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!
As of today, May 16th, 2014, Ron and I are officially out of credit card debt.
Let me just say that again….
WE ARE OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT!!!!!!!!
(Gee, it feels good to type that sentence!)
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that it was May of 2013 when we took my dad’s advice about a process for paying down our debt and finally got really serious about digging ourselves out of the financial hole. A year later, we’ve accomplished it. I know I probably sound all braggy, but trust me, it was a long, crappy, depressing year filled with a lot of work, cost cutting, saying no to things, and very little fun. So I’m gonna brag a little, because I feel like we’ve earned it. I couldn’t be prouder of us.
A year ago this time, between my personal credit card, Ron’s credit card, and a joint household credit card, we were $26,000 in debt. It took me a long time to be able to admit our debt number to people, because I was ashamed of it. I knew we’d racked up that debt with some legitimate costs, but most of it was the result of a lot of careless spending, on stuff we didn’t need or love. Whether our number was more or less than anyone else’s is irrelevant – what matters is that we don’t have the income to support carrying that kind of debt, so for us, it was a really bad idea. Not to mention, the interest those cards were accruing was DISGUSTING. In order to pay it off in a year, we have been trying to come up with roughly $1,300 just in credit card payments every month, which let me tell you, was no easy feat with my variable actor income, and all our other bills.
But it’s over now – we have paid off every single penny, and it feels amazing. A week ago, when I asked Ron what he thought it would feel like to finally have it all behind us, he said, “I imagine it being like when the main character in a fairy tale is finally freed from the spell of an evil witch or wizard or something. That’s what this past year has felt like – like we’ve been under some kind of bad curse that couldn’t be broken.” That’s actually a pretty accurate description. Now we just feel…FREE.
I’ll write a post sometime soon with more specifics about our pay down process for anyone who is interested, but today, we are just going to celebrate. Ron took the day off work, and I don’t have a ton I have to do so we can spend some relaxed time together. We have a fancy bottle of champagne we’ve been saving for a special occasion, and I can’t think of a better time to drink it. While we still haven’t bolstered our account up enough to go out to dinner to celebrate, we’ll make a nice dinner at home, and the character I play on Grimm is in tonight’s episode (season finale!), so we’ll probably stay home and watch that. And we won’t have to feel guilty about any of it, because we aren’t charging anything to make it happen, and it’s totally within our means.
Best. Day. Ever.
I have never really felt compelled to come up with a good reason to shop. In the past, I have shopped because I just like doing it. Or because I had free time to kill. Or because I like pretty things. Or because I was feeling sad and I knew it would cheer me up. Sometimes I actually did need stuff, but not needing things was never a deterrent either.
If anything, especially over the last year, I have had to remind myself of all the reasons why I should NOT be shopping. And because those reasons are all boring, depressing, nose-to-the-grindstone types of reasons like debt and not enough space and the admittance that I don’t use some of the stuff I already have, it always feels like a really dreary argument. And because I’m a shopaholic, my crafty, addicted brain is excellent at coming up with really, really good counter arguments to combat what common sense is telling me. It becomes all I can do to stay on the No Shopping Wagon.
Recently, I have been performing on a live radio show called Live Wire – if you aren’t familiar with it, you can listen to the podcasts at livewireradio.org. We record the show in front of a live audience in Portland, and then the show is broadcast in various cities all over the United States. For the live performances, I usually get dressed up – I don’t need a costume per se, but I usually wear something a little fancy, like a nice dress and high heels and some sparkly jewlery. With the amount of shows I’ve done at this point, coupled with all the clothes I’ve gotten rid of, I’ve worn all my nice dresses at least 2-3 times each. So I’ve been feeling some outfit boredom. Add that to my ongoing shopping hunger, and you have the perfect recipe for a bullshit rationalized shopping binge.
I have found myself “window shopping” for some new evening wear items–both in person and online–a lot lately. And as the shopping guilt creeps in, I hear a little voice in my head arguing, “But you NEED it for work!”, so I push the guilt aside and follow the enabling little voice and continue to scan the racks for something to buy. It’s a really scary how easy it is to sway me–because lets’ face it, I DON’T need new clothes for work, I just WANT them. I could probably rotate through the same 5-6 dresses over and over again and the audience would never care, or maybe even notice. The people who listen to the show on the radio can’t even see me, so they definitely don’t notice or care. The truth is I am still not past the point where buying new things makes me feel better, and as I’m continuing to trudge through the debt pay down process, I’m consciously and subconsciously always trying to find ways to make myself feel better.
So though I’ve managed to resist making any actual purchases (I even found myself standing in the queue at H&M at one point, one person away from the cashier, before I finally stepped out of line, hung the dress on the nearest rack and slunk out of the store with a pounding heart), I still have not figured out what to do with the feelings that remain, or the leftover shreds of the argument that feel so credible that I DO need something new.
And then last week it occurred to me, why didn’t I just ask a friend who wore my size if I could borrow a dress? It would keep me from buying something that I didn’t really need, spending money I didn’t have, but still provide a solution to my craving. I know in my heart that even if I did buy a new dress, after I’d worn it a couple times I would just want something new again, and then I’d end up having to figure out how to store the stupid thing before ultimately selling it. This pattern is largely how I ended up with so many clothes and so much debt in the first place.
My dear friend Nikki is the same size as me, and we’ve traded clothes before – often when I clean out my closet, I give her first dibs on anything she might like before I resell or donate the rest, and she does the same for me. Nikki is one of those people that I’m just in awe of – she is so driven and badass yet super zen and calm at the same time. This is a woman who, while pregnant with her first child, ran a marathon and was doing yoga handstands well into her last trimester. She’s a wonderful actress and runs a theatre company with her husband, travels, teaches yoga and runs yoga retreats, and manages to somehow be an attentive friend, mother, wife, and colleague and never look stressed out or yell at people like I know I would if I were trying to do all that. If you just saw these facts about her written on paper, you might either think she was too good to be true, or be green with envy at all she manages to do and be while making it look so easy. But then you meet her and can’t help but fall in love with her open heart, genuine friendship, generosity, and honesty. In fact, the first time I met Nikki we were at an audition where we were up for the same part, and she ended up getting it. You’d think maybe that would have inspired at least some feelings of professional competition, but I had liked her so much and so immediately, and thought she was so talented, that I found myself unable to feel anything but happy for her. We ultimately ended up being cast in a show together and became friends, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve known her for much longer than I have.
When I asked Nikki if I might be able to borrow some dresses, she immediately said yes, and we realized that the timing was actually kind of perfect since she is currently pregnant with her second baby, so she won’t be wearing most of her dresses right now anyway. I went over to her house this week and looked through her stash and it was so much fun–I got some pretty things to wear for the show, didn’t spend any money, and managed to sneak in a nice long visit with my friend as well. Win-win-win-win-win.
And though I teetered very close to the edge, thanks to Nikki’s generosity, I have managed to stay on the No Shopping Wagon for yet another day.
One of my favorite indulgences that I’ve had to forgo most of this year has been my manicure/pedicure habit. I know some people love to get a massage or facial, but for me, there is nothing quite like a mani/pedi to make me feel relaxed and happy, especially if I’m fortunate enough to go with my girlfriends.
Back in my corporate days, I had acrylic nails. This was partly because a lot of the women I worked with had them so after a while I wanted them too, but it was also because my skin is allergic to nearly every fragrance mix in soaps or detergents that’s out there, and at that point I hadn’t yet figured out exactly what was making me itch. My real nails are very sharp, and I would scratch myself so intensely in my sleep that if I didn’t wear socks over my hands when I slept, I’d wake up with bloody marks on my skin and the sheets. Acrylic nails are super thick and dull-edged and can’t really do any damage, so while I was sussing out my allergy triggers (answer: everything), having fake nails did a good job of protecting me from myself.
To maintain them, I’d have to go to the nail salon every two to three weeks to get them “filled” – a time consuming and expensive habit. I used to actually get sick of having to go to the salon so much, even though it had once been one of my favorite treats. After I finally got rid of my acrylics, I started to enjoy getting my nails done again, and would go once a month when I was working full time and had a nice steady income.
But in this year of cutting back, I’ve been doing my nails at home to save money, and I’ve even gone polish-free most of the year to give my nails a chance to get healthy again. I think I’ve had maybe two pedicures and one manicure in all of 2013. I’ve really missed that little luxury, and wished many times that I could afford to go back to the salon.
A couple months ago, I met with my friend Jane, who is an actress I’ve done stage work with. She is hoping to break into the world of voice over, so I went over to her house to help her figure out the best place to record and give her the 411 on what I know about the business. Because Jane is awesome and generous, she sent me a gift certificate for a mani/pedi as a thank you for my time. I was beyond excited, and pinned the certificate reverently to the bulletin board in my office.
Knowing how much I’ve wanted this indulgence, you might think I’d have run out the very next day and used it. But I didn’t. I knew it might be months before I would be able to go for another one, so I decided to make this one count. I carefully planned to use it during a time when I wouldn’t have any auditions that would require me to have bare nails, so I could make the manicure last as long as possible. I picked a day I wouldn’t be stressed and overbooked and might smudge my fresh polish while rushing to get to my next appointment. I thought for a ridiculously long time about what color would go with most of my wardrobe so I’d get the most bang for my buck. I dreamed and planned and pined and thought about it with the same excitement I’ve had when saving up for a big purchase, or planning a really great vacation.
And focusing all that thought, attention, and care on it made something that I had once totally taken for granted feel incredibly special and exciting again.
That has definitely been an unexpected side effect of this lagom project – the benefit of remembering what it’s like to wait for things. I am an impatient person by nature, so I’m not saying I suddenly love waiting – it still bugs me. But I have gotten so used to immediate gratification (mostly by spending money I didn’t really have) that it took me doing this exercise to realize that things that were once been a big deal had become mundane to me by their accessibility.
I finally had my appointment yesterday – two days before Christmas, when all logic should tell you that it’s unwise to venture out of your house unless it’s absolutely necessary. But a variety of factors made it the best time for me to go, so I decided to brave it, and the day did not disappoint. I found parking across the street from the salon, in one of the busiest neighborhoods in Portland, even during non-holiday times. My manicurist told me that the previous three days had been chaos, but I had fortuitously arrived in a small pocket of unexpected quiet – I was one of four customers in the whole salon. Because the staff wasn’t busy, I had one person working on my pedicure and one on my manicure at the same time, and when the lady working on my nails finished before my pedicure was done, she said, “you look like you could use a shoulder massage” and proceeded to massage my neck and shoulders while the other manicurist finished working on my toes. The gift certificate Jane gave me totally covered the cost of the mani/pedi plus a nice tip (LOVE that), but then they also gave me a $5 gift certificate before I left since it was my first visit to the salon. It had been raining when I arrived, and I was dreading sloshing back to my car in my flip flops, but when I walked outside the sun had come out for the first time that day. I made it home without any nicks or smudges in my polish, and I can’t stop admiring how nice my nails look right now. I may have had to wait, but it was totally worth it.
Thank you, Jane for the lovely gift – you couldn’t have done better.
These past couple weeks have been rough. Some of it I have documented here – like our plumbing leak and Stella’s foot. Those were kind of the “highlight” bad things – but there have been a lot of other things that I haven’t mentioned.
For instance, about a week ago, I was out on my morning walk with Stella, when I suddenly felt a sharp stabbing pain, like a needle had gone deep into the skin of my left glute – a literal “pain in my ass.” I couldn’t figure out what had happened, so I turned around and started limping home, when suddenly I looked down and saw a couple yellow jackets crawling insidiously on Stella’s head. That’s when I realized I had been stung. I was wearing yoga pants and one had flown up my pant leg and stung me. In a panic, I frantically clawed the yellow jackets off of Stella’s head, getting stung again on the base of my palm in the process. But happily Stella escaped unscathed.
Less than a week later, I was on a film set in a house that had a big apple tree out front, with lots of rotting fruit on the ground. Yellow jackets kept getting into the house, and one of them almost stung the actress playing my mom in the face during a shot. A few minutes later, she and I were talking, when I felt something crawling on my wrist. I flipped up the cuff of my shirt, and sure enough, there was a yellow jacket, who either stung or bit me twice before I crushed him into a pulp – it didn’t hurt as bad as the sting I’d gotten a week earlier, but it left two little swollen puncture marks on my wrist. The crew brought me some first aid cream and ice and outside of feeling like I’d been punched really hard in the wrist, I was fine.
The next day, there was no visible swelling, but my wrist itched like fire, and like an idiot I scratched it with abandon. By that evening, my hand, wrist, and lower arm were totally red, swollen, and hot to the touch. Awesome.
But the real sting came later that night, when my Dad called to tell me that on Monday, my grandmother, whose 100th birthday we celebrated last month, had a massive stroke that was deemed “terminal and unsurvivable.”
It’s not that I’m shocked to hear that my grandmother is dying. She’s 100 years old, so I’ve been kind of braced for that type of news. It’s just that less than 30 days ago, I watched her zip around with her walker at her birthday party, laughing and chatting with family and friends and having a great time. Her mind was sharp as a tack, she knew who everyone was even if it had been a while since she’d seen them. She was alert and focused and completely present to everything that was happening. Outside of needing the walker, her health has been remarkably good over the past few years, and talking to her felt no different than it had when I was a little girl. So even though in the back of my mind I knew this would happen someday, her outward show of health and vitality made it seem so much further away.
I’m overwhelmed with sadness, but I’m grateful for the life she’s had for the past century. I’m happy that she was surrounded by so many people who loved her on her birthday, and that she was aware of them all. I’m glad she has not suffered from debilitating health issues in the last few years. I’m particularly thankful for my two aunts, who she has alternated living with so she never had to go into a care facility, or be alone. I’m sure a large part of how healthy and strong she has been can be attributed to the companionship and care she received from them. She has children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who will always carry on her stories and memories. My cousin and I both inherited her middle name – Faye. We will miss her, but I have to admit we were blessed with her presence for a good long run. I’m comforted to think she’ll see my grandfather again, who died when I was in high school, who she loved so much.
And I love that my last memory of her will be of sitting by her at her birthday dinner, listening to her recount with delight and awe all the people that came to her party (“All the dental assistants from my Dentist’s office even came! And the man who bags my groceries at the grocery store!”). She was as happy and vibrant as ever. In my mind, that is how she will always be. It helps take away some of the sting.
I haven’t written in a couple of weeks – life has been hectic and stressful and some days were just downright crappy. All my time seemed to be focused on getting through whatever was the crisis of the moment – so thinking up creative new ways to simplify my life has definitely taken a back seat.
One of the hardest things about being an actor – any kind of freelancer, really, is the cash-flow issue. For most commercial or voice over work, there is typically a big lull between when you do the job, and when you actually get the money for that job. Theatre is a kinder business, especially if you’re Equity – you get paid consistently every single week. But since most of the work I’ve had this year has been commercial/voice over work, I’ve been dealing with the lull, and it’s impact has been pretty brutal.
I did a national voice over radio spot back in early March. It ran in a lot of different states, and when that happens, it is very, very good news, because you will be getting paid for all those markets. I called my agent after I completed the job and asked what the estimate was for the recording session plus all the markets. When she told me the number, I almost dropped the phone.
A little over $7,000.
It’s jobs like this that make me keep pushing forward in a career that is so fraught with rejection, struggle, and disappointment. Because to make that amount of money, for a couple of hours of your time, and to really enjoy doing it, just can’t be beat. I was elated. And of course, I mentally had every penny of it spent on our debt as well as some expenses we’ve been putting off due to necessity. I also planned to put some aside to cover monthly expenses in case my theatrical dry spell continued. My excitement and anticipation for receiving this money was equivalent to the excitement I felt on Christmas morning when I still believed in Santa.
But weeks passed, and then months, and even though I eagerly watched the mail every day, there was no check. I sold some more jewelry. I put off getting my hair cut. I bought the bare minimum of food I felt we needed to get by. I repeatedly said no to going out with friends in situations where I would need to spend money. I paid only minimum payments on my debts, which did nothing to lower the monthly interest charges. I accepted even small paying gigs just to have any kind of income. Ron and I stayed home and watched TV every night instead of going out, except on our birthdays, and in those instances we used a coupon for one dinner and went somewhere inexpensive for the other. The charges on my bank statement began to solely reflect payments made for parking and gas, and nothing else. Near the end of each month, I lay awake at night fretting about what I was going to do at the beginning of the upcoming month, when bills were due. after about 75 days I called my agent to see if she knew when it might pay, and she assured me that while this was a “slower paying” client, they always did in fact pay, and she would send them a reminder.
It was stressful. It was depressing. And maybe more than anything, it was infuriating.
If I pay a bill late, I am hit with a late fee. And the threat of being cut off from my credit. And the even bigger threat of a long-term poor credit rating. But in my business, clients are in a very advantageous position. If they feel like paying late, they can get away with it. On union jobs, they may get a late fee, but if they have a lot of money, they just shrug, pay the late fee, and pay you when they feel like it. In the end, the fact that you did the work, and they are using the work, and profiting from it while you consider selling plasma to afford food, has no effect on them. They simply don’t care. And your agent has to be careful about getting too pushy with them, because the client could pull their business from that agency, and go to some other place that is eager to have them. It’s a crappy situation.
90 days passed. Still no check.
And then, finally, on Tuesday of last week, my agent called. She said the job had paid, and wanted to know if I wanted to pick up the check in person, or have it mailed. I elected to pick it up. And 99 days after the job was completed, I finally put the money into my bank account.
Was it a happy moment? Absolutely. I am thrilled to finally have the money. I will admit though, it was also undercut with a teeth grindingly resentful “It’s about F*CKING time.” Because 99 days is a very, very long time to wait when you are already desperate for money. But for the most part, I was overwhelmed with happiness and relief.
If you are considering leaving your consistent paying day job to be a full-time actor, heed my advice: Build up a really, really good savings account. Stay out of credit card debt. Be prepared to wait to be paid, and to be nice about it, even if some days it makes you want call your agent and weep, or post scathing comments on social media (don’t do either of these things). Have a plan B for what you’re going to do if the money doesn’t come through that month. Be honest with people about what’s going on for you financially and why you have to say no to some things. And while you’re waiting, keep working, and keep hustling.
The best part of all this? I paid off my credit card in full. I am now debt free on all my personal cards, and I’m going to keep it that way, barring any horrific emergencies. Now I will start putting all my financial energy towards helping Ron pay of his credit card, and once he is debt free, we’ll attack our joint credit card together. We are a long way from being out of debt (Ron’s card and our joint card both had higher balances than my card, so this will be no small task), but I am starting to believe that if we stay the course, by this time next year, we really might be completely out of debt. The thought of it gives me that Christmas morning excitement all over again.