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!

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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.

Menu

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.


Sooooo…I kinda bought something.  Something I really wanted, but not something I needed.  It wasn’t extravagantly expensive ($32), but I did buy it online and charged it to my credit card, which of course is a step backwards on the progress I was making there.

I feel guilty about it.

Some people may read this and think, “Well you SHOULD feel guilty.  You’ve been complaining nonstop about your debt, and then you go and compound the problem.  How ridiculous.”

Others may think, “Thirty two bucks?  Eh, not so bad.  Try not to do it again, but let it go – it’s not going to ruin you.”

I like the reasonable, forgiving, possibly enabling people in the second mind frame better.  Unfortunately, my conscience is a big, loudmouthed, judgemental member of the first group.  And it is in my head, yelling at me.

To justify my behavior (since that is what guilty people are wont to do), let me explain what I bought, and why I bought it.  In December, Ron bought me an iPhone 5 for Christmas, and I can honestly say it is my favorite, most used, most loved possession.  My previous phone had been an iPhone 3, so the super cute Kate Spade case I had for that phone wouldn’t fit the new one.  I checked Kate Spade for iPhone 5 cases, but at the time the selection was super limited, and there was nothing I loved, so I bought a cheap case for about ten bucks at Fred Meyer, and decided to wait to buy one I really liked later, when more options were available.

But then, in January, I started this blog.  And pretty much cut myself off cold turkey from buying anything for myself that wasn’t absolutely necessary, until my debt was under control.  It is now mid-April and I have stuck to that promise.  The only store I have visited and spent money at since January has been the grocery store – I have barely even set foot in any other establishments for fear of the damage I might do.   So there has been no shopping highs for me, and as I’ve mentioned, the withdrawal is really hard for me.

The cell phone case I have is totally serviceable, but I’ve never liked it.  I bought it intending to replace it, but it all just timed out weirdly with this whole lagom seeking thing.  And then, this weekend, while idly browsing on Pinterest, I saw a case that made my heart pitter-pat with excitement, because it was so perfectly what I was looking for.

Did I need it?  NO.  Did I want it?  YES-YES-YES-YES-YES!  Badly.  Not just because I liked it, but also because I had a really, really, frustrating weekend – partially due to the behavior of others, and partially due to some of my own stupidity.  In the emotional funk I was in, I was super susceptible to the Hot Clutches of the Want Monster, and when it reared it’s angry, depressed, resentful, stuff-starved head, I decided to let it stomp around and run the show for a minute.

And it did.  It ordered the cell phone case.  The site said the case was on backorder for several weeks, but to my surprise, it showed up today in the mail.  I feel guilty for loving it, but damn, do I ever love it:

Image

I hope I can get over the guilt and enjoy it.  And I hope the next time I feel as blue and bummed out as I did this weekend, I can find a better way to manage those feelings.  I got away with $32 this time.  But I can tell you from experience, I am not always so lucky.


Lately, I have been really, really good about buying things.  Or, to be more accurate, NOT buying things.

Since unsubscribing from most of my shopping-related emails, I only get the few store emails I’ve  allowed to remain, and I’m proud to say I’ve even been deleting those unread.  I’ve spent very little time on Pinterest lately, which I LOVE, but can sometimes make me yearn for things.  I’ve been too busy to shop as well – in fact, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been in two stores – the grocery store and a gift shop.  In the grocery store, I didn’t go crazy–once I came home with a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of white wine because that was all I wanted in that moment, and another time I just bought some snacks and mixers for entertaining since I was having friends over.  I went to the gift shop to buy a housewarming gift, but I was super crunched for time so thankfully  I emerged with only the gift  for my friends and nothing for myself.

But today, I needed to go to the store again.  I’ve been terrified of catching this flu that’s been going around, and with my schedule being so hectic, and with being around so many who are sick, I’ve been taking a lot of preventative stuff.  Umcka is my favorite anti-cold medicine (if you haven’t tried it, seriously do – it’s freakin’ MAGICAL), and I was down to the last dropperful.  So this afternoon I hopped in the car and headed over to New Seasons to buy another bottle.

I don’t shop at New Seasons a lot – I think it’s a lovely store with a great mission and outstanding customer service.  But the prices are more expensive than Safeway or Fred Meyer, so I only go there if I need something special.  And the poorly designed parking lot of the New Seasons in my neighborhood always seems to be full of mellow looking people in organic clothing with recyclable bags who are super zen and nice until you’re vying for the same parking space, at which point you know they would happily punch you in the throat to secure it.  But I wasn’t sure if Fred Meyer carried the Umcka, and I knew New Seasons did, so I decided to brave it.

When I walked in, I could see the pharmacy area was to my right, and I headed straight for it.  But to get there, I had to walk through the fancy housewares section.  And that’s where it all started to fall apart.

I had a friend who was once addicted to cocaine tell me that even though he is clean now, if someone put a line of cocaine in front of him, he knows he would snort it, and the second it was up his nose think, “Why the HELL did I just do that?”  I’ve never done cocaine, but I do get what he’s talking about.  Shopping is my drug, and I have been clean for a few weeks.  But seeing all those pretty dishes and aprons and shiny gadgets kind of snapped something in my brain, and just like my friend would have felt if he turned  a corner and found a mountain of cocaine,  I suddenly found myself in the hot clutches of the Want Monster.

There was no rhyme or reason to the things I wanted, and none of my want was triggered by any real need.  I found myself gathering up little ceramic Japanese-looking dishes, an orange and white rectangular tray, sleek bamboo utensils, cute aprons, pretty potholders, and chopstick holders that looked like koi fish.  At the end of that aisle, I noticed the pet toys, so I added a stuffed squirrel toy with a squeaker for my dog, Stella (who rarely plays with toys).  Then I moved on to food.  A new brand of energy bar I hadn’t tried.  Frozen gourmet tamales.  Rose water, even though I don’t know what I’d use it for, but vaguely remember seeing it in a recipe somewhere.  I was in a fevered haze, tossing stuff in a basket, flushed with the high of new fun things.  When I found myself back near the pet aisle admiring a cat toy, a logical thought suddenly crashed my shopping party.  “You don’t even HAVE a cat,” it said.  “What the HELL are you doing?”

A little ashamed, I put everything back, including the basket.  I went to the pharmacy aisle, and found what I had come for – The Umcka.  It was even on sale.  I went straight to the cash register, paid, declined a bag, and went home.

I will not lie – driving away, the Want Monster was still gripping me tight.  I wanted those little dishes, that were like so many I own already.  I wanted the orange and white tray that was super small and not really practical for serving anything.  I wanted the squeaky squirrel toy for Stella that would join the pile of other unused toys in the corner of the living room.  I felt sad and a vague sense of loss for things I’d never actually owned.  I’m still kind of thinking about them.  I hope by tomorrow morning I will have forgotten all about them– I don’t need them, and they would have just become more stuff for me to manage and store and eventually throw out someday.

And the things I REALLY want, and need right now, are super clear.  I need new tires for my car for safety reasons.   I need a new computer with decent memory capacity so I can work faster and more efficiently.  I need to pay off all my debt.  Those things would make me truly happy.

And of course, I want to be healthy.  And I did get the Umcka.  So for now, that should be lagom.

Umcka

Boring.



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