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The hoarding minimalist

I may be able to trim down a bit, but I'll never be no minimalist.

Miss Minimalist's capsule wardrobe

I was reading the Miss Minimalist blog the other day. 

I like Miss Minimalist and enjoyed her book The Joy of Less, though I do also find myself shaking my head and thinking: ooh, you're very young, aren't you? (No proper seating, only floor cushions? - try that in a draughty medieval farmhouse on a stone-cold terracotta floor when you've got arthritis, love...). 

Anyway, the other day I read a blog of hers about a capsule wardrobe - see pic.  I like her style a lot, but as she fully admits, it won't suit everyone's life, and sadly it wouldn't come near suiting mine - it's too smart and would get dirty too quickly. But it set me thinking about my wardrobe and why it's not quite as streamlined as I would like (this is a slight understatement). 

At this time of year, I pretty much live in the following:
* Climate Control thermal underwear, consisting of the Five Seasons Superwoman poloneck top and longjohns.
* Corrymoor socks.
* Fleece polonecks from Lands' End. 
* Pull-on bootcut denim jeggings from British Home Stores. 
* Uggs. 

If the day's a bit colder, I'll top that with a fleece gilet. If it's a bit warmer, I might wear a cashmere polo instead, and in milder weather I lose the thermals and just wear the jeggings with a long t-shirt, with or without a gilet or a long cardi on top. 

I can get away - just - with wearing the same jeggings and top all week if I had to, though both would be pretty grubby. But the thermal top needs changing every single day (this is why I have six sets, plus other types of thermals). Does Miss Minimalist not sweat, I wonder? 

However, cleanliness aside, major problem arises because I'm a tad schizophrenic about clothes and also I do love a bit of variety.  In summer, I love a flowery linen dress, but with the weather so unpredictable, I'm still often in jeggings and a teeshirt (always long-sleeved and I've recently thrown out all my short-sleeved ones).

But the jeggings aren't really smart enough to go into town with, so I also have proper jeans - these days most have been dyed navy. But the jeans aren't comfortable enough for working at a desk in, so once I'm home, it's back to jeggings. Or Kiwis, if the weather's colder. Or fleece-lined trousers if it's bitter. 

In summer, meanwhile, I might fancy a sleeveless top, but my arms are past it, so that entails another clothing layer of cardigans, shrugs and wotnot, especially since hot flushes mean layering is essential - I like a cardi that I can undo and get some air in there (far better than a teeshirt). And a dress and cardigan both need to be changed every day or again, they get frankly stinky. 

Shoes are a now nightmare - a constant compromise between what I can actually wear with my whisper-thin soles (Crocs, Uggs, walking shoes from companies like Columbia) and what I'd like to wear (my 3in pink suede stilettos from Laura Ashley). And just try finding an elegant, comfortable shoe that you can wear with a dress - all summer long I live in FlyFlot sandals, which fortunately suit my casual life. 

But I also look at Miss Minimalist's wardrobe and think: doesn't your life contain more variety than this? She admits this selection doesn't include specialist clothes (swimming, hiking, etc) but where are the clothes for parties or for slobbing out at home, for instance? If I wore the same clothes at home as for going out, I'd be done for - my home clothes get covered in animal hair, fire ash and mud pretty regularly, whereas I do try hard to keep my 'going out' clothes a bit cleaner and smarter. In fact, I use my rare occasions of lunch out or my writers group meeting to wear precisely the things that I can't wear at home - such as blouses or v-neck sweaters (both too cold in this stone house, even in summer).

However, the big no-no that stands between me and the idea of true minimalism is that I would just get bored to death by a wardrobe this small, to be honest. I've tried the two-colour idea, and the one-colour idea, and the tonal idea and none of them is me. I hate looking the same every single day, and I do find too that ringing the changes with accessories doesn't quite work for me as they get in the way - I loathe rings and bracelets, and can't be doing with necklaces or scarves flapping about the place, so my basics have to do the duty of accessories.  

Oh dear.  

Even Miss Minimalist's indulgences are modest - her turquoise wellies, for instance. But here, I have two pairs - one for winter (neoprene lined, dark green, heavy) and one for summer (bright yellow and lightweight). Neither pair could possibly do duty for the wrong season - believe me, I've tried.

With a wardrobe quite this minimal, how do you cope when you don't wake up in a 'black' mood? Some days I feel bright, and want to wear red or turquoise or orange, and other days I feel quiet and want to wear beige or grey. It would feel wrong, all wrong, to have to dress in the wrong colour - I had enough of dressing like someone else when I had an office job. 

And finally there's the difference between what suits you and what suits your life. My soul may be girly and all powder pink and baby blue, but that would last about five minutes in our brown water, or when when wood chopping or looking after animals, so the backbone of my wardrobe remains navy (black being too harsh for the country).

Oh la. The wonder is that one ever manages to get dressed at all...   

One good tip I picked up from the comments on her blog, though, was to try Icebreaker t-shirts which are in merino and elasthane. Apparently you can get away with two, just alternating them all week, as they're antibacterial and don't smell. At 69 dollars a pop, that would be a hell of an indulgence, but it's certainly a solution to the stack-of-not-quite-right-t-shirts problem.

And with that, I'm off to somehow get dressed. So, what to wear for a day that involves cleaning the house, moving furniture, a trip to the skip, recyling, making lunch, and doing hair and makeup for a glam photo shoot? Jeggings it is, then...



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.


Easy ways to reduce your fashion footprint

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

There is a great video on the Guardian site that I urge you all to watch. It's about how to chuck out your unwanted clothes PROPERLY so that they don't end up in landfill.

As the presenter points out, women are the worst culprits by far when it comes to owning (and then having to throw away) useless garments. But even if you give your old clothes to charity, their usefulness varies. 

Good stuff

1 Denim. Any size, style or colour - this will find a home on the backs or the legs of workers in the third world. Denim is tough stuff, with years of life left in it long after its fashion possibilities have faded. 

2 Tights. Their Lycra content makes them invaluable as bandages in countries like Ethiopia. Send to:

Ethiopia Tights Appeal Tightsplease

2nd Floor, Albion Court

18-20 Frederick Street

Hockley, Birmingham

B1 3HE

3 Bras. British bras are well-made and engineered. Even when broken, they're valuable. But the presenter says you may need to educate charity shops as to their usefulness.

4 Towels. Animal charities can always use old towels, no matter how faded and threadbare. Personally, I use up my old, and other people's old, towels for the dog. 





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.

I have been calculating my fashion expenditure this year and frankly, it is looking parlous.

Not that I spend much in a  good year. My personal spending allowance used to be £15 a month, from which I have to get all my clothes, makeup, books, CDs, DVDs, etc. 

But what with the recession and all, we cut it this year to £10, and that is a serious difference. For £15 I could always get something, but with postage, as I have to buy most of my things mail-order, £10 is a serious restriction - I am down to absolute necessities. 

When it comes to clothes, I don't count those I buy at the supermarket as my personal allowance because those are part of the normal shopping budget - if I want something, then something else on the list has to go, such as meat. But there hasn't been a deal of that this year either, having cut the food budget from 140 euros to 50. 

This year, my clothing expenditure has been:

* Boden taupe leaf-print wrap dress (Ebay, 6.73). Worn maybe once, so crap has the summer been...

* Bootcut denim leggings from BHS (Ebay, 7 quid - to replace a pair that fell apart). Wearing these to death.

* Ugg-style suede boots with a 'cardi' trim (Ebay, 7 quid - to replace a pair that fell apart). Haven't received them yet - this is me getting ready for winter.

* Navy Crocs (Ebay, 21 quid) on the podiatrist's orders. Sent to the Cayman Islands by error, so I'm still waiting for these too.

From the supermarket:

* Nine pairs of men's jockey shorts (Lidl, 9 euros) to replace my falling-apart knickers (and SO much more comfortable than women's underwear).

* Two cotton vests (Lidl, 3 euros) that are actually long enough to go over my jeans.

* A pair of Trex walking shoes for hiking (Lidl, 14 euros). 

That's it. About £65 all told, and most of it to replace items that had expired. 

In the earlier part of the year, I spent all my personal allowance on medicines and supplements for my cat Lucy before she died; in April the money went on my sister's birthday present; and other than that, I've spent it on books - this month, works by the Dalai Lama and Taro Gold (thank heavens, once again, for Amazon resellers, where you can pick a book up for a penny).

Meanwhile, I have actually sold a bunch of my vintage stuff for 200 euros, so that makes me feel very virtuous - more clothes going out than coming in. Among them were:

* A 1920s black lace and velvet dress that my husband bought me. (It was beautiful and I literally cried at parting with it, but I couldn't see me ever wearing it again.)

* A bright turquoise 1950s velvet coat (I wear an almost identical burgundy one).

* A black lace blouse from M&S (I wear another, almost identical one). 

* An art-to-wear jacket from a modern designer (didn't suit me). 

* A white ribbonwork cardigan with scalloped hem and sleeves (I wear one of the two others...). 

* A late 1930s crimson rayon chiffon dress with crochet sleeves (never worn it, too fat for it). 

* A Jean Muir jacket that I wore precisely once (fits my old life, not this one). 

As an upside, the women who bought the clothes looked far better in them than I did, so I know they're going to good homes. 

It can be hard to part with things you love, but once they're gone, I find you don't think about them much. And you have to be realistic about the kind of life you lead - many of these clothes are my old life. When I eat out once or twice a year, there is no point in hanging on to 20 evening gowns, and I would rather have some more money at the supermarket, or money to spend on books than have something beautiful to gaze at in the wardrobe. 


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