed that I was wearing towering heels was because I was struggling to keep up, stumbling on cracks on the sidewalk, and scurrying in small, calculated steps. He kept asking me, “Why do you do this to yourself?”, pointing out the impracticalities as well as the dangers of walking on stilts. But I was convinced that walking stilts gave you power, that being taller made you more covetable. Reinforced by other women’s oohs and aahs at my pretty shoes, this is what I continued to believe. I think the best part in all of this was his apathy towards whatever I chose to wear. Equally so, his apathy to whatever HE chose to wear. Over time, I realized that neither he nor I used appearances to measure a person’s worth. So why were they so important to me?
It took me eight years, but I can finally say that I have outgrown that misconception that heels make you beautiful. Or that they’re attractive at all. Looking back, there was nothing attractive in the way I tip-toed to class, the way I looked down all the time at where I was going to step next, or the way I tripped, twisted ankles, or stumbled. I have given away all of my very tall shoes. I still have heels for those special occasions, but we are talking one to two inches, and few and far between. I have replaced my favorite brands with more subtler types. I embrace shoes that are more empowering in their ability to get me through a busy day. Off course, I have written extensively about how the majority of my shoe collection consists of Nisolos, because they have a curated collection that does just that.
For those interested in curating their own closets and replacing their shoes with ones of practicality and durability, this week marks Nisolo’s Annual Summer Sale, their largest sale of the year. Products for both men and women will be marked down 30-50%. Additionally, they are giving an additional 10% OFF sale styles to The Debtist Readers, when you use the code DEBTIST10 at check out. The sale and this offer is valid from 7/23/18 to 7/27/18. If you would like to receive more offers such as this, sign up for the newsletter below, where you will also get posts delivered straight to your inbox!
My hope is that when we talk to young girls in future generations, we refrain from complimenting them on how cute they look, or how pretty their dresses are. Instead of saying these things, we should be complimenting them on their character. I imagine a world where we say, instead, “How kind that was for you to share with your friend”, or “how brave you are for trying something new.” We compliment them too much on how they appear, rather than how they are. Instead of putting the emphasis on appearances, we should reward them for their actions.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number.
How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?
John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.
What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?
Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.
I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?
Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.
The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.
We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.
I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?
Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!
Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?
I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!
Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?
To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.
Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.
Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?
Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.
Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.
How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?
We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.
What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?
Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!
How do you guys overcome difficult times?
Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.
How do you unwind and refresh?
Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.
What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?
Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.
One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.
If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?
Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂
Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back.