When I was working in the corporate world, I had two very distinct selections of clothing: “work” clothes, and “weekend” clothes.
If you opened my closet, you would have been easily able to identify which items belonged in which category. Work clothes consisted of lots of dry-clean-only type of stuff from Gap, Banana Republic, and Nordstrom in shades of black/brown/gray/cream– things like slacks, pencil skirts, suits, button down blouses, blazers, nice dresses, nylons, and lots and lots of high heeled boots and pumps. Weekend clothes were comfy and colorful things like jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, socks, flats, and sneakers. Having two totally different styles of clothing for the work and non-work parts of my life were part of the reason why my closets and dressers were so jammed full of stuff–the other part being due to my unfortunate shopaholic tendencies.
I recently got an email from a clothing store advertising a sale on “weekend wear”, and it occurred to me that I no longer have a wardrobe that distinguishes between the two styles – pretty much most of my daily wardrobe is weekend wear, with a few slightly more dressed up options. As a full time actor, there are some mornings when I have to get up, dress presentably, put on makeup, fix my hair, and either go to auditions, a recording studio, meetings, rehearsals, or other events that put me out in public. But there are more mornings where I get up, put on workout clothes, walk Stella, eat breakfast, work out, answer email, and then start working from home on recording/auditioning/reading scripts/memorizing lines and before I know it Ron is almost due home from the office and I’ve yet to shower or officially get dressed or even stop to eat lunch. I may talk to a lot of people via phone or email during the day, but no one actually SEES me, so I don’t spend much time worrying about what I look like or how I’m dressed, especially if I’m on a deadline.
This means that things like my slippers get a ton of wear. I used to have (unsurprisingly) about four pairs of slippers, but in one of my early decluttering sessions after I started this blog, I got rid of all but my one favorite pair. They aren’t particularly expensive or fancy, but I really like the style and how comfortable they are. I’ve had them for easily 10 years, and have worn them a LOT (I am one of those people whose hands and feet are often cold – just ask Ron, who has to endure me getting into bed at night and putting my icy fingers and toes against his perpetually heat-radiating body to warm up). Last year, while we were still in debt-pay down mode, I was sitting on the couch with my feet propped up facing Ron, and I saw him stare at the soles of my slippers and then gently say, “Uhhh…honey, I know money is tight, but I’m sure we could figure out a way to get you a new pair of slippers.”
I knew why he was saying it. From the top, my slippers looked totally normal:
But from the bottom, they were definitely looking a bit worse for wear:
And you have to see the side view too, to really appreciate how
gross loved they were:
The thing was, I knew I could have afforded a new pair – Fred Meyer, Kmart, or even a Walgreens sell slippers very inexpensively, and often offer coupons as well. But since my mission has been to buy fewer, better things, and because slippers are something I knew I would wear really often, I wanted them to be a high quality pair that I LOVED.
Which made the process of finding a new pair become way too important and painstaking. It took me MONTHS. Well, to be fair, some of those months were in the summer, when it’s way too hot for slippers, but I cannot tell you how many online and in person searches I did to find a good replacement. I scoured countless websites, read hundreds of reviews, stalked various shoe departments, and still couldn’t find anything I felt was right – or more accurately, “perfect”. I was even wiling to shell out a lot of money for them – I saw some really similar but ridiculously expensive ones by Ugg, for nearly $90, and was seriously considering them, until I noticed that most of the reviews said the sizing was consistently either too big or too small if you’re a half size, like me.
And then, I finally had to remind myself that no matter how much I loved my new pair, or how much money I spent on them, much like my old pair, the new pair would wear out someday, and I’d have to buy new ones. And while I was wasting all this stupid time fretting over finding something “perfect”, I was spending every day of my present life walking around with holes in my soles.
A day after I had this thought, I happened to be walking past J. Crew, and they were in the midst a huge sale. In multiple baskets on the display tables were pretty pastel piles of cozy slippers. Next to the baskets were signs that said, “Additional 40% off.” And in the lavender color that I liked the most, they had exactly one pair left in my size. So I bought them – for a very reasonable $27.
I LOVE my new slippers. They are cozy, pretty, and sooooo comfortable:
And even better, they have non-slip rubber soles, with no holes in them:
And even better than THAT, I have them right NOW, and I am wearing them every day. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I did throw the old ones away).
In the end, of course, we’re just talking about a silly pair of slippers. But the experience was a good reminder for me that if seeking perfection becomes your entire focus, you’re a) probably never going to achieve it, and b) you will spend way too much time during that process living with circumstances or things you really need to release.
What about you? Is there an area in your life where you are seeking the perfect something, to the point where you’re living without something you could really use right now? Share in the comments if you feel so inclined!
I have never really felt compelled to come up with a good reason to shop. In the past, I have shopped because I just like doing it. Or because I had free time to kill. Or because I like pretty things. Or because I was feeling sad and I knew it would cheer me up. Sometimes I actually did need stuff, but not needing things was never a deterrent either.
If anything, especially over the last year, I have had to remind myself of all the reasons why I should NOT be shopping. And because those reasons are all boring, depressing, nose-to-the-grindstone types of reasons like debt and not enough space and the admittance that I don’t use some of the stuff I already have, it always feels like a really dreary argument. And because I’m a shopaholic, my crafty, addicted brain is excellent at coming up with really, really good counter arguments to combat what common sense is telling me. It becomes all I can do to stay on the No Shopping Wagon.
Recently, I have been performing on a live radio show called Live Wire – if you aren’t familiar with it, you can listen to the podcasts at livewireradio.org. We record the show in front of a live audience in Portland, and then the show is broadcast in various cities all over the United States. For the live performances, I usually get dressed up – I don’t need a costume per se, but I usually wear something a little fancy, like a nice dress and high heels and some sparkly jewlery. With the amount of shows I’ve done at this point, coupled with all the clothes I’ve gotten rid of, I’ve worn all my nice dresses at least 2-3 times each. So I’ve been feeling some outfit boredom. Add that to my ongoing shopping hunger, and you have the perfect recipe for a bullshit rationalized shopping binge.
I have found myself “window shopping” for some new evening wear items–both in person and online–a lot lately. And as the shopping guilt creeps in, I hear a little voice in my head arguing, “But you NEED it for work!”, so I push the guilt aside and follow the enabling little voice and continue to scan the racks for something to buy. It’s a really scary how easy it is to sway me–because lets’ face it, I DON’T need new clothes for work, I just WANT them. I could probably rotate through the same 5-6 dresses over and over again and the audience would never care, or maybe even notice. The people who listen to the show on the radio can’t even see me, so they definitely don’t notice or care. The truth is I am still not past the point where buying new things makes me feel better, and as I’m continuing to trudge through the debt pay down process, I’m consciously and subconsciously always trying to find ways to make myself feel better.
So though I’ve managed to resist making any actual purchases (I even found myself standing in the queue at H&M at one point, one person away from the cashier, before I finally stepped out of line, hung the dress on the nearest rack and slunk out of the store with a pounding heart), I still have not figured out what to do with the feelings that remain, or the leftover shreds of the argument that feel so credible that I DO need something new.
And then last week it occurred to me, why didn’t I just ask a friend who wore my size if I could borrow a dress? It would keep me from buying something that I didn’t really need, spending money I didn’t have, but still provide a solution to my craving. I know in my heart that even if I did buy a new dress, after I’d worn it a couple times I would just want something new again, and then I’d end up having to figure out how to store the stupid thing before ultimately selling it. This pattern is largely how I ended up with so many clothes and so much debt in the first place.
My dear friend Nikki is the same size as me, and we’ve traded clothes before – often when I clean out my closet, I give her first dibs on anything she might like before I resell or donate the rest, and she does the same for me. Nikki is one of those people that I’m just in awe of – she is so driven and badass yet super zen and calm at the same time. This is a woman who, while pregnant with her first child, ran a marathon and was doing yoga handstands well into her last trimester. She’s a wonderful actress and runs a theatre company with her husband, travels, teaches yoga and runs yoga retreats, and manages to somehow be an attentive friend, mother, wife, and colleague and never look stressed out or yell at people like I know I would if I were trying to do all that. If you just saw these facts about her written on paper, you might either think she was too good to be true, or be green with envy at all she manages to do and be while making it look so easy. But then you meet her and can’t help but fall in love with her open heart, genuine friendship, generosity, and honesty. In fact, the first time I met Nikki we were at an audition where we were up for the same part, and she ended up getting it. You’d think maybe that would have inspired at least some feelings of professional competition, but I had liked her so much and so immediately, and thought she was so talented, that I found myself unable to feel anything but happy for her. We ultimately ended up being cast in a show together and became friends, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve known her for much longer than I have.
When I asked Nikki if I might be able to borrow some dresses, she immediately said yes, and we realized that the timing was actually kind of perfect since she is currently pregnant with her second baby, so she won’t be wearing most of her dresses right now anyway. I went over to her house this week and looked through her stash and it was so much fun–I got some pretty things to wear for the show, didn’t spend any money, and managed to sneak in a nice long visit with my friend as well. Win-win-win-win-win.
And though I teetered very close to the edge, thanks to Nikki’s generosity, I have managed to stay on the No Shopping Wagon for yet another day.
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!
I make a lot of to-do lists. Sometimes I put things I’ve already done on my lists just so I can have the satisfaction of crossing them off. If I don’t finish an item, I will either keep the mostly crossed off list around until that item is done, or I move the incomplete item to the top of a new list. If it’s something I really, really, don’t want to do, instead of its presence on my list making me feel pressured enough to do it, I find it just becomes part of the landscape – and soon all my lists automatically include the items “iron clothes” and “Work on taxes”.
For months, I’ve had “clean closet” at the top of my daily to do list. EVERY DAY. I was absolutely dreading the process for a few reasons:
- Dealing with my wardrobe always makes me feel overwhelmed, and when I’m overwhelmed I become incapable of making decisions. Which makes trying to get rid of stuff a real chore.
- In order to clean my closet, I have to make sure all the laundry is clean, folded, and put away, so I can see what I’m dealing with. I hate doing laundry.
- Because I can’t afford to buy anything new, I knew I would be particularly clingy in terms of getting rid of things
- As much as I love to try on clothes when I shop, trying on the clothes in my own closet to make sure they still fit and I still like them always seems like a drag. Why is that?
- Part of the process always seems to include creating a pile of mending. I hate mending.
So I had no real good excuse not to do it – just a lot of ennui and whining around the whole thing. So I decided to break the process into bite sized chunks and see if that got me through it.
There are three areas in our bedroom where I keep clothing:
- An armoire, where I have one shelf full of t-shirts and tank tops, a drawer for underwear, a drawer for pajamas, and a small drawer each for socks and hosiery (If you are feeling at all judgmental upon reading this, keep this in mind: the armoire where I now have one shelf of t-shirts used to have FOUR shelves completely full of my clothes and my clothes alone, along with the aforementioned drawers . At this point in time, it holds two shelves of linens, and Ron has a shelf of clothes plus half of one of the drawers for pajamas. So I may be a mess, but I used to be a bigger mess.)
- Two closet spaces where I have hanging items
- Four shelf spaces where I put sweaters, jeans/pants, and workout clothes.
All three areas are a nightmare of clothing that comes tumbling out every time you open one of the doors. There are more clothes in each space than the space can comfortably hold, so when all my clothes are clean, I have to cram things in, or sometimes even leave items in laundry baskets until enough garments are in the hamper to make room to hang the clean stuff. I have semi-organized stacks of clothing in the front of the shelves, but it is not unusual to find items that have fallen into piles behind those stacks and become forgotten.
I simply had to pare it all down. And I had to start somewhere. So I decided to start my closet purge with the armoire. Here is what my t-shirt shelf looked like:
Just to clarify, mine is the shelf with a variety of colors just below the shelf with towels, and Ron’s is monochromatic shelf on the bottom (Note to Ron: Colors. They are good. Do not fear them).
I only wear a few of my t-shirts with any regularity, but for some reason I have trouble getting rid of the ones I don’t wear. And because there is so much stuff in one small space, even if I put things away folded, they either end up smashed under other items, or they fall out and I shove them back in when I’m in a hurry (which is pretty much always). I vowed to be ruthless on this purge, and I picked a day to do it when I was in a crappy, unreckoning mood, which tends to make me less wishy-washy.
There was no magic process for deciding which shirts to keep or toss – I used the same set of criteria you’d read about in every woman’s magazine that runs an article on closet cleaning:
- Do I love it? Not like it, but LOVE it?
- Have I worn it in the last two months? Does it suit my current lifestyle?
- Does it still fit and flatter me?
- If I’m not wearing it, does it need mending, and am I willing to do that mending myself or pay someone else to do it?
- Do I have too many other items just like it?
- Am I keeping this just because it was a gift or I paid a lot of money for it?
I pared the pile down, folded everything I wanted to keep, and then attempted to fit everything back in the space. It was still too much. So I pared it down some more, getting rid of a few items that were really in the “like” category as opposed to the “love” category, and tried again. Now everything fits:
In all honesty, I think I still have too much. But it’s a vast improvement. I’m going to keep an eye on it over the next few months and see what I REALLY wear of what I’ve kept, especially as summer transitions into fall. I hope to get rid of about 40% more as lesser used items continue to be revealed. Right now, it is a relief to open the doors and see a clearer and smaller number of options when I’m getting dressed – not to mention it’s MUCH easier to put clean laundry away.
Next up: the sweater shelf.
Every year, in May, my heart beats a little faster when I receive this particular postcard in the mail:
Anthropologie is my favorite store. I spend waaaaayyyy too much money there. Say what you will about it (Overpriced? Yes. Fashions can be weird? Yes. CEO is apparently not a great guy? Probably, if the rumors are true.), I still lovelovelove it. There is an Anthropologie right across the street from a theatre I work at a lot, and I have found it impossible not to stop in and browse all of the lovely things whenever I’m on a break. And I usually buy something. Or a couple things, especially if there is a sale. Just walking into the store makes me feel a little happier.
Because I am an “Anthro” member, and membership has its privileges, I get a coupon for 15% off any purchase in my birthday month, May. In the past, I usually have gotten a gift card from Anthropologie as one of my presents, so I have happily gone in to reap both the discount and the gift card at the same time. That has always been a very fun day for me.
But as you know, this year, I only got one thing for my birthday, my new Mac. I have no regrets – I love it. But in my current financial straits, and with no gift card to help out, and the average cost of most items in the store being over $100, 15% is not going to do much for me. I would have to put anything I bought on my credit card, and I am adamant about not doing that right now unless it’s an emergency. I am also in the process of completely re-evaluating my wardrobe, and it seems a little dumb to run out and buy new things before I’ve gotten what I already own pared down and organized so I can see where the gaps are.
So I’m not using my birthday month discount this year. Last night, just to be sure, I went online to see what was on display, and really, for the most part, there wasn’t anything that made me delirious with want – which was kinda surprising. Either I am getting more focused and less crazy on the whole wardrobe issue (let’s hope), or the stuff just wasn’t that great right now (maybe – it seemed to be a lot of sack-like things, or weird tops with peplums. I’m not big on peplums).
It makes me a little sad – my Anthropologie birthday splurge was always a ritual that brought me a lot of joy. But I’m open to that being replaced with some other happy thing – like being out of debt.
So I did end up having that conversation with my Dad about our finances and getting out of debt. The debt dig out system he described is not radically different than others I’ve read about – the basic idea is that you pay off your card with the lowest balance first, making the highest possible payments on that card every month till it’s gone. In the meantime, you pay only the minimum on all other credit cards. His plan doesn’t include the whole “snowball” thing (where as you move on to paying the second card, the amount you pay on that card is what you paid on the first card plus the minimum of what you were paying on the second card), or worrying about which cards had the highest interest rate. It’s basically just do whatever is in your power to pay off the lowest card first, and then move on to putting all your energy and resources towards the next lowest card, so on and so forth.
So we’ve decided to try it. My personal credit card currently has the lowest balance (and mind you, that number is not low, per se – it’s just he “lowest” in the scheme of all our debt), so we started with that. We were fortunate to get a tax return this year, so we took that money and applied it to the balance on my card, and managed to cut my debt in half. The amount I still owe continues to be daunting, but only half as daunting as before, and it will be accruing less interest as well. I feel good about that.
After my card is paid off, we’ll pay Ron’s off, and then move to our joint credit card. I hardly ever look at the balance on that card because it makes me sick with anxiety and stress every time I see the number. All of the balances do, really. I hate debt. It makes me angry at myself, because I know it’s my fault. It’s a definite wrinkle in my love of shopping.
The other thing we have to do right now is avoid accruing any further debt if at all possible. That is where I’m really feeling the pinch. Today, I changed the sheets on our bed, and the elastic was so worn out on the fitted sheet I was trying to put on the mattress, I couldn’t get it to work. I also noticed two rather large holes near the corners of the sheet. It’s clearly time to toss them. But I can’t afford to replace them right now, so they’re staying. I also did a ton of mending today and one item was a strapless bra that has been mended so many times that I am having to add extra pieces of fabric to it, because the original fabric has been mended to the point where it is all repair stitches, and there is no actual fabric anymore. But bras are ridiculously expensive, so there was no choice but to keep working with it.
I know this is how a lot of people live their whole lives. There is no luxury of buying something new, even if you really need it, since doing so might mean not being able to afford food, heat or shelter. I am lucky to have what I have, and some of what I own is quite nice. I’ve been following the events of the tornado in Oklahoma, and as I watch what the people there are going through, I am grateful just be alive and out of harm’s way. I have not lost my home and everything in it in a matter of minutes. I have not lost my loved ones, my pets, or any members of my community. I am bummed out and sick of being broke, but I am not suffering.
But my finances, or more accurately my LACK of finances, sure is depressing. And right now my relationship with my stuff feels very depressing as well, and confusing. I feel like there are things I need and want, while at the same time being overwhelmed by the volume of what I already own. The Oklahoma tornado got me thinking about what it would be like to lose everything – all your worldly possessions just gone in the blink of an eye. What would I miss? What would I try to save or replace? What would I never remember losing? How would I handle that level of loss?
It’s impossible to say what I would REALLY do, because you don’t know until you’re in the situation. But if I had to guess, I think I would spend the time immediately after the loss experimenting with trying to live as possession free as possible for as long as possible. I don’t think I would spend a lot of money trying to replace the things I’d lost, with the exception of my computer and phone if they were destroyed. But other than that, I think I would want to take the insurance money and travel for a while, seeing as much of the world as we could reasonably afford to for as long as possible. There is something very luxurious in the thought that while you are experiencing what the world has to offer, there is no stuff to worry about – no payments due on big ticket items, no yard to maintain, no mail piling up, no home or possessions to secure and check on.
I mentioned this to Ron, and he laughed a bit ruefully. When I asked him why, he said, “I lived that way for fifteen years, and I don’t miss it. It’s nice to have a home -it was hard to not have one for such a long time. I like how we live now better.” I had forgotten that before we met, Ron was a professional cyclist, racing bikes in Europe, and pretty much everything he owned besides his bike fit into a couple of suitcases. He was dirt poor and lived hand to mouth during that time, staying with host families or in questionable lodgings. That wasn’t really what I was picturing when I thought about how we would travel, but it occurred to me that my “plan” hadn’t really included any “work”, so our travel would probably be a) very short lived, or b) more “roughing it” than I would enjoy. Ron then went on to talk about smart, responsible things like the importance of retirement funds, at which point the conversation became too depressing to continue so I rolled over and went to sleep.
Right now, I’m not buying stuff because I can’t. And I kind of hate it. So why do I have this fantasy around having no stuff? It doesn’t make a ton of sense. I wondered if the current amount of stuff I own somehow makes my buying restriction feel worse – and if I were to clear a bunch of stuff out, would I feel better? Maybe all my stuff makes me feel unhappy and overwhelmed and the only way I’ve known to cope with those feelings is to go buy more – a sort of self-perpetuating vicious cycle.
Well, I’m about to take steps toward finding that out. I’m embarking on a purge of the category that has put me in so much debt in the first place: my wardrobe. Maybe paring down the very items that have caused so much financial stress will also remove some of the guilt I have around owning them. I don’t know if it will work, but I’m about to find out. Wish me luck!
Ever since I pared down my handbag collection, I’ve been itching to get the other big suitcase out of our bedroom that is currently holding all the sundresses and nice dresses that used to be in the guest room closet. But to do that, I need to do some serious closet purging, and I am totally overwhelmed by that idea. Every time I try to start, my brain kind of locks up and I feel like I can’t make even simple decisions, so I give up and do something else.
But the other night I couldn’t sleep, so rather than toss and turn, I went online and did some research about the processes other people have gone through to pare down their wardrobes. And I came across a few articles about the “capsule wardrobe” – specifically the “French capsule wardrobe”, that seemed pretty interesting, and noticed one woman had written a book where she covered the subject pretty extensively. After reading some excerpts and her blog, I decided I wanted to read her book as well.
And since I recently rekindled my love affair with the public library, I am proud to say I checked for the book there first. They did have some copies, but they all were currently checked out until May, and there were about 13 holds on all their copies.
As I have said before, I am all for saving money and not brining more things into my life, but I have to tell you, I HATE to wait. It makes me super double extra beyond irritable. And while I recognize my impatience is not an attractive trait, and I try to work on it, I have a long way to go, and it’s not going to happen anytime soon. And waiting around for 13 other people to read the book I want to read right NOW? Uh-uh. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. I had to find another way.
So I decided to sell some of the books I already owned in order to afford the new one I wanted to buy. I went online to Powell’s (where I always sell back my used books) and saw they had a copy of the book I wanted, and it was even a used copy for $16.95 (new it retailed for $23). Perfect. I scoured my bookshelves and amassed a stack of books to help my cause:
Two of the books in this stack I’d never even read. One was signed by the author, which was the only reason I had kept it, and the other was a collector’s edition of a book for which I had paid about forty dollars. I had caught the very end of the movie version of the book on television one night, and was intrigued so I decided to buy the book to discover the rest the story. I never got around to reading it though, and a few years later, YouTube hit the internet and I was able to watch the entire movie for free. Nice waste of forty bucks.
I was pretty confident as I carried my books to the buy-back counter that I would not only be able to afford the book I wanted, but I might make enough in trade to buy TWO books. Or I could take cash and use some of it to buy the book, and use the rest to buy myself a little treat, like a new lipstick or something. I had the money spent twenty different ways before I even hit the front of the line.
When it was my turn, I handed the book buyer the autographed book separate from the others saying, “This one is signed by the author,” and waited for her impressed expression.
She glanced at it, and wrinkled her nose a little. “Yeah, well, for an author like that…it doesn’t make much of a difference.”
I was a little taken aback. I had specifically held on to that book because it was signed, and that made me feel it was valuable. Trying to rally, I showed her my collector’s edition book. She typed some numbers into the computer, and watched the screen with a furrowed brow, her eyes darting back and forth.
“Well,” she sighed, “That book USED to be considered a collector’s edition, but with the internet now, it’s too easy to find a copy of it. I can buy it from you as a reader’s edition if you’re not super attached to it.”
This was getting depressing. And concerning. Those two were the ones I actually thought were valuable and would definitely sell. I numbly agreed to selling the collector’s edition as a reader’s edition, and then watched her rapidly sort through my other books, the majority of which she pushed back across the counter at me as “no thank yous.” In the end, she only bought three of my books.
For a total of $7.25.
I dumped my unsellable books (including the autographed one) into their recycle box, found the book I’d come there to buy, and went to the registers. With the buy-back money, I had knocked down the price to $9.70, which was better than $23, or even $16, but still not free as I had anticipated. I was pretty bummed.
As I waited in line though, I thought about how many times, while doing resale of any kind – clothing, books, music, ebay, craigslist, even yard sales – I have been surprised to find out how little value my stuff actually has to the rest of the world. Things that I have held on to for years because I felt they were special or valuable have often been items I couldn’t even sell for a dollar – I’ve had to just give them away. Which makes it seem a bit crazy that I’ve spent so much money and time and energy acquiring all that stuff, and storing it. I am the one who assigned it value and gave it space in my home. To the rest of the world, it’s just crap. And no one wants my crap. And when I think about it that way, some of it is starting to look more like crap to me too.
So in the end, I got the book I wanted and I didn’t have to wait for it, and I’m finding it really useful as I approach my closet cleaning. I also ended up with less crowded bookshelves since I got rid of twelve books and only bought one new one. And I got a really valuable reminder about, well, value. For $9.70. BARGAIN!