BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

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.

Advertisements

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

How To Create a Weekly Schedule

Posted by denisefisher on May 29, 2009

Coffee & Planner

People of importance have schedules. They live their lives with purpose and have things to accomplish. They can’t afford to set aside their planned obligations to tend to the interruptive whims of others. They don’t wait to find out what’s going to happen before deciding what they should do; they have a vision of where they’re going and they plan ahead. Michael Phelps doesn’t swim laps only if he can find time to fit it into his daily agenda. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t go on the air without having scheduled her guests and program topics far in advance, or without having coordinated countless details in preparation for the show. Seth Godin doesn’t wait to write a blog post until he feels like it, nor does he casually think about writing a book without scheduling when he will work on it and establishing a deadline for completing it.

These people didn’t start scheduling their time once they became prominent figures. They reached their celebrity status largely because they’ve had the self-discipline to follow through on their directed planning. Sure, these people may have trainers, managers, producers, and support teams to help them with their itineraries and agendas now, but even with assistance, they still have the responsibility of making time to pursue their goals while managing day-to-day tasks and obligations. They learned to work with a schedule that would assure that they were doing the things they needed to be doing when they needed to be doing them.

How can you create a schedule that works for you?
You can create schedules for different timeframes (daily seems to be the most common), but I find it effective to start with a weekly schedule. By focusing on just one thing each day – one project or one type of task (using a specified theme of your own choosing) you can create a manageable and flexible weekly format. There will be tasks that you do daily at their appointed times, but if you don’t plan for other projects, the daily minutiae will consume your entire day, and subsequently, the entire week. And if you don’t schedule the time, you’ll never make any progress on those larger projects that need to have time designated for their attention.

Lets look at a low-tech way for creating a reusable weekly schedule that incorporates recurring tasks, and includes a designated day for working toward a long range project, one week at a time. By designing a template-like schedule, you don’t have to create an entirely new schedule every week. Similar tasks are grouped together to be done on a designated day of the week. When new tasks arise, they are incorporated into the weekly schedule on the day designated for those types of tasks. When your dry cleaning is ready to be picked up, you don’t have to adjust your existing schedule to accommodate that task, you simply add that task to the next day designated for errands.

If you have a good feel for how to structure your week, you can jump right in and label each day of the week with a preliminary theme. Alternatively, you can draft a concept schedule that describes your anticipated energy level or other factors that will affect how you plan your week. Shown here is a such a draft:

Weekly Schedule First Theme 
Make a list
If you want to make your schedule comprehensive, you need to identify recurring tasks as well as project-related tasks that you want to accomplish, and make sure that your themes cover those tasks. Start by listing the type of activities you engage in on a weekly basis – not necessarily the specific activities, but the type of activities you could describe as a category. Things like running errands, studying, home maintenance projects, writing, or socializing with family & friends. Add to that list projects or pursuits that you want to accomplish (write them all down, you can edit or prioritize or phase your goals as your schedule develops). Projects and pursuits might include reorganizing the garage, creating a business plan, writing a song, restoring a classic car, planning and saving for a two-week trip to Australia, reading 12 business books over the span of a year, or making a quilt. You can create a separate schedule for work and personal tasks, or you can combine your roles to focus on the system holistically – the latter is especially helpful for those who work from home or have unconventional work schedules.

List of Weekly Activities 
Group your weekly tasks
Categorize your list of tasks and activities by a descriptive label (such as “errands”, “correspondence”, etc.). Identify and mark similar tasks on your list by circling them, color coding, or using symbols in the margin. Think about where and when you will be doing these tasks as you create your categories. You will most likely end up with too many categories of lists on your first try. On your next revision you can look for categories that can be combined under a broader heading (for me, I eliminated the theme of “laundry/wardrobe” and reassigned the related tasks to my “catch-up day” or my “home projects day”). Some of your tasks will probably fit into more than one category – that means you either need to refine your theme description or identify the primary aspect of the task that helps you select the appropriate category.

Categories List - 2nd RevisionCategories List - 3rd Revision
Create a daily theme
Whittle down, combine, and refine your categories until you come up with a list of 7 theme names – one for each day of the week. You will probably need to play with this step and do some editing until you find suitable descriptions for your themes – you can also go back later and revise them after you’ve created a prototype or given the plan a test drive. The important thing is to make it work for your own personal style.

Categories List - 4th Revision 
The importance of a name
The words you use when naming your daily themes can have a profound psychological and motivational effect on you, so choose your labels carefully. If the theme name “yard work day” makes you think of drudgery to be avoided, change the name to something more inspiring, like “landscape architecture day.” The naming process can be broken into a series of smaller steps. For me, it worked best to write up a bunch of descriptive words or phrases to articulate the “feel” of a particular day’s theme. I wrote something like “people/calls/correspondence/follow-up/obligations” to start with, and eventually ended up with the label of “business day,” since it’s a day for which I want to approach my tasks in a business-like manner. The cool thing about this technique is that a well-chosen name really helps to create an image and set the tone for that day’s activities. It’s almost like taking on a role, dressing the part, assuming the characteristics, and behaving in a manner consistent with that image. After creating a patchwork of descriptive words and phrases, it was easier to select the theme name that summarized my intended focus. You can also change these names later if you come up with a better title, so don’t get too perfectionistic about it.

Assign each theme to a day of the week
To make your recurring schedule work, it’s important to identify which day of the week is best suited for your particular themes of tasks and activities. If you have competing days, you’ll have to play around with your options to get the best fit. I like Sundays for planning, in anticipation of the upcoming week. I like Mondays for assigning myself the hard stuff, doing important tasks, and working through meticulous details – the tasks that I can do best when I’m fresh and ambitious.

Categories List - 5th Revision

I’ve recently realized (after 50 years of life experiences) that I need to include some kind of catch-up day in my schedule to accommodate the unexpected things that come up and interfere with my plans. This also allows me to complete tasks that take longer to finish than what I’d scheduled, and it provides some forgiveness for good intentions gone awry. If you don’t have some kind of catch-up day included, every little obstacle and diversion will put your remaining schedule behind and might make you want to write off the rest of the week as a loss, and wait to start anew on Monday. However, if you designate a weekly catch-up day and you don’t actually need the day to catch up on your tasks, you can use that time to work ahead or to do something just for you.

If you don’t know where to start – start with “Trash Day” 
When a major construction project is planned and scheduled, it’s the industry standard to start with the demolition and excavation. You’ve got to clear the project area to provide room to start on the new construction or renovation. This standard also works well for planning a personal schedule. If you’re not sure which days should be assigned which themes, start with the day before your community’s scheduled trash pick-up. This will be your demolition and excavation phase. The trash pick-up will always come on that day, and will not fluctuate, even if something important comes up (except, perhaps, around certain holidays, in which case there is a planned shift in scheduled trash pick-up). So on the day before trash day, designate it for cleaning out your refrigerator, and from there, you will find that other tasks will naturally flow.

If you’re clearing out your refrigerator, it may also be a good day to schedule leftovers for dinner, a day to plan your grocery shopping list and upcoming menus; and while emptying the waste baskets in other rooms of the house, you might find another compatible task to include for that designated day. In mild weather, if you have a yard, the day before trash pick-up may also be the ideal day to bag up yard waste, assuming you don’t have yard work scheduled for some other day of the week. My “day before trash pick-up day” is Wednesday. Wednesday is also the day I chose to designate as my catch-up day. It’s a nice mid-week break that allows me to purge unwanted items, clear the decks, and regroup for a second phase of productivity for the week.

Weekly Schedule Themes 
Put your plans & schedule in writing
This step is really important. If you’ve taken the time to think through the details of an effective schedule, it’s worth the extra effort to write out your final draft in a presentable form. This reinforces the notion that your schedule is of some importance, not just a whimsical exercise done for fun. Writing your schedule on card stock or on an index card makes it easy to locate for quick reference; an index card can double as a bookmark for your planner or a book. Post your schedule where you can see it or just establish it as your policy.

Weekly Schedule Themes Extended 
Expand the theme
Once you have a theme, you can use it to create schedules for other roles, projects, and pursuits in your life. I created a schedule for blogging, exercising, meal planning, wardrobe planning, and TV watching. Each of the subsequent schedules kept with the original scheduling theme to keep the activities compatible.

Act like a “schedule person”
For your schedule to be effective, you have to honor your commitments and expect that others will do the same – especially the activities that are scheduled for yourself. Don’t allow others to trivialize your planning by asking you to set aside your plans “just this once” to go do something fun or to help them meet their deadlines, with the rationalization that you can catch up on your things tomorrow.

Refer to your scheduling policy when coordinating tasks with others. Your daughter needs some new shoes for soccer or it’s mentioned that the car is due for an oil change? Say, “I’ll put that on the agenda for next Tuesday, when I do errands.” If you are working on a personal project which needs 2 hours of uninterrupted focus each week, go to the library or someplace where you won’t be disturbed. Tell your family and social contacts who might randomly call you that you’re not available on Thursdays – that’s your research & writing day. 

Colorful visualization
I even created a themed schedule of colors for the week (this was actually an integration of a color-coded system I had previously created to help organize my “to do” lists). This may seem to take the concept of a theme to extremes, but hear me out. The colors I selected visually reinforce the emotional setting for that day’s activities and helps to create the image and enhance the story behind the theme. I also use descriptive words that remind me of my color choices and provide an association between the colors and the themes.

Now, here’s the cool part: Selecting colors allows you to color code tasks on your master list – just put an appropriately colored dot next to the associated task on your list. You’ll be able to add tasks to your list as they occur to you, in any order, then categorize them with colored dots than you can easily identify when you scan your list. Take the color coding even further by integrating color-matched folders, post-it notes, and page tabs. If you are a visual person, and you like themes, categorizing, and colors, this could be a motivating factor in getting you to create and use such a system. If not, skip the color-related mentions. As always, the best plan for you is the one that you’ll use.

Colored folders, notepads, markers, tabs 
Weekly scheduling time
Once you’ve developed your weekly schedule template, you will have to take time (usually once a week) to decide which specific tasks will be scheduled for the upcoming week. You only have so much time each day, and your master to do list (color-coded or not) has more items on it than you can fit into your schedule. So you have to be selective and be careful not to overbook. 

Productivity studies suggest that only 40-60% of your available work hours be designated for structured activities. The rest of your day will be consumed with daily tasks and unstructured activities. As you start to do the math, you’ll quickly realize why you never seem to have enough time for everything that you want to do. But don’t let that deter you. Focus on finishing the tasks you start. You won’t be able to complete everything, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of finishing your selected tasks. That’s better than working on twice as many projects but completing none of them. The beauty of planning a weekly schedule is that your plan will be in place before your day begins, and you won’t need to feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do or waste your time deciding which task should have priority at any given moment. You’ll already have that plan.

The weekly schedule and reality
Focusing on one theme per day allows you to postpone to-do tasks to their designated days without getting distracted or worrying that things will fall through the cracks. Your weekly schedule is the Plan A. It has flexibility to it, but be careful about how frequently you resort to a Plan B. If the exception becomes more of the rule, you’ll lose the benefits of having a weekly schedule. However, if unavoidably urgent issues come up, or an unexpected opportunity arises, you can often swap days, and avoid pushing your entire schedule back a day. That’s when those scheduled catch-up days come in handy.

Expect that you will have to refine your themes and revise them from time to time, due to such things as changes in seasons, life situations, or personal preferences. But don’t think of your schedule as an assignment that is imposed on you. Instead, think of your schedule as your script – a directed plan that’s standard issue for people of importance, like you.

P.S. For time planning purposes, it took me about 3 hours to set up a weekly schedule template, following the steps I’ve described. I do things slowly and very thoroughly, so adjust your own time estimate accordingly. Once your schedule is initially set up, you can do your weekly planning without so much intensity and detail. Please comment with suggestions and scheduling tips that have worked for you. I’d like to include your successful techniques in a future edition on this topic.

Posted in Organization, Personal Style, Productivity, Routines, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

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 »

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!)

Posted in Finances, Mindful Spending, Productivity, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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.

Posted in Organization, Personal Style, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

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.

Posted in Mindful Spending, Organization, Personal Style, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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.

Posted in Organization, Personal Style, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

The Best Grocery List Format

Posted by denisefisher on February 24, 2009

I have decades of experience in writing up grocery lists. As an obsessive list maker, I’ve tried many formats. Two of the most labor-intensive models had great potential, but weren’t practical to maintain. One was a pre-printed list of  “grocery staples”, which listed everything I might possibly purchase (by designated categories), and a check mark would be used to indicate each item I needed to buy. It was terrific as a comprehensive reminder of items I might have overlooked, but the list was two pages long and had to be printed out each time I needed to start a new list. The other was an electronic grocery list that I “typed out” on the keyboard of my Palm PDA. That ensured I always had the list with me if I was out and happened by a store where I could pick up a few items. After buying the products on my electronic list, I would move each purchased item below the “line” to indicate that I had bought it, and to make it easy to move each item back up to “active status” the next time I needed it, instead of retyping it. Close, but no cigar.

I’ve tried arranging my lists by the layout of the store (which assumes that I go to the same store every time), but the list that I’ve found that works best is low-tech and elegant in its simplicity. Here it is:

grocery-list

I use a 4”x 6” lined post-it note, onto which I draw a 4-quadrant grid to sub-divide the list into categories as labeled on the photo above. I stick the note onto the door of my refrigerator, where it stays until I’m ready to take it with me. As I notice food items that are consumed or running low, I add them to the list. Also, if I think of a dish that I’d like to make in the upcoming week (usually one that requires fresh ingredients that I don’t regularly have on hand), I add those needed items as well. Four general categories cover everything in the store by location, no matter which store I go to. And the limited size of the list serves as a visual reminder that if I start running out of room on the list, I may be purchasing too much.

To non-obsessive list makers, this post may seem kind of lame. That just means that this one is not for you. But for those of us who appreciate efficiency and organization, a productivity tool that is used so frequently is worth the thought and effort of a good design.

For the record, I keep what few coupons I use in a designated section of my wallet/purse so I have them with me when I need them. I don’t have very many because they tend to encourage purchases I would not usually make. Most of my food purchases are not “coupon foods”. Rarely are there coupons for produce, milk, eggs, or bread. But the good thing about it is that it keeps my shopping trips simple, it reduces coupon clutter, and it keeps me from overspending. Saving money by spending less on products you don’t need isn’t really a good deal, is it?

Posted in Diet, Finances, Organization, Personal Style, Routines | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »