Sunday, August 16, 2015

How I (Almost) Learned to Dress Like a Grown Up

I grew up in Durango, Colorado, one of the most beautiful towns in the country (in my humble opinion) but according to USA Today, my town was voted the "Least Fashion Conscious in America" in 1988.  No joke. Think about how bad a town of people would need to dress in the 80s to be considered the worst in America!  There were references to our seemingly exclusive love for North Face, Padagonia and fanny packs.  In our defense, we were hours away from any major cities and our shopping options were Walmart, JC Penny's or the thrift store.  Don't believe me? Check out the picture below.  Clearly I'm very upset about 1) looking like a boy and 2) the business in the front and party in the back.
Embracing my Durango spirit, I've always struggled with fashion.  My sister has an incredible fashion sense that she tried desperately to impart to me, but it never stuck and she gave up on me long ago.  I've studied my friends, looked to blogs and celebrities for tips but nothing clicked.  It probably doesn't help that I hate shopping. If you already read my Confessions of an Unconventional Wife post, this probably comes at no surprise.  I get too overwhelmed by uncertainties and questions to really figure out how to put together an outfit beyond copying the exact outfit the mannequin is wearing.  I'm 32 years old and I desperately need someone to teach me how to dress like a grown up.

This blog has been a huge source of self improvement for me.  It has motivated me to write consistently, make improvements in my home and schedule and has created new relationships through organizing projects.  It felt like a natural next step that I should use the blog to try to improve my (lack of) fashion sense as well.  And the person who was going to guide me on this journey? My adorably, trendy and VERY patient friend Heather.  

Heather is the perfect female specimen.  She is crazy smart, values her family emensly, loves sports and shopping, is very athletic, a kind and thoughtful friend and is one SHARP dresser.  I could go on but you get the point, she rocks!  I have a good number of friends that could have given me tips on how to dress but Heather is also very organized and a natural teacher.  Even though she lives a couple states away from me now, I knew she would be the perfect person for the job.  I reached out to see if she would be willing to help and she happily agreed to assist this poor unfortunate soul.  

So how would this work? What did I hope to accomplish and how would we get there?  My basic goal was to get rid of all of my clothes that were outdated and were not doing my body any justice.  I've had two kids so I've gone through a variety of sizes over the past couple of years.  I'm also always struggling with my pack rat tendencies so I guarantee there are pieces of clothing in my closet from high school. Secondly, I needed someone to tell me what I'm missing from my wardrobe.  I don't want to spend a ton of time or money buying clothing.  Which means I need guidance on finding versatile pieces that could be used across a variety of outfits. 

We set up an hour Skype date (not enough time) and dove right in.  As with all organizing projects, we needed to take a look at everything we were working with and purge.  The only way for Heather to accurately evaluate my clothing was for me to try on every single item.  Yes, I know, she should win a friend award.  It was a little awkward at first, standing in front of a computer screen modeling clothes, but I was happy to discover that my intuitions on most of my clothes were on target.  The problem is that I was lacking the confidence to get rid of those crappy clothes.  And by taking out all my clothes at once, it was much easier to see my fashion shortfalls and how often I was making random impulse purchases.

By the end of our short hour, we were able to make surprising progress.  I had a gigantic donate pile, a closet that you could actually see and reach individual clothing items and a list of suggestions for what I needed to purchase.  Everyone's sense of style is going to differ and we focused mostly on my work clothes but here are a few nuggets of wisdom that Heather bestowed onto me:

During our Skype session, I mentioned how a lot of my tops made me feel frumpy and immature.  Heather's solution?  Tucking.  And it is true, tucking almost any shirt can make your outfit look cleaner and more professional.  Though tucking is not for everyone.  I mentioned my newfound knowledge to a friend at work and she said, and I quote, "Tucking is for skinny bitches." She had a point, I've had two kids so tucking a shirt into my pants emphasizes my "mom belly". The key is to play around with different top and pant styles to help determine when it makes sense to tuck and when it is best to leave the tucking to the "skinny bitches."

Finding Your Basics
I love a piece of clothing that adds a bright pop of color to an outfit but over time it seems that I have purchased a whole lot of pops and no basics.  I have a few skirts but not a single black, grey or brown one.  Which isn't to say the blue skirt doesn't work, it just limits the versatility of my clothes.  Before you go off and spend money on another fun orange blouse, make sure you have some neutral colors too.  The purchase may not be as fun but being able to get ten outfits out of one piece of clothing is a lot of fun, especially on your wallet.  You can always add your pops of colors with an accessory or two.

Accessorizing: Belts, Necklaces
I can't tell you why but for some reason accessorizing outfits with a belt or jewelry has been a complete mystery to me.  I just didn't get it.  Every belt I owned was chunky, but not in a good way, and I'm pretty sure they were from the 90s.  Also, we (myself and my wardrobe) didn't know the meaning of a statement necklace.  So it shouldn't come as a surprise that shopping for these particular items became quite an adventure.  Please, let me share my many, many shopping errors in hope that you won't make the same.

When buying belts, plan ahead.  You will end up buying eight different styles of belts and take many trips to the store to return most of these belts, if you don't know what you need for your wardrobe.  Heather showed me two different styles of belts.  A wide decorative belt and a super skinny belt.  Each had a unique way that it helped accessorize an outfit.  The thick belt could be used to create a waste for a flow-y dress, cardigan or loose-fitted shirt. The skinny belt should be used more as an accessory than to actually hold up your pants.  It can belt a cardigan, a dress or even add a little color to an outfit with a lot of neutral tones.

Even with all the unnecessary belt purchases, I still did better in that department than with the necklaces.  It wasn't that I couldn't figure out what to buy, that part was easier than I thought and I ended up getting some really versatile and fun necklaces.  According to Heather, there are very few statement necklaces that are too over the top if you are accessorizing correctly.  My problem was that I couldn't seem to keep them on my neck.  I bought two different long necklaces and had them snap in half within a week of buying them.  The first one got caught on my kitchen cabinet and broke and the second one got caught around my daughter's head and broke.  The whole situation was very disheartening but I learned two very important lessons.  Number one, invest in some jewelry string/wire to easily fix your necklace if they do break and lesson two, take your necklaces off when you get home.

I didn't even attempt to by any other accessories like a bracelet or purse.  Too soon.

Pointed Toe Wedges
When Heather told me I need to add some pointed toe wedges to my wardrobe, I thought I heard her wrong.  I even asked another friend if they had heard of this type of shoe and they also thought I had heard her wrong.  Maybe she meant to say 'Peep toe wedge'?  But no, as usually, Heather is just more in the know than the rest of us and shortly after she told me to buy the shoe, I saw some fashion article talking about the new trend of pointed toe wedges.  I have to be honest, I've never been a fan of pointed toe shoes.  I think they make you look like you have witch feet.  But if I truly want to try to improve the way I dress, I was going to need to trust Heather's advice.  It took a while to find a pair but when I did, I finally understood why they are a must in my wardrobe.  The pointed toes make your legs look long and slender and the wedge makes them more comfortable to stand in all day.  Can't argue with that!

I'll be completely honest with you, the first day that I went shopping, I just wanted to get the whole process out of the way.  I took my one year old daughter with me to Target (huge mistake) and bought about $400 worth of clothes.  When I took them home and tried them on, I was devastated to see that I had reverted back to my old habits and compromised on my clothing choices so that I could get out of the store quicker.  I then proceeded to return around $300 worth of the purchases and started over.

What I ended up purchasing and where:
  • Necklaces at Target
  • Belts at Target
  • Long sleeve blouse at Target
  • Cardigan at Target
  • Pair of pointed toe wedges at Marshalls
  • Light jacket at Marshall
Whenever you attempt to learn a new skill, you need to evaluate how much you have learned, right?  That being said, I sent Heather pictures of a few of my outfits and asked her to grade me.  As with any good teacher, she was fair but honest.  
"Love this blouse and necklace combo (you apparently DO own jewelry!). But the black pants, sweater and shoes are just a bit too safe together. Swap any of those three for something in grey family and you would have been spot on." 
"Love the monochromatic look broken up with a metallic skinny belt. And the tucked shirt (which I know you were reluctant to try) really highlights your figure. But the look would have been more complete with a pop-of-color bracelet or earnings. And I have no words for what is going on with that canvas carryall. (The + was for the head tilt and sass.)"
"Love the belted cardi over the dress and the mix of blues with a neutral shoe. But the cardi would have been better as a v-neck and this outfit is practically screaming out for a statement necklace." 
"I love a belted dress and this look really flatters you. But again the color palette is a little safe. The belt would have been great in basically any other color besides black and playing with another material (like a metal or woven) would have been a nice contrast. The outfit is also lacking accessories (shocker)." 
Her general advice was this, "The oft-quoted fashion advice from Coco Chanel is: 'Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.'  Ignore this completely.  In your case, look in the mirror and put one more thing ON (that is not black)."  

I clearly still have a lot to learn about color palettes and accessorizing but I am proud to report that on a recent trip to Marshalls I picked out five (yes, FIVE!) shirts that received the Heather stamp of approval.  Take that, child-hood me rocking a North Face jacket and fanny pack!  I still need to purchase a few key pieces of clothing like a nice blazer and a black pencil skirt but at least I now know what I need and can keep an eye out for the perfect find.  Knowing how to dress like a grown up isn't going to magically happen overnight but a little bit of guidance has created the extra confidence I needed to finally belt that cardigan and rock that statement necklace. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Confessions of an Unconventional Wife

I'll be honest, this probably isn't going to go over very well.  You've been reading my blog for a while now, enjoying our time together and then I turn around and pull the rug out from under you.  Now everything I've ever said is going to questioned, second-guessed and analyzed.  I feel horrible.  I formally and humbly apologize for misleading you this entire time but I have a confession to make,  I'm a completely unconventional wife.

You know when you have those conversations with your friends about how annoying it is that your husband leaves his socks all over the bedroom floor?  Or how he simply can't take the extra ounce of effort to move the dirty fork from the counter to the dishwasher?  Or how about when he needs reminding every single week when it is trash day, though it has been Tuesday and Friday for all of eternity?  Sound familiar?  I know, I can completely your husband.

Growing up with parents that didn't put very much emphasis on cleaning or keeping the house tidy typically makes for a sloppy child.  No one made their beds, there was no dusting.  Our sink was always full of dishes.  Our house was only as clean as it needed to be to get by. When I first started dating my husband, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. I told him about the idea for this post, he said, "Make sure you mention the apartment you had in Manhattan with your sister." I didn't know what he was talking about so I inquired further.  I was informed that when my husband visited my apartment for the first time, he was reminded of the episode of Friends when Ross goes on a date with a really hot girl and later discovers that her apartment is undate-ably, disgustingly, filthy.  In my defense, 1) we are talking about two sister that were raised by the same cleaning minimalist hippies and 2) we shared a one bedroom apartment in the West Village and 3) my room was in the kitchen. Insert joke about the convenience of late night snacking. 

I know what everyone is thinking right now.  "You blog about organizing.  What changed?  How did you go from a life long slob to lover of all things structured?"  Well, this isn't just story of a messy girl without a clue.  We must remember that every "husband" needs a "wife" and my husband is totally "the wife".  I'm sure he is going to love me for saying that but it hard to argue with the facts.  My husband-wife is as Type A as you can get.  He also grew up in a family where, due to his MS diagnoses, his dad stayed at home and his mom went to work.  He watched his dad do a lot of the cooking and cleaning and his mom bring home the bacon.  

Which is why, I believe, most weekends you will find my husband-wife dusting the house, cleaning the bathroom, replacing the air fresheners and doing yard work. He also used to cook all our meals until our work schedules changed, I was home hours before him and was forced to learn how to cook.  My dear husband-wife took me under his wing and showed me the way.  At first I wouldn't contribute much to our household, because as most of the husbands out there know, any time I tried to do something around the house, I "didn't do it right" or I didn't do it quick enough and eventually he would just end up doing it for me.   

I am proud to report that, thanks mostly to my husband, I now know how to make the bed, clean up after a meal, pick up my clothes and pay attention to things like trash days.  If it wasn't for him I probably would never have figured out a way to channel all my love for structure into something beyond coloring squares on graph paper.  That being said, we will always have slightly skewed roles from the norm in our household.  For example, we will always do our own laundry because he is admittedly afraid I'll ruin his clothes.  He will always do the dusting because the messy child in me still doesn't see and/or isn't bothered by dust.  I organize, he cleans.

Even though I've often felt like a slacker compared to my energizer bunny of a husband, I love the standards we are setting for our daughters.  My husband is one of the most engaged and helpful spouses and dads I know.  And I like to think that because of this, our daughter's expectations of the partners they seek out later in life will be effected.  They will look for someone to support them and share life's workload, instead of falling into the stereotypical roles of the "caregiver wife" and the "financially providing husband".  Not that there is anything wrong with having these roles, it just shouldn't be the role you are forced into based on your gender.  And I'll tell you what, this unconventional wife could not be happier that she found her fantastically unconventional husband.

I'm sure I'm not the only wife-husband out there.  Have the traditional roles in your family been tossed on their head?  I'd love to hear your story. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Adventures in Kitchen Organizing: Zoning

How much time in our lives do we spend in the kitchen?  According to one study, you spend 3-4 years in your kitchen depending on your age and (sadly) gender.  For a few of us, we are only in long enough to grab our leftovers from the microwave but for some people, the kitchen is their oasis.  The place that they invent, create and conjure.  Their kitchen can be their creative outlet and the very place that they feel the most at home.  For someone like Sophia who is continuously working on jewels for her blog NY Foodgasm, the kitchen is the most important room in her house.  Which means it absolutely, 100%, needs to function properly.

In the last post, Sophia and I worked on removing everything from her cabinets and negotiated what she was going to keep and what would be donated to a deserving home.  These few steps took a good three hours but were vital to the overall process.  That was the manual, time consuming and mentally taxing part.  Now we just needed to put everything back in the right spot.  But how and where?

Our next step was to make sure that the kitchen had proper flow.  You don't want to walk back and forth across the kitchen each time you need an ingredient for dinner or each time you need to put away a dish.  In the book, Organizing from the Inside Out the author Julie Morgenstern talks about zoning your kitchen.  You create zones to make the process of using your kitchen as efficient and easy as possible.  The basic concept is that you take a focal point of your kitchen such as your stove, food prep area (the longest stretch of counter space in your kitchen) or sink/dish washer and organize the cabinets around these areas based on what you use in these zones.  For example, all flours, sugars, knives, etc would be near your food prep zone.

Still confused?  Let's check out some more examples with before and after photos:


Zone of the Kitchen: Daily Dishes/Food Serving
Why it Didn't Work: This was a very large cabinet that, because of the depth of the space, items were easily lost and forgotten if they weren't right up front.
Rationale for Placement: Since the cabinet is across the room from the stove and not directly next to the sink and dish washer, we used it for Sophia's formal dishes.  They were perfect for this cabinet because she only needs the dishes for special occasions and since the dishes are in uniform sets, she knows exactly what is in the cabinet.  Additionally, the heavy plates were previous placed on a high shelf and they were making the shelf bow under their weight.  They needed more support.

Zone of the Kitchen: Daily Dishes
Why it Didn't Work: This cabinet is right above the dishwasher so it is prime real estate for daily dishes (versus formal dishes that were previously discussed).  This is one of the larger cabinets in the kitchen that wasn't being properly utilized when it was filled with an abundance of coffee mugs and tea.  Sophia and her husband are barely drinking coffee this days.
Rationale for Placement: The closer you place your dishes next to your sink or dishwasher, the easier it is to put away your clean dishes.  We placed all of Sophia everyday dishes in this cabinet for quick and easy access.

Zone of the Kitchen: Daily Cooking
Why it Didn't Work: The contents in this cabinet were properly zoned next to the stove but there was just too much stuff in one cabinet for Sophia to be able to easily access everything.
Rationale for Placement: Your Daily Cooking zone in your kitchen should be the area around your oven and stovetop.  It was much easier to organize this cabinet after we had gotten rid of items Sophia didn't need anymore and grouped cooking items together by shape. Never try to organize without purging first. It's a waste of time and space.


Zone of the Kitchen: Food Storage
Why it Didn't Work: You are much less likely to use something if it is stacked under or behind something else.  Plus, these towers of pint glasses were a structural disaster waiting to happen.   Which I inadvertently proved when I knocked over a glass while removing them from the cabinet. There were simply too many items in one cabinet.
Rationale for Placement: The food storage containers were placed in this cabinet because of its location between the stove and the refrigerator.  Cleaning up and packing up extra food after cooking would be a breeze with the food storage containers an arms length away.

Zone of the Kitchen: Food Preparation/Daily Dishes
Why it Didn't Work: This had become Sophia's cooking utensil crap drawer.  She didn't know what had made its way into the drawer and told me that she once cut her hand on a misplaced knife while rooting around in the drawer.
Rationale for Placement: Before starting the de-cluttering  process, Sophia had three drawers dedicated to cooking utensils.  Once everything was out in the open, we discovered a lot of duplicates (how does one acquire four peelers?) and utensils in need of an upgrade (sorry old oil brush, off you go!).  When we freed up this empty drawer we were able to move Sophia's food wraps, that were previously living under the kitchen sink with the cleaning products.  This drawer wasn't as close to the Food Prep area as we would have liked but space that is more visible and easier to access is always a major improvement!

Zone of the Kitchen: Daily Dishes
Why it Didn't Work: Two words, horizontal folding.  Before, there were too many dish towels in one drawer and you couldn't see what was in the drawer beyond the first couple towels.  Which means Sophia was using the same three towels over and over again.
Rationale for Placement: By having the towels stacked horizontally, Sophia wasn't able to see or use everything in the drawer.  We got rid of some of the towels and folded them vertical.  We had so much space left over that we stored a few of her mason jars in the drawer to keep the towels upright.

It was a adventurous day with a surprising amount of manual labor, and we still had some minor improvements to make, but by the end of the day that kitchen looked fantastic!  And my favorite part? Sophia was so happy!  I've checked in with her a few times to see how she is doing in the newly organized kitchen and she's said it's great.  Some of her favorite parts are having her dishes above the dishwasher, all the cooking items at her finger tips and not having unnecessary items on the counters, like a random cereal box.  Her one complaint? Getting used to where things have moved.  Hopefully the changes will become a natural part of her routine and having this new and improved kitchen will help Sophia's culinary creations become more about the creation and less about remembering where to find the whisk under all those peelers.

What are your kitchen frustrations?  Do you have an amazing trick to keep your kitchen optimally organizing?  I want to hear every beautiful detail.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Who's the Black Sheep? You are!

Have you ever thought about who in your family is the black sheep?  The person that isn’t quite like the rest of the family and seems to march to a different beat.  The person that was repeatedly told throughout their childhood that they were adopted.  Maybe the person who claims the title of Black Sheep in your family is extremely obvious or maybe there isn't one.  Oh no, wait.  Sorry, that means the black sheep is you.

Normally when you think of the family’s black sheep you think of the movie starring the late Chris Farely.  The trouble-maker, the screw ball, the fuck up, but some black sheep don't fit the mold (go figure!).  I am hands down, absolutely my family’s black sheep but in a much different way than you’d think.  I’m the boring one. 

My mother paints, molds, sculpts, whittles, photographs and does crazy pieces of art like this.

My dad was a photographer, graphic artist, a well-known mural painter who created stuff like this.

My sister has endless talents, one of which includes musical improv, which is where you make up ENTIRE songs on the spot to create short and hilarious musicals.  Enough said.  And me?  What are my talents?  I’m really good at creating excel spreadsheets, remembering numbers, making lists and organizing.  What a freak!

There was always an ongoing joke in my family surrounding my lack of a sense of humor.  I desperately wanted to be funny like my dad and my sister but my joke delivery went something like this. "Orange (ha ha ha) you glad (haaaaa ha ha) I didn't (he he he) say banana! (Long pause) Get it? Orange sounds like Aren't?  Get it?  I said banana a lot and then I said orange."  And then everyone would look at me and say, "Nice try Kelsey."  I spent most of my childhood trying to keep up and pretend that I was as creative as everyone else but it just didn't come naturally to me the way it did for the rest of my family.

Even at a young age it was obvious that I wasn't following the family norm. When my sister was 14 she would babysit to earn money.  When I was 14 I forced my dad to help me make business cards and found a job at a family friend's outdoor clothing factory.  I wanted to sit at a small table for eight hours a day (listening to Rush Limbaugh over the overhead radio!!) and seal ice packs into plastic packaging sleeves.  During my summer!  For fun!  I'm sure at the time I knew it wasn't a typical way for a kid to spend their summer but it wasn't until a couple years ago, at a small family gathering, that I realized my true family colors.

I was standing around with my sister, mom and cousins.  It was a little after Christmas and everyone was drinking and dancing around, having a good time.  I don't remember exactly what I said that was so nerdy but my older cousin stopped, looked at me with a perplexed look on his face and said something like, "You're different, aren't you?"  I'll blame those loose lips on the festive drinking but it got me thinking.  How did I end up so different?  Why did the wacky family gene seem to skip right over me?  Would life be better or easier if I had the same sense of whimsy and creative abandon?  Maybe.  Probably not.

Being even little different from everyone around you can make you start to second guess those adoption comments but I've learned that I am a very important part of the family dynamic.  My family will always bring the jokes, the entertainment and the fun and I'll make sure no one gets arrested.  They will create amazing pieces of art and I'll make sure they are organized properly.

All (potentially lame) jokes aside, it took a long time for me to realize where I fit into my crazy clan, but as I'm sure some of you can relate, I know I have a place.  Someone to balance out all the off-the-wall creativity.  And, I'm by no means saying that I'm not creative.  I'm just creative in my own, organizing, left-brained, black-sheep kind of way.  I like to create through structure and design.  Give me a room cluttered with paperwork and books and toys.  Give me a closet that is stuffed to the brim with clothes and shoes.  Give me a bathroom that looks like it was hit by a make-up tornado.  That is when this black sheep will create her masterpiece.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Adventures in Kitchen Organizing

There are only so many organizing projects you can do in your own home.  Each individual living space comes with unique challenges, so I've been feeling like I'm missing out on a world of new and exciting chaos by staying local.  Which is why any time my blog would come up with my friends, co-workers or casual accountancies I'd beg for an opportunity to work on projects in their homes pro bono (that is a fancy word for "I don't know what I'm doing so I can't make you pay me").  A few people said they had projects they'd love for me to take a crack at but only one person (so far) actually allowed me into their home.  No offense taken, I don't want you to see my mess either.

It figures that this daring individual would be a fellow blogger and also co-worker at our "day job".  Though calling her a fellow blogger feels a little braggy on my part.  She has a legit blog; I have an online journal that my sister, husband and five friends read.  Sophia runs a popular food and beer blog called NY Foodgasm.  Her blog is delightfully entertaining and does a fantastic job of balancing the line between indulgent and healthy food.  Plus, I love beer and Sophia puts my love to shame.  She respects beer.

Sophia reached out and asked if I'd be interested in helping her get her kitchen in order.  Since she does so much cooking for her blog, she needs the kitchen to have optimal flow.  I wholeheartedly agreed to help and we set a date for me to come over.  I've been immersing myself in organizing and de-cluttering blogs and books lately like I Heart Organizing and Organizing from the Inside Out.  I'm slowly making my way through what feels like endless research and I was pumped to finally put my learning to the test.

I showed up at Sophia's house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a notebook, camera and barely contained excitement.  The first day was a consultation.  This was my chance to see her kitchen, take notes, pictures, ask questions and then go home and brainstorm. The interesting thing about Sophia's
house and kitchen is that I wasn't dealing with an unorganized person. She didn't have mountains of crap lying around that simply needed to be put away.  Instead, we were dealing with a trickier problem, an old house.  Her kitchen has some VERY narrow cabinets, random deep pockets of space on her counter, even a cabinet next to her fridge that isn't finished.  No shelves, just a unfinished floor in a dark and slightly ominous space.  Which means it was space she couldn't use.  No good.

It was a great first session.  Sophia was engaged and open to questions and suggestions.  After a couple hours of chatting, we set a date for our regroup and I walked away with ideas bubbling out of my head.  During this first visit I had Sophia tell me what she saw as her areas of frustration, like an over abundance of pint glasses in one cabinet, how to organize all her spices, how to best use the very deep cabinet next to her sink, how to minimize and organize all her various kitchen utensils, etc.

When we met again a few weeks later, I came with a notebook full of pictures and ideas, a shopping list of items I thought Sophia needed for her kitchen and even less contained excitement.  As suggested by one of the organizing books I read recently, we started by pulling EVERYTHING out of the cabinets and putting EVERYTHING on the floor or counters.  We even went around the house and found items like mugs and pint glasses that had found their way into other parts of the house.  The point of this exercise was to truly be able to gauge how much stuff we were dealing with and make sure all 'kitchen' items are in one part of the house.  You may think you only have a few mugs when they are stashed away in your cabinet but wait until they are all sitting out.  All the  sudden you go from a normal person with a normal number of coffee mugs to a coffee mug hoarder.  Here is one of the pictures we took during our "chaos stage".

Once we had everything out in the open, we went through each category of kitchen items and decided what was going to stay and what needed to go.  This was hands down the hardest and most valuable part of the process.  This was Sophia's life, her stuff, her memories and I was telling her to get rid of it.  We took the time to discuss the value and purpose of each item.  Sometimes it was quick and easy but other times, her collection of pint glasses for example, we spent a good amount of time negotiating.  How often do you use this?  Does it hold sentimental value?  Do you have duplicates of the same item that you don't need?  If you can't part with it, can it be stored in the basement for holidays or special occasions? Again, Sophia was a trooper and it got easier.  By the end, she was tossing items in the donation box without a second thought.

By the end of the day, we had worked our way through the entire kitchen and had four boxes of donation items to prove it.  Having all of Sophia's stuff out in the open made it possible to clearly see that she had some how accumulated four peelers and 30 coffee mugs over the years.  It was also much easier for Sophia to trim down on her pint glass collection when she could see each glass that she was keeping and the few she decided to let go.  As described by Marie Kondo in the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (I'm not a general fan of the book but the basic principles are interesting) during the process of removing everything from your cabinets, you are forced to take each item in your hands for a moment and gauge how you truly feel about the item.  Does the item bring you happiness in some way, whether functionally or emotionally?

It may seem excessive to remove everything from your cabinets just to get organized but think about what usually happens when you try to straighten up your house.  You go to a cabinet in your kitchen, start moving things around in the one cabinet, get distracted by one of the other 1,000 things you need to do that day and then you never get beyond that one cabinet.  If everything is out of your cabinets and creating complete chaos in your kitchen, you have no other choice but to clean it up.  The idea is simple but the process can be a little overwhelming.  Don't get discouraged!  If you don't trust that you'll be able to get rid of anything and you are not in a position to hire a professional organizer, find a buddy to be your sounding board.  It can be incredibly helpful to have a impartial perspective on your possessions.

Stay tuned for part two of Sophia's kitchen revamp where we discuss zoning her kitchen with before and after pictures!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dear Dad: Thanks for Everything

Dear Dad,

This morning I woke up knowing that it was Father's Day and thought about how I would go visit you at the nursing home.  It only took a few seconds for my brain to catch up and remember that you are gone.  It is that time of year again where I am constantly reminded of you.  Father's Day, closely followed by the anniversary of the day you passed and then your birthday.  I usually get sad and then mad and sad again but eventually I remember the valuable things you left me with.  It feels like each time I think about you and what we experienced together I'm reminded of another way that you showed me how to embrace life and weed out the crap (gardening pun intended).

I remember sitting in the car with you one spring day.  We were driving back to the nursing home and by this point in time you didn't speak much.  We were stopped at a stop sign and all the sudden you made a small gasp while you gazed out the side window.  I turned and followed your gaze to a gigantic cherry blossom tree with beautiful pink flowers all over it.  We sat at the stop sign for a couple minutes just enjoying how beautiful the tree was and it dawned on me how amazing it was that I didn't even need you to tell me what you were looking at to know what you saw and how it made you feel.  Now I try to make sure I find the time to stop and "smell the roses" every once in a while, something I rarely made time for before.  Thank you for reminding me how much beauty we are surrounded by on a daily basis.

As you progressed into the disease and became less and less like my dad each day, I'm sorry to admit that I started to struggle with motivating myself to visit.  I had just had your first granddaughter and I wanted to spend my entire weekend watching her grow, instead of watching you fade away.  It was so hard to see you in that frail body but I made myself visit and tried to focus on the happy memories I've had with you.  Now that you are gone, I am so thankful that I don't have any regrets and I've tried to carry that over to other parts of my life.  I know I can't do it all but when it comes to visiting friends, taking advantage of new opportunities, taking risks, and showing people that I care about them, I'd rather be a little busy than regret not spending time with the people I care about or living my life to the fullest.  Thank you for showing me that you are more likely to regret what you didn't do than what you did. 

Being the youngest of 14 kids, you probably spent a lot of your childhood wishing you could just be alone.  Which I can totally understand but you also somehow managed to be one of those people who everyone loved to be around.  You were friendly, kind and extremely loyal to your friends.  Watching postcards come in the mail almost every single week from your friend Mark for YEARS showed me what it means to be a good friend.  I've had friends that created constant drama with their insecurities, bitterness, and thoughtless actions.  Losing you made me see that life shouldn't be wasted on undeserving friends.  I now save my kindness and loyalty for people that bring joy to my life just by being who they are, a good person.  Thank you for showing me that life is too short for crappy relationships. 

By the time I was 28 years old, I consider myself an expert in Social Security, Medicare and Power of Attorney.  Not something many 28 year olds could say.  One day when you were living with your sister in North Carolina, mom called to tell me that she found your Will and it hadn't been updated since you got divorced from your third wife. You had been diagnosed with a incurable disease and your Will was leaving everything you had to a woman you didn't speak to anymore.  It wasn't a matter of making sure your children inherited your money one day, we needed money to pay for your care and thankfully we were able to update the Will.  And I am thankful down to my very core that you included your advanced directives in your Will.  You specified that you didn't want any lifesaving measures taken, specifically a feeding tube, and I know that if I had to make that decision for you, it would have broken my heart.  Shortly after we had our oldest daughter, we went to the lawyer and had our Living Wills created.  Thank you for showing me how important it is to get your life in order, especially when you have kids.

I remember sitting next to your bed at the nursing home one day and struggling to remember what it was like before you were sick.  Luckily you and mom were both amazing photographers so we have more photos than we know what to do with but I was having trouble holding on to a real memory.  Every memory I had in my head of you was tinged with Alzheimer's.  When I was a young I didn't pay enough attention to you being in my life.  Instead of trying to rush through life; instead of being frustrated and angry about you not being around all the time; I should have stopped to enjoy having you as my dad.  My healthy, vibrant and amazingly funny dad.  I don't want to rush through anything again.  I take pictures constantly now.  I started writing down my favorite memories of the girls as often as I can remember and try to embrace it all.  Thank you for showing me that every single moment is worth appreciating and capturing, good or bad.  

These next couple of weeks are going to be particularly hard without you but I will keep reminding myself of all the amazing things you taught me.  Enjoy life's beauty, regret nothing, surround myself with good friends, keep my life in order and appreciate everything I am lucky enough to have.

Thanks Dad.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Love What You Do: Finding Your Pure Joy

Do me a favor.  Take a minute and think about what your hobbies were when you were a kid.  Do you still have the same hobbies as an adult?  I had a sticker collection that I was obsessed with when I was a kid.  Which, when I think about it, is possibly one of the lamest collections you can have, but I digress.  I'll admit that even though I enjoy playing with stickers with my daughter, I'm not about to start a collection of my own as an adult.  But think about what I was really doing with my sticker collection.  I was taking all those random stickers from various booklets, rolls, sheets and organizing them into a central and structured location.  The core idea of the hobby I enjoyed as a child has a lot of similarities to what I'm passionate about today.  The practice may have changed but the core passion is still there.

For some people, transforming a childhood hobby into something they can enjoy as an adult is a little more straightforward.  You loved cooking and you still love cooking.  But if you haven't figured out what you are passionate about as an adult, how do you go about figuring it out?  Especially if you want to try to take something you love doing and try to get paid for it.

I was visiting my family in Colorado earlier this year and stopped by to say "Hi" to my sort of dad.  What is a sort of dad, you say? Well, he isn't technically my dad.  He never ended up marrying my mom after 12 years of dating, but he put in the time.  He was at each football game that I cheered at and every single choir concert.  He remembers all of my friend's names from elementary school to now and even emails with some of my them.  He has earned the title more than most.  The only reason I hesitate to call him my dad without the 'sort of' is because a lot of people know my dad was sick and passed away so it can be a little confusing.  Again, I digress.

I was visiting my sort of dad and walked into his house to discover mountains of papers. I'd estimate there were stacks of opened and unopened mail from the last few years.  He is a super busy guy and paperwork isn't his strong suit. Most people would have given him some grief or maybe slowly backed out of the house.  What did I do?  I spent two days of our family vacation setting up a filing system, opening and filing his mail.  It was awesome.  I truly loved it and wished we lived closer so I could do more.  That's when it hit me that maybe I should be doing more with something I clearly enjoy and is helpful to others.  Maybe I could become a Professional Organizer. (That is a real thing, I promise.)  I'm hoping that this blog is my first step towards one day opening my own business.

When you think about turning a passion into a career, jobs like chef, dancer, artist or even professional athlete come to mind.  All either extremely competitive or careers that are hard to be financially successful.  But maybe you need to think about your hobbies in a more abstract way.  For example, let's say you love shopping.  What about shopping do you love?  Do you love searching and haggling for the best deal?  Maybe you should have a career that involves buying or negotiating.  Do you love matching colors and patterns to come up with the perfect outfit?  Maybe you could design for a living.  Or maybe you just love to spend money!  Trust me, there are plenty of careers where you get to spend other people's money. The key is figuring out what specifically makes you enjoy your favorite activities so much. 

Of course it isn't possible for everyone to drop their 9-5 jobs so that they can become a librarian (the dream!) but as Stephen King said, "Yes, I've made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it… I have written because it fulfilled me… I did it for the buzz.  I did it for the pure joy of the thing.  And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."  Time to do some soul searching.  Maybe you won't be changing careers anytime soon but hopefully you can all find out what brings you pure joy.