One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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On Friday,  I had an early morning audition, and it happened to be right across from the mall.  I had been meaning to visit the Macy’s at that mall, because there was a handbag I had seen online that I was curious about, and I wanted to see it in person.  Not to buy it, mind you – I did realize that I JUST pared down my handbag collection like a week ago, and  I am still working on my debt and not supposed to be buying stuff, but I didn’t think it would hurt to just visit it.  (I’m sure you can see where this is going.)

I looked at the bag, and I liked it, but I resisted the urge to buy it right then and there, even though I really wanted it.  I put it down.  I walked away.  And then, like a shopaholic zombie in search of brains, I found myself wandering among the housewares, pining for a new set of towels.  Then I decided I should put the towels on hold, since a sale was going on, and who knew how long they would be there.  Then it seemed like a good idea to put the purse on hold too.  And then I walked out of the store into the mall, instead of out of one of the doors that led to where my car was parked.

I’ve always loved to window shop.  But if I’m honest, there isn’t too much “window” involved.  I almost always end up buying something.  And that day, my mood was all about wanting something new.  When I’m in that mood, a mall is a very dangerous place for me to be.

I drifted from one store to the next, trying on clothes, admiring household items, and smelling new perfumes.  And almost every store yielded something I really, really, REALLY wanted.  I am aware enough of my own behavior when I get like this to enforce some prevention methods, which for me means putting any items I am interested in on hold, and walking away for at least fifteen minutes till I feel less feverish.  That day I put several items on hold, and made notes of what the item was, why I thought I needed it, and the price.

I took a moment to sit down in a neutral zone (one of those little sofas they have in the middle of the mall), and looked over my list of hold items.  I can honestly say I really do still want most of the things I put on hold.  But as I sat there, it also occurred to me that I have not even begun to purge my wardrobe, and until I do that, and get rid of what I no longer wear, and get a clear idea of where the gaps are, it would be pretty dumb to buy a bunch more stuff.  My hope is to get my possessions down to a manageable collection of  things I absolutely love – and piling more new stuff into the mix will only create more stress and confusion.

Here is the list of what I wanted to buy:

  • Gap:  shorts, scarf, t-shirt:  $92.95 (possibly a little less, there was a sale going on)
  • Victoria’s Secret:  Pajamas and a bra:  $104
  • Macy’s:  New towels for the master bath and a handbag:  $178
  • Ann Taylor:  Two blouses:  $103.50
  • Nordstrom:  Perfume:  $78

If I had followed my want monster, that window shopping trip would have ultimately cost me $556.45.

So that settled it – I walked out without buying a single thing.  I left the mall feeling vaguely depressed, but also kind of proud of myself for not doing my usual buy now/guilt later routine.  And I actually wasn’t completely empty handed – I got some perfume samples from the fragrance counter at Nordstrom’s to play with, which I guess is better than nothing.  I hope there is a day where I truly learn the art of window shopping – where I can feel just as fulfilled by only looking as when I actually buy something.  Right now though?  Still a buzzkill.

Better Than Nothing

Better Than Nothing


Ever since I pared down my handbag collection, I’ve been itching to get the other big suitcase out of our bedroom that is currently holding all the sundresses and nice dresses that used to be in the guest room closet.  But to do that, I need to do some serious closet purging, and I am totally overwhelmed by that idea.  Every time I try to start, my brain kind of locks up and I feel like I can’t make even simple decisions, so I give up and do something else.

But the other night I couldn’t sleep, so rather than toss and turn, I went online and did some research about the processes other people have gone through to pare down their wardrobes.  And I came across a few articles about the “capsule wardrobe” – specifically the “French capsule wardrobe”, that seemed pretty interesting, and noticed one woman had written a book where she covered the subject pretty extensively.  After reading some excerpts and her blog, I decided I wanted to read her book as well.

And since I recently rekindled my love affair with the public library, I am proud to say I checked for the book there first.  They did have some copies, but they all were currently checked out until May, and there were about 13 holds on all their copies.

As I have said before, I am all for saving money and not brining more things into my life, but I have to tell you, I HATE to wait.  It makes me super double extra beyond irritable.  And while I recognize my impatience is not an attractive trait, and I try to work on it, I have a long way to go, and it’s not going to happen anytime soon.  And waiting around for 13 other people to read the book I want to read right NOW?  Uh-uh.  Nope.  Ain’t gonna happen.  I had to find another way.

So I decided to sell some of the books I already owned in order to afford the new one I wanted to buy.  I went online to Powell’s (where I always sell back my used books) and saw they had a copy of the book I wanted, and it was even a used copy for $16.95 (new it retailed for $23).  Perfect.  I scoured my bookshelves and amassed a stack of books to help my cause:


Two of the books in this stack I’d never even read.  One was signed by the author, which was the only reason I had kept it, and the other was a collector’s edition of a book for which I had paid about forty dollars.  I had caught the very end of the movie version of the book on television one night, and was intrigued so I decided to buy the book to discover the rest the story.  I never got around to reading it though, and a few years later, YouTube hit the internet and I was able to watch the entire movie for free.  Nice waste of forty bucks.

I was pretty confident as I carried my books to the buy-back counter that I would not only be able to afford the book I wanted, but I might make enough in trade to buy TWO books.  Or I could take cash and use some of it to buy the book, and use the rest to buy myself a little treat, like a new lipstick or something.  I had the money spent twenty different ways before I even hit the front of the line.

When it was my turn, I handed the book buyer the autographed book separate from the others saying, “This one is signed by the author,” and waited for her impressed expression.

She glanced at it, and wrinkled her nose a little.  “Yeah, well, for an author like that…it doesn’t make much of a difference.”

I was a little taken aback.  I had specifically held on to that book because it was signed, and that made me feel it was valuable.  Trying to rally, I showed her my collector’s edition book.  She typed some numbers into the computer, and watched the screen with a furrowed brow, her eyes darting back and forth.

“Well,” she sighed, “That book USED to be considered a collector’s edition, but with the internet now, it’s too easy to find a copy of it.  I can buy it from you as a reader’s edition if you’re not super attached to it.”

This was getting depressing.  And concerning.  Those two were the ones I actually thought were valuable and would definitely sell.  I numbly agreed to selling the collector’s edition as a reader’s edition, and then watched her rapidly sort through my other books, the majority of which she pushed back across the counter at me as “no thank yous.”  In the end, she only bought three of my books.

For a total of $7.25.

I dumped my unsellable books (including the autographed one) into their recycle box, found the book I’d come there to buy, and went to the registers.  With the buy-back money, I had knocked down the price to $9.70, which was better than $23, or even $16, but still not free as I had anticipated.  I was pretty bummed.

As I waited in line though, I thought about how many times, while doing resale of any kind – clothing, books, music, ebay, craigslist, even yard sales – I have been surprised to find out how little value my stuff actually has to the rest of the world.  Things that I have held on to for years because I felt they were special or valuable have often been items I couldn’t even sell for a dollar – I’ve had to just give them away.  Which makes it seem a bit crazy that I’ve spent so much money and time and energy acquiring all that stuff, and storing it.  I am the one who assigned it value and gave it space in my home.  To the rest of the world, it’s just crap.  And no one wants my crap.  And when I think about it that way, some of it is starting to look more like crap to me too.

So in the end, I got the book I wanted and I didn’t have to wait for it, and I’m finding it really useful as I approach my closet cleaning.  I also ended up with less crowded bookshelves since I got rid of twelve books and only bought one new one.  And I got a really valuable reminder about, well, value.  For $9.70.  BARGAIN!

I’m currently in the middle of a three day commercial shoot.  It is typical on commercial shoots that the wardrobe people will ask you to “bring in some options” of clothing, shoes, jewelry, etc., from your own wardrobe, which they combine with items they’ve brought for you as well.  For years, after leaving my corporate job, I kept TONS of suits and blazers and button down blouses that I didn’t wear anymore in my daily life, thinking they “might come in handy” if I needed to bring in options for a shoot.  About a year ago, I got sick of trying to store it all and narrowed it down to a small but useful business/business casual collection, keeping only my best stuff.

Then, a couple months ago, I brought my “best” business options to a fitting, and the wardrobe person opted not to use any of them, saying they weren’t quite fashionable enough.  I was a little dismayed to hear my stuff was already outdated, but kind of thrilled at the same time that it had been a long time since I’d had to purchase that kind of clothing because I no longer had a job where I needed to dress like that.

When I edited down my purse collection last week, I hesitated to get rid of one cream-colored leather bag in particular, because I had recently used it in a play as a prop purse, and it occurred to me that it might come in handy for another show.  I had bought it while I was at my corporate job, so I’d had it while, but I still thought it could be useful for…something.  I deliberated over it for a ridiculous amount of time, and then finally decided to put it in the Goodwill pile.

Then, last night, I got an email from the wardrobe person for the shoot I’m working on right now asking me if I had any purse options I could bring in – preferably something brown or light colored.  I immediately thought of the bag I had just discarded.  Here I was, thinking it would maybe come in handy for a play, but it had never occurred to me to put it in with my commercial options.  What was I thinking getting rid of it?  It was still useful!  Here I was needing it – and I had almost given it away!  I would have TOTALLY regretted it!  I needed it.  I NEEDED IT!  I ran down to the basement and dug it out of the Goodwill pile.

Cut to this morning, when I proudly showed my cream-colored bag to the wardrobe person, and she immediately rejected it.  She instead gave me a cute brown leather satchel that she had brought.   I decided to take that as a sign.  When I got home, I returned the cream-colored bag to the Goodwill pile.

I won’t lie – part of me wants to dig it out again.  I can’t help but think I might need it.  But I also need to stop acting like I’m an actress/costume shop.  Commercial shoots and plays have budgets to buy costumes and props – if I happen to have something that works that I can lend, great.  But if I don’t, I shouldn’t feel bad about it.  I’m pretty sure the casting people have never looked at me and thought, “Hmmm…I’ll bet she has a TON of wardrobe options at home – she’s hired!”  At least, I hope they don’t think that.  Because as I move towards finding my lagom, I think my “options” will become the bare minimum.


I’m bagging it. For good, this time.

Remember when I cleaned out the guest room closet and moved all the clothes and purses I’d been storing in the guest room to my bedroom?  Well, it’s been over a month, and I haven’t been able to face trying to find room for those items, because I’ve known it would involve having to get rid of stuff and refigure the way I currently store things.  Which never sounds like a fun way to spend a lovely spring afternoon.

But yesterday, despite the sunshine, I was in a rotten mood.  And sometimes, being in a rotten mood is an excellent motivator for me to make changes.  So I decided to take advantage of  feeling ruthless and unreckoning and attack the items I was trying to incorporate into my bedroom storage- namely, my handbag collection.

Confession:  I am a bag lady.  I loooooove purses.  When I was making good money, I bought purses on a regular basis – in fact, I cringe a little to think about the amount of income I dropped on purses during that period of time.  I had so many that I appropriated a bookcase to store them all.  I always had the notion that I would be one of those women who switched bags on a regular basis, moving her small neat stash of essential items from one bag to the next.  But I am not that woman – in fact, I’m far from it.  I have a tendency to let paper and random items build up in my bag to the point where changing bags means having to clean my current bag, and because I’m lazy, I usually choose to just keep the junk pile growing rather than switch them.

About a year ago, I cut my collection in half, and attempted to resell some of my more expensive bags at resale stores, but no one was interested.  It’s always a bit crushing to realize that things you spent so much money on have no value whatsoever to the rest of the world–I ended up donating them all to the Goodwill.  It was pretty depressing, but I learned my lesson.  I have only bought one bag since then, and for me, that is a massive improvement.

Even though the purses I was attempting to find storage for in my bedroom were  considerably less than what I used to own, I knew I’d have to pare them down even further if I wanted to find room for them all.  I’ve been procrastinating on dealing with them, and during this time I’ve kept some in the bottom of my closet:



And some in a big suitcase, which is totally in the way and cluttering up our room:


So I took all the bags out and spread them on the floor to get a better idea of what I had:


six everyday bags, two gym bags, four evening bags, one travel bag, one computer bag, one laptop case, and one beach carryall.

I can say I genuinely like all of these, but I only actually use a few of them.  Two of the bags I’ve been storing are gym bags, and I don’t even belong to a gym anymore.  Brilliant.

I edited them down –  if I hadn’t carried it in a year, it had to go. I didn’t actually get rid of all that much, but it made a difference.  Here are the items that didn’t make the cut:


Three everyday bags, one evening bag, one gym bag

I was left with a definitely manageable collection, but I still wasn’t sure where to put them.  Then I noticed this:Image

We have several of these very cool cubbies built in to our bedroom walls.  The photo is of one of the cubbies emptied out.  This is not typically the case.  Since up to this point I’ve seemed destined to fill every empty space and surface with extraneous crap, the cubbies are usually full of random things – carrier bags from stores with items I might want to return (which I don’t currently have any of, yay for me), clothes that need mending, and piles of clothing I’ve tried on and decided not to wear but am too lazy to hang up.  I realized I could put my pared down bag collection in one of the cubbies – genius!  It would not only solve my storage issue, it would keep me from filling the space with piles of clothing and shopping spree guilt.  A win-win:


What made the cut: three evening bags, three everyday bags, one computer bag (with a laptop case stored inside it), and a travel bag and beach carryall stashed inside one of the larger everyday bags.

I basically kept three evening bags, three everyday bags, and a computer bag/laptop case.  I did, however, also keep a great travel bag that converts to a little backpack and a beach carryall, which I stuffed inside one of my big empty everyday bags to help it hold it’s shape.  I’ve read you’re supposed to use tissue paper for that purpose, but I needed to store the extra two bags anyway, so I figured what the heck.

I also kept one gym bag (which I actually used while I was living in Florida last fall and joined a gym because it was too hot to exercise outside), and two tote bags (one stored inside the other) that I use all the time.  Those I put back in the bottom of the closet, which is now empty except for those items.



The other benefit to this organizing project?  Finding all the stuff stored in my old purses.  There was definitely a lot of garbage, ancient sticks of gum, the worst brush I’ve ever owned, business cards for people I don’t remember, and expired aspirin, but there was also money, unused gift cards, a new memory stick, a great pocket mirror, still-working pens and highlighters, enough lip balm to last me the next five years, and two sets of opera glasses I thought I’d lost:


I threw away all the garbage and redistributed anything usable to my current handbag.

I’ve decided that if by December I haven’t switched out my current bag to one of the everyday bags I kept, I’m getting rid of them.  And until I’m out of debt, I won’t be buying any new ones, so I shouldn’t be outgrowing the cubby space anytime soon.

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