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Life in the Fast Lane

By Justine Dorton

Ever heard of the Freegans? I heard about this alternative lifestyle several years ago, and have been fascinated by them. I don’t agree with all their politics, and, I should state upfront, I do not have one scintilla of compunction to actually join them in their minimalist and dumpster-diving life. There are parts of their life, though, that feel very, very appealing to me.

Consume less?

Live off the resources I have at hand? Share?

Lessen my environmental impact?

What’s not to like?

At lunch with a wise, dear friend a couple of weeks ago, she suggested to me that she was going to start a ‘financial fast’. Financial fast? I thought, what a completely and totally fabulous idea! So, unbeknownst to her, I started too. I’ve spent the last two weeks without spending any money. Not any. Oh, sure, I’ve made a lot of potatoes and we’re pretty much out of fresh vegetables and milk, but that’s not really the story here.

I’m happier.

I’m actually a lot happier.

I feel an enormous peace and calmness in my day. I love that I don’t have any errands to run. I love being at home — all day. And I haven’t missed anything. I’ve been able to remember that I don’t need anything else cluttering up my life. The Spirit has been in my life more, mostly because I’ve been around to listen. I’ve uncluttered my brain from all the silly things I thought I “just need to run out and get.” I don’t have sour cream for dinner? Don’t make mexican food! Kid’s need new socks? Fix the old ones (isn’t it called darning? I did that!) Nephew needs a birthday present? Sew him something from the mountain of fabric I have on hand!

I’ve actually done what the scripture D&C 101:16 says: “Be still and know that I am God.” I’ve really starting being still. Guess what? (shocking revelation ahead…) It works!

I was discussing this newfound peace with my running partner, and she poured out a sad tale of woe from the previous day. At her daughter’s cello competition, she sat in the audience and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who had recently moved to Utah for a job with the Utah Symphony. The conversation turned to the Mormon church, and this gentleman was shocked — absolutely shocked — to learn from my friend that Mormon doctrine didn’t preach big houses, plastic surgery, and total environmental abandon. His experience with faithful LDS members had been one of overarching consumerism, lack of concern for our earth, a preoccupation with personal gain, and Botox in general.

I cringed at the reality of it all. The guy was far too right for my comfort level. In so many ways, I’ve wandered away from the pure doctrines of the church and decided to live comfortably in the murky waters of community mores.

I thought again about the Freegans. Live modestly. Share resources. Stop living a disposable life. Reuse. Make do.

I’m going to continue my financial fast through the holidays. Oh, sure, I’m going to have to go off the fast to go on a mega Costco binge (buy some fresh vegetables and milk, at least), but I’ve got so much stuff at my house, I could host Christmas for an entire orphanage. As a family, I think we’ve decided to buy a cow from Heifer.org this year instead of buying presents for each other. Homemade sounds pretty good to me. And how much more am I going to enjoy Thanksgiving as I contemplate the rich and blessed life I’m already living, as opposed to the one I think I could be living if I would just buy that ottoman for the master bedroom? I’m already finding myself more grateful for the bounty of the Lord. And I would imagine that someone in Rwanda probably needs the cow slightly more than I need the ottoman.

So if I find myself in a pinch this holiday season, I’ve always got that mountain of fabric. Need some jammies?

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About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

42 thoughts on “Life in the Fast Lane”

  1. Justine, this is fabulous. I have had some of these thoughts for a long time, but not applied them to any grand degree. I have been inspired. I think I see a fhe lesson coming up in our house.

    THANK YOU!

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  2. I have been thinking quite a bit about these things lately. Consume less, lessen my impact, etc. (I have already started cutting out PJ's from the fabric I have on hand.) I like the idea of a financial fast. I am especially intriged by the spiritual aspect you wrote about. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Wow, I love you Justine.

    One thing I've never figured out about financial fasts: they work so well when they're voluntary, and so badly when imposed. I overdrew my checking account for the first time in years last month, and I found the sudden requirement to make difficult–it was time consuming and I was already behind on so many projects.

    I read a book on Freegan-like living ten years ago. It had tips like don't wear underwear, and always rent the apartment in the middle floor and leave the thermostat off, to take advantage of the heat drifting up from the apartments below, and summer heat protection from the apartments above. Too out there for me, but oddly inspiring.

    http://www.littlebrowndress.com/

    and wasn't TftCarrie of http://talesfromthecrib.blogspot.com/ also on a group blog for people who pledged to remake and reuse clothing rather than buying anything, during 2006?

    I get tired of people at church seeming to tell me to be frugal to the ends of achieving a higher middle class lifestyle. Being frugal for political reasons is much more satisfying.

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  4. I find myself being frugal for not just politics — although being kind to the earth is part of it. I find that I really am closer to the Spirit when I let go of all the stuff.

    I wonder if it has something to do with our admonitions to cleave unto the Lord. I think I found myself cleaving unto bedskirts and iPods. It was becoming more important than it should have.

    I put a link to a trailer "What Would Jesus Buy?" over in Footnotes, and I must say I have enjoyed removing myself from that craziness.

    Yeah, and I'm all about keeping the thermostat on. Oddly inspiring is a good way to put it.

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  5. This is the best Segullah post I've read in ages, ages. Thanks so much. I've had (and sometimes even acted upon) these kinds of thoughts and impulses too. This gives me more courage and inspiration as I meet the hungry holidays of 2007.

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  6. This was good. I've been thinking about this so much lately. We've been going through all of our possessions that we've accumulated in the last 5 years and trying to manage to fit what we would like to take home with us in 11 suitcases–I think we have something like 400 pounds total.
    As we've sorted through all our stuff, I wondered why we bought it all in the first place–and we knew that we would have to get rid of it in 5 years anyhow. So we were pretty careful with what we purchased but still there seems to be so much stuff. It feels so good to get rid of things, to share with friends in need and to donate to schools. Now if I can just keep those thoughts in my head as we return to the materialism of the U.S. . .
    I also feel lighter and closer to the Spirit when I pare down. I definitely like the idea of a financial fast.

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  7. Amen, sister!

    I know what that fellow means. I get so depressed when I go to Utah, because the huge house phenomenon, the plastic surgery, and then the obsession with pyramid get rich schemes and the predominance of fend off foreclosure billboards that suggest people aren't all living within their means when they pay for these things. Other places I visit aren't like that, and it disturbs me that the LDS heartland is, when we know better. We do.

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  8. As someone who is quite often discouraged by exactly what you shared in your tale of woe, I am thoroughly touched by this post. I am so impressed that you can go for two weeks without spending anything—impressed and inspired. You've given me much to think about!

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  9. Reminds me of what Sister Beck said, and why she said it.

    Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world's goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all.

    I love this post. I do struggle with where to draw the line, because I think anything can be taken to a distracting extreme. (I also think it's too easy to equate big houses with sinfulness and that is a slippery slope in and of itself…it's all about our hearts, not necessarily the size of our houses.) But I think Justine has pointed us toward the measure of if what we are doing is a good thing…we feel the Spirit more, feel more focused, feel closer to God, feel more purified. Thanks for pointing us toward that goal.

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  10. Michelle, some of my dearest friends live in really large homes, so I completely understand your point. I could never condemn them, for I know their hearts. To know our own heart is what's really important here, though. Sinfulness, for me at least, comes from the shift in focus that all this consumerism brings, not necessarily in any one particular purchase or possession.

    President Monson said at a regional conference some years back that it's not the large, beautiful homes that will condemn you, it's if you couldn't give it all up in 1 second for the Lord.

    I want that attitude.

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  11. I hate to shop, so I love that "not going anywhere" part. I love to stay home and those days that I run up to Wal-Mart and the grocery store are awful for me.

    What struck me about this is how you didn't miss the stuff you didn't buy.

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  12. I am feeling an anti-consumerism feeling about this coming Christmas. Unfortunately it's kind of a tough sell for teenagers and eight-year-olds. I agree with Michelle that choosing a simpler, slower, less consuming kind of lifestyle is a very personal thing and comes from within our hearts.

    That said, I feel badly that people equate Utah with big houses and plastic surgery. That is not the community I know, although it is nearby and that is what we often see splashed across local publications.

    The other day my husband and I were driving through the trailer park not too far from my home. He has many students who live there. It saddened him to witness the evidence of their poverty. But what I noticed was that at every trailer there were entire families of children gathered together playing outside with not much in the way of equipment or toys. They looked happy.

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  13. Sinfulness, for me at least, comes from the shift in focus that all this consumerism brings,

    Absolutely, and I knew that was the focus of your post, and why it was such an insightful one. I just added that because it's all too easy to make conversations like this about competition, and yet the whole point is introspection. Sometimes hard introspection.

    It’s not the large, beautiful homes that will condemn you, it’s if you couldn’t give it all up in 1 second for the Lord.

    I want that attitude.

    Amen.

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  14. I've been married for six years and my husband and I have been students for the whole time. We live in a two bedroom apartment that's only about 800 square feet. We don't own a lot of stuff. At the same time, I've found myself wanting more things, wanting what other people, feeling covetous and materialistic. It's not the size of your home or really even your spending habits, it's your attitude of materialism. I've had plenty of "forced" financial fasts; I don't like to shop much and we generally don't have any disposable income. What I have had to work on is my attitude of gratitude and really figuring out what my wants and needs are.

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  15. Great post, Justine.

    In the summers we visit my husband's family homestead, a hundred-year old house where something like thirteen kids were raised (could be fourteen, could be twelve. I don't remember the exact number. More than ten, though.) And those closets–they are teeny. They just had less stuff back then, and therefore they cared for what they had better.

    Whereas I look around and feel overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff in my house. Hate to get rid of it, it's still usable, and yet I'm not doing too well at taking care of it either. And even so, the Christmas catalogs arrive in my mailbox, and I wonder what to get my kids this year. More stuff.

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  16. FoxyJ, I know exactly how you feel. I remember the first several years of our marriage, when my husband was a perpetual student, and I felt like we'd never dig out. I suffered from a great deal of pride when I felt defensive about our financial situation. I tried to overcompensate and pretend a lot of things that weren't true.

    Now, we're just as poor (or feel it, anyway), but I'm slowly learning to let go of all the preconceptions about what I need. I really just need food — good food. I can manage almost everything else if I've got some food in my pantry.

    Well, and technically at our house, it's not the pantry, it's the 'foodtry', because, as my 5 year old asked, "we don't keep pans in there! What's the deal with the name?" Think about it…

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  17. What a wonderful post! I have been thinking along these same lines for months. I've been coming up with some homemade, (but nice!) Christmas gifts for this year. I'm sure it won't all be homemade, but I'm so ready to give that a go and live with less.

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  18. I recently subscribed to the grocery game (on-line coupon saving). I thought, great, I'll save a ton of grocery money. The problem was that I was buying things I didn't need, or rarely used, just because it was cheap. Also, I felt compelled to go to stores every single week that I usually went to maybe once a month. I basically shop at one store, anything else is only out of necessity. I love the financial fasting idea. It drives me nuts the kind of money people spend at Christmas.

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  19. Today while at Toys R Us buying a 39.99 slide for my son's 2nd birthday, I saw a woman buy 2 large boy ATV rider cars, PLUS 2 girl ATV cars. I gathered by the prices I saw that she spent about 800 bucks. I cringed at the thought of spending that much on toys. I like the idea of the financial fast. I've been on a moderate one for the past 5 years as we work on getting out of debt after my husband was laid off work for a year when I was pregnant with our first son. We've learned how to save for things. Credit doesn't exist in my home and that's okay with me. I've never been one for frivilous things. I am happy to give things away and accept hand me downs. I don't mind that I don't have matching furniture or that a couple of my kitchen chairs are lawn chairs, it works for me. My house is neat and orderly, my family is fed, clothes are neat and tidy, and that is what matters to me. Don't get me wrong, there are things I want, but I have learned over the years to truly separate what I want and what I need.

    "I really just need food — good food. I can manage almost everything else if I’ve got some food in my pantry."

    I agree with this statement. As long as I have food in the house, I can work with everything else.

    Great post

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  20. I can't even go into Toys R Us anymore. I just can't. I know I'm being unreasonable, but why are my kids just as happy with a large cardboard box and some pipe cleaners, as they would be with fancy toys? I just can't contribute to that madness anymore.

    It used to be that receiving a doll or a truck was a rare event, the toy being treasured and loved for years. Now, we inundate our children with so much they don't care for any of it, playing casually with it if it happens to cross their path, then easily discarding it when the next thing comes.

    Two years ago, one of my daughters received so many birthday presents from people she loves, I found toys, still unopened, months later. They were stuffed under her bed, as if a shameful reminder that she hadn't gotten around to them yet.

    It's just too much.

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  21. Justine, I got mad at you last Christmas for reminding me (indirectly) my kids had too much stuff. It was stressful just to think about getting rid of stuff. But a few months ago I was ready. We gave 13 jumbo-sized Rubbermaid containers of toys to DI. We also gave van-loads full of clothes and other stuff away. This year for Christmas my kids are getting one gift each, TOTAL, and it won't be anything with little parts or pieces. The toy catalogs are coming in the mail and I feel tired just looking at them. No more!!

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  22. Kathy, how are you going to swing that? Do they each get a Santa gift and that's it? What do parents give them? Do they give each other gifts? Sorry for the nosy, I'm just not satisfied with the way I do things, and I'm fascinated by how other people handle their Christmas gift situations.

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  23. Kathy, I'm so sorry to have irked you! How did I do it? I was so excited to hear how great things had gone with the de-cluttering at your house.

    Emily, we only give one gift, too. It's from us. Santa fills their stockings with treats and books and a new toothbrush. So I guess technically the books could count as another gift, but that's it.

    The kids do exchange gifts, but they are pretty small since we have the kids purchase them with their own money. That often means they are home-made, which actually turns out nicely most years. We've had kids paint blocks of wood, write each other stories, older kids are learning how to sew, sometimes they make them cookies. Stuff like that. It's really been wonderful.

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  24. Wonderful post. We have been continually trying to cut back and simplify. I am so thankful for my extended family who has for years, forgone traditional Christmas presents. Instead the adults play a hilarious white elephant gift exchange game and the children exchange gift that must be previously used or handmade.

    And apparently the neighborhood we moved into goes a little overboard with the gift exchange. A few days after we moved in, our next door neighbor came over and wanted to pick my brain for ideas of what we could do instead. There were just too many gifts for a bunch of kids that didn't really need them. I suggested having the neighborhood adopt a family for Christmas. A few days later, everyone got a little note explaining the idea and everyone on our cul de sac is on board. I think it is going to be great.

    And finally, yes I was a part of Wardrobe Refashion for over a year. And while I am not a "pledger" anymore, the things I learned and the different way of thinking I gained during my pledge time are something I hope to always keep with me. I look at clothes in a whole different way now.

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  25. We have six people in our family and lived on $21,000 last year (our rent was 1200/mo and no, we couldn't always pay it). Once we lived on $13,000 (only 4 people that year) It was horrible. I don't recommend it. When we get out of school, I wonder if I will turn into the type of person who just goes out and buys furniture. I doubt it. Even typing reminds me of my poverty. Should I turn on the heat to warm my stiff fingers? No. Writing about it makes me want to cry. Is anyone else out there poor?

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  26. We've just had a surgery pop into our lives, which will really hit us hard financially for Christmas. We told the kids that even our cow purchase might be on the line, and Christmas might look like a lot of painted scraps of wood and other homemade gifts.

    The Spirit, though, was really there while we were talking, and I got a really great feeling that said, almost in utterance, "this is going to be a great Christmas." Somehow, simplicity always brings peace.

    We feel pretty poor most of the time, anon. And I remember our student days, when we were really faced with food vs. tithing choices. Hang in there. Email me and I'll send you a bunch of the fabric I've accumulated over the years (I'm serious). Warm jammies are always great presents! Send me a holler to submissions at segullah dot org. seriously.

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  27. Hey, Thanks Justine. Let me think about whether it is really worth your trip to the post office (whether I'll truly use it) and I'll write you.

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  28. Justine, I hope everything is all right with the surgery and all. This is a bad time of year to have extra expenses–we just had to get a new furnace. Ick.

    Thanks for sharing what you do at Christmas. I think we're going to try something like that this year. Do you worry about spending the same amount per child, so that it's all even? If my son wants something that costs more than what my daughter wants, do I give her an extra gift to make up for it?

    Have your kids gotten sad because their main gift isn't from Santa? I'm wondering if my oldest will be upset. But then I think, I want to downplay Santa.

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  29. My kids have never known any different, so I guess they're not to phased by the Santa thing. The big gift givers in our lives are GRANDPARENTS, and the kids know it. They always put in their big ticket requests with them…

    And I used to insist on total cash equity between the kids, but have forgone that standard for several years (mostly for my own sanity's sake). My son's greatest wish this year is for a new football. My daughter really wants a new scripture bag. Both pretty equal in price, but my third daughter's greatest wish is much more expensive (some new tall boots). I might give in, who knows. The price difference doesn't seem to make much of a difference until the kids are older. That's my observation, anyway.

    One year, my mom went for total cash equity and ended up spending several hundred dollers per grandkid trying to "even up". It was a horribly extravagant Christmas that was remembered more for the four hours of opening presents than the spirit of the day.

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  30. Santa's always been the big giver here, so this year will be a switch. But, as my husband says, it will be easier to switch now than when they are older. Thanks for your wise example, Justine.

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  31. We had years as students when we didn't use heat and didn't even have much to eat. It was hard, although fortunatly our children came later. We still aren't wealthy (my husband is a teacher) but we don't have to worry about covering the basics, which is a relief. Hang in there, anonymous.

    I am opposed to trying for sibling equity, in present value or most other things. I give my kids what they individually need, and what their siblings need and therefore may has nothing to do with it in my eyes. I often hear myself saying in response to them, "life is often not fair. Don't expect it to be" But what I really mean is that Heavenly Father has a more perfect way, and in order to be prepared to see and understand His blessings they need learn faith and gratitude and goodwill toward their siblings, not be looking up reciepts and matching dollar amounts.

    We downplay Santa–usually one Santa gift per kid and one gift from parents. My kids don't even write Santa letters. However, like Justine's, my parents are big gift givers. My husband refers to their house as the North Pole.

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  32. Justine, I was irked by a post like this one that we did last year. I was overwhelmed by life at the time (more than am now, that is) and resented hearing about another reason to feel guilty: having a more-than-homespun Christmas. We don't have anything near extravagance (by our society's standards) but it's more than pipe cleaners and jammies. I'm not grumpy this year but I still think it's important to keep things in perspective–holiday traditions don't make or break a family, and there's no one way to have a "righteous" Christmas.

    Having said that, I totally agree with the core idea here–to simplify and enjoy the spirit of the season. I think what your family does is awesome, Justine.

    Emily, we don't do Santa gifts. My kids have three sets of grandparents and two great-grandmas who want presents from them under the tree, so we skipped Santa from the beginning (he fills stockings, but even this is very casual in nature–we don't hype Santa.) When we read Christmas stories that show Santa hauling big piles of stuff into the house and my little kids ask why that doesn't happen here, I tell them it's because they already have a big family to provide gifts.

    This year, instead of doing 4-5 small-to-medium gifts for each kid (30 new items to add to the chaos of our house??? no thank you) we're doing one relatively "big" gift each, that's from all their relatives.

    It will be different–no pile under the tree. But the other night I turned to Reed and said, "do you realize we'll only have 7 gifts to wrap this Christmas Eve?" And let me tell you, that sounded good. Ditto for only 7 boxes to clean up Christmas morning.

    anon, my heart goes out to you.

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  33. p.s. I forgot to mention: this year my parents are giving our family an annual pass to our neighborhood rec center/indoor pool. There are neat ways for big-gift givers to live it up without adding a bunch of stuff to your house… if they're willing to take suggestions, that is. 🙂

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  34. Kathy, I'm so sorry if I caused you consternation. And I wholeheartedly agree that this can certainly be taken to unhealthy extremes. I'm trying to reign myself in from swinging too far. I tend to swing wide and can be quite reactionary. It's all part of my exotic hormonally induced arrogance that has me thinking that everyone would be better off if they all thought like me. I'm working on it…I'm working on it…

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  35. no no no, Justine, I don't fault you one bit. Just pointing out the gap in understanding that can stretch wide between a person who's full-steam-ahead with positive change, and a person who's hanging on to sanity with her ragged fingernails. You shouldn't water down your perspective just because some readers won't be in a frame of mind to welcome it. Many others want and need to hear what you have to say. And those of us who are stressed out will likely remember what's said, even if we can't implement it right then, and consider it at some future point. (Like I did.) Keep the great posts coming!

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  36. I see other true gospel principles here as well– living providently, being humble, being good stewards. We have all heard about these things in many different talks and lessons. The part that is open to interpretation, and that is therefore interesting to discuss (at least for me) is the individual application. I don't think we need to be threatened when other people's applications look different than ours. I won't be sewing this Christmas, for example, because I'm so terrible at it that I end up wasting time that is needed for other things. But I love that Justine is making jammies.

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