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:
with a coin purse on the outside:
I initially bought it because I loved how much stuff it held. Look at all the credit card slots inside:
there were even two pockets behind the credit card slots where you could stuff even MORE cards, and believe me, I did:
Which adds up to a fat little wallet that weighs a ton, especially when I have a lot of pennies in the coin purse.
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:
And here is the inside:
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.
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:
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.
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 spent so much of 2013 getting rid of things. Being OBSESSED with that process, really. I devoted so much time and energy to purging, sorting, and cleaning my space, it was like a part time (unpaid) job. Bags and bags of items were donated to the Goodwill. Suitcases full of clothing and shoes were dragged to resale. We sold several bigger-ticket items on ebay, and I gave still useful, high quality things to happy friends whenever possible. Borrowed items were returned to their rightful owners (who in most every case, seemed surprised to see the stuff and had not missed it). And I continue to be astonished at the amount of recycling and trash we haul out to the curb every week.
We’ve significantly slowed the inflow of stuff into our house, so basic math would tell me that if there isn’t much new coming in, and what we have now is mostly stuff we love and need, there shouldn’t be much left to get rid of. And yet, every time I say that, we somehow manage to generate another giant discard pile.
How is this possible? I don’t know for sure. I think it’s partly due to the fact that on our first purge, we were still pretty attached to stuff, and were too conservative in what we were willing to release. But as time goes on and we start to notice that items we just couldn’t bear to part with are still hanging around unused, even when we have less to choose from, they start to fall out of favor. We’re also doing a better job of not feeling guilty about getting rid of things that were given to us, and not letting our relationships feel defined by the exchange of stuff.
I also think our continued discarding is a testament to the sheer volume of crap we started with. We just really had a ton of stuff in this house. I did a routine house cleaning yesterday, and I was struck by the realization that I was able to dust certain surfaces that I usually didn’t bother tackling, because they were finally clear of objects and piles of paper. Things that once didn’t have a home are now put away in closets and cupboards because there is actually room for them. Ron has done such impressive clutter clearing in our office space that I was able to sweep out the corner of the room near his desk that has been inaccessible for literally years.
I kind of wish I had kept a count of the number of items we purged in 2013. On days when I still feel overwhelmed by my stuff, I could look at the number and it would make me feel better.
On New Year’s Eve, I took a load of stuff to the Goodwill, because it was my last day to get tax credit for a donation in 2013. As I dropped it off, I thought “It will probably be a while before I need to do this again.”
Only one week later, our donation pile already looks like this:
A couple pairs of cheap shoes with no arch support that I rarely wear, a dog bed Stella no longer likes to sleep in (she still has three other ones in various rooms of the house), a stray Christmas ornament, an XM radio player for an XM radio unit we no longer own, an old CD carrying case, a couple old backpacks, a trash bag full of t-shirts Ron decided to get rid of, and an old-timey popcorn maker. This doesn’t count the suitcase that is completely full of clothes bound for resale later this month, or the video game systems we are about to list on Ebay.
2014 is off to a good start.
Every morning when I walk Stella, we pass a house on a corner that looks like a hoarder house. You can see stuff stacked up in the windowsills, pressing against the glass, and there are large tarps all over the back porch covering more piles of stuff. The car parked out in front of the house is filled with junk as well. According to other neighbors, a woman lives there alone, but I’ve never actually seen her.
The yard however, is well maintained. The porch may be covered in crap, but she pays someone to take good care of the lawn and shrubbery. So it did occur to me that maybe she just had some back porch clutter, and what could be seen in the windows was not indicative of the whole house, and maybe I was jumping to conclusions.
However, last night, our neighborhood was full of fire trucks due to a fire that started in her house, apparently while she was gone. It blew out the windows in the upper stories and shot flames up into the night sky. The news headline about the fire read, “Clutter Hampering Portland Firefighters at North Portland House Fire”. She had a cat that they could not get to and it died in the fire.
A house cluttered to a degree that makes it unsafe for firefighters to go in and do their job is probably accurately described as a hoarder house. And from obsessive watching of the show Hoarders, I can only imagine there were a lot of emotional/mental factors that led the home owner to this point. As we walked past the house this morning, I felt sad for her, the loss of her cat, and what will happen to her now. Was this house her only option? Would she repair it, move back in, and work on her clutter? Or would she keep doing the same thing, either here or in a new house or even a relative’s house? Did she feel responsible for what happened, or just unlucky? Of the things she lost in the fire, what did she miss?
When I was in college, I had a really bizarre summer job through a temp agency doing fire restoration. A crew of us would go into a house where there had been a fire, and we would take everything out of a smoke damaged area, clean the space and all the objects, and then put everything back exactly as it was, smelling sweetly of this orange blossom scented water we would spray on it. Sometimes instead of going to a burned house we would stay at the factory and clean boxes and boxes of people’s possessions that had been through a fire. Once cleaned, we would put them into new cardboard boxes, spritz the boxes with the orange water, and send them back. One of the guys who worked there, I think his name was Louis, had worked there forever and said that the idea with the cleaning and the orange spray was to erase the sense-memory of the fire for the family. We used heavy duty chemicals that would strip even crusted soot off of stuff, and Louis taught me how to wash everything from toys to umbrellas to paper.
Louis had great stories from his years in the job, a lot of them involving hoarded houses. He was one of the people who would go into the houses to pack up the boxes of stuff and bring them back to the factory, and he loved to piece together the backstories of the families by looking through their possessions. Like an archeologist on a dig, he would triumphantly hold up a marriage certificate he was carefully washing and proclaim, “Aha! They’ve actually been married TWICE – to each other! See the date on this one? It’s earlier than the first one I cleaned. Looks like they split up for a little while, then got back together. They’re real huggy and lovey with each other right now, but that’s typical after a fire. Huh. Wonder how long this second one will last.” He also told stories of houses with shimmering walls of cockroaches, or houses where the stuff was stacked chest high with narrow walking trails and the kids would squirrel away food in little hidey-holes all over the house. Louis was one of the most fascinating people I’d ever met, and even if he did spend a lot of time trying to get me to go square dancing with him, listening to him really made the time fly.
The fire in our neighborhood has made me think though, what story would my stuff tell if it was packed up in boxes and examined by a stranger? Would it accurately represent me? Would I be embarrassed by the things they found? It’s an interesting thing to think about. And a little sobering/cringy/alarming.
I think I might do a little clutter clearing tonight.
When I was in high school, I think I owned maybe two pairs of jeans, and one of those was a grubby pair for doing yard work. I was totally into skirts and dresses and silk blouses and all sorts of other things that were a nightmare of dry cleaning and ironing – but not for me, since I was a spoiled brat and my mom did all my laundry (and paid for the dry cleaning too).
Then, I went to college, and had to do the laundry myself. That instantly and completely changed my whole wardrobe. I got rid of all things that needed special laundering or ironing and pretty soon nearly everything I wore consisted of leggings with oversized t-shirts and sweaters.
Then I graduated and went to work in the corporate world, and again it was back to dresses and skirts and slacks and high heels. And I begrudgingly did the ironing and dry cleaning necessary to maintain that wardrobe. I did begin to integrate some jeans into the rotation, but I still spent most of my waking hours in corporate wear.
And then, in the last 10 years, I transitioned from the corporate world to the non-profit world to freelance. And with each job change, my wardrobe got progressively more casual. And now, I probably wear jeans 90% of the time. I still have about 4-5 casual skirts, but my typical uniform for fall through spring is jeans and boots and some kind of top, and in the summer it’s shorts and sandals and some kind of top, with the occasional sundress thrown in.
I also spend a ton of time in workout clothes. When I get up, the first thing I do is put on workout clothes, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and check email. Then I workout. Sometimes, however, the “check email” phase turns into answering a LOT of email, blogging, and recording voice over auditions, and before I know it it’s lunchtime and while it’s likely I won’t get a workout in that day, I’m still in workout clothes. So whether I use them for the intended purpose or not, I probably spend more time in workout clothes than anything else.
This is all to say I devote a lot of shelf space to workout clothes and jeans, because they are truly what I live in. And I have a lot of both – look:
The first picture with the double shelves of all the black and blue items are my shelves with jeans and workout bottoms. On the top shelf I have pants (black/white/navy capris for spring/summer) and sweats, next to a stack of black workout pants. On the bottom shelf I have a stack of jeans, and wedged next to that are workout shorts and skirts. It’s a deep shelf, so behind those two stacks are summer shorts which you can’t really see (I keep them in the back because in Oregon you only really wear shorts from about July-mid September, so I don’t need them to be that accessible). The other single shelf pictured holds all my workout tops -from L-R the stacks are: heavy cold weather hoodies, lightweight hoodies, t-shirts/sports bras, and workout tops.
I really do wear a lot of this stuff – it’s the majority of what is in the laundry for me every week. So that makes it hard to part with it. But if I’m honest, I have my favorite workout clothes, and my favorite pairs of jeans. If I’m going on a trip, I don’t even have to think about which ones I will pack. Per the laws of wardrobe editing, those are the only items I should consider keeping.
I decided to set quotas for my workout clothes – for me, that quota was the number seven – seven items from each category–or, one for each day of the week. I culled my workout clothes down to seven pairs of long workout pants, seven shorts, seven workout tops, seven t-shirts/sports bras, seven heavy cold weather hoodies, and seven lightweight hoodies. I felt like I had to keep a bigger variety of things, since the weather in Oregon can be so varied, and I didn’t want not having the right stuff to wear to deter me from working out.
A few of the decisions were easy, like these odd colored shorts, which look good with…well, NOTHING:
But other things were harder, like the jeans. I found one lone pair that was just a little too tight, so I gave them the axe. But I had to admit that I do wear all the other ones on a regular basis, and would miss them if they were gone. Same with my long workout pants. I tossed a few ancient capris that I haven’t worn all spring or summer, and a pair of black slacks that have always made me feel like a fat ass but I kept them because I felt like I might need them someday (I haven’t. Because when do you need to feel like a fat ass?). I also got rid of some t-shirts and workout tops that are really new and I do like them, but not quite enough to make it into my top seven. It feels weird getting rid of these barely worn items – it makes me anxious, and I can’t help but wonder if something were to happen to the stuff I kept, would I regret not having back up items. Then I look at the some of my keeper items that I’ve had for about six years that still look brand new, and stop worrying.
Here are the after pics:
Again, still more stuff than I probably need, and hopefully with time I’ll be able to cut it back even further. But this category is a tough one. Baby steps. BABY STEPS!
Next up: Hanging closet space
I’ve done a lot of consolidating and purging this year. There are some items I come across that I’m pretty sure I will never use, and so I throw them out. Then there are items, all of the same type, that I find scattered throughout the house, but I’m pretty sure I will use them. So I gather them all up and put them in the same place as a reminder not to buy more since I already have so much.
My latest discovery? I will probably never have to buy another tube or tub of lip balm for at least the next five to ten years:
That’s a ridiculous amount of lip balm right? I only have two lips, and there are only so many times in the day you’d even need to apply it. I don’t even think I bought all of it – some of it was given to me, some taken from fancy hotel amenities, some were gifts with purchase, etc. When I cleaned out my old purses, I think I found a partially used tube in almost every bag. Now that I have them all in one place, I am resolved not to buy any more until the ones I have are gone. And of course, all this balm does not include all the lip GLOSS I own as well…oy.
Well, at least I’m kissable.