One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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In my last post, I talked about the gifts we exchanged for our anniversary, but I neglected to talk about the celebration itself.  We didn’t do anything elaborate, just a nice bottle of champagne at home, then dinner at a nice Italian restaurant we wanted to try, and then we stopped by Papa Haydn’s (VERY popular Portland restaurant for decadent desserts) and got a couple pieces of cake to go, which we demolished along with the rest of the champagne when we got home.

The restaurant we went to was Mucca Osteria, and I have no beauty shots of the meal, because we were too excited to eat our food to take time to photograph it.  But it was delicious – we shared a fresh burrata and heirloom tomato caprese salad, then we each had the seared sea scallops appetizer with truffle parmesan fondue, and then Ron had the steak with pancetta kale and green beans, and I had the wild boar ragu pasta.  We knew we wanted to go to Papa Haydn’s for cake, so we didn’t order dessert, but when the server realized it was our anniversary, he brought us a complimentary glass of a grappa type dessert wine to share and two little biscotti to dip in it.  The portions were perfect and the pacing of the meal was leisurely enough to keep us from eating before we knew we were full.  We left completely satisfied but not stuffed – in other words, it was lagom ; ).

But the best part?  We had the satisfaction of knowing we could completely afford it, so every bite was guilt free (well, maybe not calorically, but let’s not even get into that).  We did not have to go into debt for it, and that made it all the more delicious.  The  restaurant was not outrageously expensive – I think we spent about $100 before tip (which included all the food mentioned above plus a glass of wine each), and then I think the cake (which is kind of ridiculously expensive) came to about $18.  Totally within what we had budgeted for the evening.

This is also the first month since we’ve gotten out of debt where we have actually felt the difference.  If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that in both June and July we still had some big enough expenses that we were having to come up with close to what we had been paying monthly on our credit cards, but this month we were finally able to breathe a little.  And so breathe we did.

And let me tell you, it felt gooooooood.

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We forgot to take any anniversary pics this year, so here is our wedding day nine years ago – newly husband and wife. Newly in wedding debt.

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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.


Today marks a full year that I’ve been writing this blog.  I can’t believe it.   I’ve started and dropped so many blogs in the past, so I’m really proud that I’ve stuck with this one, and I’m grateful that it’s given me a place to reflect on this journey.

I have learned so much about myself in this process, and keeping a blog has made me accountable to my goals in ways I never thought it would.  There were a lot of times when I was tempted to buy more stuff, or hang on to things, or go my usual lazy route and not bother to declutter something, but my desire to keep an accurate record of what I was doing, coupled with the thought of having to admit that behavior on my blog (even though I wasn’t always successful), did wonders to curb some bad habits.

And I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised by how completely nonjudgmental people’s responses have been.  I know there are probably those who do judge me, but they have been nice enough to keep it to themselves.  If anything, the feedback I’ve gotten has been wonderfully supportive and often filled with empathy and admissions of similar behavior, which has made me feel less alone.

So I guess the big question is, did I find lagom?

Nope, not yet.

But from what I have learned in a year of focusing on this goal, I think achieving a state of lagom in just 12 months is not really realistic, especially having spent most of my life functioning from a mindset of constant acquisition.  I am so proud of what I have accomplished in this year, but as I was noting in a post earlier this week, what I thought was lagom only two months ago continues to change as I continue to change and see my stuff in a new way.  Things I thought I loved and couldn’t part with only a month ago suddenly feel superfluous, and letting them go is no big deal.  I am more acutely tuned in to what I value, what I actually use, and what I truly love than I have ever been in my life.

The fact I’m not “done” with this journey doesn’t bother me.  I remember hearing  Marianne Williamson say something once about how the distance between the person she currently was and the person she wanted to be felt less depressing when she considered the distance between the person she currently was and person she had once been.  I may be far from my ideal, but compared to a year ago?  I’ve come a long way.

So what have I learned?  Here are the big things:

  • I always believed having tons of options where my possessions were concerned would make me feel happier, fuller, and more secure.  But it actually causes me a lot of stress and unhappiness.  I feel like I SHOULD be using all my stuff, knowing how much money I spent on it, and not wanting to be wasteful, but it’s very clear that I have my favorite things, and that is what I always want to reach for.  Having a smaller set of options, of only things I really love (or sometimes, even just one perfect thing I really love), has made me feel a lot less anxious.  This has especially been true where my wardrobe was concerned, which was also the category where I did the most acquiring.  I currently have a smaller wardrobe than I’ve had since maybe high school, and while there are some items I would like to replace, and one or two specific things I want to add, I am happier with what I own right now than I’ve ever been.
  • Keeping things out of guilt (it was expensive, someone I like gave it to me, I pined for it but once I had it I didn’t love it as much as I felt I should) is stupid.  Staring everyday at an item that has guilt attached to it only serves to KEEP YOU FEELING GUILTY.  Do any of us need more reasons to feel like that?  I don’t think so.
  • What you’ve convinced yourself is valuable is in most cases worthless.  I have felt foolish more than once this year for hanging on to things that I thought were worth something, only to take them to resale or list them on Ebay and have them go for pennies or be rejected completely.  There are less than ten possessions in my life that I know have actual value, and I have insurance on all of them because it’s obvious they’re worth something.  Everything else I own?  Highly replaceable, with the exception of purely sentimental items.
  • Letting go of stuff is synonymous with letting go of fear.  Fear that the giver will be angry or hurt, fear you might need something just like it someday, fear that you will find out later it was of great value (see previous point).  Trusting the future is scary, but not as scary as all the fear thoughts.  I’ve given away a ton of stuff this year, and I don’t regret any of it.  And as far as I know, no one has been upset with me for letting it go.  In many cases they probably don’t even remember giving it to me.
  • Forcing myself to use up large stashes of stuff I already own has made me VERY careful about what I buy now.  If I don’t think I’m going to love it and want to use it to the last drop, I’m hesitant to buy it.  This is a huge shift for someone who frequently bought stuff out of boredom or mild curiosity.
  • I don’t need new things to feel better when I’m upset.  Shopping used to be my favorite therapy.  I still get a thrill on the occasions when I get to buy something new, but that’s partly because now I have researched and dreamed and thought about the purchase for so long beforehand, it feels really exciting and special.  I have mentioned  that 2013 was a really horrible year for me, and sometimes I wonder if it felt that way because it really WAS that bad, or because for the first time in my adult life I didn’t deal with my problems by shopping.  But I made it out of 2013 all in one piece, and I didn’t rack up my credit card to cope.  I’m proud of that.
  • I love having some empty space in our house.  There aren’t tons of empty spaces yet, but I’m really excited about the few we have.  The fact that our guest room closet is now always guest ready is still a huge novelty for me – I sometimes like to just go in and gaze at it.  Yes, I know, weird.  But it’s true.  And you have to celebrate victories like that.
  • Selling your unwanted stuff is a pain in the ass.  When I was on the fence about buying something in the past, I used to just think, “Oh, if I don’t end up liking it, maybe I can sell it.”  And because we’ve needed the money, we haven’t been in a position to just give stuff away.  But it is a serious drag to go through the process of standing in line at resale, or listing things on ebay.  Now I will actually look at stuff I’m considering buying and think, “If you don’t end up liking it, you are going to have to try to sell it”, and that is often enough to make me reconsider.
  • Nothing has been more exciting to me this year than watching our debt steadily go down.  We are still not out of the woods, but we have made incredible progress.  If we manage to stay on track with our payment plan, and nothing disastrous happens, we should be out of credit card debt by the middle of this year.  It has been a really frustrating and often discouraging process, but we are committed to seeing it through.  I no longer feel a horrible sick pit in my stomach like I might truly throw up when I see our credit card bill.
  • I am lucky to have a partner like Ron who has embraced and in some ways surpassed me in this process – I am amazed at how unattached he can be to his things.  If I were trying to do this with someone who was highly resistant and attached to things, I don’t know how much progress I would have made.  But Ron has been wonderfully supportive and open to the changes I’ve been making, and as a team, I feel like we’re pretty kickass.

So what’s next?  I initially  thought I would just keep this blog for a year (if indeed, I even made it that far), but I’ve decided I’m going to keep on writing.  I still have a lot I’m continuing to discover, and having done some of the hardest work this year (learning to control my shopaholic urges, getting serious about paying down debt), I’m excited to see what kind of changes I will make.  I’m also curious to see if I will backslide when I am out of debt and have some disposable income again.  When I started this blog, I said I could never see myself as a minimalist.  And I still think that’s probably true, but I’ve also learned that minimalism has a much broader definition than I ever realized, and it doesn’t necessarily mean bare white walls and a single piece of furniture.  In fact, I think “lagom” and minimalism are pretty close terms, they just look a little different from person to person.  Who know where this path will lead me.

I’m also going to start posting guest blogs this year.  People who read Finidng Lagom have contacted me with some great stories about their own struggles with stuff (some resolved, some still unresolved), about getting out of debt, about shopping addiction, and about experiments they’ve decided to try in their own lives based on stuff they’ve read here.  I love hearing those stories, and think other readers will too – it’s inspiring to know that there are so many of us puzzling through this issue together.

If you’re a longtime reader, thanks for the support – especially those of you who commented, liked, shared posts, or talked to me about it in person.  It’s nice to know you’re out there.  I hope 2014 finds everyone happy, healthy, and lagom!

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Ron and I celebrated eight years of marriage on August 7th.  I can’t believe it’s been that long – it’s a little shocking.  We still haven’t even ordered our wedding album.  No, I am not kidding.  I think I will make that my goal for August of next year.  We’ll get our pictures in just under the ten year mark.

Because we’re working so hard on getting out of debt, we talked about our anniversary a month or so ago and decided to forgo giving each other gifts this year.  We thought maybe we’d pick a mid-priced restaurant for dinner or even just get a cake and have some champagne and celebrate very low-key.  I actually was not disappointed – the thought of being debt free is so exciting to me, everything else kind of pales in comparison.

But as I might have mentioned, Ron travels a lot for work.  A LOT.  I think I saw him for maybe 7 whole days in the month of July.  Which means he racks up some serious frequent flier miles and hotel points and rental car points and all sorts of other points and upgrade type stuff.  We both love to travel, and when we do, we have some pretty great vacations – vacations we could never, in a million years, afford without all his points and perks and free upgrades.  We typically take just one nice vacation a year, every year in December, either right before or right after Christmas, depending on my show schedule, and we have a great time planning it and looking forward to it all year.

But again, due to our debt-free plan, we were thinking we would probably not get a vacation this year either.  That made us both sad – we look forward to it so much, and it’s the one time in the year I see Ron truly and completely relax.  And this year has been a doozy of stress so far, so I know for Ron, the thought of no release from all that was a bummer.  But he too agreed that being out of debt was more important, and once we are debt-free, then we can afford to take a nice vacation without feeling guilty.

But as our anniversary drew near, Ron took a look at his points and miles, and realized that while a two week December vacation may not be in the cards, we COULD take a two day trip somewhere close by, for virtually no money at all.  We live in Portland, so our nearest “fun city” options are places like Seattle, San Francisco, L. A., or possibly San Diego.

And then of course, there’s Las Vegas.

We had actually gone to Vegas on our third anniversary, and were pretty grossed out by it.  We did a lot of typical “Vegas-y” things, like gambling, laying by the pool, drinking those horrible slushy alcoholic drinks out of those massive plastic sippy cups, walking in the throngs of people up and down the strip, going to a Cirque show, visiting all the famous casinos and posh shops, and on a whim around 11pm on our last night, we renewed our vows at the Little White Wedding Chapel, followed by a limo ride back to our hotel with a manically chatty Elvis impersonator.

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Elvis took this pic in the back of the limo

The day we left, we weren’t scheduled to fly out till around 9pm that night, and I woke up super sick and vomiting (either from the slushy drink, heat exhaustion, or a flu bug, I’m not sure which).  We had to check out of the hotel around 1pm, so I spent the 7-8 hours prior to leaving for the airport puking in public bathrooms, searching for a place free of the pinging of slot machines where I could lie down (there wasn’t anywhere), and wandering zombie-like from the intense heat of outdoors into the over-airconditioned indoors, which made me feel even worse.

Needless to say, it made me hesitant to go back.  But Ron has been to Vegas multiple times for work in the past five years, and at this point he has a lot more connections and know-how about the city than he did the first time we went.  We realized that we could fly there for free, stay there for free, get comps to a couple shows, and essentially only end up having to pay for a rental car, and we even had a coupon for that.

So we decided to go.  But this time, we were going to try to do much less.  We were going to aim for a more “lagom” trip, if you will.  We picked a hotel that had a great pool, since we planned to spend the majority of our time just lounging by it and relaxing, and we didn’t order any overpriced drinks while we were there.  We decided to forgo gambling altogether (we did put a total of $4 in slot machines, but I don’t feel bad about that – I frequently spend more than that just to park my car downtown in Portland).  As soon as we arrived, we drove to a Food 4 Less and bought items for breakfast, some soda, snacks, and an inexpensive bottle of wine for our room (total spent:  about $15).  When we went out for lunch, we kept it cheap and good (In-N-Out Burger).  I did browse a total of two shops and even tried things on but didn’t buy anything (a FIRST for me on a vacation).

And you know what?  We had a really great time.  I left feeling a lot friendlier towards Vegas than I did the last time.   It probably didn’t hurt that we got upgraded to an INSANELY great suite at The Cosmopolitan:

We actually spent a decent amount of time hanging out in our room and basking in the languid Vegas heat on our balcony, which had this view during the day:

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And this view at night:

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Bird’s eye view of the famous fountains at the Bellagio

Vegas is pretty great from that vantage point.

This has been a pretty dreary year for Ron and I so far – financially, personally, and professionally, the blows, disappointments, sadness, and bad luck have just seemed to keep coming.  Everything in our lives has been about picking ourselves back up after getting knocked down and then continuing to trudge through.  But weirdly, it has made me feel closer to him than ever before.  I guess that’s the consummate definition of a true partner – almost anyone does well in the easy, happy times, but it’s particularly special to look over in the crappiest times and see that person holding your hand and weathering it all with you.  It’s one one of the few gambles I feel I’ve won this year.

Happy Anniversary Ron – I love you!



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