Goals for 2017

January 2, 2017

Last year, I re-imagined the way I set yearly goals. Instead of setting traditional goals or benchmarks (which often look more like a yearly “to-do” list), I started to define my personal values and aimed to live with those values as a guide for my life. Over the course of the year, I found that living from my values instead of trying to meet specific “goals” made the things that I accomplished much more meaningful because they were purpose-filled. Not just as things I thought would be neat/cool/fun to do, but as things that were leading me in the direction I wanted to go and towards the values that I wanted to embody. Instead of frantically trying to check things off a yearly accomplishment list, I used my guiding values to evaluate decisions I made on how I spent my life/time. It allowed me to much easier say no to things that weren’t aligned with my values. Of course, I had some ideas of things that I wanted to make happen in my personal life and career, but letting values instead of goals guide me allowed myself to flow a little more, being open to what my future held (instead of being intent on making happen what I wanted to happen).

The guiding values that I set for 2016 were: create daily, live simply, value rest, and be open to adventure. (read more about them here) Over the course of the year, as I started to refine those values, I realized that they weren’t just things that I wanted to work on in 2016, but they embodied the way I wanted to live my life as a whole. A life filled with creativity, simplicity, mindfulness, and adventure.

For 2017 in particular, here are some of the ways I would like to live out those guiding values:

CREATIVITY:

  • refine my work — quality, deepen my personal style, define my “why”
  • market my work — build my brand, build a following, share patterns/studio/process on Instagram, shed the fear of putting myself/my work out there
  • finish graduate school (masters in fibers/textile design) — final portfolio that I’m proud of and is helpful to moving my career forward
  • get a job in the textile design industry (print & pattern)

SIMPLICITY:

  • live in the same place as my husband again! (only have/pay for one apartment!)
  • continue to live debt-free
  • continue to be mindful of the purchases I make for my home and clothing — only things I really love, need, and fit within my style/aesthetic
  • continue to be mindful of the environmental impact of my choices

MINDFULNESS:

  • come from a calm and peaceful place — center myself so that peace radiates from within
  • wake up every day with gratitude and love for life
  • learn to be alone
  • be better to my mind/body/soul — meditation, self care, rest, take real breaks, read for pleasure, journal, whole/paleo foods, nature, walks, exercise, empathy, kindness
  • direction and clarity for my life moving forward — refine my “purpose”

ADVENTURE:

  • let go of fear and let life flow — be open to the possibilities of my future

My mantra: I am strong, capable, creative, talented, brave.

I’m really excited to see what 2017 has in store for me! I know that it will be a year full of good/hard growth, but I’m confident there are exciting times ahead! Here’s to new adventures, discoveries, patterns, places, and opportunities ahead.

“There are stars you haven’t seen and loves you haven’t loved. There’s light you haven’t felt and sunrises yet to dawn. There are dreams you haven’t dreamt and days you haven’t lived and nights you won’t forget and flowers yet to grow and there is more to you that you have yet to know.” –Gaby Comprés

P.S. Past old year reflections and new year goals: Reflections on 2016Goals for 2016Reflections on 2015Reflections on 2014, Goals for 2015Reflections on 2013, Goals for 2014Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013, Happy 20122011 and 20 Before Twenty

P.P.S. The image above uses one of my favorite patterns I’ve made so far and also my own digital hand lettering! 

P.P.P.S. For more help in figuring out your own guiding values, look into Lara Casey’s Powersheets, Jess Lively’s Values Based Intentions, and the 52 Lists Project. I’ve found all of these helpful to me on my journey. 

In 2016:

Drew and I took a two-week backpacking trip across Europe. We visited friends in Copenhagen and they showed us around Denmark and Malmö, Sweden. Drew visited the renowned Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium while I spent the day traveling through Amsterdam, Netherlands and on to visit the tulip fields in Holland. We stopped in Paris for part of a day so that Drew could see the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, before we took a train up into the Swiss Alps for several days of exploring the beautiful towns of Lauterbrunnen, Mürren, Gimmelwald, and Stechelberg, Switzerland. We both fell in love with Switzerland — it’s quaint towns, breathtaking mountains, and crystal clear streams and waterfalls. We met up with my sister Kelsey as she studied abroad in Italy and explored the coastal cities in the Cinque Terre with her. She showed us around Florence and we ate the most delicious gluten-free pastries and more gelato in a week than I have in the rest of my life combined. We went on to eat the most amazing pizza in Naples and explore the ancient ruins of Pompeii. We ended our trip in Rome, seeing the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain and visiting Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.

I applied to grad school at the Savannah College of Art & Design, got accepted, quit my job as a graphic designer, moved from New Orleans to Savannah, Georgia, decorated a new apartment, made it a third of the way through my Masters degree in Fibers/Textile Design, and lived apart from Drew for three months so that I could start school and he could continue working in New Orleans. (read more about grad school here)

Drew and I finished a 3+ year process of paying off all of our credit card, car, and student loan debt! (read more about our debt free journey here) We lived the majority of this year completely debt free for the first time in our married lives, even with paying for two apartments in separate cities and for my grad school tuition! We stretched our possessions to furnish two separate apartments, without buying much more than a Craigslist couch, trash cans, and a couple rugs. I also simplified my clothing into a capsule wardrobe and realized that I pretty much only wear black.

Many road trips happened between New Orleans and Savannah and I made the trip from Savannah to Jacksonville, Florida to pick up Drew from the airport many times. We made a few trips to Nashville and Southern Illinois to visit family. We also explored Tybee Island, Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina. I even evacuated Savannah from a hurricane — driving the 8 hours to Nashville by myself at night (with Violet). I also traveled to visit my sisters and aunt in Raleigh, Wilmington, and Kure Beach, North Carolina.

I worked my full-time job in graphic design for 8 months out of the year, made another quilt and another quilt top, did a 60-day daily practice of block printed patterns, starting painting with gouache, created a complete pattern collection with three colorways, did a lot of reading, writing, and research, re-branded my art portfolio website, and learned a lot about myself and my design style and where I want to go with my career.

I turned 25, celebrated 9 years together with Drew, lived completely alone in a new city by myself for the first time in my life, had to learn how to take care of a household alone, struggled with starting school again, missed my husband more than I can even put into words, appreciated him so much more, learned what it means to miss New Orleans, spent both major holidays away from family for the first time, and felt some of the deepest sadness and loneliness I’ve ever felt. For the first time in my life, I cared deeply about the US Presidential Election and was devastated by the results. In stepping so far outside my comfort zone this year, I’ve felt more emotions than I even knew were possible and I’ve also felt so much more alive.

I realized just how important getting ~10 hours of sleep every night is to my productivity and sanity. I ate healthier and drank green smoothies for breakfast almost every day. For the first time in over three years, I took time off not just for travel, but to rest. I spent the last month of this year back in New Orleans, clearing my head, re-evaluating my life and priorities, centering myself, and finding so much clarity. I realized the true importance of taking time to rest and recharge. I also realized how much better I design and operate when it comes from within myself and not to meet other people’s expectations. I also found so much more bliss in small, everyday moments — eating at my favorite restaurants, being back at SCAPC, and slow Saturday mornings with Vietnamese food at Singletons and a visit to a coffee shop with Drew.

2016 was a year of some of the highest highs and lowest lows for me. It was a year of growth in many ways, but growth in addition to being good, is also hard. I’m grateful for the ways that it pushed and strengthened me, glad I lived through it, but also glad to see it behind me. I’m looking forward to what 2017 has in store, but I know that much of it will also be full of good/hard growth. Here’s to new adventures, discoveries, patterns, places, and opportunities ahead.

“There are stars you haven’t seen and loves you haven’t loved. There’s light you haven’t felt and sunrises yet to dawn. There are dreams you haven’t dreamt and days you haven’t lived and nights you won’t forget and flowers yet to grow and there is more to you that you have yet to know.” –Gaby Comprés

P.S. Past old year reflections and new year goals: Goals for 2016Reflections on 2015Reflections on 2014, Goals for 2015Reflections on 2013, Goals for 2014Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013, Happy 20122011 and 20 Before Twenty

I do an updated house tour here every two years (see: move-in, Nov 2012, Nov 2014), so seeing that it is 2016, it is time for an updated tour. It is a bittersweet one though, because after living in this apartment and making it our home for the last 5 years, I just moved to Savannah, Georgia for grad school, so this is the last house tour of our New Orleans apartment. We moved into this apartment on my 20th Birthday (May 2011) and I took these photos the day after my 25th birthday (May 2016). This 1000 sq. ft. apartment has been home and so much more than that. We moved in to this apartment as engaged college students. We planned our wedding here, spent our newlywed phase here, learned all about decorating and DIY here, graduated from college here, lived here when we both got our first real jobs, and have grown as people and as a couple so much in the time that we’ve been here. It is certainly a hard place to leave and a place we will think back on often, I’m sure, but there are great things happening and ahead as well.

I’m so happy with the changes and updates we’ve made to this home and how much I’ve discovered my style here over the last 5 years. There are still little things I would have liked to do in different rooms if we were staying even longer (get a neutral colored sofa (!!!), update to nicer rugs, replace ceiling light fixtures) and bigger things too if we owned the apartment (renovating the kitchen layout!). But I’m so happy to have had this cozy little safe place to call ours.

Foyer & Dining Room:

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The dining room (or foyer as we mostly call it, since when we first moved in we didn’t have a table in here) might just be my favorite room in the house. I love all the windows, especially those awesome arched ones, the church pew, the mid century modern console, the wall shelves — this whole room is probably the most representative of our “modern minimalist bohemian farmhouse” style.

Curtains are from Pottery Barn Teenplant/console table we built ourselves, wall shelving we installed ourselves, dining room table is from the Nashville flea market, rug and quatrefoil mirror are from Target, baskets on the console table shelves are from Target, dining chairs, milk glass bowl, old Reader’s Digest books, small white cabinet, mid-century modern buffet, and church pew are vintage/thrifted, black lamp was a vintage makeover, Self-Portrait woodcut is by me, paintings in the room are by me, framed engagement photos we took ourselves, the glass jar candles are from our wedding, gold plant pot is from Home Depot that I painted, crock planter is vintage from my dad, and all other plant pots are either from Lowe’s or TJ Maxx. Walls are painted Smoked Oyster by Valspar in a Satin finish.

Living room:

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The living room, on the other hand, is probably the only room I’m sad that I didn’t get to see my complete vision through on. I’ve hated (loathed) the color of these couches since pretty much the day we bought them and the next things on my house to-do list were to update the rug in here and get a new dark grey velvet sofa or sectional. See my living room design plan/inspiration board, here.

Couch and loveseat are from Compass Furniture in New Orleans, television/media cabinet is from Target, coffee table/bench base was bought from a little shop in the French Quarter and Drew and I made the tufted top, white coffee table tray is from West Elm, wood/metal side table was originally from Target that I made-over with a wood slice from the cake stand at our weddingwhite bookcase is from IKEA, stretched quilt painting is by me, gallery wall pieces: “I love you” print hand-lettered by me, my favorite vintage photo of my grandparents, one of my first surface pattern designs (!!!), a sketch from my watercolor sketchbook, an elephant print  that reminds me of my Mamaw (she collected little elephant figurines and that print reminds me of a shirt she used to wear), “Yours Sincerely,” painting I did a few years ago, my favorite picture of my sisters/nieces/nephew that I took when we were in Puerto Rico (with a stray cat), “It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful” print from The Nester, a gold skeleton key that opened my childhood bedroom door (and was the official key for our secret club), a photo I took of my childhood front yard when I was home for my Papaw’s funeral, and my final drawing for the first art class I ever took at Tulane, curtains I made from white sheets, big turquoise velvet couch pillows are from World Market, teal and patterned pillows I made from World Market cloth napkins (these and these), gold and white pillows I made from West Elm cloth napkins, black pillows from H&M, buffalo check pillow from Etsy, light blue pedestal side table from Nadeau in New Orleans, wire basket (filled with yarn on bookshelf), wooden @ symbol, and inlaid box from TJ Maxx, floor lamp is from Lowe’s, silver table lamp is from Compass Furniture (scored it for $15 with a Living Social Deal!),  8×10 area rug from Lowe’s (scored it for $15!), glass candy dish, wooden ladder and quilts are vintage/thrifted, basket (with magazines in it behind the french doors) was a wedding gift, landscape painting on the bookshelf was a wedding gift (painted my Drew’s mom’s good friend and my 8th grade teacher!), globe was mine from when I was little bought for me by my Mamaw, the chalkboard message board was from our wedding (originally from here), beads are from New Orleans Mardi Gras parades, and the abstract paintings, ceramic artichoke. and throw quilt were made by me. Wall color is Asiago by Valspar in a satin finish.

Hallway:

This hallway, right off the side of the living room, runs all the way down the house. The kitchen is the first door on the right, office/studio is the second door and then at the end of the hallway is the laundry room. At the laundry room, the hallway turns to the right with the bathroom straight ahead and our bedroom to the left.

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We didn’t really do much to this space, and it is one of the spaces I had design ideas for that just never happened. I would have loved to install board and batten down this hallway and build in bookshelves up to the ceiling in that middle section. I also think it would have looked amazing with a large hanging pendant light. But this is a rental, and priorities. We did paint it the same color as the living room: Asiago by Valspar at Lowes. It had a gallery wall of art up at one point, but after painting the walls I didn’t put the frames back up and opted for the simplicity of this one painting.

Bookcases are from IKEA, little cabinet of drawers was thrifted on a vacation in Savannah, GA, fleur-de-lis coat hook was a gift, painting is by Adam Hall, and the rug is from Urban Outfitters.

Kitchen:

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Obviously it would have been crazy to do because this is a rental, but I really wanted to do a mini-kitchen renovation in here. I hate that the space could be used much more smartly! If we owned the house (or were going to live here longer and I could talk the landlord into doing/letting us do), I wanted to extend the cabinets along the window wall (where the cream colored cabinet is), moving the sink underneath the window closest to the pantry, and adding a backsplash, replacing the countertops, and re-painting the cabinets. If we were really going all out, I’d take down the upper cabinets (and rip out the soffit) and put a long, floating open shelf or two along that wall.

Kitchen rug is by Dash and Albert, black and white patterned hand towels from H&M, green utensil holder is a plant pot from Hobby Lobby, gold tray and wooden cheese board were Christmas gifts from my sister, ceramic apple and stool are from TJ Maxx, artwork above kitchen sink is a photo I took of the creek in my childhood backyard (more on that here), stitchery art is by me, most of the ceramic mugs and bowls I made, the floral measuring cup is Molly Hatch from Anthropologie, cookbook holder was a wedding gift from Target, cream colored wooden cabinet is from Nadeau in New Orleans, tall wooden cabinet is vintage/thrifted. Walls are painted Smoked Oyster by Valspar at Lowes.

Office & Studio:

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I love my studio! I love the depth of the chalkboard wall and the double desk has been such a useful DIY and has evolved over the years we’ve lived here. It started as a desk for Drew and I to share, but he didn’t use his side very much so I eventually took it over and made one side my sewing station and the other my computer/design station. The rest of the room is a little busy, but I have so many different things I use this room for! Sewing, painting, sketching, design! The extra table is in here to use as a cutting table when cutting out fabric for my quilts. The small table I sit on the floor and use when I’m watercoloring or India ink sketching for patterns or doing calligraphy. I sit on the pillows and paint when I have a larger painting on my easel or stretched out across the floor. There are often art/crafting/sewing/DIY projects spread out all across the floor in here!

My desk chair is from Pottery Barn Teen, Drew’s wooden desk chair, easel, big ornate gold frame, crewelwork embroidery in gold frame, small brass pineapple, and brass plant pot are vintage/thrifted, baskets on the built-in shelves and the middle desk shelf are from Target, other smaller baskets on desk shelves are from Michael’s, rug is from Target, curtains I made out of sheets from TJ Maxx, pink curvy glass lamp is from Home Goods (got it on vacation years ago in Charleston, SC), standing lamp is from Target, small wooden table was thrifted years ago (it used to live in my childhood bedroom), shelves DIY built-in out of IKEA Extra-Deep Billy Bookcases, Painting Taboret is IKEA kitchen cart, elephant print on bookshelves is from this Etsy shop, Live Simply print from this Etsy shopgreen elephant piggy bank is from Urban Outfitters, glittery gold frames on wall are from Michaels, abstract paintings are by me, floral print is by Anna Maria Horner, tall painting on the sewing side of my desk was bought at an estate sale and painted by Pierce Jonassen (the mom of one of my co-workers!), “It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful” print from The Nester, a taped up print-out of one of my first repeatable patterns, white ceramic turtle is from West Elm, and silver desk lamp and cutting table (my old desk) are from IKEA. Read more about my art studio inspiration wall, here. Read about how we built our desk (an IKEA hack), here). Walls are painted Grey Ghost (Olympic from Lowe’s) in a satin finish. Chalkboard wall is painted with black chalkboard paint (also Valspar from Lowe’s).

Laundry Room:

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This room is tight and stuffed, but I’m so happy to have this space!

The curtains used to hang in my freshman college dorm room (from Wal-Mart), the laundry basket is from TJ Maxx, the ironing board and cover are from Target, ladder from Lowe’s, my dad bought the washer and dryer for me (they were from a friend from our hometown that used to live in New Orleans –she was moving from New Orleans and didn’t need to take them with her), the deep freezer is from Lowe’s, the rug and the wire baskets on the shelves are from TJ Maxx, wall shelving Drew and I bought from Lowe’s, standing shelving unit is the MULIG from IKEA.

Bathroom:

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Rug from World Market, hand towel from TJ Maxx, abstract painting by me, old books are thrifted, candles from our wedding, frames from Michael’s and spray painted gold, striped Turkish towels from Loomed NOLA, shower curtain made by me from a sheet, houses plant pot is vintage, and hanging plant pot is from H&M and macrame holder is from Etsy. Ceiling is painted Mint Whisper by Valspar at Lowe’s. 

Small hallway right outside the bathroom is painted Semi-Sweet by Valspar in a satin finish and top art is thrifted, bottom is by me.

Bedroom:

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Our bedroom is the room in this house that took the longest to come together. But finally we ended up with a room that feels like us. I love the black, white, and gold and all the subtle patterns! That black and gold geometric accent wall is such a showstopper and was actually really easy and simple to do! More on this room, here.

Headboard wall is painted Semi-Sweet (by Valspar at Lowes) and geometric pattern was hand painted with a gold Sharpie paint pen. The rest of the walls in here are painted Grey Ghost (by Olympic at Lowes). Bedding is a mixture of Target, HomeGoods, and West Elm’s Jacquard Leaf Duvet Cover and Shams. The “I Love You” pillow I made out of fabric I ordered in a design of mine (that’s my handwriting!). Headboard we made from an old door (see here and here), cream curtains from the pergola at our wedding (originally from Target) and white ones are from IKEA, rug and black pharmacy-style floor lamp from Target, dresser was Drew’s childhood dresser that we refinished, gold pharmacy lamps are from HomeGoods, gold I LOVE YOU banner is from Target, floral painting is by Lulie Wallace, girl with flowers print is by Raven Roxanne, geometric canister is from Hobby Lobby, ceramic dishes were made by my ceramics teacher in college – Sarah House, pink chair is from World Market, geometric pillow is from H&M, jewelry stand, white elephant, and black and white inlaid box were all Christmas gifts from my sister, shelving is the IKEA Expedit, copper twinkle lights are from Amazon, nightstands are vintage, art above Drew’s nightstand is by Emily McDowell, art above mine is a handwritten note from Drew. :)

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So happy to have called this sweet place home for the last five+ years!

I’ve had so much I’ve wanted to say and write and blog about, but just haven’t had the time to sit down and get my thoughts out about it all. This summer has been a crazy whirlwind and it has a lot to do with a big announcement (that you might have already seen on my Instagram a couple months ago):

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This fall (or in less than a month now), I’ll be moving to Savannah, Georgia to attend graduate school at the Savannah College of Art & Design in their Fibers department. (!!!)

Attending SCAD has been a dream of mine for a long time and it seems I’ve been on quite the adventure to get there. I first toured SCAD (the Atlanta campus) my junior year of high school and completely fell in love with it. I didn’t end up going there for undergrad because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to study and I got a scholarship to Tulane. It wasn’t until I had moved to New Orleans and was part of the way into my study at Tulane that I realized I wanted to study graphic/pattern/textile design. I was frustrated that Tulane didn’t have a program for that and for a while I looked into transferring to SCAD or RISD, but I had already started a life in New Orleans and had an amazing scholarship to Tulane. I kept telling myself to just make it through and one day I could go to graduate school at SCAD to study design.

My senior year at Tulane, Drew and I took a weekend trip to Savannah to tour the Savannah SCAD campus and see the Fibers building and get a better idea of what I could study there and what I needed to do to make that happen. I left disappointed, because although I loved SCAD, the information I was given was a little disheartening. Because my undergrad degree was in English and Studio Art (Painting concentration), I was told I would have difficulties having the background info I needed to pursue a graduate degree in fibers/textile design. I was so overwhelmed at that time in my life (I had just gotten married, was having a really tough senior year of college, was crippled with the debt we already owed on Drew’s school, and had unresolved health issues – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) that I just gave up on my SCAD dream. I was convinced I’d never have the money to go or the ability to get into the program without an undergrad degree in textiles.

I graduated from Tulane and started working in graphic design and enjoyed that just fine for a while, but I kept being pulled into the world of pattern and textile design. I was so inspired by what my favorite designers were doing and I wanted to have more creative freedom in my career (I love graphic design but also find it very artistically limiting). I was really inspired by Bonnie Christine (one of my favorite textile designers for quilting cottons who has an undergrad degree in business and taught herself Adobe Illustrator and surface pattern design via online tutorials and now is a very successful fabric designer). I followed along with Bonnie’s journey and was inspired to learn as much as I could on my own. I didn’t need grad school, I’d just teach myself! I had already worked in graphic design for several years at that point, so I knew Photoshop and InDesign well and the very basics of Illustrator. So I started taking online surface pattern design courses, attended Quilt Market, did a textile design workshop in NYC with Anna Maria Horner and Heather Rossmet all the designers of Cotton & Steel at another workshop and learned to quilt. I got to the point in my journey that I knew the basics and what I needed to do to move forward, but working full time I didn’t have the extra time to work on developing my signature style and to create the pattern portfolio I wanted to.

Last fall, as we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel of our debt pay-off plan approaching, Drew and I started to seriously talk about what was next for our lives. Over the past few years, I had always imagined that after paying off our debt, I’d finally be free to switch jobs, buy a house, and have kids. I wanted to work in textile design, but it was taking such a long time to get there with only being able to put in such a small amount of time towards that dream in the evenings and weekends. And after working a full-time job all day, I wasn’t always excited to get home and spend more time in front of a computer screen designing patterns. I did actually try to apply to some dream jobs with the small portfolio of work that I had created so far and was sad but not surprised when I never heard anything back. I started thinking two things: 1. that I didn’t want to have kids until I at least had my foot further in the door of the textile design world and 2. that if I was actually going to make it happen, I needed to quit my full-time job and focus fully on creating patterns and building a portfolio of work. This was when the idea of grad school came back into my life once again. Once we were debt free and didn’t have to rely as much on my income, I wanted to pour myself into making my dreams happen, but I was worried about doing that on my own. I was worried I wouldn’t be disciplined enough to make progress fast enough, about my mental health sitting at home alone all day making patterns, and I started to realize that making it into the textile world wasn’t only a beautiful portfolio, but it relied a lot on connections and although I had done a great job in the past year of making connections in the world of quilting cottons, I really needed the connections that SCAD could give me to appeal to my dream employers. I started to feel that to move my career forward, grad school seemed like the right option for me. (A special thanks to Kelsey from Pinegate Road for sharing her own SCAD story with me!)

So long story short, I started the application process to SCAD last fall. I told myself not to overthink it, to just apply and see what happened. If it didn’t work out this time, then it wasn’t meant to be. I submitted my initial application in November, reached out to a couple of my Tulane professors for recommendations and had my transcripts sent over in December, spent the entire month of January designing my fibers-specific portfolio and writing the written parts of the application, and submitted everything on February 1. I was told it typically only takes a couple weeks to hear back about their decision and at the same time I would be notified if I was awarded any academic or portfolio related scholarships. February and March were a weird flux period in which I had no idea which direction my life was about to go. It took almost two months before they got back to me, right before we left to go to Europe in April. It was worth the wait though (and all the effort I’d put into learning design on my own!), not only was I accepted as a graduate student in their Fibers department, but I was awarded one of the highest amounts of academic/portfolio based scholarships that they offer! (enough to cover about 30% of my tuition cost).

So eight years after first touring SCAD for undergrad and four years after touring it again for grad school, it is finally happening! It has been a long time coming, but I’m so happy with the way things have worked out. For me personally, the timing is really great. Looking back, I’m so grateful for the way our lives have been shaped by being in New Orleans and I think Tulane was exactly where I was supposed to be for undergrad, as frustrating and difficult as that time was. I think I needed the the last three years out of school to get over that stressful experience and look forward to being back in school again. I also think it is so essential how much I’ve evolved as an artist and designer in the last few years that I’m really excited to do grad school at SCAD now that I have a better idea of where I want it to take me and what I want to make of it. I’m so ready for a new adventure and I’m so glad I’m jumping in and doing this now, because I feel like if I waited any longer, Drew and I would be into the buy a house/start a family part of our lives, and it would be so much harder to make this work.

Speaking of Drew, even though I said the timing for me was really great, the timing for him to pick up and move somewhere else is not so great. He got a promotion at work the week before I found out I got accepted to SCAD. He is now the Director of Information Technology at all four ISL campuses, something he has worked hard for several years for. I’m so proud of him and the work that he does. He really loves his job and where he works and wants to have more time to be the IT Director before moving on. So things will be a little crazy for us for the next year or so! Drew will be staying in New Orleans a bit longer for work while I move to Savannah to start my program. Not ideal, but I think that we will be able to make it work just fine. It gives me the opportunity to really pour myself into my work and make the most of my time at SCAD and gives him the ability to work in a job he loves with a title he’s worked hard for. After being together for almost ten years, we rely a lot on each other and I think it will even be good for us to spend some time being a little more independent and appreciative of the time we have together and the things we do for each other. And with SCAD being on the quarter system with big breaks between quarters and Drew working in a school with a lot of breaks, we’ll still be seeing a lot of each other.

And since I know some of you may be thinking, “Grad school? But you just paid off your debt! Are you going into more debt!?” The answer to that is that no, we don’t plan to. We’ve continued to live on a minimal budget, and without any debt (no credit card, car, or student loan payments), we’ve been able to save up a pretty good amount of money pretty quickly with us both working (all the money we would have put towards our debt pay off has been going into savings for my tuition). The scholarship that I got from SCAD also helps a lot, as does the raise that came with Drew’s promotion. Our plan is to be able to pay for my school as I go. It is a little tricky with us now paying for housing in two separate cities, but we are making it work (and will be eating a lot of rice and beans yet again for the next while). We may have no money to spend on anything else, but we are chasing our dreams!

We’ve already paid the tuition for my first quarter, I have less than two weeks left at work, just three weeks left of living in New Orleans before I move to Savannah, and just a month before school starts. Things are getting very crazy, but also very exciting around here!

More to come of my adventures at SCAD!

DEBT FREE!!

May 1, 2016

debt free pic1

WE ARE DEBT FREE!!!

This is the story of how we paid off  almost $88,000 in student loan, car, and credit card debt in just over 3 years in our early twenties (part of which while I was still in college and unemployed).

You guys! I have waited so long to write this blog post (3 years and 4 months, to be exact), a post that in the early days of this venture I wasn’t sure we would ever get to. If you are in a place where you feel overwhelmed and crippled by the strain of debt weighing you down, I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND. It feels like I was just there yesterday. But there is a way out. This is our debt-free story. But as a preface, if you get nothing else out of this blog post, please take this: go read Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. It is an amazing book that will really help you start to look at money and finances differently (he is a Christian author, but you don’t need to be Christian or religious to benefit from it). I strongly recommend you read it with your husband/wife/partner. I read it aloud to Drew while in the car driving and it was so beneficial for us to read it together, be on the same page about all the info we were taking in, and chat about it and break it down together.

So, how to begin. When Drew and I got married, I inherited his over $80,000 worth of debt — ~$4,500 in credit card debt, ~$9,000 in car debt, ~$26,000 of his student loans, and ~$45,000 in more student loans that his parents took out. But the real kicker is that I had NO real idea (just the very tip of the iceberg). I did know about his credit card debt (from when we first moved to New Orleans and he had no income and relied on them to live), but he had promised to work on paying it off before our wedding (but wedding and honeymoon plans had gotten in the way). I knew that he had bought a new (used) car a year or two before, but I had no idea how much it had cost. I also knew that he and his parents had taken out loans for school, but I had NO IDEA how much they were, how they worked, when they had to be paid back, how much interest they accrued, or what their agreements were on paying them back (I had NO idea we’d have to pay for the loans his parents took out too!).

As you can imagine, this created quite a storm for our first year of marriage. It was a really, really rough year. There was a lot of frustration in communication – I was stressed about being in the dark on just how far in debt we were and he was too embarrassed by that number to thoroughly talk about it with me. When we did finally get to the bottom of how much we owed, I was just overwhelmed. It felt paralyzing to go from no debt at all (I had a scholarship for my college, my dad and grandpa had bought me an older used car when I turned 16, and still to this day I’ve never owned a credit card) to inheriting your husband’s 80+ grand overnight. My dreams of buying a house, having babies, and grad school for textile design all fell away. How could I ever have kids when we had so much debt!? We’d never be able to pay it off without two incomes! I could kiss thoughts of grad school goodbye! I didn’t ever want to go into more debt!

We got married a few weeks after Drew graduated from college, so it was only a couple months before the first payments on his student loans were due. I was still in college at the time and had no income (my scholarship paid for my living expenses, so that helped a bit). We barely had enough money to live, let alone pay payments on credit cards, his car, and his student loans every month! I grew up with a frugal dad and grandparents that never used credit cards or bought things they didn’t have the money for. I didn’t want to live a lifestyle full of debt. Something had to change.

When we were back in our hometown in Illinois that year for Christmas (6 months into our marriage), I casually mentioned something to my older sister Blair about Dave Ramsey and his financial counseling. I had grown up with my mom listening to Money Matters broadcasts on the Christian radio station and a few weeks earlier on a blog I was reading, Dave’s name had come back up in the context of a debt payoff plan. Blair knew exactly what I was referring to – Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps and what he called the “Debt Snowball.” She casually outlined the gist of it, and it was enough to really stir hope up in me that maybe this would be helpful to us. Drew and I had planned a little weekend getaway in St. Louis while we were back home and on our way out of the city, I asked Drew to stop at a Barnes and Noble. We went in and bought Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover. I started reading it aloud in the car as we drove back to Southern IL.

In the very beginning, Drew had been a little dismissive of all my worries about our debt. He said it was totally normal for people to have car payments and student loans. I’ll never forget the way that I could see his attitude changing as we drove down the highway from St. Louis to Harrisburg. As I read more of Dave’s book – filled with amazing true stories from people – I could see both of our minds turning. Why was it so “normal” for people in our culture to buy things that they couldn’t pay for – cars, houses, you name it? How quickly people take out a loan without even considering saving up the funds. And it was astounding when we really started to think about how long it took to pay those things off, how “normal” it was to have SO. MUCH. DEBT. Credit cards, student loans, car payments, house payments, refinancing things to pay for other things you don’t have the money for. How much you paid in interest alone. (I remember this quick example from the book: “Imagine you buy a $130,000 home, for which you take out a $110,000 mortgage at 7%. The final cost after all is said and done and paid would be $283,520 after 30 years.” YOU’VE PAID OVER TWICE WHAT THE HOUSE IS WORTH! Do people realize this when they buy a house??) Our society has bought into the “I can afford it if I can afford the payment” myth. Instead of asking “how much” people ask “how much a month.” We both started to quickly realize that this wasn’t the life we wanted to live and we wanted to do everything in our power to make sure that it wasn’t.

I finished reading the rest of the book aloud a few days later as we drove back to New Orleans from Southern Illinois. By then, we were both fully committed to trying Dave’s plan (and to cutting up Drew’s credit cards so that nothing like this would ever happen again!). And let me pause here to say that also, even though we already had a joint account and considered all money we both made “our” money, for the first time in our marriage, we were also on the SAME PAGE when it came to our finances and how to go about budgeting and spending that money. That step is SO important!

What we did was really quite simple. Every month we pay our bills first (rent, water/trash, electricity, internet, and car insurance every few months). After that, we have a small set budgeted amount we save for spending that month (groceries, gas, household/toiletries). EVERYTHING ELSE (really, every extra penny) goes towards paying off debt (pay minimum payments on all, then put everything extra on the smallest debt until it is paid off, then move down the line until they are all paid off). If we have a major issue come up (unexpected car trouble), we have a set aside small emergency fund for that, or it comes out of what we would put towards the debt (so we pay a little less extra that month). The key here is that you have to pay more than the minimum payment (often that minimum payment only covers interest, so you aren’t actually paying anything on the principal). Here is how Dave Ramsey describes his Debt Snowball Plan: “The principle is to stop everything except minimum payments and focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, nothing gets accomplished because all your effort is diluted. First accumulate $1,000 cash as an emergency fund. Then begin intensely getting rid of all debt (except the house) using my debt snowball plan. List your debts in order with the smallest payoff or balance first. Do not be concerned with interest rates or terms unless two debts have similar payoffs, then list the higher interest rate debt first. Paying the little debts off first gives you quick feedback, and you are more likely to stay with the plan.” Once you pay off the smallest debt, roll over the amount that you would have been paying on it to your next debt (plus every extra penny you have), and keep doing that until you pay them all off. Use your emergency fund only for real emergencies (car trouble, surprise dental work, etc) and fill it back up as you go. You never want to put yourself back in the place where you would go more into debt (like borrowing money to pay for something unexpected).

For example, when we started, here is what our list of debts looked like from smallest to largest:

Citi Card: $369.57
Chase Southwest Card: $1,012.57
Chase Amazon Card: $3,123.67
Car Loan: $9,000
Drew Student Loan: $26,377.20
Lehman Student Loans: $42,623.00 (this ended up being closer to $48,000 with interest and fees)

For a total of: $82,506 (in the end, we paid almost $88,000 with interest)

It is easy to see how your total debt number can be overwhelming, but thinking about it like this helped us to see that our lowest debt was actually quite small. Instead of thinking “We have $4,500 in credit card debt that will take us forever to pay off” (which it would if we kept paying just the $25 minimum payment on interest every month!), we saw our lowest debt was only $370! Even on a tight budget, it doesn’t take that long to pay off three hundred bucks. Once we paid that off, we stopped paying all that extra in interest and rolled that $25 minimum payment (and all our extra pennies) to the next card to keep chugging away at it. We were able to pay off all the credit card debt and Drew’s car in just the first year alone! 9 months after that we paid off his student loan and 18 months after that we paid off the ones in his parent’s names! Once you pay off the first debt or two, you start to feel that “snowball effect” and you see how it gets easier to build momentum.

It also feels SO FREEING each time you pay one off and know that you are that much closer to being debt free. Truly, it feels so great to make that payment each month and see those numbers go down or away. When the ball really starts rolling and you see progress it is a high that makes you just want to keep going that much more. It truly becomes much more fulfilling to put money towards those payments than it does to buy anything else. It is so much better than a shopping spree!

We made some sacrifices and lifestyle changes to make it work (more on those below) and as we got older and got raises (and I graduated and started working) we never bumped up the amount we lived on each month. To this day, we still live on the same strict budget we did as college students, even though we are almost 25 and 26 years old. We put all that extra income towards our debt so that our payments each month increased. My ENTIRE yearly salary went towards our debt, plus whatever of Drew’s didn’t go towards our rent and bills. When we first started this journey, we barely had an extra $100 to put towards our debt, where at the end, some months we were making over $4,000 payments!

I think the biggest thing though, and I can’t stress this enough, is that if you are married – both partners have to get on the same page, come up with a plan and budget together, and both have to be equally committed to making it work and making sacrifices along the way. It takes a lot of communication and commitment, but it can make your marriage even stronger by making you a better team. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t hold anger and have some resentment along the way (especially in the beginning) towards both Drew and his parents about the fact that I had to put my dreams on hold to pay off money that I didn’t spend, but overall, it has made Drew and I a much stronger team than anything else we’ve done as a couple (and it has been great along the way to help me realize that yes, I was putting dreams on hold, but that the dreams would turn out to be way better than what I had planned anyway!).

So again, how did we do it? The short answer is: we paid the minimum payment on all the debts we had to, and then put every extra penny we had every month (after paying bills, setting aside living expenses, and separate from our small emergency fund) towards the smallest debt (each of the credit cards, then the car, then Drew’s student loans (first his, then his parents)), until we paid each of them off, rolling over the money from the previous ones to the payment on the current one.

I can’t emphasize enough that we’ve put a lot of work into making this happen. We both work A LOT. We both have full-time jobs and run our own business on top of that. Drew also bar tends at a local craft brewery several nights a week. Beyond that, the biggest thing we’ve done to make sure that we could do this was to make sacrifices right now so that we could live the life we wanted to later (Dave Ramsey’s motto is “Live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else” – delay pleasure for a greater result). We don’t have dream jobs. We’ve continued working in ways we haven’t enjoyed because we needed the income. We haven’t gotten to go to grad school. We’ve waited to have kids and buy a house. Yes, we are still young, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when we see everyone around us buying and decorating their new houses and having baby showers and new babies to snuggle. We want those things too. We aren’t living the exact lifestyle that we want to be or thought we would at this time in our lives. But we are making sacrifices today that will make those things so much better when they do happen!

Living simply means something different for everyone, but having both come from frugal households and never being used to a lot of luxuries, it didn’t really seem that difficult for us. Simply put, we really just don’t buy very much stuff! Here are some other ways we altered our spending:

  • We eat at home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Drew takes his lunch to work, I come home and eat mine on my lunch break). We have a monthly budget, and we meal plan weekly and stick to it. We eat leftovers for lunches instead of going out. We don’t drink soda or buy a lot of expensive processed foods. We only make one trip to the grocery store a week and stretch until the next trip (no running back to the store for “just one thing”). And to be honest, we eat a lot of soup and beans and rice because they are cheap. (One thing that really helped save money on groceries was switching from a “stock up on things” mindset to a “buy it only when you need it” mindset. If we ran out of something like black beans, I used to buy more the next time we went to the grocery store (whether we needed them for that week’s meals or not). While in theory this seems like a good idea, in reality I wasted money each week buying stuff I really didn’t need. Our pantry was so full you couldn’t see what we had. Some things we wouldn’t even end up using before they expired. When I found out about my gluten intolerance, I had to throw out or give a lot of stuff away. Of course I always keep the basics – salt, spices, butter, etc, but I’ve found that only buying the bare minimum that you need for each week’s meals saves a lot of money in grocery bills. Sometimes, you might find that you run out of something, live without it for a while, and realize you don’t really need it (I found this especially true with a lot of cleaning products)).
  • We don’t have cable or satellite TV, DVR, or movie channels. We do have internet because it is a necessity for our careers. We have an antenna that picks up local stations for free and if we miss something we watch it online later (but in general, we are too busy to watch much television). We do have Amazon Prime (we use it personally, but Drew also uses it a lot for free/fast shipping for work purchases).
  • I have a minimalist wardrobe and I don’t buy a lot of clothes or go shopping often. When I do buy something, I try to only buy well thought-out high quality pieces (that are going to last, so I don’t have to re-buy later) that add something to my wardrobe that was missing or to replace an item that no longer fits or is functional. This means no mall shopping on the weekends just for something to do (if you go, you are more likely to spend money on things you don’t really need). It also helps to send e-mail sales flyers and coupons directly to your “spam” folder to keep from tempting you to buy things you don’t need (even if they are on sale).
  • No manicures, pedicures, blow-outs, massages, or other fancy “treat yo self” type services. I get a haircut once a year, I shape my own eyebrows, and I’ve never colored my hair. I don’t buy lipsticks or nail polishes. I don’t use hair products, perfume, fancy shampoos, or expensive toiletries.
  • We use minimal household products. We skip buying fabric softener, dryer sheets (I use wool balls), and we use a natural all-purpose cleaner for almost all cleaning.
  • We don’t go out to the movie theater or on expensive date nights. I think I’ve been to the movies twice in the last few years and I think both times were when my dad took us as a family. It doesn’t seem like a big cost, but it adds up if you do it often. We prefer to watch movies at home (so much cheaper).
  • We don’t have the latest electronic gadgets (well, Drew has some through his work), but my laptop and camera are older, my desktop computer was given to me by my work when they upgraded their system, and I don’t have an iPad or an e-reader or an Apple watch. Drew now has a phone through his work, but when we first started our debt-free journey, he downgraded to a flip phone from a smartphone to save money.
  • We don’t buy newspapers or subscribe to magazines. We don’t buy CDs or music on iTunes (we listen to Pandora, records we already have, and Spotify). We don’t go to Starbucks or make coffee shop visits regularly (occasionally on a Saturday morning date day activity). We don’t have gym memberships (we’ve tried occasionally, but can’t stomach the cost when walking outside or in the park is free). Since our house has so many windows with natural light, we save on energy bills by rarely turning on lights. We carry reusable water bottles with us and keep snacks at work (no trips to the vending machine or out for a snack).
  • We don’t have expensive bad habits. We don’t smoke, we don’t drink soda or energy drinks, we aren’t addicted to coffee. Drew enjoys craft beer, but mostly drinks for free at the brewery he works at. He likes craft coffee, but doesn’t drink it regularly and will often make it at home. We don’t spend money going out, partying, or eating out (except for the occasional date night).
  • We don’t buy each other gifts. No anniversary, birthday, or really even Christmas gifts. We buy things for ourselves occasionally when we really want something – we don’t need the other to surprise us with something we may or may not want. We are more likely to go out to dinner at a new restaurant (or one of our regular, cheap favorites) to celebrate a special occasion.
  • We drive instead of fly. Travel is important to us, and even more important in this season of our lives before we have kids. But we skimp and save as much as we can to make those trips work. We drive long distances across the country to save money on flying. Houston is a 5 hour drive. Austin is an 8 hour drive. Nashville is a 9 hour drive. Our hometown in Illinois is a 10 hour drive. Asheville is a 12 hour drive. We stay in Airbnbs instead of hotels (we once paid $30 a night in Portland to stay in a room in someone’s home. It wasn’t the nicest accommodation, but it allowed us to take a trip we otherwise couldn’t afford). We go to natural sites and free attractions. We are foodies, but we don’t eat expensive meals either.
  • We DIY. If you read this blog, then it isn’t a surprise that I like my house to be a pretty place for us to spend our days. But it might surprise you how little I spend on home decor and how rarely I buy things for our home. Most of our furniture is secondhand from Craigslist, flea markets, estate sales, or our childhood homes. What isn’t was either from a cheap big box store like IKEA or Target or we’ve built it ourselves. I’ve made almost all the curtains in our house (and our shower curtain) from sheet sets. And most of the art in our house is my own too. Paint is a cheap way to update rooms.
  • We don’t make impulse purchases (we probably way over-analyze every purchase we make since we are hyper aware of our budget). I keep a running list on my phone of things (for the house, for my wardrobe, etc.) that I’d like whenever I come across the perfect one. This helps to keep me from making impulse purchases when I see something in a store. If it isn’t on the list and isn’t something I really need (or fills a need in my wardrobe, life, etc.) then I don’t buy it. And like I said above, in general we stay away from the mall or other stores where we’d be tempted to buy things anyway.
  • We have to politely decline a lot of fun things that cost money. We can’t spend all week at Jazz Fest, go to concerts, or go to organizations/galas/Mardi Gras balls that some of our friends do. A lot of Drew’s friends travel to beer events that we don’t have the money to go to. Sometimes you can feel a little left out, but knowing that we are on our way to being debt free is worth it to us. New Orleans has tons of free festivals and things to do outside that aren’t stopping us from having a good time!

This process wasn’t always fun, but it was definitely worth it! The last three years went by so fast, I can’t believe we actually did it and are done! It really wasn’t that hard! And it is amazing that now we can go about our lives without all that debt hanging over our heads! YOU CAN DO IT! Start from anywhere!

P.S. I understand that this is really private and personal information. I share it in the hopes that maybe our story can help someone else out there in the same boat that we were in not so long ago! When we started this journey, I was 21 and an unemployed college student. Before I graduated and started working, we paid off all our credit card debt and a good chunk of Drew’s car while living in New Orleans on a one-income entry-level salary. If we can do it, you can too! 

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any other questions!