When I was in grad school at SCAD, I started using gouache to paint with. It is great for textile design work because it is matte and opaque, which makes for nice blocks of solid color and less sheen when scanning in to put into repeat (as opposed to acrylic or watercolor, which can both be transparent, and acrylic can sometimes also be a little glossy). I quickly started using Holbein’s Acryla Gouache, and for the last 8 years, it has been primarily what I paint with! I love that it isn’t re-wettable like some gouache can be, so I can paint in layers without the pigments bleeding. 

I’m not sure why it took me so long to think to do, but for fun, I recently took all the colors of gouache I have (over 50!) and painted some little color chips with them. I love that I’ll be able to easily pull these out to pick a color palette, since the colors can be ever-so-slightly different than the color on the tubes. 

I also love that in these paint chips I can remember more easily which colors are ever-so-slightly more translucent than others (you can see the streakiness in their swatches). And it’s always fun to compare colors. 

I’ve collected a lot of colors over the years, but I still constantly reach for my favorites! I mix these colors, but I absolutely love how pretty many are directly out of the tube. If anyone from Holbein reads this — reach out to me! I desperately want a green straight from the tube that’s a good mix of olive and sap green! I’m constantly mixing those two! Many of the “greens” straight from the tube are too cool. If you are trying to compare colors and decide which to buy — I hope this helps you!

A couple months ago, Catalina Rodriguez, a current design student at SCAD (where I went to grad school), reached out to me to see if she could interview me for her Business Strategies and Entrepreneurship class. She was interested in my work as a freelance designer and asked great questions about my process and professional development. I thought I would share the interview here as well for anyone that is curious or has questions about the same things!

How did you get into the field and get established as a pattern/textile designer?

It’s been a winding journey! My mom is a seamstress, so I grew up going with her to fabric shops and collecting fabrics. I’ve always painted and I got into digital design as I got older. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that I could bring my love of painting, design, and fabric together to design patterns for textiles. I finished my undergrad degree in painting and worked in graphic design for several years, taking online and in-person workshops with surface pattern designers I admired to build my pattern design skills. I ended up going to grad school at SCAD and got my Masters in Fibers with an emphasis on textile design/print & pattern, and I interned in the print design department at Lilly Pulitzer’s headquarters while there. After grad school, I continued working on my freelance art/design career — making work and sharing it online and reaching out to companies I wanted to work with.

How does your process change when you are working on a commission?

It depends on the commission, but my process generally stays about the same because people are typically commissioning me to create the type of work I already do (painterly florals mostly!). There is obviously more input on color, subject matter, the way the pattern repeats, etc, from the client, but generally we are working together because they like my style and they want that to stay in there. It probably helps that I maintain a consistent brand/style of work for people to seek out.

Where do you get your work from? Social media, contacting clothing/fabric companies (email, mailers, an agency)?

I share my work and process regularly on social media (instagram) and have had some clients reach out to me on there. I also have had people find my work through Pinterest and contact me via my website. I have fabric lines on quilting cotton coming out this year and for that, I contacted companies (via email) and also traveled to International Quilt Market (a trade show) to meet with the art directors of fabric companies in person. In the beginning it can be hard to constantly be putting your work out there, but you have to be sharing your work for people to see it! (and reaching out to companies you want to work with!)

How did you decide to go freelance?

It has always been my intent to freelance so that I could have freedom over where I live and so that I could have the ability to be a work-from-home mom. It is hard to do both, but I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love and also be able to stay at home with my daughter. My husband’s job is also in New Orleans, and there isn’t a large corporate textile atmosphere here for me to work in if I wasn’t working freelance. The corporate textile industry is so location specific!

How do you handle licensing and not being “too precious”about your work? How can you find a balance between what you want and what the client wants in the negotiation?

This is such a great question and something that I’m constantly learning about myself. My work comes from such a personal place, but it helps to remind myself that this is my job, not my baby. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic has a great section about this that really resonated with me that I recommend to anyone struggling with this (p. 229-235)! In the end, I have to be okay with letting go if something gets cut or needs to be re-worked and not take it personally. If you keep an open mind, it usually works out in the end. I’ve had to tweak patterns that I ended up liking better in the end because of something the client wanted. I just went through the strike-offs for my first quilting cotton collection and the company I’m working with cut several of the patterns to make the collection tighter. It’s a little sad, of course, to see designs you like and spent time on not make the final cut, but the collection we ended up with is still lovely and I have to trust that they also know what will sell! Some days you just have to stay the course and trust that it will all work out in the end! And remember to see your work out in the world, you have to let it go!

What is the most difficult part of being a freelancer?

So many things! Consistent work, consistent income, balancing all the hats (making work, marketing it, behind the scenes business work and expenses, etc…), figuring out how to best spend your time to make money, I could go on and on! Freelancing really is a dance that isn’t always the easiest road, but the payoff (getting to spend more time with my daughter and having more control over where my art goes in the world) is worth it to me!

How do you get inspired?

I’m fortunate to live in New Orleans — a really beautiful city. I’m always taking photos of flowers, plants, architectural details, etc on my walks around my neighborhood or any time I’m out and about. I keep those photos on my computer to reference when I have time to paint. Pretty much all my artwork comes from painting from life or from the photos I take when out and about/traveling. I’ve trained my eye to always seek out pattern inspiration!

What is most important in your work?

Ooh, hard question! I’d say probably color. You can create a beautiful painting/pattern, but it can be all wrong if the colors aren’t working together. I’m very particular about color!

Who is an artist that you look up to/admire?

I love Lulie Wallace and how she maintains both her art studio practice and creates textile work. I’ve always admired Anna Maria Horner’s rich textile designs and Bonnie Christine’s willingness to share her process. Others: Carrie Shryock, Raven Roxanne, Teil Duncan, Juliet Meeks, Anna Rifle Bond, Margaret Jeane, Emily Jeffords, I could go on and on!

What kind of advice would you give to someone that wants to become a successful surface pattern designer?

Keep making work and keep putting it out there! It took many years for my work to get where it is (and I still feel like I’m just at the beginning of my journey!). Consistently making work is the only thing that will improve your skills and help you get to creating the work you want to make. Don’t be scared to put your work out there, that’s how you get people to notice it!

I’m SO excited to offer my first art & design video tutorial!

This is something I struggled with for years! I only painted on small sheets of paper or sketchbooks for my pattern work because I only had a scanner that would scan up to letter size documents! I wish I had known how to photomerge in Photoshop sooner! It is so simple! (and a game changer for my design work!) Scan artwork as large as you want (on a letter size scanner) and let Photoshop help you with the rest!

This tutorial is FREE for my email list subscribers! Learn how to scan large artwork and photomerge in Adobe Photoshop! Sign up below to have it delivered directly to your inbox! Hope you enjoy!

Where should we send your free tutorial?

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I’m so excited to finally be offering free phone wallpapers of my paintings and patterns to my email list subscribers! Sign up below to receive them delivered straight to your inbox!

Here’s a little preview of the patterns offered:

I plan to be adding more periodically! Sign up below!

Where should we send your free wallpapers?

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And just like that, I’m done with my Master’s degree!! I’m officially a SCAD alum with a M.A. in Fibers (concentration: Textile Design/Print and Pattern). It was a crazy, stressful, hard, but amazing 15 months and I’m so grateful for this part of my personal and professional journey. I made amazing friends, had awesome opportunities, and saw my work and style progress so much over the course of the last year or so. I’ve loved living in Savannah — such a beautiful and inspiring city — really one of my favorite places!

I’m more than ready to be back in New Orleans with Drew though and to see life settle down a bit. Here’s to seeing what exciting things lie ahead!

As you know if you follow me on Instagram, I had the amazing opportunity this summer to intern in the Print Design department at Lilly Pulitzer’s headquarters (the Pink Palace!) in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Morgan Foery from Atlantic Anchors asked to interview me about my experience. She shared the interview here, but I’m also posting below for my own record! Read more about my experience below or on her blog!

What did you study in college? Did you always know you wanted to go to grad school?

I did my undergrad at Tulane University in New Orleans and majored in both English and Studio Art with a concentration in Painting. While in undergrad, I fell in love with design and interned at a small graphic design studio and also opened a small web and graphic design business with my husband (then boyfriend).

It was part of the way through undergrad that I learned about surface pattern design and that people could be fabric/textile designers for a living. I immediately knew it was what I wanted to do! A perfect combination of my love of art and design! I couldn’t study that at Tulane though, so I made the most of my time there, poured myself into my painting and graphic design work. I had long admired the Savannah College of Art and Design and dreamed about going to grad school there for textile design, but when I graduated from undergrad my husband had a lot of student loans that we needed to pay off. So I worked full-time in graphic design for three years post-grad and we lived really simply and worked hard to pay off all our debt. During that time I took online courses and in-person workshops with designers that I admired and taught myself repeatable pattern design. For a while I thought grad school was just a far off dream, but once we paid our debt off and I felt like I’d grown as an artist/designer on my own, I felt that grad school was the right next step for me.

Although going to grad school meant some crazy life changes for me (my husband lives in New Orleans while I go to school in Savannah!), I’m so glad I did it. I’ve grown so much as a designer and it has connected me to some amazing opportunities, like Lilly!

How did you become interested in Lilly Pulitzer?

Although I’d always known of the brand Lilly Pulitzer and their iconic prints, they weren’t really on my radar before grad school. My personal passions in textile design have been aimed more at the quilting cotton and interior design markets, I never really thought of myself as someone who would work in fashion. Lilly, along with many other companies, actively recruit from SCAD for interns and new hires because SCAD is known for really pushing their students in art and design. I certainly owe SCAD for the connection to Lilly!

What was the process like when you were applying to the Lilly Pulitzer internship? Was there any way you differentiated yourself during the application process?

There were many steps to the internship application/interview process. Initial resume submission, in-person interview and portfolio review, a special Lilly print project to see how well I could design to the Lilly brand, then additional video interviews.

I would always recommend during any interview to use it as an opportunity to make connections regardless of the final outcome. Be confident and use the interview to speak to your skills, of course, but be interested in the company and what they do as well. It is a great time to ask questions about how the team works, what the day to day looks like, ask the interviewer what their favorite part of their job is (and if you can, relate their answers back to things in your own experience as well), etc. Don’t take over the interview into topics that are irrelevant to the position, but show that you are interested, can make interesting conversation, and want to know more about the job/position/company. Even if at the end of the process you don’t get the job, you’ve gotten a small peek into a world that you wouldn’t have seen into otherwise. Everything is a learning opportunity!

What department did you intern in?

I interned in the Print Design department and also shadowed the Color, Fabric, and Trim Research and Innovation team!

What did your day-to-day look like?

During the time I spent at Lilly, I worked on the Summer and Resort Fall 2018 print lines as well as some special projects. My day-to-day varied depending on where we were at with each season, but mostly consisted of digitally cleaning prints and getting them as finalized as possible. That included putting designs into repeat, color reducing, re-coloring, re-sizing, and perfecting and tweaking the artwork. I did some original design work for border and engineered prints as well as an intern project print collection with the rest of the summer interns.

Was there anything you did this summer that you were really proud of?

Honestly, the time flew by so fast and between the demands of the print team’s collections and the summer intern print collection, I mostly felt like I was being pulled all over the place! I’m happy with all that I was able to learn from my position and I’m happy with how my intern print collection turned out, but I’m also hard on myself and feel like it could have been even better with more time.

If you had to describe your summer at Lilly with 3 words, what would you choose and why?

Bright, Happy, and Fun! The Pink Palace is such an inspiring place to be with color, print, and pattern everywhere. It is hard to wear and work around such bright colors without it making you feel happy and joyful! I also had the honor to work with an amazing group of interns and made some really awesome friendships. The summer was filled with great times with them both inside and outside of the workplace. The King of Prussia, PA area is also really beautiful in the summer, so exploring the area was great too.

What was the best part about your internship? Was there anything you didn’t love?

It was awesome to see the design to production process in person of such a large company and how things progress from print design to fashion, tech, and production design, through merchandising and planning, and all the other departments and on to product in stores. As an artist and designer, I love that Lilly prints always start with hand painting and original artwork and I think Lilly does an amazing job of keeping a very painterly feel in the finished designs.

There wasn’t really any part of the job that I didn’t love, but as with any new job it always takes a while to learn how things work and who is in charge of what. I’d never worked in a company that big before, so I was a little surprised by how distinct the hierarchy of design/positions were. Even with that though, Lilly still does a great job of having a team/collaborative approach. Overall, I really am so grateful for the opportunity to work there!

What are your plans after grad school?

I’m almost done, my only remaining class is my final project/capstone/Masters thesis!

My husband just started a graduate program in Louisiana, so I’ll be back in New Orleans when I’m done. I’m looking forward to settling my life down a little bit and figuring out what is next! I’ve always been interested in licensing my design work to fabric companies, so next on my list is to pursue that a little more! We’ll see!

What advice would you give someone who wants to apply for a Lilly internship?

Whether applying to Lilly, or anyone interested in the world of art/design in general, I would suggest taking the time to figure out what you have to uniquely offer through your work. Whether it be through conceptual ideas, sense of color, a design style or unique design process or content, make yourself stand out and find where your work fits into the world. You want to show not only your skills and strengths as a designer, but your creativity and that you can come up with new and original ideas. For Lilly in particular, I think it’s nice to be interested in a painterly Lilly aesthetic, but you also want to show that you can create more than just what they are already doing. It’s a company that values creativity, so I feel like the same can be said for any of the other departments as well.

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):

cait scad

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!

bedroom design

Over a year ago, I posted this inspiration board for our bedroom:

bedroom inspiration board.inddAnd finally, our bedroom is starting to feel the way I want it to! Pretty and relaxing, soft, but with some contrast. I love black, white, and gold with pops of jewel-toned colors. (see the before, hereI think it could still use some quirky accessories and some more patterned textiles, but I thought it was finally time for an update:

look in lights1

whole bed1

whole bed 21

bed wall1

cait side1

cait side 21

cait nightstand 31

cait nightstand 4 minus label1

i love you pillow 21

bed vi lights 21

whole bed dresser side1

vi sleeping dresser1

dresser and art1

dresser 21

dresser styled1

chair 21

Last December we painted the headboard wall Semi-Sweet (by Valspar at Lowes), the same color as the small hallway outside our bedroom that connects it to the bathroom. Then I hand painted the geometric pattern with a gold Sharpie paint pen (and a ruler and level!). It was really quick and easy actually! I followed this tutorial by Mandi at Vintage Revivals. The rest of the walls in here are painted Grey Ghost (by Olympic at Lowes).

We finally updated our nightstands with super simple ones we found on Craigslist for $30 (total for both!). We had mis-matched ones for years in here while I was searching for the right ones (this is a small space for them to fit in and they had to be short enough to fit under the headboard overhang). I really, really wanted these ones. For the longest time they were out of stock. When they did finally come back in stock, I couldn’t justify spending $230 a piece plus shipping for them. I was hoping they would go on sale, but they didn’t and I got tired of waiting (although it looks like they are finally on sale now — a year later!). I stalked Craigslist like crazy to find anything that would be a suitable replacement for the odd and mis-matched ones we had, until I found these. They are real wood and a great size for our small bedroom. Ideally they would have a drawer and be a little deeper, but for the price I’m not complaining. Drew has a basket on his shelf and I have that black and white inlaid box on mine to take the place of a drawer, which is working out just fine.

We also got new bedding. I’d been eyeing West Elm’s Jacquard Leaf Duvet Cover and Shams for a while (you know me and quatrefoils!) and I finally got them last summer on sale. I really loved the Onyx color (black) but the contrast was a tan/cream color, not white. So I went with the Flax/White ones. I’d also been eyeing those plus sheets from Target for a while and I ended up waiting too long to buy them and they were sold out of a queen size. I bought the only size they had left (on sale) – a California King set. The pillows and flat sheet work just fine (I’ll probably trim the sheet eventually, but I actually like that it hangs over the bed farther than a queen), but the fitted sheet is obviously way too big. We are just using a plain white fitted sheet for now. The “I Love You” pillow I made out of fabric I ordered in a design of mine. That’s my handwriting!

I would like to replace the curtains with simple white ones (the current white ones are too short and the cream ones are too long and too yellow). I bought some plain white sheets to make into curtains for in here (I need 6 panels!), but I haven’t gotten around to making them. I would also like to eventually layer in some more block printed textiles to the bedding – either adding some more of my patterns or some of Kerry Cassill’s block printed textiles. I love our white mattelasse/coverlet, but I would really like one in a bigger King size. I like having it drop farther over the side of the bed (and Drew is less likely to pull the covers off of me in the middle of the night!). We also really need a new bed skirt – ours is ripped on one side! I could also see adding a different rug (fluffy and soft Moroccan? flat weave patterned? vintage kilim?) and maybe a simple upholstered headboard. I’m happy for now with how far this room has come!

Headboard we made from an old door (see here and here), 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, black floor lamp is from Target, jewelry stand, white elephant, and black and white inlaid box were all Christmas gifts from my sister, shelving is the IKEA Expedit, sheets are from Target, duvet and shams are from West Elm, 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. 🙂

debt free pic1


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!


kitchen creek photo edit1

Last week I switched out the art print that was above our kitchen sink for this photo I look last May (with my iPhone!) of one of my favorite places in the entire world — the creek in my parent’s backyard in Southern Illinois. I liked the print that was there, but after over 4 years of seeing it daily, I was ready for an update (see the old print and some old pictures of our kitchen, here). I was inspired to change it up after seeing this photo of Jess Lively‘s kitchen on Instagram, here. I just love the simple, but sophisticated feel of her kitchen.

I just started working through the 52 Lists Project journal (which I’m really loving, by the way) and List 3 is “List the happiest moments of your life so far.” I had initially put this list off, because what a big question to answer. But last night as I was thinking about it, the first moments that came to mind were of my childhood in this magical creek. It was my favorite place on earth, one that I retreated to when I was stressed or just needed a bit of peace and calm. I waded through this creek with my little sisters, Kelsey and Jill, my childhood best friend Molly, and our neighbor Michelle. In the winter when it got cold and snowy and the top of the creek froze over, we would push each other down it in our sled. We had a “Tarzan vine” for swinging back and forth from one bank to the other and it was in these woods that we climbed lots of trees and made forts and played “house.” We dressed up in play clothes and played “Little House in the Big Woods” and drank water from the natural spring that fills this creek. Molly and I walked barefoot through it at all times of the year, even when it was cold outside and especially when it started to warm up and we probably should have been more scared of water moccasins. We even dared each other to skinny dip in the deepest part of it (which to my knowledge, she is the only one that ever followed through on. Sorry for outing you publicly, Mol. 😉 Looking back, I wish I’d had more of your bravery.). I fished for crawdads with my brother Blake there too. I’m a fifth generation Wallace to live on that land, so I even imagine my Papaw playing in this creek as a boy, or my great-grandmother out there in her dress and apron picking blackberries (see the bottom of this post).

I love that having this photo hanging in my kitchen reminds me of all those memories every time I see it. It brings me so much joy.

What can you add to your home that brings you such simple and magical joy as this?


Magical: beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life – extraordinary, remarkable, exceptional, outstanding, incredible, phenomenal, unbelievable, amazing, astonishing, astounding, stunning, staggering, marvelous, magnificent, wonderful, sensational, breathtaking, miraculous. 

Joy: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness – delight, great pleasure, joyfulness, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture.