What a “Tiny Wardrobe” means to me

living with a tiny wardrobe

I recently learned about Courtney Carver and her Be More with Less blog, as well as her Project 333 and Tiny Wardrobe Tour through a good friend and client. As a professional organizer and minimalist wanna-be, I was intrigued by the idea of only wearing 33 things for 3 months – the idea behind Project 333. Not being one to indulge in “retail therapy” and never much of a fashionista, I have always worn comfortable flats instead of  heels, only own 3 handbags and wear the same pair of earrings and necklace for weeks on end. “This 33 items thing should be a cinch!” I thought to myself.

But after reading Courtney’s blog posts, I was inspired to really re-examine my closet and my way of dressing. I realized that even I, with my fairly minimal shopping habits, had more than I needed or wore. There are gifts from family members or friends that never quite fit or looked right on me but kept out of guilt, shoes that I thought looked amazing in the store and then never wore again since they gave me blisters, and way more scarves than I really need, because who can resist a cute scarf on sale at TJMaxx for $9.99? But those things all sit in my closet, taking up unneeded space, and I still can’t figure out what to wear when I get up in the morning!

I was therefore thrilled to find out that Courtney was taking Project 333 on the road via her Tiny Wardrobe Tour. When my friend asked if I’d be interested in helping bring Courtney and the tour to DC on October 18th, I jumped on the opportunity. It is now late September, and the next phase of Project 333 begins on October 1st. On October 4th, I’ll be traveling to Japan for 10 days to visit my son who is studying there for the semester. This will be the perfect opportunity to put a Tiny Wardrobe into practice.

This weekend, I’ll start by pulling all my clothes out and really looking hard at what I love, what I wear, and what I’m keeping just because of guilt or neglect. I’ll try everything on, bring a trusted friend to advise me on what really looks good on me, and see if I can winnow my wardrobe down to 33 items from October through December. I’m hoping that having A Tiny Wardrobe will save me money, time and make getting ready in the mornings a joy, rather than a trial.

If you’re in the DC area, come join us  on October 18th to hear Courtney’s story followed by a Q & A session to get all your questions answered about how to implement this into your own life!

Getting a Client Ready for a Life-Changing Move

Helping seniors with life-changing moves

One of my long-time favorite clients recently decided to make a life-changing move, returning to Ireland after 50 years of living in the United States. She was widowed about 8 years ago and had no blood relatives here. She was living in an assisted living community that was costing far more than she could really afford in the long run. After a warm invitation from her younger sister to live with her, and much deliberation, she decided that it was time to go back to Ireland.

Once she had made up her mind to go back, she wanted to go as soon as possible. As she had spent more than half her life in the U.S. (while keeping her Irish citizenship), we found ourselves with a lot to do and a very short amount of time to do it in! The logistics of such a move are daunting, and take a lot of planning and organizing. As she had no family here, I did virtually all of it for her. Here’s a list what we accomplished in less than 2 months:

  • Booked her a flight on Aer Lingus with extra help requested (she uses a walker and wheelchair).
  • Gave 30 days’ notice to her assisted living facility as soon as her flight was confirmed.
  • Established a Power of Attorney for me at her U.S. bank so that I could pay bills and deposit checks that came in after her departure, and to close the account after she had opened a new bank account in Ireland.
  • Emptied her safe deposit box and sold most of the jewelry that she never wore anymore for a great price to Leslie E.Sandler Fine Jewelry (she kept a few sentimental pieces to give to her nieces in Ireland).
  • Contacted her doctors to let them know she was leaving, and to get all of her medical records so that she could bring them with her to Ireland.
  • Set up on online account for her with  Social Security  and called to ask them to stop deducting Medicare premiums from her monthly Social Security benefits (she will be using Ireland’s national health care system in combination with her existing Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee health plan).
  • Started donating any items she wouldn’t need in Ireland, including clothing that no longer fit or suited her lifestyle, as well as household and decorative objects that she would no longer need (since she was moving into her sister’s fully furnished home).
  • Arranged (way in advance) for Habitat for Humanity to come and take her furniture once she had vacated her apartment. (here are photos of what we were able to donate)

Senior's apartment donations from a life-changing move Donations to Habitat for Humanity from a life-changing move

 

  • Met with her estate attorney to redo her will so that it would be legal internationally.
  • Contacted Verizon to turn off her phone line and cancel her plan once she left.
  • Sorted through photo albums and decided on which pictures to keep and take back to Ireland with her.
  • Made sure she had an adequate supply of her medications for her first couple of weeks in Ireland.
  • Drove her to the airport and went with her all the way to security before saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye with a life-changing move

Given that this client was a compulsive shopper and had both a storage unit and apartment jammed full of stuff when I first started working with her 6 years ago, I was very proud of how much she was able to shed over the years – and especially in preparation for this important move. She became more and more eager to get rid of things that no longer mattered to her the closer her departure date came. By the time she was ready to leave for Ireland, all of her worldly possessions fit into two suitcases and a carry-on bag. Now that’s a minimalist!

Getting organized to study abroad

Son getting ready to leave for study abroad in Japan

I just finished getting my 20-year-old son ready for his junior year semester study abroad program in Osaka, Japan. There is usually a LOT of prep needed to start any new school year, but adding in international travel and a four-month stay in a very far-off land adds in a whole new level of complications and planning.

In order to improve his Japanese as well as to immerse himself more fully in the culture, my son will be studying at a Japanese university and living with a host Japanese family. In case there are others out there who are planning a similar trip, I thought it would be helpful to outline some of the steps we needed to take to get him ready for this once in a lifetime experience.

• STEP 1: Get a student visa

While not all countries require a visa, Japan is one that does, and we needed to make sure this was done well in advance of his travel. Fortunately, the Japanese Embassy is a short drive from our home and we were able to drop off the paperwork in person and get the visa two days later.

• STEP 2: Book a flight

We opted to go for ANA, which has non-stop flights to Tokyo from the DC area, and we purchased the tickets 2 months before his flight. We also decided to splurge a bit and pay a few hundred dollars more for Premium Economy, which for a 15-hour flight is well worth it! Premium Economy also allows you to check two pieces of luggage, rather than just one, which is crucial if you are packing 4 months’ worth of clothing and personal items.

• STEP 3: Get permission to bring medicine into the country

Japan is very strict about allowing any medication at all into the country, even if it is over the counter. Stimulants of any kind, such as Actifed, Sudafed, or Ritalin and any of its derivatives, are completely prohibited, even with a doctor’s prescription.

In order to bring more than one month’s worth of any kind of medicine or medical device into Japan, you need to apply for a Yakkan Shomei, a kind of import certificate. It’s a lot of paperwork, and you need a written prescription from your doctor if you are bringing in prescription meds. We didn’t realize how much work was involved, and didn’t get around to applying for this until less than a week before my son’s flight. To our surprise and delight, the certificate was emailed to us two days later. The Japanese might be strict, but they are extremely efficient!

• STEP 4: Get a phone plan

We wanted to make sure that our son could stay in contact with us. While there are some great apps for calling and texting via wi-fi (Whatsapp and Viber), we decided to purchase a monthly international calling plan through Verizon (our regular carrier) for $40 a month. Once he is in Japan, he can look into buying or renting a data-only SIM card, which he can use in his iPhone 6, since the Verizon plan we bought only allows for a meager 100 MB of data.

• STEP 5: Bring gifts for your host family

The Japanese are big gift givers, and since my son will be living with a family, it is customary to bring some small items of thanks, usually from your home town – or something else that is not easily purchased in Japan. This was a bit tricky, since we have no idea whom he will be living with (they don’t tell the students who their host family is until they get to Japan, during orientation week). After much debate, we settled on some t-shirts from Rockport, MA (where our family has spent summers every year since our kids were born) and Washington DC where we live the rest of the year, and a box of Jelly Bellies.

Gifts to take to a Japanese host family

• STEP 6: Pack wisely

My son had to pack everything he might need for the next four months, including school supplies and personal items, into just two suitcases. We ended up using these great Travel Space Bags by Ziplock, which compress the air out of your clothing and effectively double the amount of stuff you can take.

Using Ziploc Space Bags to pack smart

 

He packed a good supply of personal items like body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, etc., since we weren’t sure he could find in Japan what he normally uses here in the U.S.  And he was careful to remember to pack him a laundry bag as well!

 

Personal items to pack for study abroad

Laundry bag to pack for study abroad

• STEP 7: Use Dropbox to share important documents

We made copies of our son’s passport (after making sure that it won’t expire in the next year), scanned them, and saved them into a Dropbox folder that we share with him. We also put into the folder any other files that he might need, including all of his application materials, the Yakkan Shomei (for his medication), and certificates of insurance coverage that he needs to show to the program administrators.

It was a lot of work and a bit stressful at times, but he got on his flight this afternoon and is winging his way to Japan as I write this. I will know soon if all our preparations worked out the way we hoped!

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