Rethinking sustainability…leaving the farm

Early this year, I sold a small organic farm on the outskirts of our city, and moved back into the suburbs.

Our farmhouse in the morning. It was idyllic, beautiful…and not sustainable.

I didn’t really have a choice, to be honest. I was divorcing, and the place needed to be sold for financial reasons anyway.

But prior to that, being on the farm for nearly a decade had made me rethink what sustainability means, and how we can move forward in a world that seems intent on, well, not moving forward much at all.

Petrol…the fly in the ointment

We were extremely car-dependent at the farm. There was no public transport. The nearest supermarket, bank, school – all of it was a drive away. There were no buses or trains. This was a huge hurdle to sustainability.

I was routinely spending $100 a week on petrol, and my partner was spending the same. Getting around drained our energy, our time, and our finances.

It was lovely living on the farm and having heaps of space – and animals! – but there was a lot of work behind the scenes that I didn’t expect and that cost a lot as well.

Did I make a mistake moving to a farm? No. But I don’t think that type of lifestyle is the way forward for humanity, as a whole.

It’s appealing, and it stirs in us a vision of an idyllic past, but it’s not practical for a sustainable future.

The present…around the corner to everything

When my new partner and I bought a home this year for our four kids (two of his, two of mine), we bought a very, very walkable home.

Our new house and garden from the rear. It’s in a lovely sunny spot, central and walkable to everything.

The bank is a two minute walk around the corner. There’s a park just across the road. The supermarket is five minutes’ walk, with shops and cafes and restaurants in-between.

Our Walkscore at our new home is 74. That translates as “Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.”

Our new home is very walkable, with a great “walkscore”. See https://www.walkscore.com/ to find your own walkscore!

By comparison, our Walkscore at the farm was 0. “Car-Dependent. Almost all errands require a car.”

The difference is striking. Our kids walk to school, unless the weather is bad. My partner can walk to work – and does. I can walk into the city, or a bus runs right past our door every few minutes.

Most days I don’t use the car much, if at all.

I’d been wondering how I’d possibly be able to stay at the farm should I ever stop driving. Living here, that’s never an issue, because I simply don’t need to be able to drive.

What does sustainable really mean?

There’s no point in running an organic farm if you’re using three tanks of petrol every week to get anywhere.

You’re trashing the planet, no matter how organic your veggies are!

By comparison, the suburbs can be more sustainable if you live with a large group of people together, share your energy costs, walk for a lot of your journeys, and the journeys you do need a car for are short.

Plus, from a purely financial point of view, I’m not spending massive amounts of money on petrol every month. I don’t particular want to make oil companies richer. Does anyone?

Of course there’s more to being sustainable than petrol and cars. Suburban chickens, worm farms, backyard fruit trees, and an unpackaged, locally-produced diet can all play a part.

home made chicken tractor

Suburban chickens can play a role in sustainability.

So can handing-down clothes, buying locally-manufactured clothing or secondhand, using a capsule wardrobe, and limiting imports.

A capsule wardrobe can be a part of modern sustainability.

Finally, reducing family size through access to contraception, ease of access to abortion, education, and solid welfare support all play a role, as can voting on environmental lines and social welfare concerns.

Moving forwards to a new sustainability

I’m not sure what genuine sustainability will look like in the future. But, looking back, I know what it isn’t.

I know we need to reduce car usage, and we need to make our cities more walkable, and lobby to make public transport better and easier to use.

Perhaps we need to open our minds to new ideas, and discard old dreams that don’t fit with a modern reality.

My farm was lovely, and it was organic but sustainable?

No. I can’t say that.

However, I hope our new home in the suburbs might be…one day.

Saying NO to fast fashion with a capsule wardrobe

I’ve been doing The Project 333 for nearly four years now.

The Project 333 is a Capsule Wardrobe system. It asks us to dress with 33 items, or fewer. The rules are fairly simple:

  • 33 items or fewer in your wardrobe. This includes jewelry, shoes, outerwear and other accessories. Vision glasses, wedding rings and religious items are exempt.
  • Sleepwear, workout wear, underwear, in-home only wear is not included. In my case, I’ve created a “10 items or fewer” Workout Wardrobe, that I use for workouts only. I also have items like nighties, ugg boots and a robe that I only wear at home (of course!).
  • You can box up seasonal wear to keep safe for the next year. This doesn’t count in your 33 items. For me, as it’s winter in New Zealand at the moment, I’ve boxed up my light denim jacket and a couple of dresses, which I won’t wear until summer again.

Stepping off the fast fashion train with a capsule wardrobe

Having a capsule wardrobe enables me to step away from the crazy, unsustainable world of fast fashion.

For a long time I’d had issues with the way fashion was going. Clothing was becoming poorer and poorer quality, while the stories of child labour and sweatshops were hard to ignore. I’m not a full-blown activist, but I wanted what I wore to reflect who I am. And who I am is NOT someone who supports cruelty and abuse.

Fast fashion is designed for profit, not for those who wear it or those who make it. It is cheap to buy, per item, but expensive in the long term. It is not designed to last or look good. Much like a drug hit, it give a quick “buzz” then the thrill is gone, forcing the user to move on to the next hit, then the next.

My capsule wardrobe from a few years ago. Some items have changed, but I still dress with less.

What I wear, what I buy…

These days, about half of my wardrobe is made locally. I buy locally made merino tops that I layer, and I stick closely with a color code of blue and black, with some brights in accessories for interest.

I’m also a fan of secondhand, recycled jewelry. I often pop down to the local Hospice shop, where I pick up cheap jewelry for a couple of dollars apiece. I wear it, then when I’m bored of it I donate it back and buy a replacement from the Hospice shop again. In this way, I’m sharing what I have, and I have an endless supply of great, recycled jewelry I don’t have to store or maintain! It’s a winning strategy!

Inside my drawer. A color code of blue, green and black helps me keep organised.

How a Capsule Wardrobe will change your life

Take a step away from fast fashion. Fast fashion is trashing our planet and hurting people and economies. Taking a step away from the madness is a positive move for everyone.

Buy fewer clothes. Less money wasted, less time spent shopping. More cash left for the things that really count.

A co-ordinated, planned wardrobe. Fewer items are easier to co-ordinate. I also have a color code – blue and black form the basis of everything I wear, with pops of warm colors in accessories (yellow, coral, red).

More money for better quality clothes. Having fewer items means I now have the budget for better items. I can buy three t-shirts at $80 each in merino, instead of 10 t-shirts at $20 each, and I know my better quality items will fit better, look better, feel better and last longer than the cheap ones ever could.

5 great decluttering tips for moving house

We’re moving into our new house in May. And moving is such a great time to declutter!

Here are 5 great, simple tips for decluttering while moving house.

1. Give each of your kids a cardboard box for their stuff.

As long as you’re not moving long distances, you can usually move small personal items yourself, and save a lot of money doing so. So get your kids to put all their personal items they intend to keep in a big box, and everything else out by the front door for charity or sale.

I let my kids keep any money from sold personal items. It really encourages them to clear their items they no longer use! Kids love making money!

I’ve found that inspiring the kids with what their new rooms will look like, and even letting them choose the decor, is really getting them keep to clear out and move. My partner’s daughter is almost as keen on Pinterest now as I am! 🙂

2. Keep a charity box and a “sell” box by the front door.

Sort into one of two boxes as you go. So easy! We like to donate to our local Hospice shop 🙂

Now, create two challenges between the kids of a) who can donate the most items from their room and b) who can throw away the most items from their room. My kids are mercenaries and food or cash prizes are a sure-fire winner! Creating a little friendly competition between the kids can work wonders with motivation.

3. Garage sales and flea markets are great places to declutter.

Some people have enough items to run their own garage sale. I find I can’t be bothered and don’t have enough stuff for a garage sale anyway, so selling through a local flea market works better for me. Check your local council website for markets that might suit you.

One rule: Anything you take to the flea market that doesn’t sell goes to charity at the end of the day. Don’t bring it home with you!

And don’t buy anything!

Photo of New York flea market by IsaFire.

4. Clothing can be checked over while clearing out.

We’re getting our kids to check all their clothing for size and wear while we’re clearing out. It makes sense. Don’t bring items that don’t fit or are in poor shape with you when you move!

If you haven’t tried it yet, you might want to consider giving The Project 333 a go, and try living with a minimalist wardrobe in your new home. Check it out: The Project 333.

I’ve been living with a minimalist wardrobe for three years now, and could never go back to a wardrobe bursting at the seams!

5. Play the “Packing Party” when you move!

Only take out what you need, as you need it, when you arrive. You might be surprised how little of your personal items you actually use! So why not have a “packing party” now you actually have to pack? Here’s a link: The packing party.

A minimalist capsule wardrobe: hints and tips

I’ve been doing The Project 333 for three years now*.

The Project 333 is all about having a wardrobe that contains 33 items of clothing – or less – and working within those limits to find clothing that fits your lifestyle and meets your needs.

When I first began capsuling, I was not convinced that having less would give me more options, but it has. These days, not only do I own less, but what I own must

  • Fit my colour code of blue and green. I then use black and grey as base colours (for bottoms and shoes etc.), and yellow and coral as “contrast colours” for accessories to give a bit of pizazz,
  • Fit my body, as it is, here and now (no clothing for “when I lose weight”). If I can’t fit into it, it doesn’t belong in my wardrobe,
  • Be of good quality. No cheap, crappy design-to-fall-apart items, and
  • Fit my lifestyle – be items I wear on a regular basis, for the way I live and am active.

Sticking to a colour code has helped me be more selective when choosing items for my wardrobe, and helps all my items work well together. Many wardrobe capsulers do the same thing. Commonly selected colours include black, grey and cream, but you can choose whatever colours you like.

Sticking with clothing that fits is a no-brainer. Before I started capsuling a literal majority of items in my wardrobe were stuff that didn’t fit, or that I didn’t wear for various reasons. Life is too short to have a wardrobe full of too-small clothing that makes you feel bad!

Sticking to good quality helps me look my best. I’m not a fashionista and never will be, but at least when I wear good quality clothes I look presentable, neat and tidy. Nobody ever looks great in cheap, tatty clothing. If you can’t afford good quality items new, but good quality items secondhand instead. You’ll look better than new cheap rubbish.

Stick to items that fit your lifestyle. For me, that’s jeans and merino tops (which are a little bit tidier than t-shirts). Have a wardrobe that works.

It’s fine to break the rules too – if you’re a businessperson half the time and a jeans and t-shirt person the other half of the time, have a separate capsule for each part of your life. In my case, I have a separate mini-capsule (10 items or less) of gym clothing that I only wear for working out.

Myths about capsule wardrobes

  • Capsule wardrobes do not have to be black, white and grey. Yes, it looks pretty on YouTube, but if these shades do not suit you, or you don’t like to dress this way, don’t have a wardrobe full of them! My wardrobe is based on shades of blue and green – my favourite colours – and black is limited. I own nothing white.
  • You don’t have to own “classic” anything! You’ll see so many lists telling you about “must-have classics” and “necessary basics”. None of it is true. Own what works, and what you like. For me that’s jeans and leggings, plus 50s style dresses for summer. For you, that might be something completely different. Base your decisions on your lifestyle, your body and your tastes.
  • Making mistakes is fine. Everyone buys clothing they expect to wear then never do. We all make mistakes. Just don’t keep them! Learn from your mistakes, and pass them on to someone who will wear them. Better yet, return them for a refund if you can. But don’t feel guilty. Everyone makes mistakes. I know – I’ve made plenty!
  • If you’re unsure, box it up! Not sure about letting an item go? Box it up! Then, after three months, if you didn’t need it, it’s probably ready to go someplace else. The exception to this is seasonal clothing such as heavy coats, bikinis etc.

Capsuling is a skill that takes time to learn. Be kind to yourself, and you’ll be so glad you gave it a go! I sure am! 🙂

*You can read what I’m wearing by clicking the Capsule Wardrobe tabs on the top of this blog.

Capsule wardrobes for changing body weights and shapes

Today I’m going to talk about the five keys to successful wardrobe management for changing body weights and shapes.

Your body might change due to age, lifestyle, or you might be going through repeated pregnancies. Some people yoyo up and down a fair bit, and others are athletes whose weight and muscle mass goes up and down as they compete.

Whatever the reason, there are five keys that can help to plan a capsule wardrobe that will keep you looking great at any shape or stage in life.

The five keys to managing a successful capsule wardrobe when your weight fluctuates are:

1. Know your current body shape – and make peace with it.
2. Keep your active wardrobe small and in one place.
3. Use boxing and storage to manage non-fitting clothes.
4. Stick to a colour palette that works for your skin tone.
5. Ignore garment sizes on labels – they can be very misleading!

1. Know your current body shape and make peace with it.

Making peace with your current body shape can be hard, especially if you’ve changed a lot from how you’d like to be, but it is the only way you can ever look your best.

People always look their best in clothing that fits. If it’s too tight or too loose, or simply feels the wrong shape, it needs to be moved out of your active wardrobe.

Clothing that doesn’t fit properly never looks great. It’s that simple.

You might find you need to go up or down a size or two since you last bought new items. That’s fine. Everyone changes over our lifetimes. That’s normal.

Make peace. Accept your body as it is. It’s the only body you’ll ever have, after all! 🙂

2. Keep your active wardrobe small.

The concept of an active wardrobe is central to those of us who change shape, or whose weight fluctuates.

An active wardrobe consists of everyday clothing items that are relevant to you, who you are, and the current time of year, here and now.

Nothing else, no matter how beloved or how beautiful, belongs in your active wardrobe.

Your active wardrobe is the clothing you reach for, day in day out, to look your best and feel comfortable. It’s your core wardrobe.

Your active wardrobe includes all the items you currently wear:

  • that are seasonally appropriate,
  • are relevant to your location i.e. if you live in Singapore, where it’s hot all year round, your beautiful down jacket does not belong in your active wardrobe, even if it looks great!
  • are a great fit,
  • make you feel great when you wear them, and
  • are in good condition.

If any item does not meet all of these requirements, it does not belong in your active wardrobe.

Managing an active wardrobe is simple: If an item doesn’t fit you right here, right now, today, box it, donate it, or throw it away. Then repeat the process every 2-3 months. I schedule my wardrobe checks in my calendar.

I prefer to hang up everything I currently wear – including t-shirts and jeans – keeping drawer space for underwear, sportswear and nightwear only.

That way, I can see at a glance all of my options at the start of the day.

By hanging everything, clothes stay aired and fresh, and un-creased. I like to use cedar wardrobe hangars to keep moths away, and I have a few bags of lavender hanging in my wardrobe to keep everything extra-fresh.

By keeping your active wardrobe small, you can maintain your clothing properly, and make sure everything is well-kept and in good condition.

If anything starts getting too tight or too loose, or looks shabby, put it into one of three piles:

  1. If it’s great and you want to keep wearing it when you change shape again, store it properly.
  2. If it’s in good condition, but you won’t wear it ever again, donate it.
  3. If it’s in poor condition, throw it away or cut it up for dust cloths.

If you’re capsuling – and I strongly recommend this! – your active wardrobe should be no larger than about 30-40 items, including accessories.

I use The Project 333 to guide my wardrobe capsuling, and it’s awesome, but whatever system works for you is fine.

I find that about 30 items of clothing is plenty for me day-to-day, plus a separate sportswear capsule of about 10 items.

2. Use boxing and storage.

If an item doesn’t fit you right here, right now, today, box it, donate it, or throw it away.

I box my clothes that don’t fit in a big plastic crate which I store in my wardrobe, together with my off-season clothing.

I also put lavender bags and some cedar balls in the crate to keep bugs away.

Because we live in a damp climate, I collect those little silica gel sachets from shoe stores, and put them in my storage box too, to keep away damp. They seem to really help keep my clothes in great condition!

Wherever you decide to store your clothing, check it won’t get damp – ruined clothing is no good to anyone!

Go through boxed clothing every three months, and discard anything that wont be worn again.

Sometimes I’ll bring an old item out of storage because it’s seasonable again, or because I’ve dropped a bit of weight and it looks great again. Other times I’ll decide I’m really never going to wear something again, and I donate or throw it away.

Do whatever works for you. But by keeping items that you aren’t currently wearing out of view, your active wardrobe will remain uncluttered and dressing well will be so much easier!

4. Stick to a colour palette that works with your skin tone.

Understanding the tones and hues that work well on you makes a huge difference in looking your best.

Here’s a quick and easy flowchart to help you figure out what “season” you are with the original, four season system by Color Me Beautiful. A quick search online (or on Pinterest) will give you a full palette of colours and tones that will suit you.

color me beautiful 4 season flowchart

An easy way to determine which season you are, with the 4 season flowchart

You can also choose a set palette of colours to work from. My palette is:

BASE COLORS: Black, Denim
ACCENT COLORS: Blue, Purple, Green
POP COLORS: Coral & Warm Red.

(I’m a “Spring” in the Color Me Beautiful system.)

Choose colours that will work well together and that you enjoy.

A snapshot from Color Me Beautiful. Learning what colors suit you can make a huge difference in looking your best.

A snapshot from Color Me Beautiful. Learning what colors suit you can make a huge difference in looking your best.

5. Ignore sizes on garments – they can be very misleading!

Clothing can vary a huge amount, regardless of the size on the label. This can make shopping online really tricky.

In most cases, when shopping online, you’ll find a “Contact Us” link – feel free to contact the sales staff and ask for more information about the garment, including length, waist size etc. Some brands are known to run large while other run very tight.

As a general rule, American sizes are much larger than European, which are much larger again than Asian sizes. Australian and New Zealand manufacturers are somewhere between the US and the UK in sizing and fit.

Summary

Anyone can capsule, and capsuling works particularly well for people who have a changing body shape to deal with, because so many of our clothes may not fit us at any given time.

The concept of an active wardrobe can make a huge difference. Give it a go, and see how it makes things easier for you!

Happy capsuling!

minimalist wardrobe

My current capsule wardrobe.

5 benefits of a minimalist capsule wardrobe

There are lots of benefits of having a minimalist capsule wardrobe. Whether you stop at 33 items, like I do with The Project 333, or you go to something smaller with the 10 item wardrobe, it’s up to you.

But one thing is certain: you probably won’t go back once you’ve tried it!

5 benefits of a minimalist capsule wardrobe

More money. I don’t shop for a hobby any more. Instead, I shop when I need to, and I know what I need because I don’t have clutter in my cupboards that prevents me figuring out what I actually need.

A better wardrobe overall. I’m no fashion guru. At all. I don’t get fashion. But these days my wardrobe is manageable, and everything I have in my wardrobe fits me and looks good. I dress better, and I’m not afraid to spend money on good quality items because I know I’ll wear them when I buy them.

Better wear from my clothing. Because I have fewer clothes, I get better value from the items I have, as I wear each item more often.

Fewer mistakes. I still make mistakes, but there are less of them, as I have a better sense of what works for me now. De-cluttering my wardrobe really helped me get a better sense of my own style.

Knowing what to wear when. I stopped living in sports clothes and lounge-wear, because having fewer items enabled me to separate out separate sportswear and home-wear capsules. So now I know that Ugg boots are for home, and yoga pants are for the gym. Yes, I was that clueless about fashion! Even if you’re a fashion diva, having a minimalist wardrobe will help you organise your clothing better.

minimalist wardrobe

My current capsule wardrobe.

My minimalist wardrobe: Capsuling through three years

I’ve been doing The Project 333 – a capsule wardrobe programme – for three years now.

It has been a huge learning experience, and you can follow my capsuling trials – and errors! – in the “Capsule wardrobe” tabs in the menu of this blog.

When I first started The Project, I did as suggested and dragged all the clothes I owned out on to the bedroom floor and counted them. I was stunned to find I owned over 200 items of clothing! Most of it I hadn’t worn in ages, a lot of it didn’t fit me, and some of it even had labels still attached.

It was a mess. It reflected my haphazard approach to shopping, my need to self-medicate by buying stuff, and my general dissatisfaction with my body, plus a whole stack of other issues I’ve been dealing with across the years.

They say a cluttered home is a reflection of a cluttered mind. A cluttered wardrobe is no exception.

These days, now I’m entering my third year doing The Project, my wardrobe is sleek and small, and I wear everything I own. When I make a buying mistake – because I still make buying mistakes – I send them back to the shop or sell them as soon as I can, so they don’t become clutter.

But I make far fewer mistakes than I did three years ago. I shop less. I save money. I dress better. Capsuling works.

So here’s my wardrobe these days:

minimalist wardrobe

I got rid of about 30 hangers, but I still have too many spare hangers in my wardrobe – you can see them hanging in the wardrobe here. So more decluttering still needs to be done. It’s an ongoing process for most people. It certainly has been for me.

And my shoes:

I own four pairs of shoes in my capsule. Probably too many. There's also a pair of uggs (slippers don't count) and crocs for gardening (loungewear / gardening wear doesn't count).

I own four pairs of shoes in my capsule. Probably too many. There’s also a pair of uggs (slippers don’t count) and crocs for gardening (loungewear / gardening wear doesn’t count).

Apart from what you see I have one drawer of t-shirts and jeans I own two pair of jeans and four t-shirts), another drawer for my sportswear capsule (I’ll do a second post on sub-capsules), and a drawer for my underwear. Plus some crocs for gardening and a pair of ugg boots for homewear (neither counts in the capsule, according to The Rules of Project 333).

Lessons I’ve learned from three years of capsuling

There’s still room for improvement. That’s just life! I’m still paring down and still learning. But here are some of the things I’ve learned over the last three years I’d like to share:

Quality counts. Good quality costs more, but it wears better, feels better and last longer. I spend more money on items like jeans, jackets, shoes and belts, and it is worth every cent. Especially with shoes!

Fit counts. These days I don’t worry about the size on the label so much. If the size on the label feels too big, I snip it out! 🙂 Instead, I pay attention to how an item fits when I put it on, and especially check leg and sleeve length. If it doesn’t fit properly it is never worth keeping.

Life is too short for broken clothes. If you can afford to not wear broken clothes, don’t wear them! Or get them mended. Don’t ever put up with missing buttons, gaping shirts that are too small, stains on shirts, pilled jumpers, shoes that pinch and frayed collars. Don’t look shabby. If money is an issue, you’d be surprised what is available in secondhand shops and charity stores – especially for men. My partner has bought excellent business shirts in as-new condition for very little (NZD$4 each) by buying secondhand. This world is awash in great secondhand clothing in excellent condition – all you have to do is look.

Accept the body you have. Here and now. Face reality, and be your best self today. This is a tough one. I’ve spent most of my life being unhappy with my body in one way or another. It’s something a lot of people are familiar with. But I know this: wearing a size that is too small, or hiding in shapeless clothes while waiting for that magical day when you’re suddenly “the right size” is a waste of who you are, here and now. Make peace with your body, and wear clothes that make the best of your real, current physical self.

Just because you bought it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. I’ve bought lots of “mistakes” in my life – clothes I liked in the store but when I got them home I didn’t like them or didn’t wear them for some reason. If you can, return them. If not, sell or give them away. Everyone makes mistakes but that doesn’t mean you have to house them in your wardrobe forever!

Nobody notices when you wear the same item more than once. They really, really don’t. Think about it: can you honestly describe what your friends were wearing last time you saw them? Or your co-workers? Most people can’t even recall what they had for dinner last night! (I can’t.) While most people will remember a particuarly beautiful dress or a striking top it’s true, they won’t realise how small your wardrobe is when you capsule. They’ll only remember how good you look (or how bad). So take advantage of that fact and…

Own a small number of beautiful, good-quality, comfortable items you love to wear. Don’t waste your time with a huge wardrobe of meaningless clothing. Choose wisely and well. These days I spend my money on a mix of beautiful dresses and ultra-comfy clothing for casual wear. Everything fits. I wear – and like – everything I own.

Happy capsuling!