For me, everything happened so quickly.
One night, while reading my scriptures, I made the sudden & surprising decision to serve a mission. I talked to my Branch President that very next day. It then took me 4 days to start & finish my mission papers. My call came exactly 2 weeks later & I was to report to the Provo MTC in only 6 weeks.
I quickly found myself in a really interesting & somewhat difficult situation. Although I had grown up in a small, strong LDS family & community, I felt like I didn't have anyone to help me get ready. Not spiritually or mentally....but physically. My parents had gotten married before my mom could serve. My brother had decided not to serve at all. I was 23 years old, and ALL of my friends had gotten married without serving & I had recently moved away from Utah after graduating from BYU, so I really didn't feel like I had any resources at my disposal. I really needed someone to give me solid advice on what & what not to take. I needed someone to help me make smart choices about my clothes and what I would realistically wear & be comfortable in while working all day. But instead, I just did it myself and collected what I thought was best. There was no planning involved, I just took a hodge-podge of skirts, tops & cardigans....and only 1 dress!!!!!
To say that I was ill-prepared, physically, for my mission is probably an understatement. I was almost constantly uncomfortable & in pain because of my clothing & shoes. My mission was awesome and I loved every minute of it, but sometimes I wish that I had known then, what I know now.
So, if you are in a situation that resembles mine in any way (or not!!!), let me give you a couple pieces of advice to avoid the type of situations that I faced while out in the field:
1. Make a Game Plan. This seems so elementary for me to say, but it is essential! One tool that is helpful at this step is what I call a Wardrobe Builder. This worksheet allows you to take inventory of what you need to take with you in a very visual & detailed fashion. For someone who likes lists & organization, this is a dream for me! I have included an example of what it looks like all filled out & a blank one you can even print off and use!
**Just a quick note: When filling out your Wardrobe Builder, use the small boxes in-between the skirts & tops as an opportunity to create outfits. i.e. The first top (for me, Pink Stripe) pairs nicely with skirts 1, 2, 4, & 7. It is ok if that top goes with more than just 4...BUT if a particular top does not match with AT LEAST 3 skirts, don't take it!!! It is not worth the space it will take up in your suitcase!
2. Use what you already have. You will be surprised at what you can use that is already sitting in your closet.
3. Your call packet says to bring 6-8 outfits.....this is not helpful or logical at all. How bored would you get of your clothes if you ONLY had 8 outfits to choose from. That would mean that you would wear each outfit almost 68 times in your 18 month mission!!! That is exactly what I did. AND it is just as terrible as it sounds. So here is my advice: Coordinate & create TONS of outfit combinations! This one comes down to simple math. Use the wardrobe builder to pair up skirts, tops, jackets, scarves, etc. that will create as many outfit combinations as you can! So if you take 8 skirts & 8 tops that all pair with each other, that is 64 different outfits. Then, lets say you take at least 3 coordinating cardigans or blazers. Add those to the mix, and that gives you 192 outfits. Add 2 scarves/belts, that is 384 outfits. Now, let's talk about dresses....they are the greatest! As I mentioned before, I only took 1. I wish that I had taken AT LEAST 4, because they are just SO. EASY. But, let's say you only take 3 dresses with you....with your cardigans & scarves, that is another 12 outfits. Which gives you a grand total of 396 outfits!!!! Now, doesn't that sound so much better than 8 outfits?
4. Be aware of the climate in your mission. This is also something that probably seems so simple to everyone else but me. I was not adequately prepared for any of the seasons that hit my mission, and I am not sure why I didn't plan for it....oh wait, I didn't plan anything:) Ok, so here is my 2-cents: No matter what the weather is going to be like, prepare for the heat, and then layer in the cold. So, on the hottest day of the year, you should have a lightweight dress that doesn't require any layering tee underneath or cardigan over top. Same with your tops & skirts. Then, when the colder weather hits, you can just layer underneath (hello, wool thermals!) and over top with cardigans, jackets & coats. Seems pretty simple, but really important to think about when putting things together. FYI: If you have anything that needs a layering tee underneath...I recommend Half Tees. They give you the coverage that you need, but are not long & bulky & still keep you cool.
5. Don't be afraid of color & patterns! I don't want you to think that because I am telling you that everything should match, that you can only take solid basics. Basics are great and you definitely should take some, but add some color and different patterns into the mix. Gone are the days that Sisters need to wear all black, brown, grey & navy. So go ahead and take that fun floral dress & those red shoes!
6. Mix your patterns. Out of necessity & desperation, sister missionaries have been mixing patterns long before it was the "cool" thing to do! The longer you are out in the field, the more adventurous you get in your outfit combinations. The nice thing is, now it is socially acceptable to wear that striped top with your favorite floral skirt! However, there is a right & wrong way to mix your patterns. So if you need a refresher....click here.
7. Comfort! When choosing what pieces to take with you, consider all of the activities that you will be doing as a missionary. This is where it would have been helpful for me to have someone to talk to, because I didn't fully comprehend what all I would be doing out in the field everyday. I knew I would be walking a lot, but I had no idea about biking, running (I feel like I did this more than I walked- we ran after public transportation, to appointments, to the apartment when we were late at night, etc), hopping in and out of vehicles, sitting on the floor to teach, climbing stairs, and so much more. So when thinking about all of that, ask yourself: do my clothing choices provide maximum comfort? Is my skirt long enough when sitting? It is comfortable to run in that dress? Will my shirt stay tucked in while biking? The clothing guidelines for sisters are not there just for modesty, but comfort and ease too. Remember that as you pack!
8. SHOES. I could talk about mission shoes for days on end, but I will try to keep it short & sweet. To be be honest....I took the worst shoes. Ever. I decided that I didn't want to spend a lot of money on shoes, so I just picked up 4 pairs from Payless (Yes, it kills me to admit it). I wore out 3 of those pairs by the end of my FIRST transfer. We walked so much and worked so hard and I wore them until some women in my ward brought me shoes to church one Sunday cause she had noticed the awful state of my shoes the week before. It was humiliating. Throughout the entirety of my mission, I went through 13 pairs of shoes. Yup, it was a nightmare. I would usually spend what little P-day time we had buying new shoes. I spent way more money buying new shoes on my mission than I would have if I had just bought nice, durable shoes in the first place. Plus, my feet always hurt so bad. I still remember crying myself to sleep because of the pain, and I still suffer from some permanent damage in the my feet because of the shoes I wore. So here is my advice: Spend the money to get good shoes. You need arch support. You need a good thick sole (preferably Rubber or Polyurethane). And you need to have a strap to hold your feet in- most of my foot damage is in the tendon of my big toe from flexing it to keep my shoe on my foot. And if you are serving in a walking mission and/or out of the country, pack an extra pair or two, cause it will be hard (& expensive & time-consuming) to get more while you are out. My recommendation is Dansko. To learn more about why they are my favs....click here.
9. Keep this in mind while getting everything ready: The less, physically & temporally, that you have to worry about on your mission, the more work you can get done. You are going out the serve the Lord and be His representative, so do as much beforehand to eliminate distractions, so you can be the best you can be!!!
Whew! I know that this is a lot of information just thrown at you, but this is important stuff and it really makes a difference in how comfortable & effective you are for the next 18 months!
I hope this helps you as you prepare to begin your wonderful journey as a missionary!