Archive for 2014

Planning for Christmas

I love to give gifts. I wish that I had so much money that I could just hand out fabulous cashmere scarves and gloves to every person I meet. Unfortunately, that is not an option for me and I assume that most of you reading this blog have your limits too. Since most of us do not have an infinite amount of money, I have proposed the following suggestions for gift giving this Christmas season:

1. Draw names. I honestly believe people are really relieved when you suggest switching over to this.

2. Instead of drawing names play a really fun game of dirty Santa. I grew up with an enormous extended family and we always drew names. Plus we each received two gifts from the matriarch and patriarch of the family. Along the way we stopped doing that and started playing dirty Santa which is really hysterical in a big family. I enjoy the jokes and the hysterics of it all so much that I wouldn't want to go back to exchanging boring gifts and passing them around for inspection.

3. Completely stop swapping gift cards (ahem, I mean presents) with everyone except your immediate family. There may be a lot of resistance to this one and some boycotting. But hey, no one can force you to give right? Now before you start calling me names that begin with an "S" (scrooge), hear me out on this. Christmas is supposed to be a time when we appreciate and celebrate our precious savior, eat cookies, decorate the tree, go caroling, sledding, attend parties, mail and receive cards and basically immerse ourselves in the merriment of the season. What it isn't supposed to be is stressful. I mean, I don't remember reading anything about waiting in line to purchase an iPhone and getting trampled entering a store in my version of the nativity story. So - just think about number 3 a little bit. Let it roll around in your head for a few days before you reject it whole heartily. This is something that we do in our family and it has worked for us. Because it means that we focus on each other when we are together and celebrating our own little traditions of the season instead of maxing ourselves out financially. Of course, homemade gifts like a loaf of pumpkin bread or a jar of your homemade hot cocoa mix don't count.

Whether you are buying for just your children or for your entire family aunts and uncles too, it's not too late to plan your Christmas spending. Here's how I do it: make a list of every person you are buying for including teachers, neighbors and family. Then assign a dollar amount to each person.
Mom - $35
Dad - $35
Brother - $20
Aunt - $15
Neighbor - $10 .... you get the point. Then write down your other expenses because surely gifts isn't it.

Here are some categories to include:
Christmas tree (if you buy a fresh one)
Christmas cards
Decor (any new or replacements for lights/ornaments)
Holiday food
Christmas eve dinner
Holiday Party expenses
Special holiday activities (movies, train rides etc.)
Hostess gifts.....

List them all out, assign dollar amounts and then add it up. You may be shocked to find out what you are really spending on Christmas. We did this last night and even though I thought my budget was pretty sparse for gifts, once I added my additional Christmas expenses I was surprised to see how much Christmas 2014 is costing me. So much so that under the tree skirt category where I had anticipated buying a new one this year, I wrote "better luck next year". Unless of course, I find some rockin deal on one after Christmas. Instead, I will need to just make do with some fabric or an old sheet or something. I will figure it out and to be honest, it's not a need - it's a luxury. So ask yourself when looking at your list: are these needs or luxuries? Could I make do this year with my current lights and wreath and maybe look for a good deal after the holidays are over? Just some food for thought. It's not too late to make a plan for Christmas.

Celebrating with traditions

Last year, I wrote about our Christmas tradition and honestly, the post was quite well received. I had so much feedback on this one topic and realized that it really is such a hot button with so many people. I think maybe because it's the central cause of many heated discussions amongst family and friends each year. Traditions are hard. Mainly because we assimilate into families or friend groups with our own pre-existing ideas about what the holidays should look, feel and taste like. Essentially, every one has their own idea of what holidays should be. It gets complicated when you throw in parents, grand-parents, in-laws, and extended families. But here's the gist. The tradition for your family has to be your own. You can't own someone else's tradition. You can't take on the responsibility of making someone else's holiday. You can only be responsible for your own.

This season with our precious special needs son has been extremely difficult. For whatever reason, he has been having a hard time adjusting to some new changes in our lives, primarily being back in a school program. This transition for him has caused us to step back and re-evaluate some of our plans and traditions for the upcoming holidays. In the end, we decided that while we want to do things that are important and special to us, we ultimately had to own our own tradition this year and make it flexible to fit our special son.

This may not be the case next year or the year after that. But we are taking each moment at a time and constantly asking ourselves: is this a good fit for our son? And here's a very real example for that. Last year, we went for a Hibachi meal after our Christmas eve service. It was a disaster. It was too much stimulation: the knives banging, the onion volcano of fire erupting and our waiter even skirted our son twice with water, which really scared him. On top of that, it was not a cheap meal, as hibachi never is.

This year in an effort to do what would work best for us, we have opted to go for Mexican at our favorite restaurant after our church service. Our kids love chips and cheese dip; as an added bonus, my husband and I always eat inexpensively at this restaurant. And so we are abandoning the tradition of Japanese that we started two years ago because it's not working for us. This season, consider what is and isn't working for your family. There may be a better option out there for you that you hadn't realized, because you were still stuck in old traditions.

Wearing my best colors.

Last season, I gave away my favorite navy and white blouse. It was worn out looking, and I could no longer wear it with confidence as a best quality item in my wardrobe. I wore it with black pants (I love navy with black), white jeans, dark denim, gray blazers and even denim shorts. Now that we are entering fall, I realize how much I miss that blouse. I think I've been mourning it. I even caught myself on the phone telling a friend about that blouse and how it needed to be retired yet I wished it was not so.

A few weeks ago, I felt led to re-read "Color Me Beautiful" (this book will change your life) to see if there were any tips that I might have missed in my past readings, and I came across this line, "navy blue is excellent on you, as is burgundy."

Ta-da! Revelation! That's why I was grieving. I looked in my closet and realized that was the only item I owned in navy. Navy is a best color for a Winter like me yet I didn't own anything else in navy besides my old blouse. So I figured my next step in the grief process was to come up with a replacement. My new purchase is quite different from my old faithful. Really the only thing they have in common is that they are both navy/white and don't have to be ironed (hand clap). But I feel better now having that item in my wardrobe that I can always throw on when I'm in doubt of my look and know that it will look fabulous on me.

I entered this fall/winter season thinking that I was going to build my wardrobe around black with lots of basics to mix and match. Basically, I planned to look like I was going to a funeral all the time. No ma'am! Navy is my best color and mixed with white - it's just plain nautical and that makes me oh so happy. This season I will be sporting lots of navy. Look for it. :)

A capsule lipstick collection

Since becoming a minimalist, I've simplified and paired down everything in my life from activities, kitchen gadgets, clothes to routines even. When I finally narrowed down my make-up bag it was as if a white light from Heaven was shining down. Years ago, one peek in my bathroom revealed the entire contents of the Chanel and MAC make-up counters. Not so now. I was a make-up junkie then, always looking for the next and greatest product, but never fully using up what I owned, and never throwing them away. Thus, an enormous collection of eye shadows, lipsticks, blushes, eyeliners.... you name it, reigned supreme in my boudoir.

But I'm a simple girl now and a simple girl needs a simple lip. I need a go-to collection that is hand-picked for me: streamlined and confident. And I believe I may have found the perfect mix.

1. a red lip ~ Rimmel Stay Glossy in Red Carpet Glam
2. a pink-coral lip ~ Milani in Coral Crush
3. a pale pink (neutral) lip ~ Maybelline Elixir in Petal Plush

Ahhhh the trifecta of lip glosses. Everything is encompassed for me in those 3 colors. The bold blue-red when I want to make a statement or be French. :) The pink-coral color makes my green eyes pop and the pale pink goes with everything and is perfect for when I want a minimal or more natural make-up look.

To take this thing to the next level, I'm using (gasp) drugstore brands. Can I get an "amen" somebody? I've used lip glosses that costs upwards of $40 all the way down to $3 and I can tell you that there is not a difference in the one. I do my research but the truth is gloss is gloss is gloss. It's not meant to stay on forever. It's not a lip stain so I don't expect it to act like one.

My lip color collection is perfect for me and suits my minimal make-up bag. Just one color wasn't enough for me but 10 was too much. Three is my number.

Call a friend.

I recently worked with a client who didn't want to have people over to her home because she was embarrassed by the mess and the stuff everywhere. She had inherited and collected many things but she didn't have a home for them and they were in different piles all over her house. Maybe you can identify with her. I think we all long to be known for being hospitable, for opening our home to others and it serving as a place of peace and refreshment for all weary souls that enter its dwelling.

But how can we do this when our guests have to step over piles just to reach the powder room? The prescription is a good and hearty purge session. This is what my dear friend needed the most, and while she knew what she should do, she was having a hard time getting it done herself. Sometimes in life, we need someone to just hold our hand and walk a little distance with us on our journey. Life is easier in pairs.

Maybe you can't afford a professional to help you. That's okay. All you really need is a friend. Find someone who loves you and will hold your hand for just three hours. That is a great place to start. This friend will help you get the ball rolling and once you see the dramatic difference, then you will be strong enough to face the rest on your own. Gather some big black trash bags and boxes. Arrange for a local pickup from a thrift store for later in the afternoon after your purge session. Then fix yourself a cup of tea, admire what you accomplished, and remember, this is the start of a whole new chapter in your life. An abundance of possibilities lay at your feet now.

Excess. It can happen to dogs too.

A client of mine recently told me that her husband was making the family dog de-clutter his bones and toys. My client was appalled. I was cheering him on. :) I told her that there was nothing wrong with a dog having a capsule bone collection. In the end, Jack kept the largest bones and let the smaller ones go. Good dog!

So even dogs have excess just like us humans. When I think of excess generally one thing comes to mind: clothing, particularly for Americans. Last week, I mentioned the talk I gave recently about simplifying. Another key area that I addressed was the capsule wardrobe. So I thought I would post a few points here about it. I'm sure I've already mentioned them here and here but I like to say, there's always room for fresh revelation from the Holy Spirit in any area or on any topic no matter how much you have heard it before.

De-cluttering my wardrobe was the first step on my minimalist journey and it set the stage for everything else that I did in my home. It believe it's the most powerful thing you can do for yourself and it's the starting point for clearing the excess from your homes and lives.

Here is what a capsule wardrobe will do for you:

- It gives you peace
- It removes stress
- It frees up space in your closet
- It removes materialism and self-focus

3 key points:

1. Have a few pieces that you love and wear - We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time because we will always gravitate towards those pieces that we feel beautiful and stylish in. The number one key to this is knowing your colors. The colors that are most flattering for your skin tone and hair color. You will find that this book is dead on 99% of the time. Remember, you can generally go up or down a shade.

2. Buy classic investment pieces and cheap trendy - I recommend to my clients to buy the highest quality that they can afford within their budget and lifestyle. There are certain items that I'm willing to pay more money for like pants but not shirts. My pants seem to last a lot longer for me but my shirts not so much probably from the wear and tear of toddlers pulling on them. I like to buy trendier pieces at discount prices as they generally don't last past a season or two.

3. De-clutter your wardrobe and use numbers to slim down your items - I've discovered that I only need two sets of pajamas, the same through summer and winter (I'm cold natured at night). I also only need one swimsuit, one sunhat and one cover up. Experiment and determine what's right for you.

You can't go wrong with a capsule wardrobe. You're in charge and if you find you need an additional item then just buy it. But here's a warning: once you start dressing this way, you won't be able to stop. Freedom is addictive. :)

Simplifying dinner time

I recently spoke to a group of young women gathered in a friend's home for a weekly bible study. The topic was simplifying. I covered three areas: clothing (capsule wardrobe), routines and finances. One of the most flexible and easy ways to gain control in the area of finances is to make a menu plan. A menu plan is your road map to a less stressful dinnertime and week.

Here's what a menu plan can do for you:

- reduces stress at dinnertime
- makes shopping easier
- reduces food waste
- saves money

There are any number of printable templates floating around on the Internet so I won't bother posting some here. Or you can just keep it really non-fancy like I do, and just take a pad and pencil and just draw your own columns for the days of the week and three main meals.

I think it's important to plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a special snack or dessert. It certainly would be a downer to get up in the morning, start making waffles only to realize that you didn't have enough eggs. That's why it's important to include breakfast too. Each meal takes ingredients. I realize this is not new information, however I think people have forgotten how important this tool is in their domestic tool belt.

Here are my steps to making a menu:

1. I start first with my calendar. Are there any meals that are already provided in the upcoming week, say a church potluck or date night at a restaurant? Then I schedule those meals first in the meal plan.

2. Cook once, eat twice. I always try to pick recipes where there are enough leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.

3. Once meals and snacks are planned out, I go block by block of my menu plan adding the ingredients for each dish to the backside of my menu plan so nothing is forgotten.  I like to shop with mine in case I'm in the store wondering why I'm buying a can of adobo chilies.

4. I keep a menu plan started in my junk drawer so as the week goes by and we run out of a staple (for us, that's raisins, oatmeal, honey, etc.), either Steve or I can add it to the list because we both know where it is.

5. Post my plan on the fridge where everyone can see it. Not only does this help to clarify any confusion about what people are eating, what times and what days, but it helps the other spouse to know what they need to do in regards to starting dinner prep one night if necessary. For example, if my plan says spaghetti and I'm working late afternoon and stuck in traffic, then my husband knows to go to the freezer and pull out a jar of spaghetti sauce and start boiling the noodles.

Planning a menu can generally take around 30 minutes but it's so worth it in the end. Happy planning!

De-cluttering make-up brushes

Today I'm writing about some items that I'm de-cluttering in my home and why. I think sometimes we just need another perspective on how we can live without an item and why we don't need yet another thing busting out of our cabinets and closets.

This week, I'm getting rid of 11 (yes, I know it's ridiculous) extra make-up brushes that I have had for years. The truth is I have my favorites that I always use and these were just on standby in my bathroom cabinet in case I ever needed them for, oh I don't know, some fancy gala that I plan to go to and I want to really perfect my make-up. Okay, so let's dissect that for a second.

a. I don't go to galas anymore. I go to the park, date nights (movie and Mexican) and baby showers.

b. If I do at any point get the opportunity to put on a ball gown and get dressed up for a night on the town, then I'm probably going to make the most of the experience and get my make-up done by a professional.

c. Because of a. and b., I decided that's it's time to let go of those brushes and the what ifs.

I mean if I ever really decide that I need a specific make-up brush for something then I can just go buy one. For the past few years, I haven't used any brushes that are in this make-up bag. So then why am I holding onto them? Out they go.

A teenager getting interested in make-up or maybe a new mom who wants to re-invent herself or freshen up her look can obtain my old brushes at my local thrift store for pennies on the dollar. It's just a shame for me to hold onto things when it could be the very item that someone else has been looking for.

So here are my current brushes that I'm keeping in my make-up bag.
1. Blush brush - doubles as a powder brush. I haven't been using powder lately - going for a more dewy, natural look. I mostly use cream blush so I may be able to do away completely with this brush soon. Which, as you probably know makes me happy. The less stuff, the happier I become and I'm a fan of anything that I can apply with my fingertips.

2. Eyeshadow brush that can also be used to apply highlighter on my face. Right now I'm using my fingertips for applying highlighter so I typically only use this for eyeshadow, but it can do double-duty when needed. I generally only wear eyeshadow at night or for special occasions.

3. Eyebrow brush and honestly the eyebrow brush could potentially be used as eyeliner brush but I just haven't tried it yet.

So that's it. That's my make-up arsenal. Not fancy but certainly functional and minimalist. Just the way I like it. I like to fit all my toiletries and cosmetics into a small bag in case I need to quickly jet to the city (which almost never happens) or hop a plane to Paris. You know in case my husband invites me on a spontaneous getaway to Europe, I can grab my one make-up bag quickly. Hey, one can dream right? :)

Simple is the answer

I often work with clients who have trouble with depression and anxiety. Add to that someone coming in their house and going through their things and it's enough to send anyone into a frenzy. So this is why I advise clients who are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious, to simplify. Removing the burden of choices from your life will in essence remove anxiety. It sounds stupidly simple but the truth is, it works.

For instance, I was recently working through a client's jewelry collection only to discover that she had many options or variations of almost the same earring. They looked so similar that really she just needed to pick her favorite pair and toss the rest. When someone is struggling in depression and is just surviving day to day, the last thing that person needs is to be burdened by options. Pick the simple earrings: your favorite ones. Your go-to pair. Maybe it's the diamond studs or that favorite pair of gold hoops. In this case, for someone who needs room to breathe in their life, I recommend coming up with a comfortable number for your jewelry. A capsule jewelry collection perhaps. Pick 5 classic earrings and donate the rest. Here's an example:
1. pearl studs
2. diamond studs
3. silver or gold hoops
4. a funky earring (either in color or style)
5. dressy earring (something appropriate for cocktail attire)

All 5 are excellent choices and would for sure work with any number of outfits. I feel like you can't go wrong with these classic pieces.

Let's not make life harder than it is. We all go through tough times and tough seasons. Give yourself a break and treat yourself to simple. Simple everything!

Re-focusing my priorities

In the midst of the worst and challenging season that we have been through with our son, I overhauled our entire file system. We recently received the diagnosis that our son has speech and developmental delays and that he is on the autism spectrum. So, you may be wondering why in the midst of all that, would I be working on house projects, organizing and deleting files. But what do you do when you are stressed? Some people run, others cook and still others get a coffee with a friend and some of us: well, we organize.

With my son's diagnosis, I had no idea whether I would need to buy special items, toys or materials to work with him and help him cope. I had re-organized his closet but I felt the need to have my house very organized and to clear out the clutter to make room for what was coming in terms of physical space but also emotional. I needed our filing system to be so detailed and organized that if I needed to locate something for my son's therapist or doctor then I could immediately put my hands on it.

This isn't your typical Chic Planner post but I hope it still inspires you anyway. No matter the problems you face in life, don't be a slave to your home. Let it work for you and not the other way around. When life throws challenges your way, I find that scaling back and making things simpler makes life easier for us. With all the therapy and doctors appointments coming down the line for my son, my husband and I have determined that we have two goals right now and we measure all future commitments and activities against them.

first goal: to be debt free including our mortgage. The burden of debt weighs on one's marriage, physical health, emotional health and ability to live and enjoy life to its fullest. It also inhibits generous giving because how can you give what you don't have or what your paying to car loans and student loans? Steve and I recently paid off my student loan from college but now we are working on paying off his very expensive master's degree from a private school. When trips and potential dinners come up, they are measured against this goal. Will this opportunity help us in achieving our goal or not? This is the question we ask ourselves before we commit to anything.

second goal: to get help and therapy for our son. When we take care of our family first and make sure that everything is being done to get family members the help they need, then the impact will be a better and stronger marriage, a more peaceful home and living environment, improved relationships and less stress. So in this goal, we ask ourselves, how will this activity/opportunity help our son/family? If it won't, then at this time, we may say, "no". And that's okay. Because these goals may only be for a season until we get over this hurdle.

I encourage you to consider what is your top priority for your life/family. Are you measuring all future commitments against this?

A few ways to save money

I like to think of Steve and I as fairly savvy shoppers and consumers. We go into great research on every item that we buy making sure that it is going to do exactly what we need and that we get the best deal we possibly can. But there are also lots of little ways to save a few dollars and that adds up as well. Here is a list of some of things we do.

1. Utilize your local library for all your entertainment needs. Instead of purchasing books for your child, why not give them the experience of rotating books out each week or so from the library. That way you don't have a ton of books piling up in your home and there is always something new and exciting to choose from. Instead of Redbox, we head to our local library on a Friday night to find something that interests us.

2. Share an appetizer for date night instead of ordering separate entrees. Since my husband and I are trying to eat healthier and watch our portions, this works great not only for the waistline but the wallet, too. You can even take advantage of discounted prices by dining late afternoon/early evening. Many times on an early Friday evening last summer, Steve and I could be found dining al fresco at Chuy's which overlooks this gorgeous view of our city for a bill total of $12. They offered a full cheese dip buffet (honestly, I do have a love for cheese dip) and by sharing a salad or appetizer it was the perfect amount of food for us.

3. Utilize blow money. When each adult in your household has a specified amount of blow money then it is up to him/her to use it at their discretion. But when it's gone, it's gone. So if someone opts to pick up Wendy's on the way home instead of eating the food in the fridge, then that's $5 less blow money they will have to spend elsewhere. By carrying this in cash, it will actually keep you from spending it. I hold onto my blow money for as long as I can because I never know what might come up. I don't want to blow it all in one day because what if someone invites me to meet them for lunch later in the month. This principle works in our favor because we become even tighter on the purse strings and it forces us to get creative. One friend of mine started doing a picnic in the park for lunch with friends instead of restaurant dining. I thought that was a genius idea.

4. Use the envelope system. When we pay with cash we have routinely found over and over again that we are spending way less than we used to. Also, we don't borrow from the different envelopes and many months end up with some extra money in them to give us a little extra cushion. Who doesn't love finding a $20 bill in the pocket of their jeans? This time, it's already in the way you do your accounting. :)

What are your tips for saving money?

Capsule wardrobe for the winter

We have had some wintry days here in Alabama and it doesn't look like it's letting up anytime soon. I'm a beach baby, so the warmer the weather the happier I am. But I'm not going to get the cold winter blues just yet. One way to stay ahead of the game in this season is to already have your capsule wardrobe picked out and easy to access when you get up from that warm, snuggly bed in the morning.

Here's a peek at my capsule pants wardrobe this winter. But be warned, it's very minimal. :)

From left to right, these are the pants for the season. A pair of black leggings - they truly go with everything and will take me into the spring; dark denim skinny jeans; long bootcut jeans to wear with high heels; black pants; and teal blue ankle length jeans that can be worn with flats or boots.

Our weather can be temperamental in Alabama so I do a lot of ankle length jeans that can be worn with flats but are also skinny enough to wear with boots and a big, comfy sweater. This is one way that I can make items in my closet do double duty and stretch throughout the seasons.

One thing that I love about my items so far is the minimal investment I made. I only purchased the leggings this season and happened to get a great price on them; the price tag wasn't on them and the sales person just made up a number. LOL! The skinny jeans I have had for two seasons now. The bootcut jeans were hand me downs from a friend, and not only are they designer jeans in perfect condition, but they are the perfect fit. By just spending $10 to get them hemmed, I had a new pair of jeans for my capsule wardrobe. The black pants will probably be the next item that I replace. The teal blue jeans were a birthday present. All in all, I spent less than $30 on pants for the winter season. Not too bad for a gal on a budget. :)

Are you sporting a capsule wardrobe this winter? What's your favorite item in your capsule wardrobe?

How routines rescue my morning

To say that my morning would be chaos without a routine is an understatement. My morning routines not only start my morning off but they give me a sense of accomplishment when I'm not sure what the rest of my day will look like - at least I can know I did do something. Routines can be flexible and can be adjusted when needed. But for candidness sake, I thought I would share what I do every morning. Here's my caveat, there are days when there is a sick child or a sick me. There are days when something just happens that is beyond my control so on those days then I don't worry so much about the routine. Things happen so I have to be flexible. But more often than not, that's the exception and not the rule and the routines are my compass for the day pointing me in the right direction.

Here's my current routine: (some of the times are estimates)

5 a.m. - wake up. make bed. spend time studying the bible and in prayer - I can say that this part is the most crucial part of my day to make sure that I am calm before the storm. :)

6:30 a.m. - get dressed. do 5-minute face. fix hair.

6:50 a.m. - start laundry load. swish and swipe my bathroom. swish and swipe the guest bathroom.

7 a.m. - get boys up. change diapers and dress. breakfast.

I will also add that at 10 minutes till 7, my husband is emptying the dishwasher, fixing milk for the boys and getting breakfast started. This helps so much in keeping the morning running smoothly and by doing that, we are done with breakfast and dishes cleaned by the time my husband checks in for work at 8 (he works from home).

I try to go three days without washing my hair because ain't nobody got time for that every day. Usually by the third day, it's starting to look a little iffy, so a ponytail might be necessary. On the days that I do take a shower in the morning, it can push our schedule a little later because it takes so long to dry my hair; it's pretty long right now.

By utilizing the 5-minute face routine, I look presentable and pulled together but not like I overdid it or tried too hard. A heavily made up face in daytime can be a distraction. Sometimes, I have a hard time focusing on what someone is saying if I can't stop staring at their make-up. More make-up during the day is just that, more make-up. Less is more when it comes to daytime but something is definitely better than nothing. :)

Doing a load of laundry every day is necessary when maintaining capsule wardrobes. I wear my clothing several times before I wash it, but since I have all boys in my home, many times they cannot. Having a daily laundry habit ensures there is always something nice to wear since we make sure that we only keep items that fit, are in good shape and that we love.

I would love to know, is there a routine or one thing that you would like to implement in the mornings? Do you already use a morning routine - what does it look like for you?

Q&A series, part 4 - what is your legacy

This is the final post in my Q&A series, and today I thought I would put a different spin on it by submitting my own question. This past weekend, I spent time working with my father on helping him to de-clutter areas in his home. He lives in the house he grew up in and when my grandparents passed away, all their items and collections just stayed in the house along with anything that my father had accumulated. My father has four other siblings, so for sure, there were lots of photos and memorabilia highlighting them as well in the home. I decided that tackling the enormous bookcase in the living room would be the best use of our time. We sifted through photos, photo albums, books, travel books from all the countries that my grandparents had visited, pamphlets, framed pictures of awards and honors that my grandfather had received as a businessman. From time to time, my father would pause as we sifted through the items asking me if I needed this or that or had a use for it. My answer was a resounding no.

I've been thinking lately about my legacy and what I'm leaving behind for my family to sift through. If I take on possessions that belonged to my grandparents, and then one day the things that belonged to my parents, plus my own items, that's a lot of stuff to be traveling through life with. Do I want my children to feel a burden to keep all these things when I'm gone just because they were sentimental to me? What do I want my legacy to be? Do I want it to be collections of stuff or albums...? These are all questions I'm asking myself as I try to navigate what I keep and what I discard.

Truth be told, I want my children to know what it is to travel light. I want them to experience the rush of selling everything they have or giving it away, to travel to another country and live simply among the culture. I want them to know the freedom of one of life's greatest adventures to give up yourself and go to another land to serve the way I experienced it. And it's hard to do these things when you are tied to a lot of stuff.

I'm thankful for God's abundant blessings in my life. He's given me a beautiful home with beautiful things in it and I'm grateful for it. But at the end of my day and the end of my life, let it be said of me, that I chose to serve the Lord, I was kind to others, I was generous and focused on people, not material things. I want to pass on a legacy of faith to my children, a heritage that God has blessed our family and taken care of us no matter the circumstance. I don't want it to be that I was a person who collected stuff and was focused on keeping it clean, storing it, and taking care of it. I want to be a person who lived life with the most gusto and love that is possible.

I'm reminded of my most favorite book, "Appointment in Jerusalem". It's the story of Lydia Prince's legacy of faith, provision and how God fulfilled her yearnings to be a wife and mother but mostly to fulfill the unique purpose that God had for her. I think if I had to pinpoint exactly what I want my legacy to be - I would point to that book. I want my life's story to be summed up in a book that speaks hope, encouragement and passion to inspire others to live out their lives fulfilling the purpose for which God created them. I hope I'm on that journey.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Q&A - part 3. Making sense of the Pantry

I recently went through the closet in my guest bathroom on a periodic purge looking for more things to donate. There was a box with some travel supplies in it, sunscreen, ear plugs and that sort of thing. In there, were 7 tiny holders of dental floss - the kind that you get for free from your dentist. I literally had a hard time going to sleep that night because I couldn't stop thinking about all those packs of dental floss. You may laugh, but it was driving me nuts. Why did I even have those? Was I saving them up for some kind of dental emergency? We don't even use dental floss tape! We always buy dental picks because I have found they are stronger and I can re-use them.

Alas, the next morning I went straight to that bin and flung all that floss into my bag designated for the thrift store. I told my husband it was like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. He looked at me like I was crazy! But it's a prime example of the type of items that will continue to add up all over the house. Before we know it, we are living with clutter, which as you may know, is my nemesis.

I mention this story because in today's post, I'm addressing an area that I think will benefit us all including me. I am not perfect, and even I continue to organize and de-clutter on an ongoing basis. As people, we change; therefore our needs change. Just organizing a drawer or closet one way does not mean that it will fit your circumstances a year from now. That's why it's important to always be evaluating whether your current system works for you.

Chic Planner reader, Leighton, requested that I show a picture and talk about how I organize my pantry. When she submitted that to me, my first thought was "oh no, now I need to re-do my pantry." :) I knew the system I had wouldn't be one that could easily be adapted by everyone so I needed to come up with a way of organizing my dry goods that could be adapted in each household no matter the pantry or cabinet size. I have worked with clients who only have cabinets to hold their dry/canned goods with little to no pantry space whatsoever. The first thing that I tell clients who are operating with limited kitchen storage is not to buy in bulk at large box stores. You simply don't have room to stock up on cans of soup and rice. You need to purchase what you need on a weekly or biweekly basis so that:
1. You can see what you have and that you don't have groceries falling on you every time you open a cabinet and 2. you will actually eat what you buy instead of pushing it to the back of the cabinet. This technique will actually save you a lot of money as well. 

My second recommendation is to organize your pantry based on your needs and the way your brain works. When I say baking box what does your mind think of? I think of pastry bags and tips, vanilla, cookie sprinkles, cookie cutters.... but I had a client say to me that she thought of a meat thermometer, twine for tying turkey legs together, a baster, spices and rubs. So the point is to organize by what makes sense to you, not the way I do it or even what you have seen on Pinterest. In this example, I'm using 4 main shelves in my Pantry. I did not design this Pantry nor would I recommend wire racks but I'm using what I already had to work with.

Shelf 1: From the left, I have kitchen towels and cloths, baskets for fruits and vegetables, a box for spices, and a baking box with sprinkles, pastry tips, cookie cutters etc. I only access this box when I'm making birthday cakes and desserts for special occasions. Honestly the box holding my spices is too small for the number of jars, but it was an extra box that I already owned. I like to use things that I already have instead of buying new, but I'm still considering a new home for them and just haven't decided on the perfect spot yet.

Shelf 2: From the left are baking ingredients including: vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, yeast... next I have canisters of wheat berries and sugar. Since I bake a lot from scratch then this is the shelf that I use all the time, so it needed to be the lower shelf that was easy for me to access since I'm vertically challenged. :)

Shelf 3: I reserve the 3rd shelf for my rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, crackers, beans.... The 4th shelf houses my blender since we rarely use it, extra glass jars and bottles, whole wheat berries that wouldn't fit in my containers and some leftover birthday party supplies. On the floor, I keep my shopping bags and a box containing my vinegars and oils. I can assure you that I will continue to tweak and change this as I do everything in my house. :)  Just having re-organized my pantry has given me a happy heart. Now go forth and organize. :)

Q&A - part 2. How to de-clutter when you don't have time

For those of you who think my house is in perfect working order, spotlessly clean from top to bottom and that I have this whole thing running in tip top shape - you are wrong. I still struggle like the rest of you with mountains of laundry, frozen chicken that I forgot to thaw in time, and children up under my feet all the time so that doing my floors feels near impossible. Thus the need for this blog post. Chic Planner reader, Catherine, wants to know how I get it all done and if I have a wand that I can wave over her house so that every drawer and cupboard will be finally de-cluttered. Catherine, if I had a wand, I would use it first, I promise. :)

For those of you struggling with life's distractions then I'm sure you can understand. It may not be little ones up under your feet, but you may be putting in overtime at work. Or maybe you are caring for an elderly parent or a sick family member, sickness and aging can for sure eat up our time. There is always going to be something that we are going through in life. A wise friend said recently, "we are either going through something, coming out of something or about to enter something. It's all cyclical."
To sum it up, we all have distractions in our lives, no matter the form they take and we have all been given the same amount of time each day.

There are some days that I'm so exhausted by the time we finally get our children to bed that even just turning on the dishwasher takes more than what I have left to give. So let's not get into a comparison game with what others are doing or what we think we should be doing. Give yourself some grace and tackle each cabinet or drawer in 15 minute increments. Lately I've been finding time between dinner and bedtime when my husband is playing with the kids and I have a few moments of focused attention. I can generally carve out 15 minutes a day, but if I can't for some reason, then no big deal. I will try again tomorrow. I learned this philosophy from The Flylady, Marla Cilley. Marla says that when embarking on de-cluttering a whole house, stop doing any deep cleaning except for the basics of dishes, laundry and the bathrooms and just focus that time on de-cluttering your whole home. Once it is is de-cluttered, then you start your detailed cleaning that helps you to maintain a clean home. When unwanted items enter my home, I discard them immediately into my giveaway bag that I mentioned last week.

I have been so impressed and encouraged by all the reports that my readers send me about the progress made in their homes. Please keep it up and don't get discouraged if it doesn't happen as quickly as you want it to. Rome wasn't built in a day. :)

Please continue to send your questions through for our Q&A series. I love hearing from you so please keep me updated on your de-cluttering progress. 

Q&A series - part 1. how to reduce unwanted gifts

Welcome to my Q&A series. Throughout January, I will be answering questions that Chic Planner readers have submitted via the blog, facebook or by email.

Chic Planner reader, Mallory, asks what to do when you have adopted the minimalist lifestyle but people continue to give you gifts that are not congruent with your new way of living.

Mallory, thanks for the question! I think it's important to recognize that the most important change is the one that has happened on the inside of you. Just by adopting your new lifestyle, not only have you reduced your carbon footprint, but you have created visual creativity in your home and reduced stress. As an added bonus, you are now saving money, because you no longer mindlessly shop and bring things home to your newly pristine and de-cluttered environment.

I also think it's important to remember that people show you love by giving gifts. I think that the public in general and America especially, have become so caught up in materialism that they can't imagine giving a coupon for a service instead of a cashmere sweater at Christmas. However, there are so many wonderful ways to show love instead of a tangible item like: cooking a meal for someone, mowing a neighbor's yard, babysitting kids so an exhausted couple can have a date night, having coffee with someone who needs a friend or maybe it's writing someone a note to tell them how much you care for them. One of my most treasured possessions is a hand-written note from a friend that I received last year. In this note, she referred to me as a Proverbs 31 woman; the highest compliment in my book. I still pull that note out from time to time to read it and it encourages me and makes me smile every time.

As you continue to pursue your new lifestyle, friends and family will catch on, and become more sensitive to your needs and wants. But I encourage you to think outside the box as well when it comes to gift giving, as it is reciprocal. This Christmas, I gave my father a coupon for two hours of de-cluttering services provided by me and authorized by my husband. :) My father is in the midst of a major house renovation so that gift was timely, much needed, and not only will it give me quality time with him, but will help him in his current house project.

Don't fret about little odds and ends that enter your home on the occasional basis. Just set aside a shopping bag in your closet and then deposit unwanted items until the bag is full and can be donated or dropped off at a thrift store. I can't hold every person responsible for compliance with my lifestyle but the changes that I have made personally in the way I shop and run my household are enough for me. Best wishes!

The Q&A series continues through January so submit your questions on the blog or you can email me:

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