Finding Beauty in Simplicity

Ever since the start of the new year, I have felt a strong desire to simplify my life–by life, I mainly mean my environment, but it extends to other facets as well.  I have always been, regrettably, somewhat of a materialist. I like buying and owning things, especially nice things. Since I started my first real job out of college about a year and a half ago, I have managed to accumulate an incredible amount of clothes, shoes, make-up, skincare, and other miscellaneous items for the apartment. Some of these things I continue to value, but to be honest with myself, I could have done without half of them.

The act of buying things with my own, hard-earned money was almost exhilarating in the beginning. I was, for the first time, financially independent. School hadn’t prepared me for that, so I learned how to handle money my own way. More than that, I truly believed that I needed all these things; my professional job justified the $50 blouses from Zara, when in reality my supervisors don’t really care what I wear so long as I don’t look like a hooligan. My biggest indulgence was my personal trainer–I think I purchased 30 sessions before coming to terms with the fact that I had bit off more debt than I could chew.

In the past month or so, I have made a conscious effort to cut down on spending and de-clutter my life. I have scrutinized my closet with a critical eye and dropped off several bags of unused or outdated items at Goodwill. I organized all my make-up and skincare and threw out old products that weren’t quite empty, but I knew I’d never finish. I tackled the 2 most cluttered surfaces of the apartment, the dining table and coffee table, and dumped all the non-discardable items into one decorative basket, which I then tucked away in a corner, keeping the clutter out of sight and out of mind. Last weekend, I cleaned the apartment more thoroughly than it has ever been cleaned and made a vow to dedicate more time to cleaning every weekend. And so on.

Maybe I’m weird, but the act of de-cluttering and simplifying my life has felt almost euphoric. It certainly beats the temporary highs of making a purchase and opening a new package. It’s an ongoing process, and I’m continuing to find items to get rid of or downsize. When I consider a new purchase, I pause to think about where the item will be stored, or what it’s going to replace. The latter is a good rule to live by; rather than simply accruing new things, I’m aiming to replace the things I have for something better, whether it’s more visually appealing, higher quality, or more practical. In all, it’s been a solid start to 2018 in this household.

How Being Impulsive Has Worked In My Favor

Impulsivity isn’t exactly considered a positive trait. It’s certainly not a quality you would boast about in a job interview, for example. In fact, when taken to the extreme, impulsive tendencies are characteristic of various mental illnesses, including borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. Children are by nature more impulsive than adults because their frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for functions such as decision-making and inhibition, is still developing. As we age, we become more rational and learn to take better control over our actions.

Of course, everyone continues to act on impulse throughout their lifetime. We’re not robots, after all. We may recognize an act as risky, unwise, or even distasteful, but we proceed with it nonetheless, typically in pursuit of some reward. Learning to check your impulses can be a lifelong struggle. Sometimes the rewards are worth it, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the outcome is impossible to predict.

I consider myself to be a fairly sensible and cautious person. I’m sure any of my friends would back me up on that. And yet, I’m prone to making rather impulsive decisions. Now, I’m still pretty young so I don’t have a wealth of experience to draw on, but I want to make a case for why impulsivity, in moderation, can be a good thing. Below I will describe three major impulsive decisions I made in recent years that worked out to my benefit.

1. The gap year

A surf day in Costa Rica

I will probably write a more detailed post or two about this experience at some point, but for now I’ll try to keep it brief and to the point. Freshman year of college was a rough time for me. I had been rejected from almost every college I applied for and ended up “settling” for the liberal arts school both my dad and sister attended. It is actually an excellent school but I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there–I was certain I had only been accepted because of my family legacy. Suffice to say, I started out with low self-esteem and low expectations for myself, which carried over into both my academic performance and my social life. Meanwhile, I struggled to maintain an unhealthy long-distance relationship with my summer fling, which eventually combusted right before my Spring finals.

I returned home that summer miserable and heartbroken. I dreaded returning to school in the Fall so I simply decided not to. In the course of one day, I found a gap year program in Costa Rica, got my parents’ permission, and emailed a request for a personal leave of absence to the Dean of Students, who granted it almost immediately and without question. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I requested an entire year, rather than a semester, which was the length of the program I found. I didn’t know what I would do during the rest of the year, but I wasn’t worried about it. I had time to figure it out.

Taking a gap year is probably the best decision I’ve ever made for myself. I ended up working for three months, spending three months in Costa Rica, working another three months, then traveling around Europe for three months. In all, it was one year well-spent–a perfect balance of work and pleasure. That’s not to say it was a perfect year and the traveling was all pleasurable; there were stressful moments, times that I questioned my decisions, strained relationships, or worried about judgment from others, namely future employers. But I returned to college feeling refreshed and energized. I made new friends, entered into a relationship with my current boyfriend, and excelled at my coursework. My old demons didn’t disappear, but they were repressed, which was enough to make the experience worthwhile.

2. Traveling alone in Europe

Beautiful Prague, captured with my crappy phone camera

Ok, so impulsive decision #2 is part of impulsive decision #1, which feels like cheating, but as I said, short lifespan and few experiences. I mentioned above that I spent a few months in Europe, which did take some planning and a lot of convincing my parents, who understandably weren’t keen on me gallivanting around Europe alone. I was a nineteen-year-old girl, after all, who had just (impulsively) dyed her hair bright blonde with pink streaks. I was going to stick out like a sore thumb in Spain, where I was headed first. To appease my parents, I signed up for Spanish language courses in Sevilla through a program that provided shared apartment-style housing with other students. I attended the program for 4 weeks, then made the impulsive decision to backpack around Eastern Europe with a young man (I’ll call him Peter*) I met at the language school.

I didn’t have a backpack with me–just a suitcase and large, vintage handbag. I have some less-than-fond memories of lugging my baggage through narrow, cobbled streets, uphill and downhill, and on dirt roads in the rain. Apart from that, I was a proper backpacker, traveling economically by train and bus and staying at hostels. I felt comfortable with Peter, who confided in me on our first night in Prague that he was gay. We essentially planned our trip day-by-day. It was the most spontaneous thing I had ever done, a bizarre but welcome contrast to my ordered lifestyle.

You might say I wasn’t really alone in Europe, but that’s not entirely true and not really the point. I did actually spend a week completely alone in Paris, where I stayed in an Airbnb studio apartment. Peter and I also didn’t spend every waking hour together during our trip. Even though I was around other people, at the end of the day, I was alone, far from my friends and family with no cell service and little Internet. It was a strange but fulfilling time, and I’m grateful for every moment.

*I don’t have anything bad or incriminating to say about Peter that would warrant a fake name, but I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s privacy.

3. Adopting two kittens

Willie (left) and Luca

On August 8, 2016, the day I signed the lease for my first-ever apartment, my 1-year-old cat Luna was put to sleep. She was severely anemic, and by the time I found out, it was too late to help her. I never did find out what caused her anemia. She had been sick on-and-off all of her short life, but still I was completely blindsided.

For the first few weeks following her death, replacing her seemed out of the question. Not only did it feel wrong somehow, but her care had been very costly and stressful with frequent vet visits. I wasn’t eager to take on that burden again. Gradually, I warmed up to the idea of adopting a healthy adult cat in need of a home. I actually made an arrangement through a co-worker to adopt an orange cat that was being given up to make room for a baby, but the owner backed out at the last minute.

One day, my housemate and I wandered into a pet store in our neighborhood that was hosting an adoption event with Brooklyn Animal Action, a foster organization. My housemate and I lingered at the event for a while, ooh-ing and ah-ing at all the cute kitties. We had no intention of bringing a cat home that day, let alone two kittens! We were talked into fostering one of the kittens, named Willie, who was about 8 weeks old. As we were filling out the paperwork, we were informed that we weren’t allowed to separate kittens at that age–so we brought home Willie and his brother, Luca. Needless to say, my housemate and I fell in love with them and officially adopted them a couple weeks later, right around Thanksgiving. They have grown into the sweetest and silliest cats, and I have zero regrets.


I’d like to acknowledge that impulsive decisions haven’t always worked in my favor (hello, shopping sprees), but they have for the most part. There’s something liberating about going with your gut and making a decision on the fly. I’m a terribly indecisive person, and I often wonder if I should spend less time thinking and more time doing. Of course, once you’re a working adult with very real responsibilities, making a spontaneous, indefinite trip abroad poses a greater risk than it did in your youth. I also understand that the actions I describe above require a degree of privilege. But perhaps we could all benefit from embracing our free will and taking a little risk now and then.

Why I’m Here & Where I’m Going

IMG_6743For my first blog post, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect briefly on how my experiences in the past year or so have led up to this moment. I’m writing now from the comfort of my parents’ beautiful home in Monterey, California, almost 3,000 miles away from the responsibilities I temporarily abandoned in New York City. My job, my boyfriend, my apartment, my 2 cats, are all, for the moment, far out of sight, although certainly not out of mind.

About a month ago, I made a rather impulsive decision to book a flight to California, even though it meant using up the last of my meager vacation time and vexing my boss. I was able to book the flight through my credit card rewards program, which made it essentially free and impossible to resist. My reason for coming out here? I guess I was a bit desperate for an escape of sorts–I saw an opportunity in the form of Labor Day weekend, and I seized it.

All-in-all, the 16 months that I’ve lived in NYC have been pretty solid–there have been both momentous ups (becoming financially independent; moving into my first apartment) and downs (namely the tragic and unexpected death of my kitten, Luna). I have a loving boyfriend, 2 sweet cats (whom I adopted to help fill the horrible gap left by Luna), a decrepit yet livable apartment in a nice Brooklyn neighborhood, and a steady income. Yet something is missing. I don’t feel fulfilled. My job is uninspiring, and when I think about how much time I spend on my commute each week (about 10 hours), my head starts to whirl.

But I didn’t create this blog as a place to vent and complain, although I do believe there is some value in sharing your frustrations with others and letting off steam. I created this blog because I need an outlet to share my ideas and inspiration. Despite feeling stifled by the day-to-day grind, I always take time to dream and imagine–if I didn’t, I’d go crazy. I want to take these dreams and imaginings–about fashion, beauty, art, travel, lifestyle–and create something. So here I am.

The name “Steph of the Sea” popped into my head sort of spontaneously, as many of my ideas tend to do, and just stuck. My reasoning behind it, to quote a line from my personal diary from September, 2013, is quite simple: “The ocean is the source of all life, and it is the source of all my inspiration.”