One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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I’ve been asked a lot lately how it feels to finally be out of debt.  And my first response is always the truth – that it feels amazing, great, a total relief!

But what I usually say next, because it is also the truth, is that life doesn’t feel that much different yet.  In fact, we’re guessing it will be a few months before we really start to feel like we can relax financially.  To get out of debt, we put every spare cent we had towards our credit cards, which means we were frequently down to our last couple dollars at the end of the month.  As a result, there is no extra “fun” money cushion available to us at the moment, and we actually had some significant expenses this month that were planned and expected, but need to be paid all the same.  For instance, we had to do some repairs to the duct work in our house after we discovered one had come loose and we were paying to heat the crawl space instead of the house, which cost about $500.  We put off Stella’s annual shots and vet exam for a couple months due to our finances, which we felt really anxious and guilty about, so we said we’d make it happen this month no matter what and we did –  to the tune of about $250 bucks.  So we may not have to come up with our usual credit card payment anymore, but we still do have to come up with close to $1,000 this month.  I’m just grateful we don’t have to come up with the credit card payment ON TOP of that.

So yeah…life is not all that different for the most part.

But there is one effect of being debt-free that HAS surprised me – knowing we will soon have some discretionary income again has made me want to get rid of more stuff!  I had felt pretty plateaued out on the whole purging process, and felt like maybe I had finally reached my lagom in certain categories.  But right after we got out of debt, I suddenly felt this surge of of wanting to get rid of things, especially where my clothing was concerned.  Weird, right?

Well, maybe not.  Because when I think about it, much of the reason I was holding on to some items was because I wasn’t sure how long it would be until we were out of debt and I was no longer on such a strict shopping lockdown.  I was hesitant to throw out too many of my clothing options when I knew I couldn’t buy something new if I got bored.  And that fear made me clingy.

But knowing that it’s now an option (within reason) to replace something that is worn out, or to add a new item to my closet that I really love and think I will use, made me start to reevaluate things I’ve hung onto that I don’t love as much.  Also, the weather in Portland has been absolutely glorious, so a couple weeks ago I took my spring/summer stuff out of storage and retired my heavier winter clothes.  As I was about to hang each stored piece back into the closet, I really took a minute to decide if I still loved each garment, and in several cases the answer was either “no” or “eh…I dunno.”

This time, instead of doing what I’ve always done – which is to just shove everything back in the closet anyway – I decided if the item wasn’t a definite “I love it” piece, I would test drive it. I would wear the item as soon as possible, and if it was uncomfortable, or didn’t really suit my lifestyle anymore, or made me feel frumpy, or dove me crazy in any way, it had to go.

It proved to be a great exercise.  Some items I only wore half a day before I couldn’t stand it anymore and changed into something else.  Some things didn’t even make it past getting dressed in the morning and checking my reflection before they landed in the giveaway pile.  In truth, I was probably being super duper extra critical of everything, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in my case.  As someone who has been prone to emotional and impulse buying, it’s good for me to practice being really, REALLY critical of purchases, whether that’s before I buy them (preferably), or admitting that they were mistakes after the fact and letting that acknowledgement make me more cautious moving forward.  I found myself learning a TON about what I really love and want, and what I need to carefully consider and avoid the next time I’m about to buy.

For instance, I’ve been a such a sucker for a sale in the past, that I’ve been known to buy things that aren’t my actual size, thinking I may take them to a tailor, or that the fit isn’t as bad as I think it is.  The items I test drove reminded me that I will pretty much NEVER take something to the tailor (because I’m lazy), and the fit is absolutely as bad as I think it is.  As a result I barely wear the item.  Like this very cute blouse from Anthropolgie:

blouse

It was on sale, and I loved it.  But it was one size above my usual size.  I bought it anyway, and then every time I wore it, I spent a lot of time checking to make sure the neckline was still in place (it often wasn’t).  It looked great if I stood perfectly still, but as soon as I did something crazy, like, you know, move around, I was showing the world my cute blouse AND my cute bra.  Classy.

Also, both these skirts have been hanging in my closet for years:

skirs

I don’t wear them that often.  Why?  Because despite the way I WISH my body was shaped, my actual shape does not look good in a skirt that’s cut like this.  Again, if I stand perfectly still, it looks great.  As soon as I start walking though, skirts like this start inching up around my hips and I spend all day tugging them back down.  They’re meant to hit just above the knee, but frequently on me, they scrunch up to miniskirt length.  I did make it through a whole day in the brown skirt, but it made me miserable and when I got home, I immediately took it off and threw it in the giveaway pile.

This shirt is a perfect example of how shopaholic crazed I can get sometimes:

pink top

I saw it online, and it was on sale.  I dawdled about buying it for a couple days, but then decided I was going to get it, because it was the style I was looking for, I loved the color, and it was on sale.  But when I went back to the website to purchase it, they no longer had it in my size.  Suddenly I went from wanting the shirt in a nonchalant way, to an obsessive, white hot panic to track down another one just like it at any cost.  I trolled the web for a couple days and found another one for double the price of the one that had been on sale, and was just about to buy it, when I happened to check back with the initial website, and they suddenly had it available in my size again.  I triumphantly bought it, and was so excited to get it…until it arrived.  It was much cuter online than in person – in person it was much boxier, and the neckline was a lot lower than I’d realized.  Much like the blouse mentioned above, every time I wore it I found myself checking to see if my bra was showing.  I kept it for longer than I should have, trying to convince myself I liked it, because when I thought about the fervor with which I’d pursued it, I felt stupid.  But that’s the trouble with keeping things that make you feel that way – every time you look in your closet, they mock you and remind you of your mistake.  I decided it was better to admit my error and get rid of it, rather than have to look at it every day and feel guilty.

In the end, the size of the pile I amassed really surprised me:

pile

But I didn’t feel hesitant about getting rid of any of it.  I took it to resale and walked out with $84, which I’ve used to replace some of my worn out basic summer staples like shorts and t-shirts.  Everything I bought I found on incredible sales ($8.99 for some summer t-shirts at J. Crew, are you kidding me???), and I love the colors I chose, the quality of the items, and how they fit.

I have less stuff in my closet now than I’ve ever had, and while there still may be a few “on the fence” items lurking in there, I am pretty thrilled with everything I’ve kept, and still feel like I have a lot of stuff – maybe even too much.  It may not be be lagom yet, but it sure has been a pleasure to get dressed in the morning.

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I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this story from my friend Danielle Fournier.  I got a message from Danielle one day after she read one of my posts, sharing some details of her own story and I begged her to write a guest post for me.  I’ll go ahead and let you discover it for yourself, but I have to say, I am so inspired and humbled by Danielle’s journey and her honesty about the details of how she got herself into debt and then found her way out of it.  All I can say to Danielle is, “Bravo!”, and to my readers, “Enjoy!”:

Confessions Of A Former Shopaholic

I was once a shopaholic.

When I turned 18, I received a $3,000 credit card from my bank. I hit the ground running and didn’t look back.

My first purchase was indicative of a pattern that would lead to near financial ruin fifteen years later. At the time, I lived just up the hill from Frederick & Nelson’s in Seattle. I used  my shiny new credit card to purchase the most useful of items- a full length silver fox fur coat. I celebrated that purchase with perfume from another department, then dinner, then a trip to the cd store. All of it was bought with money I didn’t have.

Credit was cheap in the 90’s. My minimum payments, which was all I ever made, were $35-$75 a month. Easily affordable for a young woman with a roommate, a decent income and no responsibilities or financial planning aspirations.

My credit was so good, I bought a house at 25. By the time I was 30, I had 12 credit cards totaling nearly $80,000 in available credit, two cars on payment, a mortgage and second mortgage. I was a model of credit worthiness, all payments made on time, month after month. My house was lovely, the rooms filled with designer sheets, seasonal decor, and collectibles. I had three sets of dishes, including  a service of fine china, and closets full of fashionable clothes, most with the tags still intact. Life was good.

However, it wasn’t really. I lived on credit. I had gas cards, department store cards, regular Visas and Mastercards, plus an American Express. Debit cards weren’t in high use yet, but I had an active check book and ATM card. I spent money as fast as I could make it. I never, ever had more than $40 on me, because I was breaking $100s the minute I got them. But hey, the money kept coming in every month, so who cared?

Two events happened a year apart that would bring me to my financial knees and change my life forever.

On May 27, 2007, my younger brother was involved in a diving accident that would devastate our family in ways both financial and emotional. Spinal cord injuries require vast amounts of care involving medications, caregivers, and surgeries. My parents saw their retirements wiped away in a matter of months caring for their son when the insurance wouldn’t cover expenses.

I found myself leaving a three generation family business to go into sales in my brother’s business while we figured out what his prognosis was. Three months turned into six, then a year. I spent six days a week traveling. My bills started falling behind.

I sold my car. I used the money for something other than my bills. I stopped buying a new wardrobe every season. I kept working, but the bills kept stacking up in my new position with lower pay. As a family, we all pitched in and just made it work that first year. We all lived in a haze of sadness over the injury, but remained hopeful for both physical and financial recovery.

I received a phone call from my father in October of 2008. I had turned over my finances to him during the past year when I was working out of town. The truth is, I knew I was in trouble and I couldn’t face the facts, so I just let him handle it. I completely stuck my head in the sand.

I knew what was coming. I had to sell my house.

I cried and cried and cried. I had turned a humble chalet with yellow Formica and glued down carpeting on five acres into a charming abode with high ceilings and custom wood floors. I was so proud I had done this in my twenties. I had all these things that signaled me as a success. And now I was going to part with each and every one of them.

I felt like a horrible failure. But it was the beginning of the happiest time of my life.

My beautiful little house sold in less than three weeks. I had no time to sort or even clean. Box after box went into the moving van. I had rented a tiny apartment next to my parents in Seattle that had room for a bed, a love seat, a desk and a bookcase. The kitchen was three burners, a small sink and a mini fridge. Everything else went into three 10×20 storage units.

Since the house had doubled in value, I paid all my debts off. I then closed each card, dying as I cut each one to bits over a trash can. They weren’t any good anyway. I had stopped paying them three months before when I could no longer afford the payments. My cheap and easy credit had ballooned to a whopping $7,000 a month, the mortgage being the smallest of the bills. I decided wrecking my credit was favorable over not paying off the cards. With my income cut in half, my only choice was to sell everything I owned to pay the debts.

There was one beautiful, beautiful blessing in my house sale. I got to see Paris.

With all my debts paid, I had some left over. I was heartbroken over the past two years and I decided I would let my money serve me for once. I was going to make a dream come true. Stuff, no matter how fine or beautiful, has never filled me up. It has never loved me, never held me or wiped a tear, or left me in wonder after a conversation.

Thanks to a travel agent with a a huge heart and lots of experience, I was able to travel for nine weeks on a budget I had previously reserved for a weeklong soiree at a hotel. Armed with three sets of clothes and a pencil, I roved over 16 countries by myself. I came home a changed person.

It turns out, the worst thing that ever happened to me was really the best thing to ever happen. Strangely enough, letting go gave me so much more than I ever dreamed of. I only pay cash now for anything, preferably with real paper money. Now, when I want to buy a pair of shoes, I do so without remorse or guilt. But I have a rule, for each one that comes in, one item must leave my closet. I have learned to create and respect boundaries with my stuff, which has poured over into all areas of my life.

Cutting the ties with things has opened me up to experience. My identity no longer revolves around labels, and I have found peace in simplicity. From the joy of making my own dinners to being able to afford four weeks of travel a year on a very average income (because I no longer shop frivolously), I live a life no longer tied to my financial security dictating every move I make.

And that is the greatest luxury.

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D.E. Fournier’s stories explore the places where the mundane and the mystical coincide in everyday life. A third generation newspaper publisher, ink is in her blood. She studied Ethnic Studies at Oregon State, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She lives in Seattle. Read her travel blog at http://farandawaytravelblog.blogspot.com/

 

 


Today marks a full year that I’ve been writing this blog.  I can’t believe it.   I’ve started and dropped so many blogs in the past, so I’m really proud that I’ve stuck with this one, and I’m grateful that it’s given me a place to reflect on this journey.

I have learned so much about myself in this process, and keeping a blog has made me accountable to my goals in ways I never thought it would.  There were a lot of times when I was tempted to buy more stuff, or hang on to things, or go my usual lazy route and not bother to declutter something, but my desire to keep an accurate record of what I was doing, coupled with the thought of having to admit that behavior on my blog (even though I wasn’t always successful), did wonders to curb some bad habits.

And I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised by how completely nonjudgmental people’s responses have been.  I know there are probably those who do judge me, but they have been nice enough to keep it to themselves.  If anything, the feedback I’ve gotten has been wonderfully supportive and often filled with empathy and admissions of similar behavior, which has made me feel less alone.

So I guess the big question is, did I find lagom?

Nope, not yet.

But from what I have learned in a year of focusing on this goal, I think achieving a state of lagom in just 12 months is not really realistic, especially having spent most of my life functioning from a mindset of constant acquisition.  I am so proud of what I have accomplished in this year, but as I was noting in a post earlier this week, what I thought was lagom only two months ago continues to change as I continue to change and see my stuff in a new way.  Things I thought I loved and couldn’t part with only a month ago suddenly feel superfluous, and letting them go is no big deal.  I am more acutely tuned in to what I value, what I actually use, and what I truly love than I have ever been in my life.

The fact I’m not “done” with this journey doesn’t bother me.  I remember hearing  Marianne Williamson say something once about how the distance between the person she currently was and the person she wanted to be felt less depressing when she considered the distance between the person she currently was and person she had once been.  I may be far from my ideal, but compared to a year ago?  I’ve come a long way.

So what have I learned?  Here are the big things:

  • I always believed having tons of options where my possessions were concerned would make me feel happier, fuller, and more secure.  But it actually causes me a lot of stress and unhappiness.  I feel like I SHOULD be using all my stuff, knowing how much money I spent on it, and not wanting to be wasteful, but it’s very clear that I have my favorite things, and that is what I always want to reach for.  Having a smaller set of options, of only things I really love (or sometimes, even just one perfect thing I really love), has made me feel a lot less anxious.  This has especially been true where my wardrobe was concerned, which was also the category where I did the most acquiring.  I currently have a smaller wardrobe than I’ve had since maybe high school, and while there are some items I would like to replace, and one or two specific things I want to add, I am happier with what I own right now than I’ve ever been.
  • Keeping things out of guilt (it was expensive, someone I like gave it to me, I pined for it but once I had it I didn’t love it as much as I felt I should) is stupid.  Staring everyday at an item that has guilt attached to it only serves to KEEP YOU FEELING GUILTY.  Do any of us need more reasons to feel like that?  I don’t think so.
  • What you’ve convinced yourself is valuable is in most cases worthless.  I have felt foolish more than once this year for hanging on to things that I thought were worth something, only to take them to resale or list them on Ebay and have them go for pennies or be rejected completely.  There are less than ten possessions in my life that I know have actual value, and I have insurance on all of them because it’s obvious they’re worth something.  Everything else I own?  Highly replaceable, with the exception of purely sentimental items.
  • Letting go of stuff is synonymous with letting go of fear.  Fear that the giver will be angry or hurt, fear you might need something just like it someday, fear that you will find out later it was of great value (see previous point).  Trusting the future is scary, but not as scary as all the fear thoughts.  I’ve given away a ton of stuff this year, and I don’t regret any of it.  And as far as I know, no one has been upset with me for letting it go.  In many cases they probably don’t even remember giving it to me.
  • Forcing myself to use up large stashes of stuff I already own has made me VERY careful about what I buy now.  If I don’t think I’m going to love it and want to use it to the last drop, I’m hesitant to buy it.  This is a huge shift for someone who frequently bought stuff out of boredom or mild curiosity.
  • I don’t need new things to feel better when I’m upset.  Shopping used to be my favorite therapy.  I still get a thrill on the occasions when I get to buy something new, but that’s partly because now I have researched and dreamed and thought about the purchase for so long beforehand, it feels really exciting and special.  I have mentioned  that 2013 was a really horrible year for me, and sometimes I wonder if it felt that way because it really WAS that bad, or because for the first time in my adult life I didn’t deal with my problems by shopping.  But I made it out of 2013 all in one piece, and I didn’t rack up my credit card to cope.  I’m proud of that.
  • I love having some empty space in our house.  There aren’t tons of empty spaces yet, but I’m really excited about the few we have.  The fact that our guest room closet is now always guest ready is still a huge novelty for me – I sometimes like to just go in and gaze at it.  Yes, I know, weird.  But it’s true.  And you have to celebrate victories like that.
  • Selling your unwanted stuff is a pain in the ass.  When I was on the fence about buying something in the past, I used to just think, “Oh, if I don’t end up liking it, maybe I can sell it.”  And because we’ve needed the money, we haven’t been in a position to just give stuff away.  But it is a serious drag to go through the process of standing in line at resale, or listing things on ebay.  Now I will actually look at stuff I’m considering buying and think, “If you don’t end up liking it, you are going to have to try to sell it”, and that is often enough to make me reconsider.
  • Nothing has been more exciting to me this year than watching our debt steadily go down.  We are still not out of the woods, but we have made incredible progress.  If we manage to stay on track with our payment plan, and nothing disastrous happens, we should be out of credit card debt by the middle of this year.  It has been a really frustrating and often discouraging process, but we are committed to seeing it through.  I no longer feel a horrible sick pit in my stomach like I might truly throw up when I see our credit card bill.
  • I am lucky to have a partner like Ron who has embraced and in some ways surpassed me in this process – I am amazed at how unattached he can be to his things.  If I were trying to do this with someone who was highly resistant and attached to things, I don’t know how much progress I would have made.  But Ron has been wonderfully supportive and open to the changes I’ve been making, and as a team, I feel like we’re pretty kickass.

So what’s next?  I initially  thought I would just keep this blog for a year (if indeed, I even made it that far), but I’ve decided I’m going to keep on writing.  I still have a lot I’m continuing to discover, and having done some of the hardest work this year (learning to control my shopaholic urges, getting serious about paying down debt), I’m excited to see what kind of changes I will make.  I’m also curious to see if I will backslide when I am out of debt and have some disposable income again.  When I started this blog, I said I could never see myself as a minimalist.  And I still think that’s probably true, but I’ve also learned that minimalism has a much broader definition than I ever realized, and it doesn’t necessarily mean bare white walls and a single piece of furniture.  In fact, I think “lagom” and minimalism are pretty close terms, they just look a little different from person to person.  Who know where this path will lead me.

I’m also going to start posting guest blogs this year.  People who read Finidng Lagom have contacted me with some great stories about their own struggles with stuff (some resolved, some still unresolved), about getting out of debt, about shopping addiction, and about experiments they’ve decided to try in their own lives based on stuff they’ve read here.  I love hearing those stories, and think other readers will too – it’s inspiring to know that there are so many of us puzzling through this issue together.

If you’re a longtime reader, thanks for the support – especially those of you who commented, liked, shared posts, or talked to me about it in person.  It’s nice to know you’re out there.  I hope 2014 finds everyone happy, healthy, and lagom!

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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!

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Our share


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.

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Bitch Shoes


So, I had a blog post all ready about some things that had improved recently with our finances.  Ron and I have been excitedly counting down the remaining months – months, not years – we have to paying off all our credit card debt, and we’d been saying lots of hopeful things about what we’d do with the extra money when we finally didn’t have to make credit card payments anymore.

And then…

There has been a slight crack in the ceiling in our bathroom, above the tub/shower.  We’d noticed it, but weren’t too alarmed, as there was no leaking or other weirdness connected to it – it was just a crack.

That is not the case anymore.  The crack grew bigger, and emitted a fine blackish dust and a tiny bit of water that appeared in the tub below.  We finally knew we had to investigate, so Ron cut some of the ceiling plaster away to find we have a roof leak.  Fixing it will require cutting away probably a lot of the bathroom ceiling, hiring roof experts to fix the leak, letting everything dry, and then re-plastering the ceiling.  We don’t know how to do any of this, or what it will all cost.  My guess?  It will cost a SHITLOAD.  I hope I’m wrong, but unfortunately, more often than not I’m right.

Two days ago, I was remarking on Stella’s recent good health – she is 11 years old, and has had a lot of issues in the past three or four years – everything from weird inexplicable limping, to eye injuries that required a dog ophthalmologist, to nine rotten teeth that needed to be pulled, to a grass seed that got embedded between her front toes and grew into an abscess that required a $300 surgery to remove.  But lately, she’s been healthy and spry and not costing us any extra money.  Last night, we noticed she was obsessively licking a spot between her toes, and when we checked it out, we found a big gross blistery lump, which I’m guessing will require more expensive surgery.

I think I cursed us by saying she was doing so well.  I really do.  Because just two days ago, she was FINE.  Until I SAID she was fine, of course.

So scratch all that positivity about financial improvement, we are effectively screwed again.  Thanks for nothing 2013, you miserable, endless wheel of suffering, punishment and financial shittiness.  I will not be making the mistake again of being optimistic until the last effing dime is paid off.  If it ever does in fact happen. I’m sure there are people who will feel inclined to give me a positivity pep talk about my attitude upon reading this, but I would not recommend it, unless you’d like a whole lot of pent up wrath and frustration directed with no filter right at you.  No one else has been in my particular shoes this year, and those shoes have been relentlessly pinching and uncomfortable.  I don’t always talk about it here,  in an effort to keep this space from being a long string of whining and complaining.  But trust me, it’s been a terrible year.  I’m sick of all the setbacks we’ve had – it’s been more than our fair share, and just when I think maybe we’ll catch a small break, some other crappy thing happens.

Sorry, it’s just where I’m at today.

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This pretty much sums up our household right now


Holy cow…I’m 9 months into this blog and I haven’t quit!

I’m happy to say that I am in a much better place than I was at the six month mark.  June SUCKED – I tried to come up with a nicer adjective for it, but couldn’t.  It just sucky-suck-sucked.  But a lot has changed in three months, and I’m hoping the worst is behind me for this particular year.

One thing that has been making a impact on my lagom mission lately was reading The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (which I got for free, thanks to leftover money on a gift card and the reselling of some books).  Ms. Jay is a true minimalist – to see a picture of her “office”, click here.  I feel pretty confident in saying I will never be that pared down.  But she is also very clear in her book that minimalism looks different for everyone, and she comes across very nonjudgmental about the whole thing.  I think I said early on in this blog that I felt I would never be a minimalist – that’s why I was so focused on finding my “lagom”, as opposed to my “inner minimalist”.  But the more I read up on minimalism, the more I’m learning that lagom and minimalism are much closer than I realized, since being a minimalist is about only keeping what you use and love, which essentially translates to having “just enough”.  For so long I pictured all minimalists as having nearly empty austere white rooms, but I’ve learned now that minimalism can be cozy and colorful and comfortable and have a decent amount of stuff, provided all of it is in service of your life.

Her advice on clearing out different spaces in your home is quite inspiring, and has been driving me to take on projects with new energy.  A couple weeks ago Ron and I went through our entire pantry and several of the shelves in our kitchen and cleared out any food we weren’t eating and several kitchen items we weren’t using as well.  We consolidated a bunch of like items together and reorganized our cupboards so the stuff we use the most is now easily accessible, and we even moved a few items that weren’t getting a lot of use but were things we wished we used more so they are now easier to access as well.  If time passes and those things still go unused, we probably won’t keep them.

I’m still working on getting my wardrobe under control – as fall is now definitely upon us, I took all my summer clothes out of the closet and replaced it with my warmer clothes – or, more accurately, I tried to.  I had more winter clothes packed away than I have available hangers and space in the closet, even with my summer things gone.  I also took the dry cleaning in (which had been sitting in a bag in the basement for maybe six MONTHS), and when it came back, I realized I had no room for those items either.  I am determined not to buy more hangers and cram stuff in to make it work – instead, I’m continuing to question everything I’ve kept, and if I try something on and reject it for something else, I seriously consider whether that item deserves to stay.

We are still out of debt on both our personal cards – well, kind of.   Ron is still out of debt, mine went up a little.  I had to buy new tires for my car and that was about $500 – ye-OUCH.  I knew that expense was coming, and I will be able to pay it off in a couple months, but it does reduce the amount I can contribute to our joint credit card debt for the next couple months.  The good news is I feel very in control of that amount, and I had planned for it – although the dealership did try a bit of a bait and switch on me, which resulted in me bursting into tears until a kinder, more experienced salesman interved to get the price back under control and calm me down.

It seems like at least one item leaves our space every day, and it’s not very often that new ones come in to fill the void, and if they do, it is a very carefully planned, discussed, and thought out purchase.  In fact, yesterday I stopped by the bank on my way home to deposit a check, and noticed that my debit card was missing.  I searched my purse, my car, and all over the house and couldn’t find it anywhere.  I went online to see if maybe it had been stolen and to see if there were any weird charges, and saw that the last time I had used it was on Thursday when I had lunch with my friend Julie.  I called the restaurant to see if they had it, but they didn’t, and then I remembered what I had worn that day and checked the pocket of my jacket and finally found it.  I was relieved to have my card back, but seriously impressed that from Thursday to Monday, I had not spent any money, and hadn’t even noticed or felt deprived!  This is huge growth for someone who in the past never went a day without bringing a shopping bag of some kind into the house.

There isn’t much else new to report – I have a lot of the same cravings for little luxuries, like manicure/pedicures, going out to eat whenever we feel like it, or being able to afford fancy versions of basic things, but other than that, I think we’ve finally settled in to this new way of looking at our stuff and our finances and we’re okay with it.  Ron and I do spend a lot of time fantasizing about what we’ll do when we are out of debt and have disposable income again, but other than that, my want monster is sullen and quiet and resigned to not being fed several times a week.  I do find that now when I think about buying something – especially from my typical category of clothing/shoes/jewelry, instead of just wanting it and imagining how much I’d love owning it, I am now thinking “where on earth will I PUT that?” since I know my closet is already too full.  Or if it’s expensive, I wonder how much I’d actually use it, and if I didn’t use it, I think about what a pain it will be to list that item on Ebay or take it to resale.  It’s keeping me in check.

And even I can admit that is a very good change.

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