BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘organizing’

Getting Your Financial Affairs in Order – Organizing a List into Categories

Posted by denisefisher on November 7, 2010

Organizing the List

Having written a list of everything financial I could imagine wanting to organize (in my previous post), getting my financial affairs in order still seems a bit overwhelming and without an identifiable course of actions. So I grouped my financial issues into categories, and was able to pinpoint the category with the highest priority for action.

Now all this planning and writing about how to get things in order may not seem like the most effective way to get things done, but I’ve found that thinking about what I have to do is part of the process.  And separating the thinking from the doing allows for focus and keeps me from second guessing whether or not I’m working on the right task.

After some thought and some editing, and an attempt to list these categories in order of priority, I ended up with 13 categories. This is how my organized list turned out:

Imminent Issues & Recurring Events

  • Timely financial follow-ups
  • Bill paying procedure
  • Eliminate recurring costs, avoiding penalties
  • Not giving away time, services, or reimbursable expenses
  • Leaving money on the table
  • Maximizing income
  • Additional sources of income

 

Getting in the Financial Mindset

  • Read, watch, listen to sources of financial information
  • Identify books, publications, online sources, radio, TV, podcasts to follow, courses to take, discussions to have, materials to use, experts you trust
  • Establish routines, times, goals for keeping up on financial issues and news topics
  • Create a plan of what to do, where and when to do it, and an estimate of how long it will take
  • Adjust your plans and timeframes, as your financial organization progresses
  • Allow time for research, decision-making, and breaks to catch up on your plan

 

Big Picture Assessment

  • Net Worth
  • Credit reports and FICO score
  • List of all assets, debts, accounts, terms, beneficiaries

 

Back-up Plans & Getting Ahead of the Game

  • Emergency savings
  • Payback strategy
  • Maintenance/repair/remodel/replacement plan

 

First Steps of Estate Planning

  • Will
  • Revocable living trust with incapacity clause
  • Advance directive & durable power of attorney for health care
  • Updated list of beneficiaries

 

Record Keeping & Filing (including setting up a filing system)

  • Identifying all areas of finance and other important papers and things to file

 

Financial Review of Things Already in Place

  • Retirement
  • Savings
  • Spending Patterns
  • Loans & Credit
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Insurance
  • Estate Planning
  • Taxes
  • Recurring auto payments and deductions

 

Identify what needs to be changed, added, and eliminated

  • Note the obvious and the things you don’t know
  • Research or consult to help make your decisions
  • Define how to make these changes and what steps need to be taken

 

Goals & Policies

  • Gift Giving
  • Housing/Real Estate
  • Savings for College/Education/Training (self or others)
  • Retirement Plans
  • Travel
  • Next Career or Business Plan
  • Purchase Plans & Wish List
  • Borrowing/Debt Policy
  • Net Worth Goals
  • Integration of Other Life Goals with Financial Goals

 

Automating Finances

  • Savings
  • Payments
  • Retirement Funds
  • Tracking Expenses & Financial Status
  • Paperwork Management & Tax Records
  • Inventories of possessions
  • Financial Review Plan

 

Finding & Using Financial Professionals

  • Tax planning
  • Purchase plan
  • Inventory documenting all possessions
  • Tax planning, record keeping & filing
  • Paperwork management

 

Revisiting the Topic of Additional Sources/Streams of Income

  • Insurance assessment (including Long Term Health Care)
  • Financial goals (and integration with other life goals)
  • Electronic financial record keeping
  • Borrowing/Debt policy
  • Financial review plan

 

Integrating Other Aspects of Your Life Plans (Get Fit, Get Organized, and Get Financial Affairs in Order)

  • Purging, liquidating, consolidating, and reorganizing your stuff
  • Planning meals, food purchases, and food inventories that support your budget & health
  • Making choices about your lifestyle and activities that support your financial goals
  • Teaching your children or other family members responsible financial management

 

Next Steps – What, Where, and When

My next step will be to identify specific concerns that fall into the first category – Imminent Issues and Recurring Events. I want to rank them into a prioritized list so that I can tackle them completely, one at a time. Working “at” a task isn’t usually the difficult part – it’s FINISHING that’s the toughest. But finishing is what needs to be done to get results. The “where” and “when” of my next step will follow my previous weekly routine. Weekly progress may seem like a slow pace, but it IS progress, and it’s realistic for me. So that’s what I’m going with for now.

  • What: Identify my imminent financial issues, and recurring expenses, and put them in writing
  • When: Sunday, 11 am – 2 pm
  • Where: My designated work table (this is a clear space away from my usual desk, where I know I will get things done – you should try to find such a place for yourself, if you don’t already have one)
  • Pre-planning task: Scan through financial files and paperwork no later than Saturday evening for reminders of pressing matters, making notes as needed

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Productivity & Wardrobe Maintenance – OR – Why Doesn’t Stephen Covey or David Allen Ever Mention Laundry?

Posted by denisefisher on May 6, 2009

Ironing Man Have you ever noticed that all the productivity experts and best-selling authors on the subject of efficiency rarely, if ever, mention such basic topics as doing laundry or preparing meals? These are tasks that everyone needs to do frequently, on a regular basis (or they at least need to have someone else do these tasks for them, which I’m guessing is the case for the aforementioned authors). But for everyone who doesn’t have a secretary, personal assistant, and housekeeper, and still wants to be productive and efficient, you need to have an effective system for wardrobe maintenance. I’m assuming that anyone who’s reading this already has some sort of system for laundering their clothes. How’s that system working for you? It might be time to make some adjustments to your routine or tweak the details to streamline the process. Things may have changed in your life or in your living situation. You may have slipped into some less-than-optimal habits by continuing a “just for now” routine that you started long ago. You may have been doing your routine long enough that you now know what you’d like to change (if only someone would assign you a maintenance redesign project). Well, consider this a call to begin a mindful reassessment of your wardrobe maintenance system. In most cases, this will be a fairly easy task that you can undertake to make your system into something that’s not filled with drudgery or chaos. Who wouldn’t want that? I have four points to consider to help improve your wardrobe maintenance system:

+  Location

+  Supplies & Equipment

+  Space

+  Routine

You need to have a designated location where things are kept and processed during the maintenance routine. Remember the saying “a place for everything and everything in its place”? Well, the first part of that phrase is probably the more difficult of the two. And if you’re going to streamline your system, you might need to rethink the default locations you’re currently using. Don’t stick with a centralized laundry hamper in the hallway that the entire family has to use if it doesn’t work for you. Don’t force yourself to cram all of your dirty clothes into one basket, if you need more space or if you need additional containers for sorting. Think of yourself as the system designer for this process and make each element of it work in a way that naturally flows for you. If there are designated spaces for what you need to do, at the location you need to do it, and the supplies and equipment you need to use, it will be easier for you to develop a streamlined routine, and you’re more likely to sail through the process without moments of indecision or settling for what you’ve got to work with.

Consider these criteria for the aforementioned points.

+ Location

for clothes awaiting cleaning or repair – this might be a place where clothes are hung, or more likely, a hamper or clothes basket; preferably, near the source of that decision
where clothes are cleaned and repaired – this refers to where the do-it-yourself tasks are done as well as the take-it-somewhere tasks – where do you polish your shoes or sew on a button? have you located a designated shoe repair place or a place where you would go for alterations?
where clothes wait to be put away – not where stacks of clothes sit for weeks after laundering, but where they wait during the cleaning, drying, pressing, hanging/folding process (the top of the dryer is only so big)
where clothes go once they’re cleaned or repaired – again, not the top of the dresser or hanging on the closet door; this location should be determined by the space allocation of your wardrobe and how you rotate your garments (most recently worn go in the back) or how you organize your clothing (such as by color or sleeve length) – the main point is to have a functional storage system and to avoid stuffing things into drawers or into the closet just to get everything put away
– where supplies for the process are kept – preferably, at the location where they are to be used, and in a location where they are easily viewed and accessed

+ Supplies & Equipment

– containers, kits, or stations where supplies are grouped and always kept – having your supplies grouped into kits will make them easier to find and use; having them stored in a container makes it easier to transport them to the precise task area where they’ll be used or to move them off a shelf when the need arises, such as for cleaning, taking inventory, or a dreaded plumbing leak
– stain treatment supplies – if you use a stain stick that can be applied days before being laundered, it may be useful to have multiple sticks and keep them at each location where dirty laundry is collected; these can also be good to have for travel
– laundry products – preferably, you can keep these to a minimum and avoid multiple opened products and almost-empty containers; if you have to take your laundry to another location to do your wash, having your products in a carrying container will make it that much easier to transport, and make you less likely to forget something
– sewing kit, buttons, etc. – everyone should be able to sew on a missing button, but you need to be able to find all the supplies you need to do this; keep buttons, needles, safety pins, several colors of thread, and a small pair of scissors in a small sealable container that you can easily find and take to a work space
– shoe polishing kit – a nice shoe polishing kit will greatly increase the likelihood that you will polish your shoes and get more life from them; this is an item that may be worth a little splurge – compared to the price of new shoes, the cost of a shoeshine kit could be a great value; make sure that you have polish colors that correspond to the shoes you own, and don’t forget to add white liquid polish to your kit if you need it for touching up your tennis shoes or summer sandals
– laundry processing equipment – this might include hampers, laundry baskets, laundry bags, drying racks, clothes hanging racks, clothes pins, ironing board & iron, hangers, or storage organizers; having the right tools for the job makes the task more pleasant

+ Space

– space for wardrobe maintenance items – not only do you need to have a designated location for collecting dirty laundry, you also need to have space for it; besides that, you may need baskets or containers for hand-washing & special treatment items, dry cleaning & repairs to be outsourced, items to donate or otherwise purge, and items needing do-it-yourself repairs (one more tip regarding laundry baskets & containers: rectangular-shaped containers are almost always better than round, or even elliptical-shaped)
– storage space for supplies & processing equipment – if you don’t have space and easy access to your cleaning & maintenance products and supplies, it’s not going to be fun; keep in mind the portability factor too, when thinking about your space and storage containers; and make it easy to put things away
– uncluttered flat surfaces – this is a tough one, because cleared flat surfaces tend to attract stuff galore, but you need such spaces for sorting, preparing, processing, pressing, folding, regrouping and reorganizing; so do your best to find some, even if it comes from a folding table
– a container for collecting pocket contents, lost buttons, etc. – you’ll probably want a container that has a sealable lid, so that you don’t end up with coins, buttons, and tokens spilled behind the washer and dryer; if you’re good, you’ll empty this collection container after each laundry event, but even if you’re not up to that level of efficiency, having a collection container can be an acceptable option and better than the alternative (setting coins and buttons on top of the washer or dryer where they inevitably will be knocked off into some place where they shouldn’t go)
– laundry sink or tub for pre-treating, soaking, hand-washing – granted, if you don’t have one of these, it’s hard to just create space for one, but you can put it on your wish list; and if you do have one, keep it clear of clutter and stocked with a scrub brush and other supplies you need to have on hand; an alternative to a sink or tub might be a plastic wash bin designated for that purpose
– space for air drying – this can be a clothesline (outside or inside), a drying rack, or a hanging device that’s used over your tub; just make sure that its accessible when you want to use it, and that it’s easily returned to its non-drying function when you’re finished (think retractable clotheslines and fold-up racks)
– space for processing cleaned clothes – this combines several previously mentioned elements, but I’m repeating it here because you need to have space (and maybe special racks) for hanging clean clothes, folding clothes, towels, & linens, sorting & stacking clean items, room to press garments that need ironing, and space to regroup and organize items that will be returned to different rooms (if you have to take your laundry out to be washed, you may need provisions for covering the clean items during transport)

+ Routine

– designate day(s) for laundry and wardrobe maintenance – laundry may be done weekly, but you can also integrate clothing repairs, shoe polishing, and other clothing maintenance tasks on this designated day; handling dry cleaning and other outsourced types of tasks can be relegated to days when you run errands
– frequency of laundering/cleaning – reassess how frequently you launder or dry clean your clothes – not how many times a week you do laundry, but how many hours you actually wear a garment before laundering it; if you put on an outfit at the end of the day to go out for the evening (and aren’t working up a sweat by dancing), perhaps you can wear it another time before washing it; be aware that over-washing and excessive dry cleaning can significantly shorten the wearability of a garment, not to mention the extra labor and resources it takes to do that extra cleaning
– share the labor – this point is especially directed at women, who typically take on the job of family launderer by default (and probably includes the wives of Stephen Covey and David Allen); don’t be a martyr and don’t encourage helplessness and dependency by taking on the entire household’s wardrobe maintenance; teach self-reliance by instructing children to maintain their own clothing. Release your care-giver instincts, lower your standards, and let them do it themselves! Household members should have individual responsibility for their own wardrobe items and bed clothes, and should share or rotate tasks for “community” laundry tasks (such as towels and linens).
– consider all-hands activities – engage the entire household for such things as hanger-gathering, quick & easy closet purges, donation gathering, shoe polishing night, curtain laundering, bed linen washing, and seasonal clothing transfers
– plan for complete follow-through of the process on laundry days – avoid musty or mildewy clothes forgotten in the washer, wrinkled clothes left in the dryer, and missing or disorganized clothing items that can’t be found because they were not put away; don’t start the process unless you know you’ll be able to follow it through to completion
– integrate a compatible activity with your laundry processing – make your laundry day more productive by integrating individual or family activities that can be done between the steps in the process; listed here are some examples of such activities:

  • exercise, walk, ride a bike, do yoga or a workout routine between loads
  • make it a cooking/baking day or prepare salad/vegetables for the week
  • read a book, magazine, or browse through a cookbook
  • listen to podcasts or audio books (or my favorite, This American Life)
  • dust bedroom furniture, baseboards, light fixtures, and clean mirrors, floors, door frames, and light switches
  • straighten up the closet, dresser drawers, night stands, and linen closet in preparation for clean laundry
  • write up plans for the week, update your calendar or address book, write e-mail messages or replies, write a few pages for your book/screenplay/business plan/blog
  • plan your menu for the week and write up a grocery list

– schedule an after-laundry activity – create a sense of urgency to get the task done, and provide something to look forward to (preferably, something that doesn’t involve everyone needing to shower first [you know, the hot water issue after laundering]; and maybe you should pass up an activity that involves spending or an eating-out activity – it would be good to get out of the habit of using these activities as a reward, for obvious reasons); listed below are some suggested alternatives:

  • go visit some friends or family (hello grandma!)
  • go to the park, pool, or playground; play tennis, kickball, ping-pong, or volleyball
  • set up a backyard game of croquet or badminton and have a cookout
  • go for a drive – just exploring or revisiting old neighborhoods or new sites
  • have dinner at home (maybe with food from the cooking/baking you did), then play a board game or do a family project or activity together

Bonus: Money-saving Aspect of Maintenance

Taking care of your wardrobe items is inherently a money-saving venture, but if you can make some adjustments in your maintenance system, you can save even more.

Save money by extending the life of your clothing. Extend the life of your clothing by
– making repairs & alterations needed to keep the garment functional
– reducing the frequency of laundering or dry cleaning
– reducing the wash and rinse temperatures
– eliminating or reducing the frequency of using heated drying
– reducing the amount of laundry detergent and fabric softeners used
– using a front-loading washer rather than a top-loading model, if you have the choice

Save money by eliminating or reducing the use of laundry products:
– fabric softeners, dryer sheets, anti-static products, and spray starch are products that are best used sparingly, if at all
– beside the cost of these products, fabric treatments affect the surfaces by making them slightly resistant to water, slightly glossy, and more difficult to clean (because of being impervious to water) if used routinely over an extended period of time
– be aware of the quantity of detergent you use, and adjust it for the amount of soil on the clothing and to minimize the soapiness that needs to be rinsed; many laundry detergents are now more concentrated, and suggested usage amounts tend to err on the side of using too much (which, from a marketing standpoint, will require you to buy more product more frequently); and don’t forget, the detergent and laundry products you use ultimately end up in the water supply system for treatment and redistribution, so be mindful and frugal with your usage – try reducing the amount you use until you find the minimal amount needed to do the job

Save big money by being selective about your home laundering methods:
– Remember that any kind of heat-generating equipment or appliances (stoves, ovens, toasters, water heaters, irons, clothes dryers, space heaters, furnaces, electric blankets, hair appliances, etc.) use more energy than almost any other type of energy usage in your house (way more than lighting or electronic devices), so any reduction you can make in your use of heat-generating appliances will result in significant savings
– Save $85-$150 per year in energy by air drying your clothes instead of using a gas or electric dryer
– Save $11-$226* per year in energy by reducing the use of heated water for washing and rinsing

And if you have the option, or are close to replacement of your appliances, keep these potential savings in mind:
– Save $28-$137* per year in water, detergent, and energy by using a front loading washer instead a top loading washer
– Save $12-$30* per year in energy with gas dryer instead of electric

*The figures I’ve cited are ranges derived from outstanding detailed information provided at Michael Bluejay’s site, Saving Electricity, which compares various factors of water and energy usage in the laundry process; it also compares other appliances and energy usage issues. If you appreciate excellent research and want to know specific information about appliances, energy usage costs, and efficiency, I would highly recommend his site. Take that, Stephen Covey and David Allen!)

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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.

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Organizing Underwear & Secondary Wardrobe Items

Posted by denisefisher on April 22, 2009

Underwear & Socks Clothesline If you’re like most people, you probably have drawers bulging with a hodgepodge of underwear (in various stages of deterioration), a miscellaneous collection of socks and hosiery (the good ones on the top, and mismatched, holey ones stashed in the back). You are also likely to have closets full of coats, jackets, hoodies, etc. (you do buy new ones, but never seem to purge any of the old ones). Hats, gloves, mittens, and scarves? Same story (only with more cases of items separated from their mates). Add to that, swimwear, sleepwear, exercise clothing, belts, ties, and other accessories, and you’ve got a recipe for wardrobe chaos. These items make up what I refer to as the Secondary Wardrobe. They don’t receive the same attention as other garments, or even shoes, and as such, they’re not as likely to be purged or organized either.

Purging with a Plan
Most of the clutter problem can be eliminated by emptying any given drawer, coat rack or storage shelf of its contents and returning only those items that are keepers. The concept is simple; the execution … not so much. Ideally you would create a plan for the type of items you need for each occasion (a la the Packing for Paris technique) and you would determine an acceptable number of items to have in any given clothing category (a la Organizing by the Numbers). If you were especially efficient or ambitious in your wardrobe planning, you’d designate one third of each clothing category to be replaced each year (a la the 3-year Wardrobe Plan). But at the very least, emptying your clothing storage spaces (one manageable unit at a time), trying on what you have and assessing the value of each item (a la Get Naked and Get Real) is better than nothing. After separating the keepers from the tossers, the crucial remaining step would be to dispose of the purged items appropriately (a la What To Do With What You Don’t Wear).

I figure you’re smart enough to cull through your secondary wardrobe items and bring enough order to your collection that it becomes, at least, tolerable. But I do have some suggestions for managing the lifecycles of your socks and underwear.

Buy/Keep Only the Best Socks & Undergarments
Undergarment preferences are very personal and strongly opinionated. You know what styles, fabric, colors, and other features you want for the items you wear everyday. So then why do you have so many items in your drawers that you don’t like or never wear? How did you amass such a hodgepodge of items that don’t conform to your strict standards of quality and personal preferences? It could be a combination of purchases others made for you, impulse purchases, or disappointed expectations from what you thought you were buying. Determining the cause is only important for purposes of awareness in future situations. For me, the biggest problem in having a fully functional selection of intimate apparel (and even for shoes and other garments) has been caused by my settling for what’s available when I’ve not been able to find exactly what I’m looking for.

Eureka in Quantities
That’s why I’m passing along this advice to you. When you find the perfect underwear, socks or other garments or accessories for which you buy multiple items, buy them in quantities! Keep your color selections to a minimum and stock your drawers with your find of your favorite style. If you find the perfect sock – cotton blend, knee-high, and reinforced toes and heels that aren’t made of a contrasting color – buy a load of them. Buy 7 black pair, 7 navy pair, 4 brown pair, and 3 dark green pair. These are your socks – you’ve found them. Skip the Beautiful girl chooses a garment herringbone knit, ignore the mid-calf length, and don’t even consider the novelty prints or fun colors on the rack. The bonus benefit of buying multiple pairs of the same socks is that you will have fewer stray singles – instead of two unmatched socks, you’d now have a matching pair.

Identify Your Perfect Undergarments
The same thing goes for underwear – and options for women add  even more layers of complication to the equation. As you realize your specific preferences, write them down to create a list of criteria that your purchases must meet. You’ll most likely only have a few of these type of lists, but once you’ve determined your qualifying preferences, declare it in writing, add your descriptive list to your wardrobe portfolio (you DID get a pocket folder for this purpose, didn’t you? seriously, it’s worth having), and you will be able to recite your preferences to any clerk who asks how they can help you, or use your descriptive criteria as a checklist when looking for purchases online.

Use That Wardrobe Portfolio
As I’ve mentioned before – and it’s especially pertinent for this situation – when you’ve found the perfect item, note where you found it and the price, along with the exact size, manufacturer, style name/number, and any other identifying features. It’s not always easy to find the perfect item that meets your standards, so once you’ve located it, make a note of it so you don’t have to start your next search from scratch. And see? This is another use for your wardrobe portfolio. Where else are you going to store this information and be able to find it the next time you need it? Don’t rationalize – just get the folder and put one piece of pertinent information in it (a clothing receipt, for example). You’ll suddenly find uses for it that you hadn’t thought of before you had it.

Fits Like a Glove
I have one more suggestion on the topic of underwear fitting and purchases, and this one’s for women. If you’ve ever watched some of the wardrobe makeover shows on TV, you’ll know that determining proper bra size can be an issue. Your size and most flattering style may have changed over the years, and maybe you haven’t made the adjustment. If you’re up to finding someone who can properly fit you, go for it. For the more self-conscious or self-reliant among us, use the sizing instructions and bra size calculator located at a website such as Linda, The Bra Lady (of the various sites that checked, I like her calculator the best): http://www.lindasonline.com/bra-school.html?gclid=CIaX-ubjg5oCFdhL5QodoBH1Fw

What’ve You Got Under There?
While you’re thinking about it, go take a look at your socks and underwear drawers. Also, check out your coat closet. Did I nail it on my speculative description? The grand finale step-by-step guide to organizing your wardrobe will be coming up soon. But for now, just be aware of the existing condition and be thinking about how you want to change it.

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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.

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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.

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The 3-Year Wardrobe Plan

Posted by denisefisher on April 2, 2009

Coats This concept is partially inspired by what frugal finance author, Amy Dacyczyn termed “the 3-year sneaker plan.” In her plan, she would purchase a new pair of sneakers every year. These  new sneakers would be worn when she was going someplace where she wanted to look casual but nicely presentable. Her last year’s “new” sneakers, upon the purchase of this year’s new pair, would be relegated to the status of her everyday shoes – ones she would wear around the house most days of the week. The oldest of her 3-pair sneaker collection (the ones that had been last year’s everyday shoes) were assigned the status of work shoes. Those would be the ones she wore when doing gardening, yard work, painting, and such. And her last year’s work shoes, having fully served their life expectancy as functional footwear, were summarily tossed into the trash.

By using a 3-year plan, one’s wardrobe (or sneaker collection) could be systematically recycled and replaced in its entirety every three years – one third at a time.

Imagine your own responsible wardrobe plan that includes the purchase of 7 new outfits every 4 months. Not 7 clothing items, 7 complete outfits (except probably not including 7 new pairs of shoes). The catch? There are two:

1) There needs to be a true plan.
This concept is not meant to condone a free-for-all impulsive shopping trip to buy whatever miscellaneous clothing items you find on sale, to indulge in purchases of items that are “cute,” nor to buy clearance garments that you happened to find in your size and were unable to resist. There needs to be a responsible, thought-out plan. But don’t let the requirement of a plan take the fun out of it. The planning should be part of the excitement and anticipation of the process, in the same way that planning a trip can be almost as much fun as the actual adventure.

2)You need to purge 7 outfits from your wardrobe.
You knew this was coming. But ask yourself this question: could you find 7 outfits in your seasonal collection (whichever season it happens to be) that you’d be willing to part with if it meant replacing them with new clothing items? You might not even have to get rid of your comfortable pullover shirt that fits so perfectly and the distressed denim jeans that you always wear with it, even if they’re both starting to look faded or worn at the seams. Perhaps you can move that outfit into your “work clothes” category, and instead, purge your collection of that well-worn outfit that you wear for hiking muddy trails in the woods.

Wardrobe Replacement by the Numbers
Using my previous example of the 28-outfit seasonal wardrobe, let’s see how the 3-year wardrobe plan might incorporate a 7-outfit purchase plan. Keep in mind that the basic idea is to replace one third of your wardrobe every 3 years, so that no item in your collection is more than about 2 years old.

To break out the 7-outfit allotment of one season’s collection, by category, it might look something like this:

Outfits To Purchase

Category

Total Outfits On Hand

Number To Purge/Repurpose

1

Presentation Outfit

4

1

1

Dress-up Outfit

3

1

5

Everyday Outfits

14

5

0

Work Outfits

7

5

7 total

28 total

7 – to purge
5 – to repurpose

The term “repurpose” is used here to refer to garments which are kept and reclassified within your own wardrobe (e.g., moving an everyday outfit into the category of work outfits). The word “purge” refers to garments to be removed from your wardrobe. Such purged items would generally be sold, donated, or given to someone you know.

Advice to Those Likely to Shop Too Much

  • You don’t have to purchase 7 new outfits. By purchasing fewer clothes, you can save money, keep classic favorites, reduce and simplify your wardrobe space. Perhaps you can select fewer items, and focus more on high-quality goods and classic styles.
  • You don’t have to buy new outfits. You can obtain clothing items (or entire outfits) from thrift stores, consignment shops, through clothing swaps or hand-me-downs, or by having used clothing items altered.
  • You don’t have to buy mass produced outfits from outlets or discount stores; neither should you restrict your shopping to the sales racks of boutiques or department stores. Clothing can be designed and/or sewn by a) yourself, b) an aspiring designer, or c) a tailor/seamstress. The point is to avoid buying clothes that you don’t absolutely love, and to refrain from buying garments that don’t fit quite right, just because they’re bargain priced. Mass quantities of merchandise often induces mass quantities of purchasing (just ask shoppers of warehouse clubs).

Advice to Those Likely to Shop Too Seldom

  • If you are the type who rarely replaces the contents of your wardrobe, maybe you do need to buy 7 new outfits. At the very least, you probably need to purge your closet of clothing that is no longer fresh looking (too worn, too faded, too fraught with stains, beyond maintenance or repair, or too out-of-date).
  • If you tend to be unaware of personal aesthetics and what styles look good on you, your wardrobe assessment might be more effective if done with the assistance of a fashion consultant. Your consultant doesn’t have to be Tim Gunn, but you might want to solicit the services of a fashion-savvy partner, friend, or family member. You know the type (they’re the ones who always comment on what you’re wearing and how you look – good, bad, or some combination thereof).
  • Watch out for tendencies to get stuck in a fashion era or to become complacent or apathetic of your clothing selections and appearance. You don’t need to abandon your own personal sense of style in the way you dress. And you don’t need to stay on the cutting edge of the latest fashion trends of the day. Instead, you need to select styles mindfully and be aware of current and classic clothing styles that enhance your appearance.
  • You may be able to find fashion assistance at the stores in which you shop for clothing, or you might seek out the services of a professional wardrobe- or image-consultant. Such advice is very subjective, so don’t pursue this option lightly. Look for ways to balance your own sense of personal identity with an openness for contemporary design and style. The point is for your wardrobe selection to be intentional, rather than mindlessly assembled without thought.

Looking at the Financial Numbers

It might seem like I’m making a major production out of this wardrobe assessment and creating a purchase plan. But let’s consider this project in terms of price, to show how the costs add up. Assuming an outfit might include 3 clothing items, let’s examine three pricing scenarios and total the cost of 7 replacement outfits for each of 3 seasonal collections, over the course of a year:

$20/item x 3 = $60 per outfit $60/outfit x 7 outfits = $420 per season $420/season x 3 seasonal collections = $1260 per year
$50/item x 3 = $150 per outfit $150/outfit x 7 outfits = $1050 per season $1050/season x 3 seasonal collections = $3150 per year
$100/item x 3 = $300 per outfit $300/outfit x 7 outfits = $2100 per season $2100/season x 3 seasonal collections = $6300 per year

It would be wise to have a target spending amount available for acquiring new wardrobe items. Defining the numbers that determine your spending objectives lends credibility to your calculations and makes your projections more realistic. From there, you can make financial adjustments accordingly, and choose how to affect those adjustments.

More Reasons for Creating a Thoughtful Wardrobe Plan

Planning your wardrobe and future clothing purchases has more than a financial benefit. You select clothes to wear every day, sometimes making outfit changes multiple times throughout the day. There is importance in this planning – it’s not some kind of foofy, girly indulgence – your wardrobe is a reflection of you, a part of your self-image, and a factor in how you are perceived by others. Here are some of the other benefits of effective wardrobe planning:

  • Efficiency in organization and use of storage space. Wardrobe planning reduces physical clutter and reduces the mental stress of chaos and disorganization. Good feng shui.
  • Planning your wardrobe incorporates multiple tasks into a big picture project. Thinking about the many aspects of a well-planned wardrobe causes you to make good choices up front, in a coordinated effort. It reduces future occasions of indecision, over-thinking, excessive trying on of outfits, and piecemeal efforts at clothing organization.
  • Conscientious selections reduce maintenance, including the costs and efforts associated with dry-cleaning, pressing, storage, and the arrangements needed to procure professional services.
  • Mindful and intentional choices in purchasing avoid impulsive, short-sighted, rushed, or ill-advised spending decisions.
  • Well-chosen clothing items improve your appearance. It affects how you feel about yourself, contributes to your self-confidence, and affects how others treat you.
  • The very act of taking control of the possessions in your wardrobe gives you a sense of self-direction in your life, which spills over into other areas of your life. This makes the project worth the conscious effort and reflects the inherent importance of these tasks and their intentional purposes.

How to Plan Your Future Wardrobe Purchases and Purges

Start with a wardrobe portfolio. A binder or colored folder with pockets works well to start collecting your wardrobe plans. Use your portfolio to establish a wish list. Add pages from catalogs or magazines that show outfits and styles that you like (make sure that you keep the source information with the pics so that you’ll know where the info came from). Cut and paste pictures and ordering info from websites to create wardrobe collages that you can print out and put in your portfolio.

Include sketches of your ideas, and notes from personal observations. When you’re ready to go shopping or go online to place clothing orders, you’ll have your collected visions all in one place.

Keep a bag, laundry basket, or similar container handy to act as a recycling box for clothes you definitely or possibly may want to ditch. Use it when you put on a garment and notice it doesn’t fit, doesn’t look so good anymore, has a flaw not worth dealing with, or decide that you just don’t like it anymore. When you get a call for clothing donations or when you’re ready to do a wardrobe purge, you’ll already have a good start. Because this is an ongoing process, it’s worth making space in your closet for that recycling container.

Making the Purchases or Acquisitions

Keeping track of random clothing purchases, made over the course of 3 or 4 months, can be tricky, even if you have a general plan in mind. Create a chart or checklist of your intended purchases and keep it in your wardrobe portfolio. You might want to include an envelope (or use the portfolio pockets) to keep your purchase receipts, which will not only provide a reminder of your acquisitions, but will help you track your clothing-related spending.

I suggest making your wardrobe purchases a special event. Depending on your time availably and shopping preferences, this could be from 1 to 4 separate events. Each event might consist of an hour or two, or it might continue over a span of several days. Once you define the objective of the event, continue to pursue it until your mission has been accomplished.

  • 1 event – buy all 7 outfits in one day, or over the span of several sequential days – one continuous mission
  • 2 events – buy 2 outfits (1 presentation outfit, 1 dress-up outfit);
    then buy the remaining 5 (everyday outfits) on a separate occasion
  • 3 events – buy 2 outfits (1 presentation outfit, 1 dress-up outfit);
    buy 2 nice everyday outfits;
    buy 3 casual everyday outfits
  • 4 events – buy 1 presentation outfit;
    buy 1 dress-up outfit;
    buy 2 nice everyday outfits;
    buy 3 casual everyday outfits

Plan in advance – at least the day before – when you’re going to go out shopping for your purchases, and decide which specific stores you will visit. Then dress up in something that looks good on you and includes footwear that will look appropriate with your targeted outfits. Wear clothes that are easy to change out of (bonus if you can wear items that will mix and match with the type of garments you will be shopping for).

If you are open to multiple sources for your acquisitions, I would suggest following the order listed below (from least expensive to most expensive; from take-it-or-leave-it to custom-made selections). If you can find a free or inexpensive clothing item (but only if you really love it and it fits your plan), it can be worth it to splurge on alterations or to buy more expensive items to complete the look. Just be careful not to buy things because they’re a good deal and you can’t pass them up. Acquiring too much stuff that you don’t need (even if the cost isn’t prohibitive) is not a good deal, and it can sabotage your entire plan, if you’re not vigilant. Dress for self-control. Plan your methods and approach.

1 ) clothing swaps or hand-me-down acquisitions
2 ) thrift stores
3 ) consignment shops
4 ) discount or department store sales
5 ) online purchases from clothing retailers
6 ) high-end departments or specialty shops
7 ) tailor/seamstress/alterations services
8 ) designer/custom clothing or shoe maker

This whole purchasing technique will take some self-discipline and some trial and error for you to obtain the best approach. And you’ll probably need to mix it up from time to time, depending on what you’re looking for and opportunities you might discover. Keep in mind that creating new habits and following through on your plans are more difficult than slacking off into unproductive and undermining habits that contribute to piecemeal fixes and a less-than-optimally organized, cohesive wardrobe.

Start with your own observations and imaginings, and get a portfolio for collecting what you see and conceive. Take your time with the planning and make it an enjoyable project (plus, there are no expensive purchases involved in planning).

One final tip for in-charge, self-disciplined shopping. Walk tall and confident, like a person who knows what they want. Because that’s who you are. You’ve got a plan.

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Wardrobe Organization By The Numbers – The 28-Outfit Seasonal Collection

Posted by denisefisher on March 27, 2009

Men's clothes and accessories

Lady's clothes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The accumulation of stuff expands to fill the space available for its storage. And then it really picks up momentum.

As I wrote in my post, Packing For Paris, it’s better to think of your clothing items in the context of outfits, rather than individual garments. That assures that each of your clothing items goes with other articles of clothing or, perhaps, stands alone as its own outfit. This perspective also keeps you from having an imbalance of a particular clothing category. You can end up with far too many turtleneck sweaters or T-shirts for your needs (these surpluses can sneak up on you without you even realizing it), and these excess garments easily make themselves part of your permanent collection and while they’re seldom worn, they take up valuable real estate in your closet and dressers.

So it helps to have a plan for your wardrobe. And the most practical plan to implement is a plan with numbers. You can choose whatever numbers work for your situation. In reality, the numbers are fairly arbitrary. But choose the numbers first, and establish them as your wardrobe policy. This helps you avoid getting stuck or overwhelmed in your wardrobe assessment and organization project. You have enough decisions to make about what to keep and what to purge. Eliminate some of your decision-making by establishing a wardrobe quantity policy. It’ll be one less thing to have to think about.

I’m going to show you a generous wardrobe quantity policy that I developed for use in a temperate mid-west or mid-Atlantic climate that assumes a wide array of activities (and hence, a fairly wide array of clothing needs). This assumes a small quantity of “presentation” outfits (what you might wear to an interview or when making a presentation), a small quantity of dress-up outfits (what you might wear for a special evening out or for an afternoon wedding or graduation), a sufficient quantity of outfits for working around the house (clothing that you would wear when doing yard work or cleaning out the refrigerator – clothes that could sustain a permanent stain without you freaking out), and the remaining majority of outfits being “everyday wear” (this would vary from person to person, based on what your every day activities involved – it could even include “presentation” clothes or “work around the house” clothes if those are the activities that you usually do on most days).

Here’s how the numbers come out for my wardrobe quantity policy:
     – 28 winter outfits
     – 28 summer outfits
     – 28 spring/fall outfits

That’s about one month’s worth of non-repeatable clothing outfits:
     – 4 weeks of winter outfits
    –  4 weeks of summer outfits
     – 4 weeks of spring/fall outfits

For each season, I use this breakout:
       4 presentation outfits
       3 dress-up outfits
       7 work around the house outfits
     14 everyday outfits
     28 outfits total

If each season lasts 3 months…
     – January, February, March – winter
     – April, May, June – spring
     – July, August, September – summer
     – October, November, December – fall
…And if the designated outfits are worn “evenly,” that means each outfit will be worn about 3 times per season.

Twenty-eight outfits per season (no repeats for a month) and only 3 repeats of any one outfit per season may seem excessive at first glance. But when I did my wardrobe assessment and reorganization, I reduced my clothing items by more than a third to reach these numbers. Unless you’ve done an inventory on your wardrobe, I expect that you will be shocked to find out how many garments you actually own. And remember, the number of 28 is for outfits, not individual clothing items. If your clothing items are fairly interchangeable, you’ll be able to mix and match them to create even more combinations. If the number that I’m using is too high for you, choose one that suits you better. The goal is to create a wardrobe policy that works for you.

Of course, the 28-outfit policy, in my example, requires that seasonal outfits designated for spring are recycled for wear in the fall rotation. This policy flouts the fashion industry’s rules regarding separate styles and colors for spring and fall, but who says I have to comply with their marketing ploys? That’s part of what created the problem of overstuffed closets in the first place. My spring-fall policy also means that this collection of clothing will get twice the wear of the other seasons, but the rotation won’t be back-to-back, and wearing an outfit six times over the course of an entire year isn’t at all unreasonable.

Keep in mind that the wearing schedule is totally tentative. Neither seasons of the year nor seasonable weather conforms to the calendar, so transitional adjustments will need to be made; and you may have to borrow from one of the adjacent season’s outfits when an unexpected heat wave or cold spell comes through.

The other thing to consider when establishing your wardrobe quantity policy is the space you have available for storage. Ideally, you will have room to store all of your clothing in the same general location (hopefully in the same room, except maybe outer garments, uniforms, or other specialty items). But if you need to rotate garments in and out of storage (in less convenient locations), I’d recommend keeping the spring-fall collection on hand and rotating out the winter and summer collections. That will allow you to make seasonal transitions more easily and will keep the adjacent season’s outfits available for those unseasonable weather days.

Go, take a look at your closet and dresser drawers, and do a quick count and estimate of your inventory. Then start formulating your own wardrobe quantity policy, by the numbers.

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Packing for Paris

Posted by denisefisher on March 25, 2009

clip_image002I have too many clothes. You have too many clothes. We all have too many clothes. Let’s just consider this one example: T-shirts. All colors, logos, sports teams, clever sayings, freebies from promotional campaigns or volunteer events. You probably have dozens more than you realize in your drawers right now. It’s hard to cull a collection to a manageable quantity because many of them are like new. The discerning qualities of fit, fabric, and style rarely apply – they’re nearly the same, from one T-shirt to another. So we keep them. All.

Who can blame us? It’s hard to purge items that are perfectly usable, even when you have more than you need. So, what to do? As with many productivity strategies, it’s mostly mental; it helps to make a game of it. One such wardrobe organizing game I like is a fantasy role-playing game I call Packing for Paris.

Imagine you’re packing your luggage for a trip to Paris. Even if it’s summer, and you over pack and assume that you won’t be laundering any clothes to re-wear, you’re not going to take your entire T-shirt collection with you. You only have so much luggage space, so you’re going to choose the best of what you own – the outfits with the best fit, the ones that are the most wearable, the most stylish, most versatile, needing the least maintenance, and the most practical for your travel lifestyle and the activities you’ll be engaged in. (Sound familiar?)

The reason why this game works is that it reverses the mindset from what you need to get rid of and instead, focuses on selecting the best of what you want to keep. When you assemble the outfits you want to pack for your travel destination, you don’t go through the contents of your wardrobe considering each item separately to determine what not to take. You start by imagining what types of activities you’ll be doing (traveling with luggage, site seeing in the city, dinner out, a day at the beach or the slopes, or hiking through the vineyards). You also plan your clothing choices for the climate and season (coats, boots, hats and gloves; jackets, pants, shirts with sleeves, and sneakers; or lightweight shirts, shorts, and sandals).

Once you’ve allowed for the climate and activities of your travel destination, you select appropriate footwear and select clothing items in groupings of outfits. Even if you have a great looking print shirt that fits well, is stylish, has low maintenance, and meets other criteria, if you don’t have anything suitable to pair it with (to complete an outfit) it’s not going to be a good clothing choice. You’re either going to need to buy a pair of pants, shorts, or a skirt that will go with this amazing shirt, or you’re going to need to pass.

Now, once you’re able to see the thought process that is used in Packing for Paris, you can use a similar mindset for assessing your wardrobe. Think of the limited space of your closet, dresser, and other storage units as the limited luggage space you have available. Don’t pack everything in and then try to determine what to eliminate. Same thing with your clothing storage spaces – clear them of their contents as if you’re starting with an empty suitcase. Then only put in the outfits that suit your needs and that you know you’ll wear. I’ll address what to do with the piles of leftover clothing and accessories on your bed in an upcoming post. For now, just read, absorb, and survey your situation. And imagine you’re going to be packing for Paris.

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Organizing Your Wardrobe – Get Naked and Get Real

Posted by denisefisher on March 20, 2009

Young woman taking off a stylish dress To do a proper purge of your closet and dressers, you need to strip down to your skivvies; and if your purge includes swimwear and intimate apparel, you’re going to need to get naked.

The Plan

Over the next several posts, I’m going to talk about things to think about when assessing your wardrobe. At the end of the series, I’ll write out a step-by-step sequence for putting a plan together that you can execute. For now, just absorb and consider the mental preparations that will make this project successful for you. As I like to say, thinking about it is part of the process.

Getting the Big Picture

Before starting a massive wardrobe overhaul, it’s a good idea to survey the territory and get an overview of what you’re going to be dealing with. Take a look at all the garments, footwear, coats, and accessories you have stored throughout your home. Open closet doors, scan the racks, rods, hooks, shelves, baskets, boxes, and floor space that’s occupied by your wardrobe. Pull out the drawers of dressers, nightstands, armoires, and other storage units where your clothing is stored. Don’t forget under the bed (if you have storage there). What about clothing stored in other closets, coat racks, and seasonal storage containers? These might be in guest rooms, hallways, entryways, mudrooms, lockers, garages, basements, attics, or under stairways. If you’re going to do a total wardrobe makeover, you might as well organize all your clothing, wherever it’s stored. When you’ve finished, I doubt that you’ll say, “I wish I’d only organized the closet.”

Thumbs Down on the Rule of Thumb

I’ve read countless closet-clearing techniques over the years, and they usually mention some rule of thumb instruction stating that if you haven’t worn something within a year, get rid of it. I don’t buy it. I don’t think that’s the best determining factor. If I have a ski outfit which I spent a lot of money on, and hours of shopping to find, I’m not going to toss it because I didn’t wear it last year. Likewise for a sparkly gown that wasn’t worn to the ballet last season.

There are probably a few items in everyone’s closet that haven’t been worn in who-knows-how-long, but that shouldn’t be the deciding factor. If you want to get real about assessing the garments in your wardrobe, you have to try them on!

Your Own Private Fitting Room

You may have pleasant memories about a great looking sweater in your dresser. You may be thinking you’re waiting for the right occasion to wear it. But if, when you try it on, you’re reminded how it itches or how it exposes your midsection if you raise up your arms, that’ll be your reality check that it’s time to pass it on.

You might have a pair of pants in your closet that fits great and looks good on you, but until you try them on, you won’t remember that they have a broken zipper that makes them unwearable.

Conversely, you may rediscover a shirt that was misplaced in your closet, or try on a jacket that you’d forgotten that you liked. You’ll be surprised by what you find amidst the clothing that you see everyday.

Your Own Private Fashion Show

The best way to begin your wardrobe purge is with a bath or shower (you’re going to be naked anyway). Also, shave, brush your teeth, do your hair, trim your nails, moisturize your skin, add fragrance, make-up, and whatever grooming rituals you would do if you were going out. This will assure that you look your best and that you will only keep those clothing items which enhance your image of you at your best. That’s how you see yourself in your mind anyway – looking good (or at least better than the average person your age) – so let’s reaffirm that image in reality, with your wardrobe.

For Your Consideration

As you sort through the contents of your closet or other storage spaces, and try on each article of clothing, consider these factors:

1. Fit
2. Wearability
3. Style
4. Practicality
5. Maintenance
6. Versatility
7. Quantity

Fit
The fit should be body enhancing. Check the waistline, sleeve, skirt, short, or pant length, shoulder seams, and collar or neck opening. Undergarments, swimwear, and snug-fitting items should be supporting and smoothing, with stretch and stability appropriate to the fabric. Garments should not gap at the buttons, nor should they pucker or bind. There should be no irritating straps, fasteners, seams, trim, edges, or bulkiness. Footwear should not be too tight, nor should it rub against the foot, which could cause blisters or other discomforts.

Wearability
You can have a garment that fits well, but is not particularly wearable. Think beyond the posing. The example that quickly comes to mind is a bikini. It might fit well enough to wear for posing, but could you actually swim in it? Women’s clothing is notorious for being non-functional. It’s part of my personal mission in life to eliminate the propagation of overpriced, poor-quality, dysfunctional women’s clothing that is marketed as trendy fashion and ends up cluttering closets as textile art.

Fabric should be of sufficient weight and density for the garment. Clothing items should have sturdy and practical fasteners (buttons, zippers, hooks, ties, etc.). Straps should be wide enough to support whatever they’re connecting, without risk of slipping off or breaking during movement. Wearability of clothing means that you can walk, step-up, reach, bend over, and even run in a garment without being tripped up, restricted, or improperly exposed. Shoes are not exempt from the wearability factor. Pointy-toed spike high heels are in the top ten of my list of dysfunctional clothing items, so don’t get me started on that topic. But those aren’t the only footwear items with limited wearability. Comedian, Dmitri Martin jokes that when you put on a pair of flip-flops, you’re saying to the world, “I hope I don’t get chased today.”

Style
Style is a very subjective topic, and it changes with time. But the objective of a suitable style remains constant – it should be flattering and confidence-building to the wearer. It should be appropriate for one’s age and body type, and should reflect a fashionable, if not classic, appearance. Colors and prints of fabrics should be viewed with a discerning eye when considering style. In the age-appropriateness category, garments should not be too low-cut, too short, or even too long. There should be sufficient coverage, appropriate to the clothing item and its purpose, and it should not be inappropriately sheer or transparent where covering body parts that are discretely reserved for private, intimate settings. For some reason, this seems to apply mostly to young women. Young men are rarely counseled or privately admonished for wearing inappropriate clothing. For that matter, I don’t know that such questionable styles are even manufactured for men. But I digress.

Practicality
This factor is presented as a reminder that your clothing items should be suitable for your lifestyle, activities, and occasions for which they will be worn. This might be determined by your line of work, the climate in which you live, or how you spend your days, evenings, and weekends. Practical is a relative term, and there are occasions for which you may need a wide range of clothing types. Just keep in mind that the percentages of your clothing items should correspond proportionally to your activities and your practical clothing needs. Garments with pockets are usually practical. And clothing that is easy to pack for travel is extremely practical for its purpose.

Maintenance
This factor is closely related to practicality, but it extends beyond the type of garment and the occasions for which its worn. Maintenance is especially focused on cleaning, repairs, and keeping the clothing item looking good. When evaluating your current garments (and when considering future purchases) keep in mind the laundering, drying, pressing, and special cleaning requirements. Be aware of the fragility of delicate fabrics that need special care or that have shorter life spans. Be aware of detailing, trim, ornamentation, and fancy fasteners. These can be difficult to repair or replace, and laundered garments with such trim rarely look as good as when the garment was new. Also keep in mind fabrics that show dirt or stains, wrinkle easily, cause lint or pet hair to cling, or are subject to wrinkling or pilling (those fuzz balls that appear on sweaters). If the hassle or expense of a garment’s maintenance is too much, you might be better off without it.

Versatility
The factor of versatility is not a critical item of consideration, but it will add to the value of a garment when compared with a specialty, stand-alone item in your closet. When deciding whether to keep a particular article of clothing (and when considering future purchases), it would be worth thinking about its versatility. If an item is suitable for multiple seasons, occasions, and can be mixed and matched with other garments and accessories, you will get more wear from it. A classic white silk shirt with roll-up cuffs is substantially more versatile than a gold sequined tube top with spaghetti straps.

Quantity
This isn’t a factor to be considered when evaluating individual items of clothing, but it is an important over-arching factor to keep in mind for the big picture, especially when storage space is concerned (and storage space is always a concern). This topic will be addressed in greater detail in a separate post.

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