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A streamlined wardrobe

Twenty sacks and counting.

My massive declutter continues and I'm beginning to see light and space in the house. Twenty 100ltr sacks of clothes have now hit the kerb one way or another. 

Organiser Marie Kondo recommends that you do your clothes first, because these things definitely belong to you and are easy to make decisions about, though I confess I am also doing it in a light way with books from time to time, just to take a break. For instance, I just boxed up all my remaining classics books from college and gave them to a friend (it felt great - haven't looked at the damn things for 30 years).

When it comes to clothes, though, this process been a lot less painful than I thought. Instead of weighing up the pros and cons of each item - is it useful, how often do I wear it, etc, I simply picked up each garment and felt it in my hands. Your fingertips tell you the truth - this is too old, this is too stiff, this is too tired. Or this is snuggly, this feels delicious, this is silky and delectable.

I've found that quite coincidentally, the process has narrowed down my wardrobe to a palette of grey, black, taupe and teal, with the odd very dark brown piece, and pastel colours such as pale pink and light, leafy green and soft blue (mainly thin sweaters) for summer. There are one or two white things and some brighter coloured scarves and winter coats for a jolt of energy in a dark season. 

I still have too many clothes - my ultimate aim is to get them down to a single standard wardrobe's worth - but it's an improvement. I've taken 18 100 sacks to the charity drop-off point, given a shedload to friends and put aside a small pile for Ebay (is it worth the hassle, I ask myself, and the answer is no for anything worth less than £20, which is the vast majority of my stuff).

My vintage clothes, I've packed separately, as other than cashmere sweaters and coats, these are really more about inspiration than wear these days, when my clothes lead a hard life of mud, dogs and woodburners. Meanwhile, for daily wear, there is a handful of brands I rely on:

* Finisterre, for merino thermals, tees and hoodies, knitwear and my new Pipistral coat - the best coat I've ever owned.

* Lands' End, for fleeces and walking shoes - their cashmere is also good.

* Wall, for Pima cotton dresses and wool trousers.  

* Boden, for grey cotton crewneck tees, which are 27 inches long, and linen and silk dresses for summer.

* Armor-Lux, for thick cotton Breton tops, which I own in navy and grey.

* M&S, for plain black denim jeans with black stitching, which I much prefer to a contrast stitch. 

* Sloggi, for cotton full briefs - the only knickers I now own.

* Bali, for minimiser bras, which converted me to underwires for the first time in 20 years. 

* Aran Crafts, for traditional knitwear, including my favourite long hooded coat. 

* Woolovers, for simply everyday knits in lambswool and merino.  

There is also a sprinkling of other brands: Orvis, Pringle, Braemar, Adini, Woolpower - mainly country or specialist clothiers rather than high street - and most of the unique spark is provided by vintage items: a lemon-coloured wool bouclé coat from the 60s, a bright pink 1950s coat in bouclé mohair, a cream polar-bear coat, a grey Persian lamb by Calman Links, etc. 

This Christmas was wick with social occasions, but with a trimmed-down wardrobe it proved sartorially easy. I mainly wore black cotton drill baggy trousers from Wall that look and feel like the finest wool, black leather ankle boots from M&S and a range of different tops and wraps - a silver textured fabric vintage jacket that my sister calls my 'panscrubber' jacket; a black wrap I made myself from silk fabric covered in shaggy beaded fringe; a scarlet Chinese silk embroidered vintage jacket from the 50s; a vintage sequinned cardigan with cream and black harlequin pattern; and a screaming magenta velvet vintage coat. 

This is how occasionwear looks in this neck of the woods - a nice coat that makes an entrance, some long, baggy trousers you can get your thermals under if need be and a top that looks interesting over the dining table.  

A room of one's own

I'm creating a Zen space for myself.

So, it's 2015. 

I wonder what the year will hold in store? Good things, one hopes, but much of it is out of one's own control.

Last year was a good year for us workwise: this year starts with unemployment. But on the bright side, perhaps less exhaustion from overwork to go with it. I will have to take back the gardening in-house this year as we can no longer afford to employ someone, the dogs are back on dechets, which will save us 80 euros a month, and I aim to put myself under a new-clothing embargo in the interests of economy.

Ideally I would spend nothing all year on clothing, but I think that's a tad unrealistic - but I'm hoping to manage the first three months without spending any money on clothes. Because the truth is that I have no clothing needs, only wants. 

Because I do not believe in resolutions, only in intentions, I will not commit to something like Project 333 (I'll blog more about this later), but I hope to stick to something similar myself, along with my other intentions for 2015: to lose weight, to gain fitness, to do more yoga, and to practice more zazen. 

In the interests of not spending money on clothes, I've spent the past couple of weeks diligently unsubscribing from five email feeds each day. It's remarkable now little crap is now coming into my inbox. Some of these firms, such as Finisterre and Lands' End, I did sign up for, but there were many that I did not - I've never bought a damn thing from Next, for instance, and yet there were their email offers, endlessly cluttering up my inbox. 

In the interests of doing more yoga and zazen, I've also stopped looking at the news, listed some Zen and simplicity blog favourites to read over breakfast, and clawed back a dedicated space for myself in the house. Our 'second' bedroom, which has in turns been a guest room, a sewing room and a winter bedroom, is now going to be 'my' room. Weeks of decluttering and discarding furniture (25 sacks of clothes and fabric so far, plus a double bed and a marble washstand) have resulted in a space large enough to accommodate a nice daybed for lounging and reading, plus a huge area to put down a yoga mat. Most of the rest of the room is empty and I am using the money gained by selling furniture to have another closet built in.  

Earlier in the year, we had closets built into one half of the room, which we exchanged for our vintage Karmann Ghia, which was rusting away in the garage. I think I got the better part of the deal, with floor-to-ceiling storage 60cm deep now running along the whole of one wall. Following Marie Kondo's advice, I also put a bookcase in the back of the hanging section, which freed up space on our landing as well as providing me with storage for sweaters, shoes, etc.   

The room is now starting to feel very Zen, and will be even more so by the summer, I hope. Here will be my singing bowl, my rune stones, my scented candles, my miniature Zen garden and my SAD lightboxes. Everything white and calm. And no-one allowed in except by appointment... 


When will it end?

Sometimes decluttering can feel like scaling a mountain, but I am inching my way to the summit.

I will never be a minimalist. Nor do I want to be. But I would like to be better organised. 

Converting my old sewing room into our new winter bedroom and closing off our top floor for winter, as if it were attic storage space, has thrown up some dilemmas. How to get rid of the crap without getting rid of the good stuff? What about the also-rans. What about stuff that belonged to the family, or to people who are now dead and it's all that's left of them?  

I have always tended to be a tad completist in my wardrobe, for instance, keeping outfits or items for a rainy day (which may not come very often, though when it does, it's great to have JUST the right thing to hand). But it's also hard to give up, psychologically, aspects of myself that I used to be. I'm not saying it's psychologically healthy to be this way - it isn't. I have far too much nostalgia for the past and an unwillingless to jettison it, an inability sometimes to recognise the person I am now and embrace that, rather than the more youthful and dynamic woman of the past. 

Nevertheless, I am making modest progress. Recently I bought a new towel bale (three bath sheets and three hand towels) and a bathrobe in Shadi stripe from Habitat, and out have gone all the other threadbare, unmatched, wrongly-sized towels we had accumulated over the years. The old Habitat towels are now lining the back seat of the car, while the rest are stacked in a cat carrier in the barn for when we wash the dog. The worst have been cut into rags and are doing good duty for floor-washing, after which they'll go on the compost heap. 

I also bought a stack of storage boxes - plastic with clip-lids - which are all the same size and can therefore be stacked easily. I chose turquoise, as it's a colour I like, which means I can bear to look at them if they can't be hidden away, and that has tidied up a lot of my sewing paraphernalia for storage under the beds. 

The major stuff done, I decided to tackle the more difficult tasks and downsize all my 'personal' stuff into one storage box from the two it was resting in, and I set to on that yesterday with good results.

Keepers: letters from my sister and from my friends when I was at college, which I bagged up in a thin 'college' file; old photographs; my ITEC qualification certificates; old diaries; even my mother's letters, which I currently feel too guilty to throw away now that she's dead, but since I have no wish to actually read them again, they are bagged up in an opaque envelope, which I hope will make them easier to discard in the future and at least I won't come across them accidentally.

Chuckers: letters and cards from my ex-partner. Why the hell did I hang on to these for so many years? He was a nutter and a psycho, and I've been with my husband for 23 years anyway, good grief. Letters and cards from people I can't remember or didn't like much anyway (ditto). Old school autograph books and exercise books - worth a read for one last laugh at my 11-year-old self, but of absolutely no interest to anyone else, given that I don't have kids. Into the burning pile they went. 

Coursework from college went out some years ago: I've been employed for nearly 30 years and never once used anything I learned at university. But for some reason, I still had the paperwork from my disciplinary procedure from a company I worked for over 20 years ago, where I had to fight tooth and nail to keep my job in the face of anti-union bosses and an alcoholic editor. Again, why keep this? It only holds bad memories for me: aside from the death of my father, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me and permanently damaged my health (hello, colon ulcers). So again, into the burning pile it has gone, and very satisfying that will be when the time comes.

At the end of a couple of hours, my personal effects did indeed fit into one box, which is now sealed and stored under the marble washstand in the bedroom, to hand, but out of sight.

And I then started on my 'cuttings' folders. This is another thing I tend to do - cut out from magazines recipes, interiors shots and fashion that I find interesting or inspiring. But honestly, there is only so much you actually look at. In this area at least I am rather more disciplined, as I go through these files every year and chuck anything I no longer find inspiring. But this time, I am being more ruthless in order to get it all into one box, and ALL the recipes have gone out (never used one of them and, besides, I have a kitchen full of cookbooks, most of which will be going out too); fashion I no longer find inspiring; self-help articles I'll never read again. 

It is a longer task than the personal effects, but I'll be through it by the end of today, I hope, and that will be two more square feet of the bedroom in good order. Thus, inch by inch, I'm gradually revealing empty space.



A new room

We're revamping the house again.

fjell bed

Well, it's 3.00am and I can't sleep, so I might as well blog... 

We are carrying on with our declutter-fest. Having disposed of 100 items of clothing recently, I just decided to keep going, and then I hit on another bright idea.

We live in a three-storey house, because the attic is converted. But it's glacially cold up there, including our bedroom. It's a lovely room, with a cathedral ceiling and full of light, with its huge Velux window and casement looking out across the garden and orchard. Waking up in the summer months is a great experience, but it's a terrible struggle to keep it warm in winter.

Two years ago, it was 8 degrees, and this winter we managed to get it up to 13 or so degrees, but it cost a fortune in electricity (plug-in radiator, because we can't run the central heating for more than a couple of hours a day, being oil-fired and very expensive), and 13 degrees is still cold enough to wake you up with a cold face.

Then, recently, I hit on a bright idea. On the first floor, right above the living room, is my sewing room. It's long since ceased to be the room where I actually sew and become a repository for junk: fabrics, out of season clothing, my kimono collection and assorted storage (bedding, towels, old diaries, photos, etc) and furniture that's migrated from elsewhere in the house.

However, it's a relatively warm room as it has the chimney for the woodburner running through it and also benefits from the heat that builds up in the room below during the course of an evening. It used to be our guest room but we rejected it as a permanent bedroom for ourselves because it's so dark, lit only by one deep-silled window facing west and a tiny arrow-slit window to the south. 

But, in winter, it suddenly occured to me, this is not an issue, because you go to bed in the dark and you get up in the dark anyway. There's nothing to stop us having a winter bedroom and a summer bedroom. 

As often, when I mentioned it to the DH, it turned out he'd been thinking along similar lines (this often happens - probably a sign we should get married...).

I don't know why we'd never thought of this before. It gives us a ready-made spare bedroom for the occasional visitor and there's plenty of storage under (and on) each bed for items such as spare duvets, which do seem to take up a ridiculous amount of space. Clothing for each season can be stored in the relevant room and we'll just migrate in spring and autumn. 

Of course, the room will still have to do double-duty for sewing, but that is fairly easy, I think, as there is a deep alcove lined in shelving that can be curtained off fairly readily, and we have decided to hire a carpenter friend to build a storage wall on one side to make better use of the difficult space that goes around the spine beam and the sloping chimneypiece.

I have the above bed in mind for this room - the Fjell from Ikea - in order to keep the profile neat and not have dust bunnies under the bed. That, a couple of nightstands and a chair to sit on should suffice and since we want to move two of the four chairs out of our dining room anyway, in order to free up space, that kills another two birds with one stone.

So, this past couple of days I have set to and started chucking out, listing furniture for sale and getting rid of my old massage couch, which I haven't used in years.

It is a good feeling, decluttering and lightening up. You find an enormous amount of crap you've kept for reasons you can't fathom, and a lot of badly used storage (I had a bunch of empty shoe boxes, for instance). I've already filled two rubbish sacks with charity and chuckouts and have decided to start using up some of the sewing stash for quilts to sell on Etsy. 

Right, back to bed... 


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.

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.

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.