Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stationery Progress

This is yet another part of my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series... actually I've skipped forward a bunch of years, but just think of it like one of those artsy films that's out of sequence... I'll get to those other years eventually. To read the series from the beginning, click here.

So... the year was about 1997. I had purchased a house, was earning a bit more money (I think I made about $25K that year) and was starting to feel like I was edging my way toward the middle class. I was now the director of the little music school, which was growing by leaps and bounds... quickly morphing from a group of hippie musicians to a "cultural institution," now capable of paying me a real (albeit small) salary with full health benefits.

It was all great... and yet it wasn't. I mean it was really nice to not be quite as broke as I had been, yet there was a nagging sense that the mundane was nipping at my heels, ready to overtake me at any moment. Things that had never concerned me before were starting to play a major role in my life.

Suddenly I had to worry about watering the lawn, and fixing the furnace, and having "business" attire that I could wear when I met with granting agencies. I had meetings to attend, and a job that was taking WAY more than 40 hours a week. My salary had literally doubled in the past few years, yet I didn't really feel like I was any more financially secure. I guess I was starting to feel like the trappings of the modern world were catching up with me.

Then, one day... well actually it was one night... in the middle of the night... I was flipping channels and stumbled upon a quirky little documentary called Affluenza.

It was my first introduction to the voluntary simplicity movement, and it was a revelation. I had always lived frugally, and compared to the broader society around me, my trappings were really quite minimal. But it was certainly true, that I was starting to feel the nagging sense that it just wasn't good enough.

But here was a movement that preached financial prosperity, without the whole trap of materialism. Perhaps there was a way to enjoy freedom and financial security, without getting stuck in the cycle of meaningless spending. I was sold.

So I started to read everything I could find on the voluntary simplicity movement.

While there were many worthy tomes out there, the one that really made an impact was a book called Your Money or Your Life.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with this book as it has really become the bible for the movement. Well, part of the program in YMOLY is that you have to track all of your expenses... and I mean everything. Now, I didn't really think that I would find much when I did this little activity. I mean, I was frugal, right? I really didn't think there was much room to save without going back to feeling broke all the time. Oh, how wrong I was!

In the fist month, I determined (not joking here) that I had spent nearly $100 on, believe it or not... pens.

You see, I had a thing about pens... and pencils... and stationery... and paper... and ... well pretty much anything vaguely related to pens, pencils, stationery and paper. I just LOVED them. I loved the colors, and the squishy grips, and, well, just the whole thing.

But there it was, in stark black and white. $100 down the drain on pens. Oy vey! How could it be? It must have been some sort of anomaly, I figured. So I promptly set about ignoring the problem.

So another month passed, and I did my tally, and discovered to my horror, that, once again, I had spent nearly $100 on, you guessed it... pens. OK... at this point there was no getting away from the ugly truth of it... I had a problem.

So that night, as I was doing the dishes, I had a little talk with myself. Actually it was more of an argument.

Seriously, I was standing there doing the dishes, when I proceeded to have this little meltdown. I knew I needed to stop spending so much money on stupid stuff... I mean, really, how many pens does one human need? But part of me just kept saying, "But I WANT them... they make me happy."

Then came the statement that would change my life... well, actually, I'm not sure you could accurately call it a statement, since I didn't really say it out loud... I'm not THAT crazy... But anyhow... the words were:
Why can't I spend $100 on pens if I want to... It's MY money!
Then suddenly, like a ton of bricks, it hit me.


I'm not quite sure that I'm able to explain the depth of the epiphany, but I suddenly realized that there was nobody to argue with. It was really just a simple decision. I could have a pile of pens, or I could have $100 in the bank every month. Instantly, the answer became obvious.

When I looked at it a little deeper, I realized that the whole thing really had nothing to do with pens in the first place. You see, my love affair with all things stationery began in my youth when my best friend and I would go to the mall and spend hours and hours hanging out in the Hallmark store. I'm still not sure exactly what the draw was, but we'd inevitably come home with cute little flower shaped pads of paper, journals, and pens with hearts on them. It was our thing.

Then, in the seventh grade, she moved away. Even all these years later, the loss is so palpable that it still makes tears well up in my eyes. We vowed to write, and we did... every week, for years and years, and visited each other every summer. And all of the stationery and the pens took on new meaning. They weren't just things... they were my connection to her. Eventually we grew up, went our separate ways, and lost touch. But somehow, the obsession with pens remained. I guess it was my way of holding on to the best friend that I ever had.

Um... can you guess which one is me. Hint... the love of cats is nothing new!
So, once I realized what the thing with pens was really all about, it became easy to let go, because the word "should" had been removed from the equation. There was nothing and nobody left to struggle with, there were only the feelings of loss that I had been running away from for many, many years.

When I finally had my "day of reckoning" I discovered, that I had... not kidding... 4 grocery sacks full of pens. But, by that point the pens had lost their grip over me, so I packed them up and took them to work, where they all got put to good use.

That was my first real step down the road of voluntary simplicity, and I've never looked back. Over the years I've had to learn similar lessons over... and over... and OVER!

So many of the things we do, really don't have anything to do with the behaviors themselves, and each time I uncover the real emotions behind them, magical change comes unbelievably easily.

And... in case you're curious... I found my best friend again, after about 25 years. You'll never believe this, but it turned out that both of us were busy reading the Harry Potter books... in Spanish.

It's enough to make you believe in magic!

For the the next post in this series click here.


  1. That is an exercise that I need to do. I know this. But I am resisting. Is it fear? I dunno.

    One example for me is reusable shopping bags. I have the great hemp ones from reuseit. Any way the black one went on sale and even though I have more bags than any one person could possibly need, I am so freaking tempted to buy some... just because they're on sale.

  2. Hey Steph - Well, my advice is, don't focus on the behavior, focus on feelings behind it, and the rest will take care of itself.

  3. This book changed my life, because I finally saw clearly that I was trading my precious life for everything I bought. The second life-changer was "Choosing Simplicity" by Linda Breen Pierce. In my circle there was no label for people like me who wanted to work less and buy less besides "slacker." This book gave me peeps.


  4. Roxanne - Power to the slackers, I say!

    Seriously, I'll have to check out that book. The other one that I really liked was The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.

  5. Believe it or not I haven't read that book but I did do the online course with the book "The Simple Living Guide" by Janet Luhrs years ago and loved it - it was life changing for me.

    I had to laugh when I saw the photo of you and your best friend. My first thought was that I could cut out the faces and replace them with me and my best friend from back in those days - same clothes, same hair and for me cats back then too :-)

    Congrats on your pen epiphany and so glad you got in touch with your friend!

  6. Martha - Oh, the '80's hair... and, I'm almost afraid to admit this, but I still have that shirt. Hey... it's frugal!

    I just stumbled upon Janet Luhrs' web page when I was trying to make sure I spelled her name right. It gave me mixed feelings... I totally LOVED her book, and I'm sure the online course is great... but the fact that she charges money for it made me queasy. Not that she doesn't have a right to make a living, but somehow it just seems wrong to charge people nearly $50 to teach them how to save money!

    1. I agree! I did the course back when it was offered for free online through what was once called Barnes and Nobles University - it was free to join and basically a place where authors offered free courses, of course buying the book for the course was recommended, but I was able to get it at the library. I wish Barnes and Nobles still had that service but I suppose too many people started branching out on there own and charging (and profiting) for themselves instead.

    2. PS - The shirt is timeless :-)

    3. Ha! Well, these days I only wear it to keep the sun off of my shoulders when I'm working in the garden, but it does a good job.

      BTW - this nested reply thing must be new... either Blogger just added the feature, or I'm a dope, because I don't remember it being there before!

  7. Slackers, unite! Um, can I just say that I absolutely love that photo of y'all, and I want your hair? Jealous.

  8. Aldra - It took me many, MANY years to make peace with my hair. As a kid, I just wanted to look "normal". Turns out, there's no such thing!

  9. Voluntary Simplicity Movement... I guess that what I've been trying to do these past few years. Just didn't know there was a name for it!

    1. In some ways having a name for things is totally superfluous, but in others it's totally huge. Somehow, knowing that there were other people out there trying to do the same thing that I was made a HUGE difference in my life! If you go to the library and search for the term Voluntary Simplicity, you'll find a zillion books. Reading a bunch of them certainly made me feel like I wasn't just a lazy slacker oddball.

  10. Teehee, gazingus pens...

    The way my husband says it, it sounds the same!

    1. Ha! Can't believe I never thought of that. And the way I say it, it sounds the same too. :)

  11. I'm sad is this the end of your series so far? WRITE MORE!

    I love that pic of you and your besty, your hairs were seriously amazing and shiny and silky looking full of body! I have short flat fine hair! I'm jealous!

    It will take a while for a reblog, but I have at the moment posted a link in my facebook page for my blog to this post because I love it so much. I am looking up Affluenza on the interweb right this moment as well.

    Here's the link in case you're interested -

    1. Awww, that's so sweet of you. I am humbled by your kind words.

      I actually have a pile more posts in this series half written... I just haven't figured out how to make them "gel" yet. But I'll get to it... I promise!

      And in terms of the hair... oh the early '80's... can you tell how hard I tried to get my hair to look EXACTLY like hers? All to no avail... her hair curled whatever direction the curling iron told it to, but mine on the other hand had, and still has, a mind of it's own! Oh well...

  12. I don't get notifications of replies oh no!

    I am making my way through the rest of your blog so I guess I can wait *huff*.

    The hair is very Farrah Fawcett, I thought you both had similarly great do's! In the 80s I was a primary schooler with an untouched fringe, the rest permed and the only girl with an undercut...considerably less attractive...

    1. Oh yes... we all coveted the Farrah Fawcett look! Sorry Blogger is so primitive... it would be really nice if it would notify you of replies. Oh well...

  13. Just a quick note to say I'm new to the series and love it! I also credit YMoYL for starting my on a path toward simplification (but I come solidly from the land of The Other Half).

    1. Awww... I'm glad you're enjoying my "adventures in crazy-land." YMOYL is a pretty amazing book, isn't it?


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