A Paris-inspired transformation.

by Beth Bramstedt

It was the fall of 2014 and I found myself amidst a season of transition. My normally stable life was shifting beneath my feet. I had turned 45, sent my youngest son off to college, and was wrestling with unwanted changes in my role at work. I felt sad and uncertain, and the emotions took me by surprise.

I found solace in resources on understanding grief, but I was still restless and wanting to make a positive change in my life — a change that I could control.

Roaming around Country Club Plaza in Kansas City one sunny weekend, I slipped into a bookstore and stumbled upon “Paris Letters” by Janice MacLeod.

The watercolor illustrations on the cover transported me back to 2008, when I spent a week exploring the hidden treasures of that storied city. The bridge over the Seine River reminded me of a river cruise taken with friends; the Eiffel Tower flooded my memory with visions of the streets and cafés that surround the historic landmark, places where I sampled flavorful macarons and savored Nutella crepes for the first time.

The subtitle lured me in also: “One woman’s journey from the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris.” I was hooked. Little did I know that the next 258 pages would lift my spirits and afford me the inspiration I needed to change my world.

Although it’s written more like a novel, “Paris Letters” is part memoir and part visual journal. Exhausted and on the verge of burnout, Janice shares her personal story of finding love and freedom in a pen, her paintbrush, and Paris.

Yet to get there she must cut back, save or make $100 a day, and buy herself that freedom. Her process includes reducing everything she owns in her Los Angeles apartment to one simple suitcase. Her first step begins with cleaning out her underwear drawer (literally and metaphorically).

As her closets become sparse and her choices freeing, her inner attitude changes as well. Her job becomes less significant and less annoying. She becomes more intentional about what she wants and where she’s headed.

After reading, I decided to challenge myself as well. Closet by closet, drawer by drawer, slow and steady, I began to clean out my junk. Like Janice, I became an unclutterer — someone who decides to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life.

“Paris, it seems, was the beginning of letting go of who I was and grabbing hold of who I was to become,” Janice writes.

Two years later, writing this column from my desk as the new editor of COMO Living, I guess you could say that my process has reflected hers: finding freedom in Paris and a pen.

Janice’s next book, “A Paris Year: My Day to Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World,” comes out in June.

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