Thankful For So Much... Including An Organized Home

In 2017, the Thomas fire came within inches of my parents’ home. 

My grandparents built the house in 1972, and my parents bought it from them in 2000 and remodeled it as their forever home. So, I didn’t grow up there, but for my entire life it has =been a beloved place to be with family and celebrate holidays.

 Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

That whole fall was a wild ride. In an unrelated but unfortunately timed water based incident, the bottom floor of the house flooded and my parents had to move everything upstairs so that reconstruction could begin. Then, the fire came, and they packed up what they could fit in their cars and evacuated. Then came the mudslides, and there was no access to the house for weeks. When the roads were cleared, the house stood in a sea of burned landscaping and melted pool equipment, full of sooty walls and smoke-damaged furniture and clothing.

There are so many ways in which I’m thankful, beyond words and with some significant amount of survivors’ guilt. Of course, that my parents were safe the entire time. That our home was still intact, while so many people we know and love lost everything. That our family has the resources to rebuild. That amazing firefighters came from so far away to work so hard to defend our neighborhood (shout out and huge thanks to the Moraga Fire Department http://www.mofd.org/!). That the Montecito community came together to take care of its own.

 This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

And I’m thankful that my dad is the most organized person I know. Because I am here to tell you, when then entire contents of a home have been relocated within it AND packed up for evacuation AND packed up again for post-disaster cleaning, you are really and truly glad from the bottom of your soul that every object has a designated location.

When I went to Santa Barbara to help my parents move back into the house, the three of us unpacked for three straight days. I did not take a picture of the pile of boxes that was delivered to the driveway, which was a big miss, but suffice it to say it was truly heroic. And yet, by the time I came back to San Francisco you would never have known anything had ever happened.

If my parents hadn’t had such an organized home in the first place, it would have taken us three times as long with three times as much frustration… maybe more!

I fervently wish that none of you reading this ever have to evacuate due to natural disaster, let alone lose your home. But based on my experience, I would heartily recommend getting your home organized and inventoried (might I suggest pictures of the insides of cabinets? Those would have helped even more!) as part of your personal emergency plan.

So, in this week of Thanksgiving, when so many people have just lost their homes and loved ones, and even the air around me is choking thick, all I can do is be thankful for everything that I have and try to give back to the people who need it. To help the victims of the Camp Fire, please consider donating here:

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m thankful for you!

LMW

Reconnecting With A Beloved Home Organizing Client

Over two years ago, I worked with a wonderful woman to organize the closets in her home. We bonded over our mutual love of dogs (although her pup remained confused about whether I was as asset or a threat!) and travel, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with her.

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I give every client the same level of respect, service, and expertise, but I’m only human and there are some I connect with more deeply than others. And because I spend a significant number of hours working with people and their stuff in their private spaces, I often get to know them more than either of us might realize. So, sometimes it feels a bit jarring to finish an organizing job and walk away from what seems in many ways like a friendship!

So, I was thrilled when this very same client contacted me again just a few weeks ago. She told me she had continued to be very happy with the organizing work I did, which of course was extremely gratifying! But she also told me that, due to various events in her life, her needs had changed. She wanted to rethink the organization of her closets and align them with her new priorities.

This presented me with a dream job: working with someone I already know and like, who respects and trusts my work, to refine a space even more specifically for her needs. As I always tell my clients, the better I know them and their space, the better my work. I come to understand their patterns and preferences, and come up with creative and attractive solutions that will function well for them.

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I was also able to offer my repeat client this stellar experience quickly! In general, organizing cannot and should not be rushed. In order to properly unravel a disorganized space, decode how it got that way, and construct new systems that will work for the people who live there, it just takes time. However, if I’ve already worked with someone, I have pretty encyclopedic knowledge of their space and belongings. So, I’m able to do a job in half the time it might take me to do the same work with a new client!

This job also inspired me to start thinking about how I might continue to provide my clients with support in their organized spaces over time. After all, I might not be the only one who feels a bit bereft when a job is done! And even more importantly, other clients might not be as pro-active to reach out to me when their needs and priorities change. 

So, watch this space for updates on that front over the coming weeks!

LMW

Don't Buy Random Crap for Your Loved Ones

You’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, right? If not, the basic premise is that people tend to prefer to give and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. Once you and your loved ones figure out your individual love languages, it can help you show love to each other more effectively. In fact, if you’re not sure what you prefer, there’s an online quiz you can take to find out!

Recently, I’ve watched my clients struggle with the gift giving love language. Specifically, they have family that lives very far away and misses them very much, and shows their love by sending them inexpensive gifts regularly. While I haven’t met the gift givers in person, it’s clear to me that these gifts are sent out of an abundance of love, with absolutely no ill intent.

However, there are serious side effects to a regular gift giving routine.

  1. Those gifts add up fast. In thinking of one client in particular, her mom likes to send her costume jewelry, cloth bags, cute glasses and dishware, and general tchotchkes. My client, like many of us here in San Francisco, lives with her boyfriend in a one bedroom apartment. It’s plenty of space for them and their cats, but there just isn’t enough storage to accommodate the constant inflow of gifts. 
  2. Those gifts cause serious guilt. My clients tell me that they don’t want to donate these gifts because they know that if the giver found out, they would be hurt. The gifts, in effect, become an emotional burden and an extension of the guilt my clients already feel over living so far away from their loved ones.
  3. Those gifts can cause relationship strife. I have a couple of clients who deal with continuous gift giving from both of their moms. They are each uncomfortable with dealing with so much stuff from their own mothers, but end up taking that frustration out on each other and the other’s mom. While this is so common for all of us as humans - we redirect anger at a person we can’t confront to the people who see us every day - it’s completely avoidable in this case.
 This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

People whose love language is gift giving (and I am one of them, so I know of what I speak!) sometimes struggle with the idea that a gift could be a bad thing, and they often don’t know how to communicate their love in other ways that feel just as effective. So, I have a few suggestions!

  1. Take a picture of the cute tchotchke, send it to your loved one, and tell them why it made you think of them. How fun is a random loving message in the middle of the day? You get all the benefits of gift giving, like reminding someone that you love them and showing that you understand what’s special about them, without any of the downside. This also gives you the opportunity to see whether or not your loved one actually wants that item! If they text back “hahaha, love that, I miss you too!” then the thought was enough. But a text that says “OMG I need this!” means you have the green light to send a gift!
  2. Give experiences rather than objects. This is something my family has wholeheartedly embraced as part of our gift giving tradition and we all absolutely love it.  You get the gift giving experience - opening something, the surprise, the feeling of being special to the giver - and then you get to extend it by talking about the upcoming event, planning for it, then doing it and reminiscing about it after the fact. My sister gave me a trip to Jackson Hole for Christmas a couple years ago and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!
  3. Direct your gift giving energy to people who are in need. Every holiday season, my husband and I adopt a family through Compass Family Services, and take great joy in making their Christmas magical. I love giving to friends and family, but it's even more rewarding to give to people who truly need and appreciate the gifts.
  4. Save your gift giving effort (and budget) for select occasions. Often, people send many cheaper gifts because they feel that the number of gift giving occasions should be maximized but they don’t have the funds to purchase high quality gifts that often. When it comes to gifts, like many other things in life, I recommend going for quality over quantity. Two high quality, beautiful gifts per year will give your loved one all the surprise and delight you crave, and because you have the extra time and money to spend on selecting it, chances are much higher that they will use and love the gift.
  5. When in doubt, just pick up the phone and say “I love you.” Because that’s what we’re all really trying to do with gift giving, right?
 This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

I, personally, will never stop loving the process of opening a present that someone has selected just for me, and then watching them open something I know they’re going to love. But I love it even more when it’s a truly special moment and not just a regular thing.

LMW

Organizing A... Marriage?

One of my major pet peeves is when people say that a marriage or long term relationship is “hard work.” This declaration is usually made by a married person to an unmarried person with widened eyes and a serious tone, and carries the mental weight of a thousand marital spats.

It’s not that I think that long term relationships are easy. In fact, I find it pretty obvious that when people coast along in relationships and don’t put any energy into maintaining them, bad things happen. And, uh, I’ve certainly had my share of marital spats!

It’s just that the phrase “hard work” seems so unjustly onerous. To me, a relationship is like a lot of other things in life: you get out what you put in. So, if you pay attention to your relationship and your partner, and put in effort at maintaining it, you won’t put yourself in a position where you need to dig yourself out of a deep hole with “hard work.”

Still, it’s not as though maintaining a great relationship is easy or effortless. It does require a plan, and follow through on that plan. Which means that, just like most other things in life, relationships require some organization! There are as many ways to organize a relationship as there are people on the planet, but my husband and I have found a process that works for us: we set and review our goals once a year.

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Like all the good things in life, the process of goal setting is as important and rewarding as the outcome. So, to make the process feel special, we carve out a specific time in a specific place each year. Said time and place is during our anniversary getaway and usually involves martinis, to be honest.

To get down to the nitty gritty, we have a shared Evernote notebook with a note for each category: things like health, philanthropy, finances, travel, work, and family. We go through each category one by one and review each item within the category. Sometimes we get to congratulate ourselves on a goal accomplished, sometimes we have to re-evaluate a goal or the timing thereof, and sometimes we add more plans for the future. The process reminds us of the things that are important to us - and at the same time reveals the things we’ve been dealing with that are just distractions.

Still, the thing I find most fun about our goal setting sessions is that it puts me right back into that feeling of discovery and possibility that we had at the beginning of our relationship when we were first getting to know each other. You know that time: when you’re starting to share your hopes and dreams for the future, and you get unbelievably excited when you find out that you have some of said hopes and dreams in common. You’re madly in love and the future feels limitless, no matter how cheesy that sounds.

Yes, I realize this seems somewhat implausible: a regular, systematic process of creating and benchmarking against goals sparks a romantic renaissance. But it’s true! I always leave the conversation feeling renewed, connected, and excited about the future.

Organizing: it can be for your long term relationship too!

LMW

My Most Difficult Organizing Job

Last week, I was explaining my work to someone, and they asked me a question I actually had never been asked before. They wanted to know what had been my most difficult job, and why.

I have been so fortunate to have absolutely wonderful clients over the past few years. There really have not been any horror stories - my clients have listened to me, trusted me, and been honest with me. I value the relationship I have with each client, and remain incredibly grateful they have allowed me into their lives to help them.

That said, one job does come to mind. The client wanted me to help unpack following a move - which is a great time to get organized! However, this person was also absolutely unwilling to consider changing any habits or getting rid of any items at all whatsoever. This person believed that I could wield some sort of organizer magic to make the stuff they owned take up less space and look prettier, without requiring them to put in any effort to change.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not what it’s about. I do not wave a magic wand, and I do not do cosmetic fixes. I create an organizing system that works for each of my individual clients, and then I make it look beautiful. People come to me because they realize that their space is not working for them, and I do my very best work when they are willing to undertake change.

Plus, when you come right down to it, organizing and storage are limited by the rules of physics. There is nothing I can do to make a certain number of shirts suddenly take up less physical space. I cannot bend the space-time continuum! This is why I always tell people that organizing is not about the storage, it is first and foremost about the stuff.

So there you have it: my most difficult organizing job. And if that’s all I’ve had to deal with, then I count myself very lucky indeed!

LMW

How to Revive Your Old Jeans

I’ve talked before about the joy of wearing things out. It almost feels like an accomplishment: you selected the perfect thing and used it up completely.

But there’s another joy to be found in keeping high quality things for a long time: repairing them before you even get to that point! I’m a regular at the shoe repair place near my first San Francisco apartment to this day, and I have my favorite tailor out of a teeny little dry cleaner in that same neighborhood.

Sometimes, though, things go beyond the ability of a tailor to bring your pieces back to life. For example: when that pair of premium denim develops a hole it wasn’t supposed to have, you don’t just want to slap a patch on it, you want it to continue to look good. Enter Denim Therapy.

 My much loved jeans, pretty much good as new!

My much loved jeans, pretty much good as new!

I believe I first heard of them through a 00’s newsletter like Daily Candy way back when, before places like Poshmark and The RealReal had normalized sending clothing, shoes, and accessories back and forth across the country. I tried the service then and was very pleased, and based on my recent experience I can confidently say that Denim Therapy continues to offer high quality denim repair.

Here’s how it works. You go to the Denim Therapy website and fill out a simple form for each pair of jeans you want the to fix. Box up your jeans (clean, please!), send them in, and within a week or so you’ll get an estimate for the repair via email. Once you accept, they will perform the repair and mail your jeans back to you. Or, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Brooklyn, you can do all of the above in person!

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Sending your wounded jeans to Denim Therapy for repair is not particularly cheap and it’s not particularly fast, but the process is really easy and the quality of the work speaks for itself. I just got back my favorite pair of 5 year old Alexa Chung x AG skinnies with distressed knees last week, and unless you get super up close and personal with my butt, you’ll never know they’d been repaired. Denim Therapy matches the color and texture of the fabric really well, and the work holds up over time.

 There's a repair in each picture.

There's a repair in each picture.

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Honestly, I’m just super glad Denim Therapy is still in business and providing high quality service after all these years! I got to keep wearing a pair of jeans I truly love, prevented them from going into a landfill, and saved the money I would have paid to replace them. 

What other ways do you repair and/or repurpose your things so that you can keep using and loving them?

LMW

Organizing a Kick-*ss Bachelorette Party

Last month, my best college girls and I were draped over the furniture in a hotel suite in Austin, primping, drinking champagne, and roasting each other about our considerably more messy college selves.

At one point, one of the girls asked the room at large, “Did anyone think Lucy would be the responsible one planning all our bachelorette parties??”

The answer was a resounding “NO!” and gales of laughter!

You guys, they’re not wrong. I have, ahem, grown up a lot over the last fifteen or so years. I still put my foot in my mouth more often than I would like, but I have learned through trial and error how to manage some of the more important things in life.

One of those things is being there for your nearest and dearest at the most important times in their lives. I’m now in the middle of maid of honor duties for the third time, and was also delegated the bachelorette party planning role when I was a regular bridesmaid in a fourth wedding. It's a serious honor (and responsibility) to be in charge of this kind of occasion, and can be stressful because bachelorette parties get wrapped up in the whole wedding industrial complex.

And as with all things wedding industrial complex, there are a ton of tips on the internet about how to throw a bachelorette party. So instead, I wanted to share with you the less obvious ways you can make the event a source of treasured memories instead of drama.

1) Your bride is all that matters.

Ask her what she wants, and LISTEN. One of my best friends wanted a night out on the town with pink and sparkles, another a chance to relax somewhere quiet for a weekend. Just as there are a million types of weddings, there are a million types of bachelorette parties. Resist the temptation to copy curated parties on Pinterest and instead plan something that truly fits your dear friend.

 This is the more, ahem, photogenic part of the bachelorette stash.

This is the more, ahem, photogenic part of the bachelorette stash.

This goes double for bachelorette… paraphernalia. I have a stash of funny stuff I bring to each party, but every bride should be able to decide for herself exactly how much attention she wants to attract and how risqué she wants to be. I have pictures of one girl carrying a large inflatable “item” into a restaurant, and another didn’t wear her sash or beads outside the hotel room. If it’s all in the name of fun, then it doesn’t matter!

2) Be very transparent about costs with the guests - and don't bother your bride.

This means involving all the guests in the planning process before you make reservations so that you can make sure everyone is comfortable. It also means that if you find the budget too restrictive for your party goals, your only option is to cover the balance yourself and do so quietly and graciously. No bride wants to feel like she's causing her best friends stress and anguish! On more than one occasion, I have used my own airline miles to make sure a treasured member of the wedding party can make it to a destination bachelorette. I’ve also covered activities the bride was stoked about but others wouldn’t have chosen on their own. 

If you can swing it, I also recommend putting everything on one person’s credit card and privately giving each guest a clean total after the party is over. When you remove the feeling of nickel and dime-ing during the party itself, you make the whole thing feel more seamless. This may mean extra work on your end, but it’s worth it. 

3) Restrict your geographic area during the party.

When doing a destination bachelorette, I either like to keep all activities on property or within walking/short Uber distance. The reason? A weekend is actually very limited time to spend with people you may not see very often, and what you really want to focus on is maximizing the quality time you all spend together. Of each bachelorette party I’ve planned, some of the most memorable time has been when we’re all getting ready together in a hotel room, or just chilling out by a pool. Time spent in transit, and all the stress that causes, just saps the energy from your good time.

4) Give your schedule plenty of breathing room.

For a weekend bachelorette, I like to have dinner reservations for both nights, a general post-dinner plan for Friday night and definitive reservations for Saturday night, and one daytime activity on Saturday. Anything more, and you’re going to be forcing crabby, hungover girls to get up too early or stressing everyone out with trying to get to too many appointments. No, you may not be able to hit that Instagram star brunch spot if you don’t plan ahead, but again, this party is all about quality time. Grab some brunch from a food truck or counter service cafe, and enjoy your morning together!

 Vegas ready in spring 2010!

Vegas ready in spring 2010!

I’ll confess that for my own bachelorette party, way back in 2010, I wanted the whole Vegas shebang. I remain incredibly grateful that all my best girls gamely rolled out in their sparkly best, treated me to a fancy dinner and night out, and generally made me feel like the star of the show. I'm so lucky that they indulged me, and that we're all still close to this day!

LMW

On Long Term Love

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a relationship expert. I’m a professional organizer, which means I’m much more qualified to tell how to store your sweater collection than how to recognize true love.

What I can tell you is that I’m lucky enough to be living in a truly fulfilling marriage, one that just turned eight years old today. I can also tell you that the first indication that I’d found the love of my life was so simple that at the time I didn’t think much of it.  

It’s ridiculously simple, in fact: when I told friends and family about my relationship, the phrase “it just works” came out of my mouth.

From the first time I hung out with my husband, he fit into my life. There was no worrying over whether or not he liked me, no strategizing over how to get him to commit, no counting of pros and cons.  I had spent my high school and college years striving and searching and pining for love, and then when I met my husband, it felt like, “Oh, there you are. That wasn’t so hard.”  It. Just. Worked.

Nearly thirteen years after we first met, we are still just two ordinary people who were lucky enough to find each other and smart enough to hang on to each other. No Great American Novel will be written about our love... and if you grew up obsessed with the great literary love stories, as I did, the sheer normalcy of a real, lasting love may at first feel like something of a come down.

 Photo courtesy of  Timothy Teague Photography

Photo courtesy of Timothy Teague Photography

But I promise you: the love that just works is worth everything.  It will give you new depths to find in yourself where you least expect them, challenge you to be your best even when life is monotonous, teach you how to give more to another person than you thought you ever had in the first place, and give you a bedrock of security from which to conquer the world in your own way.

Thank you, AVW, for all of it.

LMW

One Small Taste of Success

My sister and I are close. Not physically - although we live in the same city, we often go days or weeks without seeing each other or talking on the phone. But emotionally, very much so - we’re really open with each other about everything from gossip to family conflict. We HATED each other as children (something something sibling rivalry something), but a switch flipped some time in high school, and I’ve been proud to call her one of my very best friends ever since

All this to say: we were chatting the other day, while my not quite two year old niece tried on all my costume jewelry and harassed the dog, and got to talking about work. She’s a bigwig at a financial services startup, a relatively recent promotion for her, and has been on fire about it since the day she got the gig. She has always been incredibly smart (much more so than I) and the kind of dedicated, hardworking employee anyone would want to have, but this is a whole new level of passion that I’ve never seen before.

Except… I kind of have. In myself.

When I started LMW Edits, I knew that it would be fun and a challenge, but I didn’t know if it would really work as a going concern and I had pretty minimal goals.  I wanted to have a full roster of clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, and serve them well.  That was it!

 Where the work gets done.

Where the work gets done.

For the first three years, I worked towards this relatively modest goal. I loved the work and I loved my clients, but I didn’t feel an inner drive to make my business my life. I still treated it as a job, relishing my time off and feeling a little big of a drag on Sunday nights as I faced the work week.

And then, last year, I started to see a shift. It started with the local conference put on by the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) SF Bay Area Chapter, where I saw Debbie Hoffman speak. Debbie is a former Wall Street rock star who shifted her focus to coaching small business owners on the finer points of follow up. I really connected with what she was saying, scheduled a consultation with her the next week, and signed right up for her one on one coaching program.

 Getting out there on behalf of my business!

Getting out there on behalf of my business!

As I started to work with Debbie, two things happened. First, I began to see more success: more clients coming in, more interest in my blog, and yes, more revenue in my bank account. Second, I began to dream bigger. The experience of working with so many varied and wonderful clients had started to give me the confidence to express my views on all things organizing related (as many of you have seen here on the blog), and I began to think about how to connect to a larger audience.

LMW Edits is still very much a work in progress, but I’m more passionate about my business and its potential than ever before. I have lots of projects in the pipeline, think about my business constantly, and work more hours than I ever thought I had the capacity to work. And this is all organic and intrinsically motivated - no one is standing over me telling me what to do, I’m just so fired and up and inspired that I absolutely have to get it all done. And all it took was reaching out to someone who inspired me and getting that first small taste of success!

LMW

Bullet Journaling: Helpful or Hype?

Our culture is currently obsessed with productivity and saving time. This makes sense: as a whole, we’re wealthier than we’ve ever been and we can buy almost everything we need… except time.

This explains the popularity of the bullet journal: a custom made planner that you design specifically for your needs. Some people use it as a calendar, some as a to-do list, some as a goal setting tool, and many people use it for multiple purposes. There’s serious power there in being able to plan things that are important to you so that you minimize the time it takes to deal with them.

And yet, the focus of bullet journaling seems to have shifted away from pure productivity and toward making the journal itself as Instagrammable as possible. Just look at Pinterest: there are so many photos of beautiful bullet journal layouts that must have taken hours. To me, this is kind of like the “pretty box and label” problem - the intention is great, but many people get caught up in the aesthetic details and waste more time than they save.

 Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

This is why I initially rejected the bullet journal. Of course, it’s great to have a creative outlet, and if you personally derive a lot of intrinsic value from the process of beautifying your bullet journal, that’s great. However, there is a lot of hand wringing online by potential bullet journalers who don’t take it up because they feel that their artistic skills are inadequate. Talk about missing the point! A bullet journal is intended to help you be productive in whatever way works for you, and literally no other human ever has to see it.

I also can’t help but notice that beautiful bullet journals are pushed towards a female audience. All the gorgeous layouts you’ll see online have lovely looping handwriting, pretty patterns and colors, and other hallmarks of feminine stereotypes. And that just frustrates me, because the last thing we need in this world is one more image-based activity for women to worry about and waste time on!

Still, I have both work and personal goals that I always think about but never quite do. So, I gave the bullet journal strategy a shot.  Here’s how I do it.

 Notebook from Kate Spade New York

Notebook from Kate Spade New York

I use my bullet journal to to two things: track habits I want to acquire, and create mini to-do lists and time planning for each work day. I use a notebook a dear friend got me as a gift and one color of ink. I do no decorations and I use my normal handwriting. I simply lay out the habit chart for each week, and then write the next day’s activities each evening on the following page. it takes maybe two minutes.

 Yes, my hand is strategically placed, why do you ask?

Yes, my hand is strategically placed, why do you ask?

And you know what blows my mind? That grid of tiny little check marks adding up as the week progresses WORKS. I get so much innate satisfaction out of checking everything off that I think ahead throughout my day about when I’m going to fit in my desired activities. On the flip side, the things I habitually forget to do or avoid really bug me, so much so that I am motivated to change my schedule for the coming days.

The grid also helps me work towards a larger achievement of permanent habit change. I’ve decided that if I do something every day for two weeks straight, I can consider that habit acquired and move it off my checklist. So far, nothing has quite made the cut - but I’m getting closer, and that’s extremely motivating!

So, as with many things in the organizing and productivity space, I wholeheartedly agree with the strategy while remaining frustrated at the inordinate focus people place on the aesthetic.

Have you tried bullet journaling? How did it go?

LMW