Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pack Rat Receipt System

This is my "desk." It's the top of a filing cabinet in the corner of our dining room.

I have a theory that most organizing advice proffered in this world is generated by people who are naturally organized. They rightly realize that they don't struggle as severely with chaos as others they see around, and want to help! The disorganized among us acknowledge their talent for bringing order and attempt to implement their wisdom. Our results with "perfect systems" can be mixed and discouraging because we have difficulty focusing on the tasks and making the decisions required.

What works for me is simplifying as much as possible to avoid organization needs, then looking for the most minimal method for handling the stuff I can't avoid - enter receipts. Receipts can quickly become overwhelming when my pack rat instinct is to keep every scrap of paper, because I might need it. Frankly, I frequently do need them for returns or to reference against credit card statements, etc.

Here's my current method for handling receipts that's been in place for about a year:

  1. Immediately throw away small receipts for cash purchases, like fast food.
  2. Everything else (all credit card purchases) I "file" which involves stuffing it in the front pocket of the desktop organizer you see pictured above. There's zero thinking involved.
  3. On the first day of each month, I move all the previous month's receipts from the front pocket to the small drawer, and remove the receipts already there.
  4. I sort the receipts from the drawer - at this point they are between one and two months old. So for instance, on May 1, I sorted through March's receipts and put April's in the drawer. (Depending on your financial system, this would be the time to enter info for budget purposes) Most are easily identifiable as no longer needed - all the grocery store receipts for food already consumed, etc. They get thrown out. I file the records of big purchases like electronics with the appropriate files. There might be one in the bunch that is not resolved, like we're not sure if needs to be returned, and I put that in the top left pocket. This takes maybe five minutes.

At this point, you may validly be questioning whether this is a simple system. "Why not just touch everything once? Sort right away?"  Again, this is a method that I've adopted to try to balance the need for order with the reality of my pack-rat tendencies.

Truth: I have the most mental clarity about what is important after some (but not too much) time has passed. 

In the case of receipts, this one-to-two-month holding period gives me the distance to relatively accurately identify the few things that should be retained. I have similar, but less explicit, techniques for papers in general and my boys' artwork.

Not too much time passing is very important. After six months, for instance, there would be a daunting amount of receipts piled up, and I would have begun to forget what many of them were about, which would mean I would want to hold onto them.

In the case of my kids artwork, if I leave everything for a year, everything starts to look like an heirloom. "Oh, look at all these beautiful dragon drawings. I remember when he loved How to Train Your Dragon." If I tackle art a month or two after creation, I am probably thoroughly sick of dragons and tempted to save very little, maybe the very best example.

Please do not misunderstand and think this is a perfect system. It's a practical one, that I don't always perfectly use. It works for my brain. Maybe you can modify it to work for yours! The key elements are
  • A. Avoid forcing immediate decisions when your reflexive response is to SAVE by establishing a defined holding zone
  • B. Identify an approximately optimal sorting frequency, taking into account both the volume of the category you're sorting and analyzing the time window after acquiring when you are most willing to let go 
  • C. Establish a regular "sort signal" based on the frequency you have identified - For instance, mine is the first day of the month. That's enough to remind me it's time for a five-minute sort. Perhaps you need a reminder on your phone, or perhaps there's a certain level of stuff in the holding zone that triggers a sort. The important thing is to find something that works for you. 
This will probably take several tries. If stuff keeps piling up, try to pinpoint the holdup. Are you forgetting to sort? (Is there a different way to remind yourself?) Are you having trouble letting go? (Experiment with longer or shorter intervals?) Are you too overwhelmed to tackle? (Try a shorter timeframe/try to split into two smaller holding categories/try to find a time when you feel most capable/recruit help?)

Keep tweaking! Aim for minimizing the amount of thought, effort, and decisions required by the systems you choose. Remember, the goal isn't perfection, the goal is a workable method that you will actually use to keep your life running.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Aha! I'm a Soft Summer Deep

Or maybe a Deep Winter Soft.

Come again?

First of all, hi to everyone stopping by from the Project 333 Facebook page! I love what an engaged and positive community Courtney's brainchild has fostered. Reading many other posts sharing people's Project 333 experiences and wardrobes has been a blessing to me; I hope my story is yet another reconfirmation that you can do this! (and it's so worth it! :))

I thought about apologizing for yet another post about clothes, but remembered the reason I write here is the freedom to freely repeat myself regarding whatever's on my mind. Score one for the personal blog!

So, who is into seasonal color analysis

Remember the classic 80's book Color Me Beautiful that attempted to help women's find their most flattering colors by classifying them into four seasonal categories? I skimmed it as a kid when my mom was reading it, and completely failed to figure out where I fit. 

Now the common categories have been expanded to a total of 16 - four for each of the four seasons. What actually spurred my interest this week began with the Project 333 Pinterest board where I followed a capsule wardrobe pin to another page and so on, and eventually saw a number of capsule wardrobes tailored to seasonal classifications. 

You can find explanations and/or quizzes herehere, here and a plethora of Pinterest boards. Every celebrity you've heard of and a bunch you haven't have been analyzed and categorized.

I am still somewhat terrible with the self-analysis required to identify the features that place me in a particular group, so I've been working backwards instead. Now that I've done a lot of closet analysis, I am starting to learn what colors *really* flatter me. The shirt in the picture above (included in my Project 333 wardrobe) is one of them - a deep blue-green that almost matches my eyes. Dusty rose, slate blue, emerald green, some grayish-browns... Soft, dark, relatively cool colors.

Soft summer deep (a.k.a. Shaded Summer) strongly overlaps with the deep winter soft palette (a.k.a. Toned Winter), and they are two of the newest categories added to the color groupings. My best guess is I would fall into one of those two.

Pretty much everything here would be a good fit for me:

Do you know your season? What is it and how did you figure it out? Has it helped you make Project 333 decisions? Do you think this whole system is a crock?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Project 333 All-Season Capsule Wardrobe

Part II of my one-year clothing challenge (Part I is the clothes fast) will be taking a Project 333 capsule wardrobe and making it last for the whole year, not just three months. 

(So Project 333x4 or Project 3312?)

Along with too much time shopping, I spend too much time planning wardrobes, so I want to pick one and be done. I want to find out if I can truly be content with less. Will I be burning up? freezing? ridiculed? stinky? bored silly? in the days to come... There's only one way to find out!

I'm taking the lessons learned in three previous rounds of Project 333 and come up with a collection to span four seasons ranging from 12 degrees to 102 or higher.

- Layers are essential. Both for warmth and variety
A unified color scheme is key. I've finally settled on blue/green/khaki with accents of raspberry/rose, so pretty much everything goes together - offering extensive mix-n-match outfit possibilities - and is flattering. For a while, I tried to incorporate darker browns as well, but they just didn't play well with my navies.
Comfort is king. Everything's gotta be easy care and easy wear. None of this shoulder-pinching, too-sheer, dry-clean-only nonsense. I am much happier and more relaxed when not in pain or nervous about flashing bystanders when I bend over. Go figure. Comfortable also means I know that what I'm wearing looks good on me.

So I bet you're curious what you're going to be seeing a lot of in the next twelve months....

* = purchased secondhand

Short sleeves & tank tops (6):
- Navy beaded neckline Target tank
- Blue/white pattern Target tank
- Green vintage "Cheers" tee*
- Khaki/blue stripe GAP tee
- Raspberry JCPenney tee
- Navy/white floral Old Navy bohemian-style blouse

Shorts/skirts/dresses (4):
- Blue striped Target sundress
- Off-white Ann Taylor LOFT skirt*
- Teal JCPenney twill shorts
- Navy GAP cargo shorts

Long-sleeved shirts (4):
- Green Ann Taylor sweater*
- Navy/white stripe Old Navy tee
- Turquoise Velvet shirt*
- Floral pattern Old Navy bohemian-style top

Layering tops (4):
- Heather green 3/4 sleeve cardigan
- American Eagle khaki corduroy blazer*
- Land's End blue oxford
- Land's End raspberry cardigan sweater

Pants (4):
- Talbot's ankle skinny jeans*
- Ann Taylor khaki bootcut corduroys*
- GAP stone denim capris*
- JCrew dark-wash bootcut jeans*

Shoes (5):
- Navy Crocband flip-flops
- Brown strappy sandals
- Metallic ballet flats
- Brown sketchers
- Brown cowboy boots*

Accessories and seasonal (6):
- White belt
- Multi-colored scarf
- Dark brown peacoat
- Green & white raincoat
- LLBean bag
- Swimsuit (tankini & swim shorts)

Claimed exemptions:
giving myself a little more leeway on these than in the past since I'm planning for a year
- Underwear, socks (standard Project 333 exemption)
- PJ tee and pants (standard Project 333 exemption)
- White ribbed tank for underneath warmth layer in winter
- Winter gloves and hat
- Sunglasses (I never count these because they aren't optional!)
- Jewelry (6 items): Wedding ring (standard Project 333 exemption)/ Silver star earrings/ Bluegreen chandelier earrings/ Owl earrings/ Silver stud earrings/ Silver necklace

Theoretical exceptions (not planning to claim but leaving myself the option):
- Black dress (in the event of a formal event, I don't expect to have any)
- Workout tank, capris & sneakers (this is a standard Project 333 exemption; I don't currently work out but certainly don't want to be prevented just because they're not on my list ;))

The grand total of all possible items (ignoring underwear) logs in at 49 if I did my math right. Or put another way, I have 22 items of basic clothing from which to choose each day.

I'd love to keep all of these items in the project for the whole year, but I anticipate having to make some substitutions for items that get worn out from heavy rotation or damaged beyond simple repair - pieces like my Sketchers, green cardigan, navy tank, and navy shorts have already seen a lot of action. Also the basic navy/white stripe Old Navy top I love is NOT built for the long haul; quality will be a higher priority in my purchases after this year! In the meantime, there may be Gentle Cycles and some air drying involved. I'll try to sub in a similar item from my existing spare stock (not buying any new clothes this year is priority numero uno)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No new clothes for a year

You read me right:

My goal, effective the day after my birthday, is to buy ZERO clothes for one year

A clothing fast.

By "no new clothes," I mean nothing new to me. Not even second-hand. No socks. No jewelry. Nothing. (I could have titled this post "No clothes for a year" but that might have been misconstrued.)

Project 333 has been phenomenally helpful in paring back my wardrobe and learning what I like to wear. However, I still find myself drawn to shop and browse frequently because I'm hunting for the perfect items to rotate into my wardrobe. Scanning the sundresses at Target, skimming Gap's spring tees, stalking the new postings on Twice, swinging by Goodwill when I'm out on the occasional kid-free errand... I still turn to shopping for entertainment and escape.

The truth is that clothes shopping isn't currently a constructive use of my resources, especially precious time. There are numerous higher priority things to spend on - I have relationships to nurture, good books to read, blogs to write, boys to homeschool, a home to preserve from chaos, a world to explore and a God to know.

There's an elegantly simple solution to the problem of over-shopping: forbid myself from acquiring additional wardrobe items for a year (and tell you I'm forbidden).

The truth is I have enough in my closet and drawers. Way more than enough, truth be told. Maybe not the perfect everything, but no risk of me going naked between now and next April. This is my Enough Experiment.

I'm sure there are going to be some challenges I haven't anticipated, and I have no tennis shoe backups for the pair that have already been in my closet a while.

But I'm giving myself a year of freedom from catalogs, sale emails, clearance racks and thrift stores! (Not 100% free - the boys will need a couple of pairs of pants, socks, and shoes, but those will be fairly straightforward errands) I'm actually toying with the idea of doing all my clothes shopping on my birthday each year, but I'll see how this year goes before I decide anything too drastic ;)

There's a Part II of this challenge that I'll post about next...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This is 32

She's always lived for tomorrow She's never learned how To live for today Oh, she's dyin' To try something foolish, Do something crazy, Or just get away 

My high school summer P.E. class choreographed a dance to Reba's "Is There Life Out There?" and it's always stuck with me.

Today I turned 32. It's too late for a quarter-life crisis and a smidgen early to be mid-life, so I'll say I have a third-life crisis. Somewhere in the midst of too much reading and too much contemplation, I fell into an Ecclesiastical meaninglessness.

I mean, this is it. This is my life. Hoarding is futile because there is no living in tomorrow, or yesterday. There's today and there's eternity. It's both a free and restless feeling.

From my Instagram - "Heads Carolina, Tails California"

So what's worth doing?

The 30,000 foot view is that the only ultimate meaning is living for God's glory. I believe it. I struggle to understand what exactly that means for me, right here right now.

I can trace lots of swirling thoughts to specific books, like

... I read Embracing Obscurity and it hit hard. Am I OK with living my days out in obscurity? Now that you mention it, no, not really. I want to prove I matter here and now.

... I've been mostly keeping up with Operation World readings; daily I contemplate whether God might be calling us to meet needs overseas.

... Our next door neighbor died on Thursday from pancreatic cancer. We only found out two weeks ago that she was sick. We love her and will miss her. In 32 years I've never been to a funeral; there's a time for everything, right? Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent

... Our current Bible study book is just flat-out messing with me. The only thing I see clearly is a need to minister to high school students at church through individual relationships.

... Even Divergent has prompted a question on my phone lock screen "What if you weren't afraid?"

Thanks for indulging my existential birthday ramble. I have some much more practical things to say about my next step after Project 333, stay tuned!

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Enjoy Jar

Today I'm sharing the story my "Enjoy Jar." It's just a small, empty pickle jar with "enjoy jar" Sharpied on the lid.

Its contents are a few of my favorite trinkets and mementos, the ones that are enjoyable or interesting to hold, look at, and think about.

Stuff like: a shark tooth found on the beach where our family used to vacation every summer, a kaleidoscope, Micro Machines, my husband's grandfather's dog tags, my high school class ring, a few of my eraser collection erasers, a marble painted like the globe, Bashful the dwarf from my sorority pledging.

I got the idea when reading Stuff; the authors discussed how hoarders seem to have a particular affinity for touching and examining possessions. They see qualities of stuff that others don't.

So, keeping that in mind as I've been sorting memory boxes and other memorabilia, I've been culling a few of the small things that are the most meaningful. They must have visual and/or textural value as well. 

And I'm embracing the enjoying. I put the jar on a bookshelf where I can see it. Every now and then I pull out an item or two for holding or examination. I'll tell my boys about them. 

When you hoard, you can't really savor anything because everything is important and most things are buried. This is way better.

A photo of the inside of the kaleidoscope

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"More or Less" eBook FREE for Kindle

This book has been on my wish list for nearly a year; I was stoked to see it reduced to free today! (Hat tip @eReaderIQ notifications)

  More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity

It might be a month or two before I get to read it, but I'll let you know what I think!