Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My underwear drawer

My nomadic journey started in my underwear drawer.

Further explanation is probably required. 

The other day, I received a comment on my blog from Mandy_Fish who wrote,
"Now it makes me curious as to why you are a nomad. I'm going to have to go back to the beginning of your blog and find out..."
And that got me wondering about when this nomadic journey started.

I didn't start this blog in January 2010 with the end goal of being a nomadic blogger. I started it because I wanted change in my life. My dreary corporate job was sucking the life out of me. And all the time I wasn't working was spent recovering from working. It was a vicious cycle.

Someone told me once at the beginning of my advertising career that it's easy to burn out. I thought this was crazy talk. I had just landed my copywriting job at an advertising agency. I was writing the back of cereal boxes. I thought I had hit the big time.

And for a long time, I devoted all my creative energy to advertising. Awards, accolades and raises poured in. Well, they didn't pour in, but there was a consistent trickle. And I loved every bit of it.

But after the millionth headline and billionth copy change, I couldn't use advertising to burn through my creative juices anymore. I had to find something else.

Hence the blog in January 2010. My main goal was to find a new creative passion. I wasn't planning on quitting my job. I wasn't planning on traveling the world. I was just hoping to find some pleasure in my life.

So I spent the first part of 2010 painting and bookbinding. The energy for all these pursuits waned quickly. Bookbinding sounds like fun, but there is a lot of paperwork. Folding. Piercing. Sewing. Ugh. And at the end of it, I'd create a journal that took more time and cost than my favorite journal, the Twin Ring Notebook, which promises on its cover:

It keeps its promise, too. It DOES have the most advanced quality with the best writing features that gives satisfaction to me. And it's a better journal than I can bind myself.

So that was the end of that artistic pursuit.

And painting... that went well for a long time but it was messy. And I don't want to clean up messes. That's what my day job was for. (If you've ever been a copywriter, you know what I'm talking about.)

So how does this relate to underwear?

In my pursuit for my new art, I kept a journal. I wrote three pages a day as instructed by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. And after writing a whole lot of blather that helped release my pent up frustrations with my life, I found I was writing lists of things to do. Massive lists. Big things to do and little things to do. Things to do on the weekend. Things to do in life. Lots of things to do.

And one of the things on this list was to clean out my underwear drawer.

So that's what I did.

Turns out, it takes virtually no time to sort through underwear drawers. I don’t have to try them on to see if they will fit like I do with the clothes in my closet. A quick glance at each pair makes sorting easy. And there is no question of whether or not to donate these undies to a thrift store. That can’t happen, right? People know not to do that, right?



Turns out, a quick online search tells me that not only do people donate underwear if it’s “gently used” but that not enough people donate to homeless shelters. I also read there is a shortage of plus-sized underwear at women’s shelters. Further research says that skid marks or bloodstains are not okay. Holes are also not preferred. No one is interested in unsightly knickers.

So there you go.

But mine were pitifully worn out, so in the trash they went. I was shocked to learn that I had underwear from five boyfriends ago. A decade’s worth of undies was still under my roof long after the lover for whom they were purchased for his viewing pleasure was out the door.

In no time, I had a drawer of three tiny piles of underwear, all neatly folded like envelopes. This was more than just satisfying. A tiny chasm opened in my soul and peace began to trickle in. I felt lighter.

This was such a lovely feeling that I moved onto cull my closets, which led to sorting through my papers and files. Eventually, I gained enough momentum to revamp or toss entire photo albums. Do I need to keep photos of five-boyfriends-ago? No. I tossed them as quickly as I tossed their matching gotchies.

With each bag I dropped off at the thrift store, with each pile of papers I shredded, with each drawer that became empty or sparse, that chasm of peace opened wider. And it stayed that way. I was no longer hypnotized by the fallacy that material things bring happiness. They don't. (Except for Apple products and soft bed sheets.)

I found great satisfaction in crossing tasks off my list as long as I gave myself enough time to do so. I think that's the trick with lists. One needs to be gentle with timelines. The lists morphed from lists of unfinished tasks to calculations on how much money I could save by a certain date. They morphed again when I printed out a map of Europe and taped it on the inside cover of my journal. My lists became names of places to visit.


By the end of 2010, I got my apartment down to the one suitcase and carry-on I now use to travel the world. Toni Morrison was right when she said, "You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down."

When I started this journey, I didn't know I wanted to fly. But in giving up the shit that weighed me down, I felt so light that flying seemed like the most natural thing to do in the world.

And the creative pursuit? Turns out it was this blog. Turns out it was writing all along.

Bastille Day in Paris, 2011.


  1. Janice you were always meant to write. And I love the Toni Morrison quote. I think I will write it in big letters on my desk at work.

  2. Great post. I've been purging my belongings in anticipation of a cross-country move in the spring. Amazing how liberating it feels to get rid of "stuff" and clutter. After reading your blog, I feel an urge to get rid of even more stuff! Glad I stumbled across the blog, I'm enjoying reading you :)

  3. You are such an inspiration with your tiny pile of underwear and two suitcases. I always hear your voice in my head saying, "Live beneath your means."

    I think my Etsy store may have been the equivalent of your bookbinding and painting. We'll see what survives as I trek through this layoff...

  4. Who knows where the next creative inspiration will come from. The process is to keep your eyes open, your mind open, and keep opening drawers. The artist's way can be strangely bizarre and wonderful at the same time.

    I'm very glad you discovered it was writing all along. We all are reaping the benefit!

  5. brilliant. you're an inspiration. hope you're fantastic

  6. There are a few more photo albums in your bedroom at home that should be dealt with I think they go back further than 5 boyfriends ago.Onto another chapter in your life .Au revoir

  7. Everlost: If I was meant to write, you were meant to travel. I've been enjoying your travel blog, too.

    Camilla: Be brutal with your stuff. You'll be glad you were. Trust me.

    Mel Heth: I totally dig your Etsy store. And it is a great creative outlet when our creative day jobs are hardly creative at all.

    Richard: Thanks for the kind words. And yes, the artist's life can be bizarre. But we must do it otherwise all that energy will make us crazy.

    Gebo: Hope you're fantastic, too. Thanks again for your quick trip to Paris to fix all my IT issues. You're a blessing.

    Mom: Ya ya ya. I'll be home this weekend to deal. And you're right... those albums are more like 10 boyfriends ago.


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