Live Like You’re on Vacation – Simplifying Your Wardrobe

June 10, 2021

As a busy mom, daughter and educator that can be a procrastinator, I am always looking for ways to get more done while doing less and to be more efficient, even if only a little bit. So, when seasons started to change and I knew I was teaching all summer again, but also working in vacations, I decided to make some changes to my wardrobe, and it has proven to be a huge success.

While I like the idea of being a fashionista, I tend to default to t-shirts and shorts, especially with working from home. But I do have zoom lessons and meetings, so still try to look professional.  I’ve always been intrigued by the minimalist capsule wardrobes or only a certain number of pieces, but never wanted to commit to that restricted a lifestyle. Living in Florida, fashion choices can be a challenge in the summer since it’s just so hot and humid. Also, with Covid restrictions lifting and travel plans returning, I wanted to create an easy style for whatever our plans were this summer, whether it was work, relaxing at home or travel. 

Last month while putting laundry away, I got this crazy idea to create a vacation wardrobe for the summer, and possibly continue this for each month/season.  My boundaries were making sure I had what I needed for professional work, house and yard work, exercise, date nights and relaxing at home or out and about. And it all had to fit into my suitcase if we went somewhere. I already do laundry every week to keep up with it, so I just made sure I had enough to get me through the week.

I started by pulling out my favorite items that I always grabbed to wear. Then I checked to make sure everything had a match and created a complete set, so the shirts had bottoms to go with, the skirt had tops, I had sweaters that went with everything since it can be cold in air-conditioned places—that sort of thing. Then I took everything else and folded it, placing off season items into a storage tote and in season items in an empty drawer in case I wanted to rotate something out.  I paired it down to 42 key items (insert Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference here, although this was not the targeted number originally!).  These items included shorts, pants, tops, dresses, sweaters, and swimsuits (socks and undergarments not included in the count).

I’ve been using this wardrobe for a month now and I absolutely love the simplicity of it.  I find myself wearing “cute” clothes more often instead of grabbing the trusty t-shirt I love. I have fewer decisions to make since each item has a coordinating item to default to and my closet isn’t so crowded, well, at least my side isn’t.  My husband’s is a whole other story!

While clearing my wardrobe has been a part of my ongoing minimalist journey, this decision wasn’t made for that reason, it was made to make my life simpler and to give me fewer decisions to think about. Reducing my mental clutter and decision fatigue has been a nice side effect of this change in lifestyle that has made my work and family life a lot less stressful and has inspired me to simplify other areas of my home in a similar “vacation house” style of having what I need and less decisions to make. It’s not always easy and something go into the donate box or holding box that come back out, but ultimately, I am free to worry about more important things, like where to travel to with my simplified wardrobe!

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Self-Care for Educators: With a Little Planning, You Can Get the Time You Need for YOU

April 15, 2021

I love my work set up, but that doesn’t mean I have to live here!

I am a workaholic by nature and a very goal-oriented person. I do not like to stop until I finish something, even if that means a very long work session.  If you’ve been in education for 5 minutes, you know we are never really finished.  I have had to work hard to set working hours and an end point to stop at, as well as breaking my goals down into chunks to accomplish realistically. But I am terrible at taking time for myself until I reach the broken and burned-out phase.  I push so hard that when I was a 10-month teacher with summers off, I found it was at least 3 weeks before I’d slow down enough to feel in control and not just caught up in momentum.  When I switched to 12-month in August of 2019, I gave up summers off and last year was tough without that time off and the disconnect.  I realized I had to do something different.

The Covid pandemic and shutdown in 2020 really taught me slow down and that it is very beneficial to make time for myself and to be by myself. I’m a 12-month virtual teacher, my son is a virtual student, and my dad is retired.  My husband is the only one that works out of the house. That’s a whole lot of together time that can be very overwhelming. I learned to find times to get a break and do things for myself or by myself, and it has been a huge help.

As life started getting busier as we gradually reopened, I found myself missing the solitude and extra downtime without outside demands, so I set my 2021 New Year’s Resolution to include more intentional time for myself, or to use the new term, self-care time. I decided to set time each day, week, month, and quarter intentionally for me to relax, rejuvenate, and recharge. I fill that time with road trips, pedicures, massages, hair appointments, hikes, trips to the playground, a coffee, meal, or dessert out with someone I want to catch up with. I also make sure they are budgeted so I don’t go broke.

Feeding peanut butter to 3 dogs at once CAN be done, if I get creative

Daily.  Every day, I have my devotion and prayer time, and I go for walks.  My goal is to walk for an hour a day, however that may break down.  With a young pup, this has become two thirty-minute walks a day to give her an outlet and training time.  I’ve also set the goal to start my day with prayer instead of my smart phone or scrolling social media, and I try to do my daily devotions over breakfast.  Sometimes this looks different, if my son wants to go for a walk or I’m chatting with family over breakfast, but most days I work all these in without issue.

Taking the pups out for a walk

Weekly. This one has been a challenge.  We are blessed to have parents that live nearby and help by letting us have one date night each week (and sometimes, an overnight or weekend!) It’s been great and took us several weeks to get used to not having the kids or to rush back to them.  We go gaming, walking around, get pedicures, go to dinner, play tourist somewhere—whatever we feel like doing.

In addition to date nights, I’ve been working to have one slow day, or Sabbath, to relax and do as little as possible, without filling it with technology (i.e., I avoid movie marathons or binge-watching TV for more than a couple hours). This could be a rainy day on the porch, a few hours out on the water, a road trip with no real destination, or time with family and friends talking, eating, playing games.  We are a very busy family, but most weeks I am getting at least a half day for this.

Monthly. This one has taken more planning and I am just getting to it.  Some months we have holidays and a build in long weekend, but not every month. I decided to sit down with my calendar for home and work and am picking a day each month that doesn’t have a holiday and works with my work schedule, and I am taking a day off to get a long weekend, even if we just stay home. 

Quarterly.  My goal is to take a week off each quarter to get away somewhere. For this, it took a bit more strategy and, truth be told, this was actually my starting point before I planned my monthly days off since I don’t take a long weekend in the months I take a week off.  I’m old school, so for this I grabbed our wall calendar and a highlighter, as well as my work and personal digital calendars.  First, I marked off the holidays and breaks we get built into our schedules from our work calendar. Next, I looked at our typical workflow and volume and what time is available on our team calendar. Then I looked at our family plans—family we want to see, vacations, birthdays, summer camps, our travel wish list—and started plotting.  I try to balance things out to maximize those brain breaks, then I submit my requests.  Can I tell you how excited I am that my husband and I will be off the week our son has weeklong day camp an hour from here this summer and we will get to play tourist and get time together in a fun area to explore!

Somewhere in there, I work in a hair day

I realize that time off is a blessing that most occupations don’t have, but in education, we do.  Most school districts offer personal days in addition to holidays, but there is this stigma against teachers that use them.  Stop letting that bother you!  You earn them.  They are a part of your salary and benefits.  You NEED them, why don’t you take them?

So, grab your calendar(s) and a tasty beverage (coffee, tea, chocolate Dr Pepper, wine) and plot your time off. Talk to your family about what you all want to do.  You can plan for a month or two at a time, or plan for the whole year.  Just plan something or you will constantly find yourself justifying why NOT to do it and feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by your day-to-day life. It will give you something to look forward to on those tough days and be a great reward. Refill the pot so you have something to give to others. It may be awkward at first, but you will get used to it and find yourself enjoying it.

Take care, my friends.

Using Your Break to Better Yourself

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                       June 13, 2019

What is it that we crave about summer?  We count down the days as we race towards it at breakneck speeds—longing for its arrival—but why?  Is it the chance to slow down?  Is it temporarily doing away with agendas, alarm clocks, meetings and parent communications? Is it traveling or getting quality time with family that we don’t see during our hectic school routines?  It may be some or all of these, depending on you.  For me, it is not only these things, but also the chance to sit back and analyze how I did things, what worked and what didn’t work, as well as trying on new habits and seeing how I can make them fit in my life.

Routines are an important thing to me, and not just because I am OCD (CDO my husband likes to say since I have a habit of alphabetizing things (don’t get me started on my love of my label maker), but also because I have learned that routines make for consistency and efficiency, two key elements for success.  This past school year has been a challenge. We moved into a new house to make room for my mother, my oldest son finished his Associate’s degree and started at a new college for his Bachelor’s, my husband changed jobs after dreaming about it for two years, and I was committed to a training program for the duration of the school year that came to a conclusion about the time my mom became fully retired.  Whew! I was exhausted.  The routines we had had in place since my husband had joined the ranks of the teaching world 4 years before (which were pretty consistent from when he ran his own business before) were suddenly thrown for a loop only a couple of months into the school year when he decided to leave education and go into business for himself again.  We did our best to adjust, but by the time the school year ended on the same day that my mom became a full retiree, we still hadn’t adapted. 

I am also a huge travel bug.  I often jokingly say that I work to support my travel habit, which is not too far from the truth.  I have downsized possessions dramatically over the last few years into a more minimalist lifestyle as well as paid off most of our bills, so a good portion of our budget was for now and later fun money (vacations, entertainment and retirement).  With the job change, that changed for us quite a bit, so we’ve also had to adjust and, luckily, had room in the budget.  But we still plan to work in a few trips this summer.  Truth be told, I am writing this in the kitchen of one of our family members we are visiting as we are doing a loop to see them and check off a few more states from our bucket list.

Every educator does different things with their down time.  For me, I spend it reconnecting with family, both near and far, refreshing my home with a variety of projects and trying out new routines that I can establish at a slower pace and maintain when I go “back to work” in August—although I, like most, will work during the summer attending trainings, reviewing my practices and material from the past year, analyzing test data when it drops, and creating/adapting new things for next year based my end of year student surveys and data about the upcoming students given to me by the prior grades teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I also get out and enjoy the longer days and extra family time by taking advantage of some of the discounted or free activities available in our local area like weekly movies, zoos, aquariums or theme parks—if you are lucky enough to live close to any of those.

Our family will have to establish some new routines with all our lives changing in the last few months, so there are things we can do over the next 6-8 weeks to help us out during the school year.

I use this in the camper with a dry erase marker to keep it super simple. One of these days, I will do it for the main house.

Meal Planning and Preparation. We will try out new recipes and get back into meal prepping and menu planning, as well as simplifying our meals.  We got in the awful habit of eating out or eating prepackaged/easy meals for the last month and that did not help us handle the crazy routines that the end of year brings.  We have tried all of the prepping ideas for meals and have actually found the simplest for us is stocking up on family packages of meats and freezing into portions (we cut into bites when cooked to cut down on overeating) and we keep fruits and veggies on hand to accompany them.  We can go from freezer to table (or lap on the back porch) in 45 minutes, even on a busy day, and feed our family of 5 for well under $20 for the meal.  Going out is actually an inconvenience for us. 

Home projects. There is always maintenance to be done as a homeowner, so we will take care of those, as well as cleaning out closets and cabinets to purge forgotten possessions and reorganize them.  We have found that having less stuff helps us clean faster and we have less to clean, which means more time for life.  I stumbled over minimalism a few years ago while looking for solutions since I am a terrible allergy sufferer and we have loved the simpler lifestyle.  But those old habits of a lifetime to take a while to break, so refreshing the home and reviewing the books I have help quite a bit.  Not familiar with minimalism, or not sure how it could possibly fit for you?  Check out the author Joshua Becker and his realistic family approach that works for us at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/.

Planning for the next school year.  I know, you don’t want to think about it, and I don’t either.  But I don’t like a crazy start to a new year, so I do a few things early in summer to help.  When we are cleaning out those closets and cabinets, I purge any clothing items that don’t fit or need repair or replaced so that I can get those ordered, fixed, purchased or budget for them.  My son’s school has a uniform, so we will pass on any items that someone else can use and get his items ordered early so that we can pick them up at orientation.  I also start shopping school and art supplies, prepackaged snacks, cleaning supplies, and anything else that could help around the house or classroom or could be donated to his classroom teacher.  Those BOGO sales run all summer, so taking advantage now helps me out a lot later in the year.

Nap time is a summer favorite, especially during those afternoon storms Florida gets

New routines and habits. My daily reading, devotions, exercise and cleaning routines all slacked off in the last couple of months.  I take the time to figure out why, shuffle my day around and put into practice my routines during the summer.  I can go at a slower pace while I make them a habit and then a few weeks before going back to work, I can time how long it takes me to do all the things, allowing me to adjust my wake-up times and bed times to accommodate.  I do the same for my little one so that we can reestablish his routines before going back, as well. I also look at how well we have done with chores and will adjust our chore charts, laundry rotations and shopping days.  With so many changes this year, many of our routines never got followed or were tweaked during the year, so a family meeting over a delicious and relaxing meal gives everyone a chance to chime in on what works and doesn’t work so that we can adjust.  It sounds like a silly thing, but no one fights over the washing machine, yells about a stack of dishes, or complains about an empty cabinet when we work together.

Hoping to get 5 more states filled in this summer, then we can start working our way out West.

Travel and quality family time. We usually plan a couple of trips in the summer in addition to celebrating birthdays for several family members.  We usually plan a big family trip and a smaller get away nearby, and sometimes these double as a birthday celebration.  With the change in jobs, we sold our camper and have less time to go on adventures.  This year, we are fitting in an early summer trip to see family and check off more states (with any luck, by the time you are reading this, I will have checked off state number 50 for me, and number 30 for my soon to be 8 year old).  We are also working in a couple of other trips, but they will be business related for my husband.  When we are at home, we capitalize on the summer movies at the local theater and the passes to parks nearby.

The beach is our happy place

Rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. This is probably the most important one I do with the slower pace.  I love to sit on the porch in the early morning, before the Florida humidity chases us all into hiding until sundown like in those apocalyptic movies. While I am out there with my tea, or a book, I will take the time to connect with each sense—what do I see, hear, smell, taste, feel—and it really helps me connect with the world around me and helps me stay clear and focused during the day.  I also try to get in for a massage, a new exercise program I heard about from a friend, as well as taking care of as many doctor’s appointments as I can so as not to interfere with the school year.

So, what kind of things do you do over your break?  Are you a Netflix and chill in your jammies all day, every day while capitalizing on Uber Eats and grocery delivery services?  Are you like me and try to accomplish a lot?  Or are you somewhere in the middle?

If you are not a teacher, or get only a week or so off, you can work in some these ideas to your own schedule, even with only a week or two off.  Choosing only one or two things to start with this break can still make a difference and you just work on other things on future breaks.  It may not sound like how you want to spend your break, but if the way you were doing things wasn’t working or making life run smoothly, then you owe it to yourself and those around you to try new approaches to making your life easier.  You just need to take that first step.  Happy summer!