How Joanna Mendoza, 38, let go of her premium bag collection to take her family out to a world of diverse cultures and rich experiences, in her journey to repay the people who showed her love for things that matter
Joanna thought that her Kelly Parchemin was the most beautiful thing she ever owned. She would place it in the protection of another bag, a Louis Vuitton, to keep dirt away. Kellys are not easy to come by, she would tell herself. She was elated having it, holding it, keeping it, but one day she decided to give it up, together with a Birkin and other luxury bags – to travel the world with her family.
“I just kept on thinking that I shouldn’t be attached to things. That it was okay to savor the ecstasy when I have them, but that I should have no issues letting them go. I also make sure that I have a picture with the bag before I sell it, para naman may remembrance din ako!” Joanna said.
Collection of high end
“Name the brand and I must have owned them,” said Joanna, “Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Valentino, Chloe, Hermes, Lanvin, YSL, Prada, Bottega Veneta.” She accumulated these through a mix of some entrepreneurial sense and extra hard work.
Through buy and sell over a period of time, Joanna has raised money for such bags including her first Birkin. With additional capital coming in, her collection grew. She would post the bags for sale on Facebook or tell her friends and family about the fashion items she’s letting go, then offer these in flexible payment terms.
There was also a time when she had to work long hours as an occupational therapist and earn for her family and for one or two self-rewards.
When I was still working in New York, I worked about 60 hours per week, including Sundays. I was helping finance my brothers’ schooling that time. I would reward myself with a bag once in a while, and besides, I was in the fashion capital of the world.
So in 10 years, she was able to buy two Louis Vuitton and a Prada.
Her Hermes collection was born out of a totally different story. “My collection started when I got hooked with a certain set of people in Instagram. Having just moved to Arizona when we had our baby – no friends, dead, boring city – they became my pastime. They were in every sense ‘Hermes cult followers,’ and I became ‘friends’ with them. Needless to say, it was an expensive preoccupation,” she narrated.
One day I realized that I couldn’t keep up. I was way out of their league, and at the same time, the idea of getting their approval and admiration based on the things I purchased and posted on Instagram didn’t sit well with me anymore. It wasn’t me, I felt pretentious and empty. Besides, someone wise told me, ‘I CAN afford them, but I don’t need to buy them’ – and that was smart.
No work nor social life, she sold her Hermes bags to earn some money. This practical side of hers kicked in despite the certain pleasure she would get for every purchase.
She didn’t need the bags, she thought.
After wrestling the beast that is brand obsession, she managed to leave Instagram, sell the bags one at a time including her last Birkin, and planned a global kind of field trip for his little son. How far did her bags take her and her loved ones? Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
Early in 2015, she flew from the US to the shores of Romblon, Boracay, Coron, and El Nido. Then she ended the trip back with the majestic deserts of Dubai. Last year, her family went to Sonya’s Garden in Tagaytay and Boracay for her mother’s birthday.
Getting to Kayangan lake in Coron, Palawan
“There were about 500 steps to climb up and down to reach it. There were so many people, but when you get there, it’s just so beautiful. The Twin Lagoons were such an adventure too – there was a short but steep climb you had to do and the top, you had to squeeze in through a narrow entrance to get through. Either that or you swim through a hole to get to the other side. It was exciting and rewarding.”
Strolling in Boracay
“Just walking that stretch of white sand with them before and after dinner; or doing the early morning walk with my cousins; seeing the kids enjoy the water and the sand from morning till night – these make me happy. It’s life uncomplicated.”
Experiencing the old-style and modern Dubai
“What’s exciting? Everything! The camel ride in the desert, the dinner in the Bedouin village, seeing the Burj Khalifa, the Gold and Spice souks, the Burj al Arab, swimming In the water park in Atlantis, witnessing their version of winter in Dubai, it was inside a mall!”
“Seeing them excited in the airport and airplane already makes me smile,” she said.
Keeping the family
Joanna’s family didn’t have the means to travel back then as they do now.
“We grew up poor,” she said. “My grandfather was a fisherman and a porter, my grandmother a housewife and they raised 7 kids. Both my parents finished college but life was still hard. I had to be an Occupational Therapist since that was my ticket to working in the US.”
When she worked in New York, she thought life could be better for her and her family in the States. She vowed to bring her family there, but something happened. “Fate wasn’t on our side. My grandmother who raised me as her own died just after I finished college. I never even got the chance to thank her with my first salary. And then it was my father. He died when I was just barely adjusting to work in the US. I had a working visa then, and planned to go home when he was in the hospital.”
“By the time I got the permit to leave the US to see him, it was already too late. I made it to his funeral. A decade later, I finally got my citizenship, and my salary was better. Still, my brothers kept getting denied with their US tourist visa application.”
“In 2010, my 27 year old sister-in-law died leaving my brother with a barely 2 year old boy. Since then, I went home to Manila every year.
All these family deaths made me want to spend more time with them. I thought, if I couldn’t bring my family to the US, I’ll just meet them in other parts of the world, beginning with Manila and Asia. We did a lot of out of town trips like Baguio, Tagaytay, Boracay, Batangas. We also went to HongKong, Malaysia, and Singapore.
In 2014, another close relative – her Auntie Tessie – had a heart attack. “We were close and I loved her like a mother. She told my mom, “Sana maipasyal din ako ni Jing.” Those words felt like a stab in my heart. I was too late. Again. So I sold my last Birkin, and instead of saving it up, I used the money to travel with my family again.”
I can always earn that money back, but I can never bring back time. “When you lose time, you can never get it back.”
Henry Van Dyke’s words – Joanna’s mantra
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not.
It was indeed a challenge for Joanna to reorganize her life priorities, but the small sacrifices had remarkable returns.
“The memories I have when we travel are priceless, and I feel that they don’t even come close to the joy I feel with owning and clutching a bag. The trips made me grow more, love more, explore more, dream more, and experience life more.”
Meeting new people, learning about other cultures, and seeing other places taught me to be more humble and less self-centered.
The rest of the time she’s not with her family, she plans for a next round of adventures with her little son and supportive husband. Her closet in Arizona still has a Lanvin and a Bottega maxi waiting to be sold, and her heart desiring for more family trips.
Written by: Ai Macalintal. Ai couldn’t stay in one place for too long, so she’s always walking, traveling or changing address. She’s been an editor in Singapore and has written for Aussie magazines, but penning stories about the Philippines delights her most.