Review – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Review – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

OK, this is embarrassing to admit but… I’m not a naturally tidy person. I do keep the house to a generally acceptable level of mess, but it is a big effort to keep it that way, especially with children around, and hasn’t ever got easier with practise. I’ve been keeping house for years now, you’d think I would get better with time, right?

Secretly, I’ve always wanted to live in a house where there’s no clutter on horizontal surfaces, the furniture is beautifully co-ordinated and there’s a live-in maid to do my dishes and laundry. In other words, this house:

Seriously. Who wouldn't want to live at Pemberly
Seriously. Who wouldn’t want to live at Pemberly?

A little while back, I had an epiphany: Less toys for the boys means less toys for me to put away. 

OK. Maybe you’re smiling at me right now because you already knew this and I’m late to the party, but it worked, and cleaning up before bedtime each night became very easy.

The truth that less items owned = less mess to clean up = less effort = happy me was reinforced on arriving at my parent’s farm with only what I could carry over on an airplane. I managed to keep our two rooms in good order every day, and was very proud of myself.

In all this time I rarely shopped beyond groceries, however four months of general accumulating and the overwhelming generosity of neighbours, mother, friends and two sisters in giving us their hand-me-down clothes, toys and stuff meant that once again clutter was creeping in.

Wanting to declutter but not knowing where to begin, I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I Googled it. There was an overwhelming array of solutions. Tidy for 15 minutes every day! Shine your sink! Tidy up a small drawer and then you’ll do the rest no sweat! Buy my excellent storage solution for your clutter needs!! None of the advice thrown my way felt right for me. I knew that I’d never stick out the “15 minutes a day” approach, and many of the others seemed at best band-aid solutions.

I knew that my goal was to own less, and so switched to researching ‘how to become minimalist’ instead. This was equally disheartening. While I admire the principle, in practise there seemed to be a ‘one-up-manship’ attitude (or should I say a one-LESS-manship attitude?) where the concept is taken to extremes and a little off-putting. I want to live more simply, but I do not want a limit of 33 items in my wardrobe. No, I do not.

Enter Marie Kondo and her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Her approach is simple, but beautifully effective. Here are five points of advice that resonated with me:

Before you start, identify why you want to tidy up. There must be a reason you’re reading this book, she says. Drill down and find out why you want to tidy up. For me, it was that I hated clutter and wanted a clear, simple space. I hate clutter because I can’t ever truly relax in a messy house, I feel obligated to always be tidying up instead. I realised that ultimately, I want to tidy up because I want to be able to relax and be happy in my own space.

First, decide what to keep. Then decide where to put it. Could this advice be any more simple? It’s so obvious, but I realise that I found my clutter so hard to manage because I simply didn’t know where to put it. The trick to this is first deciding what to discard, after which there should be plenty of storage for what you keep.

Keep only those things that bring you joy. This is my favourite piece of advice. There is no limit to the amount of belongings you ‘should’ have. Every person’s idea of the perfect space is unique so don’t force yourself to decide what to throw away, or set yourself a numerical limit based on what someone else thinks you should have. Instead, handle each item one by one and choose instead what to keep by identifying what inspires joy. If my goal in tidying up is to be happy, it makes perfect sense to surround myself only with the things that make me happy.

Tidy by category, not by area. Don’t tidy one room or drawer at a time, because people don’t bother to keep the same items all in one the spot but rather spread throughout the entire house. You’ll never get a handle on exactly how much you own if you don’t see it all together at once. Instead, gather every single item in the same category (such as all clothing, or all books, or all CD’s) in the same place, then sort this category once and for all. This resonated with me. When moving house a while back I found enough shampoo and conditioner spread throughout the house to run a small salon. Three years later I’m still working my way through it, so I can definitely appreciate not knowing what you have until it’s all together.

Don’t feel obligated to keep things that were gifts. Kondo’s philosophy is that the purpose of a gift is to express the giver’s love or appreciation toward the you and the moment the gift is received it has fulfilled it’s purpose. If you love and use the item, great! But if not, pass it on; the giver would not want to you to feel obligated, or guilty every time you see the item. This piece of advice was most helpful for my mother, who has kept years’ of accumulated gifts from my siblings and I, for fear that she would offend us if she got rid of them. This evening she salvaged the wool from the world’s ugliest scarf I knitted her as a teenager and will make something new with it. As she’s an avid knitter I know that this will bring her far more happiness than a scarf in a cupboard she’s never worn, and that in turn makes me happy.


This by no means covers the extent of her method, and I highly recommend the book. It is optimistic and encouraging, and offers in turn both philosophical advice and practical solutions. For me, the greatest impact was in freeing me of any guilt about discarding an item I “might” need someday, or felt obliged to keep because someone had given to me.

My wardrobe has now half the clothing it used to (and I’ve got big plans to fill it with clothing I love, through sewing, which I also love), and today I removed items from my jewellery box that I’ve owned for years but never worn. Everything else in my box now seems more accessible and precious to me.

I’ve a whole house waiting to be sorted back home. Imagine a whole house where everything in it makes you happy – now isn’t that something to aspire to?

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Why Matters of Dress… Matter

Why Matters of Dress… Matter

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.’

― Virginia Woolf

I’ve learned that body size and shape don’t really matter when it comes to being well presented, and that clothing has an impact on your self-esteem. Have you ever bought an outfit that a sales assistant told you you looked great in, but felt self-conscious and lacked confidence when wearing it because you were just not sure about it? Have you ever noticed the change in posture and that little boost you get when you know that you look fabulous? The link between clothing and mindset is well established; if you want to read more I liked this article by Karen Pine, Professor of Developmental Psychology.

I also learned that when working from home getting dressed in the right clothing matters. When working from home If I tried to work in my PJ’s my day would be less productive and it would be harder to get into the right professional mindset than if I got dressed and prepared for the day. Even the phone conversations were easier when I felt I was dressed appropriately. It was an effort to shower and dress myself on those dark days involving the post-baby hormonal roller-coaster and no-sleep-induced exhaustion, but I felt like I’d achieved something small when I did.

You don’t have to love fashion to know that how you dress affects other people’s perception of you, and more importantly, how you feel about yourself.

Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.  

― Epictetus

I’m not a very “fashionable” woman. I don’t follow the latest trends or shop for new clothes every season, and I’m OK with that. When I was growing up my parents didn’t have much to spend on clothing, so my mother would make our clothes and the rest we would get as hand-me-downs from friends at church or from op-shopping. Mum would turn op-shopping into an event and plan a day out with a few friends and a tour of various charity outlets in the area. I still have (and wear) quite a few of these secondhand gems that I wore throughout high school that I am still in love with, and will continue to wear until they disintegrate beyond repair.

However, over the past 5 years I lost touch with my personal style and ironically, because I didn’t want to spend lots money on decent clothing, I spent the money anyway on lots of “temporary” cheap clothing that I had no pride in. I’ve decided that I’m tossing the old wardrobe and going back to the mix of classic and vintage style that I love, only this time I’m going to try and make the clothes myself so they fit me perfectly too. And to help break me out of the cheaply made, generic and disposable fashion mindset I’m committed to not buying any new clothes for a year.

Also, I know my limitations. I’m a busy mother of two about to head back into full time work. I don’t have the time (or frankly the care-factor) to plan my outfit each day. This is why I’ve decided to build myself a capsule wardrobe of a few timeless pieces that I love and can wear for years regardless of fashion trends, and that I can throw together any top and any bottom and know that they go together. I also know that I’m not minimalist. These are not going to be my only items of clothing, but they’ll be the foundations around which everything else is built.

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
― Coco Chanel

And finally, I have been a strictly au naturel long-haired girl most of my life. But now? Things are different. I’m inspired and motivated, and what better way to signify my commitment to change than cutting off my hair? Just like Sabrina Fairchild  (look at her portrayed by Audrey Hepburn above, stunning!). Such a huge change, and so liberating!

Dino-tastic Hoodie

Dino-tastic Hoodie

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We all have a dinosaur deep within us just trying to get out.
― Colin Mochrie

I had a wonderful time in Sydney, but it is so good to be back on the farm again – sleeping in an actual bed, babies in their own room, loads of space…. and of course, access to a sewing machine!

I have big plans for sewing carefully thought out, beautifully constructed, wardrobe building garments for myself (well, I can aspire to that), but tonight I just wanted to sew something fast for a little instant gratification. I finished unpacking and was putting away my fabric (oh so much fabric), when I came on this:

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60 cm of dinosaur print fleece. I know exactly what I can use that for:

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This is a pattern I’ve made a few times now for my boys, the instructions are easy to follow, and I’m familiar enough with it now to tweak the pattern pieces. I made a zip-front hoodie with no ribbing, just because I could.

Knowing that this is going to be worn by at least two very active little boys I made sure to stitch, overlock then topstitch almost every seam to be as strong as I could make it.

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Yes, it takes me that many pins to ease a sleeve cap. 

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The hood front

It took me more than an hour to figure out the best placement for the pieces, it was a small piece of fabric with nothing to spare, and I wanted to make sure the stripes lined up. It was worth it, I’m so pleased with how it turned out.

I even managed to pin a tail on the T-Rex. Win!
I even managed to pin a tail on the T-Rex. Win!

It’s not finished, it needs a zipper sewn in and then a good press, but it’s as finished as I can make it until I go buy a zipper on my next trip into town.

Ta-daa!

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The almost-soon-to-be-finished hoodie
Fabric: Remnant from The Fabric Cave

Pattern: Based on Burda 9672. I made a few changes to the pattern and construction, mostly because didn’t want to use ribbing and wanted a full zip-front, not a jumper.

Liked: Dinosaur hoodie + 2 year old boy = what’s not to like? Also, I managed to get all the dinosaurs right way up 🙂

Disliked: Matching the stripes. It took me more time to place the pattern and cut out the pieces than to actually sew the thing together. I am really pleased with the results, but I’ll think twice before choosing such a bold pattern on a little garment.

Would I make it again? Absolutely.

Favourite Haunt: The Fabric Cave

Favourite Haunt: The Fabric Cave

Today I discovered the most marvellous Aladdin’s cave of crafty treasures: The Fabric Cave in Meadowbank, Sydney. This must be one of Sydney’s best kept secrets, and after walking into the shop I had to call my husband to tell him “I’m in HABERDASHERY HEAVEN!

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So. Much. Fabric

They have a wonderful selection of fabrics, notions, tapestries, patterns, yarns, books and supplies at bargain prices. I’ve only visited once but I’m already planning my next trip to Sydney around this place (insider tip – there’s a sale going to happen end of April).

A table full of vintage patterns, all kept in order.  Amazing, when I think of how many people were rifling through them
A table full of vintage patterns, all kept in order. Amazing, when I think of how many people were rifling through them

The shop is a community not-for-profit initiative, and all proceeds go to the organisation Achieve Australia. From their website: “As a not-for-profit community organisation, Achieve Australia has provided services and support … for people with a disability to achieve a life that is meaningful and valued.” I think that helping others live their lives with dignity is a wonderful cause.

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Their shop is stocked with donated goods, and run by some of the loveliest staff you could meet, and what’s even more lovely is that they’re volunteers. If you’re in Sydney and would like to stock up (or de-stash and donate!), please please pay them a visit.

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All up I spent $100 on THREE pink garbage bags worth of fabric. Amazing. I really can’t tell you how much I love this place, and I know exactly what I’m going to make with some of these treasures. Stay tuned 🙂

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No Clothes Shopping for a Whole Year?

No Clothes Shopping for a Whole Year?

“Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets.”
Mignon McLaughlin

I recently came across Pareto’s Principle  as it applies to clothes: that 20% of the items in your wardrobe are worn 80% of the time, and I’d say that’s a pretty fair estimation of my own circumstances. After my marriage I slowly crept up a few dress sizes, and as I had no intentions of staying overweight I didn’t make any effort to dress or shop discerningly; I just grabbed whatever was vaguely my size from the specials rack once or twice a year to tide me over until I could fit into my “real” clothes again. Add to that two pregnancies in two years and the logistics of breastfeeding meant my clothes were all BLAH.

When I flew interstate to visit my parents I was limited to only what I could carry in a suitcase for myself and two babies, and babies need a LOT of stuff. Everything I brought for myself was able to fit into a carry-on, and I found that over the last three months I haven’t missed having more items at all. In fact, I found dressing infinitely easier without the paradox of choice, which led me to explore the idea of a capsule wardrobe (but that’s a whole topic in itself).

I’ve never been one for new year’s resolutions. I’m generally incapable of finishing anything I start so I figure it’s easier just to not make resolutions in the first place. But this year I’ve made a resolution to buy no new clothes for myself, or my two boys. No new clothes in a whole year, other than what I can create with my own two hands. Considering I sewed the first ever item of clothing for myself less than three months ago, I wonder what I’m getting into, but I was always one for jumping right in the deep end!

The rules of the challenge are very simple:

1. No clothes shopping for a year
2. Items I am unable to make myself are exempt (eg shoes and underwear)
3. Hand-me-downs and occasional op-shopping are allowed, but ideally the items are to be refashioned in some manner

So far I’ve stuck to this resolution, even when my sister-in-law took me shopping at one of Sydney’s biggest factory outlet centre earlier this week. SO proud of myself!

Do you have any new year’s resolutions that you’re (still) keeping?