The Best Otome Games for the iPhone

Above all else, this blog is about being honest — so I have a confession to make: I’ve been in a bit of a blogging rut lately. I live with depression and, lately, it’s been like pulling teeth to get myself to write blog posts for work, let alone for the fun of it.

However, one thing I always come back to when I am depressed is my comfort games: those games you download onto your phone and become absolutely obsessed with when you don’t have the energy to do anything else. For me, those are otome-style games.

While I’m not a gaming blog, and am definitely more of a casual gamer, this post is not entirely out of place given my interest in Japanese culture. In other words, this is yet another extension of my obsession with all things kawaii.

Otome games originated in Japan. The word “otome” is Japanese for “maiden game,” and refers to a story-based game where one of the main goals is to romance a character. Originally, they were geared at women, but they have since become popular with all genders, and many are LGBTQ+ friendly.

The otome style may have originated in Japan, but it has definitely become mainstream here in the United States. If you play Choices or Chapters, then you’re already deeply familiar with the otome concept.

The main difference between otome games developed in Japan and those developed in the United States is the artwork: Japanese otome games tend to resemble the anime style of drawing, while in the U.S., the artwork is more realistic.

If you, like me, aren’t much of a gamer but love a good book or manga, you’ll love otome games. Like Animal Crossing, the game takes little skill to learn and gets you deeply invested in the characters. And, like a good book, the story will pull you in and capitalize on your imagination.

Without further ado, here are five otome games you should check out (both American and Japanese) if you’re interested in exploring the genre for yourself.

1. Obey Me

Obey Me is hands-down my FAVORITE otome game for the iPhone. The premise for Obey Me is that you are an exchange student sent to live with seven brothers in the Devildom. The brothers are devils, while you are human. You are also there with three other exchange students, one of whom is human and two of whom are angels, as well as the Prince of the Devildom. Only the brothers are love interests in the game; of the other four main characters, one is a child and the other three are considered “undateables.” In Obey Me, you can play through the main story, as well as receive chats and phone calls from characters, read side stories, and participate in special events to earn prizes.

Obey Me seems strange and convoluted from the outside, and the story takes some pretty weird turns. But if you’re willing to suspend your sense of realism and get lost in the story, the characters are some of the most compelling you will find in any otome game. Unlike other otomes, you don’t have to choose a route in this game, meaning you can romance as many or as few of the seven brothers as you like. The other nice thing about this is that you don’t need to choose an LI at all, if that’s not something you’re interested in — as far as I can tell, you can skip all of the romantic choices.

Obey Me uses the gacha system, something you’ll find in many Japanese otome games and virtually no American otome games. In the gacha system, you earn randomized pulls from a batch of cards. These cards have ranks and rarity levels that help you beat other players (or, in the case of Obey Me, the computer). You need energy to participate in these battles — in Obey Me, they take the form of dance battles — which are required to progress through the game. That’s the one caveat to this game: it’s annoying to wait for your energy to recharge and hard to earn enough money to level up your cards!

2. Mystic Messenger

*This section has been updated as of June 2021.

I’m going back and editing this section….because I FINALLY played Mystic Messenger! The premise of the game is a bit confusing, but you’re essentially lured into a group chat with a bunch of random guys who invite you to join their secret party-planning association called RFA. Almost the whole game is told through chat, with a few visual novel scenes along the way. One thing I love about this game is that there is NO GACHA SYSTEM in Mystic Messenger! You can also progress through the main story without having to earn any type of in-game currency (though having currency, called hourglasses, definitely helps you binge-play).

Like most otome games, you wind up on a route with a particular character; however, instead of choosing your route, your route is chosen for you based on the number of hearts you have for each character. Hearts can be earned by choosing responses the characters like. There are at least six different characters, including one female, that can be romanced. So far, I have played the Yoosung Casual Story route and the Jumin Deep Story route….Jumin’s route is a bit twisted, but I can’t help but simp a cat daddy!

You can then unlock one of seven different endings (elaborate, right?!) based on your choices over the last 11 days. There are good endings, bad endings, and neutral endings — and you can replay as many times as you want to try to get the ending you’re looking for! My main complaints about the game are about the storytelling: even in Deep Story mode, each route only gives you bits and pieces of the whole picture. The game really gets you coming back for more, because you have to play every route to see the full story and learn all of the characters’ motivations.

3. Ikemen Series

The Ikemen games, created by developer Cybird, send you to different worlds and points in time to fall in love with one of the “Ikemen.” The phrase Ikemen is derived from the Japanese words for “good” and “men” and essentially means a good-looking guy. There are three main games in the Ikemen series (while I call them a series, you can play them in any order and they don’t relate to one another): Ikemen Vampire (“IkeVamp”), Ikemen Revolution (“IkeRev”), and Ikemen Sengoku (“IkeSen”).

Each of the Ikemen games uses the route structure, where you select a love interest after the introductory chapter. In IkeVamp, your love interest takes the form of a 19th-century vampire — but all the vampires in this game are based on historical characters, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Leonardo DaVinci. In IkeSen, the characters are similarly historical, based on the Sengoku period in Japanese history. And, in IkeRev, the game takes place in the 19th century, but the love interests are members of one of two militias fighting in a dystopian version of Alice’s Wonderland.

Ikemen deserves props for its creative plotlines, which are definitely more elaborate than any I’ve seen in other Otome games. Like Obey Me, the Ikemen games all use the gacha system, though the cards play a less important role in these games than in Obey Me. You collect cards through the gacha and then use them in “Love Battles” to earn intimacy points. These points help you progress through the story: occasionally, you will need a certain number of intimacy points to get past a checkpoint. You may also need to battle to earn in-game currency, which is used to purchase clothing items for your avatar at avatar checkpoints.

4. Choices

Choices is the O.G. American otome game. We call them “visual novels” here in the United States, but the premise is the same: choose a love interest; make choices that impact the outcome of the story. In Choices, however, there is no one main plotline. Instead, there are many books — some of which are part of different series — that take place in different worlds. For example, in The Royal Romance series, you play an American waitress who is whisked away to the fictional land of Cordonia to compete for the hand of a prince. Or, in Open Heart, you play a resident doctor who falls in love with one of her coworkers.

Something that’s nice about Choices is that there are books for everyone. Not every book is romantic, either. There are even horror books, like the It Lives series, and fantasy books, like The Crown and the Flame. Some of these books have romantic plotlines, but the romance isn’t the main element. Others don’t feature any romance at all. You can also customize your character’s appearance, unlike in many of the Japanese otome games. Each game lets you choose a face for your character (meaning more racial diversity!) and a hairstyle. In some games, you can also choose your gender, playing as either male or female.

Choices deserves points for its efforts to broaden racial and gender diversity, especially since this doesn’t seem to be something Japanese otome games think about at all. However, it has come under scrutiny for making some questionable choices regarding race (such as its decision to almost kill off a BIPOC love interest, which was scrapped after protest from fans). If you’re interested in learning more about this drama, I highly suggest you scroll through the Choices Tumblr scene. A lot of people on there are much more knowledgeable than I am about these issues!

The other annoying thing about Choices is that if you don’t want to spend real-world cash, you’re limited in your options. You need story keys to progress to the next chapter, and these recharge every few hours (unless you pay to buy more — which, trust me, gets addicting — or opt for the VIP subscription, which gives you unlimited keys). You also need diamonds to unlock different outfits or premium choices, which unlock additional scenes. These scenes used to be treated more like bonuses, but in the newer books, you often need to make premium choices to even spend time with romanceable characters. Again, you can get around this with the $15/month VIP subscription, which gives you 10 gems a day and additional gem rewards for playing chapters.

5. Regency Love

Regency Love is special in that it is neither American nor Japanese: it was made by Australian indie devs, Tea for Three Studios. It also has incredible artwork with special art scenes. As the name suggests, the game takes place in the Regency period, transporting you to a Jane Austen novel where you are the heroine. You can’t customize your character’s appearance (in fact, she is never pictured) or gender, but you can earn different epilogue endings based on your choices throughout the series, which earn you points toward different personality traits (such as being “Amiable” or “Witty”) and accomplishments (like Riding, Embroidery, and Music).

In Regency Love, you play the daughter of a deceased gentleman whose mother is pushing her to get married and secure her future. The main game features three romanceable characters. One is a stoic older gentleman named Mr. Curtis, one is a bland but kindhearted gentleman named Mr. Digby, and one is the aloof Mr. Darcy of the series, named Mr. Ashcroft. (You may also choose not to marry at all.) If you choose to pay an additional $4, you can also unlock a fourth romanceable character named Mr. Graham; unlike the other love interests, he is a humble redcoat soldier staying in your town of Darlington. One of the best parts of Regency Love is that the storylines are well-developed with many opportunities to learn more about your love interest’s past, as well as ample conflict in the present.

Tea for Three Studios is currently planning a sequel to Regency Love, which I am ecstatic about! The sequel will improve on some of the weak points of the original, such as exploring queer storylines. They also plan to fill in some of the plot holes from the previous story — such as a mysterious letter revealed at the start of the story, which is never really explained, and an estranged older brother who, again, is never really explained.

How to Become Your Authentic Self

Today’s post is a little bit different, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Something I’ve been talking about a lot with my therapist is how I learned from a young age to suppress who I really was — the things I liked to do; my sense of humor; my opinions — in order to win others’ approval.

The need to be liked is something I still struggle with, and probably always will on some level. But more and more, I am learning how to be not the best version of myself, but the truest version of myself. I have decided that 2021 will be my year of authenticity: of learning to be myself, of embracing the things that make me “weird,” of no longer hiding how I really feel.

Since I was 16, I have lived my life online. I became a blogger in high school, and my blog began to take off halfway through college. By then, I received brand sponsorships, developed friendships with other bloggers, and felt that, on some level, people were invested in my life.

Online, I presented a perfect image of myself, which involved joining a sorority full of inauthentic friendships and spending money I didn’t have on credit cards in order to keep up with appearances. Even though I was struggling, I posted as if I had it all together and was sharing advice to a previous self. But offline, I was struggling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and dysfunctional relationships.

A turning point occurred when I ended a three-year relationship with a toxic boyfriend. Around that time, I stepped away from my blog and decided to live my life offline. I spent only about a month being single, but in that time, I learned a lot. I discovered a deep yearning for belonging that led me to seek comfort from dead-end relationships with emotionally unavailable men.

Shortly after, I had a breakthrough that led me to assert my boundaries for the first time and brought me to my current partner, David. Then, I ended my relationship with my emotionally abusive father, faced my credit card debt, quit my sorority, and still managed to graduate college one year early. That year, I had far fewer people in my life, but for the first time, I could say that I was truly happy.

Even now, I sometimes feel as if I am playing a role — not by choice, but by habit. I want to be the perfect doctor’s girlfriend, the perfect dog mom, the perfect “future therapist,” the perfect influencer. But perfectionism is inherently at odds with authenticity. Every day, I have to consciously make the decision to be my truest self, not an actress playing a part in a film.

I am still on my journey toward healing from people-pleasing and inauthenticity. But since the years I spent living my life for other people, I have learned a lot about what it means (to me, at least) to be authentic. Based on those experiences, I’m sharing some tips that I hope will help you navigate your own journey.

1. Examine Your Beliefs

If you’re here, you probably feel the need to people-please, to put on a fake smile, or to play a role at least some of the time. But have you ever asked yourself why you feel that way?

To pinpoint the beliefs that make you feel like your authentic self isn’t good enough, start at the very beginning. We all receive messages in our childhood, direct or indirect, that shape the way we think about ourselves. Maybe it’s that I’m an aspiring therapist, but I truly believe that these messages are ingrained in our subconscious from a young age, and continue to shape the way we behave as adults.

Sometimes, those messages are obvious, like only receiving praise when we got an A on a test or won an award. But other times, they’re more insidious: for example, I had a narcissistic parent who used to imply that my friends were “nerds.” As a result, I learned to hide a lot of my interests that were considered “weird” at the time.

The next time you hear a critical voice in your head, it’s worth asking why you believe this thing is true instead of quietly accepting it as such. Sometimes, when we look more closely at our beliefs, we realize they aren’t rooted in the things we truly believe at all, but in the things that someone else taught us.

2. Embrace What Makes You “Weird”

As an Enneagram Type Six, it should come as no surprise that I am self-conscious about feeling “different.” Throughout college, I molded myself into the person I thought I should be in order to make people like me. I joined a sorority, started drinking, and bought a new Lilly Pulitzer wardrobe. But behind the scenes, I was struggling with my mental, physical, and financial health.

Growing up, I heard so many messages that made me feel ashamed of who I was and what I was interested in. In high school, I stopped reading manga or watching anime — hobbies I’ve since picked back up, because I genuinely enjoyed them — after learning it wasn’t cool anymore. I have always liked Harry Potter, but I learned to bury my inner Hufflepuff so others wouldn’t judge me.

So many of us struggle with the compulsive need to be liked — and trust me, I get it. Rejection is painful. However, I’ve learned that when you try to make everyone like you, you don’t make genuine connections. Meaningful friendships and romantic relationships come when you are being your true, authentic self, as people are attracted to others who are like them. People may reject or make fun of you, but at least you will have the gift of friendship, instead of the surface-level connections that are inevitable when you’re trying to be liked by everyone.

3. Follow Your Intuition

I am an INFP, so being intuitive is a part of who I am. (In case you couldn’t tell, I really like personality tests!) But I also spent so long pretending to be someone who I wasn’t that I know what it’s like to confuse what YOU like with what you think you’re SUPPOSED to like.

Trying to be liked over being authentic stifles your intuition. You learn to ignore the gut feelings that draw you toward certain people, objects, and experiences if there’s a risk that those things may create conflict or cause others to reject you. That’s why it’s critical to authenticity to get in touch with, and listen to, those gut feelings again.

Take the example of clothing shopping. When you buy clothes, are you looking for clothing that fits a certain “aesthetic?” Or are you picking up the items you are naturally drawn to and attracted to? The key to authenticity is doing less of the former and more of the latter. Listen to your gut, not to what society has to say about what you’re supposed to like.

4. Contradict Yourself

Despite what high school cafeterias may suggest, most people can’t be boiled down to a single “type.” We aren’t nerds or jocks or goths or band geeks. People are more complicated than that. Instead of trying to mold yourself into a stereotype, don’t be afraid to be your unique self! You don’t need to simplify yourself into a certain stereotype (or, these days, “aesthetic”).

We tend to do these things to make others feel more comfortable, since cognitive dissonance — the psychological term for making sense of contradictions — feels weird and, at times, wrong. But it isn’t your job to make everyone around you comfortable. If just existing as yourself makes someone uncomfortable, that’s THEIR problem — not yours!

So, where to start? To begin with, stop saying “or” and start saying “and.” You’re allowed to be soft AND tough. You’re allowed to like the color pink AND have a black belt in karate. You’re allowed to study science AND have an Etsy shop on the side. You don’t need to be girly OR strong; logical OR creative.

You’re allowed to exist as you are, even if parts of who you are seem to contract one another. As human beings, we’re tempted to make people fit neatly into boxes. But it’s okay to be messy. Embrace the parts of yourself that make you say “and.”

5. Give Yourself Permission to Change

As important as it is to accept yourself as you are, you also deserve permission to change. Growth is an inherent part of being human. We aren’t meant to stay the same our entire lives — otherwise, we wouldn’t get wrinkles or gray hair!

Sometimes, we cling to old interests because they’ve been part of our identities for so long, we don’t know what to do without them. Pursuing a career in social work, I sometimes worry if I made a mistake by abandoning marketing. I knew I wanted to study communications way back in high school, and I fear I’m not listening to my instincts by changing my mind.

But the thing is, you’re allowed to change your mind. People outgrow careers, friendships, relationships, and hobbies the same way that they outgrow their clothes or shoes. It doesn’t always feel comfortable — in fact, a friend breakup might be the worst thing I’ve ever been through — but it always happens for a reason.

And, if it helps, you can always change your mind again! Remember that girl you knew who changed her major ten times in college? Schools LET students do that — because they know that it’s in our nature to be indecisive. Just remember that, with the exception of tattoos and pregnancies, no decision is permanent. You can always pick up and move, quit your job, or learn something new.

Give yourself permission to make those mistakes. Mistakes are the business of living, after all — and if nothing else, you’ll always learn from them.

20 Healthy Habits I Started in My 20s

Something I’ve been reflecting on more lately has been self-improvement. Namely, I’ve been thinking that it’s something I’d like to write about more on my blog, since it’s always been such an important part of my life. Ever since middle and high school, I have always been interested in ways that I could better myself. I’ve tried adopting habits like meditating, creating the perfect morning routine, and learning study skills, all from my various quests for self-improvement over the years. Many of these habits have even stuck!

That being said, I firmly believe that establishing healthy habits in your 20s is key to staying healthy throughout your lifetime. When you’re a young adult, you’re building the foundation that sets you up for a lifetime of success. You might not think the way you eat or the way you talk to yourself now matters very much, since you have years ahead of you — but it matters in that, once they are established, bad habits are difficult to correct. You’ll be much healthier and happier in your 30s, 40s, and beyond if you set yourself up for success now.

Granted, I’m still working on building healthier habits. I’m trying to exercise more, which I haven’t done much of since the pandemic started. I’m also trying to be cleaner and more organized. As usual, the quest for self-improvement is never over, since we, as humans, are never done growing. But, I do think I’ve done a good job establishing a number of healthy habits throughout my 20s that will set me up for success.

These are 20 of those healthy habits — ones I think every woman should adopt in her 20s to set her up for a lifetime of success. While I say every woman should adopt them, I also recognize that building healthy habits takes time. It’s best to start with one small change at a time, and work to make them part of your routine before moving onto the next thing. Don’t feel pressured to be “perfect” or adopt an entirely new lifestyle at once!

1. Drinking Less Sugar

I’m not one to focus on calories, but I do think there is way too much sugar in everything. Instead of reading labels and stressing about the numbers, one easy way to reduce your sugar intake is to stop drinking sweetened beverages. Not long ago, I stopped putting sugar in my coffee, because I realized all that sugar adds up. Soda and juice (even the so-called “healthy” kinds like Naked) add up even faster. Like a lot of people, however, I don’t like drinking plain water all that much. Two things that helped me cut back on sweetened beverages are drinking green tea with lemon and drinking Spindrift sparkling water. Spindrift uses just enough real fruit juice to add flavor, but not enough to give yourself a cavity!

2. Going to Therapy

Maybe it’s that I’m a future therapist, but I genuinely believe that everybody should go to therapy at least once in their lifetime. Everybody has their sh*t, but few people realize how their past continues to affect them today. If you are interested in self-improvement, then going to therapy is one of the best things you can do. Interrupting toxic behavior prevents it from becoming a pattern that you pass down to your kids, and they pass down to their kids, and so on. Most people have learned at least one toxic behavior from their families. Let the cycle of toxicity end with you.

3. Joining a Gym

The moral of the story isn’t that you need to join a gym — it’s that you need to find the type of exercise you actually like and stick with it. Me joining a gym is the perfect example: I love to run, but I hate the cold. So, I joined a gym so I could use the treadmill instead of lying to myself that I would go for a jog outside in the snow. When your workout is miserable, you’re never actually going to do it. Whether it’s doing yoga, jumping on a trampoline, or riding a bike, find a way to get active that you genuinely love.

4. Watching Less TV

This wasn’t a change I made on purpose, but I do believe it has had a positive effect on my life. Over time, I found that if I wanted to keep up with my other hobbies, like bullet journaling and blogging, then I didn’t have time to binge watch entire seasons of TV shows in one day. Over the past year, I’ve watched exactly one TV show (Schitt’s Creek, for anyone who’s wondering). Watching less TV frees up my time for other, healthier habits — like reading!

5. Washing Off My Makeup

I admit that I am still working on this one, because sometimes I just want to collapse in bed at the end of a long day. However, I do think it’s essential to wash off your makeup every night before bed. Eye infections, pimples, and tons of other yucky problems can result from leaving the remnants of last night on your face while you sleep. If you’re super lazy like I am, I highly recommend getting a Makeup Eraser. Since you don’t need anything except water, it requires little effort to wipe off the day’s makeup — and it’s more eco-friendly than using disposable face wipes.

6. Making My Bed

Recently, I’ve started making my bed — and it has seriously transformed my morning routine. Something about having a freshly made bed helps me start off my day on the right foot. I like the ritual of it all, and it helps me clear my head and feel more organized. It’s also so much more satisfying to crawl into bed at the end of the night when it hasn’t just been slept in.

7. Embracing What Makes Me “Weird”

Throughout college, I was very self-conscious about some of my interests that were considered “weird.” I didn’t think it was cool to like video games or kawaii things, and thought I had to dress and act a certain way to fit in. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’m a lot happier accepting the things that make me “weird” and worrying less about other people’s perceptions of me. Sure, I know that people are judging me sometimes. But I’ve decided to actively try not to care about other people’s opinions. The only one that matters is my own!

8. Eating Real Meals

I don’t know which college girl needs to hear this, but coffee is not a meal! I used to pick up a Starbucks Frappuccino before night class and think that it was dinner. Not only is this a super unhealthy attitude to have toward food — I thought that eating less made me superior somehow — but it’s the worst way to fuel your body. Your brain needs carbs, fats, and protein to function optimally. Eating complete meals that combine all three keeps you full longer and helps boost your brainpower. You can’t focus on work or school when you’re starving. In other words, eating real meals can literally make you more productive!

9. Following a Budget

I am, admittedly, the type of person who spends more than she saves. While I still don’t save much, I have gotten much stricter with my spending over the past few weeks — a habit that I hope to keep up throughout 2021. Something about having adult expenses for the first time, like a car payment and rent, helps me stay accountable to my budget. Because I’m worried about the consequences if I can’t make my payments, I’m less likely to spend my money on frivolous or unimportant expenses before getting to the important stuff.

10. Starting a Bullet Journal

You don’t necessarily need a bullet journal to be healthy, but I do think a bullet journal has provided me with two much-needed things in my life. Firstly, it helps me stay organized. Everyone needs to find a system of organization that works for them and helps them keep up with important tasks. For me, that has been a bullet journal, but for you, it could be a digital calendar, to-do list, or something else entirely! Secondly, it has been a wonderful creative hobby that helps me express myself and gets me away from screens. In my opinion, everyone needs a hobby that helps them bring out their artistic side. Bullet journaling has accomplished that for me.

11. Ending Toxic Relationships

It took me a long time to value myself enough to want to leave my toxic relationships behind. In the past, I have had toxic relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners. Previously, I felt trapped in these relationships, but no longer talking to my dad was the impetus that empowered me to stop letting people walk all over me. Now, I’m much more selective with the people I spend my time with, and I won’t enter a relationship — platonic, romantic, or otherwise — unless I’m certain it will serve me.

12. Quitting Drinking

I’m not morally against drinking alcohol, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that alcohol is a drug. The fact that it’s socially acceptable to drink alcohol (as opposed to snorting cocaine, for example) doesn’t make it any better for you. Besides the studies linking red wine to heart health, there’s no evidence that drinking alcohol has any benefits. Personally, I had a negative relationship with alcohol in college. Like most of us, I partied a little too hard at some points, and I think I was using it to compensate for my social anxiety. If you are still binge drinking in your 20s, it’s time to ask yourself why and get to the root of your relationship with alcohol. You don’t necessarily need to quit like I did, but you definitely can’t keep up these behaviors with zero consequences.

13. Gossiping Less

Seriously, if you don’t have anything more interesting to talk about than what other people are up to, then you should focus on making your own life one worth talking about! I’ve found that the friendships I’ve gossiped most in are often the least genuine. If someone doesn’t accept and embrace your unique interests, and you can only bond over your shared hatred of someone else, that friendship probably isn’t going to last.

14. Putting My Hair Up

Growing up, my parents used to tell me I should pull my hair off my face so that I wouldn’t break out, but I never listened. Now, I make an effort to put my hair up in a messy bun or pull back my bangs with a hair clip to avoid trapping oil and dirt beneath. I honestly believe making this change has reduced the number of pimples I get on my forehead, and it’s definitely helped my hair look less greasy between washes.

15. Not Using Credit Cards

In college, I accumulated a lot of credit card debt. Some of this debt, I don’t regret — it allowed me to travel abroad, for example. But a lot of the money I spent, I spent trying to compensate for insecurities and keep up with the Joneses of my college. I was in a sorority where a lot of the girls had more money than me, and I felt like I needed to present myself a certain way. Today, I am still repairing my credit score from the damage I inflicted. The only reason I’m not still in crippling debt is because I’ve been privileged enough to have money from my family. While I think it’s important to utilize credit in a healthy way to establish a credit history, I do think being unable to rely on credit cards has helped me feel the value of my money more when I spend it. A debit card feels less like a magical plastic card that will get me whatever I want because it’s directly tied to my bank account. I can’t spend money I don’t have with a debit card. Someday, I realize I will need to use a credit card again, but for now, I am more comfortable living without.

16. Getting a Pap Smear

A lot of women think they can put off their Pap smear because they’re young and healthy, but a cervical cancer diagnosis can change all of that in an instant. Whether or not you’re sexually active, you should get your first Pap smear when you turn 21. I don’t know about you, but a lot of women I knew talked about a Pap smear like it was a painful, invasive test. All that talk really intimidated me — but when it was time for my first Pap smear, I was actually surprised by how quick and painless it was. I remember asking my doctor, “is it over already?” because I expected something much, much worse. Long story short, don’t be afraid of getting a Pap smear, and don’t put it off until it’s too late.

17. Buying a Good Razor

I’m the kind of person who used to buy the cheapest razor, or the one that came in the prettiest color, rather than the one that would work the best. I’m also the kind of person who used to put off changing my razor blades, but this is another thing that I’ve recently started to rectify. As strange as it may sound, finding a good razor is as healthy as it is satisfying. Keeping your razor sharp and rust-free is important for good hygiene, especially if you shave “down there.” A gross razor can introduce bacteria that promotes infections. Personally, I’ve become a huge fan of my genderless Flamingo razor from Target, but many women are big fans of using men’s razors, since they tend to be sharper and come with more blades than women’s razors.

18. Finding the Right Birth Control

Having endometriosis and depression, I know the value of finding the right birth control method. It may take a few tries to find the right one, but once you do, it’s so worth it. For me, that has been the hormonal IUD, which does a good job of controlling my endo symptoms without worsening my depression. But birth control is highly personal, and I would never force my preferred method onto another woman. The takeaway? Don’t feel the need to put up with uncomfortable side effects when there are literally dozens of birth control brands out there. You should never be afraid to talk to your doctor about changing methods if your current one isn’t working for you.

19. Saying No

Throughout high school and parts of college, I was the type of person who couldn’t say no. I overcommitted myself because I thought that’s what I had to do to a) be successful and b) make people like me. But you should never feel like your success or your friendship is conditional on how much you can do for someone. I’ve had to learn to take a step back and not to say yes to commitments just because I want to please people.

20. Unfollowing Negative People

To be clear, when I say “negative people,” I don’t mean that in a toxic positivity, “no bad vibes” kind of way. I mean unfollowing anyone who makes you feel negatively about yourself. In my 20s, I unfollowed all of the influencers from my eating disorder days whose bodies subconsciously made me feel like mine wasn’t good enough. I got rid of anyone whose life appeared so “perfect” that it made me question the worth of my own. As a result, I think I have been a lot happier and experienced a lot less FOMO!

How to Start Collecting Stickers | How I Organize My Sticker Collection

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive a commission from any purchases made through my blog. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting my blog!

If you were born in the 90s like I was, then glittery, rainbow-colored stickers were probably a major part of your childhood. I never had a sticker album as a kid, but I remember begging my mom to buy me Lisa Frank stationery. Even then, I was hooked!

As an adult, my stationery collection only continues to grow. Thanks to my addiction, I often find myself with more stickers than I know what to do with. I am always looking for cute and unique ways to make use of my massive collection. That’s how I started my first sticker album.

In the 80s and 90s, it was popular for kids to collect stickers. They would put them on three-hole paper and stick them in a binder to admire later. Inspired by this trend, and by some vintage Mrs. Grossman’s scrapbook stickers I was gifted by my grandma, I decided to start my own modern sticker collection.

If you, like me, have a growing stash of stickers that you don’t know what to do with, but that you just love to look at, then you’ve come to the right place. Starting a sticker collection might just be the perfect way to engage your inner sticker fiend.

How to Organize Your Sticker Collection

The first thing you need to decide when starting a sticker collection is how you are going to organize it. In my opinion, it’s easier to do this before you start accumulating stickers — but it never hurts to use what you already have, if you’ve already been amassing a collection.

There are a few ways you could organize your sticker collection. Some people choose to use a binder with page protectors. The way I see it, this works best if you are planning to collect sticker flakes or leave your stickers on the sheet.

If you want to peel and stick your sticker collection (which is half the fun, if we’re being honest here), I would recommend using a six-ring binder like I do. Six-ring binders are popular in Korea. They are miniature binders — mine is A5 size — that hold six-ring paper. I bought mine on Amazon for $8 and a stack of 100 sheets of paper for $10.

So, to stick or not to stick? Personally, I stick my stickers directly on the page. But, I think it’s important to note that if you’re going to collect vintage stickers, they aren’t quite as sticky and might fall off. I learned this the hard way and decided to stick the sheets I received from my grandma in the front pocket on the inside cover of my six-ring binder.

For whole sheets, you can buy specially designed sticker albums with protectors that are perfectly sized for your sticker sheets. Or, if you’re looking for an alternative method, you could stick whole sticker sheets in an accordian folder and organize them by years, styles, brands, or anything else you like. You could even use a binder with pocket dividers to house your collection.

Ultimately, it’s up to you how you choose to organize your sticker collection — just make it sustainable, and make it personal to you.

Where to Buy Stickers for Your Collection

The next step in starting a sticker collection is actually growing your collection. Where to buy stickers for your collection depends largely on your goals as a collector:

If your goal is to collect rare and vintage finds, I recommend a few options. Firstly, Etsy is a great place to find vintage stickers. They have a vintage tag that you can use to search for brands like Mrs. Grossman’s and Sandylion. Pipsticks also sells Mrs. Grossman’s and Sandylion stickers, including vintage. Lastly, you should always check local thrift and consignment stores for interesting stationery finds. Often, you can discover hidden treasures on the cheap!

If your goal is volume, then you’re going to want to go for cheap stickers so you can easily amass a large collection. Aliexpress is a great place to buy Japanese and Korean stickers. But, if shimmery rainbow stickers are more your thing, you can buy entire books of kids’ stickers for under $5 at places like Amazon and Target. I’m also a fan of the brand Stick-O, which you can get at craft stores: they have cute animal motifs as well as foiled options for collecting.

Are you specifically a fan of vinyl stickers, and perhaps want to collect stickers related to a certain brand or fandom? Try sites like Redbubble and Etsy for stickers made by independent artists, or check out pop culture shops like Hot Topic for merchandise from your favorite fandom.

Stickers to Get You Started

Sticker books are your best friend when starting a brand-new sticker collection. This is a fast way to grow your collection, without shelling out a ton of cash. Here are some of my picks:

Remember Scratch ‘n’ Sniff? Ooly still makes those! These kawaii cat cafe scratch stickers are scented like chocolate. Get them on Amazon for $9.

Trends International Hello Kitty, Multicolor

Love kawaii? For $4, this book of 120 Hello Kitty stickers could be all yours. Jump start your collection today — get them on Amazon.

If you want to really throw it back to the 90s, you can get a book full of over 600 Lisa Frank stickers. Yes, they still make those! Get it on Amazon for $5.

Aesthetic J-Fashion and K-Fashion Picks

In case you haven’t noticed, I am obsessed with Asian pop culture. From anime to otome games, Pokemon to K-beauty, I just can’t get enough of all things Japanese and Korean.

Lately, the same goes for fashion: a lot of J-fashion and K-fashion outfits are popping up in my feed, and I’m obsessed! As someone who’s recovering from surgery, I admittedly haven’t ventured outside my leggings and sweatshirts in a while, but these fashion trends have got me itching to get back into my fancier clothing.

J-fashion (Japanese fashion) and K-fashion (Korean fashion) are distinct, but I lump them together for the purposes of this blog post. Again, both are different — but what they have in common is that they are both popular for being “aesthetic.”

“Aesthetic” is one of those words that I can’t define easily, but I know when I see it. And, if you have spent literally any time on social media, you probably know it when you see it, too. From stationery to bubble tea, Japanese and Korean culture dominate the aesthetic scene…. and fashion is no exception.

Log onto Pinterest and search for “aesthetic outfit ideas.” You may not realize it, but a lot of the outfits you see are either worn by Asian models or inspired by J-fashion and K-fashion trends.

So, how do you put together your own aesthetic outfit using these trends? First, you need to understand what J-fashion and K-fashion really are, and how to dress like a Japanese or Korean stylista.

What is J-Fashion?

J-fashion, short for Japanese fashion, is a term that lumps together a bunch of clothing styles that are unique to Japan. You may have heard of Lolita or fairy kei, two aesthetics that became popular in Japan’s Harajuku fashion scene. These are some of the more distinctive types of fashion, known for fluffy skirts, pastel wigs, and girly-girl accents. But there are other types of Japanese fashion that are less well-known, and more casual, than Lolita or fairy kei:

Mori kei is a type of Japanese fashion that’s inspired by vintage looks and the natural environment. If you want to dress mori kei, you should try to dress like “a girl who came from the forest.”

Natural kei is similar to mori kei, but draws most of its inspiration from the past. Think Little Women or Little House on the Prairie: the natural kei girl lives in a village, rather than the forest, and dresses like Anne of Green Gables.

Otome kei comes from the word “otome,” meaning “young lady” in Japanese. It’s a bit like Lolita, in that it is very feminine, but it is also viewed as more mature than Lolita. There are fewer petticoats and the rules are not as well-defined.

….and many more. I chose to define these three specifically because they have influenced my own style and the pieces that I have chosen to showcase in this blog post.

However, it’s important to recognize that Japanese fashion is as widely varied as American fashion. The word J-fashion doesn’t refer to one thing, but an amalgam of styles.

What is K-Fashion?

K-fashion is the Korean version of the term. Unlike J-fashion, K-fashion does not have many subsets. Instead, it’s a broader term referring to the trends that are most popular in Korea — many of which originate from Seoul.

In Korea, it’s popular to dress in oversized clothing, like chunky-knit cardigans or baggy tee shirts. It’s part of Korean culture to be modest, especially when it comes to revealing clothing. But, while Korean women tend to stay covered on top, they reveal their legs with cute dresses or mini skirts. For example, Korean woman might pair an oversized sweater with a pleated skirt, or a chunky cardigan with a cute sundress.

The school uniform is a staple in K-fashion as well as J-fashion. In both countries, children wear uniforms all throughout their school years — but elements of the school uniform, like pleated skirts or collared sailor shirts, have integrated themselves into popular adult fashion trends.

Aesthetic Clothing Picks (Inspired by J-Fashion and K-Fashion)

If you, like me, are interested in Japanese and Korean culture, you probably know that shopping on Asian sites can be overwhelming. The shipping fees are hefty, you need to deal with translation and currency exchange, and sometimes, you even need to hire a proxy (another person to shop for you and ship the items to your home).

Thankfully, J-fashion and K-fashion are starting to influence the trends we see here at home. These influences can be seen at mainstream Western stores like Forever 21 and H&M, but also at smaller boutiques and on social media. The good news about this is that you can often find Korean and Japanese styles at American stores, without paying $20 for shipping — see below for examples!

Ribbed Cardigan ($14, Nasty Gal)

Paired with a pleated skirt, a fitted cardigan is a classic look. Available in sizes 0 to 10.

Pleated Plaid Mini Skirt ($18, Forever 21)

Pleated Plaid Mini Skirt, image 1

The schoolgirl skirt is a must-have staple in Asian fashion. Available in sizes XS to L.

Tie-front Blouse ($25, H&M)

Tie-front Blouse - Light pink/black - Ladies | H&M US 1

The bow-tie on this blouse is reminiscent of the sailor styles popular in Japan. Available in sizes XS to XL.

Black Denim Overall Skirt ($65, Unique Vintage)

The youthful look is “in” in Asia, which is probably why overall skirts like these are so popular. Available in sizes XS to 4X.

Patent Platform Mary Janes ($68, Dolls Kill)

A nod to kawaii fashion, platforms like these can often be seen on the streets of Harajuku. Available in sizes 5 to 10.

What to Expect: Diagnostic Laparoscopy for Endometriosis

After over two years of searching for a diagnosis, I can’t believe I’m sitting down to write this.

When I first started this blog, I was having chronic constipation, losing weight, and couldn’t tolerate many foods (like raw vegetables or dairy products). I saw a gastroenterologist who made me feel like I was crazy for pushing him harder. I had an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy that both came out clear. And, finally, after having my first laparoscopy at Cleveland Clinic cancelled due to COVID-19, I got on the schedule at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts.

This past Tuesday, I crossed the finish line. I had a diagnostic laparoscopy for endometriosis at long last, and it showed evidence of peritoneal endometriosis, and an adhesion on my left uterosacral ligament. My doc also found a pretty decently sized but benign cyst on my fallopian tube. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like my future fertility will be affected.

After seeing everything that was excised from my body, I couldn’t help but feel like it’s no wonder I was having so many symptoms. With all this tissue hanging around in my abdomen when it wasn’t supposed to be there, the constipation and pelvic pain make so much more sense.

Yet it still took me over two years from the start of my journey, and over ten years from the onset of my symptoms, to get a definitive diagnosis of endometriosis. The word didn’t even come up until a year into my constipation and painful bowel movements. No GI doctor I saw ever thought to ask me if I had painful periods. That simple question could have changed everything for me.

As frustrating as this journey has been, it makes me grateful — and emotional — to have arrived at this point. I have been through so much that I know I deserve the validation and clarity that came from this procedure. Hopefully, in the future, womxn won’t need to go through nearly as much as I have in order to get the validation and clarity that they deserve.

Sentimentality and reflection aside, you’re probably here because you want to know about the process of getting here: the laparoscopy, to be exact. Maybe you or someone you love thinks they have endometriosis and are worried about what they’ll need to go through to have it diagnosed. Or, maybe your lap is coming up and you’re getting ready to prepare for surgery. Either way, I’m here for you.

Here’s what to expect on the day of your laparoscopy, and the things that have helped me through the recovery process thus far.

The Day of Your Laparoscopy

On the day of my diagnostic laparoscopy, I was ushered into the pre-operative room basically as soon as I arrived. They called me to make sure I was here (I was waiting in the car because of COVID) and had my partner drop me off at the surgical center entrance. Then, they led me to check in, screened me for COVID, and brought me up to the pre-operative room.

Once in the pre-operative room, I was assigned a nurse and told to change into a hospital gown, leaving it open in the back. They gave me the opportunity to use the restroom before leading me back to get an IV line inserted. One thing I remember thinking was strange was that every person I met made sure to ask me what my name was and what procedure I was having. I think this is their way of ensuring that you’ve given informed consent — that you’ve not only said yes to the procedure, but that you also understand what it entails.

After the IV was inserted, I met with the anaesthesiologist as well as my surgeon. Both gave me a lot of reassurance about the procedure. Having great docs and nurses made a huge difference in my comfort and anxiety levels. I also met with the fellow who was working with my surgeon and a PA student observing the surgery.

While my surgeon mostly just wanted to check in, the anaesthesiologist asked me a lot of questions about my health history to make sure I was safe for surgery. For example, I have TMJ (an inflammatory jaw condition), so she had to adapt my intubation plan to accommodate my jaw problems.

At that point, the anaesthesiologist knocked me out. She checked my name and hospital bracelet one more time before giving me the analgesic medication. I honestly barely remember what happened. One minute, she was asking me a question and I was talking about something; the next, I was out cold and waking up in my room post-op.

When I woke up from the laparoscopy, I was given IV Tylenol, so my pain levels were not as bad as I expected. The first thing I noticed was that I was wearing a pad, which I hadn’t been wearing before. It wasn’t a surprise — that’s because they also changed my IUD during the procedure, and I had been warned to expect some bleeding — but I definitely felt it, especially since I haven’t had a period in over a year thanks to my menstrual suppressants.

My tummy felt bloated, sore, and crampy, kind of like mild period cramps, but the pain was bearable. I did have trouble sitting up on my own and needed help from the nurse. Bending at the waist in any way was the most painful type of motion. As long as I was still, I didn’t feel much pain at all, besides a bit of bloating and cramping. The worst pain was actually in my throat from the intubation. I could tell the roof of my mouth had been scraped a bit during the procedure.

I stayed in the post-op area about an hour. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel nauseous. I was given two types of nausea medication through my IV, about half an hour apart, and quickly started to feel better. I did have an episode of dry-heaving, but besides that, I didn’t have any negative side effects from the anaesthesia.

Eventually, I was able to leave the post-op area to go to the day surgical unit, where they would start to transition me toward leaving. This is a wing of the hospital reserved for people like me recovering from outpatient procedures, who are getting ready to go home soon.

Before they let you leave, the nurses have a series of steps they walk you through. They want you to eat something — usually toast or crackers. They want you to get up and walk around (which, after laying down for so long, feels like going from a cruise ship to dry land). And they want you to try to pee. Sometimes, they might even require you to pee before you’re allowed to leave so they can ensure your normal bladder function has returned, but this wasn’t the case for me.

Once I’d been through all of this and was feeling well enough to leave, the nurse allowed me to dress myself using a chair. She gathered my belongings and I was wheeled to the car in a wheelchair. Finally, I was allowed to go home! And by that point, believe me: I couldn’t wait to be in my warm, cozy bed πŸ™‚

Tips for Recovering from Your Laparoscopy

My doctor did her best to prepare me for what to expect after my laparoscopy, but what helped me most was hearing about other people’s experiences recovering from theirs. Here’s what my recovery process has been like so far and what you can expect in the days following your laparoscopy.


I don’t know about you, but I was terrified of the amount of pain I would feel after my surgery. For me, the pain was worst the day after my surgery. On the day of my surgery, I still had a lot of drugs in my system from the hospital, including the anaesthesia, so I didn’t feel as sore as I did waking up the next morning. After that, the recovery process got much easier and less painful. For me, the pain has been worse the more I move around and better with rest, though it’s still important to get up and walk as much as you are able.

The pain was most annoying when I needed to sleep because it was hard to find a comfortable position. That made it especially difficult to fall asleep the first night, which ended up being the only time I took an opioid. Remember that your doctor prescribes pain medication for a reason. Opioids have a high potential for abuse, but you’re not abusing them by taking them after surgery. Don’t force yourself to suffer through the pain. However, your doctor will probably want you to take NSAIDs and Tylenol around the clock, too, to minimize the amount of opioids you use. This is because opioids can cause severe constipation — which I’ll talk more about in the next section.


My doctor prepared me to experience constipation after my surgery, but I didn’t understand how severe it would be. Apparently, it’s normal not to have a bowel movement for up to four to five days following abdominal surgery. This is because of the combined effects of opioids on your digestive system and the fact that your digestive organs were manipulated during surgery. Your digestion slows to accommodate the surgery and healing process, and it can take some time to speed back up again. Plus, many people feel nauseous from the anaesthesia in the days following surgery and may follow a low-fiber diet that can contribute to constipation.

My doctor started me on a stool softener in the days before my surgery, then told me to increase to two or three a day afterwards. When that wasn’t working, I started taking a dose of Milk of Magnesia each day, divided into two daily doses, until I had a bowel movement. At first, the Milk of Magnesia wasn’t working, so I tried some other dietary and lifestyle changes. Here are my tips for keeping post-surgical constipation at bay:

  • Prunes. They sound gross and probably remind you of the elderly, but they are actually sweet like dates — and well-known for helping you move your bowels.
  • Coffee. You might not be ready to tolerate this for the first few days after surgery. Once you can, however, it can stimulate your bowels to move.
  • Walking. Your doctor will probably tell you to walk as much as you are able to move the gas from the procedure out of your body, but it can also help get your digestive system going again.
  • Fluids. You may not feel like drinking a lot of water or liquids if you are feeling nauseous, but it’s important to stay hydrated. Stool softeners and many other laxatives won’t work properly if you’re not drinking the right amount of liquid.
  • Diet. As soon as possible, try to get back to eating your normal diet. Sudden dietary changes can mess up your digestive system.


You might feel nauseous for the first few days after the procedure as the residual effects of the anaesthesia wear off. I only had one or two short bouts of nausea that were relieved with Zofran (a medication prescribed by my doctor for migraines — I had extra so I took it during my surgery recovery). Your doctor might be able to prescribe this or another anti-nausea medication if you’re struggling. There are also things you can do at home to help.

If you’re feeling sick, my mom always swore by the BRAT diet growing up: that’s bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These foods are easy to digest. I would also add in plain crackers like saltines or water crackers. As long as they have no flavor, crackers are a great way to settle your stomach when you’re feeling nauseous. Sometimes, I also find it settles my stomach to suck on something sweet when I’m nauseous. Hard candies or lollipops might make you feel better, especially if they have stomaach-soothing ingredients like ginger or peppermint.


One of the most surprising things about my recovery was how easily I tired doing ordinary things. In the first two days after my surgery, I napped on-and-off for over six hours, in addition to my regular eight hours of sleep. Things like going for a walk with my boyfriend to get the mail or riding in the car to Starbucks for a tea would drain me for hours afterwards. Now that I’m later into my recovery, this doesn’t bother me as much. I can make it through the day without a nap, but I still hit an afternoon slump.

Now that my stomach is feeling better and I’m back to eating normal foods, drinking coffee or tea gives me a little bit of a caffeine boost when I’m feeling fatigued. Most of all, though, I would say to try and embrace it. Don’t try to fight through fatigue. Sleep is when your body heals, so it’s important to nap when you feel like you need to nap. You don’t have any obligations, so you might as well — that’s why you took time off work, after all!

Reviewing Aesthetic Stationery Trends

What’s your stationery aesthetic? Whether you were originally hooked on stationery by studyblr or by bullet journal Instagram,.you have probably heard the names of some stationery items repeated over and over again.

Brands like Zebra, Stabilo, and Kokuyo are favorites in the aesthetic stationery community for a reason, yet they often come with a high price tag. So, is it worth spending money on these aesthetic stationery finds?

I’m a big believer in quality, not popularity, when it comes to stationery. In this post, I review some of the most popular stationery products in the aesthetic bujo and studyblr/studygram communities online to give you the real scoop on what these items are like.

Zebra Mildliners

15ct Dual-tip Creative Marker - Zebra Mildliner : Target

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pros: Zebra Mildliners are dual-ended pens that come with a thick end (like a traditional highlighter) and a thin end (like a thick felt-tip marker). This makes them easy to use for multiple purposes, such as highlighting and coloring in doodles or drawings.

Cons: While the markers are highly pigmented, they occasionally bleed through the page. Certain colors, like pink and yellow, are more fluorescent than subdued or “mild.” They may smudge or pick up black spots from pen.

Worth it? Yes. Despite their shortcomings, Zebra Mildliners are a must-have in your stationery toolkit.

Stabilo Boss Highlighters Stabilo BOSS Original Highlighter, Pastels - 6-color Set:  Office Products

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pros: The Stabilo Boss Highlighters are richly colored and do not pick up black smudges from pen the way that Zebra Mildliners do. Their colors are more truly pastel and less fluorescent. They rarely bleed through.

Cons: The Stabilo Boss Highlighters are traditional single-ended highlighters, so there is no felt-tip end to use as a marker for coloring.

Worth it? Yes. Don’t pass over the Stabilo Boss Highlighters during your next stationery haul.

Tombow Dual Brush Pens

Dual Brush Pen Art Markers 10-Pack | Pastel | Brush Markers | Tombow

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pros: These dual-ended markers have a brush end for hand-lettering and a fineliner end for drawing or coloring. This makes them an incredibly versatile pen that comes in a rainbow of colors.

Cons: The fine-tipped end runs out of ink quicker than the brush end. They are on the pricier side compared to other, similar pens you can buy at your favorite stationery store.

Worth it? Yes. The Tombow Dual Brush Pens changed the way I bullet journal for the better.

Kokuyo Gloo Stick

Kokuyo Gloo Glue Stick - Disappearing Blue - Large | JetPens

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Pros: The Kokuyo Gloo Stick is tackier than other glue sticks, meaning that once you stick something down…it’s going to stay there. Unlike Elmer’s, it doesn’t leave a colored residue (even though the stick is blue) on the page.

Cons: The Kokuyo Gloo Stick has a medicinal smell I can only describe as smelling like hospital hand soap. (If you have spent a lot of time at the doctor’s office, then you know what I’m talking about.) The flat, square end of the Gloo Stick is actually kind of difficult to spread onto the page.

Worth it? No. For $4, I would stick to Elmer’s Craft Bond, which comes in a multi-pack, is tackier than regular glue, and will last you longer.

Kokuyo Stapleless Stapler

Kokuyo Japan Harinacs Stapleless Stapler Compact alpha (up to 5 papers)

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Pros: The Kokuyo Stapleless Stapler is small and compact, great for taking with you on the go. Because it doesn’t require staples, you never need to worry about running out or wasting them.

Cons: The paper tab that’s created by the stapler holds, but it doesn’t look very neat, meaning it wouldn’t be appropriate for passing in assignments. It also only staples up to five pages at a time, which isn’t very many.

Worth it? No. If you are a student who needs to staple thick papers in a neat fashion, I would stick to an ordinary stapler.

Pilot FriXion Ball Pen

Pilot FriXion Ball Knock Design Series Block Check Gel Pen - 0.5 mm - Black  Ink - Soft Blue Body | JetPens

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Pros: The selling point of the Pilot FriXion Ball Pen is that it is erasable with friction. The “eraser” on the end won’t run out like a normal one. They are also very pretty pens that come in a variety of pastel colors.

Cons: The ink used in these pens can smudge or disappear at very high temperatures, meaning you need to be careful using these for important documents. The pens do sometimes skip while writing and the ink doesn’t go on smoothly, though it does erase well. Even though it erases completely, you can still see the outline of what you’ve written on the paper — if you write with a lot of pressure like I do.

Worth it? Yes, under certain circumstances. I think if you are a student and enjoy writing in pen, this is worth it for taking class notes, since using correction fluid can take up way too much time and make you fall behind on lecture notes. Because they erase, they’re good for rough-draft or quickly written notes. But for everyday or legal uses, this is not the pen for you.

Sakura Pigma Micron Pens

Sakura Pigma Micron pen ink marker felt tip pen, Archival pigment ink pens,  line-width fine

Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pros: The Sakura Pigma Micron Pens have an extremely fine felt tip, which can be difficult to find in a pen. Unlike other fineliners, however, the tip is still pointed like that of a ballpoint pen. They are comfortable to write with and great for using in your bullet journal.

Cons: These pens occasionally skip. The felt tip is extremely fine, which can make it difficult to write with control if you do not have practice using them.

Worth it? Yes. If you keep a bullet journal, the Sakura Pigma Micron Pens are definitely worth the investment.

How I Got Into a Top 10 Social Work School | My Tips for Getting Accepted to Your Top Grad School

One thing I’m excited to write about more on my blog in 2021 is my journey toward becoming a trauma therapist. For anyone who wants to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW or LICSW, depending on the state you live in), graduate school is a non-negotiable part of that journey.

Do you need a Master’s degree to become a social worker? If you’re interested in macro practice — like working at a hospital or non-profit — the answer is, probably not. But if you want to become a clinical social worker, then a social work program that will prepare you for licensure is a must. Many, if not all, states include a Master’s degree in their list of requirements for licensure.

I finished my graduate school application process, including taking the GRE, at the end of November 2020. This week, I heard back from — and committed to — my top choice social work school, Boston College. It’s tied with my alma mater, Boston University, as the #10 social work school in the country. Fun fact: the two schools are fierce hockey rivals, and now I’ll have degrees from both!

Now, here’s the caveat: school rankings don’t mean much of anything. The meaning we ascribe to them is entirely personal, since sites like U.S. World Report rank based on factors that don’t have anything to do with education — like donations and new buildings. (Don’t believe me? Watch this clip from the show Adam Ruins Everything.) What was most important to me was to go somewhere that had a good clinical program, which BC does: they offer a specialized track in Clinical Practice.

That’s why the alternate title of this post is “My Tips For Getting Into Your Top Grad School.” Because I’d rather help you get into your favorite program than into a program you don’t love but which has that top 10 ranking. That being said, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way throughout the admissions process at Boston College. Here are some tips based on what I’ve learned to help you get into your top MSW program.

Tip #1: Show Off Relevant Experience

Social work programs don’t require a background in social work, but they do usually require you to have majored in the liberal arts. Your grad school applications typically ask for a resume and a personal statement of varying length. These are your opportunities to show off the places where you really shine — and that are most relevant to your future in social work.

Because I didn’t know I wanted to do social work in college, my undergraduate experiences weren’t that closely tied to my choice of graduate program. So, instead of stressing the internships I had on my resume — on the Massachusetts Coordinated Democratic Campaign in 2018, for example — I talked about my volunteer experience in mental health. I also paid $20 to get certified in administering Naloxone and another $20 to get trained in suicide prevention so I could a) learn and b) put these certificates on my resume.

You probably won’t put coursework on your resume, so your personal statement is your opportunity to talk about these. Many graduate programs specifically ask you to address relevant courses you took in college. For social work, that could mean psychology — but it could also mean any course that challenges your critical thinking and teaches you valuable skills. For example, I also talked about how I took a Statistics course and minored in Political Science, and how those helped prepare me for a graduate level program.

Even more so than your experience in social work or mental health, MSW programs are looking to see that you’re mature and capable of handling a rigorous program. They need someone who can juggle classes and fieldwork, and represent their school well at a fieldwork placement outside the school. My advice is to worry less about how impressive you are as an applicant and focus on showing them that you’re capable of succeeding now.

Tip #2: Customize Your Personal Statement

One of the most important things I did for each school that I think helped me get accepted to Boston College was to customize my personal statement to the school I was applying to. Again, many of the schools I applied to specifically asked me to address why I wanted to attend their program. However, for BC, I was especially excited to write about why I wanted to go there because of their specific Clinical Practice concentration.

Instead of copying-and-pasting the exact same personal statement for each program, I highly recommend finding at least one specific thing you like about each school and mentioning it in a short paragraph. Here’s a trick you can take directly from my applications: look into the school’s mission statement and see if you can quote it directly. Don’t plug a two-paragraph quote in, but if you can use two or three words from the school’s mission statement in your personal statement, it shows them that you did your research.

Tip #3: Take the GRE if Your GPA is Low

I had a difficult second year of college (I say second year because I graduated in three years, so I didn’t have a typical freshman-sophomore-junior-senior experience). I was struggling with my mental health, struggling with my relationship with my dad (whom I no longer talk to), and struggling to adjust to being single after a breakup. As a result, I partied too hard, caught a recurrent case of strep, and got Cs in most of my classes. This really dragged down my GPA.

At the time, I wasn’t worried about my GPA because I thought I would be done after college. I never anticipated going back to grad school because I didn’t think it was necessary for a career in communications. I still don’t, but obviously, a career change is in my future — one I never could have expected! But that put me in a bit of a pickle when I decided to apply for graduate schools. My undergraduate GPA was a 3.2, which is just over the 3.0 minimum for many graduate school programs.

While I technically passed muster, I was worried that my GPA might drag down my application. So, I made the decision to register for the GRE test. GRE scores aren’t required for most undergraduate programs unless you have a GPA below a certain threshold (usually, that threshold is 3.0 or lower). But, because I’m good at standardized tests, I knew that it would help my application to take it. If you aren’t good at standardized tests, I would look into other ways to strengthen your application.

Since I’m a good test taker, I decided to go for it. After studying for a month and a half, I got a 321 and was in the 96th percentile for verbal (the part of the test that’s more important to MSW programs), so you could say I know myself pretty well!

Tip #4: Choose Reliable Recommenders

When people give advice about recommendation letters, they tell you to pick the recommender who will write you the strongest letter of recommendation. I happen to think there’s one thing that’s more important than writing you a good letter, and that’s how reliable your recommender is.

I had three great recommendation letters from two coworkers and a professor, but my experience with recommendation letters highlighted how important it is to choose someone you can rely on, even more so than someone who likes you or whose class you got a good grade in. Unfortunately, two out of three of my letters ended up being a bit of a chase. It all worked out for me in the end, but I wish I would have taken into consideration speed when I was creating a plan for my recommendation letters.

Of course, many professors are busy, and when you’re relying on them for a recommendation, it’s impossible to avoid working with their schedule. If that’s the case for you, I recommend thinking about your recommendation letters months ahead of time. Ask them to submit your letter way before the deadline — because chances are, they’re going to submit it a little later than you ask them to.

Most schools won’t review your application at all if you don’t get the materials in on time, including recommendations, so it’s important to follow up and stay with it. I sent so many emails and Facebook messages I started to feel like a broken record, but in the end, that’s how I was able to push my recommenders to get their letters in on time.

My Lazy Korean Skincare Routine

Like most of us, I’m obsessed with K-beauty products. But, also like most of us, I don’t have time for a 10-step skincare routine each and every night. Thankfuly, the famed 10-step Korean skincare routine isn’t actually meant to be 10 steps every night. It’s most important to understand what each step does and how often you should do what.

Even for us lazy gals, there are some important takeaways to be gleaned from the way Koreans approach skincare. If we’re being honest, I probably won’t get “glass skin” anytime soon with my lazy Korean skincare routine. But, I can at least rest assured that I’m keeping my mascne under control — and that I’m taking good care of my skin.

Below, I’ll talk about each step in the 10-step Korean skincare routine, my lazy version of a K-beauty skincare regimen, and my favorite Korean skincare products to elevate your daily cleansing ritual. Let’s get started!

The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

So, what actually are the 10 steps in the Korean skincare routine — and do you need all 10 of them to get healthy, vibrant-looking skin? The quick answer is, probably not. But the long answer is that there’s a time and a place for each step, even if you don’t use them every day. Still, before we get into that, let’s go over what each step actually is, and what it’s place is in the Korean skincare routine.

1. Oil-Based Cleanser

Double-cleansing is at the heart of every Korean’s beauty ritual. Double-cleansing means first washing with an oil-based cleanser to draw out oil-based impurities, then following up with a water-based cleanser to, you guessed it, draw out water-based impurities.

The double-cleansing method is actually grounded in some pretty solid biochemistry: as you might remember from high school, water is polar, while oil is non-polar. That’s why when you mix oil and water, the two layers remain separate. They’re chemically different! So, the idea behind double-cleansing is that if you use just one type of cleanser, you’re only eliminating one type of impurity. Non-polar oil won’t be able to bind to a water-based cleanser, and vice-versa.

2. Water-Based Cleanser

Oil-based cleansers are designed to draw out sebum, sunscreen, and pollution, but not water-based impurities like dirt and sweat. That’s where your water-based cleanser comes into play. Polar pollutants (try saying that ten times fast) like dirt and sweat can’t bind to your non-polar oil-based cleanser. Hence, you need to follow up with a water-based cleanser to make sure you’re truly getting everything off your face in the morning and at night.

3. Exfoliant

When the Koreans talk about exfoliating, they’re talking about using a scrub (physical exfoliant) or peel (chemical exfoliant). They aren’t talking about face masks, which are considered a separate step in the Korean skincare routine. The role of an exfoliant is to draw out those deeper impurities that clog your pores, causing blackheads and other blemishes. But it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t perform this step every day: exfoliating more than once or twice a week can strip your skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to sensitivities in the environment.

4. Toner

To be honest, I had to google what toner actually does, because I really wasn’t sure. As it turns out, the benefit of toner is that it’s a fast-penetrating liquid that delivers a quick shot of hydration to your skin. But, toners can also double as treatments: you can purchase toners that contain salycylic acid, for example, to address oily, acne-prone skin, or toners with soothing aloe for sensitive, dry skin.

5. Essence

The essence is a step that’s pretty unique to the Korean skincare routine. Before K-beauty hit the American skincare scene, I had never heard of an essence or seen one on the shelves of my local Sephora. Essences are lightweight, hydrating products designed to add an extra layer of moisture to your skin.

Moisturizing is key in the Korean skincare routine, which is why so many steps are designed to restore moisture to your skin’s protective barrier! If you, like me, grew up getting breakouts, you may have heard that people with oily skin should beware of too much moisture, or else you’d clog your pores. However, it’s actually more harmful to strip your skin of its natural oils: when your skin gets dry, it triggers even greater oil production to restore the skin’s protective barrier, which can lead to further breakouts.

The moral of the story: don’t skip moisturizing, even if you have oily skin!

6. Treatments

When it comes to K-beauty, the main skincare treatments are serums and ampoules. Serums have since become standard in the American skincare routine, but ampoules are, as far as I can tell, still pretty uniquely Korean. Ampoules are a bit thicker and more concentrated than serums, allowing them to deliver a double-shot of nutrients to your skin.

Treatments should ideally be selected for your unique skincare concerns. Whether you have oily skin, dry skin, or skin that’s somewhere in-between, I can guarantee there’s a serum or an ampoule out there that addresses your skincare woes!

7. Sheet Masks

If sheet masks aren’t a part of your self-care routine yet, you’re going to want to change that. Not only do they deliver a concentrated shot of essence directly to your skin, but they are incredibly relaxing. Sheet masks have a cooling, gel-like temperature that instantly seems to make your worries melt away. And, they make for some pretty cute photos on your phone’s camera roll!

8. Eye Cream

The delicate skin around your eyes needs some extra TLC. Because it’s so thin, it’s prone to wrinkles and fine lines — meaning that eye cream is essential for your anti-aging strategy. Eye cream can also help soothe puffiness and dark circles from a night of crying or tossing and turning in bed. Your weakest finger is your ring finger, so use the tip of your ring finger to gently tap eye cream onto your skin.

9. Moisturizer

Moisturizer is the final layer that seals in all the nutrients you’ve just applied to your skin. It also administers an extra boost of moisture to replenish your skin’s protective barrier, which may have been stripped during cleansing. Moisturizing is a favorite step in the Korean skincare routine, so the Koreans have invested a lot of energy into discovering the best ingredients for the job: think unique products like snail-slime- and cica-based moisturizers!

10. Sun Protection

The risk of sun cancer and premature aging is real, no matter the weather. Rain or shine, you need to finish your skincare routine with a layer of SPF protection during the daytime. At minimum, doctors recommend using SPF 30. Anything higher than SPF 30 doesn’t provide as much extra protection as you think. Just make sure your sunscreen blocks from harmful UVA and UVB rays to cover your skin from every angle.

My Lazy Version

Ain’t nobody got time for 10 steps twice a day — which is why I simplified my skincare routine. While it still reflects the Korean philosophy on skincare, it saves me time, energy, and product by doing it the “lazy way:”

  1. Double-cleanse morning and night. I use Ulta cleansing balm followed by Differin face wash.
  2. Stick to serum in the AM and treat at night. I use the Tatcha Dewy Serum (PR product) in the morning and my Curology prescription treatment before bed. I’ll also spot-treat with Differin gel and/or Peach Slices acne patches as needed.
  3. Never skip moisturizing. Use a moisturizer with SPF in it in the AM, so you don’t need separate products. I use the Differin one during the day. At night, I prefer to hydrate with CeraVe.
  4. Use a mask once or twice a week. On days when I exfoliate, I skip my Curology treatment and Differin gel so I don’t sensitize my skin. My favorite sheet mask is the Tonymoly I’m Rice one.

Four Lucky Bags (Fukubukuro) to Help You Ring in the New Year

In the United States, the New Year is a time for $1 gym memberships — but in Japan, it’s fukubukuro, or lucky bag, season.

With the exception of Tatcha’s free-with-$100-purchase lucky bags (which swept the beauty news circuit), this trend unfortunately hasn’t swept the U.S. yet the way some other Japanese fads have. If it were my choice, I would take the lucky bags over the diet culture any day!

Thankfully, you can still get fukubukuro in some select locations here in the U.S. Some of these fukubukuro are shipped from overseas, while others come from the States themselves. While the wait may be longer for those that are shipped internationally, it’s always worth it once you open up your lucky bag and see what’s inside.

These four fukubukuro will help you ring in the New Year with a kawaii surprise. Just make sure you grab one before it’s too late: fukubukuro are usually available for a limited time only!

Tips for Getting Fukubukuro in the United States

Because fukubukuro are a Japanese trend that hasn’t yet become widespread in the United States, you’ll need to do some digging in order to get your hands on authentic Japanese lucky bags. My best tips for getting fukubukuro in the United States are as follows:

  • Look at U.S.-based kawaii and Japanese pop culture stores first. Many of these stores have adopted the lucky bag trend, and you’ll pay less in shipping than if you get your fukubukuro from Japan.
  • Use a proxy service to order off of Amazon Japan or other places that sell fukubukuro. Proxy services like ZenMarket hire someone to buy Japan-only items for you. Then, they mail them to you at a lower shipping cost than if you were to purchase them yourself.
  • Search for prior years’ fukubukuro (or unwanted new fukubukuro) on sites like Poshmark and Mercari. Some people are getting rid of theirs at a far lower price point than what they retail for!
  • Expect to pay up to $200 for authentic Japanese lucky bags. The price typically depends on the size, but generally speaking, you’ll need to pay more for a Japanese lucky bag than for a lucky bag sold by a U.S. company. This is because lucky bags are highly coveted in Japan, and fukubukuro season can get competitive among consumers!

Four Lucky Bags That Ship to the United States

Sugoi Mart Lucky Bag

Run by the subscription box company Japan Crate, Sugoi Mart is a shop for getting Japan-only items. Much of their stock centers on Japanese food, which often comes in flavors we would consider wild here in the U.S. If you want to test your taste buds (and snag some kawaii bonus items in the process), grab yourself a Sugoi Mart Lucky Bag this January. They cost $50 and are guaranteed to contain double the value.

Blippo Surprise Kawaii Mixed Bag

Blippo Kawaii Shop sells both signature and character goods. Shipped from Singapore, the $22.50 lucky bag is guaranteed to contain a mix of home goods, stationery, plush, and more from their rich warehouse. You’ll get at least 15 adorable products when you buy a Blippo surprise bag. Because it’s such a steal, I just got my hands on one today. I can’t wait for it to get here so I can show you all what I got! (Note: while I’ve worked with Blippo in the past, I purchased the lucky bag with my own money; this is not a PR product.)

Tofu Cute Panda Mixed Lucky Bag

Tofu Cute is a U.K.-based kawaii shop that sells signature lucky bags stuffed with kawaii goodies. They have both vegetarian and carnivorous versions, since their bags contain a mixture of snacks and Amuse plush. You can also get a version of the lucky bag that contains Amuse plush only — perfect for the plushie hoarder in your life! The Tofu Cute lucky bag costs about 30 GBP, which comes out to about $40 when converted to USD.

JapanLA $40 Kids Surprise Lucky Bag

JapanLA is a Japanese pop culture store based in, you guessed it, Los Angeles, California! Their proximity to Japan makes it easy for them to get their hands on authentic Japanese merchandise. This $40 lucky bag says it’s for kids, but I take that to mean that it’s for the young at heart πŸ™‚ What the bag really contains is an assortment of Hello Kitty items valued between $100 and $150, making it perfect for any Sanrio fans out there. If you’re feeling extra lucky, they also sell a $75 version, too.