Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

One of my packing strategies for trips is to take a bunch of scarves so I can make three outfits out of one. Scarves are also a small and light accessory which helps me fit everything into a carry on – a constant goal of mine. In reviewing my scarves, however, I did find some I never wear. Now jewelry like earrings and necklaces don’t take a lot of storage room but do I really wear them all? I decided to keep a couple heirloom pieces even though I’ve hardly every worn them. Some memories are meant to be kept.

Not only do I have the sweaters I wear on a daily basis (layered of course against the winter chill), but I rediscovered a stash of sweaters I had stored under the bed. I like sweaters. Even the ones I don’t wear regularly are so pretty, it’s hard to part with them. There’s the kelly green one that I only wear on St. Patrick’s Day since green isn’t really my color, ditto for the red Christmas sweater. I remember Dan’s question about parting with things I love but others can use. Well, check out the photo.
Two things I learned from sorting sweaters:
1. I got a boost from my husband and our house guest, Isaac, donating several sweaters.
2. After reading some of your posts about not giving away trash, I felt guilty enough that I mended some holes in the sweaters and washed those that needed it. This is taking more time than just choosing what to give away!

Day 5: Slacks

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How many pairs of khaki slacks does one need? Well, more than one I guess since I could only get myself down to three (one dress pair for summer, one dress pair for winter, and one casual pair.) I justify these (plus my two pair of black slacks) by saying they are my all purpose travel/speaking uniform since I can match them with different tops and have a variety of outfits. Sounds reasonable to me. I wonder how it would sound to someone in Haiti. How important is it to a speaker’s credibility to have sharp, modern looking clothes? Your thoughts?

Since today is Sunday (and thus doesn’t count as one of the 40 days of Lent) I’m not giving anything away, but I am still thinking. (Maybe today I’m actually giving away thoughts. 🙂 ) Anyway, this blog has had the unintended side effect of putting me in touch with some lost friends. One of them, Dan Mulhall, posed two challenging questions:

1. Are you only giving away things that you no longer want, or are you also considering giving away things that you love but think that others can use?

2. Are you also giving away non-things , like ideas, suggestions for programs or talks, etc.?

So far, I’ve been giving from my excess. I’ll have to see where this experience leads.

Now it gets a little harder. Although my typical daily wardrobe consists of jeans and a turtleneck, I do need to have some professional attire for speaking engagements. (The fashion police, aka my daughter, informed me that my wardrobe really needed a makeover if I wanted to have credibility with the younger generation of couples and parents.) So, I have a few stock outfits that I use for travel and speaking. Plus, there are some really fine suits that I don’t wear all that often but, hey! you never know when I might need a whole week of professional suits. I also want to keep that black suit that’s perfect for funerals. As my mother says, “At my age I’m going to more and more of them.”

Day 3: Skirts

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OK, I admit this is more of a female give-away item, but don’t worry, you guys will have your chance. Since I’ve primarily been working from home for the past six years, I don’t need to get dressed up very often and that’s fine with me. It saves time and money spent on a professional wardrobe. But…I’ve never pruned the clothes I used to wear to work from my closet. Skirts are the beginning. Although I have sentimental attachment to some skirts, I have to admit choosing to get rid of some was not a difficult decision. They were pretty outdated anyway.

Day 2: Shirts

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I’ve discovered that it’s hard to pick just one category like “shirts” to get rid of. Some shirts or blouses go with particular slacks or skirts and I shouldn’t decide one without knowing if I’ll keep items that coordinate with it. Although I’ll write about these in discrete categories, I see that clothing is like a family system. Each piece has a relationship with other pieces. No shirt is an island.

PS: In order to put some order to my choices, I’ve decided to go room by room starting with our bedroom. That’s probably where our closet and drawers are most in need of pruning. Besides, that’s where the shoes were.

PPS to Kathleen who promised to match me shirt for shirt: You only need to give away 5 shirts since one of those pictured is from our house guest who is joining in the give-away.

I decided to start my Lenten give-away with shoes. I thought this would be relatively easy since I’m not a big collector of shoes – or so I thought. According to  Soles4Souls, the average American owns 13 pairs of shoes. I figured I was probably under that and could go lower. Wrong. When I added up all my shoes (including slippers and boots), it came to 30 pairs. I was horrified! I pruned it down to 13 but I’m not happy being average. In a typical week I only wear 5 pair. I’ll have to think about this. Soles4Souls can direct your gently used shoes to a good home.




Days 365+24a MousseToday is Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”). Traditionally it is the last splurge for Christians before Lent. This brings up the question of splurging. Is it OK? Is it weakness? Should it be avoided? My own experience with splurging is that it’s a lot like keeping a good diet. Occasional splurges are good for the psyche and soul. By splurge I don’t mean binge eating, drinking, or buying, but rather allowing myself occasional treats so I don’t feel deprived. If I make a private agreement with myself that two cookies at lunch is OK then I don’t feel deprived and tempted to eat more. As you can tell, I’m a pretty frugal person (our kids have a less positive term for it) so sending flowers to someone is a stretch for me when I see what I consider to be exorbitant prices. But I’m training myself to let go of my stingy impulses because sometimes it’s good to splurge on someone out of love – or even splurge on myself, lest I become a dour, bah humbug, self-righteous, stick in the mud. (For those with a spendthrift personality, ignore the above.)

Conveniently, the Lenten calendar provides us with automatic splurge (or respite) days, known as Sundays. Sundays are not counted as the 40 days of Lent so I will not choose anything to give away on Sundays. I may, however, still write a blog reflection.

What’s your favorite splurge?

Being responsible is good. Being prepared is good. But – is it possible to give too much away? Is it irresponsible to give away savings and then be dependent on the government or charity for help if you lose your job or get sick? My first impulse is to say, YES. If I have a choice, that’s irresponsible. Yet I find myself challenged by the scriptures:

He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” (Mk 6:8-9)

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mt 19:21)

Should we take these words literally, or more as a reminder not to accumulate too much – and what is too much? When I travel (especially with young children) I consider taking along provisions for them to be responsible. It’s hard to know how much is enough and how much is too much? Giving everything away? – Is it irresponsible, or is it dependence on God. How do YOU decide where to draw the line?

Today is Valentine’s Day (obviously not Ash Wednesday) but human needs don’t wait on the liturgical calendar. Today there’s a shower for our pregnant teenage friend. She needs EVERYTHING! Although I had been saving a lot of baby gear for our own grandchildren just in case our own young adults might want them, I keep telling myself this teenager NEEDS this stuff now. I’ve decided that this immediate need trumps the “just in case” principle. I have some emotional attachment to the baby outfits and know that I’ll probably not see them again (like the maternity clothes I gave her), but I’m trying to let go. Too bad I can’t count this for one of my 40 Lenten give-aways; but then, who’s counting? 🙂

I value time. I’m always trying to save it. You may remember that Jim and I are helping a teenage expectant mother with transportation and other daily needs. Yesterday I took her to a doctor’s appt. and grocery shopping which took most of the morning. The day before we made complicated arrangements so I would have a car to pick her up from a hospital appt. (which turned out to have been cancelled but she didn’t know it since her phone is out of minutes). A couple days before that we made two trips to the emergency room after midnight because she thought she was in labor. (Turned out she wasn’t.) I’m happy to do this for someone in need but most of these trips turned out to be unnecessary and all together it equaled a day of work. Since I’m self-employed, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid and I’m bumping up against a writing deadline. I wish it were already Lent so I could count this as a day I gave away TIME.

The other side of regretting throwing something away, is being happy I saved something – for a brief moment. Last Sunday our parish had an African-American Culture Mass. About 10 years ago (when my daughter was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa) we had matching “complets” made. (A complet is a brightly colored woman’s outfit common in West Africa.) I thought it would be nice to wear it to the Mass. I searched and, voila! there it was in my closet. I wore it. Nobody noticed. That was OK. I decided it just wasn’t me and I probably should have given it away years ago. Lesson? Is this something I would replace if I lost it? If not, it’s probably safe to give away. Anybody have other rules of thumb for what to save?

I was afraid this would happen. Last night I was looking for something different to wear to the weekly contra dance. I thought I’d pull out a long top I made several years ago – you know the kind that is longer than a top but shorter than a dress that’s worn over tights. It was popular about five years ago. Well, I hadn’t worn it for awhile and probably defaulted to the “If you haven’t worn it in two years, give it away” rule, because I couldn’t find it. This was a pretty harmless and reversible loss, since I have plenty of dance outfits, but what if it happens for something I really want – like having an extra pair of snow boots for a winter guest from Hawaii?

In addition to those collection agencies that I mentioned yesterday, other ways for your goods and money to find a good home are:

  • Free cycle It works like Craig’s list but no money is exchanged.
  • Charity Navigator Evaluates the health and ratio of proceeds actually going to the needy
    for over 5,400 of America’s largest charities
  • United Way and other local fund raising/service coordinating organizations
  • Relief agencies like the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services
  • Your parish, church, neighborhood thrift store, or someone you know personally
    Now when your children ask how the uneaten food on their plate can get to the starving children in China, you can tell them you’ll take the cost of their food out of their allowance and give it to a good cause.

Now that I’m committed to giving away at least some possessions, who should I give them to? My first thought was Goodwill since that’s where I’ve carted a lot of my stuff in the past. Good, but inconvenient. Recently I’ve been getting calls from Vietnam Veterans of America which has a van that comes right to my house. Convenient but I’d like to give to a faith based organization like St. Vincent de Paul – but their drop off place is even farther away. These are just some of the possibilities. If you have a personal connection, that’s even better.

Most people who are reading this blog and are rich, probably did not come by their wealth dishonestly. (In fact, most probably don’t consider themselves wealthy – at least I didn’t until I rubbed shoulders with people living in American ghettos or parts of Africa or India.)
For the sake of argument, however, let’s say I make over $250,000. Is this too rich? I think it all depends on how much I keep. Do I spend it all on my own family and creature comforts? How much do I give to worthy causes? Is it enough? I struggle with this question and dare not judge others. The best I can say is that the more I have, the more responsibility I have to use it for the common good. Think taxes, service, and philanthropy.

Yes. I believe there are two ways to be “too rich.” The first is if one’s riches were obtained on the backs of the poor or vulnerable. For example, producing a shoddy or environment damaging product, not paying a living wage, capitalizing on people’s vices (like gambling, alcoholism, smoking, pimping…), or using deceitful advertizing seem dishonorable ways to become rich. Persuading people to take out a loan beyond their means to buy a house comes to mind as we all suffer from the collapse the economy due to unscrupulous banking practices. See tomorrow for Way # 2.

Yes. I was talking with a friend who grew up in poverty. She said she made a commitment then to make sure that neither she, nor any of her family, would have to face that kind of want again. In my mind there is a big difference between destitution and holy simplicity. There’s little holy about abject poverty. It wounds the body as well as the soul. When I seek to simplify, I don’t mean to live in squalor but rather to be more intentional about observing what is a “want” and what is a true “need.”

How can such a laudatory plan of giving stuff away induce guilt? Well, yesterday I bought two new turtleneck tops. I only planned on getting one but I could only take advantage of the sale if I got two – for the price of one. True, my current blue and white tops were pretty threadbare and in the winter such clothes are like a uniform to me, BUT did I really NEED them? If I give my threadbare ones away during Lent will that negate any sacrifice since I just bought two replacements? My husband knows that by nature I am frugal. He cautions that I could get too caught up in the minutia of measuring these things out. He’s probably right.