June 25 – August 26, 2013 – Days 26-62 – “Dodging Bullets”

ImageIt has been a busy summer and I have neglected this space.  We spent a week at the beach in Rehoboth, DE during the 4th of July.  We stayed about six blocks off of the beach and schlepping all of our gear back and forth necessitated the purchase of a beach cart from K Mart.  I know we will use the cart again, but it felt like a slippery slope.

We navigated the boardwalk and walked away with memories, not stuff.  It was difficult to pass up cute beach-themed nick knacks and novelty t-shirts, but we resisted.  I even passed by the outlets unscathed.

However, since the beach cart (the aforementioned slippery slope), there have been a *few* other purchases.  Walker had to return something at Target and came out with a pair of red trousers (less than 30 bucks and he seems to love them – other folks do not share his passion) and I bought a denim shirt for myself (also at Target).  Target is a no-fly zone for solo trips now.

We completed some yard projects that had languished on a long “to do” list, which necessitated the purchase of lawn furniture and a fire pit – the need being debatable.  We got end-of-season bargains and we will use these things for fun with family and friends, so classing these as a “need” for family value is a possible absolution for these transgressions.  Although, as with every THING, the taxonomical categorization between Need and Want is debatable.  We certainly spent a lot less than we might have had we not been so conscious of the choice to buy these things.

Well, now that my confessions via retail accounting are out of the way, I can move on to bigger and better topics.  How have we fared as a family?  Have we saved money?  Do we have less STUFF/CLUTTER than we did before?

We do have more money in the bank account at the end of the month, but some house-related expenses (roof repairs, etc.) have lessened the impact of our savings.  It is striking, though, when we look at our credit card bills and see only food, drink, and groceries.

So far, Walker and Jack seem to be fine with the compact, I am the one struggling.  It has been a very stressful summer and I have worked many nights and weekends.  I have also been on a very strict diet with no alcohol, 5 pre-packaged meals (all very low-cal), and one salad per day.  It has felt restrictive and as I watch the scale creep (and it creeps slowly) downward, I want to buy new things.  Fall is my favorite season and the “want” I have to buy jeans, boots, and sweaters almost hurts – those may just be hunger pangs, though.

As far as having less stuff, I have managed to clean out my closet and drawers to the point that I actually wear everything in them.  That may seem mundane, but it is a radical notion to me.  Pre-compact purge, I had clothes of many sizes, sales items I bought that never really fit, and things I was holding on to for no reason.  Each week, I have tried to fill one plastic shopping bag with things from my closet, drawers, or shelves.  Over the course of the summer, I have managed to purge most of the unused items.  I did one final sweep and I am now at closet ground zero – everything in there is used regularly.  Shoes are organized, clothes are wearable, and I no longer have a sense of failure when I open my closet.  That may seem exaggerated, but if your weight fluctuates, as mine does, seeing things that are too tight or never fit in the first place can have a negative impact.   I am proud of the closet I have and will think carefully about adding items to it.

We are getting ready to return to school, which brings on a flurry of purchases.  We will buy the requisite supplies and be conscious of what can be re-sourced from last year.  I will continue to dodge the bullet that is Fall Fashion and I will try to post again soon.  There are many more spaces in my house to purge, but I would rather just watch TV – for now.

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June 20 – June 24, 2013 – Days 21-25 – “Is that a tomato in my fruit salad?”

thI have a sense of finality, an anxiety bubbling away beneath the surface threatening to erupt. In part, it stems from several accounts of death and illness among people who are either younger than me or not sufficiently old enough to add a layer of distance and comfort. There is the young teacher with a rare form of cancer; the sudden death of a friend of a friend in a bicycle accident; a friend’s colleague dropping dead from pancreatitis; Walker’s high school classmate dying of a sudden heart attack; and, the celebrity death of James Gandolfini.

Although I have not been affected in a deep and personal way, I feel the doom. Soon, the long summer days will be subsumed by autumn. Winter and Christmas will be here and the cycle of Spring, if we are lucky, will begin again. As the anxiety of life lost increases in inverse proportionality to life yet to live, I reflect on those whom I have lost, the mistakes I have made, and how I can do better.

I used to roll my eyes when older people would warn me to “enjoy – it’ll be gone before you know it.” Whatever IT was could not pass soon enough for me. I see the same impatience in Jack. Perhaps this is youth, or maybe we are cursed with similar personalities, but I find my words echoing those of my elders warning him to not wish away his time.

There used to be big events looming like carrots in front of me, urging me forward – getting to ride the bus, braces on, braces off, driver’s license, graduations, etc. All were milestones. As I get older, the milestones are less hopeful and have become reminders of what is behind rather than what is ahead. This recent spate of peripheral death and illness have only reinforced the brevity.

I do not have a clever way of tying this to retail (or lack thereof) other than to say I might have used shopping to distract myself in the past. I also want you to know that I am very grateful for the life I have. However, that does not mean I can’t get a little despondent from time to time; for now, these thoughts only reinforce the trivial nature of my material possessions and focus me to more mindful enjoyment of the time I do have.

This weekend, I taught a family friend’s son how to make jam – the perfect metaphor of storing the ripeness of youth in a bottle; static summer. In the middle of the stickiness, he asked if I knew the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I was struck by the randomness. He informed me that knowledge is awareness of the fact that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is not putting tomatoes in your fruit salad. As we sealed fragrant berries in jars, I vowed to make fewer and fewer tomato-laden fruit salads.

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June 9 – June 19, 2013 – Days 10-20 – “Gourmet Gifts”

fruit1Some of you are probably wondering if I have fallen off the wagon or “out of the shopping cart;” I haven’t. I have been very busy and have neglected this space. I have not neglected the compact in my daily practice, though.

The last 10 days have been filled with deadlines, social occasions, and temptation. Most notably, we decided to stop at Suburban Square for a snack on our way into Philadelphia for a friend’s birthday and were faced with a sidewalk sale. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Suburban Square is located on the Main Line in Ardmore, PA. It is a high-end, open-air, pedestrian mall. Like prophets in the desert, we strolled around dodging temptation.

Temptation #1 – Willams Sonoma: this was more of an issue for me. Nonetheless, Walker was intrigued by the idea of having his own meat slicer. We browsed the tables outside the store precariously stacked with sleek gadgets, Parisian pottery, platters from Provence, and moved on.

Temptation #2 – Eileen Fisher: I love these versatile clothes and every piece I have has lasted for years. Currently, I am enamored with a certain tank dress (pre-compact purchase) that I wear at least 3 times per week alternating scarves, cardigans, pullovers, and other accessories. Justifications abounded as I considered purchasing a few more in alternate colors. Walker dragged me away, “save yourself, honey, you will never make it out of there alive.”

Temptation #3 – Sporting Goods and Sportswear: This is where Jack and Walker fell down the rabbit hole. We made it out, but not without Walker mourning the loss of a bright orange fleece and Jack a new baseball bat.

And so it went. It was a beautiful late Spring day, but the temptation to purchase was strong. In hindsight, we should have grabbed snacks and headed to a park, but sometimes you go with what you know and where there is convenient parking.

We ended up at the farmer’s market where we purchased a variety of artisanal sausages for our overnight hosts in Philly and an assortment of fancy fruits for the birthday girl. I was SO tempted to buy cute gift bags and cards from Papyrus, but resisted. I think everyone was pleased with what they got; but, then again, they could think we are crazy.

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June 4 – June 8, 2013 – Days 5-9 – “Pink Shoes”

running-shoe-print-mdI am a big fan of the show Mad Men and a theme that has resonated with me is “Move Forward.”  This is what Don said to Peggy when she was in the hospital and it is what Peggy most recently said to Don in an effort to get him to work with, rather than against, his new colleagues.  Outside of Mad Men, what does this mean?  I suspect an anthropologist could have a field day with our Western interpretation of the linearity of time and the concept of forward as progress.  However, it works for me – I understand the concept of getting somewhere and going in a direction.

I feel like I am moving forward, but I don’t necessarily know what the destination will be.  It was a tough week at work, the kind that makes me want to come home and retreat under the duvet with my kindle to watch mindless sitcoms.  I gravitate to the Mary Tyler Moore Show or old episodes of The Office.  Something about these fictional work places informs my day.  Plus, the fashion of MTM, I mean – wow, I want all her clothes and everything in her apartment.  Cue a trip to EBay, but not for the short-term.

Pre-compact, I might have taken a trip to the mall after a hard day at work.  Just walking around among the brightly colored and organized displays lowers my pulse.  The smell of “new” permeates the air-conditioned environment and says relax, take your time, look around, it’s all here if you want it.  At least, that’s what it says to me.  I am not a big shopper and I don’t love malls, but there is something about particular stores that yields this calming effect.  I know there is a lot of research behind the psychology of shopping and I want to learn more, but for now, it is progress to recognizing the effect.  Making a right instead of a left turn out of the office was moving forward.

Today is Saturday and I have the week behind me with a few items checked off my growing to-do list.  My house is in better order because we have cleared out extraneous things and, for the first time in months, all my clothes are neatly folded and in their place with no piles waiting for a home.  This is a good feeling.  I started the day with exercise and it was there that I encountered the pink shoes. 

I go to Zumba with a dear friend and we have a judgment-free cone of silence as we shake what our mamas gave us and let it all hang out.  It’s one full hour of disco lights, x-rated lyrics, booming bass, and choreography that would make a stripper blush.  It is a freeing experience that fosters a sense of camaraderie among a room full of women whom I don’t even know.  We suffer, we sweat, and we dance to the music.  Some of us do it in bright pink shoes.  I wanted her shoes. 

Pre-compact, I would have permitted this purchase and had a million ways to justify it:  I would dance better, go more often, look cuter, etc. – in those pink shoes.  I’m sure some of you are pulling for the shoes.  Come on, Juli, get the shoes – they are SO cute.  Well, sorry, I didn’t get them and I will resist.  Of note, my inner voice was on your side “get the shoes,” but I moved forward, leaving them behind, and hopefully making progress.

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June 3, 2013 – Day 4 – “I’m surrounded”

When I go on a diet, there are free snacks everywhere  – donuts in the break room, Imagecheese samples in the deli aisle, a colleague’s birthday with accompanying cake. Everywhere I turn – temptation.

The shopping diet is no different.  My inbox is filled with notices of free shipping and sales for a limited time only.  Bold font enforces the sense of urgency and, as if there is a spokesperson in my head, I better act now.  But wait, there’s more – there’s always more; delete 20 messages and 40 arrive.  I habitually scan through and banish ads and nonsense (i.e., anything with the words penis and bigger), but even this quick purge leaves the windshield of my mind littered with fliers and me feeling indescribably inadequate about my manhood.  The world around me is for sale.

I am 4 days into the compact and it has not been difficult to avoid shopping; but, like the inevitable concurrence of a diet and free cake, I am acutely aware of the ads around me.  My Facebook feed is littered with pictures of cute bags and shoes, which, not surprisingly, seem targeted directly at me.  Even at lunch, shiny bags from Nordstroms and Neimans have replaced their plain brown cousins.  No longer do we roam the savannahs foraging; instead, we meander the manicured paths of King of Prussia hunting bargains.

I was never a big shopper, at least that’s what I told myself.  I wasn’t mindful, though.  A trip to Target for dog food would end up being dog food and a fuzzy blanket.  I had my own debris ball following me.  Extra things would attach and find their way into my home and onto my credit card bill. Part of this exercise in which I am *forcing* (Jack’s word) my family to participate is that I want us to become more mindful of what we buy, what we have, and what we actually need.  I suspect the answer to everything will hinge on less.

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June 2 – Day 3 – “Monday Eve”

I get anxious on Sundays.  I have a good job, but I crave weekends and there is no day better than Saturday.  The work week behind me and only Sunday ahead of me – Saturday is the perfect cheese in the weekend sandwich.  Well, today is not Saturday, it’s Sunday and I know my Imageanxiety will be inversely proportional to the remaining daylight.

Years ago, I had a job working for a man who would leave awful notes scrawled on loose-leaf paper thrown across my desk or lab bench.  These were angry notes written in sharpie and ALL CAPS impugning not only my lab skills, but my work ethic.  I was in my early 20s and I am sure I had my moments of lapsed responsibility, but I was raised to work hard.  My father always said “there’s no free lunch” and I have consistently had a job since I was 15.  As I have gotten older and have had to attend my fair share of “working lunches” – the meaning of that phrase has taken a different twist. As a youngster, I understood it to mean that I had to work to eat.  The angry notes job was the first time I felt dread coming into a workplace.  I never knew what to expect and the uncertainty of not knowing filled me with fear.  Now that I have 24/7 email access, the unknown is less, but the anxiety remains.

When I was looking for patterns in my expenditures, I noticed a trend.  I tend to spend more money on Sundays and Mondays.  Part of this spike is due to the fact that I usually buy groceries on Sunday; however, the rest is just pure shopping.  Approximately 85% of my non-grocery credit card purchases in the last year were made on either a Sunday or Monday and most of these were online. The act of online purchasing gives an instant thrill from the comfort of my own couch.  It also means that no matter what the week ahead brings, that smiling Amazon box will show up and make it all better (at least a little) later in the week. This is not a huge revelation; I just hadn’t gathered the data.

Given that I am not buying anything new, you might be wondering how my Sunday went.  Was I balled up in the fetal position restraining myself from hitting the 1-click button on my Amazon app?  Nope.  I was having a great day catching up with a dear friend from college with whom I have deep connections.  She read my blog and brought me a fan as a gift.  This thoughtful present, her company, and watching our kids play together like they have known each other their whole lives made my Sunday better than anything that I could have gotten online.  I kind of hate myself for sounding so AHA moment on Oprah (gosh, I miss that show and OWN is really disappointing), but like Jack at the book fair, not buying anything was a non-event.  I had a great day and it had nothing to do with commerce or lack thereof.

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June 1, 2013 – Day 2 – “Dark Places”

I awoke with a start, frantically grabbing for my iphone to check the time.  I’m going to be late, we are *ALL* going to be late.  My eyeballs vibrated with my quickening pulse.  I found my phone under a pile of magazines on my nightstand.  I pounded the little round button to wake it up – it was 6.54 a.m.  We have already missed the bus and I have an 8 a.m. meeting.  I began to do the algebra in my head calculating how I would get Jack to school and the route I would take to make my meeting.  Then, everything slowed down, it’s Saturday.  Breathe – it’s Saturday.

I looked over at Walker enviously as he gently snored.  My little panic attack had not disturbed him, in fact, very little disturbs him when he is sleeping.  He once slept though a tornado, but that is a story for a different time.  I turned my pillow to the cool side and stared at the leaves stirring in the breeze.  I slept until 10.

It was a slow start filled with eggs, newspapers, and coffee.  The kind of time I long for on weekdays.  The languid light of late morning filtered through the trees, the dogs were peaceful, and all was right with the world.  Sometimes, in these perfect moments, I have to stop myself from thinking “what if…”  My mind tends to go to dark places when quiet and I have tried to teach myself to pull my thoughts in tight like water circling a drain.  I pull them in and let them wash down the hole and force myself to leave only light in their wake.  I have always had this dark place.  My Mom has it and my Granny had it too.  You can always recognize the women in my family, we are the ones gazing at the heavens waiting for the piano to fall from the sky.

A new purchase can be a distraction – a ray of artificial light.  I recognize that I have led and lead a blessed life, almost everything has almost always worked out for me.  I have lost some folks along the way and gained others whom I treasure, but sometimes there is nothing like buying a new thing to quiet the worry.  As I am on this journey, I have been forced to evaluate why purchasing has this power.  In part, I think it is a romance.  When I see something that attracts me, I imagine the kind of person I would be with that thing in my life.  Surely, I will make more tantalizing cocktails when I serve them in that adorable polka-dot pitcher that caught my eye at the grocery store.  I will walk the stairs more often and be healthier in that cute pair of ballet flats.  And, unlike my real-life romantic endeavors, purchasing is a sure thing.  I know with certainty that if I swipe my plastic card, I will go home with the shiny thing I made eyes at.  It’s control, it’s hopefulness, it’s putting a band-aid on a wound that needs to breathe to heal.  Sometimes, the band-aid is a secret slice of pizza, but I would need a whole separate blog space for that.

Day 2 marked the beginning of whittling away some of the stuff that has accumulated.  I went through my closet and drawers and boxed up anything that I couldn’t remember wearing in the last year.  It was difficult because some pieces still had the luster of a recent fling.  “I remember you, palazzo pants.  Oh, how we will dance together on the beach.  I’ll be barefoot, you will sway effortlessly around my legs toned from all that exercise.  It will be magical.”  Well, the legs aren’t toned and the palazzo pants pull and gap in all the wrong places.  I look like I have two uneven sausages for thighs in those pants – nothing romantic about that.  I put them in the box.  And, so it went until I had gone through every piece of clothing in my possession.  I have two hefty-sized piles to give to people who can make good use of these things I don’t use.  It is a relief to look at my clothes and know that I actually wear everything that is there.  I did save a few sentimental things, though, like the dress I wore on my first date with Walker.  It is so small that Jack could wear it, but I try not to mourn my increased size; instead, I try to remember the thrill of real romance.

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