BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

Get fit, get organized, & get your financial affairs in order

Posts Tagged ‘Motivation’

Getting Your Financial Affairs in Order – Where to Start

Posted by denisefisher on October 21, 2010

Financial Plan There is one main reason why people do not have their financial affairs in order: it’s easier NOT to do it. It’s a task that can be overwhelming because there’s no instruction book, no deadlines, and no starting point. And everyone’s situation is different.

So, right here, right now, I’m going to create a starting point, put together a customized instruction book and action plan, and establish deadlines and timeframes.

The Starting Point – Choose a Model and Built on It

I am using the Suze Orman’s Action Plan as a starting template for my project of getting my financial affairs in order. Another resource that I like is Dr. Lois Frankel’s book Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich. By using these books as guides, I can write out a list of financial categories, add more specific tasks, and put together topics that will be used in my plan of action. So my starting point is to identify what is in the plan that will make me feel that my financial affairs are in order.

Put Together a Customized First Draft List

I started by just listing everything financial that came to mind (either from reference sources, or my own experiences), focusing on things I knew I needed to include for organizing my financial affairs. Consulting the suggestions of experts will help you identify the financial issues you haven’t thought of or don’t know enough about. I used the Table of Contents from the above mentioned books as my first source for identifying financial issues to put on my list. I could skip some of the topics that didn’t apply to me, and I could add other items that came to mind as I read through the contents. I know there are lots of other resources out there with helpful guidelines, but it would be easy to get bogged down in the research behind putting together the BEST plan ever. And I don’t want to do that. This is not a one-time project, and I will revisit this plan later, as situations change, and I have the need to add financial tasks to my list. For now, I will keep things simple, and start with the basics. Here are some of the categories and various items I came up with to start:

  • Credit
  • Retirement
  • Saving
  • Spending
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Additional sources of income
  • Insurance
  • Net Worth
  • List of all assets, debts, accounts, terms, beneficiaries
  • Credit reports and FICO score
  • Bill paying procedure
  • Estate Planning
  • Will
  • Revocable living trust with incapacity clause
  • Advance directive & durable power of attorney for health care
  • Updated list of beneficiaries
  • Tax planning
  • Emergency savings
  • Payback strategy
  • Purchase plan
  • Maintenance/repair/remodel/replacement plan
  • Inventory documenting all possessions
  • Insurance assessment (including Long Term Health Care)
  • Financial goals (and integration with other life goals)
  • Timely financial follow-ups
  • Eliminate recurring costs, avoiding penalties
  • Tax planning, record keeping & filing
  • Paperwork management
  • Electronic financial record keeping
  • Maximizing income
  • Not giving away time, services, or reimbursable expenses
  • Leaving money on the table
  • Borrowing/Debt policy
  • Financial review plan

Next Steps – What, Where, and When

At this point in the process, I started to run out of steam for what I needed to do next – which is to put the list into some kind of order. It took me about 3 hours to put a first draft list together and write it all down. But I also realized that there were next steps that I needed to identify before stopping for the day. I needed to identify what the next task was (organizing the list), including the “where and when” of doing that next task.

Creating a standard default “where and when” for this activity as a project that is repeated on a weekly basis is a good practice. Even when there are interferences that call for skipping a week or implementing an alternate plan, having a “Plan A” to return to provides the structure and continuity most likely to help me stick with this project for the long haul.

“Where”, was relatively easy for me to determine. I have two identified work spaces (depending on which location I’m in) where I know I do my best financial work. I don’t usually have to worry about interruptions from others, though when I have had this issue to deal with, my preferred “where” has been the local library reference room.

The “when” is trickier – things come up which can make it difficult to keep an appointment with myself (including my motivation and momentum, which is not to be overlooked). I first think of how long I will need (and how long I can stand) to work on and complete the next step. Usually two hours is the maximum tolerance level for staying focused on one task, non-stop. But I will allot three hours, because I will also need to write down what I’m doing, and I think it’s realistic for me. I’d like to connect this task with my weekly viewing of The Suze Orman Show, which is on Saturday nights at 9 pm (and which I follow with an hour of watching another financial show – Till Debt Do Us Part, which comes on immediately following Suze Orman). But I know I’m unlikely to be in the mood to work on my project at 11 pm on a Saturday night. So, I will plan to work on this task Sunday, from 11am – 2pm. In preparation for this timeframe, I will make it a point to do some pre-project planning on Wednesday at 7pm. There will be no defined length of time for this planning task – simply reviewing the information I have, and doing any additional work that I feel like doing will be the goal. To summarize, here are my next step details:

· Task: Organize the List

· When: Sunday, 11 am – 2 pm

· Where: My designated work table

· Pre-planning Review: Wednesday, 7 pm

Motivational Task: Watch The Suze Orman Show, Saturday, 9 pm; followed by Till Debt Do US Part at 10 pm.

Posted in Estate Planning, Finances, Mindful Spending, Organization | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The 2-Week August Project – Focus On Finishing Like Your Hair Is On Fire

Posted by denisefisher on August 8, 2009

 

Hair on FireLast August, Seth Godin wrote a blog post about why you should take on a project to finish during the last two weeks of August. In the US, he claims, those are the slowest two weeks of the year (though I’d guess that the end of December would claim that distinction). He suggests that while everyone else is getting in their last days of vacation and basically coasting, you should focus on finishing a 2-week project and pursue it to completion like your hair is on fire.

Coincidently, mid-August is six months before my next birthday. I have lots of things I’d like to accomplish before my next birthday. Perhaps too many. Having too many options and not much of a plan is a formula that pretty much assures that nothing will get done. Creating a plan and completing a significant task builds momentum.

September always has that back-to-school, time-to-get-serious-again feeling to it. I’m imagining how great it would feel to be ahead of the curve and have a plan of action that would allow me to hit the ground running the day after Labor Day. I can dig it.

Before I determine my August project, I’m going to write up a list of potential prospects from which to choose. Then I’m going to pick one and finish it. I’ll need to keep in mind that it has to be something that can be completed in two weeks, and not be unrealistically optimistic about what I can accomplish.

Do you want to play along? Here’s the goal for next week: Choose your own 2-week project for the end of August, make a plan, and focus on finishing it like your hair is on fire.

You’ve got a week to start deciding on a plan. Go.

Posted in Personal Style, Productivity, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What Happens To Your Online Accounts When You Die?

Posted by denisefisher on May 14, 2009

Fortune Cookie of Impending Death Here are some thought-provoking questions that may elicit a sense of uncertainty, if not panic:

  • Do you know how many online accounts you have?
  • Do you have a list of them anywhere?
  • Is that list written or printed out (not just on your computer)?
  • What about passwords to your accounts?
  • Have you informed anyone about your account info, and do they know where/how to find and access it?
  • Where are your digital photos and important electronic documents kept?
  • Where are your purchased music files and other purchased downloads stored?
  • Are your media files and other documents accessible to someone you’d want to have them?
  • What about your private files or accounts – are there any you’d want destroyed or closed without being viewed?
  • Do you have any arrangements made for services or subscriptions that are automatically renewed and charged to your credit card or other financial accounts?

NPR’s program, All Things Considered, did a story on 11 May 2009 about this very topic. Click on this link to read about, or listen to, Your Digital Life After Death.

Over the past few years, several businesses have emerged with online sites and subscription services to deal with the related issues of legal matters, privacy concerns, electronic bequeaths, and designated access, as well as legacy wishes and remembrances.

Listed below is an extensive selection of online resources that might help you in planning the digital details of your eventual demise – they include all of the services I could identify as of the date of this blog posting. I have visited each of the sites to find out what they offer, how their system works, and the rates they are currently charging for their services. The summary descriptions are provided here:

AssetLock.net – This site provides a digital version of traditional estate planning. A template is provided to help remind you of what to include. You can store documents, instructions, and include a listing of accounts and passwords that will be accessible to designated individuals upon your death. You decide who can access which of your entries. There are 3 levels of services and pricing: 20-100-unlimited entries; 20MB-1GB-5GB storage; annual fee of $10-$30-$80.

VitalLock.com – This site describes itself as being in the “Alpha” stage of development and is not yet active.

LegacyLocker.com – A seemingly well-developed service and clearly, the most widely promoted system of its type, this site requires users to designate beneficiaries for their information as well as verifiers of their death. One of its defining criteria is the human oversight element, which requires that a human being provide the company with a death certificate before it will release information or access to the designated beneficiaries. There are 2 levels of services and 3 levels of pricing: the free account includes 3 assets, 1 beneficiary, and 1 legacy letter; the premium service includes unlimited assets, beneficiaries, and letters, and can be paid by a $30 annual subscription or a one-time fee of $300.

SlightlyMorbid.com – This site’s purpose is to send messages or notifications to your online friends in grave situations (not just the situation of your death). Plans are priced as one-time fees, which is described as being similar to the way you would pay for someone to prepare a will. It covers situations of death, natural disaster, accident, serious illness, or whatever you specify. You designate one trusted friend (or up to 5 or 10, for premium plans) and that friend will send out a message to 10 (or 30 or 50, for premium plans) of your online contacts to notify them of your condition, based upon messages you have written in advance. Your trusted friend cannot view or change the messages – they can only activate their delivery. Changes and updates are free for 3 years; after that, changes can be made with a small update fee. The one-time set-up fees are $10-$20-$50.

GreatGoodbye.com – This site’s tagline is “e-mail from the grave.” Its service allows a trusted person with activation codes to send out your final e-mail message with a photo attachment upon your death. When the trusted person activates the process of delivering of your message, a notification is sent to your e-mail address and you are given 21 days in which to cancel the ultimate delivery of your message(s).  I suppose this is in case your trusted person makes a mistake, becomes no longer trustworthy, or you make a miraculous unexpected recovery. Premium packages can include audio or video attachments. There are 4 levels of services and each service has the option of an annual or one-time fee: 1-3-10-500 e-mails; yearly fees of $10-$20-$36-$50; one-time fees of $39-$87-$150-$219.

MyLastEmail.com – This site’s service is basically an online memorial page that you set up in advance, and is made accessible upon your death. The free service includes the posting of 1 document, 1 image, 1 video, and notification of 2 recipients. Premium packages are mentioned on the website, but apparently are not yet available.

YourPersonalScribe.com – This service is unique in its personalization of creating your life story. Sharon Scribe (yeah, that’s who provides this service) writes your personal obituary in advance, with your help. She uses a questionnaire followed by a personal interview with you, as well as interviews with close family members, friends, and colleagues, to prepare your life story. I don’t know what will happen when Sharon Scribe dies, but she also writes wedding toasts, poetry, and tributes for other special occasions in one’s life. The base rate for this service is $300, but has some flexibility for lower income clients.

Deathswitch.com – This site’s model has a very futuristic sci-fi feel to it (even the audio you hear when the page opens or when you roll over a link is very space-age sounding). They call it information insurance. I’d call it a life-watch service. It’s very different from others in that it does not require you to designate a trusted person with the responsibility for initiating the services upon your death. The website summarizes it nicely as “an automated system that prompts you for your password on a regular schedule [at intervals designated by you] to make sure you are still alive.” If you do not respond to multiple follow-up prompts, pre-scripted messages are automatically e-mailed to your named recipients. The company encourages you to test out the service by having the death messages sent to yourself. If for some reason you did not reply (but are still alive) you will get a preliminary message allowing you to click a link that says “Wait I’m still alive!” You can set up a free account that will send your message to 1 recipient with no attachments. The premium account sends up to 30 different messages to up to 10 recipients each (300 recipients total). I could not find the rate information for premium accounts on the site, but an Associated Press article about this service mentioned that it was $20/year.

I scanned through my hand-written list of online accounts (I have 7 pages worth) and found these representative accounts among my listings:

e-mail accounts AOL, Yahoo, G-mail
social networks Facebook, Twitter, Linked In
financial accounts credit union, bank, mortgage company, Visa, home equity line of credit
investments/retirement Thrift Savings Plan, brokerage accounts, retirement account
travel-related sites frequent flier miles, Travelocity account
merchandise accounts Amazon, PayPal, ebay, iStockPhoto, iTunes
image/video/communications Flikr, YouTube, Skype, Oovoo
recurring/renewable payment accounts Verizon DSL service, AOL internet service provider, Corporate Housing ad, GoDaddy domains, Franklin County property tax

My listing will probably remind you of some of your accounts that need to be considered in your planning arrangements. If you prepare and store documents or photos online (also referred to as “the cloud”) you need to take these files into account too. It’s not much of a virtual leap to go from the cloud down to earth and onto your computer and hard drives. You’ve got a lot of information on your computer to consider in your planning too.

These aren’t just issues to consider in anticipation of your death. With so much information being stored electronically, you’ve got a lot of digital eggs being kept in various compartments, but all in one basket.

Have you ever had your computer crash or had your computer lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed? I have. And so have lots of others. Find someone and ask them about it – they’ll tell you what it was like. When my computer was stolen, the most devastating loss was my collection of family digital photos. The thief could’ve had the computer. I just wanted the files. I had some of the files printed or stored elsewhere, but most of them weren’t backed up, copied to others, or printed out as photos. They were gone forever.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking you’re covered because you back up your files onto an external drive or some other media. If someone breaks into your home and steals your computer, and the hard drive or other media is stored nearby, they’re going to take them all. Same thing for a natural disaster. A fire, flood, electrical- or wind-storm comes along and all your electronic equipment and storage media is likely to suffer the same fate. Ask the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

You’ve got options for saving your data and planning for access and/or deletion of your online accounts, but you have to put the plans in place now. You may not have the advance notice of your impending death in which to take care of these preparations. And even if you do, will you want to spend the remaining months of your life getting your accounts and online documents in order? Will you even have the energy or ability? Think about it, make a plan, and take some preliminary action to get things started. It’s better than doing nothing.

Here’s a closing thought: You can put together your own service plan – a simple, low-tech version of the packages mentioned above. But you actually have to do it. If paying someone else will get you to take action, it would be worth doing that. Even if you start out with a free online plan or put together a paid premium plan for one year, you’ll have organized your information and considered the details of your arrangements, and would be able to cancel your service after a year, by switching to your own at-home version. Enlist another family member to take on this task with you. They need to do it too, and may not have thought about it or started it either. Use the power of partnership and accountability to get your affairs in order.

(Editorial note: for any of you who may be wondering about my previously mentioned grand finale of wardrobe organization, I am in the process of completing and editing it. It’s very long and detailed, even more than my usual posts. So it may be published in a format other than a blog post. Updates will follow.)

Posted in Estate Planning, Finances, Legacy, Organization, Personal Style, Public Radio | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No Wire Hangers

Posted by denisefisher on April 29, 2009

Hanger Hangers are ok to use for displaying clothes, but they’re among my least favorite options for storing clothing. It’s not just wire hangers; it’s any kind of hangers. I don’t have anything against them, it’s just that when I’m changing clothes, I don’t feel like hanging something up. I’m more of a “chair draper” than a “clothing hanger,” though I don’t mind hanging a sweater on a doorknob or even on a coat tree.
Coat tree
The point of all this is not to tell you that I’m too lazy to hang up my clothes. It’s to remind you that your wardrobe storage system needs to be functional for you – not just to look good for a magazine photo. If it’s not convenient for you to use, you just won’t use it. The problem isn’t that you’re not complying with the design of a particular storage system, it’s that the storage system needs to reflect your personal style for putting things away.

Astute parents know that if they want their children to put things away, there needs to be a designated place for things to go, and it needs to be easy to put them there (and to get them back out). What’s good for children, turns out to be a good design for adults too.

Before the invention of the hanger (various versions were patented between 1869 and 1920), there were no closets for hanging clothes. Closet Hooks-Rod-ShelfIf you’ve ever been through an original house built before 1920, you won’t find any clothes racks, and possibly not even a designated storage space for storing garments (that’s what wooden wardrobes were designed to do). Obviously, people owned fewer garments in those times, but for the few garments that weren’t folded (including coats) there were pegs or hooks for storing them. Before there were hangers, there was no need for hanger rods.

Pegs or hooks are still the coat-hanging devices of choice for kids’ coats at school. Backs of chairs also seem to attract jackets and sweaters at my house. While they may not be ideal for storing fine clothing that is infrequently worn, hooks are terrific for outer garments and clothing items that  go on and off several times throughout the week. Coat trees, rows of hooks near a doorway, and single hooks on the backs of door provide situational options of the hook theme. I amValet also a big fan of using a valet (the more elegant alternative to the back-of-a-chair option), especially for laying out the next day’s outfit to wear. Using a valet has the added benefit of creating a sense of dignity and importance to one’s clothing selection and their appearance, in general. It evokes that same sense of confidence that comes from donning a special interview outfit, and extends it to your daily dressing routine.

Folding clothes to store in drawers or on shelves is another alternative to hanging clothes from a rack, but it only works well for putting clothes away. If clothes are folded and stacked in a drawer, you can only see the items on top. Folded stacks on a shelf improves the view, but still results in difficulties if you try to pull out something from further down the stack (and don’t even think about trying to replace an item back in the stack where you found it).

Fanned Stack of Folded Clothes The folded clothes solution that I find most effective is to reduce the height of the stacks. On a shelf, three is an acceptable stacking height, but if you can have a separate divider shelf between each garment, that would be the best. In a drawer, I use a fanned stacking method. It allows for full visibility, and a fair means of accessibility and replacement, even if you can’t store as many items per drawer.

While I’m on the topic of clothing storage, let me remind you to beware the allure of novelty storage units and organizing devices. They look very cool in the catalogs (though if you look observantly, you’ll notice that they are demonstrated with a minimal amount of items in them, and the sellers seem to select items that will fit the organizers, rather than designing the organizers around the items to be stored). If you really think a storage system will work for you, try out a prototype first. Instead of buying a set of plastic sock dividers, cut up cardboard tissue boxes (or whatever replicates the design of the manufactured item), and try out your makeshift prototype for a while to see if it really works as well as you imagined. If an organizing device is well designed and functional, and it actually helps you keep things organized, it could be worth the money. But if you buy it because you think it will motivate you to get things organized and maintain order, but it clashes with your personal style, you’re risking a waste of your money with the potential purchase of a white elephant.

Empty Drawer & Cat

If you are up to the ultimate challenge of wardrobe organization (or even if you just aspire to meet it someday), try designating part of your storage space for emptiness. That’s right. Could you even fathom the thought of having an empty drawer in your dresser? It may seem like some unattainable fantasy, but it could happen. Try it on for size. Empty out the contents of a dresser drawer, then close it up. Open it and just savor the expanse of emptiness before you. It’s not wasteful. It’s good feng shui. It’s making room for good things to come into your life. An empty hook on a coat tree and an empty drawer in your dresser … organizational bliss.

Posted in Mindful Spending, Organization, Personal Style, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What To Do With Clothes You Don’t Wear

Posted by denisefisher on April 17, 2009

Thrift Store Clothing Display Purging one’s possessions is not as easy as it would seem. There are mental blocks and rationalities that make this task difficult. We get attached to our stuff and tend to overvalue things that we own, even when we’re ready to part with them. The value we see in our inactive wardrobe items generally falls into one or more of these categories:

  • Utilitarian Value
    I don’t want it, but it’s too good to throw out.
  • Monetary Value
    This is worth some money.
  • Inherent Value
    I would wear this if it still fit me. Do you want it?
  • Sentimental Value
    Aw, I remember when I wore this. OR I can’t throw this out – it’s my lucky hat.
  • Salvage Value
    I can’t wear this anymore, but I really like the fabric (or trim or some other feature). I wish I could do something with it.

When making these tough decisions about what to do with what you don’t wear, it helps to have options. If you have options, you can take action. It will get you unstuck if you’re frozen in a state of indecision. Here’s are the options I came up with to address the values we want to maintain:

Sell it – Consignment Store, E-bay, Craig’s List, Garage Sale

Donate it – Non-profit Organization/Thrift Store (for tax deduction)

Give it away – Hand-me-downs, Clothing Swaps, Freecycle.com, Organized Events, Theater Wardrobe, Random Giveaway

Repurpose it – Alterations or New Use (pants to shorts, long skirt to short skirt), Relegate items to categories of work clothes or costumes

Salvage it – Make it into a new textile item (quilt, comforter, picnic spread, pillow), cut it up for rags, use it for pet bedding

Save it – Display it, Store it as an archive/heirloom

Trash it – Last resort option for unusable items taking up space

If the options seem a bit overwhelming and you need a reality check to assess your options, you might try a rating system. From the options suggested above, list the specific options that you’d honestly consider acting upon. Next to each option listed, use a five-level rating system with these icons, to evaluate which options are best:

$ Financial benefit (a definite plus)

* Time & effort involved (a possible detraction)

@ Space needed to work on or store items (a possible detraction)

+ Your satisfaction with that particular option (a definite plus)

# Likelihood that you’ll follow through and finish (the determining factor)

By creating a rating system, you can explore each option separately, using the icon factors on a scale of one to five ($$$$$ next to the option of consignment shop or e-bay would indicate a substantial sum of money could be earned if you chose that option). Then you can compare the composite ratings to see which options are most realistic for you. The trump card lies in your likelihood to do (and finish) whichever option you favor. Even if a garage sale would net you a tidy profit, and you’d be happy with the outcome, scratch it off the list of viable alternatives if you know you’re not likely to get it done (despite your good intentions). You’ve still got other alternatives, and you can save the garage sale option for your next round of closet organizations, when your life is more orderly.

For some people, this exercise is a no-brainer. No need to make this task difficult or complicated. They limit their options and require little deliberation to decide and then act. But for others, the process is excruciating and time consuming. It’s better to have options and some kind of assessment process (even if it may seem overly elaborate) than to remain indecisive and action-averse. The good thing about thinking through this decision-making process, and coming up with what works for you, is that it is a skill that you will reuse and strengthen through practice. You’re not going to clear out your closet once and be done with it forever. So it can be worth the time and effort to make a major production out of it once, so that you can confidently take action and learn to hone your process through repetition.

What happens to clothing I donate?
I have read a lot of misinformation about what clothing is acceptable to donate to charitable organizations and where it it ends up. I’ve heard “experts” admonish readers not to donate clothing that’s  out of fashion or unsuitable to wear, and I’ve heard others talk about how they donate items to clothe the poor and homeless. Both of these perceptions are largely inaccurate and are explanations that are retold so frequently that they are presumed to be true. But most donors are so far removed from the people and the processes involved that they are simply ignorant and fill in the gaps of the story with ideal imaginings (similar to the way people imagine where meat and produce come from and what happens to trash and whatever is poured down the drains or sewers).

Thrift Store Clothing - Womens
So, to get the story straight about donated clothing, I visited several thrift stores, talked to the managers, and called corporate offices. I was able to talk to some local and national organizations, for profit and non-profit, who could give me the scoop. Of course, there are variations to this process and its details, amongst the wide array of business models, but for the eight organizations that I checked out, the process was fairly typical.

1. For most non-profit (and even for-profit) organizations, they are basically running a full-time garage sale to take your donated items, sell them at a market price to whomever wants to buy them, take the liquidated proceeds and use that money to fund and administer their service programs. The organization to whom you make your donations is the cause you are supporting with your clothing contributions. Some clothing items are designated for unemployed career seekers who need interview outfits or for other select recipients. But mostly, it’s all sold to the public and turned into cash.

2. Clothing items are dropped off by donors at designated locations (usually at the thrift store location – many have specific hours where you can drop off items at the back, where someone will help you unload and give you a receipt). Alternatively, some organizations provide pick-up service – with calls initiated by the donor; though sometimes monthly calls are made by the non-profit organization from a calling list of regular donors. Other organizations will drop off collection bags with instructions and a designated pick-up date noted on the bag.

3. Collected clothing is sorted, priced, and arranged for display on racks or shelves in their thrift store locations. Many of the thrift stores use a color-coded price tag system that changes weekly, so they can tell how long an item has been on display without being sold, and the inventory can be rotated. Clothing is not laundered, dry cleaned, or repaired when put out for sale. Everything is displayed and sold “as is,” with no guarantees, no returns, and no exchanges.

4. Thrift stores are open to the public, and look similar to retail outlets. Typical shoppers are working class or middle class people. Most seem to be frugal-minded shoppers, not destitute or homeless, and once exposed to the thrift store offerings and purchase prices, many become regulars. Clothing in these stores is typically grouped by gender, type of item, and color, but not size. In most stores, there are fitting rooms, where shoppers can try on the items they wish to buy, to make sure they fit. Some of the clothing items do not have sizes labeled, so buyers have to make their best guess.

5. For those stores that use the color-coded price tag system, they will post a sign in a prominent location to indicate that a certain color price tag has an additional discount.

Thrift Store Color Tag Discount Sign
These items are on their last week of the inventory rotation. Whatever (yellow tag) items remain will be purged from the racks to make room for new arrivals that will be priced using a new round of yellow tags. Some stores offer additional discounts to students, military members, and seniors. Others feature a designated day of the week when additional discounts apply.

6. Clothing that does not sell (and some damaged items that are weeded out and never make it to the racks) are sold or given to a salvage company which picks up the unsold clothing and distributes it for other purposes. Some of the functional clothing items are distributed to organizations which eventually make their way to third world countries (have you ever seen news stories on TV and wondered why hungry children in Asia or Africa are wearing T-shirts with a logo that says Baby Gap on them? now you know). Other garments are cut into pieces, after having of fasteners and trim removed, and then baled into bundles and sold in bulk as rags for mechanic shops, painters, and other blue-collar industries. Some scraps are recycled with other textiles and fibrous materials to make packaging materials. I didn’t follow the lifecycle of these items into further detail, but this explanation should provide some insight into what happens to donated clothing, which most consumers wouldn’t be aware of.

Thrift Store Racks
Consignment Shops
Some consignment shops still use the sales model of displaying your selected goods in their stores with the hope of selling them and splitting the profit with you after the sale. But others are simplifying the process with a single cash-for-goods transaction up front. The simplified process reduces record keeping and follow-up, but requires a greater cash flow for the consignment shop and assumes greater risk. More cash is needed to pay for the inventory, and the owner could get stuck paying for items that don’t sell or that take up valuable store space for weeks and weeks, awaiting an interested buyer. But savvy shop owners become skilled at knowing what items will sell and how much shoppers will pay; and the consignment donors will settle for a lower percentage of the expected profit in exchange for cash in hand.

So the “cash upfront” model has replaced many of the original consignment models, and added a modified twist to the process. I spoke to Valerie at a store called Plato’s Closet – a national franchise whose target market is the fashion-conscious teenage girl demographic. Valerie explained that they use a pay-on-the-spot payment model for their consignments. They accept current fashions (within the past two years – hey that would coincide nicely with the 3-year wardrobe plan) of teen clothing and pay you 1/3 of retail price for items in excellent condition. For items over $20, they pay you half of retail price. A photo identification is required for the transaction, but cash is paid for the items, up to $60 (if the amount is above $60, a check is given as payment). The prices and conditions are somewhat negotiable, and the store claims to work with the consignment donor to reach a fair price. For items that don’t sell, Valerie told me that they are picked up by the Salvation Army, and get a second chance for purchase at a thrift store outlet.

Though I doubt readers of this blog would be teenage girls who had never heard of Plato’s Closet (if there was one in their area), you might be the parent of such a teenager or a pre-teen, and would appreciate an explanation of what these shops are and how they work. Even if the Plato’s Closet store has no relevance to you, it still might be helpful for you to know about such places. Then you can look up stores in your area and not be intimidated by your unfamiliarity with them, should you choose to pursue consignment shops as an option. Just call one, tell them that you are new to consignment stores (or thrift shops) and ask them how their processes are set up.

So now you know how thrift stores and consignment shops work. And you can consider these among the other options I mentioned, which might be more familiar to you. When you decide that you are ready to do your wardrobe reorganization, you will need to have a plan in place for how to handle the clothing and other items you want to purge. So it’s good to begin considering your options now, and start thinking about what to do with clothes you don’t wear.

Posted in Finances, Organization, Personal Style, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Great Shoe Wardrobe Dilemma

Posted by denisefisher on April 13, 2009

Man's and female footwea I’ll avoid the inclination to call it a debate, and skip the obvious cliché references to Imelda Marcos or other celebrities, but I think it’s clear – managing one’s shoe collection is tough. “How many pairs do you need?” and “Where and how should you store them?” are subjective questions to consider. Shoes and other footwear present a special concern when organizing a wardrobe. Mainly because of the storage issue. There are so many different sizes and shapes of footwear that they don’t lend themselves to uniform storage. Boots, flip-flops, high heels, and high-top tennis shoes – where do they all fit?

Shoe Storage Practicality
I’ve seen all the various shoe racks, over-the-door pocket hangers, inclined shelving, and divided storage compartments that are shown in catalogs – I’ve even tried many of them – but unless you only have the type of shoes that are pictured in the displays, they’re not going to work. Shoe storage units are not adjustable to accommodate various types of footwear, and yet, your footwear styles and selections change annually, if not seasonally. I’ve determined that the easiest, most practical way to store shoes is to line them up in a row on the floor – where you can visually scan what you have, identify the pair you want, and access what you need. That’s the way people intuitively store them anyway. But it doesn’t take many pairs of shoes to use up all available floor space (hope you weren’t planning to store your luggage, laundry basket, or gym bag on your closet floor), so then what?

Planning Your Footwear Number
Again, you’re going to have to use the Packing for Paris mindset (selecting only the best – the items you’ll actually wear for you lifestyle’s occasions – to keep in the amount of space that’s available), and employ the Organizing by the Numbers technique (determine your wardrobe categories and designate the ideal number of items allowed for each season, and make this determination separately from your viewing of the items you already have).

This is a personal decision you’re going to have to make (hence the dilemma). You’re going to have to think about it ahead of time  – before you start organizing – not when you’re in the midst of sorting through a pile of shoes in the middle of your bedroom floor, as you realize you’ve got more inventory than warehouse space, and you’re getting tired of deciding what to do with all the clutter you’ve emptied from your closet. Because we all know what will happen to the pile of shoes then – say it with me everyone – it will all get dumped back into the closet. Like every other project you undertake (and another one of my favorite mantras), you need to separate the planning from the execution.

Footwear Reality Check
So, let’s think about how to imagine you’re packing for Paris and organize shoes by the numbers. Oh, and one more thing – you’re also going to need to try on each pair of shoes you intend to keep, wearing the type of socks or hosiery that you’d typically wear with each pair of shoes or boots. And yes, you’ll need to put on both shoes and do a few runway walks across the floor to refresh your memory (and your feet) about the comfort and practicality of the footwear items you currently own. No one would intentionally pack a pair of shoes to wear for a night on the town in Paris if they couldn’t bear to keep them on their feet for 6-8 hours straight would they… (and I hate to generalize, but…) ladies? Life is too short, days are too long, and closets are too small for footwear that hurts your feet or makes walking difficult, no matter how great they look. If you insist on sacrificing comfort and practicality for fashion, at least try to limit your impractical “posing” footwear to no more than 20% of your total shoe collection.

Footwear Allowance – By Season and Occasion
In creating my footwear wardrobe categories, I’m using a similar process that I devised for determining types of outfits that match up with my lifestyle and various activities. I’ve also expanded this list to include special purpose footwear that may be worn infrequently, but for which there is no practical substitute. In the case of footwear, I divide the seasons into cold weather (Winter/Fall) and warm weather (Spring/Summer). Here are my lists, arranged by season (* indicates special purpose footwear):

Fall/Winter Spring/Summer
everyday shoes (casual) everyday shoes (casual)
everyday shoes (nicer) everyday shoes (nicer)
presentation shoes presentation shoes
dress-up shoes dress-up shoes
working shoes working shoes
around-the-house “default” shoes around-the-house “default” shoes
*house slippers *flip-flops
*exercise shoes *exercise shoes
*dance/sports shoes *dance/sports shoes
*snow boots *water shoes

Create your inventory allowance numbers for each activity category before you survey your existing shoe collection. You can give yourself a one- or two-pair pass or waiver (a bonus allowance, if you will) to allow for a rare exception to your number limitation. But decide on the number of exceptions you’ll allow before you start your survey assessment or you’ll end up with more exceptions than the rule.

My goal is to have one pair of footwear for each of the categories shown in the list, with a two-pair bonus pass for whichever miscellaneous shoes I want to keep, beyond the limitations of the list. I’m actually in a shoe deficit, with regards to the goals of my list. I have particular preferences in my shoes that make it hard to find what I want. When I add to that issue, certain fitting problems that I have, I find myself seriously considering custom-crafted footwear. I’ve already added a list of potential sources and styles to my wardrobe planning portfolio.

Shoe Storage Determinations
Once you’ve determined your categories, seasons, and numbers, you’ll also need to consider your storage space. If your active wardrobe space is limited, you have basically three alternatives:
a) store out-of-season footwear somewhere else, and rotate your collection
b) store your least-worn or specialty footwear elsewhere in your room or in the house (e.g. boots in the coat closet, dance/sport shoes in your gym bag, house slippers by your nightstand, dress shoes in a box on the closet shelf)
c) pare down your collection so that you can store it in an orderly way in the space you have

I have too many shoes (and too small a closet) to keep my footwear all in one place, so I have to store some of them elsewhere. If I still have the boxes they came in, I like to use those. For others, I put each pair in a separate plastic grocery bag (if you can, make it easier to tell what’s inside by color coding the plastic bags you use with the type of shoe – white for dressier shoes, brown for everyday casual or work shoes – that will help if you need to dig out a stored pair of shoes in the off-season). I then stack the bagged shoes into an oversized plastic storage bin, label it, and stack it with other labeled bins in which I store other seasonal clothing.

The Favorite Shoes Showcase Game
Try this exercise to think about what you find most practical in your footwear. It may help you when purging your shoe collection and when planning future purchases. Actually, you might want to try this exercise in reverse, using a process of elimination; but try it, one way or the other.

If you could keep only one pair of shoes…

1 Pair of Shoes for All Situations (This is the pair of shoes from my collection that I’d choose if I had to select just one pair to suit every shoe-wearing occasion.)

You’d want comfort, versatility, and all those things that make a wardrobe item worthy of its closet real estate.

If you could keep (or pack) only three pair of shoes…

3 Pairs of Shoes(These would be the three pairs of shoes I’d choose from what I currently own to cover the broadest range of situations. Notice that the pair of shoes I chose as my one all-purpose pair have been replaced when given the option of choosing three pairs.)

You’d probably be considering the most versatile shoes you owned that could be worn with the broadest number of outfits and suitable for the widest range of activities.

Another thing you might realize from doing this task (especially if you take photos of them to post on your blog) is that one or more pairs of your favorite shoes may be in need of maintenance or replacement.

Try the Shoe Estimating Challenge
I’ve got a few more posts to make on the topic of wardrobe organization, before the grand finale of this series, but go, take a look at your footwear collection to see what three selections would make it to your favorites showcase. Before you go to look at all the shoes you have, take a guess at how many pairs you have. Then do a quick count to see how close you are (don’t forget the pairs by the door, next to the dresser, in the coat closet, under the bed, and out in the garage or mudroom. If there are other family members or housemates living in your abode and you want to make it interesting, try challenging them to a footwear guessing game. Someone could get a free shoe polishing (or maybe a foot massage) out of it.

Posted in Mindful Spending, Organization, Personal Style, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Watch TV as a Productivity Tool

Posted by denisefisher on February 20, 2009

I know the title of this entry sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out  before you discard this as a valid suggestion. Also, I’m aware that there are purists out there who rebuke the whole notion of TV-watching and label it as a productivity killer, and I can appreciate their sentiments,Me on exercise ball watching TV - left side but I’m not one of them. Like many other luxuries and things that can be bad for you in excess, I prefer, instead, to consume TV programming mindfully, on purpose, in moderation, and to savor the experience. Now, on to the techniques.

Watch TV when it’s broadcast
VCRs, DVRs, TiVo, and on-demand programming make it convenient to watch TV on your schedule, at your leisure. And that’s ok when you want to be leisurely. But to get the productivity benefit, you need to get your chores done, or your errands run, or whatever project you’re working on completed, before your show comes on. Don’t underestimate the power of a deadline (even a TV show deadline). If I see that I have less than an hour before a show comes on that I want to watch, I can go to the store, get just what I need, and make it back home in time for the opening theme song. It’s amazing. It also causes me to be more efficient in my shopping and to just get what I came for. I don’t have time to browse or stroll the aisles, checking out new products or enticing bakery selections – I have to get the rest of my shopping done so I can get out of there and get home to watch my program!

Plan your TV viewing schedule for the week
If you review the TV listings in advance, you’ll be able to select the shows you want to watch, catch the PBS special about the Lincoln Assassination, know if the upcoming episode of The Office is a new show or one you’ve seen before, and know what time your favorite college team is playing this weekend. Some shows are rebroadcast multiple times, which gives you some flexibility and allows you to determine if the show time is a “must be on time” event, or a “preferred, but not mandatory” deadline. Real-time programming is especially subject to this planning. Sure, you can watch the rebroadcast or the highlights of the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, but it’s not the same as seeing it live. If you have a TV viewing schedule for the week, you can coordinate it with your other activities. You can catch the one-time programs or premieres that you want to watch. And you can use the anticipation of an upcoming show to motivate you during the day and give you something to look forward to.

Make intentional TV-watching a special event
Before cable, before VCRs, back when there were only three major networks broadcasting shows and primetime viewing was each evening at 8 pm, people used to look forward to watching their favorite shows when they aired. The whole family would gather around the one TV in the house, get settled into their designated viewing seat (or floor space), and quiet the ambient noise to focus on the show. There was no tolerance for side conversations, game play, or walking around during the show. You sat and watched the program attentively, with full engagement as a shared experience, and with consideration for others. TV watching wasn’t part of a continuous bombardment of audio-visual stimulation. It was special.

If you watch TV as a planned event, rather than as a background distraction to fill the silence and vie for your attention while just hanging out, it can be something special and worth doing for you too. Plan to enjoy the activity as something you’ve intentionally chosen to do (assuming that turning on the TV just to see what’s on isn’t a default activity to occupy your time because you don’t have anything else planned). If you want to have a snack while you watch, consciously plan it as part of the special event. Don’t just grab a whole bag of chips and some dip or order a pizza to sit on the coffee table and be mindlessly devoured while your other senses are otherwise engaged. Plan the food and the serving size that you intend to consume. Slice up an apple into wedges, or prepare a fresh fruit mini-platter. make yourself a cup of tea or hot chocolate, or even scoop out a some almond fudge ice cream into a serving-size bowl. Allow yourself a splurge, if that’s what you had planned, but do it mindfully, and in moderation. Make the entire event a planned and special activity.

Be the star
This tip works best when you are the only one watching a show in the room, but it can also be done in the presence of others with whom you feel comfortable, and with whom you have a similar passion for the show. Some shows lend themselves to audience participation, at one level or another. And part of the savoring – and the productivity – of watching TV, comes from immersing yourself in the program. For example, when I used to watch “Dancing With The Stars”, I would literally twirl, kick, and dance around the living room with the dancers on TV. When I watch “The Biggest Loser,” I sit on my exercise ball and do various maneuvers, sometimes with hand weights, or I have a “big salad” that I prepared in advance, with the intention of enjoying it while I watch the contestants in some kind of temptation challenge.

When I watch some kind of moving documentary, I sit tall and start to emulate the confidence and courage of the admirable character being featured. And when it’s over, I make notes to schedule a time for sorting through my family photographs and other mementos. I use the burst of inspiration I experience to take steps toward a dream that’s important in my life. Watching Suze Orman makes me want to check my financial accounts and get my estate planning documents in order. This doesn’t apply to every show you might watch, but by being selective about your viewing habits, you can feed yourself with mostly healthy choices that nourish your soul and inspire your better nature. Who can seriously say that after watching a few day’s worth of the Olympics that they don’t feel inspired to become more physically active or join a gym? This is a great productivity tool for you; you just need to recognize it and use it to your advantage.

Posted in Exercise, Personal Style, Routines, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

60 Ways To Save A Day Gone Wrong

Posted by denisefisher on February 12, 2009

A Day Gone Wrong Some days are better than others. Despite our best intentions to be productive, to be organized, to be mindful, some days just don’t turn out that way. We lack the will, the focus, or the motivation to get things done. Some days, it’s hard to even get started. What if you just don’t feel like it? After spinning our wheels and seeming to get nowhere, the day can start to seem like a total loss.

But wait. There’s hope.

If you had a list of Things To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do, you’d have options. It’s hard to come up with ideas – even simple ones – when you’re feeling overwhelmed or uninspired. On a better day, you can put together a list of your own. In the meantime, I’ll lend you some of mine. They’re simple tasks you can choose to do as an alternative when your best laid plans have gone awry. It’s a menu of “Plan B” options to salvage a day gone wrong. Even if you don’t regain your full momentum, at least you’ll get something done.

  1. Make the bed
  2. Wash a load of clothes
  3. Run the sweeper
  4. Water the plants
  5. Put away folded clothes
  6. Put away dishes
  7. Wash the sheets to hang out on the line to dry
  8. Polish shoes
  9. Clear off the table and set it for the next meal
  10. Clean the bathroom sink
  11. Check the mail
  12. Walk around the block
  13. Wash dishes
  14. Clear out & reorganize briefcase/backpack
  15. Sweep off the porch and steps
  16. Get clothes and gym bag ready for workout
  17. Clean the kitchen sink
  18. Walk around and inspect the outside of the house
  19. Pick up leaves, pine cones, and sticks from the driveway or yard
  20. Empty out the refrigerator crispers and reline with paper towels
  21. Clean out and organize the rest of the refrigerator or freezer or just a part of it
  22. Dust TV screens and computer monitors
  23. Clear off a flat surface – pick any one or more: desk top, entry table, night stand, dresser top, dining room table, kitchen counters, work table, bookshelf
  24. Straighten up and clean up the cat station and organize cat supplies
  25. Wipe out the inside of the microwave oven
  26. Empty the smaller wastebaskets around the house into the larger trash bag
  27. Find some junk mail, papers, magazines, expired paperwork to recycle
  28. Take out the trash or recycling
  29. Check your financial accounts
  30. Enter financial data for accounting into software program
  31. Inspect the condition of the car’s exterior (maybe check the tire pressure, oil & other fluids)
  32. See if there’s anything that needs to be cleared out of the car or trunk
  33. Vacuum out the car and wipe down surfaces
  34. Look through some storage space to see what you have and what might need to be done
  35. Chop vegetables, prepare lettuce for salad, or other food preparations
  36. Cook or bake something that will last for several days’ meals
  37. Check inventory levels and restock or add to shopping list, as needed (napkins, paper towels, TP, baggies, foils, wraps, trash bags, vacuum cleaner bags & belt, tissues, liquid soap, dishwashing detergent, laundry soap, stain treatment, bleach, household cleaners, refill water bottles, water pitcher, personal products, coin compartment in purse or car, checkbook, printer paper & cartridges, travel size cosmetic containers [shampoo, lotion, Q-tips, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc.], contact lenses & saline solution, light bulbs, batteries, birdfeeder, first aid kit, medications, vitamins)
  38. Take a power nap
  39. Do some type of personal grooming (tend to your nails, ears, feet, facial or body hair, hair color/length/style)
  40. Call your mother (or other deserving call recipient)
  41. Run an errand
  42. Go to the library
  43. Review your goals/personal mission statement/mantra
  44. Review your to do list
  45. Write and e-mail reply or a letter you’ve been putting off
  46. Clean one or more ceiling fans
  47. Clean the windows on the front door (and the finger prints around the door frame)
  48. Plan the details of a call you’ll make tomorrow – get the name, phone number, key points, and supporting documents you’ll need to have on hand
  49. Gather things together that you’ll need for a project you’re going to do tomorrow – set it up so that you’re ready to start
  50. Listen to an educational, inspirational, or informative podcast
  51. Clear your inbox
  52. Sort through some computer files and delete what you no longer need
  53. Meditate in a quiet space (possibly with some suitable music)
  54. Read something uplifting
  55. Ask someone else about their day, listen with empathy, and ask how you can help them out
  56. Send someone a text message or e-mail – out of the blue – to tell them something you admire about them
  57. Go to the yoga today website and do a yoga video
  58. Sort/organize/group/categorize … anything (bills or receipts to file, medicine cabinet, CDs or DVD collection, utensil drawer, spice cabinet, tool box, drawers of your night stand, jewelry or other accessories, stack of firewood or kindling, art supplies, lap drawer of the desk)
  59. Hold your baby (your little baby, your big baby, your sweetie baby, or your pet animal baby)
  60. Regroup and plan to get back up to speed tomorrow

Posted in Diet, Exercise, Finances, Fitness, Health, Organization, Personal Style, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

5 Ways “This American Life” Can Work For You – Act 5 – Create Your Life Soundtrack & Theme Song

Posted by denisefisher on February 6, 2009

image

“From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it’s This American Life. I’m Ira Glass ….” Our program today – Life Needs A Soundtrack.

Last night, I was watching a PBS show, in which the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was being awarded posthumously to George Carlin (who died in June 2008, only a week after learning that he would be receiving the honor). There was an all-star cast of fellow comedians featured, each of whom came on stage to tell their stories and memories of the honoree. As each guest star emerged from behind the curtains to make their presentation, the band played a musical introduction appropriate for the spotlighted comedian that was coming on stage. Several of the stars had easily recognizable theme songs from their TV shows – Rescue Me for Denis Leary, and The Daily Show theme song for Jon Stewart. But even for the stars who were without an associated TV show, there was a song chosen to identify them musically, in their entrance. When Lewis Black came on stage, the band played a rendition of the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black. And though I didn’t recognize the song, by name, that was played for Joan Rivers’ entrance, it was a diva-like piece, reminiscent of music from the Jackie Gleason Show (if you’re old enough to remember it).

Each time I heard a new song, I thought to myself, “I want to have a recognizable theme song. I want to have a piece of music that is so closely associated with my identity that when people hear it, they think of me.” When you hear the tune Hail to the Chief, you know who is getting ready to enter the room. I want to experience that kind of musical recognition. Never mind that I don’t have the status or profile to elicit instant celebrity among the masses. That doesn’t mean I can’t have a theme song.

I have similar feelings about wanting a soundtrack for the stories in my life. A musical soundtrack adds depth, intensity, and purpose to whatever you’re doing. It inspires you to live life fully and snap out of that zombie/slacker fog. You can’t lounge around doing nothing when your soundtrack is playing in the background. That’s a call for action – the cameras are rolling – you’re on! Film makers understand this. The visual story is expanded to another dimension with the addition of a well-chosen soundtrack. The acting is more poignant, the adventure more vivid, and the emotions more engaging. Wouldn’t it be a much more exciting way to live you life?

Which brings me back to the stories on This American Life. As I previously mentioned, in the first post of this series, one of the coolest aspects of this program’s format is its musical interludes. Not only the music between the acts, but the strains that are strategically played in the background at just the right moments, or in between scenes to give you pause for reflection on what you just heard or to set the stage for what’s coming up.

Any one’s American Life would be enhanced by a soundtrack of that quality.

Pay close attention to the music that accompanies the stories of This American Life, and notice how it sets the tone and carries the theme of the show. Then start collecting the musical selections that you’d use to enhance your life story and the pursuits you engage in. The right mood music can give you the confidence you need to fill the role of motivated exercise person or personal planner.

Learn the subtle lesson that’s demonstrated each week on This American Life – that music can have a profound impact on the quality of your life. And a perfect theme song and soundtrack will motivate you to become the celebrity star of your own aspirations.

Bonus benefit: These episodes (and their associated musical interludes) are great to take with you, in portable format, for extended travels or long periods of waiting. They will keep you awake and alert during long drives home for the holidays, and you’re likely to arrive in a cheerful mood, rather than being stressed out. You probably won’t hear Hail to the Chief when you walk in the door, but you can play your appointed theme song on queue and plant the seed for future entrances.

Here are a few links to episodes with captivating themes and soundtracks, from the extensive archive collection at the This American Life website:

#339 Break Up

#166 Nobody’s Family Is Going To Change

#323 The Super

#341 How To Talk To Kids

#47 Christmas and Commerce

You can listen to the streaming version of the program for free. You can also download a free podcast of the program’s most recent broadcast. Downloads of previous episodes can be downloaded for a mere 95 cents each, and your purchase of these, as well as CDs and other merchandise available at the website helps to support the program. Of course you could also show your support by making a financial contribution. If you are as much an admirer of the show as I am, that’s what you’d do. I did.

Posted in Personal Style, Public Radio | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

5 Ways “This American Life” Can Work For You – Act 3 – Motivation For Writing

Posted by denisefisher on February 2, 2009

clip_image002 It can be tough to shift gears, settle your mind, and sustain the focus needed for a writing project of any kind. This applies to more people than just journalists, authors, blog writers, and students. If you want to create a plan for your business, career, or personal goals, you’ll need to put something in writing. If you want to document family history or maintain a journal of your life story, you’ll need to quiet your mind and devote a chunk of uninterrupted time to this task. And you can’t just do it once. It takes repeated writing sessions to articulate ideas and bring a story to completion.

So many things around us stimulate the mind to race from one activity or attention-grabbing distraction to another. And the quiet, focused mindset that’s needed to write doesn’t come easily.

Enter the pre-writing exercise of listening to an episode of This American Life (TAL). This program is available through multiple media sources:

1. Your local public radio station (broadcast dates and time vary, so you’ll have to consult local programming guides)
2. Free downloaded podcasts (through iTunes or the TAL website)
3. Streaming audio you can listen to online while you’re connected to the internet
4. Purchased podcasts from the archives collection on the website
5. CDs of selected stories, available for purchase from the website’s store

While you listen to the show, through whatever means, you will find your mind calming and relaxing to the soothing voice of Ira Glass. Do not dilute this experience by trying to multi-task with other quick-paced activities. Something rhythmic, like knitting or shoe-polishing, would be ok, but stay away from large-muscle movements for these purposes.

You will find yourself engrossed in the stories you are listening to, yet, at the same time, your mind will start to engage in its own creative process. A similar thing happens when an amateur painter watches an admired artist at work on a canvas, or a casual musician sees a great performance with an instrument he plays himself. At some point, the observer experiences a compelling urge to become a creator, performer, or story teller.

You might not be able to restrain your urge to write until the end of the program, so have your writing tablet and implements, or your keyboard, within reach, even if it’s just to make notes. Then ride that wave of momentum and write for as long as you are able. You will feel such a sense of satisfaction with what you’ve done, and you’ll have a new option available to use when you’re struck with writer’s block or just a hectic lifestyle of distractions.

Here are some episodes that you may want to start with for this tip (I’ve included several suggestions, since you’ll need them for your many writing sessions):

#14 Accidental Documentaries

#314 It’s Never Over

#261 The Sanctity of Marriage

#167 Memo to the People of the Future

#174 Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Milestones

#114 Last Words

Posted in Public Radio, Routines, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

5 Ways “This American Life” Can Work For You – Act 2 – The Ideal Task Timer

Posted by denisefisher on February 1, 2009

imageBecause the radio program, This American Life (TAL, for short), runs about 60 minutes (or slightly less), it’s a great way to keep track of time without having to watch the clock. You can start listening to an episode while you do whatever you need to do, and know that Ira Glass will give you timely prompts as he tells you what act in the sequence is coming up next. Pace yourself, and finish in about an hour.

Find the Time
If you search through the website, you can find many episodes with summaries that tell you how long each segment in the program lasts. Listen to the streaming podcast that corresponds with the number of tasks in your project and you’ll be able to move in rhythm to the show. If you’re undertaking a project that can be sub-divided into three or four steps, and you have selected a program with three or four acts, you will get an audible reminder when it’s time to move on to your next step.

One Major Task
If you have a single substantial task that you need to do, you can find an episode with a longer story in the middle. For example, listen to the episode titled, Welcome to America. There are three acts of various lengths – 5 minutes, then 31 minutes, then 15 minutes. Which gives you
5 minutes to get started
31 minutes to work on your task
15 minutes to wrap it up and put things away

Which makes TAL the ideal task timer.

The Clock is Ticking
If you’re just doing miscellaneous things (like sorting through the mail, putting away dishes, and straightening up around the house), but you don’t want to get carried away and forget to leave on time to pick someone up or keep with your next scheduled task, you might want to look for a differently timed program, like 20 Acts in 60 Minutes. The pace of that episode will keep you aware of the passing time, and it’s eventual conclusion.

Four Equal Tasks
Another timing strategy is to select a program with a more even division of its acts. You can reorganize four drawers in your dresser or clean out four designated shelves or compartments in your refrigerator while listening to the four-act episode of Office Politics. Its stories are 12, 15, 15, and 14 minutes long. Perfect for a project that can be divided into four segments of relatively equal time allotments.

More Ways to Use the TAL Task Timer with Your Appliances:

The Dryer
Start the show when you put your load into the dryer – you’ll have enough listening time to dry your clothes, with a timed reminder to get your clothes out and fold or hang them up. No annoying timer buzzer, and no ironing or a dryer re-fluff needed.

The Washer
For those with clotheslines and a portable way of listening … start the show as you load the clothes in the washer. Somewhere between the acts that are more than halfway through the program, the wash cycle will be completed. Then take your TAL program with you to listen to while you transfer your laundry to clotheslines or drying racks. No more forgotten laundry loads abandoned in the washer.

The Oven
Whether you’re baking whole wheat bread, a batch of brownies, a pan of lasagna, or a roasted entree that’ll provide several meals for the upcoming week, TAL is the perfect accompaniment. The built-in one-hour timer of the show will prompt you to keep the process moving and incite you to finish your clean-up before the program ends. You’d better be cleaning up when the final act begins.

I’m telling you, This American Life is the ideal task timer. You’ve got to try it. I’m recommending these programs for this tip:

#124 Welcome to America (5-31-15 minute acts)

#241 20 Acts in 60 Minutes (short stories in rapid-fire succession)

#208 Office Politics (12-15-15-14 minute acts)

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5 Ways “This American Life” Can Work For You – Act 1 – Getting Projects Started

Posted by denisefisher on January 30, 2009

Listening to a show on the radio (and by radio, I mean Public Radio – the kind without commercial interruptions) has countless advantages over other types of entertainment. For one thing, it allows you to do other things while listening, so you can still be physically active and productive without diminishing the experience.

One of my favorite programs to listen to (and also one of the top [free] downloaded podcasts on iTunes each week) is This American Life, with host, Ira Glass. If you haven’t heard this program before, it might help to have a brief overview of its style and format.

On This American Life, each week they choose a theme and tell several stories on that theme over the span of an hour. The stories are often told in a mixed blend of interviews, recordings, and narrations by the authors. A really cool feature that defines the storytelling style of This American Life is the way that stories are interspersed with musical interludes.

For this series of posts, I’m enumerating five ways in which you can enjoy the program, This American Life, with additional benefits you may have never considered. Each of these listed benefits will include a suggested program that you can listen to by purchasing the podcast or listening to the streaming version of the show on the program’s website.

Getting Projects Started

When you’re facing a daunting project like sorting through an accumulation of mail and other papers, getting started on a painting project, reorganizing a storage space, or any other task that’s hard to get started, you can always count on This American Life to overcome your procrastination and make the chore more pleasant.

Before you set up your audio entertainment, gather everything you’ll need for the task. You don’t want to have to leave the earshot range of your speakers to fetch something in another room and risk missing a critical part of the story.

Make sure you have an uninterrupted hour in which to do your task, so that you will be able to listen to the entire program. Try to arrange it so that others will not disrupt you during your task, and consider turning off your phone (or at least allowing voice mail to take all but the most urgent of calls you can identify). If, perchance, you have longer than an hour to work on a project, you can always listen to an additional program of This American Life. The pause between the shows will give you a chance to make a pit stop or handle minor issues that require you to leave the area or divert your listening.

If you have not tried this technique before, you may be surprised at how easily you can get into a task that you might otherwise find grueling. Time will pass quickly, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish while being entertained by Ira Glass and associates.

My program recommendations for this tip #1 would be either one (or both) of these two popular shows, both of which are based on real-life experiences:

#109 Notes on Camp

#352 The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar

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