Archive for the ‘How-to’ Category

5 Quick Wins

7 May 2013

Hi everyone,

Today is a little how-to, as we get a little into the nitty gritty of how to be a minimalist. I’ve talked about the benefits of being free from clutter and I’ve shared some of my experiences on this joyous journey: now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get cracking! Here they are: 5 quick wins!

  1. Surfaces. Get them clean! Get them clear! No, you don’t have to pack everything exactly right away in the right spot all at once: take it gradually. Be easy on yourself. Allow (at first!) a messy cupboard or two (or however many your current mess takes up!). Then whittle it down to one cupboard, one box, etc. In the meantime, have your dining table, benchtops, any surface you can think of, clean and clear. It’s a simple fix (shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes) and you’ll feel so much better for it.
  2. Budget. Here’s some simple maths: $ incomings > $ outgoings. If your outgoings are bigger than your incomings, you need to pare back and/or get a way of making more money. I now have a rule: all money must be budgeted before it can be handled. I use an easy way here: I budget in multiples of $10. For starters, my arithmetic is very ordinary, so it makes sense for me to round up or down (mostly up) for my expenses. Secondly, ATM machines in Australia only issue cash in multiples of $10, so I can easily allocate what money is going where at the ATM. (Money dedicated for a particular purpose is folded in half in my wallet, and must never be touched for anything else.)
  3. Wardrobe audit. Time to love yourself a little here. Anything frayed, tatty, stained, ripped, or generally at the end of a long and happy life has to go. Clothes in unflattering colours should go too (battleship grey? What the hell was I thinking? I’m not a battleship!). Get a few basic pieces (a “capsule wardrobe”) in basic neutrals and build from there. Don’t have a wardrobe full of clashing, unflattering, daggy clothes.
  4. Month of focus. This is a brand new idea and I’m starting to warm to it. You declare every calendar month a new focus. Thus, the month of May is going to be the month I (finally!) focus on swimming. I’ll keep you posted. June is looking like vegetable month.
  5. Meditate. Make the effort to “turn off” for about 15 minutes or so (is there something magic about 15 minutes?) and relax. There are all sorts of techniques that I like to use; one of my favourites is a little singing bowl. I have a massive quartz one (14″ no less), but I use my much smaller portable metal one much more. Focusing on my breathing, imagining a point of light — all these are good too!

So there you have it: five quick wins on the minimalist path. Enjoy!


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!