Return All the Things

If ever I needed proof of my type-A personality, my suffocating need for achievement and perfection, or my tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and over-everything, I could point to my 25th birthday present. My mom, aware of what I really needed, bought me Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. But I won’t, because it is far more telling that I never opened the book until this summer, 14 years after the fact.

Of course, I opened it back then on my birthday. I read the inscription and smiled, as good daughters do. I even carried it with me on the flight home (I was visiting my parents in Lake Tahoe) and when the pretty Indian woman in her 30s leaned over to ask me what I thought of the book, I looked down at the book in my lap and said, “I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it’s good.” She smiled back with a look that said she knew me.

I found the book in my childhood room, lost among all the other books. It was shortly after Helena’s parents died, and I grabbed it because it seemed much more relevant 14 years later. I had changed.

Then I opened the book and noticed it was a devotional of sorts, that there is a short essay for each day of the year and that the first date is, naturally, January 1. The introduction said to not worry about dates, and that “if this book finds you in April, don’t think that you can’t use it.”

I closed the book again–this time bringing it home for safekeeping–and made a mental note to start reading in January. I hadn’t changed that much.

On January 3rd, I read the following.

There are six principles that will act as guides as we make our inner journey over the next year. These are the six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security. First, there is gratitude. When we do a mental and spiritual inventory of all that we have, we realize that we are very rich indeed. Gratitude gives way to simplicity–the desire to clear out, pare down, and realize the essentials of what we need to live truly well. Simplicity brings with it order, both internally and externally. A sense of order in our life brings us harmony. Harmony provides us with the inner peace we need to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us each day, and beauty opens us to joy. But just as with any beautiful needlepoint tapestry, it is difficult to see where one stitch ends and another begins. So it is with Simple Abundance.

I wrote the word Excellent in the margin.

It was the very thing I needed to hear, that it’s okay many of the projects I do are practical, boring, not even remotely pinnable. There is an order to things, and before I can get to zshushing I have to work on the foundation. Otherwise, it’s just lipstick on a pig.

We hosted a dinner for out of town relatives a few days before Christmas. Our advent candles had burned down low, so I made a quick visit to Michael’s for more. I found the pretty gold candles on sale for a ridiculously low price and, thinking they would look lovely on the table, bought two boxes of four. I was right. They were lovely. That is, until they burned for more than a few seconds, and their marked down, too-good-to-be-true price made sense. (Not cents.)

They melted. They melted everywhere, and fast enough that you would think someone held a blow torch to the wick. They melted down the candle, down the candlestick, and pooled on the antique table we are borrowing from my mom. The table is flimsy and of little value, but that didn’t make scraping wax off the finish any less annoying. Stupid, cheap, golden candles.

After Christmas, I was left with an annoying decision. I knew I would never again use the candles, but I didn’t want to throw them out, either. It seemed wasteful, even though I didn’t spend that much. And it was the small amount of money I spent that presented the problem: large enough to keep me from tossing them out, small enough to make me put off returning them. Before this summer, before October, and before the estate sale, I might have kept them just in case. Or, I might have stored them so I could sell them at a future garage sale.

Storing worthless candles I have no intention of using so I can salve my ego or make 50¢ at a mythical garage sale is silly. Taking the time to tuck them away in pretty organizing bins is putting lipstick on a pig.

I returned them. I waited until I had errands that would put me near a Michael’s and walked out ten minutes later with, I don’t know, maybe $5? It seems silly, but these little purchases here and there add up. I keep my returns under the entry table in my kitchen, always in plain view, so it’s the last thing I see when I leave the house. I don’t store them in baskets or make them look pretty. I’ll forget them if I do. Instead, I let them plague me like an unwanted suitor until I can’t take it anymore. I returned a box of candles at Michael’s, two duplicate toys at Target, a purse and a necklace at Macy’s. Suddenly, I have money to work on projects around the house.

Inches make champions.

Return all the things. I did.

::::::

Now it’s your turn! Feel free to share how you have lived according to the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Made a plan? Cleaned a drawer? Bought a sofa? Let’s hear it with a link or in the comments.

A few guidelines:

  1. Please link to a specific post, not a general blog address.
  2. No links to giveaways, please.
  3. A link back to this site is always appreciated. There are buttons to add to your post or sidebar, too, thanks to the lovely Alex of Type A Calligraphy. Just copy the code and insert into your blog post or sidebar when in html mode.
  4. Let’s use this weekly link up as an opportunity to gather inspiration and motivation. Click links. Discover new people. Say hi and good job. I know I will.

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Comments
60 Responses to “Return All the Things”
  1. I love this, and I love that quote, and I love that you returned the candles (and now I’m worried because I picked up a box of similar candles at Target, but haven’t tried burning them yet).

    Re: the quote. In August of 2010, I realized that I was focusing a lot of my time and attention on what I wanted, I was worried about finances, and I was bummed because no one would hire me. Then one day, I realized that I never took time to stop and count my blessings. And so I started. Each Friday, on my blog, I post a list of 10 things I’m Thankful For – everything from the Grace of God in my life to the warm wool socks on my feet. I take time to appreciate what the past week has held and I started to develop contentment. Once I started my job in January 2011, I had some really hard, really bad weeks, but that’s when the Friday Thankfulness List became even more important, because no matter what, I had to take time to think about 10 things from that last horrible week that made me thankful. It was an excellent lesson. I’m now up to 740 items (tomorrow will be 741 – 750), and I’m not stopping anytime soon. I don’t link up the post anywhere, and I don’t even care if people comment on it. The point is to spend time expressing gratitude to God for what He has given me. I am so blessed.

    I know this comment is turning into a book, but one more thing and then I’ll stop. When I read the book passage that you shared, everything clicked into place for me. I realized that it was after I focused on giving thanks for what I already had, that I had a desire to clean out and simplify. Once I started simplifying, I most certainly started feeling a sense of order in our home that hadn’t been there before. Count your blessings, it’s good for your mental and emotional health.

    Oh, and I don’t have a post to link up this week, but for the record – the office is in process and I have been shredding and tossing like a mad woman. Hope to have a progress report to share next Thursday! :-)

    • Jules says:

      Have you read 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp? She did the same thing, and that’s what her book is about. I’ll be honest, the writing is difficult for me to get through (it’s very lyrical) so it has taken me the better part of a year to read the book–and I’m not done yet. That said, she has inspired countless people to start their own gratitude journals. Gratitude journals have been around forever, and I can’t help but think that they’ve been around because they work.

      • I haven’t read 1000 Gifts, though I’ve heard oodles about it (especially since I started my Thankful For posts without knowing who Ann was, and then people started asking if I’d read her blog and her book). I suppose, in a way, it turns me off because 1) I’m not into that writing style, and 2) My gratitude is to God, and I don’t think that should be commercialized.

  2. Julie says:

    I found your blog recently and you have inspired me. I am tackling our new home and making each room a place that makes us smile. We have a list of those “little” things that we have not completed yet and we are purging all of the things we brought with us that do not fit in our new space.

    Thanks for the beautiful quote. I will link up as I complete my projects!

  3. Monica says:

    Oh, those were perfect. Too bad they ended up being crap. Off topic, but I love your blue wall.

    The excerpt makes be want to run out and buy the book. By that I mean open a new tab and go to Amazon. One of the down sides to living here is not having a library or bookstore full of books in English.

    Inches make champions. If Vince Lombardi hadn’t said it first, Mikey would have.

  4. Ms. Amy says:

    The little returns add up, don’t they? I felt like a fool returning a box of $3.71 envelopes yesterday, and yet when added to my ‘cash stash’, I am steadily moving towards a set of new curtains for the family room.

  5. Ailsa says:

    Really lovely post.

    I am going to throw a wrench in by saying that I actually love the look of dripping, messy candles. It means they’re alive and unpredictable and indeed, *not* perfect. As long as you prepare for that by covering the table, you’re good to go!

    I am also a great admirer of William Morris, as was my late godfather, who collected beautiful things and made them functional. He had the most beautiful porcelain jars in which he used to put his laundry detergent and when he passed, I was given the opportunity to take something from his house with which to remember him: I took two postcards that were simply framed and a glass jar full of sea shells.

    That all being said, I try to only burn beeswax candles now — they’re natural, sweet smelling, burn slowly and never leave a mess!

    But I am like you Jules — always chasing tidy and organized! :c)

    • Jules says:

      Funny you should mention beeswax candles–I was just looking into them! I debated making my own. We’ll see–I haven’t decided. It seems like a fun and easy craft to do with the boys. (I’m talking about the candles you roll, rather than dip.)

      As for the messy candles, I’m right there with you. I love that look! But these…these were cheap. Candles melt and spread, but not as fast as these did! Seriously, it melted like a face in a horror movie.

  6. Ris says:

    Wow this post could not be more timely. Last night we were discussing returning something vs. just throwing it out. Luckily I’d kept the receipt in my special receipt box (another William Morris-inspired project!) and decided that hey, follow-through is something that’s important to me and that I really need to work on. Also, maybe it’s only $4 but that’s $4 I didn’t have before (because I’d spent it on a crummy product). Glad to know I’m not alone, and that inertia sometimes plagues everyone. I just love this series, love love love.

    • Jules says:

      Follow through is important–I like that. And that’s often what it is. Sometimes you don’t want to make the effort, and sometimes you don’t want to admit that you made a lousy buying decision.

  7. Lisa says:

    So timely–last night I was working on cleaning the basement and came across a bag of stuff I that I had assembled into one bag for returns to 4 different stores…and never returned any of it. Its now sitting on the entryway console, waiting for me to return it.

  8. May says:

    I read Simple Abundance in the 1990s when my kids were small and then again last year. Like anything some parts spoke to me much more than others, but both times I did find it worthwhile. I think the philosophy will meld well with your William Morris year….which btw has me so inspired!

    • Jules says:

      Thanks! I’m only on January 19, so who knows how I will feel about the book overall. The author’s history is interesting, isn’t it? She, more than anyone, needs to practice what she preaches–and she says that time and again, so that’s not meant to be an insult.

  9. mel says:

    I don’t have a blog post about it, but I have been inspired by your William Morris and the new year spring cleaning. (I think my internal calendar is off by months – New Years is in Sept when school starts, and Spring Cleaning bug always hits me in January.) I have been tackling small projects like closets, junk drawers, etc, and making a giant pile to take to Goodwill. So far, it’s the size of a stack of suitcases. The aim is to get it to be the size of a sofa.
    2012: the year I kick my shopaholic streak.

    • Jules says:

      2012 is the year I kick my emotional eating habit. We can do it. :) Our garage is so, so, so full right now thanks to the series I did in October. I can’t wait for spring so I can have a huge garage sale and then donate the rest.

  10. Nicola says:

    ‘Lipstick on a pig’.

    Brilliant.

  11. Pamelotta says:

    That reminds me, I’ve got to get back to the bookstore where I hastily purchased an Elf on the Shelf. Stupid pinterest peer pressure. Poor thing never made it out of the box.

  12. MemeGRL says:

    That book really has to find you at the right moment. I inherited my sister-in-law’s copy, and I did follow it for a year in her honor, but I didn’t feel it. Maybe this is my time. But it made me smile to see it; I know it meant a lot to my sister-in-law.
    And I love “inches make champions,” and what a good way to look at it here. Once, when I was just starting to purchase more intentionally, I started returning things and lo and behold–it was almost $100 when I was done. No one thing cost more than $8. It was a real lesson in how stuff adds up.
    Meanwhile, thanks for your inspiration; we removed one piece of furniture from our living room–the smallest piece, even!–and it changed the whole space. We rearranged the furniture and it just is so much more open and easy, I’m thrilled.

    • Jules says:

      I have enough returns at Target to buy myself a small tea table that I’ve wanted for the living room. Crazy. You don’t want to know how much money I have at Macy’s now. It’s embarrassing.

      Isn’t that crazy about furniture placement? I admit, I suck at it. Good job.

  13. Laura Jeanne says:

    “lipstick on a pig” – my new favorite!!

    I do not have a blog post to link up to but I will say I am very mindful of your “projects” and the William Morris quote recently so . . . thank you! with a new baby in the house it is very easy to accumulate “stuff” (that is neither beautiful or useful!!!) – I do much better refusing unnecessary hand-me-downs and impulse buys at Target when I keep this idea in mind :)

    off topic – a great young-adult dystopian novel to add to your list : Birthmarked (trilogy – the last book is due out this fall!) by Caragh O’Brien.

    this is the first time i’ve commented. it wasn’t that hard.
    oh, and while I’m at it – I love the quotes from your son – always excited to read the new installment :)

    thanks again for the inspiration!

    • Jules says:

      I can’t tell you how differently I would approach new motherhood now. I wonder if I would be a different type of mother if I was just having kids now? I think about that a lot.

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Laura Jeanne, and congrats on the little one! :)

  14. Jenn says:

    Thanks again Jules for hosting this! I’ll get on those sidebar buttons this weekend – they are great. The most amazing thing happened during this last project. My husband actually said, ‘I think I’m going to write my own house to-do list’ (this may be a bit more of a paraphrase, than actual quote). I almost fainted, or rather jabbed out a quick explicative of joy. Wonders never cease. 2012 feels like a success already.

  15. Lori Ann says:

    I have that book floating around in my library, I think. Funny how they come back into view just when they are needed.
    On another note, I cannot get the image code to work. Is there anything special I need to do? (Still kind of new to the blog world.)
    Thank you again!

    • Jules says:

      I will look into it–it could be that the code is off. The info I gave Alex may have been wrong.

    • Jules says:

      Okay, the code was off. I just fixed it. It should work fine for you now. All you need to do is copy the code and insert it in your blog post or sidebar (the smaller one) while you are in HTML mode.

  16. melanie says:

    Last week I returned some over-gifting purchases to Home Goods. I had to fight the urge to stash the items in my “gift closet” for potential future use (there is no spare closet by the way) . And by fight I mean carry them around in the car for 2 weeks while I haggled with myself. I returned the items, got a $27 gift card that I can put towards a future useful & beautiful purchase. This is a lesson that will require continuing education as I am a lazy returner.

  17. Karen F says:

    I just returned a bunch of stuff at Joann’s this week – I have no problem returning things (much to my husband’s embarrassment! He’s consistently mortified when I return things and refuses to do it himself, even though he’s a cheapo!)

    My favorite quote from this post was “mythical garage sale” – that made me LOL – so many times when I am attempting to clean out our basement, I’ll say to my husband “maybe we can sell that in a garage sale”. We’ve lived here 10 years and had maybe one garage sale?

  18. Carla says:

    I love that you took them back. The little things do add up. I feel inspired to do the same. I think it will help me not buy the cheapo stuff in the first place. I was afraid my couch transformation would be a bit of a “lipstick on a pig” project, but I really do find my couch both beautiful and useful now, hooray! Lastly, this is the third time I have heard of this book. It might be time to break down and get it.

  19. SusanG says:

    I am so glad I read this before lunch. I did actually need to go to Target for some allery-proof pillow protectors., and managed to get to the cash register with only those and a pink cardigan – a great accomplishment for me in Target. And then…the unthinkable. I gave the sweater to the cashier and apologized but I’d changed my mind and didn’t want to buy it. YAHOO!!!!!! Now I won’t have yet one more cardigan I don’t need or a cardigan to return after I drive it around for three weeks! Thank you!

    • Jules says:

      I went to Target and put a candle I didn’t need (but was at a very good clearance price!) in my cart. I was so proud of myself for doing the same as you at the register.

  20. SusanG says:

    Oh – and I have the Simple Abundance book – two of them – and a gratitude journal. Only really wanted the journal, but they all three look so cute together…I wrote in the Gratitude Journal for a few months and it was really helpful as we went through a string of bad luck – broken freezer, crashed computer, new tires – all with a new second child and a husband in his last year of law school. My last entry was that at least these were all things and that we were all healthy and happy. Next day I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that was the end of that journal! I wasn’t very grateful for quite a whole after that. It’s been long enough it might be time to resurrect the concept, if not that particular journal.

  21. Kelly says:

    Ha! I nearly bought the silver version of those candles on clearance, after Christmas. I held them in my hands and thought, “oooh, they’re pretty…” and then thought, “are you really going to use these?” (Probably not…)

    The badges look great…so official!

    • Jules says:

      Kelly, I can’t leave a comment on your blog! The word verification thing is blocked by the blog template. Anyway, I wanted you to know I read your post, and that I think your coat solution is awesome! (I also laughed at your “coat couch.” :)

      • Kelly says:

        Hmmm…that’s new. Blogger must be tweaking stuff around again. Thanks for the heads-up, and thanks about my off-the-hook solution. Har har.

  22. Megan says:

    This is great inspiration to do something about the small returns piling up since before Christmas. They seem trivial, but it all adds up in the end.

    We visited my husband’s out of town parents last weekend and together we went through five boxes of his “assorted memorabilia” in their garage. We consolidated it down to two: a box of “valuables” and one of “memories”. I know that when we move into a house and his parents jump at the chance to offload his boxes (with four kids, who can blame them), I’ll glad that at least part of what they send will be “pre-William Morris’d”. Plus, it was great to get my husband to take action!

  23. Anita says:

    You make me laugh!
    I have boxes and boxes of ‘stuff’ for my mythical garage sale.
    Thanks for writing this post.

    • Jules says:

      The best part is when you actually have said mythical garage sale and you make…$200. Piles and piles and piles of crap stored so you can earn what amounts to $1.50 per hour. But I’m doing it this spring! O_o

      I never learn.

  24. Lais says:

    Jules,
    I love this whole idea of doing the small things that add up to big things. As a mom of not so young children I am able to a bit more around the house than when they were toddlers and babies, but it still seems small at times, but I am reminded of a neat older lady I looked up to while in TX as a newly married young mom. She said, “Ladies can waste more out the back door with a teaspoon than a man can bring home in a wheelbarrow,” which of course can give me a bit of an offense if I think of the stereotypes that can be made from that statement, but I didn’t take it that way. I took it as a challenge that I would try (and not feel guilty when I fail) to not waste the small things that I have been given to manage. I am still learning and forgiving myself when I just don’t get around to something that needs done, but it sure feels good when I chip away at the problem little by little and start to see some progress. Thanks again Jules for your encouragement and motivation to make my home a more beautiful and useful space to my family.

    • Jules says:

      It’s so true. Not until I went through all that purging and organizing in October to I get a full understanding of the money wasted or poorly spent. This project has made me a conscious consumer, definitely. The important thing is, like you said, to move on without guilt. We’re all works in progress.

  25. Pearl says:

    I read SIMPLE ABUNDANCE years ago, having bought it for myself, but it is really only in the last 18 months I’ve put it all into practice. Of course, moving from one tiny apartment stuffed with things to a larger, nicer one and wanting to leave the detritus behind… makes for motivation.

  26. Kristen says:

    Jules, I love this post so much, as usual. Your writing is just really a pleasure to read. On another note, I am declaring that I am not superwoman, apparently. And this pains me to no end. I was going to participate in your book club (haven’t gotten on getting the book, plus I don’t think I’ll have time to read the darn thing). Last week I did do something, I posted my first William Morris project. So this is the point where I, under the wire, post my second William Morris project. And…well I didn’t get it done. Well, it’s not done perfectly (I have issues with procrastination and perfection). So, there you go! Oh well, I’m doing a guilty rambling on and on. There’s always next time/next week, I guess. I just didn’t want you to think I decided to no longer participate, since that couldn’t be further from the truth! Ugh, time to go to bed, I think.

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Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.