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:
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.
On Friday, I had an early morning audition, and it happened to be right across from the mall. I had been meaning to visit the Macy’s at that mall, because there was a handbag I had seen online that I was curious about, and I wanted to see it in person. Not to buy it, mind you – I did realize that I JUST pared down my handbag collection like a week ago, and I am still working on my debt and not supposed to be buying stuff, but I didn’t think it would hurt to just visit it. (I’m sure you can see where this is going.)
I looked at the bag, and I liked it, but I resisted the urge to buy it right then and there, even though I really wanted it. I put it down. I walked away. And then, like a shopaholic zombie in search of brains, I found myself wandering among the housewares, pining for a new set of towels. Then I decided I should put the towels on hold, since a sale was going on, and who knew how long they would be there. Then it seemed like a good idea to put the purse on hold too. And then I walked out of the store into the mall, instead of out of one of the doors that led to where my car was parked.
I’ve always loved to window shop. But if I’m honest, there isn’t too much “window” involved. I almost always end up buying something. And that day, my mood was all about wanting something new. When I’m in that mood, a mall is a very dangerous place for me to be.
I drifted from one store to the next, trying on clothes, admiring household items, and smelling new perfumes. And almost every store yielded something I really, really, REALLY wanted. I am aware enough of my own behavior when I get like this to enforce some prevention methods, which for me means putting any items I am interested in on hold, and walking away for at least fifteen minutes till I feel less feverish. That day I put several items on hold, and made notes of what the item was, why I thought I needed it, and the price.
I took a moment to sit down in a neutral zone (one of those little sofas they have in the middle of the mall), and looked over my list of hold items. I can honestly say I really do still want most of the things I put on hold. But as I sat there, it also occurred to me that I have not even begun to purge my wardrobe, and until I do that, and get rid of what I no longer wear, and get a clear idea of where the gaps are, it would be pretty dumb to buy a bunch more stuff. My hope is to get my possessions down to a manageable collection of things I absolutely love – and piling more new stuff into the mix will only create more stress and confusion.
Here is the list of what I wanted to buy:
- Gap: shorts, scarf, t-shirt: $92.95 (possibly a little less, there was a sale going on)
- Victoria’s Secret: Pajamas and a bra: $104
- Macy’s: New towels for the master bath and a handbag: $178
- Ann Taylor: Two blouses: $103.50
- Nordstrom: Perfume: $78
If I had followed my want monster, that window shopping trip would have ultimately cost me $556.45.
So that settled it – I walked out without buying a single thing. I left the mall feeling vaguely depressed, but also kind of proud of myself for not doing my usual buy now/guilt later routine. And I actually wasn’t completely empty handed – I got some perfume samples from the fragrance counter at Nordstrom’s to play with, which I guess is better than nothing. I hope there is a day where I truly learn the art of window shopping – where I can feel just as fulfilled by only looking as when I actually buy something. Right now though? Still a buzzkill.
I found out who sent me the Moth t-shirt – it was my friend Carol Ann!
Carol Ann is a kick ass stage manager in town. if you are not in theatre and don’t know what a stage manager does, the answer is pretty much everything. They make sure everyone is on time, where they are supposed to be, doing what they should be doing, and for how long they should be doing it. They handle paperwork, send hundreds of emails, make calls, file reports, and ensure everyone has the tools they need to do their jobs (most carry kits that contain everything from sharpened pencils to a needle and thread to those tiny little screwdrivers for repairing eyeglasses). They listen to whining and crying, coordinate schedules, organize people/objects/spaces, clean up messes, take stuff down, put stuff up, call the shots, provide feedback, mediate disagreements, handle injuries, cajole, reprimand, sympathize, compromise, and soothe. They are typically the first people to arrive at the theatre and the last to leave. When everyone else has gone home their work is still not done because they have to type up a rehearsal report or a performance report and the next day’s schedule. It is not a job for the weak, scattered, or easily offended/discouraged. The buck stops with them, and sometimes that buck is emotionally volatile or has a massive ego, and they have to stay and reason with it while everyone else has moved on to cocktails at the bar. They have to watch the show over and over and over again every night from the booth, for weeks – maybe even months, and stay awake. Even if it sucks.
And for all that work, they don’t rake in truckloads of money. Or even get to take a curtain call. You will never read a review of a show that praises their organizational skills or uncanny ability to talk someone off the ledge.
Which makes what Carol Ann did for me all the more touching. She and her husband both work, and they have two adorable children to support. It’s not lost on me that she could have found about 500 other uses for that hard earned $20. That she decided to do something nice for me with it kind of blows me away. When I expressed my gratitude, she simply said, “Hey, I’ve been where you are myself – and right now I had the money to do it for you so I did it.”
She just got herself a whole lot of free babysitting.
Love you, Carol Ann!
P. S. If any of my stage manager friends read this and want to add SM job tasks I have missed, feel free to chime in….
This post is for you.
Yes, YOU. You know who you are. Even though I don’t.
What I know about you is you read my blog post about wanting to buy a shirt at The Moth the other night, but resisting because I have shirts I already need to get rid of, and I don’t have the money to buy any fun stuff right now. I also think we must know each other, because you have my address. And because you’re a freaking ROCKSTAR of a human being, you used both those pieces of information to totally make my day.
This package arrived in the mail.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw the return address. I wondered for a minute if I had, in a delirious shopping haze, actually gone on the Moth website and bought something and forgotten about it. Maybe after a few drinks. Stranger things have happened.
I opened it. And look what was inside – in the exact style I wanted, and the perfect size:
I almost started crying. Yes, I know, it’s just a shirt. But knowing that someone was so kind to surprise me like this, with something I wanted but couldn’t afford, was overwhelming – in the best possible way. And there wasn’t a card or message of any kind to give credit where credit was due.
Whoever you are – I wish I could give you a huge hug and tell you in person how much this gesture means to me. Thank you, for being so generous and sweet. And I want you to know, I kept my end of the bargain. Remember how I said I would only get the shirt if I paid down my credit card to a reasonable balance and got rid of five shirts I already owned? You saved me the step of the credit card (which in all honesty, will probably take about a year, maybe longer to accomplish), but I made good on the shirt purge. Here are the ones I am getting rid of:
It’s a great trade – I love my Moth shirt. I love that it supports an organization that has brought me a ton of happiness with its stories, and it is not lost on me that in secretly gifting me a shirt from a storytelling series, you also have given me a great story to tell. Very meta. Maybe I’ll tell it at The Moth someday – if I do, I hope you’re there to hear it. And I hope you step forward to take credit, so I can do something nice for you in return.
Every time I wear it, I’ll think fondly of you -especially if I figure out who you are.
I spent a fair amount of the 90’s as a touring actor. On my first trip to Europe (which was also my first time overseas), I went souvenir CRAZY. Shot glasses. Key chains. Useless gift shop trinkets with the names of random German cities on them. And tons and tons of t-shirts. “Souvenir”, as I’m sure most people know, in French means “to remember”. And I was convinced that buying all that stuff would help me remember my experiences overseas. Never mind that I was taking pictures, journaling, and traveling with friends who would hold those memories with me. And never mind that I’ve never bought a souvenir keychain that didn’t break within a month of using it, or that I sold my entire shot glass collection for $5 at a yard sale because I couldn’t stand wrapping the damn things in newspaper every time I moved. I spent a ton of money on that stuff, but I no longer own most of what I bought on those trips.
I did, however, hang on to the t-shirts for a while. And when I say “hang on”, I truly mean just…hang on to them. I never wore them. I love clothes, and I do wear t-shirts, but my taste is very basic in terms of colors and and I’m super picky about fit. So a Hanes “Beefy-T” man-cut shirt with a bright graphic screaming “Heidelberg” won’t be in regular rotation for me. But I kept buying and storing t-shirts from my travels, organizations I worked for, and events I participated in until my dresser was so overstuffed that I broke the bottoms out of two of the drawers. When my husband and I moved in together, I finally did purge my t-shirts out of necessity – and even then I bought a Rubbermaid set of rolling drawers that I kept in the garage and stored a bunch of t-shirts in it for “work clothes”. An excellent plan for someone who rarely did yard work and often cleaned the bathroom in a wool “dry clean only” dress and high heels because I was too exhausted to change out of my office clothes.
I am happy to say I am now past the t-shirt collecting phase when I travel. I won’t even take a free one. I know it won’t help me remember anything.
But three nights ago, I got a last minute invite from my friend to go to The Moth. Her husband had a work commitment come up, and she knows I’m a HUGE fan of the storytelling series. I was thrilled to go with her, and since she is affiliated with the organization that sponsored the event, the evening included going backstage before the show and meeting some of the fantastic storytellers, second row seats just behind the storytellers and the host, Ophira Eisenberg (whom I got to meet – so kind, intelligent, and funny), and attending a reception after the event. It was a great, great evening on so many levels – from spending time with my friend to meeting people I’ve admired on the podcast to getting to hear all those incredible stories.
There was a merchandise table in the lobby. Selling t-shirts. To support an organization I LOVE. And they were CUTE. And I WANTED ONE. I even heard a woman working the table say, “they run small” which are magic words to my ears – I have a small build, and if I wear a man-cut t-shirt I look like I am doing the walk of shame, and you can see my whole bra through the sleeve hole every time I lift my arm. They were $20 – which is actually a lot of money to me right now – if I wanted one, I would have to charge it. I felt my hands automatically reaching for my credit card.
And then I stopped myself. When my current show ends, I don’t have another job lined up. I want to be out of debt. I already own a lot of t-shirts, some of which I rarely wear. And I know I will remember the evening, with or without the shirt – it was just that kind of a night.
I didn’t buy it. Do I regret it? Kinda. I’m still pining for it. But I’ve made myself a deal – if I get rid of at least five t-shirts I already own, and if I get my debt down to a point where looking at my credit card statement doesn’t make me want to vomit with anxiety, maybe I will get one. You can get them online – and I should know. I’ve been stalking that page for three days now.