One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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Happy 2015 everyone!!!!

I realize I have been absent for a looooong time.  I have good excuses though – I was in a play, then went to France for a couple weeks, came home to a ton of work due in a very tight timeline, and then the holidays hit and well, that pretty much brings us up to date.  I’m hoping to blog at least once a week if possible this year, but I know I’ve said that before and then…you know…life.

Another reason for the inactivity is precisely that – inactivity.  For the past few months I haven’t really done much cleaning, decluttering, or reevaluating.  It’s been all I could do to just be where I needed to be and make deadlines on time.  And while my house, purse, and car have been a MESS all fall and winter, I’m also happy to report I did very little purchasing either, so it was sort of a zero sum game on the whole lagom seeking mission.

I am proud to say that we did not go into credit card debt for our vacation, and while I did buy a few things in Europe, I didn’t go nuts either.  I bought a few, carefully curated, carefully planned items that I had done a lot of research on before our trip, and all in all, I spent VERY little time shopping – which was weird and great all at the same time.  Instead, we explored beautiful places, ate amazing food and drank tons of wine:

But for the most part, over the past few months when this blog has been silent, I’ve just been sitting with my stuff as it is, not really thinking about it one way or the other, and therefore have made no real changes.  With the launch of a fresh new year though, I have begun to feel a renewed sense of wanting to lighten my life.

For Christmas, Ron gave me a copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and reading it has newly inspired me to think about what I truly need, use, and love, and what stuff I’ve just grown accustomed to seeing in my space.  Ms. Kondo is a bit more of an extreme minimalist than I aspire to be, and I’m not 100% sure I subscribe to everything she suggests, but I still really enjoyed her book.  It’s made me start looking around with a keen eye again, and let me tell you, when that happens…nothing in my path is safe.

Even though Ron did not read the book and I haven’t really talked to him about it,  he seems to be on the same wavelength as well.  Yesterday morning, as we were putting away all the Christmas decorations, we were moving the armoire that holds our tv, stereo, dvd player, cable box, phone, etc. back into place, and he asked me how I would feel about getting rid of the stereo, since we never really use it.  We own a couple high quality smartphone speaker docks, and we just tend to plug our phones into one of those and listen to our music that way – I can’t really remember the last time I got out a CD and used the stereo.  So I agreed, and from there we also decided to get rid of the dvd player we have upstairs (it’s fairly old and had not been working properly, and we still have another one that does work in another part of the house, and I can’t say I’ve been missing the broken one since we usually watch movies on cable anyway).

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Then we went through the rest of the armoire, clearing our dvd collection of any movies we no longer cared about, our cd collection of music we no longer listened to, and I tossed about 60 (seriously) empty cd jewel cases I had been saving for oh, NO APPARENT REASON.  I even found a small stack of old VHS tapes that somehow survived the last purge, despite the fact it’s been about three years since we’ve owned a TV with a VHS player on which to use them:

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I particularly love the two that are titled “Laura – Misc. Tape”, with no further indication of anything else that is on them.  Especially since I don’t own anything to play them on in order to find out.  Genius decision making right there, folks.

And when I went to get a couple bags to hold the stuff we were getting rid of, I found myself plowing through a bunch of those well intentioned reusable shopping bags that multiply like rabbits in the closet because I always think I’ll use them, and then, of course, don’t.  Ron and I picked through them and each chose a couple to keep that we liked best, and the rest we got rid of.  In the process, I also I found not one, but TWO lost scarves I’d been searching madly for over the past couple weeks tangled up in the mess.

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As anyone who has been reading the blog for a while knows, I have been at this process since January of 2013, and with each area of my home I’ve decluttered, I’ve always gotten to the point where I’ve thought “That’s it – I can’t pare it down any less.  Everything that’s left is something I need, use, and love.”  Fascinating how time can change that perspective, isn’t it?  I think I maybe needed the past few months to just sit quietly with some of my decisions, before I could revisit them with a clear head.  If the first day of 2015 is any indication, I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m excited to discover what’s important to me in the new year.


I was just realizing that it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything – in fact it’s been over a month!  This is mostly due to the fact that all I’ve done lately is work and pay down debt, which means my life has been boring and uneventful. I’ve done some minor league paring down here and there, but nothing interesting enough to generate a blog post.

A couple days ago though, I was on my way home when I remembered that the previous week’s meal plan had run out and it was my responsibility to figure out what we were having for dinner that night.  I was going to drive past the grocery store on the way home, so I figured I might as well stop and do the shopping while I was already out and about.  As I started to get out of the car though, I found myself automatically reaching for my shopping list and coupons, and then I realized that I didn’t have either of those things, because I hadn’t done an official meal plan for the week.  I also hadn’t checked recipes for ingredients, taken stock of what was in the fridge or cupboards, or gone through my coupon stash.  I hesitated, feeling unsure if I should even go in, but I had snagged a great parking spot, so I decided to brave it.

Keep in mind, it’s only been for the past year that I have been doing meal plans/shopping lists/coupons.  Prior to this year I would stop at the store much like I was about to do – with absolutely no plan of what I was going to buy, counting on the contents of the store shelves to inspire me.  I figured it would be fine – I’d managed to feed myself all those years before, and back then I was often going shopping after a long day of work and rehearsal, when I was already exhausted and brain dead.  If I could pull together a week’s worth of groceries in that frame of mind, how hard could it be now?

Forty five minutes later, I was still wandering the aisles of the store like a zombie, staring blankly at all the food, with no solid plan for dinner that night.  In my cart I had two boxes of Kleenex (I had a cold last week), a roll of paper towels, a package of marked down Reeses’ Peanut Butter Eggs, and a bottle of shampoo for Ron.  With the exception of the candy, there was no actual food in my cart.  I had been up and down pretty much every aisle at least twice, but couldn’t make a single decision about what to buy, for a few reasons:

  • I knew had coupons at home for things like pasta, chicken, bread and frozen vegetables, so I didn’t want to buy any of those items on this trip when I knew I could save money on them
  • I couldn’t remember what produce we already had in the fridge, and didn’t want to buy more than we could eat in a week and have the excess rot
  • I couldn’t remember my and Ron’s schedules for the week, so I didn’t know how many meals I actually had to plan vs. meals where leftovers or something from the freezer would suffice
  • For every dinner idea I could think of, I knew there were items I wasn’t going to be able to remember, which would mean having to run back to store again before dinner if I’d forgotten anything

Add to all this the fact that it is the end of the month, and I knew we only had about $60 in our checking account, so wasting money on anything we didn’t absolutely need was not an option.

So I made the decision that I would only buy enough stuff to get us through dinner that night, and I would come back the next day after I’d taken the time to do a proper meal plan and shopping list.  And I reminded myself that we already had a partial bag of Easter Peanut M&M’s and Easter Whopper Eggs in the cupboard, so I put the Reeses’s Peanut Butter Eggs back on the markdown table.  I saw some ground beef that was on sale so I decided to make burritos for dinner, since I was pretty sure we had most of the other ingredients already.  I checked out with a bill of about $16, which wasn’t too bad, but later that night Ron had to run back to the store right before dinner and spend more money when we discovered that we had only one tortilla left in the package, and though I remembered seeing half a bag of tortilla chips in the cupboard, he’d somehow polished those off when I wasn’t looking.

It was a revelation to me that my new habits around grocery shopping were suddenly so much stronger than my old ones.  The amount of money we’ve saved on groceries in the past year, along with the fact we no longer waste food has been a very positive change in our household.  We have also found it a relief to know what is for dinner every night, so when we’re hungry and grumpy at the end of the day we don’t have to ransack the cupboards or navigate the store with all the other hungry grumpy people.  I’m all for spontaneity and satisfying in the moment cravings, but when it comes to staying on budget, and not being wasteful, I definitely feel my new habits are the way to go.

The next day I went to the store, meal plan made and shopping list in hand.  I was in and out of the store in a painless and focused ten minutes, and this time, everything in my cart was food:


Believe it or not, combined with some of the food we already have and need to use up, it’s enough food to get us through to the end of month before payday.  We will use every bit of it.  The total bill was $25.31 (about half of what was left in our bank account).  I actually didn’t have any coupons for what I was buying this trip, but I felt better knowing I had at least checked to be sure.

I am still work in progress around this whole lagom quest, and I still make a lot of mistakes.  But this week taught me that at least in ONE area of my life, I am now sincerely living by lagom values.

I hate the grocery store.  My dear friend Kristen thinks I hate the grocery store because I have so many run-ins with weirdos at the Fred Meyer (cheap basic grocery store) in my neighborhood where I usually shop.  She insists I would have a better experience if I were to shop at the New Seasons (organic, fancy grocery store) nearest me, and she just gave me a New Seasons gift certificate to thank me for something I had been willing to do for her, but didn’t actually end up doing because ultimately she didn’t need me to do it.  How how is that for an amazing friend?  I love that woman.  It will definitely come in handy, and I’m looking forward to spending it. But while I will probably reduce the weirdo factor at New Seasons, I can pretty much guarantee I will still hate the process of grocery shopping, because I have ALWAYS hated grocery shopping.

Why do I hate it?  I have a theory.  When I was really little I used to carry around a washcloth with a cartoon lion and tiger on it like a security blanket – kind of like Linus in the Peanuts comics.  I lost that washcloth while grocery shopping with my mom at The Prairie Market in Salem, Oregon – and I think I’ve subconsciously resented the grocery store ever since.

One of the main reasons I’ve hated it in recent years is because Ron and I have typically gone to the store when we were a) hungry, and b) without any kind of a list or plan of what to buy.  Sometimes we’ve each gone to the store in the same day, separately, and came home with doubles of things that we’ve been unable to eat before they’ve gone bad, like milk, bananas, and bags of salad greens. Because our shopping is so off the cuff, we frequently will be at the store, decide what we’re having for dinner, and then buy every single ingredient we could possibly need to make it since we don’t know what we already have at home.  As a result, our cupboards and freezer get crammed with multiple cans of soups and sauces, bottles of condiments, packages of seasonings, frozen vegetables, and about a billion boxes and bags of half used snacks and baking supplies.

It’s not like I didn’t grow up with a good example around meal planning and grocery lists – I DID.  My Mom would sit down every Friday or Saturday with her little sprial notebook, write down the days of the week, and then start filling in menu options next to each day.  She often would ask for our input, and then probably regretted it as she dealt with our anguished cries and dramatic tears if we saw she had planned something we didn’t like that week (meatloaf, hamburgers, pork chops, any kind of fish).  Once the menu was planned, she’d check her cupboards for supplies, make a detailed shopping list, and drag us to the store with her.  She even used coupons.  As the stay at home mom of a single income family with a husband who didn’t cook, she was a master of planning and preparing all meals for our family, within a budget, and on a schedule every night.  It was impressive.  She still does it to this day, and I’m sure it’s a relief not to have to include two picky kids in the process anymore.

But I have never done that – I just never developed the habit.  When I was single I usually got takeout or made pasta at 11pm after I finally got home from work and rehearsal.  When Ron and I got married, things changed some because he is such a good cook, but we would frequently come home after a long day and look at each other warily, wondering who was going to be the sacrificial lamb to figure out dinner since there was no plan and both of us would rather kill and eat the other person than get back in the car and go to the store.

Recently though, as I have been trying to figure out how to save money wherever possible,  I got to thinking about my mom and her meal planning, and it occurred to me that she probably did such a detailed meal plan because it ensured she didn’t end up buying stuff she didn’t need and couldn’t afford.  She knew exactly what she was cooking ever week, and stocked her cupboards accordingly.  As I looked despairingly at my own overflowing cupboards and refrigerator/freezer, I decided it couldn’t hurt to give Mom’s way a try.

For a few weeks now, Ron and I have been making a meal plan for the week every Sunday.  We start by looking in the freezer and cupboards for recipes we can make with the food we already have on hand, and we mostly just make a shopping list that includes fresh produce and random items to fill out specific dishes.  I’ve started clipping coupons from the flyers that come to our house instead of automatically tossing them.  And I try to make sure 80% of what I put in my basket is on sale.

I admit it sounds dreary and penny pinching.  It leaves no real room for spontaneity or cravings (not that we can afford to indulge our cravings right now, but still).  But I have to say, both Ron and I love it.  We love knowing what we’re having for dinner every night, long before we’re both tired and grouchy with hunger.  We don’t find ourselves tediously trying to defrost a frozen hunk of meat in the microwave so we can start cooking it.  We don’t have to run to the mobbed store at 5:30 for ingredients along with all the other tired and grouchy people.  Our cupboards and freezer are no longer so stuffed with items that they’re hard to close.  And I’ve even been able to keep the refrigerator cleaner because I can easily see all the shelves  and wipe them down on a regular basis – by the end of the week, our fridge is almost completely empty and ready for the next shopping trip.

But perhaps my favorite benefit is that we are no longer wasting tons of food like we used to.  We not only plan meals that use up the new ingredients we buy, but we strategically think of ways to use leftover ingredients in what we cook later in the week.  I always felt bad throwing so much uneaten food away, not only because we had wasted our own resources, but because I couldn’t help but think of the people in my own community who were probably going to bed hungry that night, while we casually tossed out food we had overbought.  Now, we are using exactly the amount we have, no more, no less.  It is, in every sense, lagom.

Today I told Ron that even after we’re out of debt and can breathe a little financially, I wouldn’t mind keeping to this system of meal planning and shopping lists, and he readily agreed.  It makes a ton of sense.  I will probably buy nicer food than I can afford right now (Fancy cheeses!  Fancy  olives!  Fancy bread from Little T’s American Baker!  At fancy stores like New Seasons!), but we’ll really get our money’s worth out of it, since we won’t be throwing anything away uneaten.  And I might, just might, start to like grocery shopping for the first time in my life.


I know my mom is looking at this list and thinking “Burgers and meatloaf???? After all the time she complained about those items?” Yeah. Sorry Mom.

Okay, so remember how I swore I wasn’t going to buy any more candy until the candy we already had was gone?

Yeah, me too.  Well, I kinda cheated on that promise.

In my defense, I have been SO GOOD.  I lovelovelove Easter candy, and I did not buy ANY this year – not one delicious, sugary, pastel, chocolatey bunny/chick shaped piece of happiness.  I was very, very, VERY good.

But then, I had to go to the store to buy a birthday card, and there it was – the 50% off all Easter candy table.  Piles and piles of Peeps, peanut butter eggs, bubble gum eggs, chocolate eggs, and  jelly beans…a table of temptation.

And did I mention it was 50% off?  I did?  Well, it’s worth repeating.  IT WAS 50% OFF, PEOPLE!!!

I looooove me some jelly beans.  An not the fancy-schmancy tropical fruit flavor, Jelly Belly gourmet blahblahblah beans, or jumbo sized/mini sized/anything else clever.  Just the basic, old school, primary/secondary colored, normal boring jelly beans.  And they had a bag just like that on the table.  For fifty-nine cents after the discount.

So, I broke my promise.


Jelly Beans, aka LUNCH.

And you know what?  I honestly don’t feel that bad about breaking it.  They were cheap.  They were exactly what I was craving.  And the bag is pretty much devoured already, so they won’t be taking up cupboard space for long.

Being a little bad felt a little good.  I need to remember that.

Last week was weirdly busy – I say “weirdly”, because I didn’t have any jobs last week, but I had enough appointments and volunteer projects that I still somehow had a hard time getting everything done.  I would look at the clock, thinking it was maybe 11 a.m., and would be shocked to see it was closer to 3:30.  I think I ate lunch maybe twice last week, because by the time I noticed how late it was, it was too close to dinner to squeeze it in.

It got me thinking about when I worked in offices, and how hungry I was all the time.  I would start watching the clock for lunch starting around 10 a.m., while I was eating a midmorning snack –  I always had candy, nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars stashed in my desk drawer.  By noon, I was noticeably irritable and faint with hunger.  I’d scarf down whatever I bought or brought for lunch that day, and then by 3pm I’d eat another snack.   As I drove to rehearsal at 5pm I’d snack again in the car, since dinner was often not until 10pm or later.  And none of this is counting the multiple trips I’d make during the day to the candy bowl at the front desk, or to the office break room if someone had brought in treats – always shaving off only a small sliver of cake, or breaking off a small piece of a cookie or donut, but going back so many times that I’d consume more than if I’d just taken a decent sized portion the first time around.

That’s actually a lot of regular and small meals.  And yet, I was STARVING.  My stomach would growl loudly in meetings.  If I was in a meeting that ran over into my lunch hour, my listening would totally shut down and I would fix a hateful glare at whoever was droning on about useless crap while I was clearly dying of malnutrition in an ergonomic chair.  My eyes would glaze over while I stared blankly at dull powerpoint presentations and daydreamed about food, even if I had just eaten.  I actually remember being in the middle of some “important” meeting in a conference room once, and I must have had a really concerned expression on my face because my friend Aubrey leaned over and whispered, “What are you thinking about?” And before my rational mind could come up with a good lie I admitted, “I’m trying to remember my recipe for veggie burritos.”

I was nervous when I started working freelance that I would sit home and eat like a maniac all day.  Look at the damage I could do in an office where I was mostly limited to what I brought to eat that day – what would happen if I were left unsupervised in a fully stocked kitchen with a limitless lunch hour?

The weird thing is, I’m not as hungry as I used to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love food with a passion, but it doesn’t occupy my brain as obsessively as it used to.  I started thinking about some of the reasons why this is the case:

  1. I don’t get up as early as I did when I was working full time.  Getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. will definitely make you ready to eat by 10 a.m., especially if you skip breakfast.  (However, even when I DID eat breakfast, at my desk, at 8:30 a.m., I was still ravenous two hours later, so…go figure.)
  2. I have the luxury of eating much slower than I did when I was trying to get to work on time, or back from my lunch hour on time.  I remember standing in my kitchen one morning, late for work, trying to eat a banana as fast as I could while watching the clock, and then bursting into despondent tears because I couldn’t chew it as fast as I needed to, but  I also couldn’t swallow the chunks without choking.  In many ways, it was a very representative snapshot of my life at that point.  Sad.
  3. Sometimes my inherent laziness will win over hunger – if there is no readily available option for lunch or a snack, I’ll open a few cupboards and stare intensely at the contents as though I can will them into combining to create something good.  Then, when nothing happens, I’ll wander back to my desk and think, “Ron will be home in a few hours to cook for me.”

But I think the main reason my hunger pains have subsided is this:  I’m not chronically bored anymore.  I like what I do, and even though there are tedious parts to my job, for the most part I find it all very interesting and entertaining.  No one brings me spreadsheets full of numbers that might as well be hieroglyphics and expects me to make sense of them.  I don’t have a staff, so there are no mind-numbing staff meeting to attend.  In fact, it is very rare that I have to attend meetings at all anymore, and when I do, it’s usually a one on one conversation with someone I like about a project we’re working on, or a group of people sitting around talking passionately about theatre, and there is not a powerpoint in sight.  If someone is droning on, I can always count on a stage manager to look at his or her watch and say, “Okay, that’s enough, we’re moving on.”

It seems like I spent so much of my professional life feeling so hungry, and yet never being able to fill the void.  I wish I’d figured out earlier that it had nothing to do with food.


Eating out of the office candy jar – but this time onstage, in one of my favorite plays – Adam Bock’s “The Receptionist”.
Photo credit: Win Goodbody

Continuing on my quest to use up our stash of candy bars, I went Pinteresting (is that a verb yet?  If not, I just coined it. You’re welcome.) for another candy bar dessert recipe.  And I found one.  Well, actually, I found several, but there was one that really caught my eye –  Brown Butter Milky Way Oatmeal Cookies.  Once again, I had all the ingredients on hand.



So I whipped up a batch.  Some interesting steps in this one, such as browning the butter and then cooling it back down to a solid state, and chopping up the Milky Ways and freezing them, and then just pressing the candy pieces into the top of each cookie instead of mixing them into the dough like I did last time.  I peeked in at them baking and saw some of the candy pieces had toppled off the edge of the cookie and were spreading into melted  carmel chocolate goo on the Silpat liner, so I pulled them out for a second, scraped up the goo, piled it back on top of the cookie, and then put them back in.

OH.  MY.  GOD.


Quite possibly the best cookies I’ve ever made, no lie. Browned butter makes all the difference between good and great, in my experience.  The smell of them cooking was insane, and the texture came out perfect.  And they were EASY.  The recipe only made about sixteen cookies, which is just right – there’s no chance to get sick of them, only to crave more.  The same website that supplied this recipe has recipes for all sorts of other incredible sounding treats, many of them involving candy, and I intend to try a few more of them (Snickers bar stuffed chocolate chip cookies anyone? Seriously, this woman is a cookie GENIUS, she needs her own show).  But until then…don’t bother me for a while.  I have cookies to eat.


I know I’ve mentioned how much I love to eat, but have I mentioned that I also love to bake?  I haven’t?  Well, I love it.  I’m actually not that stellar of a cook – that’s Ron’s department.  He makes all our best dinners and cocktails.  But I am in charge of dessert, and I’m not shy to say I’m pretty good at it – probably because I love eating it so much.  I like that when you bake, if you follow the recipe, it almost always turns out.  Cooking on the other hand, seems more instinctive and improvisational, and you can screw it up easier.  And potentially give people food poisoning.  I do not like the idea of being responsible for giving people food poisoning.

Today was rainy and grey and cold out, and that almost always puts me in the mood to bake something.  It warms up the whole house and feels very comforting.  But I didn’t feel like going to the store (re: rainy and grey and cold out), and I definitely didn’t feel like buying ingredients (re: super broke).  So I decided to look around and see what we had on hand that I might be able to turn into something decadent.  And I found something.

Remember these?

Candy box

I was kind of wondering what I was going to do with all those Milky Ways.  Obviously, I could just sit and eat them, but odd as it may sound, I’m getting a little bored with just eating candy.  (Don’t judge.  We have a lot of candy to work through – you try it sometime).

This is where my love of trolling Pinterest for food porn once again proved useful.  I came across a pin for a Milky Way cookie!  Actually, the recipe was for Deep Dish Milky Way cookies, (or Mars Bars, for my European readers), meant to be baked in one of those muffin top pans, which sounded AWESOME, but we don’t have one of those pans, and I wasn’t about to go buy one.  We did own one once, but got rid of it because we never used it.  If I had only thought of baking cookies in it, that thing would have been in constant rotation.

We had every single ingredient already on hand.  Perfect!  They’re basically a brown sugar cookie dough (like for a chocolate chip cookie), but with chopped Milky Ways folded in.  Here they are about to go into the oven:


And here they are on their way out:


They’re pretty damn good.  The best part?  All that carmel goodness melting out of the underbelly of the cookie:


I love that I was able to meet a craving with stuff I already have.  I think there will be many more candy inspired cookies in my future.

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