Friday, October 28, 2011

A Very Clutterella Halloween

Chelsea Market, New York City

I post very few "tips" on this blog, mainly because I'm not that crafty or creative, but I am making an exception for one of my favorite days of the year: Halloween!

This post is about using things you already have (with a few small purchases) to make a great Halloween costume. No matter how much I swear I'll begin planning early, I always find myself two days away from a Halloween party with no idea what I'm going to wear. I love dressing up, I love easy costumes, and I dread the world's worst Halloween question: "What are you supposed to be?" Here are some of my recent costumes:

That's right: It's ILLEGAL to look this good!

This year I'm dressing as a Greek goddess. I cheated a little bit, because I went to a party a few years ago where I wore a toga, and I recycled the fabric. Last time I wore a full length toga, but it was really hot and hard to walk in (nice to have some toga life lessons under my belt). This year I cut the fabric down and went with a short toga. Since I already had the fabric, all I needed to buy was some wide gold ribbon for a belt, and some narrow, braided ribbon to make my headband. I also bought some dark purple eye shadow for a smoky eye and a little body glitter (not at all authentic but fun for Halloween). I wore all of the "gold" costume jewelry I own and my Sofft gladiator sandals. I realize that gladiators were Roman and I'm claiming to be Greek, but I don't think anyone will call me out on it. I spent about $15 total.

For me, Halloween is an excuse to wear things I would never dare to wear otherwise- miniskirts, cinched up boobs, and orange tan, anyone?

Last year I dressed as Snooki from Jersey Shore. This costume required buying a few more things, and I probably spent as much as I would have for a packaged costume, but no one else at the parties had on the same outfit. I already had the white mini skirt and push up bra. I bought the top and earrings at WalMart, the shoes at Target, a bump-it, and a big bottle of Sally Hansen Airbrush legs in dark. I was afraid to use actual self tanner, because I didn't want to be orange for a week, so the Airbrush legs spray was a great solution- I got the perfect dark orange tan, and it washed right off. The shoes are really cute and I still wear them sometimes, if I'm not planning to do much walking. I think you often sacrifice comfort when you buy a discount shoe.

Two years ago I spent around $65 on a 1960's style Star Trek dress, which I planned to wear with my tall black boots, black liquid eyeliner, and a sleek ponytail. Unfortunately, the dress looked terrible and I refused to wear it. Nor could I return it- that will be the last time I purchase a packaged costume. They cost a lot and look really cheap.

I needed a last minute costume, so I searched through my closet and came up with this Geisha outfit. I had the short, kimono-style robe and patent strappy sandals already. I added a wide red sash as an OBI.  I applied lipstick to the center of my mouth, lined my eyes in black, pulled my hair into a tight bun and added one of those little curly hairpieces. I did not put chopsticks in my hair. The look was much sexier than that unflattering polyester dress.

I later found out that the fold of my robe is backwards and indicates that I am dead. Oops.

On an interesting side note, my Geisha costume is not okay with the We're a Culture Not a Costume folks. I completely agree that it is not okay to dress as an Arabian person with a bomb strapped to you (I also object to pregnant nun, but that's a story for another day). I just really wonder where the line it. Is dressing in lederhosen okay? If so, how is that different than dressing as a Geisha? I intended no judgement with my costume, I just thought it was a fun and sexy look that I wanted to imitate. Was I representing Italian American culture in a negative way by dressing as Snooki last year? Or is that okay because she is already representing her culture in a certain way? I truly don't want to offend anyone, but I just wonder where the line really is. Discuss?

Random Halloween Memory: I attended a party where Riff Raff and Dr. Frankfurter made daiquiris with 151. This is the last photo I managed to take before losing the ability to operate my camera,

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and if you are in a last minute Halloween panic, check your closet for some great costume components. Just no bomb-carrying Arabs or pregnant nuns, OK?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

COW: What If? foundation

Alejandro Groenwold- Flickr

Earlier this week I told you about my new Charity of the Week (COW) plan- where I tell you about a great organization that I'm supporting with a small donation. If you feel inspired to contribute too, I will give you a link to make a donation. If not, wait until you see one that really speaks to you. Or, send me a suggestion!

This week's COW is the What If? foundation.

In preparaton for my Haiti trip (I'm leaving in two weeks!)  I read a really wonderful and inspiring book called On That Day Everybody Ate by Margaret Trost. Mrs. Trost traveled to Port-au-Prince in 1999 on a mission trip. She met a Catholic priest named Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, who shared his vision of a program to provide nutritious meals for the children of the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood. Mrs. Trost was both deeply disturbed by the extreme poverty she encountered, and deeply inspired by the hopefulness of Fr. Gerry.

Many Christians would return from a trip like that with committment to donate more to help world poverty or to waste less food at home or to pray more intensely for those who lacked basic necessities. Instead, Mrs. Trost decided to help Fr. Gerry's dream become a reality and started collecting money to fund a food program. She eventually started an organization called the What If? foundation.

The organization has grown over the past 11 years from a once a week lunch program feeding 200-500 children to a five day per week program feeding around 800 children and 200 adults. There is also a scholarship program to assist with school tuition, a summer camp, and an after school program.

When I read the book, I was really excited to see that the programs were organized and run mainly by the Haitian people. Initially Mrs. Trost provided the funding and the rest was up to Fr. Gerry and some members of his congregation. Food for the meals is purchased from local farmers and the organizaton began a Hatian Rice initiative in 2010 (Most of the rice consumed in Haiti is imported from the US because subsidies make it cheaper than Hatian grown rice. This eventually put many Hatian rice producers out of business). Through these practices, the programs help the entire community, not just those who come for meals or attend the after school program.

I could keep writing about the incredible impact of this organization, but instead I will refer you to the photo gallery on the foundation's website. I dare you to look at the photos and not find a few dollars to support this cause.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and let me know what you think about my very first COW!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I'm still thinking a lot about my too many choices post from a few weeks ago. I have the desire to make a difference, I have a little income that can be spared, but I want to make sure that I'm giving in a meaningful way.

When I'm really thinking about something, it seems like God sends me the answer if I pay attention.  First, my Twitter feed featured an article about the fundraising efforts of Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts candidate for the U.S. Senate. The article stated that she raised over $3 million for her campaign against incumbent Scott Brown, with 96% of donations less than $100. The story was an inspiring reminder of the power of lots of people doing a little.

A few days later, I found a new blog called Giving2.0 that encourages readers to give more meaningfully, rather than just giving more money. My only disclaimer about this site is that if you tend to get a little overwhelmed by choices, to the point that you do nothing rather than make a decision (like I occasionally do), be careful not to get too bogged down in research and "strategic giving." It is much better to do something than to do nothing.

Our sermon series in church this fall is "Love God, Love Others, Change the World."  Today, part of the message was this: if you make more than $30,000 per year, you are richer than 95% of the people in the world.

I started thinking some more about  this post on Giving2.0. The suggestions to identify causes that you feel passionate about, and to create networks of collaborative giving- recruiting your friends and family to support the same causes- really spoke to me.

So that's where you come in! Every week I am going to identify a Charity of the Week (COW), to which I will make a small donation. The organization may be local, national, or international, secular or religious. I will tell you a little about the organization and give you a link to its website. If the cause is something that you feel inspired to support, send a few dollars. If you feel that your donation money could be better spent somewhere else, wait for the next COW (or, even better, send me a suggestion).

I already have this week's COW all picked out. But you have to wait a few days to find out what it is!

By the way, this idea was partly inspired by the book Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer. This lady decided that she needed a pick-me-up to help her through Mondays. Instead of scheduling a weekly pedicure or a girls' night out, she planned to do something nice for someone else every Monday.  She started a website to help spread ideas about nice things that can be done. Eventually she wrote a book of suggestions for her fellow "niceaholics." It was such a great idea that I don't feel bad at all about stealing it and modifying it for my own purposes.

While you're waiting for the reveal of the first COW, I would love it if you leave a comment about ways in which you have been inspired to help others. The more I read about the giving and helping efforts of my friends, the more geared up I get.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and stay tuned for this week's COW!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Back to Basics

I love this image but it makes my brain hurt a little

I got rid of a lot more stuff this week.

I ended up with some unexpected free time. The plan was to visit my grandparents this past week, but I caught a cold (thanks to some co-workers who don't call in sick when they should) and I had to cancel my trip. I felt bad, but it would have been worse to give my 79 year-old Mamaw a respiratory infection that turned into pneumonia. Respiratory infections and the elderly do not mix- trust your friend the nurse on this!

I don't have any big projects going on right now, except that I'm supposed to be brushing up on my French before I go to Haiti next month. I'll bet you can guess how well that's going. The drive for linguistic excellence is lacking, but I did have some de-cluttering motivation. I really blame Josh Millburn of The Minimalists for this.  He posted some photos of his loft (shown below), along with a list of his possessions on his blog.

Here is what really hit home for me- Josh says he didn't have to straighten up before taking this photo. Can you imagine if your house always looked like this? Wow.

What I am finding is that having too much stuff makes it harder to clean the house. Storage containers pushed into the corners create a space suitable for dust bunnies and pet hair tumbleweeds. Too many books on the bookshelf make it harder to dust. Clothes all over the place have to be picked up before I can vacuum.

I am nowhere near owning 288 things, and I don't expect to get there anytime soon. What I am proud of this week is that I sorted through the four large trunks of childhood toys and books and condensed it down to three trunks. More importantly, I found a place to put them that is not the corner of my bedroom. I was able to easily vacuum behind that area for the first time in a long time.

Recently I have been making a clutter triage pile in the spare bedroom. This is where things go after I pick them up, realize they don't serve a useful purpose in the house, and decide to get rid of them. I took the contents of that pile to the thrift store on Wednesday, but there are already new things in it. For example, today I reached for a colander and realized that I have two. Why would I ever need two colanders? The dinky plastic one went into the pile and the nice blue enamel one stays and can double as a fruit bowl.

I started this blog and decluttering project 14 months ago. The purpose has evolved from a desire to have cleaner closets into an attempt to live a more simple, purposeful life. But when I look back at my first post, I still see the validity of my original desire to own only things I love, and to have a suitable place to put them.

I still have a long way to go. Most of my living area is clean and organized, but there are still a few monster-infested places in the house- especially the guest room. I always have to shift piles of stuff into my bedroom when I have guests. The "clutter triage" pile is really convenient, except that Isabelle the Curiosity Never Hurt Anyone Cat likes to knock everything onto the floor and lie on it. I have a huge desk in there, which I rarely never use for scholarly pursuits and which is always covered with things I hastily shifted off of the dining room table when someone was coming over.

Despite my messy guest room, I get a little closer every week. The combination of getting rid of lots of things and not buying that many new ones is simple math that will have to catch up with me one day.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try having a clutter triage pile. Just don't forget to take it to the thrift store now and then.

PS: I know that talking about Steve Jobs is so in it's out right now, but check out this image tweeted by @zen_habits. "All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, and that's what I had." So maybe I don't really need and iPad like I thought I did...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Too Many Choices

Nora Kann Fliegen- Flikr

So here's what I am having a hard time with right now: which awesome causes deserve to get my money? Is it better to pick one or two and give them a lot, or spread small amounts all over the place? Do hungry kids in the horn of Africa need help more, or suffering dogs in puppy mills, or wounded war veterans?

When I worked for Nationwide Insurance, there was an option to give a designated amount of money to The United Way. Nationwide matched the donation, so you basically doubled your investment. It was a great way to give a relatively large amount of money painlessly. It was a no brainer for me- I contributed every year.

The VA has a similar option, with one BIG difference: there are literally hundreds of charities to pick from. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but for the past two years I have become paralyzed by the number of choices. The deadline passes each year without my selection, so no money gets donated.

I have a similar problem with mail solicitations. I think that St. Jude's Hospital is a great cause that deserves my money, but so is NPR, and the UF Alumni Association, and Heifer International, and a hundred others. I get a few requests each week and I just can't seem to pick who needs to money most. On top of that my amazing church is always trying to help some organization or another, and I volunteer at a clinic that serves homeless people and could always use a donation.

I read a pretty good book a few years ago that kind of explains this: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. It's about how the huge number of options available to us can make it more difficult to make a decision. Schwartz writes about the concept of "optimizers:" people who want so badly to make the perfect decision that they get stuck, and don't make a decision at all. In general I think that I'm a decisive person, but when it comes to giving financial gifts I get a little overwhelmed. I have the same problem with home improvement projects, but that's a topic for another post.

This whole getting stuck doing things exactly right is not unique: Devon from Answering Oliver writes about almost not graduating high school because of "perfection paralysis." J.D. Roth writes that the perfect is the enemy of the good on Get Rich Slowly. Schwartz tells us that this indecisiveness is the natural consequence of a culture oversaturated with choices. But the bottom line is that if I don't make a choice, I'm not helping anyone.

I have made some inroads on this problem. I signed up to sponsor a child through Child Fund International. I am making automatic monthly donations to the Humane Society. And this year, when it comes time to pick a charity to donate to at the VA, I have already decided on a charity and an amount.

My point (and I do have one) is that if you don't make a decision, if you do nothing, you aren't helping anyone. So put perfection aside and make a choice already. Now that I have picked some charities to sponsor, I feel relieved that the decision is made, rather than worried that I made the wrong choice.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and make a decision- you'll be glad you did!
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