One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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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:

slipper top

But from the bottom, they were definitely looking a bit worse for wear:

slipper bottom

And you have to see the side view too, to really appreciate how gross loved they were:

slipper side

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:

new slipper top

And even better, they have non-slip rubber soles, with no holes in them:

new slipper side

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:

blouse

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

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

skirs

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

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

pink top

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

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

pile

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

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


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.

securedownload

Ready to wear


I’m very excited to feature my friend Lindsay Terrell as a guest blogger this week!  When Lindsay responded to one of my posts with her own story about online shopping, I immediately asked her if she’d be willing to share it here.  I will fully admit that while I spend much less time shopping in actual stores these days, I still do more than my fair share of online window shopping, that every now and then devolves into purchasing.  And unlike shopping where you have to walk into a store, face another human being, pull money or credit cards out of your wallet, and then take the bag home and either hide it or admit to your partner that yes, you bought more stuff, online shopping can be done much more stealthily and feel much less real.  Until, of course, you get your credit card bill.  Read on to hear about Lindsay’s online shopping adventures…

eBay Roulette

Finding Lagom resonates soundly with me. It is a relief to know that someone else is ardently wrestling with the same demons as me, even while yearning to lead a simpler and more meaningful life. Unfortunately, this isn’t a story about a mostly sane woman who lost it for a few weeks. This is a cautionary tale about how I already have too much stuff, and how I managed to add to it with what I like to call “eBay Roulette”.

It actually began innocently enough.  Since 2011, I have moved across the country twice, and that type of moving can really make a person pare down. I also became pregnant and gave birth.  When I was pregnant and my body was getting bigger, shopping wasn’t any fun. And while I lost weight swiftly as my daughter grew, I knew many of my clothes would never fit again. I gave away scads of clothing over those two years and promised myself I would stop shopping in stores that produced clothes which lasted for two whole washes (like Forever 21).  My pile of giveaways was about 3’ tall and was comprised of clothes that no longer fit, cast offs from my sister, and clothes I had found at Goodwill, “Naked Ladies” Parties and in Free boxes (each of which could spark their own blog post).

But I recently decided to leave my job and was feeling low.  My favorite mom blog was encouraging me to treat myself to a new pair of boots. I thought back to the last time I had bought myself a pair of high-quality, long-lasting, fashionable boots that I knew I would love.  It had been over five years! But the boots I really wanted cost nearly $300 new, which I knew I couldn’t justify if I wasn’t going to have a steady income in the near future.

I checked on Craigslist – none in my size. Then I ventured onto eBay for the first time in a long time. I was rewarded with pages and pages of beautifully crafted genuine leather boots in various shades and price levels. I set my sights on my favorite pair and typed in my maximum bid:  $200.  And then, heart rushing, I hit “Confirm Bid.”

I was suddenly filled with adrenaline and panic. I would be quitting my job in a matter of weeks, with no prospects in sight, and my husband was in between gigs as well. We were supposed to be budgeting, being tight and smart with money, and I had just blown between $150-200 on boots. I was too embarrassed to share my concern with my husband, but I was on pins and needles. Moments later I had texted my confession to my sister, my mom, and my college roommate.

My sister texted back that she had recently committed a shopping binge herself, my mom offered to buy me the same boots in black, and my girlfriend squeeeed and asked for a picture of the boots. Clearly I would not find penance or solace in my choices from these sources. Fortunately, two hours later, I received an email letting me off the hook: I had been outbid.  I vowed not to go after them again.

But soon enough I was wallowing in the same self-pity that I had been feeling before the boots bid began. I opened eBay in my browser again just to surf–I call it “faux shopping”. This method has soothed my gimmies before–it’s like window-shopping, but since it’s online and you have to pay for shipping, it’s typically enough of a deterrent for me. But today, I really needed to know that something would be arriving in my mailbox soon to cheer me up. I needed something to look forward to.

So I started to make up rules. I wouldn’t buy any crap. It had to be something high-quality, well-made, long-lasting, and genuinely beautiful. And I wasn’t allowed to bid more than $10. I’d bid $10 and leave it alone, leaving the decision of whether or not I’d be awarded the beautiful thing to fate.

Thus, eBay roulette was born.

I began bidding on dozens of items. Drawing logic from my experience with the boots, I didn’t believe I would win many, if any, of the items, and the gambling was such a thrill. I come from a long line of people with very addictive personalities, but for the most part I’ve largely seemed to escape it. I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t smoke, and with the exception of a few wild nights in college, I don’t seem to be drawn in by booze. But I may have found my Achilles heel in gambling. I ended up “winning” dozens of times, and more than once I broke my $10 rule on items I really wanted.

This went on for weeks.  At first I didn’t tell my husband. I was less concerned about the dollar amount I was spending than I was embarrassed about my behavior. I was still working – in fact I actually had to email the women who watched my daughter during the day to ask them to hide the packages, or I’d have them rerouted to my office. But my husband and I aren’t dishonest with each other, and I soon told him about my ridiculous behavior. He was entirely understanding and compassionate. Speaking with him about what I was doing and why I was doing it turned out to be the real salve to my pain, and I stopped bidding.

It was a relief to come down from this particular high. The bid, the win, the shipping notification, seeing the package arrive, opening it, and trying it on had all been a rush with several high points. But while I wish I could say that I fell in love with every piece, it’s so far from the truth.

At least half of what I’ve won in eBay Roulette I have been really disappointed with. The $10 rule seemed to release me, and I really didn’t pay much attention to the first rule – that I had to LOVE it. In fact, I even passed up one item I really did love, because it didn’t fit within the $10 price range.

My pile of giveaway items is now 4 – 4.5’ tall, about the height of my dresser. I know that I will get good resale value on many of the newer items that I won, but I still have to iron them, load ‘em into my car, schlep them around to resale, and wait for judgment.  Are these treasures really worth that, or anything at all? I doubt it.

Image

Lindsay Terrell’s life right now is full of new. She worked for 10 years in arts management and is now working to transition into a new career. She and her family are expecting their second baby (2 of 2) this summer, and she currently planning her first garden. 

When I lived in an apartment, I stuffed my one small closet so full of clothes I could barely get anything in or out of it.  I also jam packed a chest of drawers with clothes, and had piles and piles of laundry all over my room.  I only had access to shared laundry in the basement of my building, and since the laundry hours weren’t compatible with my schedule, I frequently used that as an excuse to go out and buy more clothes – especially underwear (at one point I probably owned close to 5o pairs of underwear, but never seemed to have any clean ones in my drawer so once a month I’d hit the Victoria’s Secret “5 pair for $25” sale they always had going).  I also had a small front hall closet that was overflowing with coats and theatrical costumes, and on any given day I probably had about 10 items hanging out at the drycleaner’s as well.

When I bought my first house, I immediately spread my wardrobe out in my much bigger bedroom closet thinking, “Finally, I have some ROOM!”  And for a couple months I did.  But since my shopping was particularly out of control at that point, I quickly filled that closet too, and added a large armoire that was soon bursting with clothing, along with the aforementioned dresser.  It was a two bedroom house, and because there wasn’t a front hall closet, I put all my coats and costumes in the closet of the second bedroom, along with any clothes I couldn’t fit in the master bedroom.

When Ron moved in, I had to make room for his stuff.  It was not an easy process. I was not ready to part with what I had, and I was still buying things at an alarming rate.  The poor guy had almost no room for his clothes in a house that was positively overrun with my wardrobe.  If the roles had been reversed, and I had walked into a house like that, I don’t know if I would have stuck around.  When we moved, I saw that I had permanently bent the closet rod with the weight of all I had hanging in there.  Awesome.

Our current house has  built in closet/shelving cupboards in the master bedroom, and we still use the armoire as well (I ultimately pared down my clothes enough to get rid of the dresser).  Ron’s shelves all have some spare room in them, but mine are packed full–even though I have the lion’s share of the space in both the closets and the armoire.  Ron even built me a closet in the basement to house all my costumes, and we have a dedicated coat closet in our home office for coats/scarves/umbrellas.  The guest room was the only room in the house that wasn’t holding some of my clothes- and so of course, I took pity on it and filled it with sundresses, my purse collection, and some evening wear.

And once again, all closets in the house were full.

But as I’ve previously mentioned, my friend Kelley was staying with me for a while.  A lot of people have stayed in our guest room, but usually for only one or two nights at a time.  Kelley was here for about three weeks, so I took a look at the room with new eyes to see how I might make her more comfortable.  And of course, I realized that she would have nowhere to put her clothes.  So I emptied the closet and put all my stuff in suitcases down in the basement, leaving her with shelf space, hanging space, and floor space.

Kelley’s rehearsals have started, so she has left to stay in actor housing, and my first impulse was to refill the closet with everything I’d removed.  But then it occurred to me -what if I didn’t?  What if I took Peter Walsh’s sage advice and limited the amount of clothing I owned to what would fit in the space I had to store it?  And what if “the space I had to store” my personal wardrobe was limited to my bedroom closet/armoire?  Would that really be so terrible?  Wouldn’t it be nice to always be “guest ready”, and have that closet only hold items meant to make guests more comfortable?  And wouldn’t it be nice to have all my clothes consolidated on one floor, instead of spread out over three?

I decided to leave it empty.  I took the suitcases with my excess stuff up to our bedroom, and left the guest room…a guest room.  Minus all my crap.

Ready for guests!

Ready for guests!

I have no idea how I’m going to incorporate all those items into my bedroom storage, and I can guarantee it will involve some serious clothes/shoes/purse purging.  Today, I can’t even face it.  But I’m determined to do it.  I’ll post about it once I figure it out, but for now…well, wish me luck.  Ugh.

Ready to make me cry

Ready to make me cry



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