BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘reality check’

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.

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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.)

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No Wire Hangers

Posted by denisefisher on April 29, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empty Drawer & Cat

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

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Organizing Underwear & Secondary Wardrobe Items

Posted by denisefisher on April 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What To Do With Clothes You Don’t Wear

Posted by denisefisher on April 17, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$ Financial benefit (a definite plus)

* Time & effort involved (a possible detraction)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Great Shoe Wardrobe Dilemma

Posted by denisefisher on April 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you could keep only one pair of shoes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hurry Up And Live Before You Die

Posted by denisefisher on March 9, 2009

Cats - Tennessee, Midgie, Snowy, & Floppy Last night, my neighbor’s cat got hit by a car and was killed. My neighbor is out of town and I am watching his cats while he’s gone. An hour earlier, I was petting that cute little cat, and then suddenly, she was gone. I feel terrible that the cat was killed while I was taking care of her – I feel terrible about a cat dying under any circumstances – but I don’t feel I was irresponsible or that I contributed to her untimely death. It’s not meant to be a rationalization, but at one point or another, by injury or illness, that cat was going to die. We’re all going to die.

Urgency and Importance

I’m not telling this story to be morbid. I’m telling it as a reality check. It’s a reminder that life, as we’re living it, is limited. It’s time to stop putting off things that we need to do, and things that we want to do in our lives, until some unknown future “someday.”

To take this out of the realm of the abstract and to see this from a practical perspective, try this: Take a look at your list of lifetime goals or things that you want to do “someday.” (You DO have a list of things you want to do someday, don’t you?) Things like traveling the world, or starting your own business, or writing a screenplay. Add to that the list of things that you’ve been meaning to do or that you know you should do sometime, but haven’t done yet. Things like getting in shape, or preparing a will, or organizing your family photographs.

Goals and Bucket Lists

If you don’t have any such list, maybe you should create one. For purposes of this exercise, just write out or imagine a dozen things you haven’t finished, have barely started, or for which you have no idea where to begin. Walk through your home, open drawers and closets, and look for visual reminders of other tasks, projects, and good intentions yet to be fulfilled.

I don’t want you to feel depressed or regretful or discouraged by these reminders. I want you to become aware of all the experiences, accomplishments, and aspirations you have yet to pursue. And I want you to be aware of the unknown quantity of time.

Time Estimates

Never mind the little things or the trivial matters. Just focus on the things that are urgent or important. Estimate the amount of time you guess it would take to do these things. Even ten of them. How much time would be involved in doing the research required to finish your family genealogy project? How many years worth of photos (and videos) need to be sorted, edited, dated, and organized? How long would it take for you to save up the money and put together a plan for the business you always wanted to start, the dream home you always wanted to build, or the world travel tour you always wanted to pursue? What would it take for you to change your eating and exercise habits and get your body into its optimal condition? How much time would be required for you to inventory all of your assets and do the necessary estate planning that will insure that your property is distributed in the way you’d want (so that you could embark on those other dreams, knowing your affairs were in order)?

Time Remaining

Now, you’ve probably way underestimated the time it would take to accomplish these things, so you’ll need to at least double, and more likely triple, your initial estimate, to make it realistic. Now add up all that time, and see how long it will take for you to do all of these important and urgent things. Remember that you will still have day-to-day activities requiring your time, and there will be unexpected issues arising from time to time that will divert you from your important and urgent pursuits. Also, new things will come along that you will want to do, that you can’t even imagine right now. Do you have enough time left in your life to do these things? You might need to think about quickening the pace.

Busy Schedules

Exactly when are you going to schedule time for all of these important things in your life? You know that if you don’t schedule them they probably won’t happen, right?

Think About It

At this point in the subject, you’d expect to read advice about taking action now or find some upbeat, but vague, encouragement about how today is the first day of the rest of your life, and that you have to seize the day. But not here. Not today. Sometimes you need to take time to just think about things. Thinking is part of the process.

(For those who are curious, the cat mentioned at the beginning of this post is the tabby pictured in the top left of the above photo.)

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