a year of living simply: week 16

Hi, everyone! Hope your Tuesday is off to a terrific start! I’m soaking up time with my fam and crossing my fingers we get some rain here in California this week.

It’s time for this week’s simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to look ahead on the calendar and prepare for upcoming holidays and celebrations: Father’s Day, graduations, birthdays. I bought and wrapped presents for my brother’s graduation, my sweetheart’s graduation, my dad’s birthday {coming up at the end of the month} and Father’s Day. I also bought some cards, though I still have to write in them. I noticed that the whole process of shopping for gifts seemed much more enjoyable when I was doing it with plenty of time in advance.

clothes for goodwill

This week’s challenge is to clean out your closet! At the very least, try to get rid of one item. Make an honest assessment. If you haven’t worn something in the last six or eight months, are you really likely to wear it tomorrow or next week? Why not give the item to someone who might love it, and make room in your closet for only pieces that you truly LOVE? {One of my goals of this year of simplicity is to only keep pieces that I absolutely love and feel fantastic in!}

I think we all tend to overestimate the amount of clothing we need. Wouldn’t life be simpler if we had fewer options to choose from when we stand in front of our closets each morning? I was super inspired by the way Jen Hatmaker only dressed with seven pieces of closing for an entire month as part of her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. And blogger Courtney Carver has written about how much she loves having a small capsule wardrobe — learn more at Project 333.   

Questions for the day:

  • What did you get a jump on this past week?
  • What is one item you can get rid of from your closet?

a year of living simply: week 12

Hi there, everyone! I’m back from a family reunion trip to Pittsburgh to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary! It was wonderful to spend time with my family, especially some relatives I had not seen for years and years.

3 generations

the ladies

me and grandpap

My Grandpap’s sister Muriel came — I had never met her before! She is a hoot.

mom and muriel

One day we went into Pittsburgh and had a delightful time exploring the city. We lucked out with a gorgeous sunny day!

pittsburgh

with my girls

on the incline

I’ve spent the past couple days unpacking/shopping/laundry-ing, and getting back into my normal routine. I’m finally feeling like I’m back on the right timezone! Onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to say no to something. As I mentioned, I’ve adopted this bad habit of “hedging” instead of declining outright when asked to do something I have no time or interest in. Instead, I tend to say, “Maybe” and then end up worrying about it, or sometimes just doing it because I can’t bring myself to “let down” the other person. It’s ridiculous.

This past week, I practiced flexing my “no” muscle! I’ll be honest: it was difficult. I felt a pang of worry every time I stopped myself from hedging and said, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that — I’ve just got too much on my plate right now.” Even if I wasn’t saying the words out loud but typing them in an email response, I still felt my nerves clench! But, guess what? I don’t think anyone I said, “No” to hates my guts now. I think everyone understood. In fact, I think people appreciate an honest, up-front response — it is actually much kinder to say, “No” outright than to hedge and hedge and finally flake out on someone. In turn, I don’t feel resentful of “having to do” tasks I have no interest in, and I don’t feel like I’m running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off trying to please everyone and get everything done. Now I have more energy and time for the projects and people who really matter to me.

This week’s challenge is to set aside a small block of time every day to do something you absolutely LOVE. So often, we fill our lives with so much busy-busy-busy-ness that we don’t have any time left to do those things that bring us pure pleasure. I’m not talking about being productive or getting things done; I mean those “frivolous” activities that are simply FUN. Remember back when we were kids, and “fun” wasn’t a luxury — it was a priority? When we actively made time to play? Why do we have to lose that when we become adults?

This week, spend some time thinking about activities that make you feel good — maybe it’s reading books by a certain author or in a certain genre; perhaps it is knitting or scrapbooking; or maybe simply sitting outside under you favorite tree, doing nothing but enjoying the breeze and birdsong. Make time every single day to savor what you love. Put FUN on your to-do list!

Questions for the morning:

  • What did you say, “No” to this week?
  • What is something you absolutely LOVE to do?

a year of living simply: week 11

Hello, friends! Hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. Allyn and I went into the city to a friend’s house for a brunch celebration. It was cold and rainy here yesterday morning, so we were all smiles! {We need rain badly here in California… every drop feels like a blessing!}

me and al easter

We put together an Easter basket that we brought with us to brunch. It was fun to fill the colorful plastic eggs with jelly beans and chocolates, and I enjoyed reading the cute little sayings on them: You’re a Grade A! Chicks Rule. You Crack Me Up. It was a hit at brunch, especially with the little kiddos.

easter basket

Backing up to Saturday, Allyn and I went out to dinner and saw a play in Walnut Creek. The play was called “Mirandolina!” and had been translated into English from Italian. It was a lighthearted romantic comedy and though I went into the play with high expectations {every play we have seen at this theater has been wonderful} this one exceeded my expectations!

mirandolina play

There were multiple laugh-out-loud moments, the cast was superb and had great chemistry, the set and costumes were excellent… plus this theater sells little tubs of Haagen Dazs ice cream at intermission, so that is an added bonus. Overall, it was a really fun date night! I love seeing live theater and I’m so glad that Allyn enjoys going to plays with me.

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to tackle the magazine clutter in your life! Magazines pile up in my house so quickly, especially The New Yorker, which comes weekly. Magazines tend to grow into a pile that I tell myself I will read “one day…” while in the meantime, the huge stack of them stresses me out. This week I took a hard look at my magazine subscriptions, and ended up unsubscribing to three of them. {Though I am keeping The New Yorker!} I am donating a bunch of New Yorkers to the high school library where Allyn’s sister Allyson is librarian… they don’t have much of a budget to spend on magazine subscriptions, so rely on donations. I’m sure many other school libraries are in the same boat, so if you have magazines to donate, you might check with your local schools!

magazines

This week’s challenge is to say no to something. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time saying the simple word, “No.” I’m worried about disappointing people or letting people down, so I’ve adopted this bad habit of “hedging” — even if I know that I absolutely do not want to do something or do not have time to commit to something, I have a hard time declining outright. Instead, I say, “Maybe” and then end up worrying about it for a while before finally getting up the nerve to opt out, or just doing it even though I don’t want to do it because I can’t bring myself to “let down” the other person. It’s so silly! Especially writing it out here, I can see how ridiculous my process is.

The older I get, the more I realize how precious time is. It is a valuable gift that passes by so quickly, and we cannot afford to waste our time doing things that are not meaningful for us simply because we’re afraid of that moment of discomfort that comes with saying, “No.” Sure, there will always be things we have to do that perhaps we aren’t thrilled about {dentist appointments, DMV renewals, household chores} but when it comes to actively committing to an activity or task, I want to be more aware of what I’m adding to my plate. I want to guard my time, so I can use it to invest in the people and projects that are most dear to my heart and most important to me.

Questions for the morning:

  • Did you get rid of any magazines this week?
  • What do you have a hard time saying no to?

a year of living simply: week 10

Hello, friends! It’s been way too long since I’ve checked in with you guys. I took an unintentional blogging break when I traveled down south to visit my brother and my parents for a long weekend. My brother organized this fantastic event about girls education for USC’s “EdMonth” and I did not want to miss it! Thanks to an inexpensive flight on Southwest, I was able to rearrange my tutoring schedule and travel to L.A. to attend. Greg is passionate about women’s rights and his enthusiasm shined throughout the evening! He recruited amazingly impressive and eloquent panelists to talk about “The Girl Effect: From Why to How.” It was such an inspiring event and I am SO proud of him for putting it all together!

greg edmonth panel

greg edmonth panel

I took advantage of being down in Southern California to visit my parents in Ventura before I headed back to the Bay. It’s always so relaxing and happy to spend time with my parents. On Sunday we went to a talk by Garth Stein, author of the wonderful book The Art of Racing in the Rain. I am fascinated to hear other writers talk about their process, and Mr. Stein was as insightful as he was humorous! I also ate way too many strawberries {Mom bought an entire flat from a local farm}, visited with Gramps, and played many rounds of fetch with crazy-eyed Mr. Mur-dog. Soaking up time with my family always makes my soul feel refreshed.

me and greg

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to get rid of some paper clutter in your life. I cleared out my box of old receipts and also organized my tutoring folder, which had become a mess of worksheets and assignments. Now I have everything organized based on age/grade level. Moving forward, my challenge will be to take a little time each week to do inventory and KEEP the folder organized. I am motivated to do so, because I feel much more prepared going into each tutoring session — I know that I will be able to find what I am looking for to engage my students!

This week’s challenge is related to paper clutter… time to tackle the magazine clutter in your life! Magazines pile up in my house so quickly, especially The New Yorker, which comes weekly. They tend to grow into a pile that I tell myself I will read “one day…” {Sound familiar to anyone else?} This week I’m going to take a hard look at my magazine subscriptions, decide which ones I don’t need to renew any longer, and donate all the magazines I honestly don’t plan on reading.

Do you have magazines to get rid of, too? Don’t just toss ’em — donate ’em! I’ve donated magazines in the past, and libraries have always been grateful to receive them. You could also consider donating magazines to nursing homes, hospitals, or community centers.

Before I go, an update: I have become a podcast junkie! I especially love This American Life, RadioLab, and Invisibilia. In the past few weeks I’ve learned about:

Questions for the morning:

  • Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what are your favorites?
  • What paper clutter did you get rid of?
  • Do you subscribe to magazines?
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My new teaching mantra!

year of kindness challenge: week 38

year of kindness button

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Can you believe we are nearing the end of September?? Fall is now completely upon us and although part of me is trying to hold onto the last rays of summertime, I am also loving the honeycrisp apples, gorgeous red and orange leaves, and the cool crispness beginning to seep into the air. Hooray for comfy scarves and boots weather!

I made it back safely to my new home in the Bay. It was hard to say goodbye to Holly {it always is!} but it was nice to come home to my sweet grandparents and the new life I am building for myself here. My grandma tends to express her love through food, and I think she missed me while I was gone because within five minutes of my arrival back home she had set out the following spread on the kitchen table: strawberries, grapes, clementines, cinnamon rolls, two different types of cookies, a warmed-up slice of homemade quiche, and chocolate-covered raisins. When I told her I was not that hungry because I’d eaten lunch on the plane, she proceeded to boil a pot of water to make pasta. Thanks, Grandma — I missed you, too! 🙂

me and gma

Last week’s kindness challenge was to do a household kindness for someone you live with. Since I was visiting Holly, I tried to be an especially gracious houseguest! In addition to the typical houseguest kindnesses like making the bed, helping do the dishes, wiping down the bathroom sink, etc. I also cooked dinner for Holly and her sweet roommate Naomi as a thank you for letting me stay with them. {The timing worked out well — they were both working on a paper that was due at midnight and were grateful to have dinner taken care of!}

The Week 38 Kindness Challenge is to let someone go ahead of you in line.

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

Always, Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
– week 13 challenge: give someone flowers
– week 14 challenge: donate books
– week 15 challenge: reach out and spend time with people
– week 16 challenge: smile at everyone you meet
– week 17 challenge: pick up litter/trash
– week 18 challenge: write a kind note to a mom figure in your life
– week 19 challenge: leave an extra-generous tip
– week 20 challenge: donate blood/join bone marrow registry
– week 21 challenge: visit a cemetery and pay respect
– week 22 challenge: practice a little patience
– week 23 challenge: call 3 loved ones on the phone
– week 24 challenge: do something kind for a senior citizen
– week 25 challenge: pay for someone’s public transportation
– week 26 challenge: volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
– week 27 challenge: send a care package to someone in the military
– week 28 challenge: give at least one compliment every day
– week 29 challenge: do a favor for someone else
– week 30 challenge: scatter lucky pennies around a playground
– week 31 challenge: mail an empowering postcard
– week 32 challenge: plant something
– week 33 challenge: donate school supplies
– week 34 challenge: give a sandwich to a homeless person
week 35 challenge: compliment a salesperson to their manager
week 36 challenge: leave positive feedback
week 37 challenge: do a household kindness

why I make my bed every morning

made bed

I’ll be honest: making my bed used to be one of my least favorite chores. The three minutes it took to pull up the sheets, smooth the blankets and fluff the pillows seemed like a waste of time. After all, I would just mess it all up in a matter of hours when I climbed into bed that night. Also my mornings used to be so rushed that I typically wouldn’t even have three minutes to spare to make my bed. {Embarrassing, I know, but it’s the truth!}

This summer, I’ve been focusing on simplifying my life and developing healthy practices that help me slow down and enjoy this beautiful life. I’ve started doing yoga and meditating daily, drinking more smoothies, volunteering at the food pantry, and I’ve even tried out fun new exercise options like zumba!

One of the simplest things I’ve started doing every morning is — you guessed it — making my bed. I’ve realized that far from being a waste of time, it helps set a positive, productive tone for my entire day. Making my bed makes me feel organized and in charge and ready to leap into my day with a smile. Plus, this little guy likes to nap on my neatly made bed, and who could say no to that face??

murray on bed

Waking up a few minutes earlier and having a slower, more relaxed tone to the start of my day has made a world of difference! I feel calmer, more energized, and less frazzled. Making my bed is a big part of my new morning routine!

Do you make your bed every morning? What is your morning routine?

goals & meal-plan for the week of 2/3

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel {wasn’t able to write as much as I hoped on this project this week, but planning to make it more of a priority in the upcoming week!}
  • revise first 3 chapters of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 4 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish grading the next assignment for both classes
  • submit at least 3 pieces to journals or theater companies
  • finish reading Best American Short Stories 2012
  • knit 25 more rows of the scarf I’m working on
  • clean out & organize filing cabinet

And here are my goals for the upcoming week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel
  • revise next 4 chapters of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 5 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish reading & blog about 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess 
  • finish reading & blog about The Secret Keeper
  • finish the scarf I’m working on
  • clean out & organize filing cabinet
  • mail out my Valentines

Finally, here are some recipes I’m planning to make this week:

honey-mustard pretzel chicken
– some sort of fish dish — perhaps tilapia or salmon?
– homemade chicken salad
blackberry muffins
peanut-butter blossom cookies

What are your goals & menu plans for this upcoming week?

the pantry challenge + white chicken chili with corn muffins recipe

Confession: my pantry is a bit of a jumbled mess.

I’ve tried organizing it multiple times, but no matter how I sort through all of the cans, jars and boxes, it always looks messy. I finally realized the problem is that I simply have too much stuff crammed in there! So many cans and boxes and mixes that it’s impossible to even know everything that I have. So when I go to the store, I inevitably buy new cans and jars of stuff that is already buried in the back of my pantry. What a waste!

So, inspired by this post by Jill at the lovely blog Reini Days, I’ve made a resolution to use up all the food in my pantry that I already have. I’m not going quite so hardcore as Jill and her family did — I am still giving myself permission to buy new food and ingredients that I don’t currently have if necessary. But I will make an effort each week when doing my meal-planning to make recipes centered around ingredients that already live in my pantry before I go out and buy new things at the store.

The other night, I got my new pantry challenge off to a great start when I made a big batch of chili! I had friends over for Labor Day dinner and I made two big pots of chili. Look at all the cans & boxes from my pantry that I used in this single night:

Count ’em! That’s eight cans and two boxes for a total of ten items that were languishing in my overstuffed pantry! Perfect way to kick off the challenge I’ve set for myself.

Since I had seven friends over, I made two big pots of chili. In one pot, I made a tomato chili recipe from my mom that I am looking forward to sharing with you in the near future. In the other pot, I made a white chicken chili that was delicious and is perfect for anyone who is sensitive to high-acid foods such as tomatoes or suffers from heartburn because this chili is tomato-free! This is the recipe I’m going to share today. I call it “California-style” because I think it’s best served with sliced avocado on top!

california-style white chicken chili

– 1 package chicken breasts or chicken breast tenderloins
– 1 green bell pepper
– 1 orange or yellow bell pepper
– 1 tsp mixed garlic
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 can white beans {I used organic great northern beans}
– 1 can corn
– 1 package white chili seasoning
– 1/4 cup water
– 1 medium avocado

1. Pour the olive oil and garlic into the bottom of a large pot. Turn heat on low. Dice the bell peppers and pour into the pot. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until pepper begins to soften.

2. While pepper is cooking, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

3. Drain the can of beans and corn and pour both into the pot.

4. Add the chicken, water and white chili spice packet and bring chili to a boil.

5. Turn heat down a little and simmer the chili for 20-30 minutes {or longer if you have the time … the chili gets more and more flavorful the longer you cook it. YUM!}

6. Before serving, top chili with diced avocado if desired.

My friend Xun who came over for dinner absolutely loves cornbread, so I served the chili with corn muffins, which were super easy to make. I just used a Jiffy boxed cornbread mix and poured the batter into muffin tins instead of a bread pan.

jiffy corn muffins

– 1 package jiffy cornbread mix
– 1 small can corn
– 1 egg
– 1/3 cup milk or buttermilk

1. Preheat over to 400 degrees.

2. Combine cornbread mix, egg and milk.

3. Drain can of corn and add to the batter. Mix thoroughly.

4. Pour batter into paper-lined muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Each box of mix yields about six muffins. For our get-together, I used two boxes and doubled the ingredients.

These were fantastic! We had a bit of each kind of chili left-over, but the corn muffins were all gobbled up by the night’s end!

It was a really fun night, and chili is such a relaxing meal to cook — all you really need to do is plop all the ingredients in the pot and let it simmer until you’re ready to eat. Perfect for having people over and wanting to spend your time visiting rather than slaving away in a hot kitchen.

So, does anyone else want to join the challenge with me? I’m excited to update you on my progress as I try out new recipes to clear out my pantry!

Have a great day–
Dallas

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-Time spent: 1 hour {including cook time}
-Cost: about $10 {though I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry already, hooray!}

MPM-Winter
This post is linked up to Menu-Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie!

quick freezer organization

A couple weeks ago I confessed my tendency to hide my messes inside cabinets and behind closed doors. But since starting this blog I have resolved to organize my home — and my life — from the inside-out. With that in mind, I finally summoned the courage to tackle my freezer.

{Cue the horror music …}

Yep, it was bad. Every time I opened the freezer something would come tumbling out. And I had absolutely no idea what I had in the back of the freezer {I knew most of it probably hopelessly freezer-burned by this point.} How much money and food was I wasting with such a disorganized freezer?

It was time to finally tackle this hidden mess and organize my freezer for good.

My first step was taking everything out of the freezer and giving it a good wipe-down with disinfecting spray.

Better already, right?

Then I sorted through all the food, checking expiration dates and freezer burn-edness. I had to toss a lot out.

My last step was simply putting the food that was still good back in the freezer, organized by type: veggies on one side, side dishes in the middle, and meat on the other side.

TA-DA!

Look at all the space! Look how easy it is to find things! I am swooning over here.

And all it took was a little courage, a trash bag and about 15 minutes of my time!

Are there any projects you’ve been scared to tackle, but once you do it’s waaaaay less intimidating than you imagined? I’d love to hear your success stories!

-Dallas

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Time spent: 15 minutes
Cost: nothing

clear out your closet clutter!

In the coming weeks, one of my goals is to get my bedroom closet organized! {I confessed earlier that I am a huge culprit of hiding my messes away behind cabinets and closet doors … like under my kitchen sink}

Here’s a “before” picture:

My first step has been sorting through my clothes, jackets and shoes and clearing out stuff I no longer use or need. My rule: if it’s in season {i.e. summer weather clothes} and I haven’t worn it in three months, it goes in the “donation” box. If I decide after a week or so that I want to keep it, I can keep it — but in my experience, once something gets out of my closet and into the “donation” box, I never miss it.

{If you have clothes in good condition, you could always try selling them on Craigslist, but since most of my clothes would probably only go for a couple bucks I prefer to save time and go the donation route.}

A tried-and-true donation option is your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store. I’ve also rounded up some charities that are looking for specific items that might be waiting right there in your closet for a new purpose:

Blouses, Blazers, Suits, etc:

  • Dress for Success: “The mission of Dress for Success is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”
  • Career Gear: “From its inception in 1999, Career Gear earned a reputation for helping men who are low income enter the workforce by providing business appropriate clothing. The basic offering of a suit was simple, but also powerful. For those men who were improving their work skills and employability, a clean, appropriate suit of clothing was another important tool in finding a job. To date, over 30,000 men have been served through the job readiness program.”

Dresses:

  • DonateMyDress: “The first national campaign designed to encourage girls around the country to donate their prom and special occasion dresses to those who cannot afford them for prom, sweet 16, quinceañera or formals. The site features a directory of local dress drive organizations across the U.S. that will enable girls to easily find out where in their local markets they can donate or receive a dress.”
  • The Fairy Godmother Project: “Help students in the Houston area who cannot afford to purchase a prom dress or tux. Each year we provide hundreds of students in the Houston area with free prom, graduation and Homecoming dresses and tuxedos. We collect donations year-round.”
  • Ever After Gowns: “A Minnesota based 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to supporting Twin Cities-area young women by providing them with new and gently used formal gowns, shoes, and accessories to be worn to their high school prom. Our clients receive all the attire and accessories free of charge. The ‘Ever After Experience’ is not just about getting a free dress, we aim to provide a warm, friendly environment where each guest feels like a princess”

Shoes:

  • Give Running: “Give Running teaches youth, through running, the character traits and skills that serve as a foundation for success in all aspects of life. We share our love for running as well as the many benefits and opportunities running fosters — such as improved health, self-confidence, and new friendships — by collecting, cleaning, and then donating new and used running and athletic shoes to disadvantaged youth in developing countries and local inner-city communities. Together, we can make a world of difference to deserving youth from Los Angeles to Haiti to Africa by giving them a chance to lace ’em up and empowering them to take a step forward — and never stop running!”
  • The Fairy Godmother Project: dress shoes, heels, flats, etc.
  • Dress for Success: dress shoes, heels, flats, etc.

Bras:

  • Free The Girls: “When you donate a bra, you give a former slave a job. It is that simple. We work alongside safe houses around the world that rescue women from sex trafficking and provide rehabilitation services. Your donation helps survivors of human trafficking make a living selling used clothing while they recover and build their new life. We accept gently used bras of all sizes and styles, including athletic bras, nursing bras, and camisoles.”
  • Bras for a Cause: “We have an ongoing bra donation recycle program. We are a distribution center that sends out bras to shelters, breast cancer survivor support groups, charities and others all over the world all year long. Now you can recycle and find a home for your bras. No matter the size, type or condition we can find a place for them.”
  • The Bra Recyclers: “We are a textile recycling company focused on doing our part to recycle and reuse bras (textiles) that unnecessarily go to landfills. We have created and support a network of Bra Recycling Ambassadors who assist us in providing deserving women with used or unused bras as they transition back to self-sufficiency.”

Clearing out your closet clutter AND helping others? Doesn’t get much better than that!

Do you know of any charities that should be added to the list? Please let me know! Happy organizing!

-Dallas