MilSpouses Who Work It: The Dynamic Duo Behind List & File and Manifesto Home + Office

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Image Credit: Liz Cook

In military life, it can be difficult for families to stay organized when they move frequently and experience frequent disruptions to their routines.

Describing themselves as “some of the most organized military spouses you’ll ever meet,” Lauren Weldon May and Elizabeth “Liz” Uibel Cook saw the difficulty their peers had keeping their home, papers, and life organized, and identified a niche they could fill with their unique talents–Lauren forming Manifesto Home + Office and Liz founding List & File.

Lauren started her professional organization company back in 2012, and has spent thousands of hours organizing the homes of clients in Central Texas, the Kansas City area, and Charlottesville, VA.

The motto for Manifesto Home + Office is “Your Space Should Stand For Something,” and it’s this ethic of intentionality that informs Lauren’s work with clients. Manifesto’s areas of focus include homes, home and small business offices, and even pre-move purging, with services specific to military families (and a 10% military discount!).

List & File offers sleek PCS binders specially-designed to help military families get their most vital documents in order. “She somehow found a way to make a PCS binder something that we’d want to show off instead of hiding away,” gushes friend and Certified Professional Organizer, Lauren.

A Match Made in Military Spouse Heaven

Image Credit: Liz Cook

Especially when it comes to helping military families get PCS-ready, Lauren and Liz are walking the walk. Liz has a toddler and a baby, while Lauren has a 14-month-old. Moreover, they are both staring down overseas PCS moves: Lauren and her family to Vicenza, Italy and Liz’s family to South Korea.

I asked them a few questions about how they’re staying organized while running a business and PCSing across the ocean during a pandemic.

1) What advice do you have for military spouses who want to stay organized while PCSing this year?
Liz:
Work backwards. Add your PCS date–or best estimate–to a calendar, and then start to fill in all the necessary tasks backward from there. There are many PCS “To-Do” lists on Google or Pinterest (or of course, use a List & File PCS binder set), so use one of them if you’re not sure what you need to do to prepare. Be as specific as possible with your dates, although some tasks can only be assigned a date range.
Life happens and you may need to reschedule, so when you can, give yourself a stress-reducing buffer by scheduling PCS tasks/errands/appointments a week or two early. 

Lauren:

Make this year the year you stop reinventing the wheel and get a system in place. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but it will be MORE than worth it in the long run, I promise.
Even if you’re not PCSing this year, start by getting your vital documents together. Emergencies and natural disasters happen, and the last thing you want to do when evacuating your home is scramble to locate your social security card. Clearly label and store everything in a way that is easy to travel with. I personally am a big fan of PCS binders or accordion files that fit in a fire-resistant safe when you’re settled into your new home.
Shout-out to my friend Liz who makes beautiful PCS binder sets that help facilitate this in a far more aesthetically pleasing way than mismatched tabs stolen from your kids’ old school binders!
A great PCS checklist of the things that need to be done each time you relocate will look different for every family. Include the bigger things–getting copies of your kids’ medical records, cancelling your cable, and changing your address in a million different places, but also the small, easy-to-forget things that are taking up space in your mind and keeping you up at night: filling in nail holes, putting items that will stay with your rental in a “do not pack area,” taking batteries out of kids’ toys before the packers come, etc.
I share a Google Drive spreadsheet with my husband listing all our PCS “to-do”s arranged with our timeline in mind. It starts with the day we get our RFO and ends once the final check has been received for damaged items.
I have such peace of mind knowing that there is an orderly, calm way to handle this particularly crazy part of this crazy life.
2) What are some of the main things military spouse business-owners and entrepreneurs can do to stay focused and organized?
Liz: ​Set goals, manage expectations, and again – work backwards. Prepare for success and minimal operations hiccups; research and plan out the tasks you need to complete to keep your business going when you move locations.
For those businesses that can, taking a business “break” during a PCS move – whether it’s days or weeks (or months!) – can be a smart, refreshing, and even vital thing to do. It can benefit your family, your mental, and your physical health–not to mention the health of your business.
Make manageable but exciting goals for your business to keep you focused. Try planning a reward for yourself after a successful PCS. (however you define “reward” and “success”!).

Lauren:

Sometimes being focused and organized is really just about controlling the content and volume that comes into your life.
Be very mindful of what you say “yes” to.  I am very careful about what I allow into the precious space of my day, especially now that I have a child. During the pandemic, I started to recognize that social media was distracting me from what I truly want to do in my business — help people get control of their stuff, their space, and their time so they can live more life.
So I made some conscious choices surrounding social media, ignoring the distraction of follower numbers and analytics and saying no to doing affiliate links, instead using it as a way to gain inspiration for my work and share it with my beloved clients.
 
As far as staying organized as a small business owner, I am a firm believer in being organized first and foremost in your personal life. If you have your 9-5 in order but your daily family life is a mess, it’s hard to feel truly content or at peace. I am able to do what I do in my business because my husband and I work really well together to tackle the logistics of life. We have a weekly family meeting where we discuss our schedules, finances, meal planning, errands, goals, and projects. This little Sunday ritual allows my work time to truly be spent on work because we have the rest of our time under control.
3) Describe some of the challenges you have overcome, either individually or together, as military spouse business owners.
Liz: Ah, business owner challenges. They are many!

I have overcome the challenge of getting started. Ideas and desire come and go, but the actual act of starting the business – buying the domain name, writing the business plan,
building the website, etc. – is a whole different level of dedication that is scary at first! 
Operating a small business in a foreign country is daunting. We will face different restrictions, requirements, and challenges in our respective countries, but am I weird to say that I’m a little excited? Quite nervous, but also excited. Challenges are run-of-the-mill for business owners, and the experience will serve me well for the rest of our time in the military.

Lauren:

Without question, it would be relocating the business every few years. In my very personal line of work (I mean…hello! I fold other people’s underwear!), word of mouth is far more meaningful than paid advertising or social media. While I have a system in place (big surprise, another spreadsheet) to navigate getting new business licenses, insurance, and vendors and resources, there is an element of starting from scratch at each duty station on your client list.
That being said, this challenge has the most wonderful upside of getting to know all kinds of people at each duty station through my business. My clients are the best part of this job, hands down.
We are incredibly excited, but there’s a bit of a catch to moving to one of the more idyllic locations the military has to offer: spouses are not allowed to earn an income unless they work for the U.S. government due to our Status of Forces Agreement with Italy.
Clearly, the poses a pretty unique challenge to an entrepreneur who has poured her heart and soul into a business for the better part of a decade. I’m choosing to view this as an active hibernation — my job (aside from eating all the pasta and drinking all the wine while traveling all across Europe) is to make sure my business comes out on the other side strong and ready to get back into taming the next chaotic closet!

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