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.
In my last post, I talked about the gifts we exchanged for our anniversary, but I neglected to talk about the celebration itself. We didn’t do anything elaborate, just a nice bottle of champagne at home, then dinner at a nice Italian restaurant we wanted to try, and then we stopped by Papa Haydn’s (VERY popular Portland restaurant for decadent desserts) and got a couple pieces of cake to go, which we demolished along with the rest of the champagne when we got home.
The restaurant we went to was Mucca Osteria, and I have no beauty shots of the meal, because we were too excited to eat our food to take time to photograph it. But it was delicious – we shared a fresh burrata and heirloom tomato caprese salad, then we each had the seared sea scallops appetizer with truffle parmesan fondue, and then Ron had the steak with pancetta kale and green beans, and I had the wild boar ragu pasta. We knew we wanted to go to Papa Haydn’s for cake, so we didn’t order dessert, but when the server realized it was our anniversary, he brought us a complimentary glass of a grappa type dessert wine to share and two little biscotti to dip in it. The portions were perfect and the pacing of the meal was leisurely enough to keep us from eating before we knew we were full. We left completely satisfied but not stuffed – in other words, it was lagom ; ).
But the best part? We had the satisfaction of knowing we could completely afford it, so every bite was guilt free (well, maybe not calorically, but let’s not even get into that). We did not have to go into debt for it, and that made it all the more delicious. The restaurant was not outrageously expensive – I think we spent about $100 before tip (which included all the food mentioned above plus a glass of wine each), and then I think the cake (which is kind of ridiculously expensive) came to about $18. Totally within what we had budgeted for the evening.
This is also the first month since we’ve gotten out of debt where we have actually felt the difference. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that in both June and July we still had some big enough expenses that we were having to come up with close to what we had been paying monthly on our credit cards, but this month we were finally able to breathe a little. And so breathe we did.
And let me tell you, it felt gooooooood.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
As of today, May 16th, 2014, Ron and I are officially out of credit card debt.
Let me just say that again….
WE ARE OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT!!!!!!!!
(Gee, it feels good to type that sentence!)
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that it was May of 2013 when we took my dad’s advice about a process for paying down our debt and finally got really serious about digging ourselves out of the financial hole. A year later, we’ve accomplished it. I know I probably sound all braggy, but trust me, it was a long, crappy, depressing year filled with a lot of work, cost cutting, saying no to things, and very little fun. So I’m gonna brag a little, because I feel like we’ve earned it. I couldn’t be prouder of us.
A year ago this time, between my personal credit card, Ron’s credit card, and a joint household credit card, we were $26,000 in debt. It took me a long time to be able to admit our debt number to people, because I was ashamed of it. I knew we’d racked up that debt with some legitimate costs, but most of it was the result of a lot of careless spending, on stuff we didn’t need or love. Whether our number was more or less than anyone else’s is irrelevant – what matters is that we don’t have the income to support carrying that kind of debt, so for us, it was a really bad idea. Not to mention, the interest those cards were accruing was DISGUSTING. In order to pay it off in a year, we have been trying to come up with roughly $1,300 just in credit card payments every month, which let me tell you, was no easy feat with my variable actor income, and all our other bills.
But it’s over now – we have paid off every single penny, and it feels amazing. A week ago, when I asked Ron what he thought it would feel like to finally have it all behind us, he said, “I imagine it being like when the main character in a fairy tale is finally freed from the spell of an evil witch or wizard or something. That’s what this past year has felt like – like we’ve been under some kind of bad curse that couldn’t be broken.” That’s actually a pretty accurate description. Now we just feel…FREE.
I’ll write a post sometime soon with more specifics about our pay down process for anyone who is interested, but today, we are just going to celebrate. Ron took the day off work, and I don’t have a ton I have to do so we can spend some relaxed time together. We have a fancy bottle of champagne we’ve been saving for a special occasion, and I can’t think of a better time to drink it. While we still haven’t bolstered our account up enough to go out to dinner to celebrate, we’ll make a nice dinner at home, and the character I play on Grimm is in tonight’s episode (season finale!), so we’ll probably stay home and watch that. And we won’t have to feel guilty about any of it, because we aren’t charging anything to make it happen, and it’s totally within our means.
Best. Day. Ever.
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.
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/
For the first time in…well, EVER, we have our taxes done this year before April. There was a definitely method to our madness– because we are still making significantly large payments to our credit card debt, we decided we would need to plan ahead and figure out a way to save if we owned any money. We did end up owing some, but not as much (thank God) as we thought we might – in fact, our accountant’s fee was more than what we owed the government, so we are grateful and will be able to pay it in full by the due date.
I asked our accountant how many years of back tax paperwork we truly needed to save – and she said five years was probably enough, but if we wanted to play it safe, seven was the official number. Because nothing freaks me out more than the thought of having to reconstruct a financial year from memory, I decided to go with saving seven years, but was still able to purge about three years worth of excess paperwork, which felt great. I set aside an afternoon, plugged in the shredder, and took savage delight in watching all those old bills and receipts get chewed to bits.
But as I was feeding the papers into the machine, the balance on a couple of our old credit card statements caught my eye, and I stopped to read them more carefully. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, when you are a shopaholic, so is an old credit card statement. It was like stepping back into a Mall of Shame.
For example, look at the average amount of money I spent just in the month of June several years ago:
Granted this was a couple months before we got married, and it’s true that expenses can be high during that time – I know a couple things on this statement were wedding related. But let’s face it, there is a lot of Nordstrom-ing going on this month. What I also know was that during this month I had left my full time corporate job to take a part time writing job, at a 40% pay cut with no benefits. There is NO WAY I could afford this level of buying. And yet…there it is, in black and white, all the places I bought stuff that I probably didn’t need and definitely couldn’t afford.
I flipped forward to the month of our wedding, to see if our spending slowed down any, now that we’d had time to adjust to my new reduced income, but the bill from our joint credit card reflects no such change:
Again, some more wedding charges, but did we need to go out to eat that much? And how about throwing away $39 on a late fee (which happened ALL THE TIME during those years). It should also be noted that we had just received a crapload of presents and new stuff for our wedding, and spent a bunch of money on souvenirs from our honeymoon in Mexico, so WE DIDN’T NEED ANYTHING. It’s…sad, really.
I decided to look at a statement from close to a year later, to see if I’d finally pulled it together:
There may be less line items on this one, but holy crap, look at the amounts spent at each place. $541 in just one trip to Anthropologie? Don’t forget I’d already been there twice already that month, dropping $226 the first time, and $58 the second time. And $478 on boots at Bella Moda? Another $200 on shoes at Johnny Sole? And clearly my dedication to keeping Nordstrom in business hasn’t waned this month – four visits to the tune of about $240. Yes, I did make a $400 payment, but I spent more than that in just ONE visit to Anthropologie – there was no way I was getting ahead of my debt.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, and ever wondered if I was being dramatic about my shopping habit, I hope this clears things up. I have a real problem when it comes to shopping. I almost typed “had”, but I’m not so cocky as to think I’m over it yet – one of the only things that has kept me in check this past year was the cold grip of fear that closed around my heart whenever I thought about our debt to income ratio. I haven’t shopped because I felt like I absolutely couldn’t do it and still cover our basic bills. But as our debt is dwindling down, I find myself wondering what will happen after it’s gone, and I have disposable income again- will I go back to my old ways and rack the debt back up? I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson and I wouldn’t – that from now on I will be responsible and level-headed when it comes to shopping and debt. But the truth is, I really don’t know. I guess only time will tell.