Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Spend November: The Reveal

So my results of “No Spend November” are in and they aren’t pretty. I am happy to report that my spending was decreased the month of November but not to what most would consider “no spend.” The bonus was I did discover were a few key things about myself.

1.       Don’t pick November to not spend money. For me, November is a month with two of my boys having birthdays and a major holiday. What was I thinking picking November to complete this challenge? While I am not a big shopper I did take advantage of two cyber Monday deals to buy 5 Christmas gifts. I saved a significant amount of money and MR. Simplicity was even impressed.

2.       Don’t go to Target. I joke that when I go to Target I easily spend $100 on unexpected purchases. All of a sudden I find things in my cart and I have no idea how they got there. I did buy a new dress at Target in November for a wedding that I have in April. That was my only impulse purchase of the month.

3.       I am social. Much of my spending involves going out with friends for coffee or lunch during the day. I work for myself so if I want interaction with humans I need to create appointments. These appointments were decreased in November but they still occurred. I did find myself going to coffee shops a few times and not ordering anything. I also declined a social gathering that I was looking forward to because of the cost associated with it.

4.       I don’t like staying at home every night. I like being social not only during the day but also at night. I love having date night with my husband. We were creative by finding movie gift cards and I had some restaurant punch cards for free meals that had not been used. So look in your junk drawer and wallet for free options!

5.       I am high maintenance in the beauty department. If you know me, this comes as no surprise. I like getting my hair done every five weeks and a blow out if I have a special event. I did spend money for a blow out this month and it was the worst one I had ever received. I was so upset that I had wasted my budgeted money on it. Lesson learned, stick with the people you know and trust. In hindsight I should have contacted the business and told them their stylist did not listen to my request. But I am a person who avoids conflict, so the call was not made and the lesson was learned.

6.       I focused on projects around the house. I painted the interior entry doors of my home and a half bathroom with paint I had on hand. I started painting my golden oak word work as well. I will need to purchase several gallons of paint to finish this project. My office needed an update and I did purchase a new chair and curtains. It created a new look for minimal cost, and since it was within my budgeted money I felt good about the purchase.

7.       I missed fresh flowers. I typically have a fresh bouquet on my island in my kitchen. I buy them for myself about 75% of the time and other times they are from my husband. Neither of us bought flowers this month. But I did receive an arrangement for Thanksgiving from a friend so that was a nice surprise. I also created centerpieces from what I had on hand. I was pleasantly surprised at the results for zero cost!

8.       I cleaned out my closet. I finally cleaned out my closet with the clothes that I had held on to because of their value. I felt guilty for spending the money on them. Even though they no longer brought me joy, they still hung in my closet. I had a friend come over and she is selling the clothes for me. So far I have generated $90. This $90 offset the dress I bought for $30 at Target.

9.       I can say no. I needed to find a shirt for a special occasion and I went to the mall to find what I needed. I left the mall and instead went to a friends and “shopped” from her closet. I also found a really cute pair of winter boots. I buy a really good pair every other year and this is my year to buy a new pair. I found the boots. I didn’t buy them. They may go on my Christmas list this year, but I am guessing my husband and I are not exchanging gifts this year so they will go unpurchased.

If I compare my spending from last November to this November I know I spent a significant less amount this year. Reflecting back on the month and picking November as the month to do this experiment it actually was a good idea to try it the hardest month of the year.

I think the greatest lesson this month was simply being mindful of where I was spending money. I know my husband knows where every penny I spend goes, so he is not surprised by any of this. Since I am the spender it was a good lesson for me. Perhaps December should be paying for everything in cash. I know my husband would love to give me an allowance!
To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity
Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 
Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Have Yourself a Minimalist Merry Christmas

Before you head out shopping for gifts for the holidays, I want you to reflect on what you purchased last year. Can you even remember? And then I want you to randomly contact a few of the gift recipients and see if they remember what you gave them. Promise me that you will not have hurt feelings. But I am willing to bet that they don’t remember.

Having a conversation with a group of friend this week a friend shared that when she was cleaning her daughter’s room it was filled with gifts that had not been played with. Another friend gushed with excitement of how her grandma was taking her to a symphony concert with a Harry Potter theme. Two different types of gifts and two different reactions.

This is a story I hear time and time again. Kids are given so many things that they are overwhelmed and will use their gifts for a few days and then they are forgotten. I have a basement full of video games and video game systems to prove my theory right!

Adults also are given things that they rarely need. All a waste of time and money. I can tell you what my parents gave my husband and me last year. They gave us cash and my husband and I took a staycation with it and had a little getaway in our home town. It was the perfect gift!

I suggest that you focus on giving experiences this year. My gifts over the last couple of years for my children have been some memorable vacations. We make memories together that will last a lifetime, not just a few days.

Remember to give presence and not presents. And your presence does not need to be expensive. You could give movie tickets to your niece and her new husband for them to have date night while you watch their kids. How about a free night of babysitting in your home for your best friend so her and her husband can have a night home alone?

And if you must give a physical gift, why not create the gift to go around an activity? Buying gymnastic lessons for your granddaughter? Package it with a leotard. Taking your grandson to the opera? Package it with a dapper bow tie.

I personally love to buy gifts associated with an activity. I bought my best friend a funny coffee mug and some tea. I bought myself a matching one so that we can have our morning tea together while miles apart.

I also like to focus on consumable gifts. My dad loves olive oil and has become a little bit of an expert in it. He is getting some beautiful bottles of some very special olive oil I found. My mom will receive a flower arrangement as she loves fresh flowers as much as I do. Both of these gifts are consumables and do not create clutter.

So as you peruse the holiday sale flyers look at them with a new set of eyes and imagine what the gift recipient will remember six months to a year from now. Be mindful when you shop this year and remember that it is not the presents you give but your presence that will be treasured and loved!
To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity
Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 
Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.

Organized Pantry for the Holidays

As the holidays approach one area that is often neglected is our pantry. We keep buying more and more items to prepare holiday dishes but we don’t use up what we have in our cabinets. Soon things are pushed to the back and long forgotten. Extra trips are made to the grocery store as you think you have items, only to find when you return home that you do not. I don’t know about you, but if I go to the store for that one forgotten item I usually end up buying extra things that were not on my list. Extra trips to the grocery store costs us extra time and money when often we are short on both this time of year.  

Instead, what if you were to clean out the pantry items now? Some simple steps taken now will make the holidays run a little smoother and save you that precious time.

Step 1: Pull everything out and wipe down the cabinet. Most often people just open and pick and choose a few items out. This rarely works. You need to get in and pull everything out. Trust me on this step. You will find that you have green beans from 1999 in the recesses of the cabinet.

Step 2: Check expiration dates. Yes chances are the green beans from 1999 aren’t the only expired items in your pantry. If I see something is close to becoming expired, I know that I want to use that item soon. Items that are near expiration should always be in the front of the pantry instead of being pushed to the back.

Step 3: Decide if you are going it use items in the next six months. If you know you are not going to use the can of garbanzo beans, pull them out now and donate them. I like to challenge myself to find recipes for all the random canned goods and use them all up. There is a reason I bought six cans of black beans this summer. Now I just need to find the recipe again and make it! 

Step 4: Group like items together. I love my pantry to be organized like a grocery store. All of my baking items are housed together. All my soups are housed in one area. When I need to see if I have a can of evaporated milk I know exactly where to look. I do not like wasting time playing the shell game of moving my cans around to find the right item.

Step 5: Assess what you have. Now you can see what you have in order to make your grocery list. If you don’t know what you have you will make multiple trips to the store or simply buy duplicates. Have a good look at what is in your pantry.

Step 6: Return the items to the pantry. Remember to keep those groupings together. I like to have my items lined up with the labels all facing the same direction. Do not stack items if they have a tendency to tip over. Make sure that you leave space for the future items. Too often we forget that step and return from the store with no room to house the new items.

Having an organized pantry is something that you can do now in anticipation of the holidays. Making time to complete this task will give you more time in the future to enjoy the holidays.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity
Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 
Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Getting Rid of the Clothes of Guilt

As part of “No Spend November” I vowed to not spend money on extras. One area where I knew I would struggle in was buying clothes. I am not a person who is always buying new clothes, but dang Target has some cute clothes this season.

One suggestion I was given was to go in my current closet and sell my existing clothes in order to make some money to purchase new ones.

Now I have been really good at going through my clothes and donating what I am not wearing. But I took it a step further and called in reinforcements. I called a friend to come through my clothes with me. It couldn’t be just any friend, it had to be the right friend.

What I looked for was someone who knew clothes and style. She needed to be honest with me about what flattered my body type and what made me look frumpy. My clothing choice of the year is sassy. I want to leave my house with an attitude of fun, and in order to do that my clothes need to help with my message. I focused on clothes that had pattern and shape. Gone were clothes that lacked sass.

What I found surprising was I had been holding on to a whole bunch of clothes that in my mind I had spent too much money on. I was never going to wear the clothes again. But I was mad at myself for spending the money. I was mad at myself for being talked into the purchase.

But it was time to move on and move these clothes of resentment and guilt out of my closet. My friend showed up with bins in hand and I went through every piece of my clothing.  No piece was overlooked. I confessed my guilt to her about not wearing certain pieces and how I had paid too much. She does what I do with my clients. She listened and told me that it is ok, she has done the same thing.

When I have shared this story that I needed help with my clothes, people have been shocked. What? An organizer needs help? Yes. We all need reinforcements and there is no need to go it alone. Find your person who can help you. It probably is not a family member because they often can be too brutally honest.

Find a way to dispose of your clothes. Our landfills are full of clothing. My mom receives the jeans with the ripped knees in order to make jean quilts with. My name brand clothes that are still in fashion go to consignment stores or are being sold online.  Everything else is donated.

I found that the clothes that I was guilty of spending too much money on I wanted to try to sell. This surprised me. I am a good donator. I want them out of my house. But I had been holding onto these clothes for so long for a reason. Guilt can be a strong thing.

My friend has experience selling clothes online. She will give me the money after the clothes have sold. She handles all the messy handling of shipping the clothes to their new home. I don’t want to know how much things sold for. I just want them gone and I don’t want to deal with them. That is what works for me. The clothes are gone and I feel great! The freedom of having the guilt clothes gone allows me to look at the remaining clothes with new eyes. I am no longer averting certain sections of my closet and feel a renewed sense of fun outfits to put together.

Take time this week to look through your clothes and see what clothes you are holding because of guilt. Grab a friend and a few bins and get to work!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 


Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

No Spend November

Yesterday I read a post in a magazine about “No Spend November” and it hit a nerve with me. The idea is to not spend any of your take home pay for the entire month of November. Yes you pay your bills and buy groceries, but that is about it.  Anything extra is not allowed.

I have lived the days of having only $600 a month to live on and that included rent and paying our health insurance and car payment out of that amount. I know frugal living. I have had to take my husband’s $2 bill collection to buy groceries for our family. I lived frugally for years. This is different for me because I need to simply appreciate what I have and stop the mindless spending.

I had a conversation with my husband about if I should do this challenge. He loved the idea. Clearly saving money gets him excited. Our conversation was interesting to say the least. I said I want to do this challenge but I have a bunch of excuses and could I get some exceptions to the challenge.

First off I asked for the exception of any appointments I already had made that cost money like my hair appointments. My husband agreed that I should keep the appointments.

Then I said there were two events in town that I need to buy tickets to that I have not purchased my tickets to. I wanted those to be exceptions. He agreed since I had already committed to going that I should still buy the tickets.

Then I said that two of our kids have birthdays in November. I would need to buy them birthday gifts. Looks like I have two more exceptions.

Oh and then I have to buy tickets for when our son is in his musical at school. Add one more exception to the list.

Ok I think that should cover everything for the month. But then I went to send a message to a group of friends about having lunch next week. Yikes, that would fall within “No Spend November.” I didn’t send the message and told my husband. He looked at me and said that I could go as long as it was a business lunch. I laughed and said all of my lunches and coffee dates are business expenses.

Then our conversation turned to what if I was given an allowance to cover all my expenses for the month. I said I was not a child and I don’t want an allowance. I may have stomped my foot too. Then my son shouted from the other room, how about calling it a budget instead. I too struggled with that word. He stated that as an adult I need a budget, and my husband agreed. Could these two be conspiring against me?

So here I sit wondering what is wrong with me. Why can’t I do No Spend November? I know my limits I suppose. I run our household and buy things only when we need them. Well I guess I have been taking trips to my local Target and bought some impulse items. But I also have put things in my cart at Target and before going to the checkout I have emptied many impulse items out of my cart.

So I have created my own rules for No Spend November.

First, no items for myself or my home. No cute throw pillows or new bath items. I need to focus on what I already have and use them up. That half used shampoo bottle will get used this month. That face cream that has two uses left in the container I will finally empty.

Second, when I grocery shop no extra items in the cart. Meal planning will be my friend. If it isn’t part of a meal it will not go in my cart. Dinners out with my family will not exist this month. I will have the occasional business lunch but it comes out of my funds.

Third. My drive thru trips for my cup of tea will stop and I will instead make my tea at home. I have plenty of tea at home to use and I could save a significant amount of money by just stopping my trips to my local coffee shop.

Finally, I will I agree to live within a budget of what my income is. I won’t dip into our household money except for groceries and gas for my car. I will buy anything extra with my income. Tickets to the musical will come from my account. Bringing our son home for Christmas will come from my account. I will only spend what I have.

This should be a really interesting experiment. With my exceptions in place and my game plan set I am ready to hit my “No Spend November” with my own rules in place. I challenge you to do the same. Feel free to create your own rules just as I did. I have set myself up for success. I know I will save a significant amount of money by not mindlessly shopping the aisles of the stores. Instead of going to my local coffee shop I will make my tea and shout my name from the kitchen! Set yourself up for success with the goal of saving money and stopping the impulse purchases for the month.
To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity
Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 
Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

There is no Place Like Home

I am a travel junkie as I collect experiences and not things. But my last round of travel about did me in. I am a tired girl and realizing that there are certain things that no matter how amazing the experience, it is nice to be home.

I visited with my professional organizer friend Amanda who owns Urban Clarity in New York and we compared how our lives differ, me in a house and her in one floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn.
I showed her a picture of our basement family room that I never go in. She was amazed by that. The truth is that I have more space than I need. They use every square inch.
She shared what a typical email from a potential client looks like. Potential client is expecting a baby and isn’t sure how they are going to make room for the baby and still have a storage for the vacuum. Their space is limited and just having the necessities can be challenging.
The Minimalists opine “simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” When you live in a very small space you really are forced to subtract the obvious as well as the meaningful. I have never had to worry about not having enough space. I take pride in having empty drawers. They have no empty drawers.
I asked my friend if they have a Costco and she said they do but she doesn’t go to it. First she would need a car to bring all the purchases home. The majority of people do not own cars in the city and their shopping reflects that. Plus they really don’t have room to store the bulk items. For me I can buy the giant packages of paper towels and giant bottles of olive oil, I have the room to store them, she does not.
As I rode the subway I watched how people shopped. They had to carry what they bought or use a small hand cart. Maneuvering the steps and turnstiles and the crowds of the subway can become harrowing. Now imagine having to take a child in a stroller on this journey. I was overwhelmed just thinking about.
While the subway is a great way to travel, you are on their schedule. You could miss a train by seconds and they don’t care. Yes you could take a cab, but I found myself sitting in traffic rather than making forward progress. Living in a rural area I know exactly when to leave my house to make it to a client’s across town. I only worry about traffic if I have to travel through road construction. But my friend didn’t have to put new tires on her car or replace the radiator that I had to in my car this month.
There are very few large super markets but rather bodegas which are very tiny convenience stores located on most corners. You go there for unplanned things you run out of. My friend and my cousin (who I was staying with in Brooklyn) both use Fresh Direct, a grocery delivery service that delivers your groceries between the hours of 6am and 8am. A very small window.  Planning is key and meal planning is a necessity.
But this is what I know, no matter where you live, your normal is your normal. While I love exploring and learning about how other people live, I like my king sized bed and my large kitchen island to prepare a meal for my friends and family. And I know my friend loves her brownstone in Brooklyn where she prepares meals for her friends and family.
To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity
Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 
Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist Mother

{Photo of my three boys playing in the rain. I was taking the perfect photo and I was not in the rain with them. I should have been!}
I have something to confess: I used to be a perfectionist as a mother. I was the mom who didn’t allow her kids to watch certain shows or play certain video games. My boys needed to play with toys that did not involve a battery. I read to them and I would buy them any book they wanted. I enrolled them in gymnastics, dance, music classes, early education classes, ice skating, t-ball and golf. In essence anything I thought that would make them better adults and more well-rounded learners. I stopped learning unless it had to do with my kids.

And that was the problem, I lost myself along the way. The boys always had haircuts and clean clothes. While I wore baggy t-shirts and mom jeans. The boys looked great. Me? Not so much. I was exhausted trying to be the perfect mother.

Our home was always picked up. The toys were organized and the books lined the shelves by categories, like you would find in a library. The toy bins had labels with words that the boys could understand. I even hired an organizer to help me and she walked in and looked at me like I was nuts, I perhaps was. My husband would come home at night and help the boys pick up their toys from the day, always going in the right bin or basket.

But once again, I had lost my identity. I was first a student and then a law student then a wife and then a mother. That was my role. Now as my youngest is set to graduate from high school this spring I am a little nervous to find out who I am after mother. Yes I understand that I will always be a mother, but my participation will lessen as the years go by.

I got a note last week from a reader who likes my honesty when I write. Another woman approached me at the airport and she had heard me speak and said how my permission to not be perfect really resonated with her.

So I give this as a warning to all the young mothers out there who are watching their friends and families through the lens of social media; we only post our best selfies and best adventures. Few people are posting about their baby having a blowout and having to be naked in the grocery store because they forgot to pack the extra outfit.

I am grateful that social media wasn’t around when my boys were little as I am afraid I would have been the mom who disclosed too much despite being a perfectionist. Like “dropped husband off at airport for conference in sunny Florida as we expect a blizzard and he didn’t service the snow blower before he left, but I do have two kids with double ear infections. Hate him.” Or “showered once this week, forgot to wash my hair!” Perhaps this gem, “made supper, it was a bag of fun sized snickers.” These are all real things that happened to me.

While my kids continued to look great I continued to be exhausted, I was a good faker. I really feel for the moms that are trying to be perfectionists now. I say stop. Please stop. You will lose who you are even more than I did. You will find yourself trying to get that perfectly staged photo at the pumpkin patch and miss playing with your kids.

From a recovering perfectionist I give you permission to do the following things:

Put the phone down. Make eye contact with the kids and maybe pick up the phone to play music and have a dance party.

Make a mess. Clean it up later. Go and play in the rain!

Get rid of the toys your kids don’t play with. Keep it simple. Kids get overwhelmed with too many choices and so do I. Heck I can’t even figure out what to order at Starbucks and I don’t even drink coffee!

Put your hair in a ponytail one day and schedule yourself for a blow out the next day. It feels great to have someone shampoo and blow dry your hair.

Be real and surround yourself with real people. I surrounded myself with people who were not real and they brought me down and made me feel inferior. The older and wiser me wishes someone had told me to stop being friends with those types of people.

Find exercise by going for walks with those real friends and discussing the struggles in life. If going to a gym overwhelms you don’t go. But I do know of moms who love going to the gym so that they can shower by themselves.

Feed your family simple food and don’t worry about posting your gluten free, soy free, free ranged organic chicken soup made with bone broth. Yes, that’s a thing. And yes it is ok to have snickers for dinner once in a while, just balance it with an apple and broccoli.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity
Melissa is a Productivity Consultant and author living in Fargo, North Dakota doing her best of living a life full of adventure. Filling a life of memories and not of things! 
Melissa's e-book on Kitchen Organizing can be found on Amazon.

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