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Time for a bourse

The urge for a clothes swap is upon me.

Well, it's definitely autumn now, isn't it? The weather fell off a cliff yesterday, as if someone had thrown a switch. Not so much in temperatures as in rain, and the wind picking up. It's been a remarkably still summer, with almost nothing in the way of wind, and I'd forgotten how quickly it strips the heat out of the house. Plus there is that sound - the wind lashing in the trees, the crows the only birds to be heard. 

It means I'm gradually washing and putting away my summer linens - with some regret, I must admit - and that makes me think of a bourse, or clothes swap.

I haven't held a bourse since April, though there was one in July that I missed, due to ill health, and for most of us here the summer is very busy with visitors, running gites or animals to look after, so we have not seen each other much lately. But this change of season when you pack away your summer things and get out the heavier clothes is a good opportunity to reassess your wardrobe and your clothing needs, and it's a good excuse for a get-together too.

As aforementioned, I had already done an edit of my clothes for the coming autumn, and shoved a load of clothes (two thirds, at a guess) into an 'also ran' pile. So last night, I went through that pile and sorted it into keepers and chuckers. The stuff to chuck, it is galling to admit, is nearly all mistakes - things I tried that just didn't work like the floral shirts I bought last year, things I ordered that turned out to be the wrong shape or too bright a colour and which I lacked the energy to send back, or - a real problem for me - teeshirts that were fine for one or two wearings but which then shrank so much in length in the wash that they're no longer wearable.

Do all busty women have this problem with teeshirts? I have the Devil's own job getting them long enough to go over my boobs. Many times I buy a tee that seems fine, but once it loses a bit of elasticity in the wash, it ends up at my high hip, whence it proceeds to walk up to stomach level as soon as I move - not a look I am interested in. If they're long enough, they're usually too baggy - an issue I've found with Lands' End, where I like the quality but can't find a cut I like. I'm desperate for Finisterre to get back in their tees in charcoal and black for winter, as they are 27 inches long and quite clingy - perfect for my hourglass shape - and they actually stay put, though at £45 a pop, they are a serious investment.

Within an hour I'd bagged up 60 garments for the bourse and I haven't even started on the winter clothing yet. Here, I had intended to do the Euromayenne fair again, as I have three times in the past, but when I emailed to book a stall I was told rather snottily that I wouldn't be allowed to sell secondhand clothing. Frankly, I think that's a bit rich, given the general poverty of this area, where average wages are 12,000 euros a year, so I guess that means a whole load of photographing and sticking stuff on Ebay and trekking to the post office. But c'est comme ça. If my Aquascutum, Jaegar and Austin Reed aren't good enough, then bollocks to them. 

A couple of my old furs, I have in mind to send to the costume museum at Bath as they are good examples of their day, with the 1930s techniques of fur stranding etc. And the rest, into the bourse they go.  

Meanwhile, my closets are looking, if not empty, at least not packed to the gills any more, and everything suddenly goes with everything else, which can't be bad.  


The 100-thing wardrobe

Is it really possible to have a wardrobe of only 100 things? It might be fun to try, if only as a mental exercise.

It is a curious fact, but cutting down a wardrobe to 100 things - my own personal '100-thing' challenge - is somewhat easier than trying to cut it down to 10 of each kind of clothing. Why that should be, I just don't know. Maybe it's the same reasoning that in a house fire would make you grab your kids, your pets and your photos and leg it out of there. 

I should state from the outset that I have no real intention of actually cutting my wardrobe down to this sort of size. I am no Miss Minimalist (who has one top, one skirt, one pair of jeans...), and I have also collected vintage clothing for years, much of it simply because I find it beautiful rather than because I actually wear it.

But I do think these days that my general uniform could usefully be curated down considerably on the 80/20 principle that you wear 20 per cent of your things 80 per cent of the time, and the other 80 per cent only 20 per cent of the time. 

Making my list (in order of preference) looked like this (or you can skip to What this tells me):

1 All my knickers (I think it's OK to have knickers as a batch item, as you need at least seven pairs, but mine are mostly Sloggi maxi briefs these days - pants that don't head for your butt crack as soon as you start walking. I have given up on most other styles.)

2 All my bras (ditto, as you need at least three. Mine go-to's are two Ahh bras, a soft bra from Spiedel and an uplift jobby from Playtex).

3 All my socks (though I've already done my curating here and now have only nine pairs, all mohair and all from Corrymoor: two Sportsman, two Explorer, two Companion, two Woodlander, and one Woodlander Plus 4 that come up over your knees. The different weights are different colours because I'm completely anal).

4 Navy Emreco stretch jeans (3 per cent lycra rather than 2 per cent. They were formally pink but I dyed them. I might do them charcoal this year).

5 Turquoise Eddy teeshirt (a dense merino teeshirt from Finisterre that can be worn in all but the hottest weather and doubles as thermal underwear, and also has just the right depth of neckline)

6 Grey cashmere v-neck boyfriend cardigan (just the right length and weight, and has pockets)

7 1 set of Five Seasons Superwoman thermal underwear (a poloneck and longjohns in Climate Control microfibre)

8 Eau de nil cashmere poloneck

9 White cotton shirt with embroidered front

10 Black cashmere poloneck

11 Black cotton Lands' End poloneck

12 Black fleece Lands' End poloneck

13 Blue Eddy tee

14 Navy and white striped Armor-Lux matelot tee (thick, soft cotton and a generous length)

15 Navy Burberry polo coat with wool zipout lining (can be worn on all but the hottest and coldest days)

16 Lands’ end khaki lightweight trekkers (the shoes I've worn all summer, light and comfortable, with a memory foam footbed)

17 Aigle wellies (invaluable neoprene-lined boots, 17 years old and still going strong)

18 Lands’ end winter trekking boots (for rambling)

19 Lands’ End walking shoes (which look like trainers and have a memory foam footbed)

20 Magenta pashmina (almost fluorescently bright for a pop of winter colour)

21 Charcoal blue-grey Uggs (worn instead of slippers)

23 Gloves of some sort (probably my rabbit fur-lined leather ones from Liberty)

24 Blue corduroy hat from Lands' End

25 Black Lands’ end stretch cotton trousers

26 Black Wall baggy trousers (fine cotton and rayon drill pants with a cashmere feel)

27 Pale blue linen Orvis shirtwaist (heavy, quality linen)

28 Red vintage seersucker striped shirtwaist (a perfect fit and beautiful detailing)

29 Black pintuck cotton jersey Wall skirt (great basic stretch skirt in Pima cotton)

30 Black Wall lantern dress (Pima cotton jersey with an unusual drape)

31 Pink cashmere poloneck

32 Grey cashmere v-neck sweater from M&S

33 Grey cashmere Lands' End crewneck

34 Second set Superwoman thermal underwear

35 Grey stretch cotton Land’s End pants

36 Charcoal long cotton Lands' End jersey Starfish tunic

37 Cream ramie collarless Liberty shirt (a long, collarless shirt in almost banana-like fibre)

38 Taupe cotton vintage Aquascutum trenchcoat (a generous cut, quality fabric and leather buttons)

39 Navy wool ganzy (a long handknit, and with pockets)

40 Black Lands’ End fleece pants

41 Same again in charcoal 

42 Black merino knitted pencil skirt (17 years old, from John Lewis, with a grown-on waistband)

43 Black stretch velvet pencil skirt (from Asda, of all places, but a lovely lustrous velvet)

44 Black leather M&S Footglove ankle boots

45 Primrose pashmina

46 Primrose vintage cashmere cardigan with gold buttons (thick, strong 3-ply cashmere)

47 Cream floral linen dress that doubles as a nightie (bias-cut Per Una, with no zip)

48 Pale grey cotton summer cardigan (because grey goes with everything. From the local supermarket)

49 Mint green mock-croc patent leather handbag (huge, glossy and a lifts a plain outfit)

50 Pink floral backpack (used mainly for swimming but also works as a day pack, with lots of different sections)

51 Black Squall Stadium coat from Lands' End (fabulous winter coat - waterproof and lightweight, with a hood)

52 Navy fleece hoodie from Land's End

53 Teal cotton Land's End poloneck

54 Navy polka dot Land's End poloneck

55 Shadi bathrobe (striped cotton velour from Habitat)

56 Navy Land's End down-filled dressing gown

57 Raffia hat (worn every day in summer for the past eight years, and folds into a handbag)

58 Navy stripe cotton Land's End poloneck

59 Black polka dot fleece pyjamas (because a girl needs warmth in winter)

60 Pale blue pashmina

61 Black fleece-lined tights from Japan

62 Black lace-edged camisole (M&S)

63 Turquoise cotton cardigan

64 Denim-blue pintuck chambray dress (home-made, a copy of a Hobbs dress and exactly matches my eyes)

65 Navy Orvis float dress (loose, thin cheesecloth, it was cream but I dyed it)

66 Black lambswool fitted cardigan (gives me an hourglass shape)

67 Pearl and garnet drop earrings (a present from my husband when we first met)

68 Turquoise and silver stud earrings (a present from my husband, and my perfect colour)

69 Turquoise bead necklace (home-made, for a shot of colour)

70 Pearl necklace (because pearls bring light to your face)

71 Three long strings of fake pearls (ditto)

72 White linen South African jacket with pintucked shoulders

73 Black evening stole covered with crystal beads (the perfect weight, with a shaggy look like glass fur)

74 Navy and gold brocade evening coat (great for gallery events and to make an entrance)

75 Turquoise pashmina (for a shot of colour)

76 Pink cashmere Berk cardigan (very long, very thick and very heavy, with pockets)

77 (Black Eddy tee) (items I don't own yet, but intend to as soon as they're available)

78 (Charcoal Eddy tee) (items I don't own yet, but intend to as soon as they're available)

79 Black Wallis cardi with pewter beading (the perfect evening cardigan and goes with everything)

80 Cream cashmere poloneck

81 Regatta fleece thermals (which double as pyjamas)

82 Turquoise vintage swingback coat (amazing colour and shape)

83 Pale grey Issy cotton jersey dress from Wall (a summer-weight sleeveless dress with asymmetric detailing)

84 Teal lantern dress from Wall

85 Jade cashmere ribbed-neck polo (was cream but I dyed it)

86 Speedo clipback legsuit (if I had to pick just one costume)

87 Black wool Next pencil skirt with lace hem (the perfect going-out length)

88 Charcoal fleece Lands' End gilet

89 Navy fleece Lands' End poloneck sweater

90 White linen long summer coat from Hobbs (with long vents for wearing over dresses, skirts or trousers)

91 Sage green 1970s Jaegar wool trench (a lovely weight and drape, and most unusual colour)

92 Grey Craghopper microfleece (for rambling - and has a pocket)

93 Black Lidl walking trousers (for rambling)

94 Charcoal cotton Lands' End poloneck sweater

95 Denim blue wrap Hobbs linen dress (a two-part dress that wraps back to front and front to back)

96 Pale grey Lands' End Starfish tunic (really long, and has pockets!)

97 Black suede Lands' End winter boots

98 African mud-print fabric trousers (home-made and bias cut, in very thin damask)

99 Grey pima pintuck trousers from Wall (lined cotton jersey trousers with slimming details and pockets)

100 Pale pink pashmina 

What this tells me

Well, clearly I like my comfort, because there's barely a single tailored item in here. In fact, there's only one skirt and one pair of trousers that even have a zip. I have no need to be smart (though I still like to look elegant). Most of my clothing now is either stretch fabric or bias-cut (therefore with natural stretch), and occasionally things button but more often, they go on over my head, pull on, or wrap and tie. 

There is almost no pattern, only block colour, and for me, as for most women, black remains the most useful colour, followed by navy, grey, white and then my 'pop' colour - turquoise. The only other colours are pastels (baby pink, baby blue, primose yellow...) and the occasional taupe or beige, though less of that than I expected. There's nothing red, saffron, brown or khaki (other than in footwear where I've sometimes had no choice), and a number of things do double-duty, such as thermals or a linen dress you can sleep in. Above all, fabric quality is key for me: I love pure cashmere (especially vintage); linen; thick, soft cottons; velvet; and modern microfibres and stretch fleeces with a peachskin or velvety feel. 

V-neck sweaters mostly don't make the cut, as they're not warm enough in winter, while there are polonecks in abundance because nine months of the year I'm trying to stay warm (in fact, almost all this clothing is designed to either keep cool in blazing temperatures or keep warm in freezing ones). I love pockets. And I most definitely do not have a shoe fetish. 

So what to do? After pratting about making this list (which I admit to finding a tad too restrictive), I started another of 100 winter things and 100 summer things, and I quickly realised that I ran out of top-grade items at about 140 all told. The truth is, many of the things I own are really also-rans - too long, too short, too small, not quite the right colour, not quite the right shape, a bit tired from over-wear, or have picked up a stain in the wash. However, I find it particularly hard to get rid of 'perfectly good clothing' which I've also 'paid good money for' (since I am also a tightwad), so the house is littered with the stuff.

It is a mistake, because it is all taking up space, which is precious. So my aim this weekend is to bag up those also-rans and put them into deep storage. Anything that has not been worn in a year should hopefully be easier to kiss goodbye to, and I can once again reclaim some space - along with benefiting from a simpler and more streamlined wardrobe. 


Busy doing something

Today I have mostly... been a scrubber

Ouf. Off to bed in a minute after a fun Bank Holiday. Some people, doubtless, went to the coast, given that it was 27 degrees and blazing sunshine, but here the DH was working, so I felt morally obliged to do something useful about the place. 

We have been decluttering recently - something we always seem to feel the need to do in spring. The DH has been clearing out his studio (aka: junk room full of computer bits and whatnot), while I have been chucking out clothes. I bunged over 100 items in the latest bourse, and at the end of the bourse, took three binliners of clothing round to a friend's, whose daughter is knocking off work after having her baby and could do with a new wardrobe for free.  

Meanwhile, the DH has been screaming for more space in the living room, as he is sick of manoeuvring around furniture all the time (why, for heaven's sake, do we have a dining table that seats six, and four dining chairs, when we eat on our laps?), and I too am getting tired of what we own - furniture that is too heavy and cumbersome. I fancy, for instance, replacing our Queen Anne high-back dining chairs with indoor-outdoor stackable bistro-style chairs, so we can also use them in the garden.

Anyway, here's what I got done today:

* After chi kung (about which, the DH is being good as gold) and breakfast (an apple, as today is a fast day), I did some work, then had a bath.  

* We had a nice hour-long walk before lunch and then I had a rubbish stock-cube-soup and another apple.  

* I did three loads of washing and got it all dried outside in the sunshine.   

* Then I did the plastics recycling - two bin bags full. This is just a couple of weeks-worth, given that we don't have potable water so we drink 24 bottles of mineral water a week.  

* I took five bin bags of rubbish to the poubelles.  

* Then I started emptying our disgusting, full, white trash trailer and took another five bin bags to the poubelles. No more, because I ran out of bin liners. 

* Then I valeted the car, because the rubbish had leaked ick all over the boot and because we also need to take it to the garage to ask about a part-exchange. We have a lovely Citroen C5 estate, but it is way too big for our needs and I fancy downsizing to something like a C3 or a Clio. It's got to be a French car, in order to get parts and servicing, so sadly a Nissan Micra, a Kia or a VW are all out. 

* Then I cleaned out the Dust Buster, because it was full of car crap, mostly sand from Brittany.  

* Then I had a rest and a cup of rooibos, especially as I fell a couple of weeks ago and have a twisted ankle, bruised ribs and a bruised sternum, so am feeling a bit dire generally.

* Then I did some gardening - mostly just tidying up as I did a ton of dead-heading, pruning and planting at the weekend.  

* Then I did some work for an hour or two, and then went down to the ponds to read for a bit in the sun, but I couldn't concentrate, so I raked out algae instead.

* Then we came back up and had dinner (salad with bresaola and another fucking apple).

* Then I swept up the living room, packed up a bin liner of clothes for Emmaus, filled the car with boxes of books/old computer etc for charity, cleared the dining table of all the accumulated junk it's acquired while we've been decluttering, covered my wing chairs in freshly dyed clean sheets (I've gone for turquoise...) and moved all the furniture we're getting rid of into the dining-room half of the living room. Presto, tons more space. 

And now it appears to be night.  Oh la, another day bites the dust. But I did at least get to spend a lot of it outside today, and even inside, the doors and windows were wide open, with that amazing summer feel - birds singing, willows blowing. My ministrations mean that the car is beautifully clean (next stop, the car wash) and we now have uninterrupted space from the front French doors right across the room to the window opposite, which overlooks the hillside. This, I think, is the crucial view in the room and keeping it clear makes the place feel huge. 

A good day's work, then, so I can feel virtuous, and back to my desk tomorrow. And, thankfully, eating again...



Tidying up

Doing several 10-minute tidies per day is helping me keep things in better order.

The DH was away in England recently and while he was gone, I made some valiant efforts to get the house somewhat tidier. 

We are both messy people, and living with a dog and five cats doesn't help. With him, it's robot parts, bits of computer equipment and books. With me, it's clothes, hobbies like beading, and more books.

Add to that the fact that our surfaces are covered in mud on a daily basis, courtesty of our cat Rockwell, who sleeps on the living room buffet and drinks from the kitchen taps; the fact that at least one of the cats will be sick each day, and on a bad day there can be 6-7 lots of vomit to clean up; litter trays for the 18-year-olds (three of them); woodburners and the general filth of country life and it's quite a potent cocktail.

I lugged eight sacks of rubbish, eight sacks of recyling and seven sacks of charity stuff to the various depots over the course of the week, set up a 'station' for shredding paper; cleared a proper space in the office to work on my beading, and generally got the place looking pristine.  

I then decided to practise some better daily habits.

* Bring breakfast in on a tray so that I can carry it away easily afterwards and clear the crockery into the dishwasher.

* Plump the sofa cushions after breakfast.

* Keep the kitchen island unit clear (of catfood, crockery, stuff that hasn't been put away yet...) 

* Dry the bath after using it and hang the bathmat over the side so the floor is clear.

* After getting dressed, make the bed (which has been airing since we got up and by now has a sleeping cat on it).

* Keep all surfaces clear, especially the pine buffet that divides up our living room, and the coffee table (remotes are allowed).

* Vacuum the hearth, where there is always an ash spill.

* Spend 10 minutes tidying up after breakfast, lunch and dinner, to stop the mess from building up during the course of the day. When you work from home and cook all your meals from scratch, things can get pretty chaotic.

So far, it is working well. Walking into a clean, neat room whichever room it is, is raising my spirits, and - like exercise - doing housework in small tranches doesn't feel too burdensome - important when it takes an hour to vacuum our 70sqm living room. 



Wardrobe planning

Find out the clothes that are really working for you - and discard the rest.

Which clothes in your wardrobe are you actually wearing? According to professional wardrobe organisers, the answer is surprisingly few - about 20 per cent. The remaining 80 per cent of our clothes hang there untouched.

For all kinds of reasons, it's very easy to end up with a wardrobe full of things you don't wear. But keeping clothes that don't do you sterling service is a mistake. You have to maintain them, you have to insure them, you have to store the damn things and be responsible for them.

If you're not sure about this concept, consider for a moment that every square inch of your house costs you money. Look at how much square footage of your precious property they are taking up. What is that worth to you in real terms? My house in rural France is worth 1,000 euros per square metre. In the South-East of England, your house might be worth £265 per SQUARE FOOT. Seriously, how much of that precious space do you want to devote to clothes?

Apart from creating extra space, working on the basis that every woman needs a wardrobe that actually works for her, sorting out the sheep from the goats among your clothing has other advantages.

* You will no longer have days when you have 'nothing to wear'.

* Everything in your wardrobe will fit and flatter you.

* Dressing in the morning will be easier and stress-free because, by and large, everything will go together.

Sort it out

Step one to discovering what works in your wardrobe and what doesn't, is to find out what you're actually wearing right now, and you'll probably have to do this at least twice (once for summer and once for winter, or even more if you divide your clothes by extra seasons). For this exercise, you'll need the following:

* A clothes rail. Place this in the spare room/adult child's room/anywhere dry and safe where your hangable clothes can be stored for a while.

* Two brightly coloured ribbons. Tie these at the right-hand end of the hanging rail in your wardrobe. They should be different colours and loose enough so that you can slide them up and down the rail.

* Two long wardrobe shelves, cleared of stuff, or two large cardboard boxes for storing foldable clothes. Label them 1 and 2.

Over the course of the next two weeks, whenever you wear a hangable garment, replace it on the rail to the right of the first ribbon, moving the ribbon along as necessary (wash or dry-clean garments as you go along, as you would normally, obviously - don't put them away dirty). Likewise, whenever you use a foldable item such as knickers, t-shirts, bras, jeans and so on, replace it on the first set-aside shelf, or in the first cardboard box.

If you find you use an item more than once, place it to the right of the second ribbon, or in the second box - these designate your 'frequently used items'.

After two weeks, take a look at the clothes that you've actually worn. Why are you wearing them? Chances are, they fulfil a number of criteria:

* They fit you.

* They're comfortable.

* They're practical for your lifestyle.

* You like them.

* They may also flatter you, though not necessarily - they may just be all you've got.

Now make some notes

1: If these clothes fit you, make a note of the size. If, in all honesty, they're too big or too small but you're wearing them because you have nothing else, give this step a miss.

2: If they're comfortable, ask yourself why - is there a generosity of cut, a particular length of sleeve, a height to the waistband that you favour? Are you looking at a coat with a shoulderline that goes over everything else or is the right length for the car? Are the knickers ones which actually hold your buttocks in place rather than cheese-wiring you into submission? If so, note it down so that you can duplicate these buys. For instance, I no longer wear short tees or vests - only long ones that don't come untucked when I bend or crouch.

3: If they're practical for your lifestyle, try to analyse why. Does the colour go with your other things? Is the fabric? Is it that they're patterned and don't show the dirt? Is it because they're easy to maintain? Two years ago, I switched all my foundation pieces to the colour navy, with occasional forays into black or charcoal. I lead a dirty life of dog walks, woodburners, gardening and cooking, and navy is a good, practical colour that doesn't show the muck but still feels quite smart. 

4: If you like them, again try to analyse why. Be specific - this blouse makes you feel sexy, this dress makes you look taller, you can run in these heels. Your particular likes and dislikes may be nothing to do with 'fashion'. 

5: If they flatter you, you'll know from other people's reactions as well as your own. Ask for guidance. Is this just the right neckline for you, for instance? Is the skirt length just right for showing off your calves? Does the colour make your complexion sing? Define exactly what it is that's flattering about this garment and reproduce it.

Now list each of the five categories above, so that you can give the rest of your clothing a score out of five.

Finally, take all the clothes you didn't wear out of the wardrobe and hang them on the rail in the spare room. Ditto with the folding clothes you didn't wear. Store them on the spare bed for now, or swap over your cardboard boxes and put those in the spare room. These unworn clothes now have a two-week reprieve before you analyse their wardrobe value and consider getting shot of them. You might be surprised at how few trips you actually make to that spare room.


The ten per cent solution

I have decided to get rid of 10 per cent of everything I own.

Conquering clutter

Space and light should be the mantra.

According to Terence Conran at least...

Easy ways to reduce your fashion footprint

Check out this video for how to throw away your clothes sensibly

Even ditching your clothes has an environmental impact...

In one door and out the other

This year it seems I will make more from selling my clothes than I spend buying new ones.

This year I find I have bought almost nothing new to wear, and got rid of some old favourites.

A green way to declutter your wardrobe

If you're planning a big wardrobe chuck-out for the new year, here's a greener way to do it.

If you have a bunch of garments you want to discard, think first of how useful they might be if you simply altered them.

What ARE you wearing? Part 2

Culling your useless clothes can be a satisfying experience - here's how to do it.

In Part 1 of this article I looked at how to work out which clothes you're actually wearing. Your clothes have now had a month to prove their usefulness and it should be pretty apparent which ones you're NOT wearing, so we'll now look at these.