Five years ago this past week I settled my divorce from a man I truly never imagined would ever want us to get divorced let alone leave me in a very unsettling financial situation. That said, divorce is what it is and I had no choice but to carry on. I had to walk away essentially knowing I was going to end up with a significant amount of debt with no idea how I was going to pay it off. Circumstances were what they were and despite trying very hard over the next few years to keep from going into further debt, it happened. Money may make the world go around but when you don't have it, your world starts to just spin out of control and possibly completely off its axis.
As a professional organizer, I see how much money people often waste buying things they don't need or sometimes really even want so trust me when I say that I am 95% of the time making very intentional purchases that are truly needed vs. wanted. I take financial stability very seriously and generally am not impulsive when it comes to spending money.
At the same time, I don't feel like I have been denied anything in life even in the past five years. I may no longer live in a 4000 square foot house with the front facing the 9th hole of a golf course and the back with a pool facing a conservation. Nor do I replace a car every 3 years just because there are new whistles and bells to play with. And if this past year taught me anything it is that I certainly don't need to be going out to happy hours and dinners almost every night. I actually love to hang out with friends at each other's homes ... properly socially distancing until we no longer need to...and having amazing meals that we created together even if it meant sitting outside with 7 layers of clothes in the middle of the winter. This past Friday night was the perfect example of how simple it is to have an amazing dinner for less than $25 split 3 ways...
Is $8 and change still more than I should justify to feed myself a meal?
I'm sure for millions of people who are homeless and begging for help each and every day that seems like a very disingenuous question. I am not denying what a serious problem hunger and housing are in the world but I am at my core a giver. So I hope no one feels it is necessary to attack me or claim I am being heartless by sharing an experience on social media that ultimately wasn't about the amount of money I spent. It was about fulfilling one of my basic needs...companionship. And that sometimes does cost money in the form of a meal. It was, of course, my choice to spend the money and therefore I won't ever complain when I look at my bank balance because, again, I need to be connected to people at, dare I say, all costs.
We all make financial choices and some have very minor impacts while others can be life-altering. My point is that we need to just find the right balance for our own personal situations. Over the past five years, I really did try to maintain financial order aka balance. But life is messy and complicated and some things just can't be predicted or controlled.
Going through 3 jobs in less than a year when I first moved to Colorado in 2016 was not something I anticipated but I made the choice to leave the first one to accept another job that was more money and a better fit only to get laid off a few months later. The same thing happened with the next job. And while I will never regret my decision to take It's Just Stuff from a side gig to full-time in 2017 after those job losses, being an entrepreneur that time around didn't generate as much income as I truly needed despite the marketing dollars I did justify spending. Yes, that did add to my debt but at the time I looked at it as an investment in myself and my business.
I was working really hard...most of the time 6 or 7 days a week but the debt was still weighing far too heavily on my mind. All of my efforts to keep my spending at a minimum without denying myself a little bit beyond the basics seemed futile. By the summer of 2019 I made the decision to go back to working a W2 job and put It's Just Stuff on the side again. Within a month or two, I was finally feeling like I had regained some financial control.
It lasted all of a few more months. Another job layoff right before the holidays...ugh!
Never to sit still for a moment, though, I secured two temp contractor jobs that took me into 2020 and one of them I was very hopeful would convert to being permanently hired. And then this thing called COVID19 attacked our country and our economy and, well, it doesn't take a Ph.D. to figure out what happened next unless you've been living under a rock for the past year.
Regardless of where you stood/stand with respect to how our country handled the pandemic, a really positive thing did happen as a result of it for me. It actually gave me more financial security than I had felt since my marriage crumbled in 2015. I was getting unemployment and stimulus checks but with the inability to go out and spend the money.
It was one year ago this weekend I received the 6 weeks of outstanding unemployment compensation due once Colorado had finally figured out how to handle someone that had been earning both W2 and 1099 income. I had lost my housing in Colorado earlier in April and had no choice but to head to California to stay with my brother and his family. I had been there for a few weeks when I finally started receiving the unemployment and I told my brother I wanted to sit down and have an extra set of eyeballs on my financial records to come up with a very realistic plan for moving forward.
The "what ifs" were overwhelming, to say the least, but luckily I have a brother who removes the emotions from most of life's curveballs and has the patience to dive into things I never will. Don't get me wrong...my desire for containing and controlling everything as a professional organizer does spill over into my personal life. I really love running Quickbooks reports and analyzing the numbers in front of me but, no matter how organized my financial records may be, I believe it is always a good idea to get a financial reality checkup from a third party whether with the help of a family member or another trusted advisor at least a few times a year. My brother, a lawyer, and my childhood friend, a CPA, have played that role since my divorce and even though the debt did get bigger rather than smaller for 3 of the 5 years, they knew I was doing everything in my power to contain it as much as possible.
Sitting at my brother's kitchen table one year ago...the place where all important life decisions seem to happen...we came up with a very reasonable action plan for the next year including a very conservative monthly budget that included projections for what would happen if for some reason I didn't either find a job or any It's Just Stuff clients once the pandemic unemployment ran out. If I was really careful and followed the budget ruthlessly I could make it through the fall. I really had no idea what the future would hold for me, but I was confident in my ability to find some way to earn money once things re-opened.
The "what if things don't re-open by the summer" question was asked and I answered with "there's always Uber Eats, InstaCart and any other on-demand delivery service". None of that was beneath me I promise and, in fact, I did sign up for 4 or 5 different delivery services when I came back to Colorado and aggressively worked the apps to get as many deliveries as possible. I also found myself getting more and more steady leads from Thumbtack and a few other platforms for It's Just Stuff clients.
Slowly but surely I made it through the fall and saw my bank balance actually going steadily up instead of down. When I finally made the decision to really go all-in with It's Just Stuff again and invest the necessary dollars I knew it would take to really ramp up and have consistent business, it was scary but exhilarating at the same time. I applied every organizing and productivity tip and trick I had ever given to clients to myself and then some. I hustled SO HARD and it paid off including landing a regular client that more than covers my monthly personal expenses so that I could put even more money into generating more leads for other clients and hire a team of people to go out on jobs without me all of the time.
So because I...
...lost my housing last spring and ended up living with my brother in LA for almost two months paying no rent (a gesture I don't know how I will ever repay but am so very grateful was afforded to me)
...and then two more months living with a friend back in Colorado for very little money (also eternally grateful)
...and one month living at a client's house rent-free in exchange for unpacking her stuff, dealing with vendors, etc because she was still recovering from COVID back east and was unable to make the move once she had closed on the house
...and having any loan payments on pause for several months due to the pandemic fallout
...and a lot of pent-up demand for It's Just Stuff services once everything reopened last summer
...and receiving an influx of cash from a 2017 car accident that finally got settled in late July
...and still not spending nearly as much going out and doing things as we continued to practice social distancing through this past winter...
...All of the above resulted in accumulating enough savings to justify making much bigger monthly payments for the outstanding debt. I could have kept chipping away paying smaller amounts and maintaining a higher bank balance but I wanted the proverbial monkey off my back much sooner rather than later.
All that said and as much as I believe in myself, I really never imagined exactly one year after sitting at my brother's kitchen table that I would see zero amount due on my Bank of America line of credit that I have been carrying for 5 years...
...given everything that has happened in the past year to our economy
...given all that I experienced in the previous few years
...given how much uncertainty there still is in the world
But here it is, a screenshot that had me literally in tears this morning...tears of joy and pride and relief.
Now, sitting at my computer writing this blog because I know it is yet one more thing I have to do to continue to put myself and my business out there, even on a beautiful Sunday in Colorado when I would much rather be on a mountain trail (it's ok, I got to go off the grid all day yesterday in the mountains and already have this Friday blocked off to go hiking) I can officially put that financial uncertainty chapter of my life to rest. And while I'm sure there are some who have judged me and some of the decisions I made to do things that I maybe shouldn't have justified at the time, even an $8 meal, I know in my heart and soul I did what I had to do to not only survive but, equally important, THRIVE!
One more thing, even though my debt is behind me I still will no doubt feel it is necessary to endure struggles but hopefully only ones that involve butt-kicking hikes up to the top of mountains. The metaphor of climbing and clawing (or scrambling as the case may be) to the top is one not lost on me. The reward, of course, is taking in the beautiful vistas that I am so fortunate to be surrounded by every day. This was yesterday's reward...and I definitely earned it!
Oh and let's not forget an apres hike reward in the form of a cocktail while snuggling with these two little nuggets...
I mean, come on!!! They are actually up for adoption and while I wish I had the life to justify getting one if not both, I don't but damn if they don't make all of your troubles melt away right? I should have gotten the contact information from the person fostering them but if anyone wants them I would be happy to contact the restaurant in Manitou Springs where we sat next to these adorable creatures. I think a few of the people at the table are regular patrons so maybe they could contact them on your behalf...just saying.
Here's to us all finding our ways to survive and thrive and, of course, being kind to one another along the way and doing whatever we can to help those who may be struggling. Without my friends and family, I definitely would not have survived and I hope they all know the important role each and every one of them played whether they offered to provide food, shelter or anything else that enabled me to thrive in my own way.