How I Picked My Wedding Venue

“Been there done that.”

That is how I felt about pretty much every venue I looked at (online) when Stephen and I began the wedding planning process after we got engaged. As a long-time wedding lover, I truly had seen a lot of the venues. Between friends, hours spent on Pinterest and StyleMePretty and an unhealthy obsession of watching strangers’ wedding videos on YouTube, I felt like I’d seen every style of venue, even if not the exact one I was Googling. I really wanted something different and unique that could be decorated to really articulate Stephen’s and my story and style.

My aesthetic wish list was:

  • Modern and neutral (I did not want any bold colors built into the venue, nothing rustic or bohemian; modern without being extremely industrial)
  • Indoor/Outdoor space (Once we decided on California, which has year-round excellent weather, I wanted to find a space where we could be outdoors for cocktail hour)
  • Natural light (I am happiest with sunshine, so I wanted a space with lots of natural light and as many windows as possible)
  • A “blank slate” (I have a specific vision and I wanted a venue that I could really transform, rather than a venue where it already has its own look and feel)

We also had a few specific logistical requirements when it came to choosing a venue that narrowed the search pretty drastically. This was something that was additionally tricky because while our families have left the aesthetics, theme and décor up to us, they did have input on logistics.

Logistic Needs:

  • Budget (We have a decent sized budget, but y’all – venues get PRICEY.)
  • Guest count (You’d be surprised at how many venues get ruled out even with 100 guests)
  • Location (I’m from Colorado, Stephen is from Oklahoma and most of my friends/extended family are in California. More on this later.)

There were truthfully some moments where I felt convinced that we wouldn’t be able to find a venue that made everyone happy. But we actually did book our venue this past week, deposit and all, and it truly does feel like it hits all of our logistical needs as well as the general vibe I wanted. How we got there is outlined below:

Take Wedding Style Quizzes

This may sound silly, but even though I had a picture in my head of what I wanted, I wasn’t entirely sure how to communicate it. The Knot and many other wedding websites have built-in quizzes you can take that ask you to choose photos that capture what you like and then they ascribe words at the end to verbalize what you’re gravitating toward. This is hugely helpful when trying to communicate with family members, planners or venue owners.

Talk to Family about Dealbreakers

Stephen and I are lucky that neither of our families have super strong opinions about the wedding. However, that didn’t mean there weren’t some asks. Location was the hardest part for us. Stephen is from Oklahoma City and I’m from Boulder, Colorado. But we met in LA and that is where most of my friends are. I also have extended family all along the coast of California, including a 97 year old grandpa in San Jose. We looked all over California, Colorado and Oklahoma.

First ruled out was Colorado. I wasn’t seeing any venues that fit my style and though I do have family here, 90% of our guest list would still have to travel.

We didn’t originally put a lot of thought into Oklahoma, but we found a cool venue there that hit the aesthetic we liked. However, it was small (75 guests max) which was hard to narrow down to because of the size of my extended family. My parents also really wanted our wedding to be in a location that was easy to fly to without connecting flights.

We had hesitated on LA venues, because they are notoriously expensive and hard to book, but eventually started looking there. LA had a lot more options that fit the aesthetic I liked and with extra research there were affordable options. It is also where the majority of my friends are and had a huge advantage that my aunt and uncle could drive my grandfather down from San Jose, since he isn’t really supposed to fly anymore.

Google Outside the Box

Once you are armed with descriptive words and phrases of what you’re looking for, Google becomes your best friend. The reality is when it comes to venue searching, Pinterest is pretty useless. There were so many beautiful venues I saw on Pinterest and became enamored with, only to realize they were in Arkansas or Texas – both states we were in no way considering. I also found some of the sites specifically dedicated to wedding venues to actually be somewhat restricting. I felt like I was getting the same results over and over, none of which I liked.

If you’re like me and really want a venue that feels fresh and new, I recommend looking for lists of “new venues in (desired city).” So many new venues pop up every year! Also a huge benefit here is that if you find a venue early on before it is the next big thing, you can often get a discount. When we found our venue it was half the cost of a similar one that was more established. I asked the venue manager why it was so much more affordable – expecting a huge catch. She explained that since this is their first year open it’s an entry level rate. In future years she expects the price to double.

I also didn’t always include “wedding” in my venue searches. There are some venues that are not just for weddings – they also host corporate events, brand events, etc. – and if you don’t have a huge group of people it can work out quite well.

Visit In-Person and Ask LOTS of Questions

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I almost signed on the dotted line for a venue that would have been a total disaster. I had been searching online and found one I thought was perfect based on the photos. (Instagram is a liar.) The venue actually insisted I see it in person first, thank God. My mom and I (with every precaution you can think of) went out to LA to see that venue and one other “backup” option. The first venue was 2x as expensive, but I though it would be worth it.

We got to the venue and there were several deal breakers I wouldn’t have predicted. Their outdoor ceremony site, though beautiful, was on a busy street in the middle of LA. I directly asked the venue manager how they dealt with it in the past, and her answer was less than satisfactory and came off as more of trying to deny it was an issue. (Meanwhile semi-trucks rumbled by and horns blared.) Their parking lot was tiny and even though they owned it, we would have to pay for any cars that wanted to park there. The venue had far less natural light than the picture implied.

Leaving the venue, my mom and I felt it wasn’t the right fit at all, much less for the price. We went to the next venue, originally thought of as a “back-up” and it was an entirely different experience. Instagram didn’t do this venue justice! It was secluded in a quiet area with a beautiful fence around the perimeter that made it feel very private. The property was beautiful and also included a lot of “extras” not all venues have, like chairs, tables, linens, etc. But the stand-out to me for the venue was the property manager.

I have worked in events a lot through my career, so I think of every detail that could go wrong when I look at venues. The property manager anticipated every question I had, often speaking to it before I could even ask. Every question or concern I had she answered honestly and a lot of it was already in-progress to be solved. She was professional, organized and extremely well-versed in weddings. The venue was amazing, but I also felt comfortable putting down a deposit because our point of contact was reliable and communicative.

Take a Moment to Really Think It Through

My mom and I were definitely very enamored with the venue immediately, but the property manager told us to take our time to talk and decide. We were able to discuss privately and discuss all the aspects of why the venue would or wouldn’t work. It also allowed us to have more detailed conversation about the size of the guest list, catering options and date/time. We were able to think everything through – which is important if your contract details guest count, timeline and food (which mine did.)

Get Excited!

When my mom and I drove away, she looked at me and said, “Wow you’re really getting married!” I had already been engaged for three months at that point, but seeing the venue in-person made the whole process so much more real for me and my mom. It was a relief to feel like such a big aspect of the planning was decided and allowed us to get excited about the details.

What were aspects you considered or would consider when picking a wedding venue?

A Small Stand Against My Own Vanity

I wore high heels in high school.

When you read that, do not think of movies like Mean Girls where that implies I was popular or an “it girl” in any way. I was a complete and total nerd in high school; I was an IB Diploma student and the only time I called out sick from school was if I wanted to study extra. Some smart kids were cool, to be fair. But I was so uncool that when people asked me in college if I partied in high school, I told them there weren’t parties at all at my 2,000 person public school. I was, in fact, such a nerd that not only was I not invited to parties, I literally didn’t know they existed.

Back to the high heels. I wasn’t cool, but I loved fashion. I loved watching YouTube videos for new ways to style my hair and researching runway trends online to attempt mimicking from Urban Outfitters or Nordstrom in my Colorado town. This stemmed from self-expression and desperately wanting to escape my granola hometown, but I think it was also a form of self-defense. If I always looked put together and beautiful on the outside, it would protect me from revealing my deep insecurity and exempt me from judgement.

Ten years later, I can now say confidently that no matter what you wear, people will judge you. There is absolutely no way to escape being judged one way or another. I don’t show up to things absurdly overdressed anymore and rid my closet of six inch heels a long time ago. But years of consciously making decisions through the lens of others’ perceptions still takes a toll on my subconscious motivations today.

That underlying concern about how other people will think of me based on appearance is why I avoid repeating outfits more than twice a month, go on a shopping spree if I have a big event coming up and internally tally which items get compliments and which go unnoticed. I wish that vanity wasn’t a part of my internal makeup, but I also have grace for myself. Punishing ourselves for our insecurities and how we cope with them simply doesn’t help.

There are a million different aspects of my personality, experiences growing up, the media and society at large that I could dive into as to why it’s something I am so cognoscente of. But instead of lamenting over why I am how I am or beating myself up over it, I’m just trying to be aware. I aim to notice those behaviors so I can look at what’s lying underneath. My goal is to gently remind myself of what is true, free myself from needing to play defense and instead walk in confidence and kindness. I admit those are lofty goals, but it works better than berating myself every time.

Building a capsule closet feels like taking a small stand against insecurity and vanity. Instead of building up my defense with piles of clothes, I’m working towards honesty and vulnerability. I took my first step towards a minimal wardrobe, less decision fatigue and letting go of my go-to defense by taking an inventory of my closet as it currently stands.

I will note, I was shocked at how much stuff I have. I knew I had a decent amount of clothes, but compared to a lot of capsule closets that land around 40 pieces in total, I have a long way to go.

CLOSET

  • 13 casual dresses (4 summer, 9 fall/winter)
  • 20 tops
  • 6 jackets/vests
  • 7 skirts/dress pants
  • 16 occasion dresses (I was in a sorority, ok!)
  • 5 jeans
  • 5 shorts
  • 4 short skirts
  • 6 sweaters
  • 5 sweatshirts

DRESSER

  • 13 leggings
  • 2 athletic shorts
  • 21 athletic tops
  • 33 casual tops
  • 8 pajama bottoms
  • 10 pajama tops (some closets don’t count pajamas, but I have too many so I’m including)

SHOES

  • 2 stiletto’s
  • 2 wedge/espadrille
  • 2 heeled booties
  • 3 sandals/flats
  • 1 flip flops
  • 3 casual sneakers
  • 1 athletic sneakers
  • 1 winter boots

GRAND TOTAL: 174 items of clothing, 15 pairs of shoes

Note: I’m not including outerwear, intimates, socks or swimsuits. I probably should clean out my swimsuit collection, but I miss the beach so that’s for a later time.

I have not yet decided what my goal is for number of items… but safe to say it’s significantly less than my current count.

What are ways you try to be kind to yourself?

How Covid Made Us Creative for Christmas

I am one of those people who counts down the hours until November 1st hits, at which point I immediately queue up my Spotify “Christmas!!!” playlist, complete with all the classics. I love Christmas.

While my faith in Jesus is important to me, that actually isn’t why I’m so obsessed with the holiday. Christmas has always been the pinnacle of my family calendar since before I was born. Both my mom and dad have sizeable families with lots of traditions. We were fortunate growing up that my two sets of grandparents lived a mere 40 minutes away from each other in Palos Verdes and Orange County, so we could spend every holiday with both sides of our family.

Our extended family feels just as close as immediate family, so I’ve actually never spent a holiday with just my parents and siblings. The only year we got close was when my mom was in her third trimester of pregnancy with my brother, but even then we had family fly out to be with us in Colorado. Family is probably the biggest value my family has, (being competitive in nature is a runner up), and we make every effort to be together as much as possible, regardless of where in the country we all live.

As I’m sure many are experiencing, this year is different. With our family spread out between New York, Texas, northern and southern California, and Colorado and the limitations around travel as Covid cases are spiking, we won’t be spending this holiday together. My paternal grandfather (we call him Dziadzio in Polish) is 97 and lives in a retirement home with the most vulnerable people in the pandemic and other members of my family have concerns around their health as well.

This year will look undeniably different. Stephen and I will just be celebrating with my immediate family on December 25th. It will be in Colorado, not California. There will likely be measures around safety measures for public health that we’ll be observing.

My mom and I spoke about Christmas this year and how we admittedly felt a bit blue about a Christmas so different than what we were used to looking forward to. But we decided to look at this year’s break from tradition as an opportunity rather than a disappointment. While we love the traditions our family holds tightly to, this would be a unique chance to do something totally different. We will go back to our usual traditions next year – mainly consisting of Polish ones that delight my Dziadzio. But this year, we’re brainstorming unique ways to celebrate that are both Covid-safe and bring us the holiday cheer we’re craving.

Below I’ve listed some of our ideas. Comment what your family/loved ones have come up with for your celebrations come December.

Cioth Family Carol Competition

There is nothing my family loves more than competition – especially on my dad’s side. We often joke that being competitive is a genetic trait of ours. For many years we had a pierogi eating competition every Christmas Eve. (The author of this post is the cousin record-holder at 17 pierogis at age 12.)

One of our annual traditions is singing Polish Christmas carols, which we learned at a young age and have been grilled on our pronunciation of ever since. For this year, since we won’t be able to sing them together for Dziadzio, I’ve suggested a carol competition. We’ll have each family sing a traditional Polish carol – which they will then sing again with made up lyrics that sound like the Polish words. We’ll all send each other the videos for a good laugh and a way to feel together, even when we aren’t.

This stems from a joke my Uncle Adam, Aunt Beth and cousins Talia and Peter came up with years ago. They took the carol “Pójdzmy Wszyscy Do Stajenki” (roughly translating as Let Us Go to the Stable) and re-wrote the lyrics as “Push the fish sticks down the staircase” which is a loose and laughable comparison to how the words are pronounced. They took each line and picked hilarious lyrics to remind them of how the words were pronounced.

While I know most people don’t sing Polish carols or make up lyrics about fish sticks, I would assume this could be applied to other traditions.

Dinner Divvy Up

For dinner my family typically eats a multi-course Polish feast on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day we typically eat something my insanely talented Aunt Heidi whips up. This year I foresaw the cooking falling all on my mom, but now that her four children are all above the age of 18 and able to cook, I thought we could mix things up in a way that relieves pressure from her and creates a fun spin on dinner.

We’ll be splitting up each course – appetizers, side dishes, main meal, beverages, dessert – between family members. And for a twist – everyone will pick their recipes without consulting anyone else, for an eclectic Christmas banquet.

Spreading Cheer Far & Near!

My Dziadzio is one of many elderly people who won’t be able to celebrate Christmas with his family this year because he is high risk. My family and I plan to write Christmas cards for him and all of his retirement home residents to spread some cheer and so they don’t feel lonely this holiday season.

We’re also planning to donate to local toy drives. With unemployment rates so high, many families will not be able to finance the Christmas they hoped for. Our family is extremely blessed to be financially stable and employed. We don’t take that for granted and want to share our good fortune with others.

These are just two ways you can engage in generosity this holiday season! Be creative and find something to support that is near and dear to your heart.

White Elephant Gift Exchange

Our family loves a good white elephant gift exchange. I am one of ten cousins on that side of the family. After cousins #6 and #7, our parents collectively agreed buying gift for every cousin every year was a pretty big burden, so they started secret Santa exchanges where each cousin received one gift from a fellow cousin. As we grew older, we transitioned to white elephant. Our family is far more eager to get a good laugh in than the perfect present. Some years we pick themes, others we split by age group, but without fail there are always some pretty hysterical gifts.

This year we’ll be doing it with our immediate family to carry on the tradition and to continue valuing family experiences over material possessions. All I’ll say is that I already have the perfect white elephant gift… bring your a-game fam!

Games that Make You Gaff

As mentioned, my family is all in for a chuckle. The game industry has evolved way past Candy Land and Sorry!. There are so many new games out that are entertaining, trendy and even a little bit naughty if that’s your thing. (My mom has banned family games of Cards Against Humanity. We’re her kids, she doesn’t want to hear that sh*t.)

Some (mom-approved) games we’re stocking up are:

  • What do you Meme?
    • I already own this game and it’s been a huge hit at dinner parties (pre-Covid). It does have a “naughty” pack you can mix in, but if you’re playing with your parents or your grandma, you can leave it out and it’s totally family-friendly.
  • We’re Not Really Strangers
    • My friend received this game as a gift and we’ve actually used it at Bible study for an ice breaker question! It has everything from silly surface level questions to thought-provoking questions that reveal a lot about the person who answers.
  • RBG – I Dissent Board Game
    • I know what you’re thinking: a political game during the holidays in 2020??? Are you CRAZY? But fear not, this game is about voting on the issues that truly matter, like if you think hot dogs are sandwiches or whether or not cats are total jerks. It keeps things interesting without permanently breaking any families up.
  • Awkward Family Photos Greatest Hits Game
    • What is better than an awkward family photo game with your own family? I am personally very excited for this one, as someone who has been forced into many a family photo. Granted, ours are nowhere near as awkward as those featured in this game, but that’s exactly why I’m eager to compete to caption them.
  • Incohearant
    • You might have seen those Instagram filters where people read funky phrases out loud to reveal their homophonic meanings. This is the card game, competitive version!
  • New Phone Who Dis?
    • Ok so this one will probably a game the siblings play after mom and dad go to bed… It’s a game similar to Cards Against Humanity where you compete to create the funniest text message thread. I’m slightly afraid to see how dark my siblings’ humor can get, but also excited?

I know Christmas might be hard this year for a lot of folks. I encourage you to reach out to loved ones if you’re feeling anxious or need some support, whether financial, emotional or logistical. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Let me know what you’re doing for holiday cheer at the end of an admittedly difficult year.

Pinterest Wedding Planning Tips

As mentioned in my post about wedding planning during Covid, Pinterest was a very large part of my obsession with weddings growing up and has now evolved to an extremely helpful tool in the planning process.

This may sound crazy or overboard, but I do have an actual strategy around my Pinterest boards because as someone who doesn’t want to spend the money for a full-on wedding planner (though a day-of coordinator is a must in my opinion), Pinterest has been the best way to stay organized, get inspiration and narrow down my ideas.

Full disclosure: while my Pinterest does have a public Wedding Inspo board, my boards for my actual wedding are hidden. The reasons there encompass privacy (I won’t be sharing our date until post-nuptials), having some boards that contain gift ideas for my family/bridal party, and because I want the event to have some surprises for my guests.

Step 1: Create your “Inspo” Board

Like I mentioned, I do have a wedding inspo board. That is where I dump every single wedding pin I’ve ever liked. Some of them I still like, but don’t fit with my theme. Some of them I think I like, but I’m not entirely sure. And admittedly, there are some from when I was in high school that make me cringe. (2010 was a very different time.) I put everything there first to keep tabs on ideas, without cluttering my actual planning board.

Step 2: Create Your Actual Wedding Board with Subsections

I reserve my “actual” wedding board for pins that I am pretty sold on. Pins for the “inspo” board graduate to the “actual” board when I’ve decided I think they’re applicable, affordable and truly excite me past the initial find.

Pinterest is genius and created a feature a while ago where you can have subsections within each board. This has been so key! There seem to be endless factors of the wedding to think about. When I pin something to this board, it’s something I’m pretty serious about, so I want an easy way to find it. Subsections are a huge help. I know exactly where all my cake pins are vs where my décor ideas are. Create as many subsections as you can think of. You can always combine or delete them later, but this helps you get an idea of what you’re looking for.

See an example below:

Step 3: Pin! – With Restraint

Having an organized Pinterest board requires more than subsections. I try to limit the number of pins to each sub-board depending on the topic. For example, I try to keep my Cake Board to 5-6 pins max because we only will pick one. My Décor Board I allow up to 15-20 since there are more components. I do this because I think if you throw every idea you like onto each board it is confusing what you’re going for and makes it harder to keep things organized. If you like a pin but aren’t 100% sure, put it on the Inspo board. If you put a pin on your Actual board and start feeling iffy, put it back on the Inspo board.

I fully understand this might sound overboard and very Type A. To be fair, I am definitely a Type A personality. However, there are so many choices you have to make and the more organized and concise my ideas, the easier it is as I move forward.

Step 4: Pick a Direction

You might have a theme in mind, or maybe not. This is where your “Inspo” board comes in handy; look for common themes you are drawn to. Maybe you realize every cake you pin is only two tiers and super minimalist. Great thing to know if the baker is trying to pressure you into a four tier monstrosity! Perhaps the common theme among your pins is a color scheme or that everything is bohemian. That will help guide you in the future. There are so many beautiful ways to design a wedding – just not all of them can be at your wedding.

Once you have an idea of a direction for the overall theme or individual components, try to stick to that. This will help you avoid confusion and make actual progress.

Step 5: Price It Out

Once you have some ideas your head over heels for, look into pricing. I am the first to dream up a huge wedding and avoid checking the price tag. Take care of that early. If you dream of a huge Vera Wang ballgown, you have to understand the cost – especially if you are on a budget. Go for the gown if that’s a must-have, but also understand you may have to cut back on other things. I made an estimated budget template (mine linked below) so that I could understand how much everything is all in.

Wedding Budget Template

Tip: I used my own template when looking at different venues. Once I decided, I used the wedding budget tool on TheKnot.com and it has been extremely helpful.

Step 6: Keep it Updated

You have your boards all set up, you have a theme and a realistic idea of budget. Keep things up to date an organized. This is a personal preference, but once I decide something I clean up the board and remove what no longer applies. My ideas have been tweaked as I start confirming things, and I want my Pinterest board to reflect that for my own mental clarity.

If you aren’t a Pinterest gal, what do you do to stay organized and create a vision for your wedding?

My Pinterest Wedding Wasn’t Prepared for 2020

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with weddings.

I can’t name the catalyst that sparked my undying devotion to weddings and all that comes with them, but I do know all the ways it unfolded. Starting in fifth grade, I’d spend hours watching Say Yes to the Dress on TLC. I learned the different silhouettes and how they fit, what fabrics were voluminous and which were the most expensive and that “white” wasn’t as simple as it seemed. There was pure white, cream, off-white, champagne, ivory and all of those colors presented differently depending on the style and fabric they accompanied.

From there I would gaze at wedding magazines in nail salons, learning the trends for that year in everything from engagement rings to bridesmaid dresses and memorizing the different concerns a bride could have that the slippery pages of the magazine answered. I loved the glamour and formality of the whole affair; it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to pull out all the stops without a shred of judgement. I admired how each wedding could be molded to reflect the bride, the groom and what they wanted their life to be like.

When Pinterest came onto the scene my freshman year of high school, it launched my love of weddings to new heights. Before I had to wait for a magazine and was only able to peruse the curated and limited pages. But with Pinterest, I suddenly had unlimited access to weddings – and not just the ones in magazines, but hundreds and hundreds of weddings with endless ideas on every element of the affair. DIY wedding décor was on the rise with hand drawn chalkboards and centerpieces crafted by the bridesmaids. Venue options expanded from ballrooms and churches to barns or museums or even a post office. And to my delight, there were so many more wedding dress designers than the ones featured at Kleinfeld’s.  

My favorite was Vera Wang. Her dresses embodied drama and elegance without being cliché or overdone. After discovering a photo of her dress worn by a bride in Hawaii on Pinterest, I clicked through all her collections on her website and immersed myself in the world of Vera. Years later, I was gifted the Vera Wang on Weddings book for Christmas by a coworker. I spent hours poring over each page, letting the words of the all-knowing Vera sink into my head. I even got to meet her at a work event once. She is every bit as regal as I imagined.

This year, just before my twenty-fifth birthday, I got engaged to the sweetest, most thoughtful guy. I’d been impatiently waiting for him to pop the question. We only dated for about a year before getting engaged, but as they say, when you know, you know.

I felt prepared, of course. My primary wedding Pinterest board (I have multiple) had accumulated over 1,100 pins by that point. I was armed and ready with all the inspiration a girl could ask for. But what was interesting after all those years of planning, was that when it came time to actually choose what I wanted at my wedding, I felt nothing quite lived up to my fantasies.

In my imaginary wedding-palooza world, the budget was endless, I could force weather patterns and there was no global pandemic. But here in the reality of 2020, there are actual limitations.  

I knew weddings were expensive. Obviously. I had only spent half of my life researching them. But it turns out monopoly money is easier to spend than cold hard cash. And I found that for the caliber of wedding I wanted, I was looking at well above the national average, which is already extremely high for a party if you aren’t a Kardashian.

I also had a very specific vision of a “reverse snow globe” wedding. I’m completely serious. I wanted our venue to be essentially a glass dome and for it to snow as I walked down the aisle. Fake snow is a bit trickier than I had anticipated and Mother Nature bends to no one.

And then there is Covid… Stephen and I talked through our options, but ultimately came to the conclusion that we don’t want to sacrifice a wedding with all our friends and family, nor do we want to risk anyone’s health. So we are doubling what I had guessed would be the length of our engagement and looking at dates in 2022. While we are cautiously optimistic that public health will be restored by then, we are also checking refund and reschedule policies for any potential vendors.

While taking appropriate precautions, I’m doing what I can to plan our wedding. I’m fortunate enough to work freelance right now, which has allowed me time and flexibility to start getting things in order and I want to take advantage of that while I have the time. I’ll be sharing that process here, including my Pinterest strategy (there is one, believe it or not), how I am planning my budget, how I determined our theme and of course, the dress shopping process. I’ll also sprinkle in personal anecdotes about Stephen and I, how we’re navigating arguably the most confusing wedding seasons ever and what we’re learning during our engagement.

If you don’t want to employ a professional planner, you’ve come to the right place. I’m probably just as informed as your average wedding planner, but we’ll skip the crazy fees.

Why I Don’t Need More Options

There are a lot of adjustments that come with living with someone for the first time. For Stephen, one of those is trying to grasp how I can justify complaining that I have “nothing to wear” when my wardrobe takes up 2/3 of our closet. It’s a fair point because I do have a lot of clothes. (Later that will be made very clear, to my slight embarrassment.)

I’ll admit I have fallen into the habit of quantity over quality with my wardrobe. Especially living in big cities the last seven years, going shopping can take a lot of effort. Malls aren’t easily accessible so online shopping is much more convenient. But when online shopping, I prefer to not have to make returns. That led to a love/hate relationship with sites like ASOS, where you can get a lot of cute stuff for pretty cheap. There is usually some sale going on and it’s fast fashion, so pieces are very on-trend. The problem was that those pieces tend to wear quickly, because they’re low quality. And while being trendy for cheap is great, that means six months later those same pieces can go out of style. That leaves me with a lot of stuff, but not a lot I’m excited to wear.

Over the last year I’ve been seeing more blogs and articles about the concept of a capsule closet. A capsule closet encompasses having less clothes, but all of them being pieces you truly love. It also includes buying pieces that are of higher quality that you would be willing to repair or mend to keep them in your closet long-term. Most capsule closets are filled with items that can be interchanged in multiple combinations and are timeless rather than trendy.

Reading about them, I saw capsule closets as aspirational and sophisticated, but I was skeptical at first about feasibility. I loved the idea of investing in high quality pieces, but executing that within my budget seemed out of reach. I’m honestly pretty averse to outfit repeating within 1-2 weeks and that seemed unavoidable with so little to work with. The concept also requires a bit of dedication and commitment I wasn’t sure about… and self-control not to engage in retail therapy.

But even with those hesitations, every time I looked at my packed closet feeling overwhelmed or spent thirty minutes trying to decide what to wear for date night, only to pick the same thing I wore last time, my mind wandered to the capsule closet.

Having options is sexy, in theory. We love the idea of getting endless choices. That’s why dating apps are popular – you can swipe and swipe and swipe. There are infinite fish in the sea. It’s why Postmates and UberEats are on everyone’s phone. You can order from anywhere you want and it will be to your front door in minutes. Why do we purchase five different streaming services? Choices. We have access to every movie we could think of.

But I’m sick of endless options, because that means endless decisions. I am tired of having to make choices all day about things that don’t really matter to me. It’s exhausting and stressful. We are faced with more choices than ever before and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are also more stressed and burnt out as a population.

There’s actually a term for this. Decision fatigue is when we make so many decisions that our ability to make good decisions quickly and wisely deteriorates. There are only so many times in a day our brains can handle making efficient, smart decisions. In fact, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos intentionally limits his daily decisions by simplifying his routines so that he can actually focus on what matters. For him, that’s running one of the biggest companies in the world.

I am in no way pretending that the decisions I make each day are on the same level economically as Jeff Bezos. However, I think my ability to make quality decisions does impact my personal world. Making good decisions and judgements affects my relationships, my mental health and my livelihood. When I’m less worried about which top to wear in the morning, I’m better at deciding what projects to take with work and how to compromise with Stephen on combining our lifestyles. That may sound small or an overstatement, but it’s not. The little things add up.

What I find truly seductive now is simplicity. Not choices. And one clear place to start simplifying is my wardrobe.

Given my inability to drop $10,000 on a new wardrobe a la “What Not to Wear,” I will not be able to conquer the capsule closet project in one fell swoop. But I can begin to make a dent. Lucky for me, the first step has more to do with awareness and giving things away than buying more. I’m going to write about all of that process here. I’m seeing a pattern in my life that less really is more and excess in any area detracts from core parts of my life. Maybe it’s quarantine or officially entering my mid-twenties that has me reevaluating. Or maybe it has to do with being engaged and taking inventory of what we want to keep with us as we dismantle our single lives to build a joint one. Either way, here’s to simplicity and a few less decisions to make before having coffee.

Step One: Take inventory.

It’s All About the Ending

Think of your favorite love story. Is it light and comedic, like a romantic comedy? Is it passionate and intense, like Pride & Prejudice? Or is it a personal and comforting narrative drawn from your real life experiences?

All of those love stories have one thing in common that make us swoon: they have a happy ending. It works out. They end up together. The feeling is mutual. Sunsets and horses and wedding bells.

As my friends and I have navigated the very confusing world of modern day dating, the idea of “my story” has been touched upon a lot. We hesitate to say yes to a date because we don’t like the story of how we met them. If they do something that makes us feel insecure about whether things will work out, we indignantly say “this is not my story.” Sometimes I think we get more concerned about the story than the actual guy we’re getting to know.

I would consider my parents love story one of my absolute favorites. My dad saw my mom across the room and knew she was it. He asked if she would marry him one day after only two weeks of dating. But I recognize that I could find the exact same story creepy or overbearing if it hadn’t worked out. If he wasn’t my mom’s soulmate, then no one would smile and coo at his behavior. It’s all about the ending.

My point here is that as I embark on sharing some of my story with Stephen, don’t get caught up in comparison. Love stories are beautiful and enthralling and make our hearts swell because of the ending; because two people fall deeply in love. Don’t worry too much about the circumstances.

Luckily, Stephen and I have a happy ending. So let’s get to the story!

Every one of my friends in high school and college seemed sure I was getting married first. This most likely stemmed from my obsession with weddings, but we’ll get to that later. However during the spring of 2019, at the tender age of 23, I was becoming quite disillusioned with dating. I was picky, but I also didn’t feel like anyone was picking me.

When talking to my best friend and roommate, Louise, about this I described what felt like a deep ache in my soul. I felt like I already missed someone who I hadn’t even met. Deeply. But I became convicted that I needed to focus on where I was in the present and lean into the things I was learning and the ways God was growing me in the here and now, rather than pining over someone who wasn’t in my life yet.

A couple of months later, a friend of mine who had previously been a coworker texted me out of the blue. We were friendly but didn’t exactly chit chat much, so I cut to the chase and asked him bluntly what he wanted. He answered that he had the “perfect guy” for me – a friend of his who would be flying out to visit him in six weeks and he wanted to set us up.

I said no. (Stephen’s favorite part of the story because he ended up winning me over.)

I hadn’t even seen Stephen’s photo or heard about him. But I had finally settled into singleness without griping or secretly hoping the guy at the coffee shop would see the book I was reading and instantly fall in love. I didn’t want to ruin it by getting caught up in a guy that I probably wouldn’t even like.

But the friend insisted. He texted me incessantly about all the qualities this “perfect guy” had that would make me fall for him. He was the epitome of a wingman. Finally I agreed, on the condition that it would be a group hangout with some of my friends too and not some awkward dinner date between two strangers.

A few weeks later, “perfect guy” landed at the airport and I met up with them that night for frozen yogurt. You’ve probably picked up at this point that “perfect guy” was Stephen. We talked for a couple hours and when I got home, Louise asked me how it went. I just kept saying, “Yeah, he’s cute,” as I blushed.

We met up again that weekend with my friends and his to go out for drinks. We ended up dancing at a tiki lounge, going to karaoke in K-town and getting food at 4am. It ended with a kiss – one marked by the fact that I’d chosen to wear red lipstick. Stephen later told me our friend’s jaw hit the floor when he walked in and saw lipstick smeared on Stephens face.

But Stephen didn’t live in LA. And I wasn’t interested in long-distance.

He flew back to Oklahoma that morning and after recapping the evening on the beach with friends the next day, I decided to text him. Little did I know that on the plane ride he was writing me a love letter (the first of many) that he was planning to mail me. Over the course of the next few weeks we texted and called. He mailed me letters and told me he would fly out soon to take me on an official date. Then after a few weeks of correspondence, he told me he was moving to LA. That month.

At the time he told me a lot of reasons for the move that weren’t centered around his interest in me. Later I found out that I was a pretty significant factor of that decision. Within six days of his arrival in LA, he was my official boyfriend. I wasn’t wasting any time at that point.

I’ll share more about our time dating in other pieces, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how exceptional he was. He completely redefined my expectations around how I should be treated by a man pursuing me. About a year after he moved to LA, he proposed on the beach in Malibu. It was the easiest yes I have ever said.

Hello + What to Expect

Hi there!

Thanks for taking the time to click to my website. What you can expect to find here is examples of my freelance work (which includes marketing, copywriting, social media management & guest blog posts), as well as personal writing I feel compelled to share.

I figured a good way to start off is sharing a bit about me.

My given name is Leah Cioth. Soon my legal name will be Leah Henrici – which I’m very excited about. This past summer I got engaged (mid-pandemic) to my sweet guy! Stephen is his name and you’ll probably hear a lot about him.

I currently live in Colorado with aforementioned fiancé. We love to play tennis and spend a lot of time with the family we have here. I love coffee shops, but am attempting to be more fiscally responsible by brewing coffee at home. Luckily I’m a straight-up black coffee kind of gal, so I don’t need to learn anything fancy.

Writing is my thing. I was the kid in third grade who, when assigned a one-page assignment, wrote ten pages instead. (I don’t even try to pretend I was cool in school. Total nerd.) In first grade, I told my parents I wanted to be a “writer and a millionaire.” Six year old Leah was definitely not aware of how rare a combo that is, but we’re trying to make it happen.

I grew up in Colorado (where we are now), but went to college in Philly at Drexel University where I got my degree in communications/marketing with a concentration in design. My first two years were on campus, while I was simultaneously interning at a PR firm in New York three days a week. My junior year they offered me a full-time position, so I moved to NYC and finished my degree online. Full-time work and full-time school was exhausting, but totally worth it!

After two years in New York, I decided to move to LA where I accepted a marketing position. I worked in marketing in LA for three years, specializing in brand strategy and retail marketing. I also worked on copy for the brands I worked for as well as freelance opportunities. During my time in LA, I realized how much I loved crafting words together to accomplish a brand’s goals or get across an idea. When Stephen got a job offer back in Colorado and I had to leave my job in LA, I decided it was time to take the leap and try freelancing full time to focus on my love of words.

My freelance services primarily revolve around writing, which manifests in copywriting, content creation, guest posts for websites and social media copy. I also offer marketing consulting services and social media management.

On this website you’ll also see some of my personal writing. My preferred style is personal essays – I love writing thought-provoking pieces about everyday life that offer both humor and insight.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy any content you see here and feel free to reach out via the contact page.

-L