During the holiday season, many are compelled to participate in a cycle of relentless mall-hopping and late night online-scrolling. Those tasks put a severe strain on both health and finances. Before you pull your hair out, trying not to suffocate amidst a sea of shoppers, take a look at these alternatives to traditional Christmas presents.


Don't think of food as a table filled with platters holding a variety of sweet and savory options. Think small. Is there a particular dish that means a lot to someone in your life? Food is impactful and cost-efficient. Baking your partner's favorite dessert from scratch is more meaningful and well thought out than a pricy golf set. Perhaps, having a cook-off with neighbors might spark some joy in a dreary household. Holding an impromptu friendmas gathering before everyone flies off to see family is a genuine way to show generosity, rather than painfully striving to out-gift each other.

Edibles nourish our bodies and lift our spirits in so many ways. Food is built into societal norms as a reason for gathering, as well as an expression of recognition, affection and unity. Moms heal and comfort their sick children with chicken noodle soup. Co-workers toast champagne in recognition of someone's recent promotion. Sharing a decadent chocolate soufflé on a first date is enough to ignite a romantic spark.

From childhood, our senses are conditioned to associate elaborately garnished pastries served during gatherings with a cause for celebration. Evidence shows that mankind has gathered in groups to partake in communal meals for 500,000 years (NatGeo article). Food plays a big part as an incentive to form communities but it also enhances relationships among members of a particular pack.

Eating is a multi-sensory experience. Precious memories echo clearly in our thoughts as if they just happened yesterday because of the tastes, smells, sights and sounds. Eye-catching intricate cake piping, the sweet aftertaste of hot chocolate still tickling your tastebuds, each play are part in enriching a memory, as well as  in strengthening human bonds (Huffington Post article).


Do you know a Potterhead who deserves a ride on the Hogwarts Express? You might enjoy it as much as they will. Experiences last longer in our memories. Things break, wear out, go out of style and eventually stop working. Collecting stuff or adding to other people's pile merely contributes to the stresses of everyday life. You'll be surprised at how much fun you can have getting in a snowball fight with friends or taking someone special to a fireworks show. Experiences have an immeasurable long-term effect on us. We forget that the holidays is all about procuring life's joyful moments.

Shared experiences are powerful binding forces that sprout out life-long connections and strengthen existing ones. This is best illustrated by studies done on soldiers deployed for battle (ZME Science article). Nearly half of those surveyed (45%) claim to feel closer to their military brothers than their biological families. This illustrates how going through an uncommon journey with someone establishes enduring ties and reinforces human connections.

Orchestrating an event or activity with someone is a lot of fun and doesn't have to be tedious or pricy. Coordinating a Harry Potter movie marathon doesn't cost much but it generates a whole lot of enjoyment. Find out whose live-streaming subscription has the films. Bring a few bags of microwave popcorn. Just like that, you're ready to relive the magic.

If you were to rummage through your closet of holiday memories, the ones that stand out involve events and activities rather than material acquisitions. Most people will remember a multitude of embarrassing moments from a road trip embarked on decades ago. Few will recall the color of the dress they got for Christmas last year. As we all age, intangibles grow in value while physical gifts tend to wane in importance.


This is possibly the most overlooked and undervalued commodity of all. Author Joshua Fields Millburn, shares his biggest regret in his documentary, The Minimalists. He spent his early adult life climbing the corporate ladder while neglecting loved ones along the way. A single voicemail from his mom changed it all. She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and had a short time left to live. Millburn became a minimalist upon realizing that time should be spent with people and not on amassing wealth and accolades. Do you have a relative or friend that you haven't spoken to this busy Christmas season? Give them a call and ask how they are doing.

Don't waste the holidays in malls or parking lots. Spend time with the people you care about. It doesn't have to be extravagant or expensive. Snuggling in bed or having a chat by the fireplace costs nothing but the memories they create are priceless.

Photos by Henry Be, Dmitry Sovyak and Simon Matzinger



Try staring at a red screen for as long as you can without blinking. Now, quickly switch to a white screen. Do you see a flash of blue?

Staring at a red screen causes the photoreceptor cells that perceive the color red to become overworked and weak. Once you switch to a white screen, you are left seeing its complement (blue) because the cells that detect red are still recovering. This is called cone fatigue.

There's a lot more to color than what meets the eye, as illustrated by this activity. The ability to see various shades of light has influenced the way we live in so many ways. Throughout the centuries, color has shaped cultural norms, societal structure and even served as emblems for ideological movements.

Color is more than a can of paint or a tiny pixel on a laptop screen. Choosing the right hue can liven the ambiance of a dinner party or convince someone to hire you. These easy to follow guidelines can help paint a vivid picture of what you want your life to be.
Wearing multiple shades of the same color creates an elegant and understated look. A monochromatic color scheme is very fitting in a work or business setting. This color harmony minimizes distractions and lets your personality and eloquence shine through. The popular technique garners compliments by simulating an aura of professionalism. It makes any outfit or decor look like it's been put together by a stylist or designer. In reality, anyone can do it. Just pick one color, then build the look by adding different shades and textures with the same undertone. This works with makeup, interior design and fashion.  

Incorporating small amounts of a color creates an area of focus to direct the eye to. Adding a vibrant accent chair can make a living room look striking. Picking up a neutral-colored purse can add a touch of sophistication to an outfit. This strategic use of color is very effective in highlighting a particular feature. The crimson red chair placed in a pre-dominantly beige room shown above, behaves much like a red lip does on face sporting an all-natural makeup look. It draws you in, like an arrow pointing towards a specific location. Whether you want your lips or your lounge chair to be the star of the show, color can easily make it happen.

Choose colors based on their psychological effects. Blues are very calming, especially for young boys. Food companies use shades of yellow and red to rev up consumers' appetite. Purple and gray are the colors of nobility and sophistication. They add opulence to a color combination. Amber evokes nostalgia while green is deemed the most intuitive color. In multiple cultures, red is strongly associated with love and passion. Red roses sell like pancakes on Valentine's Day because they are an expression of love. Color is the nonverbal language that instantaneously eases our anxieties, tugs at our heartstrings and influences our actions. It some instances, color speaks more eloquently and loudly than words. 

Numerous books explore color theory in further detail. Color specialist Leatrice Eiseman writes a plethora of books on color. She discusses techniques on how to communicate with color and their effect on audiences. Her books are a great resource for designers and novices alike. Eiseman previously ran a company called Pantone, that publishes a yearly color forecast. It cites prevalent colors in the upcoming season as influenced by fashion, the economy and current events.

Seeing beyond the surface of what a color reflects back can bring awareness to its many untapped uses. Beyond the sheen and pearlescent finish is a language that man has played an integral role in defining and speaking.



Whether you're in dire need of a complete lifestyle turnaround or simply looking to improve on a specific discipline, these three publications are sure to make an indelible impact.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle
(psychology, spirituality, philosophy)

Written by an esteemed scholar, educated in the hallowed halls of Cambridge, this book takes on an analytical approach to psychology and spirituality. Simply put, it talks about living in the present moment. The New York Times bestseller cautions readers about mental attachments to the past and future. So eloquently written, the words redirect your thoughts and emotions to a sense of clarity that often takes decades to achieve in a therapist's office. People suffering from varying levels of emotional distress will find this book to be indispensable. Whether you choose the audio or print version, its effect is unwavering.

The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated
by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack
(finance, investing, money)

Harold Pollack made a splash in the world of finance with his astonishingly simple approach to finance. On an index card, Pollack consolidates decades of financial knowledge that enabled him to pull his family out of desperate circumstances. Pollack succinctly enumerates nine tips. Some are familiar, like saving twenty percent of your income. Others incorporate more complex concepts, like making your advisor sign a fiduciary oath. The book delves deeper into every suggestion and the reasoning behind each. The piece is the ultimate beginner's guide to getting out of any money catastrophe.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo
(minimalism, organization)

Who knew that teaching the world how to clean up their room would be such a global hit? Written by a Japanese organizing consultant, this book instigated an intercontinental decluttering phenomenon. Hundreds of youtube videos feature people from all walks of life demonstrating this decluttering system, dubbed the Konmari method. Marie Kondo believes in keeping only what sparks joy. Konmari is a structured method which involves purging, evaluating, then organizing consistently. Many claim to have improved their physical, emotional and mental well being after letting go of unnecessary things.

Simplicity is the singular thread that weaves all three books into society's collective consciousness. These widely respected authors are tapping into a unifying demand. There is a need to revert to the fundamentals. Whether you're trying to tidy up an apartment, balance a checkbook or clear your mind of irrelevant thoughts, keep these books in your back pocket. May they serve as a reminder that the simplest solutions are within your grasp.


Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle

The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated
by Helaine Olen & Harold Pollack

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo

Photos by: Nicole Honeywill, Anna, Francis Duval



Fall and winter signal the release of a whole new crop of must-have tech gadgets. Product launches precipitate a sense of urgency, compelling consumers to preorder right then and there. Is it absolutely necessary to have the latest and greatest? Here are a few questions to ask before jumping in.

Do you have realistic expectations for the upgrade? A shiny new health-tracking smart watch won't make you skinny in a week. The latest tablet won't turn you into an illustrator overnight. Smart devices are exceptionally intuitive multi-taskers but at the end of the day, it's you that actually gets things done. The will and drive to succeed rests fully on your shoulders. A purchase should not be your main source of motivation to achieve a goal. These are merely tools that help along the way.

One mistake that I caution people not to make is upgrading too soon. You may end up getting something that is costly and much too similar to what you already have. Companies are refreshing their product line at a faster rate. If you find yourself drooling at a store's window display on launch day, be careful not to let emotions dictate your purchase. There should be a compelling enough reason for the switch. Does your current gadget fail you too often? Are there features and benefits unique to the newer model that can significantly improve your experience? It's all about differentiating real-life needs from unbridled wants.

Are you choosing to upgrade because of features that are unnecessary? Buying should be about fulfilling your individual needs and not about frivolously acquiring overpowered gadgets, with functions that you may never use. Take a moment to think about it. Do you really need to drive a race car to pick up some milk at the grocery store? If all you need is a device for checking email and browsing the web, there's no need to buy the juiced-up custom-configured overpriced version. People worry about getting an underpowered tool which is a rarity these days. The competitive nature of the tech industry has led to the proliferation of software and hardware that cater to professionals' needs. Almost every single flagship phone in the market is able to take professional-looking photos and videos. These mobile devices are configured with processors that rival desktop computer versions. Future-proofing is a good idea, but overspending on unnecessary features will only leave you with empty pockets. If longevity is your concern, pay attention to the brand and its reputation for quality. You can save hundreds by purchasing a device from a reputable seller that doesn't have the unnecessary bells and whistles.

Do you have a budget robust enough to pay for the acquisition and maintenance? The cost of having a brand new device can have an immediate impact on your paycheck. It can hurt you down the road as well. If you break it, how much will it be to fix? Always be mindful of how it will affect your bank account and credit. Because phone pricing has skyrocketed in recent years, a single purchase can have a dramatic effect on your budget. A single gadget can cost you eight months worth of food. This harsh reality is masked by shrewd marketing techniques. Retailers entice buyers with flashy demos and affordably priced monthly payment plans. These require a credit check that can affect your FICO score for a certain amount of time. If you are planning on taking out a house or car loan, it might affect your chances of getting approved. Don't shrug off financial responsibilities just for the sake of treating yourself. Make sure your upgrade doesn't affect your ability to pay for more urgent necessities.

These questions are meant to save you from making rash decisions that could hurt your finances. Tech companies invent contraptions that blow our minds and expand our capabilities. Our job is to sort through these freshly built machines and choose what works for our daily needs.

Photos by: Roidon Kutsaev & Ash Edmonds
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