One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

Category Archives: Decluttering/Organizing

Back in November, when I went to France, I wanted to make sure I packed a good carry on for the long flight.  I wouldn’t say I brought an excessive amount of stuff, but I wanted to bring enough items to keep me happy for about ten hours of plane travel, as well as a few necessities in case my luggage got lost.  For me, that meant packing the following:

  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • Phone & charger
  • Laptop & cords
  • Books (2)
  • Small makeup bag w/basic makeup items
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Scarf (in case the plane ride got chilly)
  • Extra pair of jeans/underwear/t-shirt in case my luggage was lost
  • Small jewelry pouch
  • Reading glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Keys

(I also ended up cramming an extra pair of shoes in my carry-on that wouldn’t fit in my checked bag – don’t judge.)

The night before I left, however, I found myself in a quandary about which bag to pack it all in.  I own several bags that work as a carry-on, but unfortunately, I’ve always felt they were all slightly lacking in one way or another.  For instance, I have this gym/overnight bag: IMG_4111 It’s comfortable to carry, and even has a great waterproof pocket for a wet towel or swimsuit.  But the compartments are kind of long and narrow, and won’t accommodate a laptop.  It also doesn’t fit well under an airplane seat, which means either unpacking a bunch of stuff before you sit down and then repacking it when you land, or making sure you sit on the aisle so you can keep getting in and out of it.  Blech.

I also have this computer bag that I bought in Barcelona a few years back: IMG_4110 It’s made out of those vinyl banners that you see on lampposts to advertise special events.  I love the company, Vaho Trashion, that makes the bags, and appreciate that they use reclaimed materials.  However, the bag isn’t padded, so it requires me to also use a protective case on my laptop, and while it’s fine when using it around town, I did worry about it getting knocked around too much during extensive overseas travel.  It also doesn’t hold much more than a computer and a few files, so there was no way I was going to get all my other crap in there.

I own this small carry-on bag from an old set of luggage I bought at Costco a million years ago:

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It’s easy to carry, and fits well under an airplane seat, but after multiple attempts to pack all my stuff in it, I had to admit it was just too small (especially with that extra pair of shoes).

I finally settled on this bag:

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In the end, it won because it was easy to carry, and big enough to hold all my stuff.  I also figured because it was so unstructured, I’d be able to cram it under the seat in front of me.  It had a little extra room in case I were to buy anything on my trip – but not enough that I’d be tempted to splurge.

Perfect, right?

WRONG.

Carrying this bag made me miserable. Because it has absolutely no padding or structure of any kind, I was super neurotic about my laptop getting damaged.  The lack of structure also meant that all my stuff clumped up into a pile inside, so finding anything in it was really difficult, and then trying to shove it back under the seat in front of me was almost impossible.  The structure issue also meant that the weight inside the bag was frequently unbalanced, so it felt like I was schlepping around a large bag of rocks, and my items would shift into odd angles and poke out the sides, so at one point I found myself running through the Amsterdam airport to make a connecting flight while being repeatedly stabbed in the ribs by the sharp corner of a book.  I tried balancing it on the handle of my roller bag while walking along the cobblestoned streets in France, and within seconds it would slide off with a thunk and topple my bag over.  In short, it sucked.

When I got home, I decided to casually start perusing options for a good replacement carry-on.  I didn’t have another trip planned, so I wasn’t in a hurry, but to my surprise and delight, I almost immediately stumbled across this incredibly great company called Lo & Sons.

What makes Lo & Sons so wonderful?  Their bags are smart, sleek, lightweight, and beautifully designed.  They hold a TON of stuff.  They look classy and stylish.  They are designed to conveniently, and firmly, attach to your roller bag.  Most of them are made to fit under an airplane seat.  They come in a lot of different designs and color options, and all of them are lovely.  I could go on and on.  (And no, Lo & Sons did not sponsor this post, I am just truly a huge fan now). They also did one of the smartest things on their website that I’ve ever seen a bag manufacturer do:  They made a video for each bag, showing someone packing it, and exactly what they were able to fit into it.  So even though I was purchasing the bag online, I was confident it would work for me – without the video, I’m not sure I would have ventured to try it.

Their bags are not dirt cheap, but after owning one, I can tell you I have absolutely no regrets (I also got mine on sale, and I had Christmas gift money to spend, so no debt was incurred).  This bag is PERFECT for me.  I took it with me on my recent trip to Hawaii, and I carried all of the same things I took to France (including an extra bikini and some fashion mags for poolside reading), and it worked like a dream.  I especially appreciated how thoughtfully designed it was in terms of the interior and exterior pockets, and how easy it was to access my stuff during the flight. I got the OMG in navy, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Click on over to their site and watch the videos for each bag – they do not misrepresent.  I got rid of three of the other not-so-great carry-on in my collection (believe it or not, I kept the bag I took to France, because it’s a good around-town tote.  But I won’t be taking it on any more flights, ever).  I have a feeling I won’t miss any of them a bit.


My last excuse for such a long blog hiatus?  A show followed by a trip.

My excuse this time?  Another show, followed by another trip.

But in the midst of all that crazy, I actually have done some work on my stuff!  I just haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and write about it.  I’m currently embarking on rehearsals for another show starting next week, but as of now, I won’t be following that show up with a trip, so maybe I won’t completely fall off the blogging map again (probably wishful thinking, but I’m gonna try).  In the meantime, I’ll attempt to bring things up to date.

I mentioned back in January that I had read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  One of the things she talks about very specifically is the process of paring down your book collection – or, perhaps, more accurately, getting rid of all but your most beloved books.  Books are a tough one for me – I love to read, and in addition to devouring new titles, I often reread old favorites and get just as much pleasure from them the second, third, and twentieth time around.  I also am a former English major and live in Portland in close proximity to the reader’s mecca of Powell’s, so it’s probably not surprising that I own a lot of books.  We have four bookcases throughout our house, and also have built in cubbyholes in our bedroom that make perfect little book storage areas as well, and all of them are full.

Only one of our bookcases is actually nice (a lovely hardwood piece from Ethan Allen)- the others, not so much.  Two are cheap particleboard ones from Target (one of which was a hand me down from friends who were moving), and the remaining one I bought very inexpensively at a second hand store.  It’s actually hardwood, but it’s also old and kind of falling apart, and could probably use a new paint job.  It earns its keep, however, by being unusually narrow and able to fit perfectly into a little niche in our hallway.  The Ethan Allen bookcase and one of the particleboard ones lives in our office space in a his and hers sort of arrangement – and the other particleboard bookcase is in the corner of our guest room.

It occurred to me that if I were to whittle down my book collection to what I most loved, I could reduce the number of bookcases I owned as well.  This was a particularly attractive idea for our guest room, because having the bookcase in the corner didn’t leave guests any real room for important stuff like luggage.  And in the office, the space felt overly crammed with furniture as well – literally every wall in that room was lined with either a desk, a bookcase, or credenza, with almost zero whitespace.

Ms. Kondo’s advice for tidying involves gathering all items of a like type from all over your living space and putting them in a pile in one room, so you can clearly see just how much of that one type of item you own.  With books, this can seem a little silly since if your book are on shelves, you can clearly see the titles and sort through them that way.  But she was firm on this point – take them out and put them in pile, because part of her process also includes physically touching each item and intuitively responding to the question “Does this item bring me joy?” and if the answer is not a resounding yes, it has to go.  I decided to commit to Kondo’s method and pulled all my books from the shelves and spread them out on the living room floor.

I’m sorry to say I was so wrapped up in the process of all that gathering and questioning that I forgot to take any before pictures of the bookcases or the massive pile on my living room floor.  But when my sorting process was over, I did have a pretty big stack of books to take to resale – it took me one full rolling suitcase and two large shopping bags to haul it all in.  (Side note:  I made almost no money at resale.  With the internet, books have become much less of a rare commodity.  I ended up donating the majority of them).

But while I had technically disposed of enough books to empty two full bookcases, I had not anticipated that the individual sizes of the books remaining would pose a problem.  In addition to some beloved large format coffee table books, I have a lot of scripts that I keep in three ring binders which were too tall for most of the shelves of the bookcases, with the exception of the cheap particleboard one in the guest room I was hoping to get rid of (sigh).  I could keep all the bookcases I currently had, but it would mean they were all half empty.  Ugh.

So we bought a new bookcase.  It may seem counterproductive, but after multiple attempts of arranging and rearranging our remaining collection into various bookcase combinations, it became clear that we simply needed something that better suited our needs.  So we went on the hunt for one that would be large enough to hold my entire book collection (Ron’s much smaller collection could be easily housed in the nice Ethan Allen bookcase we wanted to keep), and had adjustable shelves to accommodate the scripts and large format books.  We found a lovely, locally made alder wood bookcase at a Portland store called Natural Furniture that fit the bill perfectly, and it was on a great sale as well.

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The new bookcase

 

That allowed us to happily give the two particleboard bookcases to our friend Kelley, who is a teacher and needed them for her classroom.  Creating more free space in our house, and helping a teacher in the process?  Yes please. Total win/win.

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The two we exchanged for one

We’re currently keeping the narrow bookcase in the hallway, though I’m not sure it’s here for the long run.  It holds my stash of empty journals and some of the decorative objects and picture frames that got displaced when we got rid of the other two bookcases, so it looks a bit junky, but I’m not ready to let it go just yet.

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The office still holds two bookcases as before, and admittedly, still feels pretty over full with furniture.   But there is now a lovely empty corner in the guest room where at some point we may put a luggage rack or perhaps just a small set of hooks on the wall, but for now we’re leaving it free.  It looks so much more roomy and welcoming, and is much easier to clean – I love it.

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I guess the lesson I learned in this process is that sometimes it makes sense to upgrade to one new lagom item that fits all your needs, instead of keeping a larger collection of imperfect items that have to all work together to get the same job done.  It may have cost us a little extra to make it happen, but it was worth it.


I keep a suitcase in the basement that I fill with clothes that are headed to resale.  With as much closet purging and as little clothes buying as I’ve done in the past year, I have been consistently convinced that each trip to resale will be my last for at least the next 6 months, if not a year.  Because if I’m adding very few new clothes, and each time I’ve purged my closet I’ve gotten it down to just my favorites, how is it possible I could still have more stuff to get rid of so quickly?  Well, apparently, it is possible, because look:

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I sold back clothing about two months ago, so this new pile-up was a surprise.  The suitcase was so full of clothes that I felt compelled to take a look at what I was getting rid of and why, since obviously a mere two months ago I loved these very items too much to part with them.  Here’s is a brief sampling of some things that went from my love it list to my loathe it list in just a few weeks.

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Three pairs of jeans.  I wear jeans most days of the week, so I’ve always kept a lot of them in my closet – like up to 12 pairs at times.  But I’ve been steadily decreasing that number, because I’ve noticed that while yes, I always want to wear jeans, I also always want to wear the SAME jeans over and over again.  So why should I keep so many?  These three did not make the cut.

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Two summer dresses.  The striped on on the left is very cute and I did wear it a lot, but I got it at Target so it wasn’t the most well-made garment I’ve ever bought, and after being repeatedly laundered it’s starting to look a little shabby and slightly shrunken.  I definitely got my use out of it though, so I feel good about letting it go.  The pink dress is an inexpensive one I bought at Gap, and I wore it a few times, but it fell victim to the “one in one out” rule (I talk about letting it go in more detail over on the Tiny Homes site).  I was very tempted to say screw the one in/one out rule and keep both dresses, but I’m very happy with my new dress, and in just a month I have already worn the new one more than this old one, which has been hanging in my closet for nearly three years.  

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These shorts make me feel fat. Therefore, I feel irritable every time I put them on and end up taking them right back off. I have another pair of green shorts that don’t make me feel fat, but I kept these because….yeah, I don’t know.

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This shirt, cardigan, and blazer are all from Anthropologie.  I kid you not when I say that close to 70% of my wardrobe used to be comprised of items from Anthropologie.  I haven’t been able to afford to shop there in the past year, and cutting my Anthro habit made a big impact in stemming the flow of clothes into my wardrobe, since I rarely walked out of that store without buying something.  I currently have about 10 items from Anthropologie left in my possession, which for me is a little weird.  I think I hung onto to these three more out of nostalgia for my favorite store than any real desire to wear them.  But a whole spring/summer went by without me wearing the shirt or cardigan, and while I still like the blazer well enough, I’ve slowly gotten rid of most of the other items that I used to wear it with, so now it feels like odd man out.  It was time for all of them to go.

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I actually wore this halter top from the Banana Republic outlet store a lot, and I remember buying it on a whim and it being on such a great sale I thought “If I wear this five times I’ll get my money’s worth out of it.”  I definitely got my money’s worth, but the last couple times I tried it on I felt like it looked too boxy and ended up changing into something else, so I feel like my infatuation has ended.  But no guilt on this purchase at all!

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I do, however, have guilt over this black Diane Von Furstenburg dress which I held on to for YEARS, because it was very expensive, and well, because it was DVF.  But I rarely wore it.  I’ve never been a big fan of shirt dresses, but I’ve tried valiantly over the years to try to like them by purchasing various incarnations of the style.  I saw a picture of myself wearing this dress shortly after I’d worn it to our Godson’s christening, and I looked like a total frump.  After that, I never really wanted to wear it again.  My Godson is now seven years old.  Time to let it go.

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I have a LOT of guilt for getting rid of these boots.  Not because I like them, but because a) I spent waaaay too much money on them, and b) I purchased them while on vacation in Vienna, and made poor Ron go into store after store one day for HOURS while I searched for the perfect black boot (important side note:  I already had three pairs of black boots at home, and was wearing a fourth pair that I really liked while I was on this stupid quest).  I wore them only a handful of times, because holyhelllookattheheelsonthosethings – I’m lucky I didn’t fall down and break/sprain something/everything.  Every time I wore them I was worried I would catch that open heel on something and trip, so needless to say, I was not the epitome of graceful when I wore them.  And therefore, I never wanted to wear them.  And every time I looked at them in the closet, I was reminded of my bad judgement.  It will be nice to be free from their mockery.

I could go on with more pictures and stories, but it’d be more of the same, and this post would take an hour to read.  In addition to the items I’ve specifically shown here, I also sold a bunch of t-shirts, sweaters, work out clothes, and a few more pairs of shoes – and walked out of resale with $204.  If I had any nostalgia about letting these items go when I went in, I can assure you I didn’t have any left when they handed me the money.

And here is the pile of stuff that didn’t sell that I will be taking to Goodwill:

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I guess the lesson I learned from this little exercise, and will probably still be learning for a while to come, is that I still have a lot more than I actually need, and much of what I am still clinging to is for reasons other than “I love it”.  I’m still finding my lagom.  

 

 


Last week Ron and I celebrated nine years of marriage.  I still can’t believe it’s been that long!  For the first time this year, we exchanged gifts to celebrate an occasion.  As usual, Ron’s gift was easy- I gave him wine for his collection.  This time, however, it was an extra special bottle, because we got it while wine tasting in Napa Valley at Groth, his favorite winery, and the owner happened to walk by while we were there and not only did Ron get a chance to chat him up and take a photo with him, but he signed the bottle.  I have a feeling that’s one bottle of wine that will never get opened.

Also as usual, I picked out my own gift, which I really have no shame about.  I would much prefer to get something I really want or need than be surprised with something that I would potentially end up returning.  And this year, I did specifically have my eye on something I needed – a new wallet.  I’ve been window shopping wallets for months – my old one was getting pretty worn, and I was interested in experimenting with a new style.

My old wallet was a traditional trifold style:

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with a coin purse on the outside:

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I initially bought it because I loved how much stuff it held.  Look at all the credit card slots inside:

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there were even two pockets behind the credit card slots where you could stuff even MORE cards, and believe me, I did:

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Which adds up to a fat little wallet that weighs a ton, especially when I have a lot of pennies in the coin purse.

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The new ones I was considering would require me to manage my wallet very differently, and I have to admit that made me nervous.  I had it narrowed down to two styles, both of which were zipper enclosed all the way around.  One had a center coin purse with a fair amount of slots for cards flanking the coin section on both sides, and the other wallet opened like a little book, with a TINY amount of slots for cards and a small coin/currency section on one side, and then a compartment to hold a cell phone on the other side.

For months I had been vacillating between the two styles mentally, and then it was suddenly the day before our anniversary and Ron said, “Uh…were you going to go pick out your gift?”  Both wallets were at Nordstrom, so that afternoon I decided to go in and try to fit some of my actual crap into them and see which one might work best.

When I arrived I headed over to where I had seen them on display, but on my way I passed a discount table and the saleslady chirped, “We just marked down a ton of stuff so you might want to take a look!”  And lo and behold, both wallets, in the exact colors I wanted, were on the markdown table.  Fate.

I took the wallets over to some free counter space and began fitting my various cards into the slots and comparing the two.  The wallet with the middle coin purse and the larger amount of card slots definitely fit my stuff better.  But…I hated the way it functioned and how I would have to dig around in it.  The wallet with the phone holder was a much better, much sleeker design, and I knew in my gut I loved it more.  But it didn’t hold even a quarter of what I was used to carrying.

I started to sort my cards out on the counter, trying to figure out which ones were essential, and which ones weren’t.  I was able to immediately put aside about five cards that were expired or for businesses I no longer frequented, but that was about it.  It’s not like I use a ton of cards on a regular basis, but there were things that I knew I would want on me if were to need them – things like my library cards, a couple store credit cards, member/rewards cards from various stores, and some partially filled punch cards.  As much as I often WANT to live a sleeker, pared down lifestyle, I am frequently faced with having to honestly admit that some of my clutter is useful to me.  And the thought of buying a new wallet in a style I didn’t love that would help me continue to haul a bunch of crap around was…depressing.

I was dejectedly stuffing my cards back into my old wallet, starting to wonder if I should even bother with a new wallet until I learned how to travel a little more lightly, when the saleslady came over to see if she could help.  I gestured helplessly at the mess of cards and coins all over her counters and explained that I while I loved the smaller phone wallet, I didn’t think it would go with my lifestyle.

She regarded my scattered items and then suggested kindly, “You know what some people do?  They just keep their most important, most frequently used cards in their wallet, and then they buy something like a little business card holder for all their extra, less frequently used cards.  You can keep that in your purse as well so you always have it, but it will allow you to have a much smaller and tidier wallet that you use every day.”

Why.  Didn’t.  I.  Think.  Of.  THAT?????

So thanks to the nice saleslady and her excellent suggestion, I bought the sleek phone wallet that I really wanted.  It’s lovely!  Look:

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The other side is silver – it’s like jewelry for my purse!

 

And here is the inside:

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A lot less room than I’m used to, but I’m actually looking forward to the change and seeing how I do with it.  Not to mention, I love that it holds my phone, and because of the little wrist strap, I could even carry it as an evening purse.  And it makes a PERFECT travel wallet.  Lovelovelove it.

I had to go through all my cards and figure out what would make the cut.  Truth be told, it was not that hard to isolate what my most frequently used cards were:  driver’s license, personal debit card, personal credit card, household debit card, household credit card, a rewards card for the grocery store I shop at most often, and two health insurance cards.  The money compartment on this wallet is also pretty small, but since I almost never have cash anyway, it shouldn’t be a problem. I will have to carry much fewer coins, but I am totally fine with that – I decided to start a penny jar with Ron and we’ll both unload our pennies into it every day, and use what we accumulate to go to the movies or do something fun.

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The remaining cards I tucked into a little pouch which I used to use to carry my foreign money when I was touring a lot, and it’s the perfect size for them:

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I’ll reassess how often I use some of them after a few months, and will pare down accordingly.  I just made the transfer, so I’m still unsure how the new system will actually work for me, but I really hope it does.  Much in the way I initially never thought I could live without all the clothes I’ve gotten rid of over the past year, I have a feeling once I’m used to it, traveling with a smaller wallet will feel totally lagom.*

*And if it doesn’t, I’m returning the damn thing.  If you look close you can see I’ve left the tags on it for now.


It hasn’t been my intention to turn into a once a month blogger, but I was just looking at the dates of the last two posts and realized that’s pretty much what I’ve become!  I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things, but if my current trend of busyness continues, I might only be able to up it to about twice a month.

I haven’t done anything interesting or remarkable when it comes to my stuff lately – I’ve parted with a few things here and there, but nothing major.  There are still areas in my home that could use some help, but with the amount I’ve been working, the last thing I’ve wanted to do at the end of the day is come home and sort through all my crap.  It’s been all I can do to continue to keep things like incoming mail and magazines under control.  Overstuffed drawers and closets?  Forget it, they can wait.

Actually, I was pretty proud of myself for throwing something away the the other day.  I reached into my purse for a lip gloss, and grabbed the first tube my fingers found.  I put it on, and noticed that it smelled kinda chemical-y, like maybe it was past its prime.  Then I looked in the mirror and wasn’t happy with the color.  Or how sticky it felt on my lips.  And  instead of just putting it back in my purse like I usually do, I actually THREW IT AWAY.  That may seem like the obvious choice, but take a look at the tube:

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I’ve had it so long, all the identifying brand information has worn off the tube.  It’s still mostly full.  I have probably hated the color multiple times, but I do remember that this lip gloss was expensive, so I’ve just hung onto it, hoping someday I would like it, use it, and get my money’s worth out of it.  I’m happy to say that I am finally able to toss stuff like this, leaving my purse a little lighter from unnecessary stuff.  And unnecessary guilt.

Other than that, I guess the main thing that’s been on my mind these days is that for as jubilant as we were to be out of debt, I mostly feel like we’re still in it, because nothing about our financial life is more fun than it was before.  Part of this is due to us having a lot of expenses in June, so to be fair, we haven’t had a month yet where we weren’t trying to come up with an extra $1,000 or so for bills.  But both Ron and I have been kinda bummed that we’re still scrimping and saving like usual, and we still can’t afford to do anything but the basics.  In fact, we were supposed to celebrate our birthdays in June since we couldn’t afford to do it in May, but June was so freaking expensive we couldn’t do it last month either.  We’ve half-heartedly talked about doing it this month, but our anniversary is in August and we need to save money to be able to celebrate that, so we may just take a pass on celebrating birthdays this year.

Obviously, these are total first-world problems.  We are not suffering.  My point is just that I keep finding myself wondering why after the initial high of reaching our goal, it really doesn’t feel better.  Even though I logically knew it would take us time to be able to bolster our finances back up, and that we couldn’t just run to the mall or start going out to eat on a regular basis the second we paid off our cards, I think a part of me WAS craving some sort of  shopping-related reward for our hard work.  For the past year I’ve kept all sorts of lists of the things I would buy when I was out of debt, and Ron and I even kept a list of things that we need to replace around the house once we are financially able.  And those lists have not budged, because instead of just charging stuff like we usually would, we are holding off buying anything that we can’t pay for in cash, or pay off in full if we were to charge it.  And that makes the whole shopping thing a sloooooow endeavor.

The one thing we did purchase this month was a replacement for our nonstick frying pan, because the coating has been chipping and peeling off on the old one over the past year, and I’ve heard that toxins can be released into your food when that happens, so we knew we needed to make it a priority to replace it:

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Mmmmm….toxins

We actually would have put it off even longer, but Williams Sonoma was having a good sale on the cookware we use, so it seemed like an opportune time to buy it.  We have a smaller nonstick frying pan from the same cookware line that is also peeling, and we considered replacing that too, but ultimately talked ourselves out of it.  Technically, our “splurge” this month was Stella’s annual shots and vet exam, which we charged last month and will be paying off in full this month.  We hadn’t really planned to replace cookware this month, and if we keep buying new pieces, we will suddenly find ourselves back in the same situation of having to come up with an extra $1,000 beyond our normal expenses and I am sick to death of that process.  So the new pan is our one purchase for July, and we’ll have to wait until next month before we can get something else.

I hate this process.  I hate waiting.  I hate not being able to get what I want or need when I want or need it.  I hate knowing that there are things I want right now that will be sold out by the time I’m able to afford them.  But even as I type these words,  I know there is nothing special about me that says I shouldn’t have to wait – lots of other people have to wait for things they want, and many of them never even get it.  And I know that if I REALLY need something important, like medical attention or food or shelter, I  have a wide open charge card that can help me get it in the blink of an eye.  And I know that for all the hundreds of items I either sold or gave away over the past year, there was a moment where I felt I wanted and needed each one of those items too, even though most of them didn’t really provide a great return on my investment.

So I suppose I just have to work my way through this part of the process, and get comfortable being uncomfortable with all the stupid waiting.  But let me tell you…it totally sucks.


I’ve been asked a lot lately how it feels to finally be out of debt.  And my first response is always the truth – that it feels amazing, great, a total relief!

But what I usually say next, because it is also the truth, is that life doesn’t feel that much different yet.  In fact, we’re guessing it will be a few months before we really start to feel like we can relax financially.  To get out of debt, we put every spare cent we had towards our credit cards, which means we were frequently down to our last couple dollars at the end of the month.  As a result, there is no extra “fun” money cushion available to us at the moment, and we actually had some significant expenses this month that were planned and expected, but need to be paid all the same.  For instance, we had to do some repairs to the duct work in our house after we discovered one had come loose and we were paying to heat the crawl space instead of the house, which cost about $500.  We put off Stella’s annual shots and vet exam for a couple months due to our finances, which we felt really anxious and guilty about, so we said we’d make it happen this month no matter what and we did –  to the tune of about $250 bucks.  So we may not have to come up with our usual credit card payment anymore, but we still do have to come up with close to $1,000 this month.  I’m just grateful we don’t have to come up with the credit card payment ON TOP of that.

So yeah…life is not all that different for the most part.

But there is one effect of being debt-free that HAS surprised me – knowing we will soon have some discretionary income again has made me want to get rid of more stuff!  I had felt pretty plateaued out on the whole purging process, and felt like maybe I had finally reached my lagom in certain categories.  But right after we got out of debt, I suddenly felt this surge of of wanting to get rid of things, especially where my clothing was concerned.  Weird, right?

Well, maybe not.  Because when I think about it, much of the reason I was holding on to some items was because I wasn’t sure how long it would be until we were out of debt and I was no longer on such a strict shopping lockdown.  I was hesitant to throw out too many of my clothing options when I knew I couldn’t buy something new if I got bored.  And that fear made me clingy.

But knowing that it’s now an option (within reason) to replace something that is worn out, or to add a new item to my closet that I really love and think I will use, made me start to reevaluate things I’ve hung onto that I don’t love as much.  Also, the weather in Portland has been absolutely glorious, so a couple weeks ago I took my spring/summer stuff out of storage and retired my heavier winter clothes.  As I was about to hang each stored piece back into the closet, I really took a minute to decide if I still loved each garment, and in several cases the answer was either “no” or “eh…I dunno.”

This time, instead of doing what I’ve always done – which is to just shove everything back in the closet anyway – I decided if the item wasn’t a definite “I love it” piece, I would test drive it. I would wear the item as soon as possible, and if it was uncomfortable, or didn’t really suit my lifestyle anymore, or made me feel frumpy, or dove me crazy in any way, it had to go.

It proved to be a great exercise.  Some items I only wore half a day before I couldn’t stand it anymore and changed into something else.  Some things didn’t even make it past getting dressed in the morning and checking my reflection before they landed in the giveaway pile.  In truth, I was probably being super duper extra critical of everything, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in my case.  As someone who has been prone to emotional and impulse buying, it’s good for me to practice being really, REALLY critical of purchases, whether that’s before I buy them (preferably), or admitting that they were mistakes after the fact and letting that acknowledgement make me more cautious moving forward.  I found myself learning a TON about what I really love and want, and what I need to carefully consider and avoid the next time I’m about to buy.

For instance, I’ve been a such a sucker for a sale in the past, that I’ve been known to buy things that aren’t my actual size, thinking I may take them to a tailor, or that the fit isn’t as bad as I think it is.  The items I test drove reminded me that I will pretty much NEVER take something to the tailor (because I’m lazy), and the fit is absolutely as bad as I think it is.  As a result I barely wear the item.  Like this very cute blouse from Anthropolgie:

blouse

It was on sale, and I loved it.  But it was one size above my usual size.  I bought it anyway, and then every time I wore it, I spent a lot of time checking to make sure the neckline was still in place (it often wasn’t).  It looked great if I stood perfectly still, but as soon as I did something crazy, like, you know, move around, I was showing the world my cute blouse AND my cute bra.  Classy.

Also, both these skirts have been hanging in my closet for years:

skirs

I don’t wear them that often.  Why?  Because despite the way I WISH my body was shaped, my actual shape does not look good in a skirt that’s cut like this.  Again, if I stand perfectly still, it looks great.  As soon as I start walking though, skirts like this start inching up around my hips and I spend all day tugging them back down.  They’re meant to hit just above the knee, but frequently on me, they scrunch up to miniskirt length.  I did make it through a whole day in the brown skirt, but it made me miserable and when I got home, I immediately took it off and threw it in the giveaway pile.

This shirt is a perfect example of how shopaholic crazed I can get sometimes:

pink top

I saw it online, and it was on sale.  I dawdled about buying it for a couple days, but then decided I was going to get it, because it was the style I was looking for, I loved the color, and it was on sale.  But when I went back to the website to purchase it, they no longer had it in my size.  Suddenly I went from wanting the shirt in a nonchalant way, to an obsessive, white hot panic to track down another one just like it at any cost.  I trolled the web for a couple days and found another one for double the price of the one that had been on sale, and was just about to buy it, when I happened to check back with the initial website, and they suddenly had it available in my size again.  I triumphantly bought it, and was so excited to get it…until it arrived.  It was much cuter online than in person – in person it was much boxier, and the neckline was a lot lower than I’d realized.  Much like the blouse mentioned above, every time I wore it I found myself checking to see if my bra was showing.  I kept it for longer than I should have, trying to convince myself I liked it, because when I thought about the fervor with which I’d pursued it, I felt stupid.  But that’s the trouble with keeping things that make you feel that way – every time you look in your closet, they mock you and remind you of your mistake.  I decided it was better to admit my error and get rid of it, rather than have to look at it every day and feel guilty.

In the end, the size of the pile I amassed really surprised me:

pile

But I didn’t feel hesitant about getting rid of any of it.  I took it to resale and walked out with $84, which I’ve used to replace some of my worn out basic summer staples like shorts and t-shirts.  Everything I bought I found on incredible sales ($8.99 for some summer t-shirts at J. Crew, are you kidding me???), and I love the colors I chose, the quality of the items, and how they fit.

I have less stuff in my closet now than I’ve ever had, and while there still may be a few “on the fence” items lurking in there, I am pretty thrilled with everything I’ve kept, and still feel like I have a lot of stuff – maybe even too much.  It may not be be lagom yet, but it sure has been a pleasure to get dressed in the morning.



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