10x10 roundup

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Wow. I'm pretty blown away by the impact of the 10x10 challenge on my wardrobe and my attitude to my clothes.

I always knew that there was a lot more to a capsule wardrobe than just 'own fewer clothes', and for a long time I thought I had the capsule wardrobe thing pretty nailed, but this challenge has really pushed me out of my comfort zone and definitely taught me some lessons I didn't expect.

Here's a round up of what I learned during this challenge:

You need to actually try stuff on - the off-white shirt with dungarees outfit was one borne out of desperation and bad planning (I only had one top in my 10x10 that I expected to actually go with dungarees, and when that was in the wash and it was too cool for sleeveless dresses...), but it was one of my favourite looks out of the entire 10. I never would have tried it on without the limitations of this challenge to push me.

Outfits you love don't necessarily photograph well - OK, this is a shallow one, but it's a good reminder that what we see on instagram isn't necessarily what looks best in real life. I think it's fair to say my dresses photographed better, but I know that in real life my dungaree outfits looked at least as good, and my shorts outfits definitely looked better in real life than they generally photographed.

10 items feels very few when you start out, and feels progressively more generous - When I first started I really struggled to limit my items to 10, and indeed, allowed myself an extra pair of shoes. You know, I didn't even end up wearing the extra pair of shoes. As I explored more and more outfits within my 10, I felt the freedom of exploring those items rather than the limitations of it.

Removing all the other options from your life for 10 days is very relaxing - I found it epically restful to only have a small handful of clothing to consider for each day's outfits, even though my entire wardrobe is pretty small at the best of times.

There's no point in average clothes - I would actually really struggle to repeat this 10x10 with another set of clothes. The reason this worked so well was, I think, largely down to the fact that I really love each of the 10 individual items. I'm not sure so sure I could pull out another 10 that I love, certainly not from my summer wardrobe. This has really been an education in how much I love each of the garments in my wardrobe, and how much better it is to work with fewer, beloved garments, than more less loved pieces. Now my wardrobe is pretty minimal, so you'd think I'd have that figured out, but I'm surprised, looking at my wardrobe with fresh eyes now that the challenge is over, how few garments there are in there that really bring me joy.

So where do I go from here with my wardrobe? Rushing out and replacing everything with things I really love isn't an option, both because it's quite difficult to find dozens of sustainable, beautiful pieces on demand, and also because my budget doesn't stretch to that. But I am going to start working through a bit of a wardrobe plan and figuring out what I really need for the coming season, and trying to make sure that I have a wardrobe full of garments I love, even if it means it's almost as limited as the 10x10 challenge.

Summer 10x10 wardrobe remix challenge

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A capsule wardrobe was my own personal starting point on this intentional living journey. I didn't intend or expect it to grow into a whole new way of living my entire life, but once I'd discovered how much simpler, more enjoyable and more fulfilling it made one aspect of my life, it was no challenge at all to see how much making similar kind of 'limiting' decisions in other areas could actually make for a more adventurous, fuller and more contented life overall, way beyond the limits of my wardrobe.

Almost as soon as I discovered capsule wardrobes, I discovered Unfancy. Caroline has a wonderful way of putting clothes together that is minimalist without being stark, and she is thoughtful about colour, style, ethics and all the things that make me go 'oooh'. Her blog has evolved in its focus over the years, and more recently she has been hosting 10x10 wardrobe remixes with the equally stylish Lee of Style Bee. When they announced this summer's challenge, I thought it was time to dip my toe in the 10x10 challenge waters.

The concept is simple. Ten core wardrobe items (garments and shoes), ten days, ten outfits. You can add in any number of accessories and extras, although personally I am going to experiment with not having too many accessories on the go either - I've never quite seen the point of a capsule wardrobe with an un-capsule selection of accessories. If you want to know more about the 10x10 challenge, Lee has a brilliant rundown of the concept here. I'd love it if you wanted to play along too!

I should confess straight up that I have eleven items. This is solely because I have one day in the coming ten where I know I have an awful lot of walking to do, so I needed my trainers in there, but I have no particular desire to wear them other than that (the temperature is rarely dropping below 20C here, and many days is up to 30C, so sandals are very much the order of the day whenever possible. My trusty Birkenstock Arizonas are comfortable for almost anything except dusty stoney footpaths). So I'm largely going to discount the trainers, but I didn't want to be untruthful and pretend that real life wasn't going to happen while doing this, so the trainers get to sneak in as bonus item eleven.

It was when I came to pick my tens items that my first (and doubtless not my last) 'you don't actually know everything about capsule wardrobes, so don't be too darn smug' moment hit. The point of a capsule wardrobe is to limit your wardrobe to clothes that you love, that you feel amazing in, that work for your lifestyle and that mix and match really well. I have what I would have called a capsule wardrobe - I haven't counted the exact number, but I have about 50cm of hanging space and four small drawers, and they aren't even all full. It's probably well under 100 garments in total. But actually when I was trying to pick out 10 items that I really loved and that went together, I really struggled. Sure, there are some items I love, there are some items that mix and match, and there are some items that are perfect for the endless summer weather. But there really weren't many of each and they didn't often overlap the love/mix 'n' match/summer weather appropriate categories. Also, several of the items that I do love, when I looked at them objectively, are getting seriously tatty and really well past being dropped into a donation bin or, to be honest, repurposed as cleaning cloths. No wonder I've been feeling less than amazing about my wardrobe recently.

For me, the problem with my wardrobe has never been having too many clothes, it's not having enough clothes that I feel good in, and having to keep 'it'll do' clothes because I don't have anything better to replace them with. So my first takeaway from this capsule wardrobe challenge isn't actually 'you need to pare down your wardrobe' it's 'you need to start thinking about getting some new items and getting rid of some of the dead wood.'

That said, I'm really pretty pleased with the items I ended up with. Ignoring the interloper New Balance trainers, I have eight items of clothing and two pairs of shoes. The items are:

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Grey silk jersey All Saints vest - A replacement for a previous vest (exactly the same one) which I wore so much it literally wore through in several places. Comfortable, flattering loose fit.

Red Kettlewell Colours t-shirt - a great relaxed tee, not too tight, perfect for hot weather.

Red check Topshop shirt - a very old faithful. I've had this longer than I've had one of my children.

White H&M Conscious Collection cotton shirt - I actually have this one my 'to replace' list, as it's a bit too crisp for me. I think linen would have been better for summer, silk for winter.

Denim H&M shorts - another old favourite, actually a donation from a friend who no longer wanted them. Possibly on their last summer, but I said that last summer too.

Dark grey denim Topshop dungarees - newish, much loved, mostly too hot to wear them but included because if it drops below 20 degrees they are coming straight out.

Striped H&M jersey dress - old, comfy, flattering. What's not to like?

Red Armed Angels dress - lovely loose fit. My first purchase since deciding to try ethical clothing companies first. I'm not committing to only buying organic fabrics from here on in, but I am always going to look at ethical options first, and I am making a commitment to sticking to natural fibres.

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Pale gold K Jacques sandals - a recent purchase, ostensibly for my sister's wedding but mainly because I've wanted a pair for years. They more than live up to the hype, I love them.

Rose gold birkenstocks - I've had these a couple of years and they look quite scruffy now, but I still love them. Matte leather definitely better for birkenstocks, as it doesn't matter when it gets a bit worn - the wear on these is very visible.

I should confess that the tight colour palette is entirely unintentional, but more a happy accident once I pulled out my very favourites. There's probably a lesson in there too.

I'll be reporting my outfits on instagram throughout the challenge, and I'll round up here once it's all done. Happy 10x10ing if you're joining in too!

Minimalism, house extensions and intentional living

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For me, an intentional life does mean a minimalist one, at least to some extent. I find that I am so much more able to relax and find joy in a relatively visually quiet environment, where every single thing is carefully chosen and aesthetically pleasing. Not for me the shelves of ‘things’ to add interest, or statement paint colours, although I love seeing both in other environments. For my family and I, as with so many things, it is about the haiku theory. Limit what’s there and create more from it.

Something that crops up a lot whenever the word ‘minimalism’ is mentioned among non-minimalist-friends and acquaintances is that they believe a minimalist life to be stark, severe, almost ascetic. More about denial of pleasure and low interest in one’s surroundings than about joy and pleasure and energy. Personally, I have found the absolute opposite. The fewer things I have in my space, the more inclined I am to make sure that what is left is as close to the perfect version of what it is as possible, and to enjoy every last detail. Looking up from my laptop, I can see that I only have two miniature ornamental cups and a teeny weeny succulent on my mantelpiece. The two cups bring me utter joy, reminding me of a once in a lifetime trip to Japan with my husband over a decade ago, while the succulent is housed in an simple fine ceramic vase and was a gift from a local creative artist whose work I admire. All three items bring me absolute pleasure and feel aesthetically right for the space, and I enjoy and appreciate all of them far more than I did a much busier mantelpiece before I began to minimise possessions.

The way we like to live as a family (and it is as a family, rather than coming from one person - we all see and agree the benefits of less clutter and more beautiful things) is presenting us with some really interesting inspiration, and challenges at the moment, as we plan our new living space - we are having an extension built as well as remodelling much of our current interior space. The focus is on light, air, and simple aesthetics. We want lines as clean and purposeful as possible and to make the entire space beautiful through its functionality as well as through putting stylish things in it. I know that there will be a huge visual pleasure in a space which flows and functions beautifully, and the bits of furniture, decoration and day to day bits and bobs will all enhance, rather than detract from, that uncluttered aesthetic.

Of course, it’s a family space, and will remain so, and we all know that means mess sometimes, but I think if we can get the design right, and our possessions minimal, we don’t actually need to suffer constant clutter and stress as a big family in a small space.

The challenge for me is not to spend the time on those design elements, but not to get too bogged down in getting every last detail perfect. I want the light fittings and plug sockets in just the right spot, so I don’t have to look at cables trailing. I want the storage space planned with military precision so there is a home for every single thing we own. But I am also aware that I can’t plan for everything, and that actually it is the little compromises that will give our space texture and meaning once the work is finished, rather than looking too sterile and show home.

How do you find your living space? Does everything flow naturally, or are there ‘pinch points’ where clutter, and attendant stress, accumulates? Do you give into ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome, purchasing just one more decorative object, which later causes you a logistical headache? Or do you live in a busy, full house and absolutely love it? How we live in and feel about our space can be such an indicator of how we feel about our lives, and I love thinking about how we will live in our new space when it is (finally) complete.

Looking back up at that image, it also has to be said that I'm really looking forward to waving goodbye to all the textured wallpaper on every single wall in the entire house.

A theory on haikus, and a mood board

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Haikus have always fascinated me. I remember learning about them at secondary school, discovering the syllable structure and strict rules that have governed the construction of these concise, beautiful Japanese poems for hundreds of years. Listening to them always created a sense of uplifting calmness in me.

Interestingly, haikus are governed not only by the syllable structure (it actually isn’t syllables, fact fans, but a ‘sound’ known as an on, which doesn’t necessarily translate precisely to western syllables), but by a focus on the senses, on nature and on a juxtaposition of flow and halts. The creativity contained in those clusters of words always seemed limitless to my teenage ear, despite the regimented, constrained approach to creating haiku.

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Let's jump forward from my teenage years (no one wants to spend too much time revisiting their teenage years) to when I first embarked on the process of trying to be more minimalist and intentional about our belongings, almost exactly three years ago. As we began to contemplate moving the contents of a big rented house into our first purchased property, which was about half the size of the rental, what began as a process of necessity soon turned into a physical and emotional journey which affected every facet of my life.

Something that evolved out of the process over the first few months was the realisation that everyone in our family benefited from the ‘limitations’ that restriction of belongings imposed on us. Indeed, the general level of creativity, contentment and energy in the house seemed to increase every time we threw something else out - and by ‘threw out’, I do mean ‘donated’ where appropriate, I didn’t just chuck everything we own in the bin. I thought that cutting my children’s art and craft supplies by half would mean they spent far less time being creative and was expecting to repurchase as necessary, but suddenly the older two spent hours and hours drawing, both discovering a love of fantasy world creating and map making. All three began actually using the supplies that we had rather than getting them out, making a huge mess, and then walking away. And if one wanted to make something a little more, um, sculptural, they quickly became adept at raiding the recycling bin for supplies.

And it wasn’t just the children who benefited. I found that dramatically cutting things like craft supplies didn’t limit my own creativity but rather allowed me to concentrate on the fabrics and yarn that I truly loved, and to create with my most beautiful, favourite supplies without feeling guilty about not ‘using up’ the less nice things. Adam began to comment on how he felt able to sit and actually be with our children rather than spending half the time tidying up the mess they were creating.

In short, the constraints that we placed upon ourselves dramatically increased the level of creativity and joy in the house. Even now, I still find new expressions of this every day. If one of the children is abandoning games halfway through and getting ‘bored’, I find reducing, rather than increasing, the available resources actually improves their engagement level and mood. And when I get overwhelmed by something I need to do - in my case, most recently, trying to settle on a ‘feel’ for my photography and online presence - I find that limiting my options is the best way to develop creatively and increase my satisfaction with my output.

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I am a fairly recent convert to mood boards - I always felt that they were a bit self indulgent and after all, everyone know what they like, right? - but when I realised it was another way of applying some constraints so that I might actually create more, it suddenly made sense. I have found the process of making a mood board hugely productive and a great way of releasing a ‘block’ I have, whether it’s around a piece of work, decorating a room or curating an instagram feed. It is, for me, another means of applying that haiku theory - add limits to some creative variables, to hugely increase the creativity in others.

And of course, let’s not forget the satisfaction to be found in the other constraints of haikus, which have also come into play in this latest mood board - those of juxtaposition of texture and colour, of sensory input, and of nature. I find when I take the moment to engage with and include all of these things in other areas of my life, the joy level definitely spikes upwards. Life is simply more pleasurable when I take the time to notice the spring flowers as they burst into bloom, to savour the contrast between an emotionally challenging moment and the pleasure of genuine enjoyment in a task, and to really stop and see, feel, smell and taste a meal in front of me rather than scrolling through instagram while I eat. OK, I’m not 100% on that last one, but I’m getting there.

Of course, it isn’t really about rules, minimalism or even haiku, although I am always at home to a good haiku, but about adding some intentional, considered constraints to our lives so that we can further explore the joy to be found in greater creativity and appreciating nature, the senses and the ups and downs that confront us every day. I'm calling it the Haiku Theory of Life.

Intentional style: do you need a capsule wardrobe?

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I read so much about capsule wardrobes. Really a lot. Little bit obsessed. And something that hits me time and time again is the lack of discussion about whether a capsule wardrobe is the right solution for each and every person. Sure, I’ll occasionally see a bit of a token discussion about it, but it will all be heavily biased towards ‘I think you need a capsule wardrobe and I’m going to lead you to that answer too’.

I’m going to interrupt myself at this juncture to point out that I do think a capsule wardrobe is the right answer for most people. But, crucially, not for everyone. So I am going to try to do more than lip service to the question of why a capsule wardrobe might not be right for you.

If you fall into one of the categories below, I would venture to suggest that a capsule wardrobe probably isn’t the best solution for you:

  1. You genuinely enjoy the act of going through your wardrobe to choose something to wear each day. The process of finding, choosing, trying on and discarding various combinations, the adventure of deciding your outfit each day is a nourishing, nurturing, satisfying activity, rather than one tinged with stress or irritation (or lateness for work).
  2. You mix up your style very regularly, maybe a few times a week or even every day. Not in terms of workwear vs weekend wear, but some days you might go for ethereal fairy, others rock chic, others 90s grunge. This is only really going to be true if you have an extreme sense of style and those daily looks are really, truly, totally different, rather than all drawn from the same underlying theme, as they are for most people. Think carefully whether this is you - these people are rare in the extreme, in my experience as a stylist. Again, it kind of comes back to point one - the pleasure is in going through a larger wardrobe and choosing what you want to wear and who you’re going to be, rather than opening the wardrobe door and having no difficult questions asked of you.

I know those people exist - I’ve met them. And those people are never ever going to be happier with a capsule wardrobe than with a more extensive one. I suspect that even those people could probably pare the odd item and be happier, but no tightly limited wardrobe is going to cut it for them - the act of limiting the wardrobe would eliminate the adventure and fun of their personal style.

I suspect that if you’re that kind of person you probably know it, and you’re probably not hunting online for capsule wardrobe advice. You enjoy the daily opportunity to play with your clothes or try a new look, and never feel that you’re wasting time, money and energy on your wardrobe that could be better spent elsewhere. If that's you and it is making you happy, please do go forth and be merry with it.

Now I've said my piece on that subject (was that more than lip service? I hope so) I can move on to everyone else, and talk about why a capsule wardrobe is almost certainly absolutely right for you.

So we’ve dealt with why a capsule wardrobe might not be for you. Now let’s look at why it might be:

  1. You have, or want to discover, a really clear sense of your personal style, and want to own that style every day and feeling amazing while you’re doing it.
  2. You want expressing your style and feeling amazing doing it to be totally effortless. You want to be able to sling on pretty much anything you own and know it works.
  3. You want to know that your clothes look and feel good, and are the best quality you can afford.
  4. You don’t want to be taken by surprise by less frequent events, such as a wedding or black tie dinner, and you don’t want to have run out of work clothes that you actually like wearing by Thursday every week and be scrabbling around the dregs of your wardrobe for something to wear.
  5. You don’t fall into one of the ‘why a capsule wardrobe isn’t for you’ groups above. Basically, if you’re anyone else, I think you’ll benefit from having a capsule wardrobe.

So in short, the vast majority of us can benefit from a capsule wardrobe.

I'm going to interrupt myself (again) to point out that a capsule wardrobe can take many forms. Some are seriously limited, some are rather larger. We'll investigate what size might work for you in another post. Simply put, creating and curating a capsule wardrobe should remove all the ‘average’ clothes/shoes/accessories from your life - the things you wear but don’t particularly love (or don’t wear at all). It should free you to look and feel your best every day, whether you’re in dog walking or dinner dance mode.

I do hope you’ll agree that a capsule wardrobe is something worth investigating further. I’ve got lots more posts on capsule wardrobes planned, plus a couple of downloads in the works to help you on your way. Until next time!

Intentional home: on buying flowers

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I know I’ve shared this story on instagram, but when I first began on this whole intentional living thing, I had a couple of very definite aims. One was to live a more positive and purposeful life, one in which I would actively appreciate and enjoy my life rather than passively letting it pass me by and getting distracted by stuff. The other was, um, to have more flowers and scented candles in my home. I know, I’m so deep.

It might seem like a really silly shallow thing to be preoccupied with, but somewhere along the line beautiful flowers and scented candles came to be emblematic of the slower, more intentional, enjoying-the-little-things life that I envisaged. We’re a couple of years into the whole intentional living thing now, and I’ve come to realise that those candles and flowers don’t actually represent candles and flowers (well, they kind of do, but bear with me), but rather they symbolise having the inclination and energy to make my home a lovely space, and then the time and ability to relax in that space and appreciate the what’s around me. I didn’t actually need candles and flowers, but rather time, energy, conscious effort and engagement with what I was doing.

That said, coming to the understanding that it’s not about candles and flowers, but about what they stood for, hasn’t actually diminished my desire to have them in my space and my love for them once they’re there. At the end of the day, no matter how much it’s about what’s going on in my head or how meaningful my life is, making my space look beautiful and smell lovely is still a highly appealing prospect.

In an effort to appreciate the process and make it as budget friendly and non-toxic as possible, I actually often make my own candles these days (more on that in another post), but since I am the world’s least green-fingered individual, I currently have neither the will nor the skill to make my own bouquets of flowers happen. Luckily, we have a hugely talented local florist, who is passionate about using seasonal flowers from sustainable sources and has an amazing eye for colour.

For me, flowers are now about making the space in my house, my budget and my day to walk to the florist, chat about what’s in and looking lovely, choose a colour palette and kill time for an hour or so a bouquet is put together, then come home and choose the perfect vase to arrange them in. And then, most important of all, making the time to stop for a cup of tea and appreciate the beauty that I’ve brought into the house.

There is a wonderful National Trust house near us which has a dedicated flower arranging room just inside the front door - I think this is possibly the most wonderful thing ever, and shows the importance that the family who lived there placed on having a beautiful inside to match the beautiful surroundings of the property. While I don’t think that’s likely in our tiny house any time soon, the next step for me to make the process even more intentional is to create a dedicated space for the vases, flower prep and bits and bobs that go with bringing flowers into the house - this will probably fully happen when we have our extension done, but meanwhile I’m thinking about what I can do to expand on this feeling of a pleasurable little process when I buy flowers.

I wonder, sometimes, whether as I continue on this journey I won’t need those ‘representations’ of time, intention and luxury, as I’ll be more content with my space and the way I live my life, and maybe my minimalist tendencies will have expanded to that point, but I doubt it. At the end of the day there’s little more luxurious than a gloriously scented candle and a feast for the eyes in the form of a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

ps: you may remember me saying that I prefer white flowers to any other. I make an exception when it comes to artful florists bouquets. When it’s the supermarket doing the work, everything other than white feels too brash and bold, but when it comes to a highly skilled florist, I’m confident that he can work with colour effectively, and I love the results.

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Intentional style: buying duplicates

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I meant to write a post on capsule wardrobes in general - the whys, wherefores and whens (I love them, but I don’t actually think they are a blanket solution for everyone) and how my wardrobe supports my intentional living goals - before going into specifics. However, this post is at the top of my mind right now, so that's what I'm writing.

Whether you have 40 or 400 pieces in your wardrobe I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, should you buy the same thing in two (or more) colours? 

OK, the coats above aren’t exactly the same - the mustard is very fractionally lighter weight and ever so slightly more structured, but there isn’t really a lot in it. Both made by Harris Wharf, an exceptional quality brand which I unreservedly recommend (no commission for saying that, tragically, I just love their coats), both broadly the same cocoon type cut, three button fastening. The only real difference is the colour.

On the whole, I have always found that having two colours of the same thing isn’t a huge success for me. I end up wearing my favourite more, one colour ends up a bit forgotten and a bit unloved. I also feel that buying the same thing in multiple colours is often the opposite of intentional wardrobe building. To just say to yourself ‘oh, I like this sweater in grey, I’m bound to like it in red’, without examining whether a red sweater is actually going to bring the same value to your wardrobe that the grey one did doesn’t really align with consciously and carefully creating a wardrobe that maximises joy and confidence and minimises hassle. So as a general rule of thumb, it’s safe to go with ‘just don’t’ when considering the same thing in multiple colours, especially if it’s just out of convenience.

The reason I make an exception for these coats (thus ignoring my own rule before I even made it. Sorry about that) is because I have two main looks that I turn to for day to day dressing. I either go almost entirely monochrome (with grey, navy or olive green rather than black, because black sucks on me, but very tonal low colour dressing) or I go bright, with two or more bold colours in one outfit. I bought the grey coat around this time last year, and I found that most days I loved the sleekness of a 100% monochrome look, and it also went well with brighter coloured outfits. However, given that I live in the UK, coats are a key wardrobe staple for about seven months of the year, and often the only part of your outfit that anyone sees, and it felt like all anyone was seeing was a very monochrome (albeit a very lovely monochrome) view of me. My other go-to coats are light grey, navy and burgundy, so I haven’t been exactly overwhelmed with colourful options on the coat front.

I’d been idly keeping an eye out for the perfect coat, actually thinking I’d probably get a bright red one if I saw a good one, when I came across this coat on 24Sevres a couple of months ago (I have also seen them stocked on Net a Porter and Harvey Nichols). I’ve had amazing wear from my grey coat, I love the shape, I know I get good wear from it for smart and casual, so I decided that a second version in a very different colour actually made sense in this instance.

I should mention at this juncture that I don't buy all, or even very many of, my clothes at high end shops like NAP and Harvey Nicks, lest you think this is one of those blogs. I'll talk more about how I budget for and buy clothes from H&M to Joseph at some stage soon.

So I had the budget set aside for a coat, and I went with the mustard Harris Wharf not only because I love love love it, but because (a) I could imagine the outfits that this coat would really make, and (b) I wasn’t just mindlessly buying the second colour at the same time as the first because it was there and convenient. I waited until the first had proved its worth, then waited until I saw a colour I loved and knew I would get wear from. Which reminds me; Colours. Another thing we need to chat about.

I've only had both coats for a couple of weeks, but my theory is holding up so far - they've had pretty much even wear. The mustard one maybe a fraction more because, well, it's new and exciting, but the grey one definitely hasn't been abandoned.

Where do you stand? Does the idea of multiple colours of the same garment fill you with horror, or actually reduce your wardrobe stress? Do you actually wear all the colours you buy of a given piece? Do comment below, or swing over to instagram and start a conversation on one of my images. I love hearing from you and value the time you take to share your views.

Intentional home: Shelfie, and why I'm making do

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These cheap white Ikea bookcases have moved house with us at least twice. They reside in our dining room and for the first 6 months that we lived here (and in each previous house) they were a dumping ground for The Things With No Home. They were also, not coincidentally, one of the first spaces to be tackled as we started to declutter and try to enjoy the space in which we live, around a year ago.

These four skinny white bookcases epitomise the compromise and making the best of what’s available right now which embodies so much of this early stage of our intentional living journey. Yes, I would love to replace the bookcases with a couple of beautiful wooden open shelves, or maybe a midcentury sideboard, and I’d like to replace the lego and the nasty cheap Egyptian ornaments (Eqypt-obsessed 9yo boy) with one or two carefully selected and beautiful design accents. But the reality is that, in this most used room in the house, this is what we have available and I have to work with the storage options afforded to me and make the space function for all five members of our family.

We are currently saving for an extension, making any expensive interiors work right now both unaffordable and a bit daft, since the whole shape of the house will change. Within the next two years (finances depending - I know we're not 'meant' to talk money on an aesthetics/lifestyle blog, but I may post more about  how our finances relate to our intentional living plans at some stage) this room will be knocked through into the kitchen next door and extended to create a large kitchen/dining/living space which we can all enjoy as a family.

Browsing instagram and Pinterest, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has to wait to achieve the perfect home - they all only seem to post photos of enormous airy rooms, all beautifully decorated. For us it’s a longer process than that, and an honest one along the way. I can’t show you photos of the perfect home because I don’t currently have it, but I am more than pleased and proud to share photos of us making the best of what we have, and of our plans to make it even better. This site has never been about showing you the perfect version of my life. It’s about showing you how I work with what I have to create a life that maximises joy and intention right now, and I think these shelves are a perfect example of that.

But meanwhile joy, insofar as it applies to these shelves, means neat, tidy, functional and pleasant to look at, if not entirely awe inspiring.

Intentional crafting: an introduction to quilts

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Intentional living sits rather nicely alongside a creative endeavour, for me. This post isn't about converting you to quilting (although I'd happily do that) but about how my version of intentional living includes this. Yours might include something different, but whatever it is I hope you'll be inspired to make time for it.

I’m not actually sure how I came to making quilts. I’ve always made things of one sort or another, and learnt to sew and knit as a child. Somewhere along the line, I think soon after my eldest was born (has anyone not lost that period to a sleep deprived fog?), I moved sideways from dressmaking into hand pieced and hand finished quilts, and it’s this which holds my heart these days. A well made and well thought through quilt is a combination work of art, comfort blanket, interior decor piece, statement of aesthetic intent, exploration of colour and high quality workmanship all tied up in fabric and thread. The perfect quilt speaks of movie nights on the sofa, summer picnics, camping, mugs of hot chocolate, barbecues, bonfires and a hundred other things besides. In short, quilts rock.

Over the past couple of years as my work has become more intense, my children more numerous (hey, three feels pretty darn numerous at times) and my time therefore less free, quilting has fallen by the wayside a little. This journey of intentional living has meant making the effort to carve out a little more time for things I love, and one of those things is making quilts. My aim every day, although I don’t always achieve it yet, is to spend a bare minimum of 30 minutes solid doing something I love, whether it’s quilting, knitting, reading or some other hobby of the moment.

The half stitched pieces of fabric above are destined to become a quilt for my eldest, who has not had a new quilt of his own since he was two, a whopping seven years ago. The whole process, from concept, design, fabric selection and layout through the sewing and on to hand finishing, is a fairly epic task even for a modest single bed quilt. I hand piece almost all of my quilts, a personal preference, which doesn’t improve the efficiency one iota, but adds a huge amount to the process for me. And the process is really what it’s about - slowing down, contemplating colours, textures and prints and putting the whole thing together in a way that feels 100% right.

I’d love to inspire you to take up (or restart) doing something you love, maybe something that’s fallen by the wayside in the tumble and tangle that is family life. My main instagram feed is found over at @appliedstyle, but if you want to follow along with my sewing process a little more you can also follow me @lifeinlists, where I share a little more of the quilt making process. You can also find a link there to my other business - an etsy shop where I put together beautiful Liberty print fabric bundles, in case you’re harbouring a secret hankering to sew your own unique piece of craftsmanship. And if you have absolutely zero desire to take up quilting but you still want to lay your hands on a one off unique handmade quilt, I do sell a couple of quilts a year, so keep your eye on my main instagram page for an upcoming finished piece.

Intentional style: brand new old fashioned denim

  jeans ,  jumper , boots old by  Aldo

jeans, jumper, boots old by Aldo

Remember when jeans were a thing that you had to wear in? And the best jeans, once worn in, had to be washed carefully to prevent bagging or shrinking once you’d finally got them perfectly soft? There was something sort of pleasing about having to put in some effort to making your jeans perfect, it felt like making friends with them.

For a good while now though, jeans have been all about that stretch. Although boyfriend jeans (and, I suppose, mom jeans, although I haven’t Gone There Yet) are marking a trend back towards actual cotton denim, which needs a little more wearing in and has a little more life about it, skinny jeans have, for obvious reasons, stayed firmly in the stretch denim category.

For a couple of seasons now I’ve had a hankering for a pair of skinny jeans that had some of the quality and weight of ‘old fashioned’ denim without sacrificing the shape. I wanted jeans that didn’t need washing every other wear, that could actually improve with age and that felt like the good old friends that jeans used to. Basically, all the advantages of modern denim with the joy of old school denim.

Step forward, Levi’s 721s, a higher rise version of their 711 skinnies.

Best. Jeans. Ever.

The weight is just a fraction heavier than any other jeans I’ve bought recently, and has something of the body of old school denim with all the benefits of modern stretch fabric technology. So none of that time spent wearing in, but they already feel like old friends. And the cut is brilliant, really flattering for my, ahem, less than gazelle like thighs. The only slight, and easily resolved, issue is that I’m 5’6” and slightly short legged for my height, and they are verging on being too long for me. If I wanted to wear them in summer without rolling up I’d need to get them adjusted.

But the best bit of all? They hold their shape. I’m not going to confess how many times I wore them before they went in the wash, but when they eventually did it was because they had got actually dirty rather than baggy.

Jeans are such a cornerstone of my wardrobe, and I only have a couple of pairs at a time, so I need my denim to work hard and feel good. These are ticking all the boxes so far. Already tempted to add a second pair, maybe in grey.

Not all of the colours in the 721 are made from the same fabric, for some reason, so I don’t want to speak for the quality of every colour way (mine are Amnesia), but presumably the cut is equally excellent across the board.

 

Intentional living: If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly

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No, that’s not a typo.

If you’re a perfectionist (and/or a control freak. It's faintly possible I'm both), you’ll know what it is to be fixated on doing a thing well. When I write, I know exactly how I want my voice to come across. When I decorate I know exactly how I want the finished space to look. And when I am planning my wardrobe I know the exact style of jumper that I need to make everything work. And so, when I am in the midst of that process, I frequently get completely bogged down in the detail and fail to actually, you know, do anything. In my case this is particularly true of creative endeavours, but I'm not fussy, I like to apply my perfectionism everywhere.

Now this is a proper ‘lessons from your mother’ moment, as when I used to get completely stuck on something in this way my mother used to say ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.’ And I would eye roll. But in my own way and in my own time, I’ve come to see the value in her words (don’t tell her I said that).

Obviously I don’t actually aim to do things badly - ideally everything in my life would be beautiful and perfect and lovely first time round, but back here in the real world that doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes, you need to just have a go. Yes, it might not be perfect first time, and you and the rest of the world may not stop and gasp in wonder at the marvel of what you have achieved, but actually, sometimes just doing it is enough. Sometimes, it might really be a bit of a crap job and you have to just go ‘huh. Oh well’ and start all over again, but actually that doesn’t happen too often.

Take my floor. Don’t take it, obviously. Just look at it, up there, all shiny and light grey and minimalist. When we moved into this house two years ago, it was carpeted in a delightful tapestry of salmon pink (hallway), burgundy (dining room) and brown (bathroom). I spent months agonising over flooring choices to replace it, debating between various quality products, getting in a twist about how we would merge the new flooring with the even newer flooring when we eventually extend the house, generally completely failing to make any sort of progress on actually improving our living space in the here and now. After a few months, I finally had a word with myself and decided that some progress was better than no progress (seriously, those carpets were something else).

I ripped up the carpet. Just like that. What was underneath was not, tragically, original parquet flooring or vintage tiles, but BLACK. The alarming blackness turned out to be bitumen coated concrete, as is the case with many 1950s ex-council houses. One trip to B&Q and many litres of floor paint later and a perfectly serviceable floor was created.

It’s needed a few touch ups over the past couple of years - our house is tiny and there are five of us living here, so every last square inch is well used and well worn - but it’s enabled us to save our money to get the whole of the ground floor done when we extend, and given me time to live in the house and get a better feel for the kind of finish we eventually need in these rooms. Done, in this instance, was very much better than procrastination in the name of perfection.

Another note about things that are worth doing. The unutterable joy of, just occasionally, doing something ‘badly’ and discovering that ‘badly’ (i.e. differently to the very controlled and precise vision in your head) is actually better than anything you had previously imagined. It doesn’t happen every time, but for a perfectionist like me it’s a good reminder that sometimes 100% control over every aspect of the creative process isn’t required.

Sometimes, you just need to make a start. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress.

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Intentional style. Intentional living.

 

So pleased to see you’ve stopped by. Grab a cup of tea, find a comfy seat and discover what it feels like to live a little more intentionally.

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What do I mean by that? For me, an intentional life means creating an environment where all the little moments and corners of our lives can become positive and pleasurable points of living in the present. It means not just drudging through each day, waiting for that one annual holiday or that one special meal out that is supposed to make the weeks and months of mundanity worthwhile, but rather working to create as many excellent little moments throughout each day as possible.

Perhaps it’s switching three cups of very average tea gulped down over breakfast for getting up fifteen minutes earlier and savouring one excellent in the quiet before everyone else wakes up, or passing over two pairs of ok-ish trainers for just one perfect pair that will bring on what I have rather scientifically termed ‘the daily smug’ - that feeling when you glance down and remember that yes, those rather well dressed feet do belong to you.

I’m still on a learning curve myself, but since taking the decision to live life a little more on purpose, I’ve realised that I don’t just want to live it. I want to share it. Not in a scary ‘newly converted zealot’ kind of way, more in a ‘writing about it over here and hope you’ll stop by occasionally’ kind of way.

I’m not going to delve into the whole process right here, or this would be one very long, very boring blog post, and I’d have nothing left to say next time, but I'll leave you with this; my journey started not with six months therapy or hours of solo meditation, but with my wardrobe. I think yours can too.