Reboot the mission

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it. ~Ellen Goodman

Many times lately, I’ve found myself sitting in traffic on the way to and from work, thinking about what my life would have been like if I’d discovered minimalism ten years ago. I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I decided to go to school when I was 25, years later than most of my friends. I’d been working in libraries since the day I turned 14, and LOVED my job, but I knew that I would never make enough money to get by unless I got a degree.

At the time, I was very ambitious…freshly divorced from a man who was adamantly opposed to my being successful at anything outside of the kitchen, I wanted to go all the way. I wanted to get my bachelor’s in technology, then go on to Simmons for my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. This would be the safest way to stay relevant in an age when libraries are becoming increasingly under-appreciated. I was hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of my colleagues who had worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the image of the public library and promote its relevance in today’s world by using the same technologies that were supposedly rendering us a thing of the past.

I began my education at ITT in June 2007. I was a good student, and was selected for an internship with a government agency in Boston. I worked at their help desk, answering phones, and responding to a variety of complaints (usually, I just told the user to reboot). For 8 months, I worked 60+ hours between my library job and my internship, on top of a full-time course-load at ITT. I was burnt out. Just when I was about to completely unravel, I received full-time job offers from both my employers simultaneously. I had to choose between a job that I loved, and one that I knew would guarantee my financial security.

I chose the money. My heart wanted to stay at my beloved library, with my wonderful patrons and co-workers who were like family to me. But, my brain knew that my student loans hung above me like an ominous raincloud, just waiting for their opportunity to crush my American dreams. I began working in Boston full-time, though I was still an intern. I received my associate’s degree, then continued on with the bachelor’s Information Security program. And then, the government imposed a hiring freeze. I was next in line for a permanent position, but found myself facing possible unemployment once I graduated, as one has to be in school to maintain internship eligibility.

Somewhat miraculously, one of the telecom contractors was retiring about that time, and they asked if I would be willing to replace him. It would mean going “to the dark side”…contractors are treated as second-class citizens in federal buildings, receive little to no benefits, and there’s pretty much no going back. But, I nearly doubled my salary. Once again, I sold my soul to get more money. In my mind, I was doing the right thing for my future.

Today, I’m making more money than I ever thought I would. But those pesky student loans came due, like clockwork, 6 months after I graduated. Since I have to drive to work (my company pays for parking, but not public transportation), I had to get a reliable car. Between student loans, car payments, and hundreds of dollars a month in gas, I find myself feeling more broke than ever before.

Was any of this necessary? Couldn’t I have lived more simply, and continued doing what I love? Would I have been happier? Have I wasted the last 7 years of my life chasing someone else’s idea of “success”? These questions torture me daily. At this point, it’s futile…I have to make peace with the decisions I made years ago. And I firmly believe that all of the choices we make – big or small – determine the course of our lives. From meeting my wonderful husband, to being able to make that trip to Sweden, there is definitely some good that has come from my decisions. Would I do it differently if I had the chance? Absolutely.

For now, I will look at my job as a means to an end. The bills will all be paid off in time, and that will enable us to live more freely. And the more simply we live now, the sooner that day will come. This whole epiphany has only strengthened my resolve to pare down my possessions and my lifestyle. I would be just as happy with a meal at home and a walk on the beach as I would eating out at a fancy restaurant, if not more so. And I really, REALLY don’t need another pair of shoes. Much as I want them. Making these small sacrifices daily will make a big difference over time.

It’s time to reboot!

Bag lady

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. ~Hans Hofmann

I have to give myself just a little bit of a break here, because I truly am not that big of a purse girl, despite my lifelong obsession with shoes. If I could apply the same principles I use when selecting a handbag to every other part of my life, I would have been a minimalist of the highest order a long time ago. I am extremely discriminating when it comes to buying bags. The bag needs to be high quality – usually leather – and must go with the majority of my clothes.┬áIt can’t have crazy logos all over it, and it must only have one strap, since any bag with two will slip right off my shoulder. It has to be large enough to hold the “essentials” (hair brush, wallet, makeup, keys, etc.), but not so large that it will be cumbersome to carry (since I realize fully that no matter how large it is, I will fill it to capacity).

I generally buy a new handbag about every 3-4 years. For a girl who is barely in her thirties, I think that shows quite a bit of restraint. I consider handbags to be a long-term investment – something that I’m willing to spend a few hundred dollars on, as long as it meets ALL the criteria. In the end, I think the cost-per-use is pretty reasonable, even if I purchase something high-end. The bag that I’ve owned and (mostly) loved for the past 4 years has been my black leather Dooney and Bourke hobo. It was the perfect size and color, and was suitable for almost any occasion. Unfortunately, it was also a catch-all, and could also be considered by some to be a deadly weapon.

Handbag, or deadly weapon?

Bonus: handbag doubles as wrecking ball.

I have nearly screamed in frustration when trying to find my car keys, which always manage to shimmy themselves to the very bottom of the bag, underneath all of the other items that I deemed too important to go without for even just a few hours. Most of the time, wading through receipts, gum wrappers, hair ties, hand sanitizer, and nail polish produces nothing, and so I slam my bag down, inadvertently scraping the hood of my car with the metal clasp, yanking out as many items as necessary before seeing the glint of those familiar keys…and only then, does my heart rate return to normal. The whole situation has become a source of stress for me, and so I decided to do something about it.

I have a pretty fabric wristlet that I received as a gift from the woman I purchased all my bridesmaids’ wristlets from (check her Etsy shop out – such cool stuff!). I love it, but haven’t used it very often since it’s so much smaller than what I’m used to. I never thought I could fit everything I needed into it. But yesterday, I decided to try. I pulled all of the stuff out of my purse that I knew I truly couldn’t live without. Cash, phone, keys, chapstick, one hair tie, and gum. To my amazement, my hairbrush actually fit, too. I really don’t need anything else! It was so nice to not have to lug my heavy bag around when we went out to dinner. And I know that when I return to my car in the parking garage tomorrow after work, I won’t be panicking looking for my keys. And no more scratches on my car!

I might not match everything in your closet, but I'm fabulous.

I might not match everything in your closet, but I’m fabulous.

Imelda’s revenge…

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. ~Socrates

I promised myself last week that I would take a day this weekend to assess my shoe collection, and get rid of as many pairs as possible, no matter how long it took. I can’t remember when my dad started calling me “Imelda” (after Imelda Marcos, the notorious shoe hoarder), but it was a well-deserved jab. Shoes have always been a weakness of mine, and I knew this would be quite the task.

So, I spent a good 4-5 hours of my Saturday with 50 of my oldest, dearest friends, and managed to give about 15 pairs their walking papers. I should mention that I donated at least a dozen pairs prior to moving into the new place a couple weeks ago, so cutting even deeper into the collection was a painful process.

Ducks in a row

Breaking up is hard to do…

I lined them all up so I could see every pair at once, and tried to put similar pairs together to make any “overlap” more obvious, figuring this would make faster work of the initial rejections. I saw right away that I had two pairs of red patent-leather flats with bows, so I plucked the less-loved pair out immediately. I was able to part with another 6 pairs rather quickly, simply because they had been worn into the ground or had been used as a scratching post by my leather-loving kitty, Pixie (my favorite cowboy boots – noooo!).

The rest of the task was painfully slow-going. I decided that it made sense to try every pair on to make sure they fit well, and also to ensure I owned something that I could wear them with. This resulted in an unintended purge of a number of pants, as I had to try all of those on as well and realized that quite a few of them no longer fit me. I even discarded a few tops, since I ended up putting together entire outfits to be certain I didn’t have any items in my closet that had survived this long only because they looked good on the hanger.

It was the best kind of ripple effect, and by the time I was finished, I’d filled a few large shopping bags full of clothes and shoes. I can now fit all of my shoes on a rack on the floor of my closet, and I placed my boots in a row behind it. Being able to see them all simultaneously when I open my closet will make my daily outfit selection process much smoother. I have some shoes that are practically brand-new that I’d nearly forgotten about – it was almost as good as going out and buying new ones!

My project for the next few days will be to attack all of the random containers – plastic totes, bags, and an assortment of boxes – that I have been stashing junk in for years without giving it a second thought. While I now have plenty of room for these things, I am fairly certain that I will be able to dispose of a vast majority of the contents of these containers, and will have that much less junk in my life. Hooray!

The clothes conundrum

Owning less is far more beneficial than organizing more.
~Joshua Becker, http://www.becomingminimalist.com

I can hardly remember a time when I did not own far too many clothes. My closets and drawers have always been notoriously cluttered and overstuffed. As soon as I started making my own money, the majority of it was spent on expanding my wardrobe.

As a teenager, I remember not being able to see a square inch of carpet in my bedroom because of all the clothes strewn about. My friend Amy, a neat freak, would occasionally come over and clean my room, sometimes when I was sleeping, and I would wake up and be shocked to find everything put away (though it would take me an hour to find anything).

Shirts in a row

Pinterest is a great tool for enabling clothes hoarders.

I have had varying degrees of success with organizing my wardrobe, utilizing shoe racks, hanging shelves, and some ingenious hacks like the one above, which I found on Pinterest. All that has been accomplished by such tricks is to create more space to fill with new clothes. My dream was always to have a huge, beautiful walk-in closet where I could have room for everything I ever wanted. I realize now that this would be a serious mistake. I can only imagine the epic shopping sprees that would result from having so much room.

Now, I yearn for the simple, sparse closet filled with only those treasured pieces that I will want to wear for the next 30 years. We recently moved into a much larger apartment with loads of closet space, and I am resisting the urge to over-organize and utilize every square foot of it. Instead, I am going through all of my clothes and ruthlessly purging items that I haven’t been wearing, even if they are fairly new.

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a habit of purchasing brightly-colored tops that never get worn because they go so poorly with my Irish coloring. It was difficult, but I decided to part with these. Just because something is my husband’s favorite color (orange), or seems like a cheery contrast to the drab weather we’ve been having, does not mean I need to buy it. I can now say with confidence that orange is not my color.

Instead, I am trying to focus on the items that I wear constantly – what do they have in common? What will I never tire of? I think I could be pretty content with just a few pairs of really great jeans, tops in neutral, earthy tones, plain white T-shirts, and sweaters and comfy blazers. I learned long ago that anything that requires special laundering is a no-go. Almost all of my clothes are cotton (or a cotton blend), which makes life so much easier. I am lucky to have a husband who does laundry quite frequently, and I don’t expect him to read all those labels. Besides, cotton clothes just feel better!

Becoming a minimalist does not mean that you can never purchase anything new, ever again. I think that with this lifestyle, there is a better focus on quality over quantity – it is preferable to own a few, very nice things, than to be buried by mediocre items that only make it harder to find that one shirt you are looking for (despite having worn it just a few days ago). Ditch the deadweight in your closet, and have a couple of those shirts, instead.

When I purchase something new these days, I go home and fill a bag of clothes for donation. I’ve purged probably a dozen huge black trash bags filled with clothes since I began this process. It is refreshing to see my closet’s contents begin to reflect my own style (classic, casual, sometimes a little quirky), as opposed to what was on sale at Marshalls that day. As a bonus, getting ready in the morning has become a breeze.

This weekend, I plan to attack the shoe pile…this one’s going to be tough.