How do I look?

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Quiz question of the day:

What’s something we all have, which can inspire both joy and loathing in all of us, but which we can’t live without?

Of course, no prizes for guessing: clothes.

A hotch-potch wardrobe

I’ve been mithering a bit about clothes lately.

In the past year, I’ve bought relatively few things to wear. But, if I’m honest, I feel like I’ve ended up with a ‘hotch potch’ of items. Most I have bought second-hand (and very good purchases they were too). Others were bought in a sale or via a clothing discount store such as HighStreetOutlet. As a result, I’ve maintained my frugal ways, but I never feel particularly stylish. Plus, I’d love to be a little more consistent about what I choose to wear and how I look.

How do I look?

It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. So, I was grateful to have been given a copy of Inger D Kenobi’s How Do I Look: The Year I Stopped Shopping.

This entertaining book is a curious mix of memoir and commentary on fast-fashion,  consumerism and the ridiculous stories we tell ourselves about the clothes we wear (or which call to us from the shop window).

Challenged by a friend to join her in a “shop-stop” year, Kenobi resolved to avoid buying any new clothes for a whole 12 months. The book charts her journey from unintentional clothes buyer to chastened, mindful consumer. Along the way, she provides a number of “Emergency Shopping Guidelines.” These provide a ‘set of rules that will prevent us from making the same stupid shopping mistakes again, and again, and again.’

Emergency Shopping Guidelines

I thought it would be interesting to bring Kenobi’s rules together and to consider them in the light of my not-particularly-well-curated but minimal ‘capsule wardrobe’.

Don’t buy anything you can’t wear tomorrow

Well, I’ve failed at the first hurdle here. We all buy stuff to wear for a special occasion, although I try and avoid this.

In my experience, clothes bought for a particular event don’t always translate into ‘real life’. For my friend, Zoe’s, 50th birthday party in September, I bought a lovely pair of black trousers and floaty shirt to wear over a black camisole. To go with said outfit (which cost all of £11 from the charity shop), I purchased some suedette kitten heels from John Lewis. I wore them for 2.5 hours.

I haven’t worn the clothes since and have already sold the shoes….

Don’t buy anything you don’t need

How often have you gone out to buy a particular item, only to come back with something entirely different?

Here’s where ‘heart’ purchases often trump ‘head’ purchases. I do have the loveliest, seldom-worn but beautifully soft faux-fur jacket. It is absolutely gorgeous. I acquired it a long time ago when looking for something else in my local (now defunct) dress agency. I rarely wear it, but I keep it as something really special, knowing that I won’t wear it tomorrow (see above!) but will enjoy it during the holiday season.

These days, I’m much more inclined to think really hard about anything I buy. I keep a ‘wish list’ in Evernote, which helps me consider – slowly – if a want is also a need.

I also do a lot of research online. It’s easy to forget that there are so many (too many) places where you can buy what you need. A clever search can help you find what you need at the best price, so shop around.

You have to be you. Figure out who you are and dress accordingly

Oh, gosh. Who am I when it comes to what I wear?

Style consultants categorise women into a number of ‘boxes’. Are you an Audrey Hepburn ‘ingénue’ or more ‘sporty’ or ‘natural’ when it comes to your signature style?

Well, I’d love to fall into the ‘glamorous’ category – and really admire others who pull of this look – but that’s really not me.

Over the years, I have – with some considerable enthusiasm – declared myself to be an advocate of a particular brand, in an attempt to simplify and narrow down the available choices.

There was my short-lived (but fun while it lasted) Gudren Sjoden phase. My family pointed out that if you’re going to make this work (it’s quite ‘out there’ when it comes to style and colour), you have to go the whole hog.

There has also been my ‘Duchess of Cambridge’ phase. I am, after all, another Catherine Elizabeth. This clothing personality has been, arguably, my most enduring. I once spent the most I have ever spent on clothes (even more than my wedding dress) when I purchased an LK Bennett suit for an interview. I didn’t get the job, but (at least) I got the suit. Many years later, it’s still my ‘high days and holidays’ outfit when I need something super smart. And I wore it for my current job whose interview took place around a year ago.

My latest obsession is Cos. I love the Scandinavian simplicity and clean lines. I have yet to purchase anything.

If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

Oh, this is so true. You already know that I previously performed ‘plastic surgery’ on my credit card, so there is no risk that I will ever splurge on something I can’t afford. Indeed, I have spent so little on clothes in the last year that this has not been an issue. But I know it is for some of you.

Recently, a work colleague was describing to my husband that she had lots of clothes on which she had spent so much money, she was embarrassed to admit that she cut off the labels of the unworn items before giving them away. Let’s not be like this.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I’m all for this and it works really well. Project 333 makes sense on so many levels, especially if you mostly shop at thrift stores (another of Kenobi’s Emergency Shopping Guidelines).

Here’s something I have noticed, however (and Kenobi observed this, too). Clothes worn often do actually wear out. This is where it helps to buy quality over quantity. Less but better is the way forward.

Invest in experiences, not possessions

Yes, yes and yes!

This is where we have to put clothes in their rightful place. Clothes can play a part in our experiences. Love to ski? You’ll need some kit. But they shouldn’t be an end in their own right. Clothes as ‘stuff’ have a negative impact, both on the environment and on our finances. So, let’s see them as a part of our overall day-to-day lives but not to the detriment of other things, which are way more important.

Change your hair, not your clothes

For someone who has limited options when it comes to hair (short, blow-dryed, that’s it), I can’t espouse this guideline. However, lots of women (especially) enjoy experimenting with different hair colours or styles (in her book, Kenobi reveals her expertise in plaiting, braiding and in ‘up-dos’). A colleague of mine rocks a wonderful short wig and looks amazing in it. But that’s not for me.

One of my own

Beware the Diderot effect

Remember those black trousers I bought for Zoe’s party? To wear them again, I would need more tops. This is an example of a phenomenon known as the Diderot Effect. This is where the purchase of one beautiful item leads to dissatisfaction with the other things you already own. In my case, I don’t own anything suitable to go with the trousers, so do I invest or let them go? This is something that Juliet Schor mentions in her book, The Overspent American, about which I wrote a post here.

Stop mithering

Since reading Kenobi’s little book, I’m glad to say that I’ve stopped mithering about clothes. But I think I need to be a bit more intentional – as in other areas of my life – when it comes to what I buy to wear.

And whilst Shakespeare wrote that ‘clothes maketh the man (woman)’, there is another truth that’s worth remembering. There are only some occasions in life when this really matters. How do I look? No-one really cares.


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Why I’m calling it a day with eBay

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When you’re in the early stages of decluttering, it’s very likely you’ll discover lots of near-perfect items (or ‘gently used’ ones), which easily be sold online.

From clothing and accessories to electronics or children’s toys, sites such as eBay can be a brilliant way of moving stuff along to a home where it will be used and enjoyed. Plus, you’ll make a bit of cash in the process.

For my part, I’ve been a member of eBay for almost exactly 15 years. In that time, I’ve sold far more than I’ve bought, although I have purchased a few things. And it’s true that some have been better than others….

My eBay dashboard

My eBay profile tells me that I have 284 ratings and a mint green star. When it comes to gamification, I really don’t care very much what colour it is, but that star suggests I’m doing OK.

Nonetheless, I have made some mistakes over the years. I share them here, so that you can avoid them if you’re considering selling via this channel. If you’re a well-established e-Bayer, read on and enjoy a wry smile or two at my expense!

Mistakes I’ve made

Selling

  • Wrong description  – I once listed a well-used but perfectly decent laptop, believing that the box my husband had given me was the actual box for the device. It wasn’t. Instead, I had used the box of the device that had superseded the one to be sold.Lo and behold, my poor buyer (who was tech-savvy when I am not) realised my mistake and we quickly reached an amicable solution: He kept the machine but we agreed a sensible price for what it actually was versus what I thought I’d sold….
  • Inadequate packaging – If you’re going to send something breakable, make sure you use a lot of packaging. I tried to send an Orla Kiely ceramic bread bin to a buyer.  It should have been triple-wrapped in a wodge of bubble wrap, lovingly encased in several boxes, before being parcelled up in brown paper (taped a gazillion times with sturdy parcel tape). Instead, I sent it with only scant wrapping and a prayer in would arrive in one piece. Of course, it didn’t. 

    I should have been more accomplished at this stage in my eBay career. Needless to say, my buyer was justifiably disappointed and I swiftly provided a full refund. Here’s where you get hit by a ‘double whammy;’ eBay still charged its commission.

  • Accepting a buyer’s plea to have me despatch a bulky and large item by courier was another example of ‘not a terribly good idea’. We owned an electric piano, which was already secondhand when it came to us, but we sold it for a reasonable price on the basis that this would be Collection Only.
    The problem came when I discovered our winning-bidder was in Brighton. Did she realise that Kenilworth to Brighton would be a round-trip of over 300 miles? Our buyer, however, had other ideas. If she paid, would I send the instrument? Reluctantly, I agreed to do it, but there followed a rather chaotic sequence of events.

    First of all, the piano had to be despatched in two large packages. Cue Julie Andrews singing ‘My Favourite Things’. These packages were, indeed, brown paper and tied up with string. They were also extremely heavy, exceeding both the courier’s weight and size guidelines. Still, we (buyer and me) agreed to take the risk.

    Off went the parcels and we waited to see what would happen. By some miracle, some days later – in two separate consignments – the piano arrived at its destination. It turned out my buyer had been a past contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest, so I was bemused to have been able to contribute to her potential future musical adventures.

  • Calculating postage costs can be problematic. You have to be very focussed when it comes to understanding not only weight, but also volume. eBay provides estimates and guidance on this, but you can have some ‘fun’ trying to weigh a bulky item. My usual trick is to balance a large mixing bowl on my kitchen scales, then place the item to be posted on top of that. This way, you can usually view the weight easily. Remember to weigh the item once it has been wrapped; packaging can add to weight and volume.
  • Finally, seeing other stuff to buy when I should have been focussing on the selling has also been a feature of my experience with eBay. This leads me onto Buying.

Buying

  • Getting too attached to an item is a foolhardy thing to do. Some years ago, a “pine” wardrobe – located just up the road – turned out to be a terrible bit of tat (I should have “viewed it, before bidding…). Don’t get into a bidding war. Assess your item, put in your maximum bid and walk away. If you win it, you’ll find out soon enough.

More recently, I bought something whose quality was inadequately described, resulted in a ‘to and fro’ dialogue with the seller to persuade them to accept the item as a return. To me, this felt like a case of obfuscation; the item was in very poor condition and I was dismayed to see this on unpacking it. Happily, I have been able to return it with the (reluctant) agreement of the seller. Let’s hope I get my money back!

  • Clothes can be a mixed blessing when you buy them via eBay. I do advocate second hand but I should point out that there are some caveats associated with this. There are a great many reputable commercials sellers on there (who also sell directly via their own websites) e.g. Carobethany whom you can trust, as well as many super sellers of their own stuff. Look carefully at their feedback if you’re going to buy and only purchase brands whose quality and fit you can rely on.

Taking a rain check

So, to coincide with the change of British weather, I’m taking a raincheck with eBay. For now. Since we all acquire stuff we don’t need, it’s likely I’ll return to it some time in the future. But, for moment, we’ll let the sun set over this useful but rather complex way of letting go of stuff.

What’s your best way to get rid of clutter? Do you simply let go via the charity shop or doorstep collection? Perhaps you prefer a local selling platform such as Facebook? Do please share below. It would be fantastic to know what works for you.


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Make your stuff work for you

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I’ve just finished reading Jojo Moyes’ novel, Still Me. I was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, putting aside the other two books I am also reading to immerse myself in this wonderfully-crafted story.

The third in the Me Before You trilogy, this novel takes Moyes’ heroine, Louisa Clark, on a New York adventure (I can see another movie emanating from this one!).

As both minimalist and avid reader, I’m always on the alert for references to clutter in fiction. How do people handle it? What does it symbolise to them? Can they let go of stuff to live a life of more but with less? Is the stuff they’re holding onto serving a particular purpose?

Margot De Witt

One of Moyes’ fabulous American characters, introduced to the reader in this book, is Margot De Witt. The former editor of a fashion magazine, De Witt’s Manhattan apartment is a veritable treasure trove of immaculately preserved and cared-for clothing.

With an incredible, vast collection of vintage fashion including haute couture items, this “style queen, fashion editor extraordinaire” has held onto everything she has ever owned. As a result, her home has become a rainbow-filled walk-in wardrobe, housing a collection including even the smallest of items such as elaborate brooches, pill-box hats and boxes of buttons and braids (in case anything needs repairing).

For vintage-loving Louisa Clark – the novel’s main character – the Fifth Avenue apartment is a little bit of retro-fashion heaven.

Holding on

But why do we hold onto things that no longer fit or which seemingly have no practical purpose?

In her case, De Witt’s quasi-hoarding of decades’ worth of clothes is a way of blocking out the pain of having been separated from her son – her only child – over many years. Moyes addresses this very directly as she reveals that the character “…had built a wall, a lovely, gaudy, multi-coloured wall, to tell herself that it had all been for something.”

Making sure your stuff works for you

Your stuff really needs to work for you. That is, it needs to work on a number of levels: aesthetically, practically or even monetarily.

Remember, everything you see around you right now used to be money. When you look at it that way, you’re going to want to get the most bang for your buck. So, if your belongings are literally stuffed into a drawer and not serving any useful purpose, why hold onto them?

Letting go

In spite of having decluttered so much of my own stuff, there are still some items in my house for me to let go. My ice-cream maker, seldom used, even in summer, now needs to find a new home.

Of course, a kitchen gadget is a small item, but if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I decided to let go of my car back in the winter. Going without a car has been incredibly liberating, has saved me money each month and has set me free from the burden of vehicle ownership. This reminds me of the adage that is well-rehearsed in minimalist circles: “What you own owns you.”

Investment items

Of course, there are some items you’ll keep because you may genuinely only use them once in a while. They might be investment items, such as a lovely winter coat that you’d wear over many years. Still, much of what we retain in our homes may be stuff for which we no longer have any useful purpose.

Putting your stuff to work

In Louisa Clark’s case, she is able to make Margot De Witt’s collection work for her in a professional sense. At the suggestion of the old lady, Clark is encouraged to start an enterprise hiring out her amazing outfits.

What’s interesting is that, as soon as her son reappears, De Witt walks away from her collection without so much as a backward glance. When it no longer serves a meaningful purpose, it’s so much easier to walk away.

Ask the right questions

So, take a long hard look at your stuff and ask, “Does this work for me? Could I let go of it or even monetise what I currently own?”

These questions are especially useful if you’re working to get out of debt and building your emergency fund.

You may love what you own, in which case simply enjoy it. Even minimalists have to have some belongings. So, take the advice of Margot De Witt and see your stuff for what it is: “Do with [them] what you want – keep some, sell some, whatever. But….. take pleasure in them.”

Note

Still Me is Jojo Moyes’ latest novel, published in 2018 by Penguin Random House UK. Find out more here.


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