When I was working in the corporate world, I had two very distinct selections of clothing: “work” clothes, and “weekend” clothes.
If you opened my closet, you would have been easily able to identify which items belonged in which category. Work clothes consisted of lots of dry-clean-only type of stuff from Gap, Banana Republic, and Nordstrom in shades of black/brown/gray/cream– things like slacks, pencil skirts, suits, button down blouses, blazers, nice dresses, nylons, and lots and lots of high heeled boots and pumps. Weekend clothes were comfy and colorful things like jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, socks, flats, and sneakers. Having two totally different styles of clothing for the work and non-work parts of my life were part of the reason why my closets and dressers were so jammed full of stuff–the other part being due to my unfortunate shopaholic tendencies.
I recently got an email from a clothing store advertising a sale on “weekend wear”, and it occurred to me that I no longer have a wardrobe that distinguishes between the two styles – pretty much most of my daily wardrobe is weekend wear, with a few slightly more dressed up options. As a full time actor, there are some mornings when I have to get up, dress presentably, put on makeup, fix my hair, and either go to auditions, a recording studio, meetings, rehearsals, or other events that put me out in public. But there are more mornings where I get up, put on workout clothes, walk Stella, eat breakfast, work out, answer email, and then start working from home on recording/auditioning/reading scripts/memorizing lines and before I know it Ron is almost due home from the office and I’ve yet to shower or officially get dressed or even stop to eat lunch. I may talk to a lot of people via phone or email during the day, but no one actually SEES me, so I don’t spend much time worrying about what I look like or how I’m dressed, especially if I’m on a deadline.
This means that things like my slippers get a ton of wear. I used to have (unsurprisingly) about four pairs of slippers, but in one of my early decluttering sessions after I started this blog, I got rid of all but my one favorite pair. They aren’t particularly expensive or fancy, but I really like the style and how comfortable they are. I’ve had them for easily 10 years, and have worn them a LOT (I am one of those people whose hands and feet are often cold – just ask Ron, who has to endure me getting into bed at night and putting my icy fingers and toes against his perpetually heat-radiating body to warm up). Last year, while we were still in debt-pay down mode, I was sitting on the couch with my feet propped up facing Ron, and I saw him stare at the soles of my slippers and then gently say, “Uhhh…honey, I know money is tight, but I’m sure we could figure out a way to get you a new pair of slippers.”
I knew why he was saying it. From the top, my slippers looked totally normal:
But from the bottom, they were definitely looking a bit worse for wear:
And you have to see the side view too, to really appreciate how
gross loved they were:
The thing was, I knew I could have afforded a new pair – Fred Meyer, Kmart, or even a Walgreens sell slippers very inexpensively, and often offer coupons as well. But since my mission has been to buy fewer, better things, and because slippers are something I knew I would wear really often, I wanted them to be a high quality pair that I LOVED.
Which made the process of finding a new pair become way too important and painstaking. It took me MONTHS. Well, to be fair, some of those months were in the summer, when it’s way too hot for slippers, but I cannot tell you how many online and in person searches I did to find a good replacement. I scoured countless websites, read hundreds of reviews, stalked various shoe departments, and still couldn’t find anything I felt was right – or more accurately, “perfect”. I was even wiling to shell out a lot of money for them – I saw some really similar but ridiculously expensive ones by Ugg, for nearly $90, and was seriously considering them, until I noticed that most of the reviews said the sizing was consistently either too big or too small if you’re a half size, like me.
And then, I finally had to remind myself that no matter how much I loved my new pair, or how much money I spent on them, much like my old pair, the new pair would wear out someday, and I’d have to buy new ones. And while I was wasting all this stupid time fretting over finding something “perfect”, I was spending every day of my present life walking around with holes in my soles.
A day after I had this thought, I happened to be walking past J. Crew, and they were in the midst a huge sale. In multiple baskets on the display tables were pretty pastel piles of cozy slippers. Next to the baskets were signs that said, “Additional 40% off.” And in the lavender color that I liked the most, they had exactly one pair left in my size. So I bought them – for a very reasonable $27.
I LOVE my new slippers. They are cozy, pretty, and sooooo comfortable:
And even better, they have non-slip rubber soles, with no holes in them:
And even better than THAT, I have them right NOW, and I am wearing them every day. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I did throw the old ones away).
In the end, of course, we’re just talking about a silly pair of slippers. But the experience was a good reminder for me that if seeking perfection becomes your entire focus, you’re a) probably never going to achieve it, and b) you will spend way too much time during that process living with circumstances or things you really need to release.
What about you? Is there an area in your life where you are seeking the perfect something, to the point where you’re living without something you could really use right now? Share in the comments if you feel so inclined!
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
I’ve got a new guest post up at the tiny homes site:
It actually went live yesterday and I forgot to post about it. You know what else I forgot yesterday? That is was Ron’s birthday, until I looked at Facebook and saw people wishing him a happy birthday there. The best part is, my birthday was two weeks ago and Ron did the EXACT same thing – we were up and about for a couple hours before he went on Facebook and then realized it was my birthday.
We weren’t trying to be callous. It was an honest mistake on both our parts, because we decided to delay celebrating our birthdays this year until June, when we’ll have more money to celebrate with. So we agreed that we wouldn’t do anything for each other this month on our actual birthdays – no card, no cake, no nice dinner, no gifts. We’ll do a joint celebration in June instead. As a result, when both days hit, they felt like any other day. I’m totally looking forward to our celebration in June, but I have to say, getting out of debt this month was the best present ever!
I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this story from my friend Danielle Fournier. I got a message from Danielle one day after she read one of my posts, sharing some details of her own story and I begged her to write a guest post for me. I’ll go ahead and let you discover it for yourself, but I have to say, I am so inspired and humbled by Danielle’s journey and her honesty about the details of how she got herself into debt and then found her way out of it. All I can say to Danielle is, “Bravo!”, and to my readers, “Enjoy!”:
Confessions Of A Former Shopaholic
I was once a shopaholic.
When I turned 18, I received a $3,000 credit card from my bank. I hit the ground running and didn’t look back.
My first purchase was indicative of a pattern that would lead to near financial ruin fifteen years later. At the time, I lived just up the hill from Frederick & Nelson’s in Seattle. I used my shiny new credit card to purchase the most useful of items- a full length silver fox fur coat. I celebrated that purchase with perfume from another department, then dinner, then a trip to the cd store. All of it was bought with money I didn’t have.
Credit was cheap in the 90’s. My minimum payments, which was all I ever made, were $35-$75 a month. Easily affordable for a young woman with a roommate, a decent income and no responsibilities or financial planning aspirations.
My credit was so good, I bought a house at 25. By the time I was 30, I had 12 credit cards totaling nearly $80,000 in available credit, two cars on payment, a mortgage and second mortgage. I was a model of credit worthiness, all payments made on time, month after month. My house was lovely, the rooms filled with designer sheets, seasonal decor, and collectibles. I had three sets of dishes, including a service of fine china, and closets full of fashionable clothes, most with the tags still intact. Life was good.
However, it wasn’t really. I lived on credit. I had gas cards, department store cards, regular Visas and Mastercards, plus an American Express. Debit cards weren’t in high use yet, but I had an active check book and ATM card. I spent money as fast as I could make it. I never, ever had more than $40 on me, because I was breaking $100s the minute I got them. But hey, the money kept coming in every month, so who cared?
Two events happened a year apart that would bring me to my financial knees and change my life forever.
On May 27, 2007, my younger brother was involved in a diving accident that would devastate our family in ways both financial and emotional. Spinal cord injuries require vast amounts of care involving medications, caregivers, and surgeries. My parents saw their retirements wiped away in a matter of months caring for their son when the insurance wouldn’t cover expenses.
I found myself leaving a three generation family business to go into sales in my brother’s business while we figured out what his prognosis was. Three months turned into six, then a year. I spent six days a week traveling. My bills started falling behind.
I sold my car. I used the money for something other than my bills. I stopped buying a new wardrobe every season. I kept working, but the bills kept stacking up in my new position with lower pay. As a family, we all pitched in and just made it work that first year. We all lived in a haze of sadness over the injury, but remained hopeful for both physical and financial recovery.
I received a phone call from my father in October of 2008. I had turned over my finances to him during the past year when I was working out of town. The truth is, I knew I was in trouble and I couldn’t face the facts, so I just let him handle it. I completely stuck my head in the sand.
I knew what was coming. I had to sell my house.
I cried and cried and cried. I had turned a humble chalet with yellow Formica and glued down carpeting on five acres into a charming abode with high ceilings and custom wood floors. I was so proud I had done this in my twenties. I had all these things that signaled me as a success. And now I was going to part with each and every one of them.
I felt like a horrible failure. But it was the beginning of the happiest time of my life.
My beautiful little house sold in less than three weeks. I had no time to sort or even clean. Box after box went into the moving van. I had rented a tiny apartment next to my parents in Seattle that had room for a bed, a love seat, a desk and a bookcase. The kitchen was three burners, a small sink and a mini fridge. Everything else went into three 10×20 storage units.
Since the house had doubled in value, I paid all my debts off. I then closed each card, dying as I cut each one to bits over a trash can. They weren’t any good anyway. I had stopped paying them three months before when I could no longer afford the payments. My cheap and easy credit had ballooned to a whopping $7,000 a month, the mortgage being the smallest of the bills. I decided wrecking my credit was favorable over not paying off the cards. With my income cut in half, my only choice was to sell everything I owned to pay the debts.
There was one beautiful, beautiful blessing in my house sale. I got to see Paris.
With all my debts paid, I had some left over. I was heartbroken over the past two years and I decided I would let my money serve me for once. I was going to make a dream come true. Stuff, no matter how fine or beautiful, has never filled me up. It has never loved me, never held me or wiped a tear, or left me in wonder after a conversation.
Thanks to a travel agent with a a huge heart and lots of experience, I was able to travel for nine weeks on a budget I had previously reserved for a weeklong soiree at a hotel. Armed with three sets of clothes and a pencil, I roved over 16 countries by myself. I came home a changed person.
It turns out, the worst thing that ever happened to me was really the best thing to ever happen. Strangely enough, letting go gave me so much more than I ever dreamed of. I only pay cash now for anything, preferably with real paper money. Now, when I want to buy a pair of shoes, I do so without remorse or guilt. But I have a rule, for each one that comes in, one item must leave my closet. I have learned to create and respect boundaries with my stuff, which has poured over into all areas of my life.
Cutting the ties with things has opened me up to experience. My identity no longer revolves around labels, and I have found peace in simplicity. From the joy of making my own dinners to being able to afford four weeks of travel a year on a very average income (because I no longer shop frivolously), I live a life no longer tied to my financial security dictating every move I make.
And that is the greatest luxury.
D.E. Fournier’s stories explore the places where the mundane and the mystical coincide in everyday life. A third generation newspaper publisher, ink is in her blood. She studied Ethnic Studies at Oregon State, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She lives in Seattle. Read her travel blog at http://farandawaytravelblog.blogspot.com/
I was just realizing that it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything – in fact it’s been over a month! This is mostly due to the fact that all I’ve done lately is work and pay down debt, which means my life has been boring and uneventful. I’ve done some minor league paring down here and there, but nothing interesting enough to generate a blog post.
A couple days ago though, I was on my way home when I remembered that the previous week’s meal plan had run out and it was my responsibility to figure out what we were having for dinner that night. I was going to drive past the grocery store on the way home, so I figured I might as well stop and do the shopping while I was already out and about. As I started to get out of the car though, I found myself automatically reaching for my shopping list and coupons, and then I realized that I didn’t have either of those things, because I hadn’t done an official meal plan for the week. I also hadn’t checked recipes for ingredients, taken stock of what was in the fridge or cupboards, or gone through my coupon stash. I hesitated, feeling unsure if I should even go in, but I had snagged a great parking spot, so I decided to brave it.
Keep in mind, it’s only been for the past year that I have been doing meal plans/shopping lists/coupons. Prior to this year I would stop at the store much like I was about to do – with absolutely no plan of what I was going to buy, counting on the contents of the store shelves to inspire me. I figured it would be fine – I’d managed to feed myself all those years before, and back then I was often going shopping after a long day of work and rehearsal, when I was already exhausted and brain dead. If I could pull together a week’s worth of groceries in that frame of mind, how hard could it be now?
Forty five minutes later, I was still wandering the aisles of the store like a zombie, staring blankly at all the food, with no solid plan for dinner that night. In my cart I had two boxes of Kleenex (I had a cold last week), a roll of paper towels, a package of marked down Reeses’ Peanut Butter Eggs, and a bottle of shampoo for Ron. With the exception of the candy, there was no actual food in my cart. I had been up and down pretty much every aisle at least twice, but couldn’t make a single decision about what to buy, for a few reasons:
- I knew had coupons at home for things like pasta, chicken, bread and frozen vegetables, so I didn’t want to buy any of those items on this trip when I knew I could save money on them
- I couldn’t remember what produce we already had in the fridge, and didn’t want to buy more than we could eat in a week and have the excess rot
- I couldn’t remember my and Ron’s schedules for the week, so I didn’t know how many meals I actually had to plan vs. meals where leftovers or something from the freezer would suffice
- For every dinner idea I could think of, I knew there were items I wasn’t going to be able to remember, which would mean having to run back to store again before dinner if I’d forgotten anything
Add to all this the fact that it is the end of the month, and I knew we only had about $60 in our checking account, so wasting money on anything we didn’t absolutely need was not an option.
So I made the decision that I would only buy enough stuff to get us through dinner that night, and I would come back the next day after I’d taken the time to do a proper meal plan and shopping list. And I reminded myself that we already had a partial bag of Easter Peanut M&M’s and Easter Whopper Eggs in the cupboard, so I put the Reeses’s Peanut Butter Eggs back on the markdown table. I saw some ground beef that was on sale so I decided to make burritos for dinner, since I was pretty sure we had most of the other ingredients already. I checked out with a bill of about $16, which wasn’t too bad, but later that night Ron had to run back to the store right before dinner and spend more money when we discovered that we had only one tortilla left in the package, and though I remembered seeing half a bag of tortilla chips in the cupboard, he’d somehow polished those off when I wasn’t looking.
It was a revelation to me that my new habits around grocery shopping were suddenly so much stronger than my old ones. The amount of money we’ve saved on groceries in the past year, along with the fact we no longer waste food has been a very positive change in our household. We have also found it a relief to know what is for dinner every night, so when we’re hungry and grumpy at the end of the day we don’t have to ransack the cupboards or navigate the store with all the other hungry grumpy people. I’m all for spontaneity and satisfying in the moment cravings, but when it comes to staying on budget, and not being wasteful, I definitely feel my new habits are the way to go.
The next day I went to the store, meal plan made and shopping list in hand. I was in and out of the store in a painless and focused ten minutes, and this time, everything in my cart was food:
Believe it or not, combined with some of the food we already have and need to use up, it’s enough food to get us through to the end of month before payday. We will use every bit of it. The total bill was $25.31 (about half of what was left in our bank account). I actually didn’t have any coupons for what I was buying this trip, but I felt better knowing I had at least checked to be sure.
I am still work in progress around this whole lagom quest, and I still make a lot of mistakes. But this week taught me that at least in ONE area of my life, I am now sincerely living by lagom values.