I keep a suitcase in the basement that I fill with clothes that are headed to resale. With as much closet purging and as little clothes buying as I’ve done in the past year, I have been consistently convinced that each trip to resale will be my last for at least the next 6 months, if not a year. Because if I’m adding very few new clothes, and each time I’ve purged my closet I’ve gotten it down to just my favorites, how is it possible I could still have more stuff to get rid of so quickly? Well, apparently, it is possible, because look:
I sold back clothing about two months ago, so this new pile-up was a surprise. The suitcase was so full of clothes that I felt compelled to take a look at what I was getting rid of and why, since obviously a mere two months ago I loved these very items too much to part with them. Here’s is a brief sampling of some things that went from my love it list to my loathe it list in just a few weeks.
Three pairs of jeans. I wear jeans most days of the week, so I’ve always kept a lot of them in my closet – like up to 12 pairs at times. But I’ve been steadily decreasing that number, because I’ve noticed that while yes, I always want to wear jeans, I also always want to wear the SAME jeans over and over again. So why should I keep so many? These three did not make the cut.
Two summer dresses. The striped on on the left is very cute and I did wear it a lot, but I got it at Target so it wasn’t the most well-made garment I’ve ever bought, and after being repeatedly laundered it’s starting to look a little shabby and slightly shrunken. I definitely got my use out of it though, so I feel good about letting it go. The pink dress is an inexpensive one I bought at Gap, and I wore it a few times, but it fell victim to the “one in one out” rule (I talk about letting it go in more detail over on the Tiny Homes site). I was very tempted to say screw the one in/one out rule and keep both dresses, but I’m very happy with my new dress, and in just a month I have already worn the new one more than this old one, which has been hanging in my closet for nearly three years.
These shorts make me feel fat. Therefore, I feel irritable every time I put them on and end up taking them right back off. I have another pair of green shorts that don’t make me feel fat, but I kept these because….yeah, I don’t know.
This shirt, cardigan, and blazer are all from Anthropologie. I kid you not when I say that close to 70% of my wardrobe used to be comprised of items from Anthropologie. I haven’t been able to afford to shop there in the past year, and cutting my Anthro habit made a big impact in stemming the flow of clothes into my wardrobe, since I rarely walked out of that store without buying something. I currently have about 10 items from Anthropologie left in my possession, which for me is a little weird. I think I hung onto to these three more out of nostalgia for my favorite store than any real desire to wear them. But a whole spring/summer went by without me wearing the shirt or cardigan, and while I still like the blazer well enough, I’ve slowly gotten rid of most of the other items that I used to wear it with, so now it feels like odd man out. It was time for all of them to go.
I actually wore this halter top from the Banana Republic outlet store a lot, and I remember buying it on a whim and it being on such a great sale I thought “If I wear this five times I’ll get my money’s worth out of it.” I definitely got my money’s worth, but the last couple times I tried it on I felt like it looked too boxy and ended up changing into something else, so I feel like my infatuation has ended. But no guilt on this purchase at all!
I do, however, have guilt over this black Diane Von Furstenburg dress which I held on to for YEARS, because it was very expensive, and well, because it was DVF. But I rarely wore it. I’ve never been a big fan of shirt dresses, but I’ve tried valiantly over the years to try to like them by purchasing various incarnations of the style. I saw a picture of myself wearing this dress shortly after I’d worn it to our Godson’s christening, and I looked like a total frump. After that, I never really wanted to wear it again. My Godson is now seven years old. Time to let it go.
I have a LOT of guilt for getting rid of these boots. Not because I like them, but because a) I spent waaaay too much money on them, and b) I purchased them while on vacation in Vienna, and made poor Ron go into store after store one day for HOURS while I searched for the perfect black boot (important side note: I already had three pairs of black boots at home, and was wearing a fourth pair that I really liked while I was on this stupid quest). I wore them only a handful of times, because holyhelllookattheheelsonthosethings – I’m lucky I didn’t fall down and break/sprain something/everything. Every time I wore them I was worried I would catch that open heel on something and trip, so needless to say, I was not the epitome of graceful when I wore them. And therefore, I never wanted to wear them. And every time I looked at them in the closet, I was reminded of my bad judgement. It will be nice to be free from their mockery.
I could go on with more pictures and stories, but it’d be more of the same, and this post would take an hour to read. In addition to the items I’ve specifically shown here, I also sold a bunch of t-shirts, sweaters, work out clothes, and a few more pairs of shoes – and walked out of resale with $204. If I had any nostalgia about letting these items go when I went in, I can assure you I didn’t have any left when they handed me the money.
And here is the pile of stuff that didn’t sell that I will be taking to Goodwill:
I guess the lesson I learned from this little exercise, and will probably still be learning for a while to come, is that I still have a lot more than I actually need, and much of what I am still clinging to is for reasons other than “I love it”. I’m still finding my lagom.
The first Christmas that I knew Ron, I think we exchanged gifts, but I have no memory of what we gave each other. The following Christmas, we were living together, and while I don’t specifically remember what I gave him, I do remember some of his gifts to me – mostly, because I did not like them. None of the gifts were truly awful per se – in fact some of them were quite nice. The problem was that they were not really for “me.” They were items for our home – a home, I might add, that was already full of stuff since we had combined households.
For instance, he bought me a set of coffee mugs that were lovely, but our cupboards were already bursting with mugs, not only with the ones that matched our dishes, but with a dozen random ones I had bought or received as gifts over the years, along with ones Ron had brought into the relationship. He bought me a single pillow sham that was very pretty, but an odd item to have only one of, and didn’t match the bedding we already had. He spent a lot of money to have a print I already owned custom framed, without realizing the reason it wasn’t framed was because I didn’t like it anymore and was considering getting rid of it – and I definitely didn’t like the frame he had picked. It was clear to me as I opened the various items that he had honestly chosen things that HE liked and wanted to own, but I didn’t see myself in any of it, and in a weird way that hurt my feelings, because it made me feel like he didn’t really know or understand me. I don’t hide disappointment well, and I was way too blunt about not liking what he had given me – Ron is one of the most unselfish people I know, and I can guarantee his heart was in the right place. But as I continued to open packages and find things that felt more like gifts for him than me, I started to get mad – especially when he would excitedly take the item out of my hands and say, “Isn’t this cool? I really like this!” I think I finally said something really snotty like, “WHY DON’T I JUST LET YOU OPEN THEM SINCE THEY ARE CLEARLY THINGS YOU BOUGHT FOR YOURSELF?” And then I gave him a mini lecture about how you are supposed to buy the recipient something THEY want, not what YOU want.
Yep, nothing like a little Christmas morning bitchiness to make the holiday really special and memorable.
(Did I mention that I am not going to look good in this story? I’m not. It is not one of my finer moments, but I feel compelled to tell it anyway.)
When Valentine’s Day came around, I decided to circumvent any more household gifts by being very direct about what I wanted. I made him a specific list, and then very sternly said, “NO household items of any kind. NO artwork. ONLY GET THINGS THAT APPEAR ON THIS LIST.” He took the list and nodded silently.
A few days later, we were in Nordstrom’s together, and I saw a pair of shoes that I absolutely loved. They were little kitten heel sling backs – red fabric with orange leather trim, and dainty little orange leather flowers. I tried them on and went all swoony with desire. “THESE would make a great Valentine’s Day gift,” I declared, prancing around the shoe department in them while Ron sat on one of the couches and watched. I couldn’t read his expression, so I decided to hint heavily. “I LOVE these. Something like this would be GREAT. I would be SO HAPPY to receive a pair of these shoes in a size 6.5. They would just make a PERECT gift. Waiting around to buy them would probably be a mistake, because then my size might be sold out, and I would be VERY disappointed not to get them, since they are something I REALLY REALLY want. Because I LOVE THESE SHOES AND I WANT THEM FOR VALENTINE’S DAY.” Again, Ron was silent, and just nodded.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, Ron set out some wrapped packages for me in the living room, to be opened later that night after dinner. My eyes lit up at the sight of packages, but on closer inspection, I started to seethe. I am a very good gift guesser – it drives people crazy. If I have an opportunity to touch and shake a package, I am right about what’s inside of it probably 98% of the time, unless it’s something totally random. And I could tell from the packages, that not one of them was shoes – in fact, two of them were from categories I had specifically forbid – artwork and household items. I could tell the big tissue wrapped package was a large basket full of bottles – I figured alcohol or maybe Torani syrups, and then there was a long tube that held a rolled up piece of artwork of some kind. There was also a smaller box that I knew held perfume, which was on my list, so that was fine. But I became quietly furious that a) Ron had defied me and gotten more household/artwork stuff, and b) he had ignored my blatant hints for the shoes.
I am not even going to try to defend my bad behavior in this situation, or rationalize why I was so ungracious and materialistic at this point in my life. It’s just where I was at. I’m not proud of it, and in retrospect I know it was an ugly way to behave. It’s kind of hard for me to imagine being that upset about a gift at this point in my life, but I know at the time, it felt like a big deal. And so I spent the entire day sulking and being mad at Ron. I even remember vacuuming the living room and purposely ramming the vacuum into the side of the wrapped basket with violent, vengeful jabs to make myself feel better.
When it came time to open our gifts, I was sullen and listless. “Can you tell what I got you?” Ron asked.
“I have a pretty good guess,” I snarled. “Some kind of alcohol or syrups or something in the basket, which I might add is FOR THE HOUSE, and then some piece of artwork I’ll probably hate, which is also FOR THE STUPID HOUSE. Oh, and perfume. Which I did ask for. Am I right?” Ron just shrugged and kind of smiled, but didn’t meet my eyes.
He handed me the small box to open first. I was right, it was the perfume.
Next he gave me the basket. I was right about that one too — stupid Torani syrups for making flavored coffees. I got free coffee at work at that point in my life, and was perpetually late every day with no time to make a coffee in the morning, so the sight of the bottles totally annoyed me. I muttered a lackluster thank you and shoved the basket aside.
Then he handed me the tube. I glared at him. “I TOLD you didn’t want any artwork,” I said icily, ripping off the paper. I tipped the tube to shake out whatever hateful print lay inside, and was shocked as the red and orange shoes slid neatly into my lap.
I was speechless. And embarrassed. And ashamed of myself. I peeked at Ron, who looked downright smug about the whole thing. He had totally tricked me, and I had behaved like a mean, spoiled brat. It was one of those awkward moments where you have to say, “I’m sorry” before you can say, “thank you.” Very humbling and humiliating.
But here was my real punishment – for the way I had acted, I really didn’t deserve the shoes, and I knew it. I had gotten my heart’s desire, but in such a disgraceful way, I was never able to look at the shoes without being reminded of what a bitch I can be. They came with a heavy price tag of guilt, and as a result, I never wore them as much as I should have – especially considering the fuss I made about wanting them.
That Valentine’s Day was almost ten years ago. But every day, I have seen the shoes in my closet and felt a little cringe of embarrassment. I can’t remember the last time I wore them – they don’t really go with my lifestyle anymore. So I decided to part with not only the shoes, but the feelings attached to them as well. The work I’ve done around my relationship with possessions this past year has caused me to do a lot of self-reflection and has changed me a lot, and I think it’s time to stop feeling bad about my past mistakes. I don’t need a daily reminder of what a bitch I can be – I am well aware. And any items I own that carry the stink of that phase need to be set free.
So I did end up having that conversation with my Dad about our finances and getting out of debt. The debt dig out system he described is not radically different than others I’ve read about – the basic idea is that you pay off your card with the lowest balance first, making the highest possible payments on that card every month till it’s gone. In the meantime, you pay only the minimum on all other credit cards. His plan doesn’t include the whole “snowball” thing (where as you move on to paying the second card, the amount you pay on that card is what you paid on the first card plus the minimum of what you were paying on the second card), or worrying about which cards had the highest interest rate. It’s basically just do whatever is in your power to pay off the lowest card first, and then move on to putting all your energy and resources towards the next lowest card, so on and so forth.
So we’ve decided to try it. My personal credit card currently has the lowest balance (and mind you, that number is not low, per se – it’s just he “lowest” in the scheme of all our debt), so we started with that. We were fortunate to get a tax return this year, so we took that money and applied it to the balance on my card, and managed to cut my debt in half. The amount I still owe continues to be daunting, but only half as daunting as before, and it will be accruing less interest as well. I feel good about that.
After my card is paid off, we’ll pay Ron’s off, and then move to our joint credit card. I hardly ever look at the balance on that card because it makes me sick with anxiety and stress every time I see the number. All of the balances do, really. I hate debt. It makes me angry at myself, because I know it’s my fault. It’s a definite wrinkle in my love of shopping.
The other thing we have to do right now is avoid accruing any further debt if at all possible. That is where I’m really feeling the pinch. Today, I changed the sheets on our bed, and the elastic was so worn out on the fitted sheet I was trying to put on the mattress, I couldn’t get it to work. I also noticed two rather large holes near the corners of the sheet. It’s clearly time to toss them. But I can’t afford to replace them right now, so they’re staying. I also did a ton of mending today and one item was a strapless bra that has been mended so many times that I am having to add extra pieces of fabric to it, because the original fabric has been mended to the point where it is all repair stitches, and there is no actual fabric anymore. But bras are ridiculously expensive, so there was no choice but to keep working with it.
I know this is how a lot of people live their whole lives. There is no luxury of buying something new, even if you really need it, since doing so might mean not being able to afford food, heat or shelter. I am lucky to have what I have, and some of what I own is quite nice. I’ve been following the events of the tornado in Oklahoma, and as I watch what the people there are going through, I am grateful just be alive and out of harm’s way. I have not lost my home and everything in it in a matter of minutes. I have not lost my loved ones, my pets, or any members of my community. I am bummed out and sick of being broke, but I am not suffering.
But my finances, or more accurately my LACK of finances, sure is depressing. And right now my relationship with my stuff feels very depressing as well, and confusing. I feel like there are things I need and want, while at the same time being overwhelmed by the volume of what I already own. The Oklahoma tornado got me thinking about what it would be like to lose everything – all your worldly possessions just gone in the blink of an eye. What would I miss? What would I try to save or replace? What would I never remember losing? How would I handle that level of loss?
It’s impossible to say what I would REALLY do, because you don’t know until you’re in the situation. But if I had to guess, I think I would spend the time immediately after the loss experimenting with trying to live as possession free as possible for as long as possible. I don’t think I would spend a lot of money trying to replace the things I’d lost, with the exception of my computer and phone if they were destroyed. But other than that, I think I would want to take the insurance money and travel for a while, seeing as much of the world as we could reasonably afford to for as long as possible. There is something very luxurious in the thought that while you are experiencing what the world has to offer, there is no stuff to worry about – no payments due on big ticket items, no yard to maintain, no mail piling up, no home or possessions to secure and check on.
I mentioned this to Ron, and he laughed a bit ruefully. When I asked him why, he said, “I lived that way for fifteen years, and I don’t miss it. It’s nice to have a home -it was hard to not have one for such a long time. I like how we live now better.” I had forgotten that before we met, Ron was a professional cyclist, racing bikes in Europe, and pretty much everything he owned besides his bike fit into a couple of suitcases. He was dirt poor and lived hand to mouth during that time, staying with host families or in questionable lodgings. That wasn’t really what I was picturing when I thought about how we would travel, but it occurred to me that my “plan” hadn’t really included any “work”, so our travel would probably be a) very short lived, or b) more “roughing it” than I would enjoy. Ron then went on to talk about smart, responsible things like the importance of retirement funds, at which point the conversation became too depressing to continue so I rolled over and went to sleep.
Right now, I’m not buying stuff because I can’t. And I kind of hate it. So why do I have this fantasy around having no stuff? It doesn’t make a ton of sense. I wondered if the current amount of stuff I own somehow makes my buying restriction feel worse – and if I were to clear a bunch of stuff out, would I feel better? Maybe all my stuff makes me feel unhappy and overwhelmed and the only way I’ve known to cope with those feelings is to go buy more – a sort of self-perpetuating vicious cycle.
Well, I’m about to take steps toward finding that out. I’m embarking on a purge of the category that has put me in so much debt in the first place: my wardrobe. Maybe paring down the very items that have caused so much financial stress will also remove some of the guilt I have around owning them. I don’t know if it will work, but I’m about to find out. Wish me luck!