One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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Back in November, when I went to France, I wanted to make sure I packed a good carry on for the long flight.  I wouldn’t say I brought an excessive amount of stuff, but I wanted to bring enough items to keep me happy for about ten hours of plane travel, as well as a few necessities in case my luggage got lost.  For me, that meant packing the following:

  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • Phone & charger
  • Laptop & cords
  • Books (2)
  • Small makeup bag w/basic makeup items
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Scarf (in case the plane ride got chilly)
  • Extra pair of jeans/underwear/t-shirt in case my luggage was lost
  • Small jewelry pouch
  • Reading glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Keys

(I also ended up cramming an extra pair of shoes in my carry-on that wouldn’t fit in my checked bag – don’t judge.)

The night before I left, however, I found myself in a quandary about which bag to pack it all in.  I own several bags that work as a carry-on, but unfortunately, I’ve always felt they were all slightly lacking in one way or another.  For instance, I have this gym/overnight bag: IMG_4111 It’s comfortable to carry, and even has a great waterproof pocket for a wet towel or swimsuit.  But the compartments are kind of long and narrow, and won’t accommodate a laptop.  It also doesn’t fit well under an airplane seat, which means either unpacking a bunch of stuff before you sit down and then repacking it when you land, or making sure you sit on the aisle so you can keep getting in and out of it.  Blech.

I also have this computer bag that I bought in Barcelona a few years back: IMG_4110 It’s made out of those vinyl banners that you see on lampposts to advertise special events.  I love the company, Vaho Trashion, that makes the bags, and appreciate that they use reclaimed materials.  However, the bag isn’t padded, so it requires me to also use a protective case on my laptop, and while it’s fine when using it around town, I did worry about it getting knocked around too much during extensive overseas travel.  It also doesn’t hold much more than a computer and a few files, so there was no way I was going to get all my other crap in there.

I own this small carry-on bag from an old set of luggage I bought at Costco a million years ago:

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It’s easy to carry, and fits well under an airplane seat, but after multiple attempts to pack all my stuff in it, I had to admit it was just too small (especially with that extra pair of shoes).

I finally settled on this bag:

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In the end, it won because it was easy to carry, and big enough to hold all my stuff.  I also figured because it was so unstructured, I’d be able to cram it under the seat in front of me.  It had a little extra room in case I were to buy anything on my trip – but not enough that I’d be tempted to splurge.

Perfect, right?

WRONG.

Carrying this bag made me miserable. Because it has absolutely no padding or structure of any kind, I was super neurotic about my laptop getting damaged.  The lack of structure also meant that all my stuff clumped up into a pile inside, so finding anything in it was really difficult, and then trying to shove it back under the seat in front of me was almost impossible.  The structure issue also meant that the weight inside the bag was frequently unbalanced, so it felt like I was schlepping around a large bag of rocks, and my items would shift into odd angles and poke out the sides, so at one point I found myself running through the Amsterdam airport to make a connecting flight while being repeatedly stabbed in the ribs by the sharp corner of a book.  I tried balancing it on the handle of my roller bag while walking along the cobblestoned streets in France, and within seconds it would slide off with a thunk and topple my bag over.  In short, it sucked.

When I got home, I decided to casually start perusing options for a good replacement carry-on.  I didn’t have another trip planned, so I wasn’t in a hurry, but to my surprise and delight, I almost immediately stumbled across this incredibly great company called Lo & Sons.

What makes Lo & Sons so wonderful?  Their bags are smart, sleek, lightweight, and beautifully designed.  They hold a TON of stuff.  They look classy and stylish.  They are designed to conveniently, and firmly, attach to your roller bag.  Most of them are made to fit under an airplane seat.  They come in a lot of different designs and color options, and all of them are lovely.  I could go on and on.  (And no, Lo & Sons did not sponsor this post, I am just truly a huge fan now). They also did one of the smartest things on their website that I’ve ever seen a bag manufacturer do:  They made a video for each bag, showing someone packing it, and exactly what they were able to fit into it.  So even though I was purchasing the bag online, I was confident it would work for me – without the video, I’m not sure I would have ventured to try it.

Their bags are not dirt cheap, but after owning one, I can tell you I have absolutely no regrets (I also got mine on sale, and I had Christmas gift money to spend, so no debt was incurred).  This bag is PERFECT for me.  I took it with me on my recent trip to Hawaii, and I carried all of the same things I took to France (including an extra bikini and some fashion mags for poolside reading), and it worked like a dream.  I especially appreciated how thoughtfully designed it was in terms of the interior and exterior pockets, and how easy it was to access my stuff during the flight. I got the OMG in navy, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Click on over to their site and watch the videos for each bag – they do not misrepresent.  I got rid of three of the other not-so-great carry-on in my collection (believe it or not, I kept the bag I took to France, because it’s a good around-town tote.  But I won’t be taking it on any more flights, ever).  I have a feeling I won’t miss any of them a bit.


My last excuse for such a long blog hiatus?  A show followed by a trip.

My excuse this time?  Another show, followed by another trip.

But in the midst of all that crazy, I actually have done some work on my stuff!  I just haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and write about it.  I’m currently embarking on rehearsals for another show starting next week, but as of now, I won’t be following that show up with a trip, so maybe I won’t completely fall off the blogging map again (probably wishful thinking, but I’m gonna try).  In the meantime, I’ll attempt to bring things up to date.

I mentioned back in January that I had read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  One of the things she talks about very specifically is the process of paring down your book collection – or, perhaps, more accurately, getting rid of all but your most beloved books.  Books are a tough one for me – I love to read, and in addition to devouring new titles, I often reread old favorites and get just as much pleasure from them the second, third, and twentieth time around.  I also am a former English major and live in Portland in close proximity to the reader’s mecca of Powell’s, so it’s probably not surprising that I own a lot of books.  We have four bookcases throughout our house, and also have built in cubbyholes in our bedroom that make perfect little book storage areas as well, and all of them are full.

Only one of our bookcases is actually nice (a lovely hardwood piece from Ethan Allen)- the others, not so much.  Two are cheap particleboard ones from Target (one of which was a hand me down from friends who were moving), and the remaining one I bought very inexpensively at a second hand store.  It’s actually hardwood, but it’s also old and kind of falling apart, and could probably use a new paint job.  It earns its keep, however, by being unusually narrow and able to fit perfectly into a little niche in our hallway.  The Ethan Allen bookcase and one of the particleboard ones lives in our office space in a his and hers sort of arrangement – and the other particleboard bookcase is in the corner of our guest room.

It occurred to me that if I were to whittle down my book collection to what I most loved, I could reduce the number of bookcases I owned as well.  This was a particularly attractive idea for our guest room, because having the bookcase in the corner didn’t leave guests any real room for important stuff like luggage.  And in the office, the space felt overly crammed with furniture as well – literally every wall in that room was lined with either a desk, a bookcase, or credenza, with almost zero whitespace.

Ms. Kondo’s advice for tidying involves gathering all items of a like type from all over your living space and putting them in a pile in one room, so you can clearly see just how much of that one type of item you own.  With books, this can seem a little silly since if your book are on shelves, you can clearly see the titles and sort through them that way.  But she was firm on this point – take them out and put them in pile, because part of her process also includes physically touching each item and intuitively responding to the question “Does this item bring me joy?” and if the answer is not a resounding yes, it has to go.  I decided to commit to Kondo’s method and pulled all my books from the shelves and spread them out on the living room floor.

I’m sorry to say I was so wrapped up in the process of all that gathering and questioning that I forgot to take any before pictures of the bookcases or the massive pile on my living room floor.  But when my sorting process was over, I did have a pretty big stack of books to take to resale – it took me one full rolling suitcase and two large shopping bags to haul it all in.  (Side note:  I made almost no money at resale.  With the internet, books have become much less of a rare commodity.  I ended up donating the majority of them).

But while I had technically disposed of enough books to empty two full bookcases, I had not anticipated that the individual sizes of the books remaining would pose a problem.  In addition to some beloved large format coffee table books, I have a lot of scripts that I keep in three ring binders which were too tall for most of the shelves of the bookcases, with the exception of the cheap particleboard one in the guest room I was hoping to get rid of (sigh).  I could keep all the bookcases I currently had, but it would mean they were all half empty.  Ugh.

So we bought a new bookcase.  It may seem counterproductive, but after multiple attempts of arranging and rearranging our remaining collection into various bookcase combinations, it became clear that we simply needed something that better suited our needs.  So we went on the hunt for one that would be large enough to hold my entire book collection (Ron’s much smaller collection could be easily housed in the nice Ethan Allen bookcase we wanted to keep), and had adjustable shelves to accommodate the scripts and large format books.  We found a lovely, locally made alder wood bookcase at a Portland store called Natural Furniture that fit the bill perfectly, and it was on a great sale as well.

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The new bookcase

 

That allowed us to happily give the two particleboard bookcases to our friend Kelley, who is a teacher and needed them for her classroom.  Creating more free space in our house, and helping a teacher in the process?  Yes please. Total win/win.

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The two we exchanged for one

We’re currently keeping the narrow bookcase in the hallway, though I’m not sure it’s here for the long run.  It holds my stash of empty journals and some of the decorative objects and picture frames that got displaced when we got rid of the other two bookcases, so it looks a bit junky, but I’m not ready to let it go just yet.

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The office still holds two bookcases as before, and admittedly, still feels pretty over full with furniture.   But there is now a lovely empty corner in the guest room where at some point we may put a luggage rack or perhaps just a small set of hooks on the wall, but for now we’re leaving it free.  It looks so much more roomy and welcoming, and is much easier to clean – I love it.

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I guess the lesson I learned in this process is that sometimes it makes sense to upgrade to one new lagom item that fits all your needs, instead of keeping a larger collection of imperfect items that have to all work together to get the same job done.  It may have cost us a little extra to make it happen, but it was worth it.


Happy 2015 everyone!!!!

I realize I have been absent for a looooong time.  I have good excuses though – I was in a play, then went to France for a couple weeks, came home to a ton of work due in a very tight timeline, and then the holidays hit and well, that pretty much brings us up to date.  I’m hoping to blog at least once a week if possible this year, but I know I’ve said that before and then…you know…life.

Another reason for the inactivity is precisely that – inactivity.  For the past few months I haven’t really done much cleaning, decluttering, or reevaluating.  It’s been all I could do to just be where I needed to be and make deadlines on time.  And while my house, purse, and car have been a MESS all fall and winter, I’m also happy to report I did very little purchasing either, so it was sort of a zero sum game on the whole lagom seeking mission.

I am proud to say that we did not go into credit card debt for our vacation, and while I did buy a few things in Europe, I didn’t go nuts either.  I bought a few, carefully curated, carefully planned items that I had done a lot of research on before our trip, and all in all, I spent VERY little time shopping – which was weird and great all at the same time.  Instead, we explored beautiful places, ate amazing food and drank tons of wine:

But for the most part, over the past few months when this blog has been silent, I’ve just been sitting with my stuff as it is, not really thinking about it one way or the other, and therefore have made no real changes.  With the launch of a fresh new year though, I have begun to feel a renewed sense of wanting to lighten my life.

For Christmas, Ron gave me a copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and reading it has newly inspired me to think about what I truly need, use, and love, and what stuff I’ve just grown accustomed to seeing in my space.  Ms. Kondo is a bit more of an extreme minimalist than I aspire to be, and I’m not 100% sure I subscribe to everything she suggests, but I still really enjoyed her book.  It’s made me start looking around with a keen eye again, and let me tell you, when that happens…nothing in my path is safe.

Even though Ron did not read the book and I haven’t really talked to him about it,  he seems to be on the same wavelength as well.  Yesterday morning, as we were putting away all the Christmas decorations, we were moving the armoire that holds our tv, stereo, dvd player, cable box, phone, etc. back into place, and he asked me how I would feel about getting rid of the stereo, since we never really use it.  We own a couple high quality smartphone speaker docks, and we just tend to plug our phones into one of those and listen to our music that way – I can’t really remember the last time I got out a CD and used the stereo.  So I agreed, and from there we also decided to get rid of the dvd player we have upstairs (it’s fairly old and had not been working properly, and we still have another one that does work in another part of the house, and I can’t say I’ve been missing the broken one since we usually watch movies on cable anyway).

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Then we went through the rest of the armoire, clearing our dvd collection of any movies we no longer cared about, our cd collection of music we no longer listened to, and I tossed about 60 (seriously) empty cd jewel cases I had been saving for oh, NO APPARENT REASON.  I even found a small stack of old VHS tapes that somehow survived the last purge, despite the fact it’s been about three years since we’ve owned a TV with a VHS player on which to use them:

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I particularly love the two that are titled “Laura – Misc. Tape”, with no further indication of anything else that is on them.  Especially since I don’t own anything to play them on in order to find out.  Genius decision making right there, folks.

And when I went to get a couple bags to hold the stuff we were getting rid of, I found myself plowing through a bunch of those well intentioned reusable shopping bags that multiply like rabbits in the closet because I always think I’ll use them, and then, of course, don’t.  Ron and I picked through them and each chose a couple to keep that we liked best, and the rest we got rid of.  In the process, I also I found not one, but TWO lost scarves I’d been searching madly for over the past couple weeks tangled up in the mess.

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As anyone who has been reading the blog for a while knows, I have been at this process since January of 2013, and with each area of my home I’ve decluttered, I’ve always gotten to the point where I’ve thought “That’s it – I can’t pare it down any less.  Everything that’s left is something I need, use, and love.”  Fascinating how time can change that perspective, isn’t it?  I think I maybe needed the past few months to just sit quietly with some of my decisions, before I could revisit them with a clear head.  If the first day of 2015 is any indication, I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m excited to discover what’s important to me in the new year.


In the effort to pay down our debt in as short of a time as possible, we have had to make some lifestyle changes to the way we spend our money.  Along with being on a grocery budget and obvious restrictions around things such as shopping, we’ve cut spending on things like going out to dinner, going to the movies, throwing parties at our house (unless it’s a potluck sort of situation where everyone is bringing something), manicure/pedicures, regular hair salon visits, buying fancy/expensive food items, buying takeaway coffee, buying anything decorative for the house, doing any kind of non-urgent repair work on the house or yard, limited spending on gifts for each other, using up everything we currently have before buying more and not taking vacations.  When I reread this list, I have to admit, all the things we cut truly fall under the category of “luxuries.”  Nowhere on our list are things like “heat for the house” or “food.”  So yes, we are blessed.

And for the most part, I’m not feeling a ton of yearning around most of those cuts.  Yes, it’s nice to be able to buy a coffee whenever I feel like it, but it doesn’t ruin my day to not be able to do that.  I was talking to my friend Rose a few weeks ago about our budget restrictions and she wryly commented, “Yeah, you and your first world problems.  It’s not like you couldn’t afford groceries or had to go out and get a new job during any of this – it just means you can’t always do the stuff you WANT to do.”  She’s totally right.  I may not be able to afford luxuries, but I still get to do my erratically-paying dream career and I’m not homeless or food insecure as a result.  It’s good to be reminded of that.

The one area though, where I do feel the sting of our cutbacks is travel.  God, I love to travel.  I didn’t travel much growing up – we drove from Oregon to Washington every summer to visit relatives, but we didn’t take “We’re going to Disneyland!” style vacations – my family couldn’t afford it.  My mom stayed home to raise kids, and we survived financially on my dad’s income.  I know we weren’t rich, but I never felt poor or deprived.  Because we had never taken vacations as a family, I never really had anything to miss.  Summers meant sleeping in, swimming, picnics in the park, popsicles, riding bikes and watching soap operas.  All are very happy memories for me.

But as a young adult, I started to travel, both in the U. S. and overseas, as a touring actor.  On my first overseas trip I was completely terrified, but once I got the hang of it, I got a serious case of wanderlust that has never been cured.  If I had to choose between living in a gorgeous mansion but never being able to leave town, or to live in small apartment and take several trips a year, I would choose the apartment without a blink.  I love exploring new cities and countries and seeing what life is like for the people who live there.  Travel gave me a totally different perspective on the world and myself, and is a huge contributing factor to who I am today.

As I’ve mentioned before, we didn’t take an annual vacation this year, because we couldn’t justify spending the money when we were trying so hard to get out of debt.  The loss of that trip has not gone unnoticed.  Ron and I spend a lot of time talking about where we would go if we could, and where we will go as soon as we are able to afford it.  The top two contenders at this point are Easter Island in South America, or Santorini in Greece.  Easter Island is a bucket list item for both of us – to see those moai in person has to be nothing short of mind blowing.  And Santorini, with it’s gorgeous views, food, weather and charm, looks equally sensational.  We were discussing the pros and cons of each place, dreaming together, as we often do these days, since we can’t take any action for a while, and part of me started to feel a little depressed as we talked.  Even though we’ve made really incredible progress on our debt, we still have a ways to go, and this last dragging part of it feels oddly longer and heavier than when we owed almost eight times as much – probably because after almost a solid year of scrimping and saying no to things, we’re just sick of it. Instead of feeling hopeful, I felt bitter, like the whole thing is a pipe dream because we will NEVER see the end of this debt, so what was the point in even dreaming about going somewhere?  So I irritably shut the whole thought of a vacation out of my mind.

The next day however, I opened the mailbox, and was greeted by the sight of this catalogue:

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Once again, well played, Universe.  Of all the places in the world the catalogue could have been themed around, it was Satnorini?  It seemed oddly coincidental.  I even wondered if it was a sign of some kind – like that’s the place we should indeed go.  Whether it’s a sign or not, I’m choosing to take it as one, to remind me that even when life feels like a grind, it’s important to keep hoping and dreaming.


I hope everyone had a great Christmas/Hanukkah/Whatever You Celebrated This Year.  Ours was really low key, very fun, and filled with a lot of love, but very little stuff.  Progress?  I think so.   The only thing Ron and I missed was taking our yearly vacation, which we chose to forgo in favor of paying off more debt.  We were definitely bummed, but I really look forward to NEXT Christmas when (fingers crossed) we will be debt-free, and have built up a ton of frequent flyer miles to spend.  And let’s face it, with our crappy luck this year, it would not have been a surprise to go somewhere tropical and amazing and have it rain the whole time, or be hit by a freak tidal wave or something.

Oh, and speaking of luck, Ron and I both gave each other a bunch of scratch-it lottery tickets in our Christmas stockings, and one of the games was called “Lucky 7”.  You scratch off your “lucky number”, and then scratch off a bunch of other numbers, and if one of them matches your lucky number you win the amount listed next to the number.  I scratched off the lucky number on mine, and it was the number thirteen.  I rolled my eyes and laughed and showed Ron.  “Of COURSE it’s my lucky number,” I said sarcastically.  “Because the year/number thirteen has proved to be so LUCKY for me.”

I ended up winning $2 on that ticket – and it was the only winning ticket I got this year.

Well played, Universe.  Well played.

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