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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Day 305

Surprisingly, I am not a big "Halloween person." One might think that the opportunity to costume would thrill me (and it does) but the whole scary thing is not for me. When my kids were growing up, though, I embraced Halloween wholeheartedly. The yard was decorated, I was a volunteer party mom and I toiled to created the perfect costumes from scratch every year.

My daughter was easy. Most years she was some variation of a princess, a Disney, butterfly or even tooth-fairy princess. I became quite skilled with yards and yards of tulle and satin. My son was easy, before he formed an opinion. His first few costumes were carefully crafted, a bag of donuts, a devil, an eight-limbed spider. But as he got older he would beg, "can I please buy a costume?" 

Buy a costume? Me? I don't think so. Anything you can buy, I can make better. My children wear handmade costumes. We tried taking him to the store so he could select a character. Then I would recreate said character adding all imaginable bells and whistles (and even sound effects.) Halloween would draw near and he would become sullen, yearning for a cheap, store-bought costume. We finally relented one year and my son was over the moon when my husband took him to the costume store on Halloween afternoon to find the final cheap,nylon ninja suit available. The edges were not finished and the material so thin that I thought it would tear apart. My son was never so happy on a Halloween.

Going forward, we allowed him to choose any costume, cheap store-bought, thrown together, or whatever he chose. I had to let go of the worry that the neighbors would think I had gone soft, or photos would suggest in the future that I had become lazy. This is the kids' day and they should wear what they like.

Fine. Fast forward several years and my daughter is now celebrating Halloween with her son. Having learned my lesson, I told her to take him to the store and let him pick. But no ... not her son! She will handcraft his costume! And she did. Last year he was an awesome pirate and this year a colorful dinosaur. The costumes are beautiful but I have a feeling there will come a day when he, too, will want the cheap ninja suit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Regatta Dilemma

Day 300

During our week away, we got to enjoy a fun and exciting team-building activity. We joined a group of people attending the conference, formed teams and had a regatta! I have never participated in a sailing race before but we were assured that no experience was required. I think the idea was to join a group of people you didn't know and learn to work as a well-oiled machine in the confined space of a sailboat. I read it as a challenge to look ultra nautical-hip and enjoy the San Diego Harbor. 

I knew about this activity well in advance but could find no "what to wear" hints. I love to be properly attired for all themes so I googled "sailing attire." Entry after entry confirmed my worst fears: deck shoes are recommended. How on Earth could I regatta without Sperry Topsiders? I searched my shoe collection and found no Topsiders (I never recalled buying any but it was worth a look.) Not even any white-soled shoes (to avoid scuffing the deck, so they say.) 

My challenge does allow me to borrow items and the lovely gal next door has several pairs but her feet are tiny. I didn't think I should risk a blow-out. I couldn't find anyone to borrow Sperry Topsiders from. My anxiety over the improper footwear grew and grew. I even went to DSW and tried a pair on. Don't even ask me why. As I recalled from last time Sperry Topsiders were in fashion, they look horrible on me and are completely uncomfortable. Still, if I could, I would have bought them anyway.

The day before the regatta I had bugged my husband so much, he sought the advice of the hotel staff. What do we wear to a regatta? "Something comfortable." was all we got. So, we left the hotel with a backpack crammed with shoes, jackets, pants and shirts. I chose a pair of navy shorts and a white t-shirt with a snappy anchor on the front. And white flip-flops. I was so worried. Would they throw me off? Relegate me to non-Topsider team? Laugh me right out of San Diego Harbor? 

Turns out, nobody cared what shoes we wore. In fact, I was barefoot the whole time. We actually had crew-duties so I never even had time to wonder if I dressed appropriately. I handle a pretty mean jib-rope, though!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Week Away

Day 299

For the first time in this year-long challenge I was away for an entire week. I was at the mercy of the contents of my single, less than 50 lbs., suitcase filled with clothes. In years past, I attacked this challenge with gusto, carefully mixing and matching, planning for any and all wardrobe situations. I started with my own closet but invariably purchased several pieces to complete the mission. 

I put off packing for this trip knowing that there would be no adding to my wardrobe. 7 days, occasions ranging from business sessions to dinners out and unsure about the climate. I was not excited about packing. I made my husband promise that if my suitcase weighed in over 50 lbs., he would give up space in his suitcase for my overflow. As I eventually did pack, panic set in. Nothing matched. Some things did not fit. Panic elevated to frenzy and I began dumping everything in my suitcase. When the 50 lb. airline limit was exceeded, I glumly started editing my choices. I finally stopped, not at the satisfaction of my choices, but at a passable weight limit. 

Once again, I find my wardrobe is lacking quality staples. I found 8 sequinned, shimmering or sparkling tops but not one nice dinner top. I have shoes in orange, pink, cream, leopard, purple print, fuchsia, red, silver, gold and grey. I struggled to find a simple black pair that would match my evening clothes. A reminder that going forward, past this no-buy year, I have to more effort into creating a wardrobe, not a haphazard closet filled with impulse buys. 

As it turned out, I looked pretty good most of the time. It was warmer than I thought and I was forced to wear my same old, ill-fitting, stretched out bathing suits again. But, and very important, I was in a lovely place in which I was fortunate enough to wear a bathing suit in October. Enjoyed lovely dinners. Spent lots of quality time with my husband. I find I get so bogged down in wardrobe misery  I almost forget to enjoy what's right in front on me. Lesson learned, or close.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Black Friday Planning Tools

Day 298

For my Black Friday planning, I use bfads.net. It's free and easy to use. Continuing from yesterday's post, planning is the key to successful Black Friday shopping. Here are some of the features that will help you plan:

  • Sale ads are released early. You can look at scans of the ads or a line by line list. You can start getting an idea what the "hot" items will be.
  • Stores open at many different times, midnight, 4 a.m., even some as late at 6a.m. There is a great a "Store Opening" section dedicating to organizing opening times.
  • As you scan through each ad, you have the option to add items to your own shopping list which will remain organized by store. Excellent feature! Printable, too!
  • There are many good articles featuring comparisons and reviews. I find I can get a bit confused, especially in the electronics arena, and a little time spent in these articles has helped enormously. Showing up at KMart on Black Friday morning and not knowing which megapixel you want will lead to disaster. 
  • Online shopping is huge and it's all covered here. From ongoing "hot deals" most days to Cyber-Monday (the Monday following Black Friday, but that's another article), bfads.net will guide to in your online shopping complete with a timeline. 
  • New this year: There's an app for that! I haven't tried it yet but I see an iPhone app available, not sure about an Android app yet.
What will you be shopping for? Here's the thing, if you have kids, my experience has been that the Christmas list will change many, many times between now and Christmas Eve. I'm not even sure we know what this year's "Cabbage Patch Doll" (hot toy of the year) will be. For this reason:
Know the store return policies.
Every store is different, ranging form a week to return to forever. For most, there is a more generous return policy for the holidays. If something appears to be "hot" you may consider buying early and returning if a better deal comes up. Beginning now, keep your receipts together and organized. It will help with returns and all be a visual aid that your purchases are possibly ramping up too much. I use a simple envelope kept on my counter. As this envelope begins to bulge, I know to take stock. I tend to hide my purchases in different areas and leave them in bags. I have had to revive my husband in past years when the actual mountain of gifts is revealed. 
Just because it's a good deal it doesn't mean you need it. 
But it was only $299! As my husband reminds me, this does not mean we need, or even want another television. Retailers create a frenzy with ads blazing super-low prices and electronics are favorites. I have even entered a store with no intention of buying a television but when I see a crowd of people grabbing for them, suddenly I want one, too. Beware: some Black Friday deals have a fine-print disclaimer: return it and pay a re-stocking fee, especially true with electronics. 
But, maybe you do need it!
If I am feeling like we really could use another television, dvd player, small appliance, etc., I definitely wait until Black Friday if I can. Even though not technically a gift, prices are very good and worth the wait. This is where planning is key. Know what you need and plan around it. The better your plan, the better your chances of avoiding frenzy purchases.
Examples of my frenzy purchases:
DVDs: We rarely watch DVDs except to rent one yet if I see a crowd grabbing for movies, I want some, too.
Small Appliances: Cake Pop Machine. Enough said.
Fleece Blankets: Sound like such a steel at $5 but we have more than we could ever use.
Popcorn Tins: Don't eat it. Don't need the tin. Buy them anyway. Weird.

If you are not sure what you will be gifting, perusing bfads.net can also be a source of inspiration. According to TIME: $2 Billion in gift cards will go unused in 2012. I know that gift cards are the go-to gift but those figures are shocking. Makes me realize that I can put a little more thought in my gift selections now and hopefully snag a great deal. 

That's it for today, more later!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Key to Black Friday Success

Day 297

Planning. That is the key to Black Friday success. I've been there, done it, will share what works and what will leave you standing in a cold, crowded line. For anyone who doesn't know what Black Friday is (welcome to Earth, we are a friendly, fashionable planet ...), it's the day after Thanksgiving when the newspaper weighs approx. 47 lbs. due to the piles and piles of sale ads. It is traditionally the day that retailers pull out all stops to lure shoppers and ring in the holiday season. It is called Black because it is said that the sales from this one day will take retailer's yearly income from red (losing money) to black (making a profit.) 

The hype is enormous, and justified. Discounts on this day are amazing with many retailers taking losses on certain items to get you spending in their stores. Know this: retailers are very, very savvy. Getting you to part with your hard-earned buck is an art form perfected. It is up to you, dear consumer, to educate yourself, arm yourself,  steel yourself.

Technology has changed Black Friday. Old school Black Friday meant waiting until Thanksgiving morning to see the sale ads. Then, you hurriedly throw together some turkey-themed dinner while scouring the many ads, circling, cutting out, taking notes. It was exhilarating at best, haphazard at worst when waiting in a mile long line at Best Buy, you miss all of the sales at Target. Things have changed, friends. If you have never heard of this website, bookmark it now:      bfads.net      It's free, it's amazing.

Got it? Good. Now, subscribe to the email list. This wonderful fella called Michael will email updates when the sale ads are released. From Macys to CVS, any and all ads will be disclosed along with store opening times and restrictions.

Take a breath, step back and let's start planning. From a retailer's standpoint, the goal of this day is to create a frenzy. We spend in a frenzy. My goal is to turn out thoughtful, restrained, shoppers. I realize that thoughtful and restrained does not sound as fun but if you've ever gotten a giant credit card bill in January dripping with regret, frenzy fun is overrated. 

This is a big topic and I have years and years of experience, good and bad, so I'll share chunks at a time. For today, if you will be doing any Black Friday shopping at all, subscribe to bfads.net (or another service if you have one) and start thinking about what you REALLY want to gift this year. More soon!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Day 282

Spring has earned the honor of being clean-up time but in fall, it's time to put things to sleep. We spent the weekend in the yard replanting a few things, trimming and moving the many and various pots to their winter storage location. I cut down my precious perennials and gave them a warm blanket of mulch to keep they snug and warm this upcoming cold season (sort of like giving your best leather boots a good shining before storing them for the summer).

I also took the time to evaluate my gardening efforts for the year. Looking back, my garden was much like my previous wardrobe, more style than substance. More statement pieces, less investment essentials. Nice pops of design surprise, more carcasses of plants that I failed to understand. Not surprising, that seems to be my M.O. I am making progress, though. I am choosing to look at the whole picture and determine how my garden will be more successful next year. Like my wardrobe, there were some definite "hits." My tomatoes were gorgeous and I learned some excellent tricks with fresh herbs. I also learned that I am the only person in Michigan who can't grow a zucchini, I can't keep cilantro alive and I have no clue what to do with lemongrass.  Understanding what is wonderful about me and accepting my limitations, both core elements of moving forward in my quest of a simpler, more fulfilling lifestyle. And a more fulfilling garden.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Dress-Up Doll Resigned

Day 279

My dress-up doll husband has resigned. I am trying really hard not to feel rejected or offended. My choosing clothes for my husband, my entire family for that matter, had just become part of who we are. Or, who we were. 

As I have stated (whined) previously, I knew that I could satisfy shopping urges by buying any clothes therefore I had to make the choice to buy NO clothes, shoes or accessories, even as gifts. In my role as "hub of the home" (or center of the universe?) I chose and shopped for all clothing for my husband and son, and most of the clothing for my daughter and grandson. It began as convenience. Who had time to scour the stores seeking the perfect looks? I did! And, I considered myself a super bargain-hunter, with super-good taste. This was best for the family. It turned into me unconsciously determining what everyone should wear. It culminated with my husband, because he so attractive and easy to dress, becoming my dress-up doll of sorts. Almost everything I brought home looked fabulous on him.

Over the past nine months, my husband discovered that he had quite a collection crammed in his closet. As things wore out, he simply looked a little deeper and, voila! more stuff. As a result, he has shopped for himself exactly twice in nine months. Last week, my husband decided he needed a couple of new belts. Miraculously, a really great Parisian coupon arrived in the mail. He planned on stopping at the store after work and since I had the coupon, I agreed to meet him there and we both agreed that I would offer no input whatsoever. None. 

As we perused men's wear, my pocket smoking with a 50% off coupon, I felt the familiar urges. I saw many wonderful things he would look so fine in (the hot fine). I decided that I would abstain from verbal or physical input, but I didn't rule out psychic input. We would walk by some fab sweaters and my mind would scream, "Grab it! Grab it!" He picked up a shirt and I projected, "Nooooooo!" It wasn't working. I tried harder, concentrating until I'm sure my face was entirely screwed up. No messages got through. Less than an hour later, I was completely exhausted and he left with two belts and a questionable shirt. 

Because the transaction was complete, I blurted out, "You didn't select anything I would have chosen! You picked up the wrong things!" He just looked at me. "Why didn't you buy that awesome sweater? Am I losing my touch? Has this time of abstinence caused a lapse in my fashion judgement?" This was serious. 
He simply said, "I didn't like it." 
Huh? Panicky, I asked, "So you don't like the clothes I pick out for you?" 
"Not really."

Not really? "So you don't want me to shop for you, even when I can?" 
"No thank you." 
It is very, very hard to quell the rejection. I am working to avoid taking this personally. This is a good thing. It just doesn't feel like it yet. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gym Rat

Day 274

My husband and I joined the local athletic club recently and so I am now an official "Gym Rat" (and by gym rat, I mean I figured out how to use the keycard in the lockers.) We haven't belonged to a gym for years, instead working out at home, running outside and attending group fitness classes through Community Ed. Since our kids are mostly moved out, and we need to work harder to stay in shape, we thought we'd try a gym again. Admittedly, we signed up on a Saturday and it was a full week before we set foot in the door again.

Why? I'm too fat for a gym. I don't have the right workout clothes. And, I am not sure what to do once we are there. A gym, especially our fancy-ish gym, can be intimidating! Finally, my husband and I dragged ourselves in on a Sunday evening when the place was nearly empty. I purposely wore my worst workout clothes, as if to scream, "I'm here. I'm not fashionable or fit. Deal with it." We walked around for a half hour looking at the equipment and avoiding all mirrors (there are SO many mirrors!) Surprisingly, the people there looked pretty much like us. I tried a few kinds of equipment, looking around to see if anyone was laughing. Trying to shield the part of the machine where I adjust it to the very lowest wight possible. Trying to look inconspicuous as I studied the diagram over and over again. But no one paid any attention to me. Day one complete: bring on the fitness!

For the real test, we came in at 7pm on a weekday. Surely the super-athletes work out at 7pm on weekdays. I made a bit more effort with my outfit. It was busier, but still, people seemed to be pretty wrapped up in their own workout. And they are not all fitness models. Just a bunch of real people, like us, trying to stay fit. Mission accomplished, workout complete.

I think I can call us "regulars" now. It's fun to go together, try different equipment and get out of the house as the days get shorter. I have taken the burden of looking fashionable out of my workout. The focus is fun and fitness with my husband. A little lipstick doesn't hurt, though!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rounding Third and Heading Home

Day 277

75%. 3/4 of the way. Rounding third, on the way home. Fourth quarter. Home stretch. I have officially completed 9 of my 12 months of the no-buy challenge. I feel very differently about this milestone. I think I was revved up in the first quarter, in pain for much of the second and resigned during the third quarter. There is so much to work out in only three months.

I look at this like the Friday morning of a seven day vacation in which you go home Saturday. On Friday morning, you are acclimated to your surroundings. The hotel is familiar and you recognize some of the staff. You probably have a favorite chair by the pool. But with just a bit more time left, what can you fit in? Daylight's burning, no time to waste. How best do you end this vacation with a bang?

How will I conclude this one year challenge? My fear going in was that I would reach the end, set out very early on January 1, and make up for lost time. I don't believe that will be the case. In fact, I recently found out I will be traveling to a tropical destination very early in January! I feel like I'm on some Survivor-type reality show. How can I choose a vacation wardrobe, in January,  likely online, and have it shipped and sorted out in just a few days? The answer? I probably have most everything I need. So, yes, there have been big changes.

The bigger question is how will out move forward. Even after a year, I feel like the need to shop could tug at my subconscious. I will definitely need strategies. I have determined that if I make hard, fast, defined, realistic rules for myself, I can follow them. So defining my shopping limits will be very important. I am considering monthly dollar or item limits. A different idea occurred to me recently. In addition to limits, I think I am going to impose a rule on myself in which I can only buy clothing with cash. It is so easy to swipe a plastic card and forget about it, or add on a few items since I am buying anyway. With cash, the buying feels more real. And if a store has a special, credit card only offer, I will use the card, then trot on back to customer service and pay the bill. In Cash. 

I think the strategy list will be a compilation, a mix-tape, a best-of combination of everything I've learned. 50 years of compulsive shopping has left some very difficult habits to break. I have the entire fourth quarter to work it out.