Archive for December, 2012

Blogging on Christmas Day

25 December 2012

I publish this blog on a Tuesday, every Tuesday, come rain, hail or shine. Or in today’s case, Christmas day. (Think of me in a week’s time, blogging on New Year’s Day.) And I’m having a very relaxed day, as I’m heading off to Byron Bay in a few days, which should be fun. So I’m having a non-Christmas: no big meal, no gathered clan, no exchange of gifts. I’ll do some of that soon enough. In the meaning, enjoy your Christmas and enjoy what’s really important: the connections with your loved ones.


How NOT to dress like Queen Victoria

18 December 2012

Like many of the locals here in beautiful downtown West Melbourne, I used to have a wardrobe absolutely full of black clothing, and not much else in other colours. Almost everyone down here is the same, with more black in their wardrobe than Queen Victoria mourning her beloved Albert. For some people it can look ok, but for most of us, black is a draining, heavy colour that can age people by ten or even fifteen years, and at the end of a day wearing a lot of black, I feel tired and drained. I’m not alone in feeling this way: check out Fashion Help for Recovering Goths.

And there are lots of excuses: black is slimming (it’s not), it’s chic (you missed the boat by a few decades on that one), it’s versatile (well, if you wear nothing but black of course everything will match), it goes with everything (it doesn’t: pastels and soft tones are overwhelmed by black), it’s sophisticated (dull is a better word)… the excuses go on.

The ugly truth is, wearing black is dull, unintersting, not flattering, and draining. So here are seven easy steps to get you from Queen Victoria (or Johnny Cash) to interesting and alive:

Step 1: Get your colours done

There are no shortcuts here: you need to find out what colours work best for you. A few places to start are here (skip past the make up if you’re male and go to the colours below) or here (again, geared for women but men can use it) or here or here or here. That should get you in the right direction. If you get stuck, consider getting a colour consultant: it’s money well-spent, you don’t waste money on clothes that are wrong for you.

For me, for example, I know that I have olive skin that tans after half an hour in the sun, but if I wear anything with a yellow tone it makes me look ill — that makes me a cool season. I look better in a crisp white shirt than a pastel blue one (pastels and me: not good friends), which makes me a winter. Finally, I lean a bit toward some of the autumn colours like rust, chocolate and olive, so that makes me a deep winter. If you click the link you’ll see some men’s clothing (yes, it includes black but there are other colours — I love the wine red shirt, though I’m not so sure about the lilac one. Then again, I never am too sure about lilac).

Step 2: Pick the best and favourite colours

If you look at a colour palette, the choices can seem overwhelming. Some of the colours will look better on you than others. For me, for example, the yellows, pinks and purples are difficult to wear, so I don’t wear them. If I absolutely have to wear yellow, pink or purple, the ones in my palette are my best options, but I don’t have to wear those colours.

Similarly, the old saying “blue with green should never be seen”: I like blue (especially the navy and pale icy blue), not so fond of green. My favourite colour is red, so I really want to put that in the mix. I like neutrals, they’re versatile, and I can add a little black (think shoes, belts, leather jackets) if they’re part of a mix, not on its own. My final trimmed-down palette looks like this:

Dark neutrals (suits, jackets, pants, “go-to” colours)

  • black
  • charcoal
  • slate
  • navy
  • taupe

Light neutrals (shirts)

  • white
  • ice blue
  • silver grey
  • sand

Accent colours (here is where I go nuts with red: ties, casual shirts)

  • ruby
  • ochre
  • rust

Your colours will almost certainly be different to mine, so feel free to experiment once you know your palette. If there’s a colour that everyone says looks good on you (e.g. you have blue eyes and everyone says you should wear blue), take note. Have fun with this, and you can change these colours down the track if you want to add or subtract a few, as long as they’re from your colour palette.

Step 3: Design your ideal wardrobe

Close your eyes and imagine that you have the perfect wardrobe: your fairy godmother has come and waved a magic wand, or something like that. Get past the “ego” stage of the walk-in wardrobe filled with Armani (you’re not Karen from Will and Grace after all). A wardrobe that has everything you need and is practical.

Now start writing. If you work 9 to 5 in an office environment you’ll probably need more formalwear than if you’re working as a tradesman. Just make a list of the clothes you are likely to wear, and remember to add things out of season (if you’re making this list in summer, remember to add your winter clothes, unless you live somewhere that doesn’t have a winter).

It’s a good idea to write down the colour of the clothes too, although you can allow some flexibility here. If you’re looking for a grey coat and you end up with a beige one, provided that the beige is one of your colours, why not? Remember to add underwear, socks and shoes in your ideal wardrobe.

Step 4: Perform a wardrobe audit

Do you have too much of anything? A dozen sweaters that have been sitting up the back of the wardrobe, unworn and unloved? Time to give them away. Sort your current wardrobe into categories: discard (and either throw out or give to charity), replace (can be immediate or long term), and keep. You will probably have a few gaps in your wardrobe, in which case, these will be buy. Some items may be urgent, but most can wait a while.

Anything near the face (shirts, blouses, scarves) need to be in your best colours. This is particularly important for scarves, as they frame your face. So any scarves that are in the wrong colours need to go. Give them to an op shop (goodwill) if they’re still in a condition to be worn.

The most important thing here is to not skimp on quality. A small number of well-tailored quality items is far better value than lots of chain-store poor quality clothing that falls apart after three or so washes. As you replace or buy new things using your wardrobe list as your shopping list (yes, that’s exactly what it is!), opt for good quality, even if it means you purchase more slowly. It’s worth it. For example: in 1995 I bought a thick greatcoat, made in Poland, for $350. It’s still in “as new” condition today: and yes, I have worn it a lot. Worth every penny.

Step 5: Take the first (baby) steps

So, going without black altogether is a little scary? Then start gently. Instead of all black, add a bit of charcoal or navy (“off-black”, as Morticia Addams would put it) to begin with. Or keep wearing black, and slowly add garments with a little pop of colour. You don’t have to do it right away and all at once. Black clothing can be like a security blanket, hard to let go of, but the question is: why are dressing like someone in mourning? It’s boring. Add a pop of colour and let the fun begin. Think scarves, ties, necklaces to begin with, all in your best colours of course.

Step 6: Take note of compliments

If you’ve been dressing like Queen Victoria or Johnny Cash for a long time, people will be used to seeing you in black. Once you start dressing in living colour, you are likely to get some compliments. “What have you done with your hair, you look different?”(nothing, you’re now wearing a colour), “Have you lost weight?” (so much for black being slimming) or my favourite, “WOW that colour looks GREAT on you, you look ten years younger”. Make a note of which colours bring these compliments and make sure you wear them!

Step 7: Enjoy the new look!

Congratulations! You are now living in colour!


I hope this short guide is useful. Drop me a line in the comments for your thoughts!

Shopping for clothes like shopping for groceries

12 December 2012

I’m about to move back to Melbourne (I don’t have a date yet, but in the next few weeks) and I’ll soon be buying some more clothes. I’ve got a few gaps in my wardrobe, and my friends are nagging me to get less black. No, I don’t dress in all black (here’s a previous post that should put that to rest!), but I am actively being encouraged to wear more colour by my friends in Melbourne. (I’ve been in Melbourne the last few days, my apologies for Tuesday’s blog being late.)

So, what’s the best way to shop as a minimalist? Easy, here’s three steps.

  • Step 1: Make a list. When you go to the supermarket, you generally make a list, right? You don’t wander round the aisles and pick off whatever takes your fancy. (And on a similar note, never go to the supermarket when you’re hungry: you end up with all sorts of nonsense in your shopping trolley. I once ended up with a jar of pickled artichokes as a result. Pickled artichokes?) Yet when we go shopping for clothes we often amble around aimlessly looking at clothes in a vague manner. If you have a list with “business shoes, a suit, casual shorts”, then you’re not going to be distracted by cheaply priced t-shirts. Take an inventory of what’s in your wardrobe: throw out anything that you don’t love, doesn’t fit, is the wrong colour, faded, stained, frayed… and make a shopping list!
  • Step 2: Use your palette. I talked about in a previous post about your palette. It’s a really great idea to know what colours work on you and the ones that don’t. Yellow is my particular bête noire (or should that read bête jaune?), anything with even a hint of yellow is truly godawful on me. (And pastels are pretty sucky on me as well.) Don’t suit black? Then don’t wear black! Find an alternative — grey, brown, beige, navy, whatever. It’s a really good idea to decide pretty much what colour everything on your list will be. Be flexible with this, but if you have an outline then you won’t buy everything in navy blue, which will look pretty much like you’re channeling Chairman Mao.
  • Step 3: Prioritise. There are likely going to be some items on your list that you MUST have pretty much right now, and some that are not so urgent. I suggest you mark these ones on your list in red (or something that will stand out) so that you buy these first. If, like me, you’re a spreadsheets nerd, then you can allocate the list a priority 1, 2, or 3, and you can add a column for estimated price. (Then again, if you’re a fellow spreadsheet nerd you will already have figured out to do that, allocated priorities that are colour-coded, and probably put in a column for colour, with the actual colour of the item in there. This is what happens when you’re a spreadsheet nerd with too much time on your hands.)

Oh, and one other thing: buy quality. If you’re paring down your wardrobe to the basics, there’s no point in getting clothes that won’t last the distance. Pay a few dollars more if need be, and get something you’ll not only enjoy wearing, but will last.

Happy hunting!


The freedom of less (rocks)

11 December 2012

I was going through my gem and jewellery collection (it’s a hobby of mine) and I was working out exactly what I wanted for myself. As it turned out, not much at all. I want for myself a nice pair of cufflinks, and I have just the perfect pair of stones for that: a beautiful pair of square-cut rubies, not heated, not coloured, not treated. They’re not top quality (they’re quite cloudy and included, and there’s even big chunks of rutile at the back) but I really don’t care: I just want that pop of colour that only rubies really provide. If I get married (and that’s a really big if) then I’ll get a plain wedding band, probably platinum because I like it and it’s damn near indestructible.

But I digress. As I said, I was going through my gem collection, and I have an awful lot of rocks that I’m not interested in working with. When I was a beginner, I grabbed pretty much everything I could for practice, and there were many generous souls willing to give me free material. Now that I’ve moved on a bit, I’m now rather selective in what I work with. I notice a lot of the material I used early on were in dark, heavy colours; although they tend to suit me, I’m now not making jewellery for me, with the exception of the ruby cuff links I was talking about.

So I’m giving away the stones that a) I don’t want for myself and b) I don’t think are good as gifts for friends and family. I have a ridiculous amount of tiger iron that I can’t imagine will make pretty jewellery, but juniors at the lapidary club I go to can practice with the material. Our juniors at Nunawading Lapidary Club do really well in terms of prizes and awards, I want to support that.

Now I’m free to make gifts for people. I have a friend whose birth stone is sapphire, and a family member who loves blue: they’re both getting a faceted (synthetic) sapphire next year. (Shhh… don’t tell anyone!) And it means that as all of the people I’m planning to give jewellery to are women, I can use prettier, lighter coloured stones. My peach-coloured sapphire is a case in point. I may even get some chrysoprase and make something with it.

Which means this afternoon I’m going through my rock collection and giving stuff away. And that means when I move (again!) in just over a week, I won’t be carrying a whole lot of rocks with me, and all of the rocks that I have I will list so I can keep track of them. That’s in line with my goal of having everything I own listed, named, and in their correct place.

And that feels like freedom to me.

Goals for 2013

4 December 2012

Yes folks, I’ve made the move. I’ve got new (temporary) accommodation close to town and transport, my stuff in boxes — I’ve sorted through a whole lot of stuff, and discarded, given away or am selling a lot of things.

The move showed me that I’ve got a long way to go in my goal of simple, minimalist living, but it also showed me how far I’ve come. I’ve been thinking about my goals for 2013 (my goals for 2012 went south: out of 21 listed goals, I achieved nine. Nine. I guess finishing a master’s degree was a bit more taxing than I imagined it would be.)

And I know that there’s a lot to be said for having no goals (try mnmlist or theminimalists  for their take on no goals), but I still want something to move towards at this point in my journey. Maybe down the track I won’t, but then again, maybe I will. I just don’t know yet, and I don’t feel that I have to.

I’ve decided that one of my goals is to have everything physical in my life sorted out. My filing, my wardrobe, my photographs, the paraphernalia… everything. I remember one time in my life (wayyyyy back in the 90s!) when I did have everything sorted out, and it felt good.

So I’ll make my goal-declaring as public as possible, and I’ll happily welcome other people to post their goals in the comments section, something to remind them, put a structure of accountability in place. With this in mind, here are my goals for 2013:


  1. Have everything sorted out. Know where everything is, and have it on lists. I will have several lists, for example, clothing, filing, stuff in boxes. And hopefully, most of the stuff in boxes will be gone. Mike For Short has written a list of his stuff, which I find inspiring.
  2. Have my tax up to date. Currently, it is not up to date; nothing like up to date, in fact.
  3. Start on my PhD. I’ve come to realise that I’m passionate about commercialising biotechnology, so the sooner I get started the better. I am currently drafting a study proposal for RMIT.
  4. Take up swimming and yoga. I want to be healthier than I am, and those are the two exercises that seem to benefit me most, healthwise.
  5. I’ve been making jewellery for a couple of years, I’d like to make myself some cuff links and cut a few stones for friends and family.

That’s about as much as I feel I want to try and handle in 2013, and if I get all that done I’ll be mighty pleased. What are you goals for 2013?