Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Gift of a Bra

A bra is one of the simplest commodities in a women's life. A product that for some is easily attained or acquired in abundance. But for other women and girls who are living in poverty striken areas or are homeless, a bra is a luxury item; one that's difficult to come by. As I’ve continued the Kon Mari process and gone about the act of donating my clothes, I wanted to see how my donations could produce some good in this world. With textile waste on the raise, being socially responisble of how i discarded unwanted items was extremely important to me. One item that I was especially unsure of what to do with were my bras. I sought out to find a solution to this issue and much to my surprise, there are several organizations that offer a way to not only donate your bras, but also offers your donations as aid to people in need. In this week's blog post, I share information on organizations I found that are putting your gently used or unwanted bras to good use and keeping them out of landfill

As I’ve continued the Kon Mari process and gone about the act of donating my clothes, I wanted to see how my donations could produce some good in this world. According to the council for textile recycling, the average US citizen throws away 70lbs of clothing and other textiles per year, and the EPA estimates that 5% of landfill space is occupied by textile waste. With statistics such as these, it is important to keep these items out of landfills and into the hands of people in need. One item that I was especially unsure of what to do with were my bras. Throwing them away was not a decision I felt comfortable making so I sought to find a solution that allowed for discarding these items without contributing to waste. To my surprise, there are several organizations that offer a way to not only donate your bras but also offer your donations as an aid to people in need. If you are in the process of tidying up or looking to discard unused/unwanted bras to limit your environmental impact, here are some great options for organizations to consider.

Free the Girls
Co-founded by Kimba Langas and Dave Terpstra; Free the Girls is a non-profit organization providing economic opportunities for women rescued from sex trafficking and helps the women reintegrate into their communities. By donating your new or gently used bras, women are able to start their own business selling second-hand bras in their local marketplace. The women work for themselves and now have an opportunity to pay for school for their children or buy land for their family to thrive. The goal of Free the Girls is to provide TRUE FREEDOM for these women: Economic Freedom, Emotional Freedom, Physical Freedom, and Freedom for her Future.  By collecting bras across North America and other parts of the world, they can provide bras to programs established in El Salvador, Mozambique, and Uganda and new programs like their current project in Costa Rica. Donations are accepted at any of their drop-off locations or by mail. 

Donate Your Bra
Donate Your Bra is a non-profit organization providing bra support for cancer survivor women in desperate situations. They are a distribution center offering bras and other items for breast cancer post-surgery and breast cancer survivor support groups and charities throughout the year. They accept new and used lingerie and recently began accepting swimsuit donations because a suit can be a basic need in some poor countries. Since the company is an IRS Tax Deductible 501(c3) non-profit organization, you can write off donations on your taxes. Donations are only accepted via mail.

I Support the Girls
Helping to assist homeless women and girls, I Support the Girls (ISTG) collects and distributes new/used bras as well as sealed packages of tampons and maxi pads to women nationally and internationally. Started as a passion project by Dana Marlow, ISTG has grown exponentially since its launch in 2015. The goal is to provide Dignity to all women despite their situation. For homeless women, a bra that offers support and feminine hygiene products are hard to come by. ISTG has successfully collected and distributed 350,000 bras and over a million feminine hygiene products and some of their partners include The Coca-Cola Company, Spotify, Lowe’s and many more. They accept new and used bras in good condition including training bras, custom-made bras in large sizes, and tampons and sanitary napkins as long as they are individually sealed. Donations are accepted at any of their drop off locations or via mail and volunteers are always welcome.

The Bra Recyclers
A for-profit founded in 2008 by Elaine Birks-Mitchell and Johnny Mitchell Jr. The Bra Recyclers offers aid to women in need, from breast cancer survivors to those in shelters. As one of the leading bra recycling companies, The Bra Recyclers has been able to recycle over 4 million bras and support over 100 non-profit organizations,Our goal is to ignite a ‘Bra-volution’ to recycle, reuse, or repurpose bras while providing substantial social benefits to women and girls escaping domestic violence, drug addiction, human trafficking and breast cancer survivors.” They accept new and gently used bras including sports bras, post-surgery breast cancer supplies, and new panties. They are partnered with companies around the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico to accept bra donations at one of their many drop-off locations. You can also mail directly to The Bra Recyclers as they offer paid return labels for your package.

Local Shelter
The simplest way to go about donating your bras is to start in your very own community. Local shelters across the United States and other countries will gladly accept gently used or new bras as they are a common need amongst homeless people. It’s important to call first to make sure they do accept those kinds of donations as not every location does. The overall goal is to keep these items out of landfills and into the hands of people in need so you want to make sure that criteria are met.

I’m happy that programs such as these exist but must keep in mind that to help cut down on waste and unnecessary purchasing of bras, it’s important to get fitted for the right bra. A survey found that 80% of women are wearing the wrong sized bra, 70% wore bras that were too small and 10% wore bras that were too large. I highly suggest getting a professional bra fitting done to avoid being part of these statistics. Not only will your boobs thank you but the days of unnecessary spending and ill-fitting bras will be behind you.

I’ve decided to donate my used bras to Free the Girls. I found their mission very empowering for the women and liked the fact that they are providing economic stability; putting the power back in the women’s hands. To amplify the volume of bras I'm able to donate at a time, I'll be reaching out to my coworkers asking if they have any unused or unwanted bras they're willing to donate. This is a simple way for me to start a dialogue about issues such as these as well as spread awareness to those who are unaware programs such as these exist. It also gives my colleagues a reason to do some mild spring cleaning on their end.

I hope this read encouraged you to take action and consider donating your bras versus throwing them away. If you have gone through a tidying up process of your own and have found ways to spread some good in this world during the process I would love to hear from you! What organization did you find and how did that act impact you? Are there any tips you can provide that’s helped you during your cleaning process? Comment below and tell us more J

Happy Donating!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

In the Company of Women

In the Company of Women is filled with women from different walks of life, from chefs and writers to illustrators, actors, interior designers, musicians, artists and many more.

I recently finished reading the book “In the Company of Women” by Grace Bonney, an inspirational book filled with advice from over 100 women in the creative world. The book features women from different walks of life, from chefs and writers to illustrators, actors, interior designers, musicians, artists and many more. I was thoroughly impressed by the level of inclusivity demonstrated in this book, as I saw women who I could personally identify with throughout each page no matter what the profession. As Grace states in the book “My goal with In the Company of Women is to provide motivating and relatable examples of all kinds of women running their own businesses, so that any woman, anywhere, can open to a page and see herself reflected.” In my opinion, Grace far exceeded that goal when curating this book.

Since I saw myself reflected in so many of these women, it inspired me to take a moment and personalize some of the questions they were asked. As a creative still in the process of learning and discovering my voice, I felt it would be rewarding for me to share my insight. I hope to one day be in the company of some of these inspiring women and for others to use my personal experience as motivation to pursue their own creative endeavors.  

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I distinctly remember wanting to do something related to art growing up. When I was 10 or 11 I wrote that I wanted to be a graphic designer, photographer, or artist. Since rediscovering those writings, I’ve made it a lifelong goal to revive that creative spirit that lives inside.

What characteristic do you admire in other creative women?
I admire their ability to overcome doubt and fear and push through it.

At what point in your life did you first learn about your field of work? What called you to it?
I don’t remember when I first learned about Web design and Graphic design but I do remember the first time I was introduced to Lettering. For our final projects in my typography class, we were assigned to draw our own typeface. I remember being very intimidated and unsure about the assignment because of my underdeveloped drawing skills. I got an A on the assignment in the end but put that experience to the side. Fast forward to 2016, I needed a way to go back to doing the things I loved creatively. I already had a longing to draw from a very early age and had developed a great appreciation for graphic design during my time in college. Lettering became a way for me to add more personality to my work and that is what I’ve been striving to improve since then.

What does success mean to you?
Success means making a living by doing what I love every single day! That is my overall goal in everything that I do. I want to be my own boss someday and be a part of a growing number of self-reliant people in the world. I want to wake up every day contributing to something bigger than myself while keeping a roof over my head and living life in a simple manner.

In moment of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
Write in my journal and purge my thoughts on paper. I pray, meditate, and also reach out to friends as they are my support system.

What quotation inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

What does the world need more of? Less of?
More compassion and humanity. Less corporate greed.

Which of your traits are you most proud of?
My empathy towards others.

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night?
I fear that I won’t succeed in my creative endeavors and all my hard work won’t yield the results I hope it will. I know I am still early in the game but I still can’t help but fear an outcome that hasn’t even happened.

What would you tell yourself ten to twenty years ago that you wish you knew then?
Stop comparing yourself to others and invest your time and energy in building yourself up. Other people’s talents and strengths are not a reflection of what you are capable of doing.

Name a woman (or women), past or present, whom you admire or look up to.
There are a number of women I admire for example Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Gilbert to name a few. To me, these women are examples of people who persevered in times of hardship and did not give up! I admire women who exhibit those types of traits.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fully Commit

I've approached learning with a one and done state of mind. I enable my lack of commitment by saturating myself with knowledge, planning to no end, and being over prepared to face challenges that I’m not confronting. I fear stepping into the murky, unclear, and uncertain realm of the unknown.... I haven't fully committed.
During the process of writing my most recent posts, I’ve done quite a bit of self-reflecting and soul-searching. Through daily journaling, I’ve been able to open up in a manner that fostered new discoveries, personal realization, and helped me recognize areas for improvement and growth. As I’ve dug deeper in my writing and slowly pulled back the layers, I see that I’ve grown tired of myself and inaction. Since my writing has taken on a no holds barred persona, a number of things have become very clear to me.

I overidentify my self-worth to the volume of what I’ve accomplished.
I don’t take my own advice.
I am not comfortable with being a beginner.
I over think every step I take which hinders me from being further along in my journey.
I plan more than I execute.
I am in a loop and I can’t escape my cycle.

Out of all these traits, there is one underlying aspect inherently true of all my quirks - my lack of full commitment to my creative journey. There’s a part of my psyche still stuck on an idea that I am not good enough and never will be. It’s an area that’s deeply rooted in fear, which I’ve been at war with for a very long time. Referring to myself as a creative, let alone an artist, is not an association I feel comfortable with. These terminologies are not aspects of myself that I believe are true, nor are they qualities that  I can easily embody. Therefore, this process of honing my creative side and exploring uncharted areas has been a battle of wits, one that I feel I've been failing to fully embrace and commit myself to.

What’s caused these stern yet true analyses is the relentless feeling that I’m not doing enough to get where I want to be. I’m not having fun and haven’t been for some time. I can’t relax and can’t stop overthinking everything! I often feel mentally exhausted and periodically want a break from life and from always doing.

Some time back I read through one of my journals from 2017 as I recounted my ongoing experience of lettering every day for the year. One thing that was evident at the time, but I carelessly ignored, was that I was not having fun with the process. The task of lettering became simply that: a task; another item on the list of things that I told myself I must do because of x,y, & z reasons and one that I’m sure was rooted in selfish gain. 

Fast forward to 2018, a new chapter with new possibilities, I am here again toiling with those same creative challenges. Am I having fun doing this? Am I over-identifying with my creative capabilities? Am I over analyzing my art and my writing? Am I an imposter? At a point I stop and think “Is this what the life of a creative entails - always questioning whether you’re good enough, doing enough, thinking outside the box enough? Is this just a form of painful pleasure?”

These questions have forced me to take a step back and look at what I’m doing in an objective manner. I want to be good at what I do but because I am not improving at a quicker rate, I look down on myself as a result. I'm not going outside my comfort zone and experimenting with new techniques in order to advance my skills. I've been focused more on "getting there" and getting noticed versus spending my time on slow meticulous practice. I've approached learning with a one and done state of mind. I enable my lack of commitment by saturating myself with knowledge, planning to no end, and being over prepared to face challenges that I’m not confronting. I fear stepping into the murky, unclear, and uncertain realm of the unknown.... I haven't fully committed.

I know this might sound like I'm coming down on myself but I see it as calling myself out and owning up to my shortcomings. I see what is happening in my life yet I’ve been perpetuating the behavior. When you’re someone who sees planning as a form of control, the idea that planning is leaving you more out of control than in control defies everything that you know is true.

These realizations have been a wakeup call and a call to action. I have to stand strong and break the cycle.

With half of the year now a memory, I have to look ahead and decide whether these characteristics are things I wish to continue as my narrative for the rest of the year to come. Being a one-woman show and being my biggest critic and supporter, everything that I do is in essence from the perspective of the beginner – one who still has so much to learn and so much to offer still. I can’t continue with this “one foot in and one foot out” way of thinking. I have to wholeheartedly own this journey and be prepared for the outcome in whatever shape that may take.

I know these think pieces of mine are very common. I often share what I’ve reflected on and how I plan to change, only to end up reflecting on the same things months down the line. I guess it’s to show how much internal conflict I go through to simply get ahead in carving my creative path.  The struggle comes from not accepting the circumstances as what they are; a momentary time of discomfort. There is no need to rush and no need to fear. Being in a hurry to “get there” won’t get me there any sooner. I have to put in the work and do so in a healthy and productive manner. I have to see everything I do as fruitful and beneficial to the next step. I have to slow down and accept things as they are. I have to fully commit.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tidying up. The KonMari Method Part 1

Close to the end of 2017, I read an article on Career Contessa titled “9 Self-Help Books For Women Who Hate Self-Help”. One of the books recommend was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The premise of the book is to encourage a way of tidying up that should eliminate a need to declutter in the future. The way to achieve this is by abiding by the KonMari Method of tidying up and purposefully leaving only the things that spark joy in your life. The KonMari method consists of tidying up in categories and in a specific order. The categories are clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and sentimental items. By following the method as outlined, this should ensure your success and will leave you with not only a clutter-free space but a space that reflects all the things that bring you joy. At first glance, the book is portrayed as a guide for getting things in order, however, there is a deeper understanding to be garnered. Not only does the KonMari method declutter your physical space; it also allows for mental clarity in your life. The process forces us to deal with our emotional attachment to the items we surround ourselves with.

As you may know from previous posts, I've been on a process of transitioning my life into living in a minimalistic manner. Though I'm still in the stage of letting go, I do consider myself to be a minimalist since my relationships and attachments to things have changed. In 2016 I went through a purge which was the first step in slowly ridding myself of things that no longer served me purpose. That experience was not solely focused on letting go of items, I also let go of some past relationships I'd been holding onto that were not conducive to personal growth. During that initial state, I was elated with how much I'd let go and felt the weight being lifted off my shoulders. Little did I know then, this feeling was only temporary because shortly after I experienced the same feeling of being surrounded by things that did not bring me joy and are not an accurate representation of who I am or want to be.

In many ways letting go is a sign of starting over. There is much to be gained by starting over with a fresh slate

As I read Marie Kondo’s book, I was looking forward to approaching the act of letting go from a different perspective and with more guidance. The idea of reconnecting with my things in such a personal manner made me eager to start. I wanted to gain a better understanding of what I've continued to allow in my personal space since the initial purge.

The tidying up process began in February of this year and from then till today I’ve only partially managed to tackle the first category: clothes.  I did as Marie advised, which is to gather all your clothing in one big pile, take each individual item, and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” The items that do not pass the “joy check” are placed in a separate pile for donation to a local shelter for distribution to people in need. In the 3 months of setting these clothes aside, I have not completed the task of actually letting these things go. They are still neatly stacked in the corner of our bedroom almost as a reminder of a piece of myself I can’t seem to part ways with. The excuse I keep validating is that I have not found a place to donate these items to. “I don’t want to give away these clothes to Goodwill!” is what I constantly say, but I’ve made little effort to find an alternative to this monetized industry. I also set aside clothing that is in perfect condition to be sold either online or consignment but again, I’ve made no efforts to make a profit off of them.

My experience with the tidying up process at this moment is reminiscent of what I encountered during the purge. I'm fighting internal struggles and having a difficult time letting go of the past. I'm fully aware of the final outcome of staying on course since I had a glimpse of that 2 years ago. I want to find clarity in my physical world which will translate to clarity in my mentality. I believe that our physical space is a reflection of our mental space and right now my mental space is a stream of muddled thoughts in separate clusters of their own; pockets of random jargon and emotions that I'm trying to make sense of. This is a spitting image of what my physical space looks like in my home. Random items scattered in various places with no clear destination or permanent home. Though I'm fully aware of the positive side to letting go and moving forward, I am in constant conflict with the part of me that is holding onto something familiar.

In many ways letting go is a sign of starting over. There is much to be gained by starting over with a fresh slate. In the weeks that lead up to writing about procrastination, the urge to move forward with my life and escape this loop of inconsistency and lack of following through with my words has been on my forefront. I've been increasingly feeling as though I'm stuck in limbo and caught between 2 sides of the same coin. I know who I want to be and confident that I can maneuver the right steps to get there with the guidance of God, but putting words into actions and taking the first steps are difficult and shaky. Leaving something so familiar behind and stepping into the unknown is scary! But am I really going to allow doubt, fear, and uncertainty to keep me in the same state of battling emotional turmoil? Isn't there a point where we just get so tired of ourselves and our inaction that we stop the cycle?

According to Marie, the whole tidying up process typically takes 6 months to complete which I'm sure has a lot to do with people committing to the act and seeing it through as well as the volume of things we accumulate. I am half way in that timeline so I guess I shouldn't beat myself too much over being sidetracked and stumbling. I have rededicated myself to completing this because this is another facet of my life that needs to be addressed. Carrying years of unwanted baggage is unnecessary. I want to be able to look at my surroundings and see a reflection of who I am and provide a space for this person to flourish.

I now know that this personal struggle is just another form of resistance in my life: avoiding the work that needs to be done because it is that important to me. I can't let resistance be the ruler and conqueror of my life. In many ways, this tidying up process is another way of calling myself out on my shit; another example of saying I want to gain control of my life and struggling to do so along the way. The uplifting part of the whole thing is that I recognize what is happening and there is internal dialogue working to change the narrative. The life of an independent woman can't move forward without action and I deeply want to move forward. I enjoy sharing the adversities and hurdles I tackle to get to the next step.

Over the years I have found strength and solace in my comeback stories of trial and error. I have the next 3 months to see this process through but in all actuality, my goal is to be complete within the next few weeks. Since I have already let go of some things in the past, the weight of how much left to bear is not as heavy and I am ready to begin a new chapter. I am learning more about my behavior and being mindful of my actions. It's what lead me to the point of self-reflection and forced the hand of talking less and putting in the work. There's more to come of this topic and I look forward to updating you on the progress.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Curb Your Procrastinating

For those of us who have a harder time curbing our procrastination, change is not easy and recognizing the effects of our poor time management skills isn’t always vividly clear.
I have years of experience when it comes to the field of procrastination. I consider myself a master of leaving things to the last minute in hopes of pulling off greatness in the end. This mentality stayed with me throughout college and progressed into adulthood. But as time passes by and the pursuit of entrepreneurial ventures heightens, procrastinating has done more damage than good and has been a key factor as to what’s been holding me back in accomplishing my personal goals.

In all honesty, I am struggling; struggling to stay focused and on task, and also struggling to capitalize on momentum to do important work. I know the topic of procrastinating is not a burden I hold alone; millions of us struggle with this though some more than others. For those of us who have a harder time curbing our procrastination, change is not easy and recognizing the effects of our poor time management skills isn’t always vividly clear.

In my case, habitual procrastination has been a crippling agent that's left me stagnant in certain areas of my life. The blog is a perfect example of this. Since the inception of this space, I’ve lost count of how many unfulfilled blog posts and concepts I’ve yet to bring to fruition. I’ll have every intention of staying on task and completing my goals and even create multiple to-do lists to keep me on track, but I will inevitably get distracted at every turn. In the end, this process has left me feeling as though I’m incapable of doing the things that I say I will.

If I can’t stick to my own commitments how can I expect to create a platform filled with useful content? How do I stay accountable for myself and my actions? After plaguing questions such as these month after month, year after year, I need to do a bit of self-reflection, accept some personal accountability, and take control of my actions.

"For those of us who have a harder time curbing our procrastination, change is not easy and recognizing the effects of our poor time management skills isn’t always vividly clear."

To try curbing my procrastination, I had to understand the root of the issue. YouTube motivational vlogger Lavendaire explained things in a way that was easy for me to grasp. She references the book The War of Art by author Steven Pressfield (which I’ll be reading within the week) who describes procrastination as a form of resistance. Resistance can be defined as something that prevents us from doing our work; a force that is pulling us away from getting things done. Ultimately, since this is something that's important to us, we resist it because we're scared. For us to learn how to keep procrastination at bay, resistance must be tamed. I decided to implement these 5 new habits to cut down on my need to resist.

1.     Do One Thing At a Time
I know that in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we find it convenient or sometimes think we must take on multiple tasks at once. However, I've noticed that making it a point to do one thing at a time has resulted in feeling less stressed and more focused. I'm also more aware, alert, and engaged in my activity and prone to fewer mistakes. At the end of my day, I get more done and my mind doesn't feel overworked. If I continue with this habit I hope to gain more productivity out of my day and bring back a sense of ease into my life.

2.     Take Small Steps
In addition to doing one thing at a time, taking small steps is also a highly favorable tool for getting things done. When faced with a project, breaking it down into small attainable goals that eventually add up is often the best approach. Sometimes the reason behind resistance could be the scale of how much we have to do, which can lead to unnecessary stress and pressure. To combat that, breaking down a task into smaller steps can be a saving grace. It can be as simple as picking up a pencil and paper and jotting down a few words for the next blog post to simply get started. If I stick with that momentum since I've started the work, I hope this will cut out the need to stop and carry on with my task.

3.     Wake up Earlier
My resistance at times stems from wanting a moment to relax without feeling like I’m abandoning my responsibilities. I recently read an article on where 39 women from different spectrums shared how they maximized their day by waking up earlier than most of us normally would. Some of them woke up as early as 3am! One of the issues I experience throughout the week is that I feel like I don’t have enough time to do things and I am trying to do too much in one day. I was impressed by how much these women were able to accomplish on any given day by simply waking up early to maximize their time. This motivated me to reconsider my sleep pattern and give it a try.

The plan is to start my day at 5:30am which will allow for 30 to 45 minutes of yoga practice, 10 to 15 of meditation, my Morning Prayer and time to write in my journal before getting ready for work and making breakfast. By waking up early and giving myself more time to do things from the very start of the day, I’m confident this will allow more time to get things done and curb my need to procrastinate.

4.     Stay Present and Be Mindful
As I shared in my “Get Out of Your Mind post, I can get carried away with internal dialogue. This causes me to lose track of what I’m doing and perpetuates a need to get sidetracked by things that cause distractions, such as scrolling through social media. By staying present and mindful of my thoughts and my actions, I can gauge when I’m getting carried away by external vices and call myself out. This will be the hardest of habits to cultivate but it’s the most important one.

5.     Create a Schedule
Scheduling a block of time for specific tasks and setting deadlines for myself is an absolute must! With everything that I’m learning and trying to implement, it’s imperative that scheduling time to execute all these things becomes part of my weekly routine. I need to allow myself the time and space to grow in all skillsets I want to acquire. By creating a schedule that allows time for creative work, I can make sure that I'm getting enough practice time for everything.

I will update you all in a future post on the outcome. I hope that in sharing my personal struggle with procrastinating and the steps I’m taking to change my behavior will help you evaluate how you spend your time. Procrastination is not easy to overcome but being aware of how it may be hindering you from getting ahead should be something to evaluate. Till next time!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

An Affordable Wedding Affair

How i saved money planning my wedding. This blog post shares some tips that helped me save money when planning my big day

Wedding season is upon us and a week ago Jon and I were united as husband and wife!

The whole experience was stressful in an exciting way. For starters, I had the sole responsibility of planning everything with a set budget that relied heavily on what I was able to put aside from my paychecks, combined with previously saved money, as well as our tax returns and help from family, so sticking to the budget was a must. The ultimate goal was to plan a wedding that didn’t break the bank and didn’t leave us with unnecessary debt.

Luckily for us, having a wedding at the start of spring brought a lot of unexpected savings our way. I wanted to create something that was minimal but tasteful; putting the concept of less is more to the test and using the resources around me. Since I'd gone on yet another blogging hiatus, it was only appropriate to fill you in on my wedding planning experience and provide some first-hand tips that helped me pull off my perfect wedding.

Nkem and Jon's Wedding. Photography by Brandi Riden

Find the right venue

When I imagined my wedding day, I always wanted something that was outdoors surrounded by nature. Living in Knoxville gave us a plethora of options, however finding something that provided more bang for buck was difficult. After a few weeks of research on various locations in the area and calling several places for availability, I was happy to find the perfect location at Smith Events Center in Maryville. Not only was the venue spacious for our expected number of guests, the grounds gave us that natural look and feel I was going for. The biggest upside to the venue was the number of amenities that came with the rental such as chairs, tables, and tablecloths, and a discount to the flower shop.

There was a huge kitchen on site at the reception area, a bridal room to get ready, as well as a room for the groom. They also gave us a complimentary stay at the Hilton the night of our wedding and, most importantly, provided excellent service. All these extras go a long way when you add it all up.

My recommendation is to shop around to as many places as you can to compare cost as well as amenities. Any extras you can get to offset costs truly makes a difference in the ease of the whole experience. This was definitely the case for us.

Smithview Pavillion at Smith Event Center. Wedding of Nkem and Jon

Consider a Friday or Sunday wedding

Saturday is, without a doubt, the most popular day of the week to have a wedding. However, there's a considerable amount of savings to be found if you consider having a wedding on a weekday. Depending on the intended venue, planning a wedding on any day besides a Saturday can save you a few hundred dollars. In our case, we saved $500 by planning for a Friday wedding which was money used in other areas. We also had a greater chance of finding availability, especially when some venues are booked a year in advance.

If your schedule makes it feasible to plan a weekday or Sunday wedding, this can also be another area to save some cash on the overall cost of the wedding.

Saving on the dress

Outside of the ring, the wedding dress is another high-ticket item for most weddings. Wedding dresses can range anywhere from the hundreds to thousands depending on what you're looking for. In my case, I knew early on that I did not want to spend over $600 for my wedding dress. I considered purchasing a secondhand wedding dress because WHY NOT! I also looked at thrift stores and all discounted wedding dress option at my disposal.

I will admit my heart was set on buying a dress that was ethically made, such as these beautiful handmade dresses by Celia Grace but, unfortunately, that was not an option due to my budget and the high quality of these dresses.  I was fortunate to find the perfect dress, a Melissa Sweet from David's Bridal which was discounted from almost $1800 down to $499!  This worked out in my favor due to a sale they were having at the time to get rid of discontinued dresses (the staff gave me the 411). The dress not only fit my budget but fit my body with no alterations needed. This would not have been possible if I didn’t stick to my budget.

Looking at dresses outside of my price range would've caused unnecessary temptation and frankly was not an option. Sticking to the objective and staying firm on my budget ended up paying off in the end.

Nkem and Jon's Wedding. Photography by Brandi Riden. Wedding Dress Melissa Sweet from David's Bridal
Nkem and Jon's Wedding. Photography by Brandi Riden. Wedding Dress Melissa Sweet from David's Bridal
Use your resources

One overlooked area in saving money is using the resources you already have available to you. When I say resources, I’m referring to people who are in your circle who may possess skills that could be beneficial and cost-effective to executing your big day. It also includes doing things on your own #diy and giving yourself a challenge. 

These are some examples of how I did just that:

DIY Save the Date & Wedding Invitations
I know this is a no-brainer but the save our dates and wedding invitations were designed by yours truly. Instead of printing our save the dates and acquiring costs for taking engagement pictures and postal expense, we sent the save our date as digital postcards via text and email. I hand-lettered them, as well as drew the illustrations; mixing my artwork with digital fonts. For our wedding invitations, I purchased floral clip art from Esty and put my graphic design skills to work. Needless to say, this was fun and a much needed reassurance of my design skills. It gave me a confidence boost and further validation that I need to continue with my creative pursuits.hand lettered save the date / save our date for the wedding of nkem and jonhand lettered save the date / save our date for the wedding of nkem and jon
Ask friends for help
I’m thankful to have some talented friends in my midst. It’s difficult to ask for help at times, but in the spirit of saving money I did not shy away from asking for it and thankfully my friends were willing to share their skillset with us for our big day.

For starters, my maid of honor’s boyfriend agreed to DJ our wedding saving us 600+ on entertainment costs. This was a win-win for both of us because he gained more confidence in himself and his ability, received great feedback on his mixing, given that this was his first wedding, and he also potentially opened up a new avenue for revenue for himself by networking with the officiant. (Way to go Daniel!)  

Another area of savings was in hair and makeup. Instead of accruing an additional expense for a makeup artist, I asked a friend of mine if she would be gracious enough to do our makeup. She is not a makeup artist, but she is someone who has a love for makeup and enjoys doing her own. I’m not much of a makeup person (I’m just an eyeliner and mascara type of girl) which meant I wanted more of a natural look for myself and my bridesmaids, equating to less time and effort spent doing makeup. I also did my own hair versus making a salon trip and my bridesmaids had the option to do as they pleased with their hair using the tools we had available.

Nkem getting makeup done

Lastly, and much to my surprise, one of my coworker’s daughter is a local photographer. I was able to get a GREAT deal on a photographer for our special day. By using a local and by going minimal, I saved over $2000 and gave someone an opportunity to showcase their skills and expand their portfolio.

Shop for deals
Getting married at the start of spring meant savings galore. There were sales after sales popping up every week due to Easter and the start of a new season. I managed to capitalize on discounts offered by Joann’s and Hobby Lobby, purchasing all floral items for 50-60% off the original price. I was fortunate to get all wedding décor for half its original cost.

Nkem and Jon's Wedding. Table decor for our wedding

I also went to several local thrift stores, as well as the dollar store, to find some more discounted items to complement the décor. Overall, I suggest shopping around and keeping your eyes peeled for any discounts that will help combat high costs for wedding décor.

I recommend using Pinterest as a tool for inspiration and tutorials. It’s possible to keep things simple and still achieve an elevated classy look while being frugal.  

Shop Small

As I mentioned earlier, looking for deals was essential to staying on budget. One aspect of the planning process that was also important was the use of small businesses.

Both Jon and I’s wedding rings were purchased from small business owners via Etsy. I also wanted to keep things eco-friendly and was able to find an online retailer who sold bamboo and palm leaf plates in bulk, completing the earthy look and feel I was going for. I complimented them by purchasing wooden forks, knives, and spoons from Confetti Momma Party via Etsy.

palm leaf wedding plates purchased from and wooden utensils from confetti momma party

We also shopped small for our wedding cake, which was purchased from a local bakery here in town called Magpies. The ladies were a pleasure to work with, and they offer free samples of their goodies!

Nkem and Jon's Wedding.

Overall our wedding day was a slightly stressful delight. We got to celebrate with our closest friends and in the end, we're left with memories that will last us a lifetime. Your wedding day is one of the biggest highlights in someone’s life but there is no need to go into debt attempting to create a special moment.  

We managed to keep things simple yet elegant and got all the elements we wanted and more without going over budget. Coming from a newlywed, the most important advice I can give you is take it easy and have fun! Set a budget and stick to it, cut out any unnecessary cost, use the resources at your disposal, and think outside the box.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Start With Why

Why do you want to do the things you want to do? Why is it important to you? Why does it matter? These are the questions that I’ve been pondering as of late. After coming down from the high of completing a lettering project every day for a year, the next question I ask myself is what’s next? I am not one to do things for no reason and there’s a great deal of thought that goes into every major decision I make. I find comfort in only taking calculated risks since I’m incapable of doing things “just because.” If you asked me a year ago why I wanted to draw or challenge myself in that way, my answer would’ve been “because one day I want to be an artist making a living from my work”. But as the questions of why start to pull at my heartstrings, I noticed that my response doesn’t answer the question.  What I do is create handmade or digital designs but what I do does not answer the question of why I want to do it.

I recently finished reading the book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. I don’t know what has lead me to thinking about why or where the thought arose but somewhere in my subconscious the question was presented to me and this book found its way into my hands. If you’re unfamiliar with Simon Sinek by name, you might recognize him from his Ted Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action which has been viewed over 7 million times on YouTube and is considered one of the most popular talks of all time. Every time I watch him speak I’m always left feeling inspired and eager to hear more.

Throughout the book, Simon shares the stories of different leaders such as Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, Rollin King and Herb Kelleher founders of South West Airlines as examples of the principle behind starting from a place of WHY. He shares the rules of the Golden Circle which centralizes WHY as the primary focus that all business should start from. As he puts it, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. WHAT you do can change with time but WHY you do it never does".

Reading similar sentences like these throughout the book brought me back to my question of why. Why do you want to do the things you want to do? Why do you want to be a lettering artist/graphic designer? Why did you start For tha Masses? These are questions I’ve unknowingly dodged and never thought to ask myself. It could be the source of my inability to define myself and what I do. If my WHY has not been established, it’s no wonder that I experience so much internal struggle with decision making. I let WHAT I do define WHY I did it.
Early days of blogging photos

When I originally started the blog, I was not in a good mental place. Jon and I moved to Knoxville 6 months to a year prior and how unhappy I was with my job and myself was becoming abundantly clear. I was a recent college graduate doing nothing with my degree and finding work related to my field seemed next to impossible due to “lack of experience”. In reality, my life wasn’t so different from that of other millennials but, at the tender age of 26, I felt like a failure and needed to find an escape. At the time, blogging was something that everyone seemed to be doing as a creative outlet. When searching for inspiration of where to start, the blogs I encountered (speaking objectively) seemed to be spaces filled with poorly written material that didn’t appear authentic and DIY projects that appeared crafty but not very purposeful or well made. One space looked like a replica of so many others, only with different graphic elements and a different name. Since I saw these spaces as not fully representing the types of things I wanted to see, I said to myself “I can do this too!”

As I slowly (and I do mean slowly) started to create content here and there, my lack of self-confidence got in the way. I kept looking at what others were doing and was jealous and angry that everyone else was getting attention and I wasn’t. I was annoyed that mediocrity was passing as success and I questioned the decisions I made to try to fit in with everyone else. I started to see how this thirst for fame was getting in the way of trying to create from an authentic place. I needed to go back to the drawing board because this could not be life. I couldn’t operate from a place of disdain; it’s not healthy. I needed to work on myself first.

Self-help and wellness turned into my refuge and gave me strength. The more I worked on myself the more I found the willpower to move forward and do the things that scared me. Taking care of my mental health and absorbing as much information as I could made me take notice that if I was going to be successful in anything that I did, I needed to learn how to validate myself. I needed to stop comparing myself to others, learn to love myself, and trust in the decisions I made. Reasons like these are what made me realize that prioritizing wellness alongside pursuing creative endeavors was a must. I’ve been able to use personal challenges and everyday experiences to find a path to clarity and a path to my WHY.
My WHY comes from a place of finding purpose within uncertainty and doubt. My WHY comes from being too scared to try and needing to show that my fears were self-inflicted. I blog because I needed to find something to believe in and that needed to be myself. I do this because in the midst of personal turmoil, I turned struggles into action. I do it because whether I’m capable of having a self-sustaining business or not, I have already accomplished more than imagined by simply starting. I want people to come to For Tha Masses and see someone who doesn’t have it all figured out yet but is still trying to do something from an authentic place. I believe in people and I want people to believe in themselves and in others. I want my art to uplift others and support businesses with mindful business practices that operate with the intent of prioritizing people, the community, and the environment because this is deeply personal to me.

It has taken me years to get to this place of assurance but I'm happy I've stumbled and questioned myself more times than I can count before getting to this state of mind. If I didn’t struggle I would never have thought that wellness was essential to life. I would have continued to search for work that didn't align with my personal beliefs or may have compromised those beliefs in the process.  As Simon puts it, "Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention". I wish I had heard those words years ago to keep me from overworking myself and my mind and instead enjoy the process of discovery. But now that I know my WHY, anytime doubt or fear shows its ugly head, I have my personal mission to keep me grounded and focused. Starting from WHY cuts out all the noise and serves as a check-in point. Now that I know my WHY I feel better and more eager than ever to continue to follow my moral compass. Like all things, I don’t know where this will lead but if I can inspire someone to simply start, then all this work will be worthwhile.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Stop The Comparison Game

Does comparing ourselves to others do us more justice or harm?

This past weekend I did something dramatic and would consider a breakthrough for me...I disabled my Instagram account! Severing the psychological hold that Instagram had on me was the first step away from my inability to look at myself without drawing comparisons to others. To be open and honest about this, last year’s hellish experience with Instagram made it difficult for me to figure out if people were seeking real connections. Because my primary content is lettering, I took notice of this in the lettering community, where it seemed accounts only interacted with me in order to gain a follower. Is it a ploy to get more followers if the accounts unfollowed me a few days or hours later?

In attempt to stay on top of this trend, I installed a tracking app called unfollowers which breaks down your follows into 3 categories: the number of people who you follow but don’t follow you back, the number of people who follow you but you aren’t following back, and last the number of unfollowers in real time. With easy access to an app that kept me well informed on the inner workings of my feed, things slowly spiraled out of control. I became infatuated with the numbers and fell victim to the wretched refresh button. I would open Instagram multiple times a day (one day 65 times) to see how many likes or attention my work was receiving, altogether getting sucked into a toxic culture. As a creative trying to get some buzz for my work, presenting the right image was a primary focus even if it meant obsessing over things completely out of my control; I clung to the idea that I needed to present myself and my work in a certain manner in order to get attention. I used Instagram as a tool to curate an image of myself that wasn’t true to who I was and felt it was necessary to be like everyone else to gain attention, followers, and likes. I ultimately compared everything I did with what others were doing while battling this voice inside consistently telling me to just be myself.  

"When observing someone's being from the outside looking in, what you get is a misguided image that does not adequately correlate to reality."

Instagram became another tool that leads me to draw uneven parallels between my creative work and self-identity with that of someone else. I’m sure I'm not the only one who has struggled with comparing themselves to others, not just on social media but also in real life. If you think about your own life experience, have you had a moment where you knowingly or unknowingly compared yourself to others in some form? Has there ever been a point in time where you’ve looked at someone else's life with so much admiration that it leads to questioning your own potential? Have you ever had someone in your life so talented and well put together that it made you feel inadequate? Let’s look at it from another angle: have you ever had a moment where you compared yourself to a fantasy of what you envisioned life would look like for you; possibly unfulfilled life expectancy? If your answer was yes to any one of these questions, let me ask you one more: do you gain anything by looking at yourself in that manner or is this just another form of you not noticing what you’ve achieved?
Does comparing ourselves to others do us more justice or harm?

Realistically when comparing ourselves to others, we typically focus on our alleged negative aspects versus observing areas in which we excel. We look at our cup as half empty in comparison to others and with social media, it's easier than ever to get lost in play by play reels of someone else's manicured and filtered life. What we fail to understand in those moments is that it’s impossible to truly understand the inner workings of anyone else’s life. Just because you "know" someone doesn’t mean you truly know them. You can't entirely grasp what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes without living their life. When observing someone's being from the outside looking in, what you get is a misguided image that does not adequately correlate to reality. There needs to be a breaking point where we stop stacking ourselves up against everyone else and picking ourselves apart based on what others are doing. We also need to stop looking at unfulfilled life goals as our failures and change those perceived failures into work in progress.   

Gaining control of my own comparison game has been a challenge but what has slowly helped me get out of that state of mind was first recognizing if and when I'm unjustly looking down on myself. I had to become consciously aware of moments where I wasn't taking pride in my capabilities (journaling helped the most with this). I turned my focus inward and listened to my self-talk, recognizing my belittling ways of thinking. I grasped onto the idea that with time comes growth and accepted that my walk in life is mine alone and should never be compared to someone else's.

I also needed to define who I am on my own terms and seek to find solace in where I am today. This has not been easy and I still continue to struggle. There will always be someone out there who I view as being "better than me" or who have achieved goals that I have yet scratched the surface of, however letting my imagination run wild with comparisons does not get me closer to attaining those goals. It only leads to feeling inferior and potentially crumbling under the pressure of altering my life to match that of someone else.
Does comparing ourselves to others do us more justice or harm?

No matter how you may feel about yourself, no one wants to be a carbon copy of someone else no matter how flattering their life may seem. It serves us more purpose to celebrate who we are while finding ways to stay true to ourselves. There's nothing wrong with having someone to look up to or an aspirational figure; that is perfectly healthy. The key is to take notice of when that admiration might be turning toxic or causing you to make decisions that don't align with who you are. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Possibilities

Hand Lettering New Possibilities

With almost every major life occurrence crash coursing its way into my life in 2017, it gave me an opportunity to look at my life in the grander scale, and figure out where my focus needs to be shifted. With that being said, 2018 will bring the start of some new changes coming way to For Tha Masses. One of the biggest changes that I’m really excited about is a regular blogging schedule. I know this is something that I’ve said would occur multiple times in the past yet have not followed through with my words, but that is all changing.

As mentioned in the previous post completing 365 days of hand lettering taught me more about myself than I thought it would. Through continuous practice and showing up for myself, my drawing skills improved as well as my confidence level.  I learned that I am capable of doing the things that I say I will, especially if it is something that I am wholeheartedly passionate about. When I translate that lesson into other areas, I have no reason not to be able to dedicate a few days during the week to share content that I know is important. Starting this month, I will regularly share new content every two weeks starting on Monday 1/29/18. I suppose after you do something every single day for a year the idea of doing something twice a month looks very doable. 

Another aspect of For Tha Masses that will slowly change is the content. During 2017, a majority of the blog’s content focused on self-help and sharing some words of wisdom with others who may be struggling with their creative voice or confidence in themselves. It was rewarding sharing content like this because not only did it help me, others let me know that they found it very relatable. Though I enjoyed sharing work like this, I will be slowly shifting my focus elsewhere in the New Year. I don’t want this space to solely focus on self-help or motivational material. I find that there are many talented speakers and writers who do self-help in a passionate way and I don’t feel that taking on this path is what I should rightly do with my creativity. I do believe that wellness is very important, however, it's difficult for me to share words of encouragement when I myself am struggling and also seeking resolutions. I find it more beneficial to share motivational content through my art and other areas (more to come on that in the future).

Moving forward, I would like to focus more on conscientious content such as supporting local businesses, highlighting ethical and sustainable practices, promoting fair trade goods, and many more. I want to highlight and promote the people who do things in a respectful manner and who put the well-being of others ahead of capital gain. This has been a goal of mine for some time as I've shared in the past and now more than ever, I feel that it is important to join in on the conversation. I know that finding a tone and overall message for this space is something I have struggled with over the years, but after 2017 that message is ringing like a bell in my life. I am more eager than ever to share all that I learn as I transition into living more like a conscientious citizen of this place we call Earth. I hope you're all as excited as I am of what's to come. 2018 is sure to be another great year!