One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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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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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:

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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.


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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Click here for a great read about living with less!

My friend Lori sent me a link to this NYT’s article – a great read!  You can also listen to Graham Hill’s TED talk on itunes or watch it on YouTube- very interesting guy.  Probably more of a minimalist than I will ever be, but very inspiring all the same!  You can also read his blog here.


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Me & my family: My husband Ron, and my dog Stella.  She hates her party hat.

Well, here we are, 2013.  Can you believe it?  I can’t.  Thirteen is supposed to be an unlucky number.  I’m not sure I buy that though – I have some very good associations with that number.  My mom’s birthday is May 13th, and she’s one of the best people I know.  And, I was born on May 10th, so she came home from the hospital with me on her birthday – so I guess the 13th is when I really ventured out into the world.

I’ve tried multiple times to keep a blog.  And multiple times, I have failed at it.  Maybe this will be my lucky year, this unlucky 2013, and I will finally persevere.   Part of the problem in the past has been the fact that I used blogging as a diary/journal, writing about whatever struck my fancy on a given day.  I suck at that.  In fact, throughout my life, I’ve kept diaries and journals intermittently, but only tended to write in them when I was having a really bad day.  I went back and read one of my childhood diaries once, and was horrified at the thought someone would find it and read it and think I had the worst childhood ever (I didn’t – it was super normal and quite happy).  Without a focus of some kind, there was no point to me starting another blog.

For the last several years, I have had a “theme” for my year.  I print it out and keep it over my desk and refer to it when I’m making decisions, or losing focus, or down in the dumps.  For instance, one year it was “F*ck the Haters.”  Last year it was “Run Your Own Race.”  Having a yearly theme has proved to be a good thing for me – it grounds me, pulls me back to my hopes and dreams, and keeps me from getting too scattered.  I am a woman who is easily scattered.

At the end of 2012, I had an experience that helped me land on my theme for 2013.  I’m a professional actress – I make my living mostly doing live theatre, voice over, and commercial gigs, with some teaching scattered in there to make ends meet.  I am fortunate to usually be able to work in Portland, OR, where I live, but I ended up with an opportunity to work on a show in Naples, Florida this past fall.  For the first time since college, I lived with roommates in a house.  I had my own room, but shared a bathroom, kitchen, and other living space with three other women.  I was there for two months, and took one large suitcase full of clothes, and one box with electronics/home goods.

Before I go further, it’s important to know another fact about me – I am a recovered (okay, recovering) shopaholic.  I love to shop.  I love STUFF.  I love clothes, shoes, jewelry, makeup, music, books, household goods, electronics – I LOVE IT ALL.  I cannot get enough.  I’m not proud of it, and there are times in my life it has gotten me into financial trouble and emotional strife.  I am aware of my problem, and the circumstances that make that behavior crop up for me.  I’m a work in progress, to say the least.

But an interesting thing happened while I was in Florida – I rarely wanted more than I had packed into that one suitcase and box.  Did I shop while I was there?  Yes, yes I did.  Mostly as a result of having too much time on my hands.  But I never bought more stuff because I really wanted for anything.  I was happy and totally covered with what I had.  And that was a new feeling for me.  I had just enough of everything.  And when I got home, I was overwhelmed by all our STUFF.  Stuff that needed to be sorted or cleaned, stuff I didn’t have a home for, stuff that wasn’t ours, stuff we’ve had forever but never used, stuff I think I might need someday, some stuff I don’t even like but for some reason keep.

Prior to heading to Florida I had been reading a lot about minimalism.  And I am FASCINATED with the show “Hoarders” on A&E.  Both extremes rivet me.  I am nowhere near hoarder status, but I don’t think I could be a minimalist either.  (In the Florida house, we had maybe six forks for four people, which meant we were constantly doing dishes.  I’ve read minimalist blogs where people had one fork per person, to be washed after every meal.  No thanks.)

But then I stumbled across a great blog called livinglagom.com.  What is lagom?  It’s a Swedish word that doesn’t have an English translation, unsurprisingly.  But the gist of it is that it means balance – not too little, not too much – just right.  Like Goldilocks.  Or you know, being content with “enough”.

Now THAT is a concept I can get on board with.

So my theme for this year, is lagom – more specifically finding my lagom.  How will this play out?  I have no idea.  But I am going to try to find it – my lagom.  I’m guessing it will start with my relationship with my stuff.  But I am curious to see how it will affect other areas of my life – career, relationships, food, etc.  The idea that by the end of 2013 I might feel just right feels…well, just right.

So welcome to my journey.  Feel free to comment, encourage, roll your eyes, judge, laugh, whatever.  I’m probably doing all of that too.



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