One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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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.


We spent some of yesterday taking down the Christmas tree and putting all the holiday decorations away.  I love decorating and being festive and in the Christmas spirit, but I am also always relieved to have my normal house back, and to not be vacuuming up stray pine needles all the time.

I started my lagom project after Christmas of 2012 (on Jan. 11th, 2013 to be precise), so as we pulled out all the decorations this year, I realized that I hadn’t done any paring down where that stuff was concerned.  We don’t have a ton of decorations to start with, and the majority of the stuff we do have were either gifts we’ve received or things from my childhood – I’ve personally bought very little Christmas decor over the years.  The good news about that is there isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff on which to make decisions.   The bad news is that there IS a tremendous amount of sentimentality attached to it all for me.

One thing I knew we needed to declutter was Christmas tree ornaments.  Lord those things are easy to collect!  The first gift I ever gave Ron was two Christmas tree ornaments, because we met each other in person for the first time a couple days before Christmas Eve, so we had planned to decorate my Christmas tree together.  That started a tradition between us of giving each other a new ornament every year on the day we decorated our tree.  We’ve been together for eleven Christmases now, so that is a substantial amount of ornaments to add to our collection – though we have forgone the tradition a couple times because either one of us forgot, or we were broke.  Here is one of the first ornaments I gave him (the biker), and the one he gave me the Christmas after we got married, along with one I gave him to commemorate his love of Stella:

My mom has given me and my sister a new ornament every year on our “Santa” gifts – usually one that matches the theme of the paper she chose that year.  She now does ornaments for Ron and my sister’s boyfriend as well, so we come home from her house with two new ornaments every year.  Here is a trumpet from a year the paper she wrapped the gifts in had a musical instruments and angels theme:


I also have a bunch of ornaments that my aunt gave me when she had a business that sold holiday stuff – I remember going to her house one summer and she gave me and my sister each a big beach bag full of ornaments – here are just two of them:

At one point my Mom decided she wanted to decorate her tree every year in only blue and white and silver decorations, so she let me and my sister have any of the traditional ornaments from our childhood that we wanted.  I took this Santa, that a friend gave my Mom back in the 60’s, I think  it was before she even knew my dad.  When it was time to decorate the tree every year, I always wanted to be the one to hang it up:


And out of pure sentiment, I kept these ornaments I made in Bluebirds when I was little:

I also at some point inherited my grandmother’s collection of wooden stars – I don’t really remember hanging them on our tree growing up, but they totally make me think of her, so I love them:


And then there are ornaments we got as gifts from friends, like this little felt angel my friend Nikki gave me:


Or these Czech dough ornaments from our friends Petr and Simona, which Stella tried to pull off the tree and EAT this year:

Of the few ornaments I’ve actually bought, the birds are my favorites.  I think Ron thinks they’re creepy, but I love them.  It’s a TREE, for heaven’s sake.  It needs birds:

And I have no memory where I got this one, but it’s candy, and it’s pink, so…lovelovelove:


But in the end, no tree that will fit in our living room can handle the amount of ornaments we own, so a lot weren’t maing it out of the storage box.  I decided that this year, we would hang our favorites first, and anything that wasn’t an automatic yes would be under scrutiny.

It ended up being easier than I thought.  I’m getting the hang of being less attached to stuff at this point, and I no longer feel that throwing an object away is the same as throwing away a relationship or my memories of a person or event.  I put everything that didn’t make the cut in a bag, and let it sit in the corner until New Year’s Eve, when I suddenly remembered it was the last day to make Goodwill donations for 2013, so I grabbed the bag along with our other donations and got rid of it all before I could become  sentimental and change my mind.  I also got rid of it before I had a chance to photograph it, so you’ll have to take my word for it that we got rid of quite a few.  I can’t remember specifically which ornaments they were at this point, which is a good sign – if I can’t recall them, they were not my favorites.

When we packed all the ornaments back up this year, it was nice to not be cramming them all in – everything fit comfortably, with room to spare.   It’s nice to think that when we open the box again next year, we will only be greeted by our favorite stuff.

A couple days ago, I talked about how much I love the holiday tradition of wrapping presents.  The other holiday activity I really love is baking.  My mom is a great baker, and she churned out a ton of treats every year for Christmas.  Here is a list of what we looked forward to every December:

  • Butter Balls (I think some people call them Mexican wedding cookies)
  • Almond Crescents
  • Sugar Cookies
  • Fudge
  • Vanilla Spritz
  • Chocolate Spritz
  • Vanilla, Cherry, and Coconut filled chocolates
  • Filbert Fingers

I used to love to perch on a chair on the other side of the kitchen counter and watch her make it all.  She would let us help with the decorating, like shaking colored sugar and sprinkles onto the Spritz cookies, and decorating the sugar cookies with frosting and cinnamon candies.  And of course, I loved eating it all too.  A few years ago, I had her teach me how to make all her cookie recipes, and it’s been fun to recreate those childhood goodies, along with new recipes I’ve picked up from friends and magazines over the years.

But I have noticed that I always end up throwing a lot of cookies away in early January.  My mom was making cookies for a family of four, and I am making them for a family of two – one of whom travels a lot.  So things just don’t get eaten.  Not to mention, though Ron claims he likes ALL the cookies, the only thing he really ends up eating out of everything I make is this stuff called matzoh roca, which is a recipe I got from my friend Amy, who is Jewish.  She makes the matzoh roca for Passover, and calls it “Passover Crack”, and I can see why – sweet, salty, toffee-y and chocolately, it is super delicious and addictive.  The first time I tried it, I was in a meeting where Amy had brought some in to share, and I think I devoured 90% of it in the course of an hour, and ultimately asked her for the recipe.  It is the only treat Ron specifically asks me to make, and the only thing he refuses to let me give away to friends.

Ever since we started meal planning a few months ago, we have gotten really good at not wasting food, and I wanted the trend to continue for the holidays.  While I was determined to still enjoy some baking this year, I was equally resolved to not to have to throw away any cookies either.  So instead of making ALL the cookies I know and love from childhood and beyond, I picked the top four favorites I was craving – frosted gingerbread, frosted sugar cookies, cherry chocolate chip pistachio biscotti (recipe courtesy of my friend Laura of Pastry Girl), and the matzoh roca.  A nice mix of a little chocolate, a little vanilla, a little spice, a little Mom, a little Martha Stewart, a little Pastry Girl, and a little Passover.  Perfect.  I did debate doing the almond crescents as well, but I couldn’t help but feel like they might be one cookie more than we would actually consume, and I was also trying to keep my ingredient costs down as much as possible.

Then I had my friend Lori come over with my godsons, Jake and Sam, and I packed up about 70% of what I had made and sent it home with them.  Lori is not super fond of baking (check out the blog she wrote about that very issue for the Huffington Post, here), but she is a fan of treats, and the boys are always willing to decorate and eat whatever I make.  Having them come over and help decorate was super fun, and I love being a part of their Christmas memories.  I did make Lori her own batch of the matzoh roca, since that is her favorite treat as well, and Ron was adamant about not sharing his.   I also gave a plate’s worth of cookies to my friend Nikki, who was getting ready to do some traveling for the holidays, so it worked out perfect for her to have someone else do the holiday baking as well.

I think what I kept for Ron and I to eat is the perfect amount – I am confident most of the cookies will be gone by Christmas – definitely by New Year’s – with nothing going stale or to waste.  I was finally able to fit in all the fun of making the holiday sweets, without getting sick of them or tossing anything.  That is a tradition I would definitely like to keep!


Our share

I haven’t posted in a while – not because I’ve been procrastinating, as I admitted in my last post, but for the exact opposite reason – I have been getting a ton of stuff done!  Writing that last entry put a fire under me, and I managed to complete several things on my list, including the audiobook I was working on.  It is a huge relief to have it done, and a week before the deadline.  It left me with no time to write or clean house, though.  And I still need to order my new head shots.  But I did sneak in a few loads of laundry between chapters, so all in all,  I feel pretty good.

I took Thanksgiving as my one day off, and we went down to my parent’s house and had a lovely time – probably because I didn’t have to do anything.  I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner – I’ve always gone to someone else’s house for the feast, and I can’t say I feel any regret about it.  I show up with a couple bottles of wine, help with some table setting, enjoy the food and the company, and then do a lot of dishes as my contribution to the event.  Total win.

Thanksgiving night, while  driving back home, we saw throngs of cars and a bunch of police directing traffic near a big outlet mall, hours before the stores were destined to open.  I can’t think of a less pleasant way to spend a holiday night – or anything I would want badly enough to warrant sitting in a cold parking lot for five hours.  I hope those people got what they wanted, but I have to say, I am glad I was not among them.  I’ve never been a big Black Friday shopper – mostly, because I DETEST crowds.  Especially crowds of people behaving in a competitive, greedy, myopic way.

I did consider going shopping this weekend- there are actually things I need at this point, and I would only consider buying them if they were in a really good sale.  And I do have some Christmas shopping to do, though thankfully, not all that much.  But here is the difference between this year and all previous years – for the most part, I actually know EXACTLY what I want this year, whether it’s for myself, or someone else.  This whole lagom thing has made me excruciatingly specific, because it’s not allowing me to entertain things “I kinda sorta like.”  My new rule is I have to LOVE it, because it’s going to be only one of a few things I own.  I have a list of things I plan to buy when I have the finances to do so, and when I think about shopping now, I  look at the items on that list, check online to see if any of those things are on sale, and if they aren’t, I take a pass.  This is very, very different behavior for me.

I actually do want a new pair of shoes from Ron for Christmas, but I’m not 100% sure what I want them to be yet – I’m wavering between a pair of boots or a pair of flats.  I considered going shopping for them, because I thought I might come across a great sale.  But then I started thinking about it, and decided not to go.  Because for me to feel good about the purchase, I would need to do a lot of research, trying on, and comparison shopping to make sure I was getting what I really wanted.  And the busiest shopping weekend of the year didn’t seem like the best time to do that.  I also know I only WANT the shoes, and don’t NEED them – I have plenty of others to wear even if I don’t get a new pair at all.  As a result, I feel like I can take a ton of time to find some that I really love, for a reasonable price.

So I didn’t buy anything on this shop-tastic weekend.   Instead, I stayed home.  I saw my family.  I finished the audiobook.  I had a lovely coffee date with my friend Nikki.  I did a second purge of my closet, where I pulled a bunch of items I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep, and set them aside to be decided on later this week.  I cooked for Ron (who has been sick with a miserable cold all weekend), and I did some laundry.  It was a happy, productive Thanksgiving weekend.  And I don’t have any carrier bags sitting in my house making me feel guilty and uncertain.  For that, I definitely give thanks.

English: DC USA, Target, Black Friday

This way to HELL. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up, my mom used to insist I acknowledge all Christmas and birthday presents with a thank you note.  I hated it at the time, but I have to say, it created a good habit.  I always appreciate a thank you note if I’ve given someone a gift, and I like giving them as well.

I won’t go so far as to say I always complete them in a timely manner – sometimes I can let a lot of time go by before I sit down and get them done.  My friend Lori puts me to shame in the thank you note department – not only does she acknowledge all of her own gifts within a week of receiving them, she is training her kids to be just as gracious and prompt.  There is nothing like getting shown up by a five year old and a seven year old in the thank you note department.  But I take a small solace in the fact that at some point, I DO get them done.

This year, I actually had the time and the intention to write thank you notes right after my birthday, but because I’m so miserably broke, I couldn’t afford to budget a box of thank you notes over say, a tank of gas.  Social etiquette is important, but not as important as getting from A to B.

Then I remembered my paper stash!  I have a plastic storage container in the office closet full of all different kinds of colored paper.  Why?  Some of it is leftover from doing invitations/programs/placecards/thank you notes for our wedding, and some is from a brief interest I had in making greeting cards w/rubber stamps (our friends used to have a business where they taught classes in how to make them, and I got all crafty with it for a while.  I’ve since tossed the rubber stamps, but I still have the paper).  I have no idea where the rest of it came from.  I’ve even considered getting rid of it.

But suddenly I was so glad I still had it, because I realized I didn’t have BUY thank you notes – I could make my own!  For a moment, I was a little afraid people might think they were stupid and cheap.  But then I realized that every single person I was going to send one to is a loving friend or family member who knows my situation and is very supportive of me, not a materialistic, judgmental jerk who would shun me for sending a homemade card.  Not to mention, I’m going to guess most people read a thank you card, appreciate it, and then promptly recycle it – it’s not like it was going to be framed and hung on a wall for posterity.

So I made some cards.  I found some retro clip art, and a fun free downloadable font. I think they turned out cute:


The inside reads, “By your incredible generosity! Thank you so much!”

I made exactly the amount I needed, no more, no less, so…totally lagom.  In the end, the only thing I had to pay for was a couple postage stamps.  I may not have spent a lot of money on them, but they were made with a wealth of love for the intended recipients.  That’s got to be worth something, right?

My Mom used to make our birthdays incredibly special.  She made pinatas, she decorated cakes, and she would put a big red rattan “throne” at the head of the table for the birthday girl to sit in, along with a silver crown to wear from a Halloween princess costume she had made.  There was always a special birthday breakfast that morning, even if it was a school morning, and sometimes I would come downstairs to find a florist’s box next to my plate with a fluffy pink corsage to wear to school.  Often I had a new dress or blouse to wear too, and at some point during the day she would  bring hand decorated cupcakes to my classroom (this was before schools were concerned about the cleanliness of student’s home food handling, and in a time where you never heard a grade school kid say, “Is that gluten free?” or “I’m lactose intolerant” or “I only eat organic”).  Dinner was the birthday girl’s choice (I frequently chose to go to McDonald’s, klassy!).  The year I turned seven, she made me an ice cream cake roll in the shape of the number 7, covered in pink frosting roses and powdered sugar.  The year I turned ten (my golden birthday, since I was 10 on the 10th) she went all out and made me a three tiered cake, like a wedding cake, with light green frosting and pale pink roses (interestingly enough, pink and green ended up being my wedding colors too).  It was all very elaborate, and made my birthday my favorite day of the year.

And oh, the presents.  I usually would get one big item (Barbie dolls, a bike, roller skates, a camera, a new outfit, a watch, etc.), and then tons of little surprise items as well.  In addition to the gifts my family gave me, I would also have a party with school friends, and a ton of loot would come in from that as well.

I am not a person who gets all shy and humble and “Oh you shouldn’t have I can’t accept this” about presents.  I love getting presents.  I love giving them too.  I never expect them, but when they are given, I accept them with love, gratitude, and joy, even if it turns out to be something I don’t want.  For me, it’s about the exchange of energy and goodwill, and that always feels great.

In recent years though, I have found that once the receiving glow has worn off, getting a bunch of new stuff all at once, whether it happens on Christmas or my birthday, has come with an under layer of anxiety as well.  I think a lot of that has to do with feeling like I have too many possessions already, so adding to the pile is really stressful (where will I put it all?  Do I actually need any of it?  Do I like it enough to keep it?  If it’s a duplicate should I toss the one I already have even though it’s still good?).

This year I had complicated feelings around the idea of getting gifts.  On one hand, I am very happy with the progress I’ve made on not bringing a lot of new stuff into my life.  But I am also in a serious state of withdrawal around not having a new stuff high on a regular basis anymore.  So I wanted stuff, but also kind of didn’t.  And I wondered – would my birthday feel forgotten and blah without presents?

But there was one thing I really did need – a new computer.  My old computer is from 2006, and its limping painfully towards its end.  I’ve killed the battery (it’s a laptop), I constantly get a “memory disk is full” message, it’s glacially slow, and there is some kind of problem with the power cord that causes it to suddenly disconnect without my noticing, until it suddenly shuts itself off in the middle of a project.  I have been living in fear that it will croak while I am in the middle of narrating an audio book, and I will lose all my recording.  I do a lot of my work on my computer, so it is not something I could live without – if I could only rescue a couple items in a fire, it would be my computer and my phone.  So it was clear to me that sooner than later, I needed to figure out how to get a new one.

I’d been saving money towards the cause since December.  I’d managed to amass over half of what I needed, and I figured my birthday could help me get almost, if not all the way, to my goal.  When anyone asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I asked for either money or a gift certificate to the Apple store.  And four days after my birthday, I found the the perfect computer for my needs, and paid 95% cash for it.

It was definitely a different birthday for me – no towering stack of presents to unwrap, just a handful of cards with money in them.  But I couldn’t have been happier.  The one gift I got was exactly what I wanted and needed, and I absolutely love it and will use it extensively every single day.  I don’t feel any anxiety around trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of new things I didn’t really need, and the lack of a bunch of gifts didn’t make things feel any less special.  I had a lovely birthday lunch and a birthday dinner with some of my dearest girlfriends, as well as a birthday dinner “date” with Ron.  I felt very special, loved, and celebrated.

It was, in every sense, “just right.”  It was lagom.  I hope to make a habit of it.


Thanks to Ron, Mom, Dad, Lisa, Don, Aunt Diane, Lori, Kristen, Julie, Ed, Zorabelle, and Grandma. I could not be more happy and grateful!

So yesterday, I wrote a post about cuts I was having to make to survive financially right now, and how I was bummed out about that.  One of the things I talked about was not being able to afford to get my hair colored.  I published the post around 5:30 pm.

Around 6pm, my cell phone rang.  It was Gary, my fantastic stylist of the past fifteen or so years.  He was calling because a hair color manufacturer who had been the main supplier of hair color for a salon he worked at when I first started going to him was looking to be the supplier for the salon he’s at now.  He used to use their color on me all the time.  They were offering the stylists in his current salon an opportunity to test the color for free on one client each, and he was calling to see if I wanted to be his test client.  Before he could even finish his sentence I shouted “I’M IN!!!”

Today, when he texted me to set up the appointment, I asked him if he had seen my blog post before or after he called me yesterday.

He texted back, “After.  Unbelievable.”

Um, are YOU KIDDING ME?  The timing of the whole thing kind of blows my mind.  It was a good reminder of how things can, and will, always change.  And I was also reminded of how lucky I am to have such incredible, supportive, magic making friends in my life.

I’m also happy to report that Stella is 100% back to her normal self this morning – even sans nine teeth.  I think she may even feel better than usual, since she doesn’t have infected, rotting teeth in her head anymore.  What appears as loss in one moment, can actually be gain in the next.  I guess I just need to learn to wait for it.

Feeling much better.  And with her  tongue back in her mouth.

Feeling much better. And with her tongue back in her mouth.

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