Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Contentment

Be mindful of what you read. I often feel dissatisfied with my own life when I read glossy magazines, ‘show-off’ blogs and peruse luxury brand websites.

And it’s not their fault, the magazines are just trying to make money by showing glamorous people and promoting purchasing, as are luxury websites.

When I choose to read mostly that which aligns with my values and the direction in which I want to steer my life I feel so happy and content that I can’t imagine wanting more.

What inspires and motivates us is different for everyone, but for me I find that words rather than pictures give me a sense of what I can do. I enjoy beautiful visuals, but they often leave me thinking ‘I’m not that thin so the outfit won’t look like that’ or ‘we don’t live in a home with antique wooden doors and a picturesque set of French doors leading to the balcony’. Beautiful to look at, not so good for being content.

Words on the other hand, conjure up ideas in my head. And then when those ideas come to fruition, whether it’s a makeup style, outfit or way to arrange the living room, I’m not comparing it to someone else’s perfectly styled ideal.

For many years, since I first started clicking onto the internet I’ve collected snippets which have been pasted into various word documents. Sometimes it might be a whole article, maybe a paragraph or even a single sentence. Out of everything I have to read when at home (many favourite books and magazines), I think these printed-out ‘personalised books’ (housed in clearfiles) are my number one.

When I read them, I am reminded of my happiness with a simple life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Place of Order and Beauty

Today I had a productive day at home. On my day off I mostly choose not to drop my husband into work so I don’t have to pick him up again. I am then free to focus completely on being at home, whether it is cleaning, pottering, decluttering and tidying or crafting, reading and relaxing.

I did my usual homemaking tasks such as vacuuming the carpet, hand-mopping the hard floors (we have three small areas), running and emptying the dishwasher, dusting, laundry, making the bed and preparing dinner.

I also like to concentrate on one additional area in depth. Today it was the kitchen. I have additional kitchen items like the slowcooker and sandwich press in our tiny home office, because they don’t fit in the kitchen cupboards and I don’t want them out on the bench.

I was playing Anthea Turner’s Perfect Housewife dvd non-stop in the background. Anthea would never stand for that, I thought. So I emptied out our kitchen cupboards (it didn’t take long, we have a tiny kitchen), wiped and dried the shelves and then put most things back, including, wonder of wonders, the slowcooker and sandwich press. Of course they fitted, with room to spare.

Inspired, I also did the pantry, tidying it as I put things back after cleaning the shelves. I found food I thought we had run out of (including three packs of long pasta when I didn’t think we had one). And our pantry isn’t that big. It showed me that you really have to do these things on a regular basis.

If you haven’t viewed Anthea Turner’s programme you’re in for a treat. She lives in a beautiful Surrey mansion (well, before the credit crunch in England, she had to move to a smaller mansion afterwards) and takes homemaking to an art form. I picked up plenty of tips as I watched (or should I say re-watched for the 60th time).

Something I really like that she said was to treat the running of your home like a small business, ‘because it is your business’. She also said the running of the home was not dissimilar to the running of a boutique hotel.

I listened to some podcasts of Anthea while I was working too (had to pause the dvd for those).

And here are Anthea’s top 10 tips from the same website.

1. You can’t run a home that’s a mess, so first of all you have to de-clutter it. If it’s not beautiful, useful or seriously sentimental - IT GOES. Charity shop or bin (you decide what’s best).

2. There’s no getting away from it, you have to clean - often and frequent is my tip.

3. When cleaning always start by dusting first, once everything’s cleaned down then hoover and wipe floors.

4. Make your house a home. Consider your house from an aesthetic point of view, does it make you feel good. If not what can you add to it to make it more appealing.

5. Run your home like a business and treat it with the same seriousness. Think about how you could run your home more efficiently, certain days for food shopping, budgets etc.

6. Storage is very important, for instance - don’t have winter coats on the coat rack during summer, store them away, think about shrink wrapping them if necessary.

7. Teamwork is also really important, when your children get to a certain age they can help with household chores, putting dirty washing away, cleaning and tidying away their toys etc.

8. Avoid Wastage. If you cut up a lemon and have a dishwasher put the left over half into the dishwasher. It adds a little ting and sparkle in your wash.

9. Get organised. Purchase a diary you can pin on your kitchen wall and put every event and birthday into this diary.

10. Finances, keep them up to date - if you have bills to pay keep everything in one place or buy a folder to keep them in.

I also decluttered quite a few items – I went through my candle cupboard. We burn them every night so get through a fair few, but having consolidated my candle collection I won’t need to purchase any for quite a while. I decluttered about half of my candle holders.

When I buy or are given a scented candle, often the glass is really pretty too. After the candle is used I put them in the freezer to shrink the last bit of wax and pop that out, then put the glass into the dishwasher. Apart from putting tealights or new candles in them, I use them in the bathroom drawer for cotton makeup squares, my towelling headband etc, and in my makeup area for brushes, pencils, mascara and tweezers (which are hung on the side to protect the point).

Still, I had a lot more than I wanted. So I chose my favourites and donated the rest.

A few more items went in the Red Cross Shop pile – decorative items that while are quite pretty, I just don’t use. An example is the cream coloured semi-precious agate stone (the shape and size of a chicken egg) on a small brass stand. Every time I see it I am reminded of the woman I used to work with who gave it to me. She was mostly quite nasty and condescending, and out of the blue she gave this to me as a gift. I don’t really want to be reminded of her.

Another good thing about my day of homemaking – it’s a good workout. I feel really nicely tired/relaxed. Anthea thinks so too - ‘You don’t need to go to the gym, just put on a pinny’.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Low-Stress Secrets

I read a great article in the December 2010 Australian Women’s Weekly. ‘Real-life secrets of low-stress women had the following tips, which I really found helpful. The bolded titles are from the article, and I have mostly paraphrased the information as well as adding my own thoughts.

Think friendly. Listen to your thoughts. Are they often negative? Do you speak to yourself in a way you wouldn’t speak to a friend? I think negative thinking can be a habit we fall into, so when I catch myself I find it useful to think the positive opposite and I instantly start going in the right direction again.

Worry daily. Rather than spend all day (and night) worrying, write the worries down, and make a note of any action that could be taken. I find I do a less chic version of this. I stew and stew and let things get on top of me. Then I have a mini-breakdown and burden my husband with my woes. He makes sensible suggestions on how I can fit everything into my schedule (and never says unhelpful comments such as ‘don’t read blogs at work’), we make a plan and I’m happy again. Perhaps I could follow this advice, write my worries down and save him the stress.

Be grateful. Whatever you put your attention on expands and grows in your life. I’ve done the gratitude journal thing on and off for years since I first heard of it. I felt like a bit of a winner writing it down and thought imagine if someone read my lame writings, but I often say thank you to the Universe for lovely things or good luck. I also often think how lucky I am to have all that I do.

Eat chocolate. Dark chocolate is good for you. I know this because I can have it in the house without eating the entire block at once. That always means things are good for you. Popcorn, icecream, jubes and milk chocolate are not good for me. I can only eat 1-2 squares of dark chocolate a day, which I cannot say for popcorn, icecream, jubes and milk chocolate. Therefore dark chocolate lives at my place while those others do not.

Take up yoga. I’ve already done this! I joined a class in the middle of last year. I started off going once a week and a few months in I upped it to twice a week. I had a break over Christmas of almost a month because the teacher was on holiday and I really missed it. I started back this week and I feel so good both during and after the class. I’m excited about an exercise that I enjoy and can see myself doing for the rest of my life. The magazine article said along with the facts that we know, like yoga increasing flexibility and toning muscles whilst calming the mind, is that yoga increases GABA, a brain substance which is often low in those who suffer from stress and anxiety.

Be honest. For most people lying is stressful, which is why lie detectors generally work. I heard a really cool quote recently that said ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ which I took to mean be honest, don’t hide anything, and you’ll feel better, healthier, happier. If you’re worrying about what to say, just tell the truth.

Fall in love. The article stated that being married or in a long-term relationship alters hormones in a way that eases stress. I’m not sure that this belongs in my ideal list of low-stress secrets. Of course being in the right relationship is going to make you happier. But if you’re with someone that isn’t right, that can be worse than being single. And if you’re single, you might feel you’re missing out on a low-stress secret, when it’s simply out of your control for now. You can work on yourself and be open and approachable, but it’s not up to you when you meet your most excellent match. The Universe decides that. Let’s kick this tip out of the list, it’s too stressful. Let’s go with things we can control.

Say hello to nature. This I agree with a lot. Years ago I replaced the gym with walking. I loved being outside amongst nature (even in town there are trees and gardens) more than I loved standing on carpet within walls, close to other people with loud bass music. Also, since adopting Atlas the elderly poodle, either my husband or I take five minutes every couple of hours to take a brief stroll along the grass verge. Little doses of vitamin D throughout the day! We also go for short-ish walks most days (about twenty minutes) to stretch his legs. Yesterday morning we had half an hour before we had to open the shop. Sometimes we go to a nearby cafe for a coffee (a real treat we do maybe once a week) but yesterday we walked through a nearby park. It was a lovely way to start the day.

Ask for help. Women have a tendency to try and shoulder the entire load and many of us are reluctant to ask for help. The article suggests we pick an area of our life where we could use the most help, ask the person or people we would like a helping hand from, and leave them to it. Mistakes will be made but that’s part of handing over. Whenever I get the offer of help from my man and I’m tempted to say ‘no that’s ok I’ll do it’ I try and remember to say ‘thank you’ instead.

Eat foods rich in magnesium. I was told years ago that magnesium relaxes your muscles and helps you feel less tense. Naturally I went out and bought a magnesium supplement, which is fine, but you can also eat foods such as pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, almonds and cashews as well as green vegetables. Another way to get it is take a bath with a handful of Epsom salts dissolved in it. Adding a few drops of lavender oil is recommended too. I’m not a fan of baths, but I do love nuts. I’ll just have to remind myself to have them raw. Roasted and salted doesn’t do their nutrition content any favours.

I would add to this list:

Be organised. Working on being more organised in my daily life and dealing with annoyances of my own making (such as leaving mending undone or ignoring a clutter hotspot) has made me feel infinitely happy, calm, serene and in control. Instead of walking past something twenty times before putting it away, I try and do it immediately. I’m also working on decluttering, creating good daily routines and home organisation. If I can find a place for everything and remember to put everything in its place, I will be one happy person.

Go to bed earlier. Only good things can come from this. I’m out of the habit of early nights at the moment and the times when I force myself to shut down the computer and wind down with a book before turning the light off nice and early I feel amazing the next day. My goal is for early nights to be the norm rather than the exception.

Breathe. Do you forget to breathe? I do. I find myself not exactly holding my breath, but I'm holding onto something. To lower stress, let your breath flow in... and out. And when you breathe, your stomach should expand not your chest. I think as females we are so used to holding our stomach in that we train ourselves to breathe in a counter-productive way.

Live within your means. 'Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery'. - Charles Dickens. I know first-hand how horrible it feels to spend more than you have and then dread the credit card statement. It is such a good feeling to know you have money in the bank to cover your bills, plus an emergency fund of X months of living expenses.


What is your favourite low-stress lifestyle secret?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Victoria Magazine

The Universe has blessed me with its infinite riches today. Walking back to work from my yoga class I went past the Hospice charity shop. Outside I spied a Victoria magazine. That, my friends, was just the tip of the iceberg.

I normally don’t carry money to my yoga class, but today I tucked $20 in my bag. For $1 each, I purchased thirteen copies, all in perfect condition and from the last few years. They are the new publication of Victoria, which I considered subscribing to, but it was very expensive to New Zealand and I decided against it.

I have a small number (less than a dozen) of ‘old’ Victorias (including a few of the French issues) which I’ve re-read regularly over the years. They always give me a feeling of peace, relaxation and serenity, and make me feel more creative.

My Auntie S has a similar sensibility to me, and was a subscriber of the ‘old’ Victoria right from the early days. She’s promised me she will never declutter her beloved copies without offering them to me first, and recently said she had put my name on the box so that I will inherit them one day!

Putting my new treasures in date order I found there was two double-ups. I think they will be finding their way to my Auntie.

Are you a fan of Victoria? I’m not a big Victoriana-style fan and sometimes (the older issues) were a bit frilly for me, but overall this magazine has dreamy and divine photo shoots and lovely, quaint writing. Reading a copy of Victoria whilst lying on the bed is one of my favourite ways to wind down on an early night. Perhaps with a chamomile or mint tea.

I can’t wait to treat myself to my ‘new’ copies.

And my plan is to declutter at least 13 magazine when I get home, possibly even doubling the number to 26. That may be a good way to declutter in between ‘actual’ declutterings. One in, two out. Not too onerous.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wardrobe Planning

I’ve always been envious of those who have a clear vision of their personal (clothing) style and the appropriate edited wardrobe.

At any one time I will have a couple of different sizes of clothing and if not plentiful styles, more than one. Every time I think of having a huge cleanout I think ‘what if I lose weight, what if I change my mind’.

And I’m constantly thinking of ways I can streamline my wardrobe into its most perfect and purest form, without actually getting rid of anything.

I enjoyed Euro Chic’s post recently where she went through her wardrobe, listing under the bottoms which tops go. This seems a good place to start, and shoes too I think. Different shoes go with different bottoms.

My plan is this:

Pack clothing which is a touch snug but which I still like away, for hopefully some time close in the future.

Box up clothing which, regardless of size, I don’t like and isn’t my style. Give away.

Enjoy the rest, and go through the process of listing tops, bottoms and shoes.

I keep coming back to the French Chic style. It’s a very broad generic term and really covers whatever someone wants to put under that genre. What I choose to put it under are true classics, cut to a flattering fit. Pieces I have already which fit the bill are:

Flattering t-shirts in cotton with a tiny amount of elastane – in white, black and true red. They have a scoop neck (not ‘v’ or crew) with quite short sleeves which flare out a little, so they don’t cling and emphasise the upper arm. No one wants their upper arm emphasised.

Perfectly fitting jeans. Finding a perfectly fitting jean is a work in progress, and sometimes one pair fits better than another. Aesthetic Alternations wrote a post on J Brand and I have to, simply have to find out if they are available in New Zealand.

Flattering and slightly dressy tank/singlet tops. I have a couple that I wear when it’s really hot (it's summer here at the moment). They are sleeveless yet drape slightly over the shoulder so are more work-appropriate than a straight out singlet top.

Beige cotton knee-length trench coat, which I love. I bought it in Paris on my first and only-so-far trip in 2001. Paris is a really, really long way from where I live. Until next time I make do and daydream. And wear my trench.

Short beige cotton trench-style coat. Bought from a très-inexpensive store this year. I unpicked the label, sewed a few loose threads in and haven’t looked back. I wear it more than my long coat even though the long coat has a far better pedigree.

LBD. I wore this to my cousin’s wedding last month with red and white polka dot slingbacks, and a white leather handbag which has a red and white polka dot silk scarf tied around the handle. I asked my husband if I should wear my gold coin necklace or pearls with this ensemble. ‘Well of course the pearls’, he said.

Along with classic clothing goes the classic accessories:

A Cartier Tank Francaise stainless steel and gold small size watch which I have worn every day for the past ten years and will wear every day in the future until I take my last breath.

A small wardrobe of earrings – real pearl studs, faux diamond studs and small yellow gold hoops (about 1cm / ½ inch diameter).

A few necklaces – my main ones are cultured baroque pearls or a chunky gold necklace with French coin attached. I always have the quandary of ‘should I wear earrings and a necklace, and then how do I wear a scarf at the same time. My personal opinion of what I feel comfortable in is earrings and scarf or necklace and nothing else (but then I miss wearing earrings and a scarf!). I know, I have huge problems compared to others.

Shoes. I am happy to have a small number of pairs in rotation.

What actually made me think about my wardrobe as a concise collection was planning what to wear when I go away on a trip. When I travelled to my cousin’s wedding I flew there, so I had to take only what I would definitely be wearing (as opposed to driving there, when you can pack everything including the kitchen sink).

This necessitates a plan, what am I doing for each day and what should I wear, right down to accessories.

It’s actually really fun, and for a staycation we had a while back at the Westin hotel, I even took photos because I was enjoying myself so much. I love those magazine interviews where someone stylish shows their favourite things (they always include Diptyque candles, always!).

My Westin wardrobe was sort of like that, as it wasn’t just the going out clothes, but the lounge wear and what I was going to read. It gave me a flavour for the night we were staying there.

Below is my relaxing outfit, and at the top of this post is my clothing for the evening and the next day.

My plan now is to do this for my everyday wardrobe, which will be a little bigger, granted, but a cohesive look that I want to portray to the world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chic Habits: Moisturise Your Ear Lobes

Moisturise your ear lobes. Do this at the same time you moisturise your face at night. You don't need any extra cream or lotion, just use the little bit on your fingers.

My French beauty therapist included my ears in the facials I have had with her, both in terms of massaging and moisturising at the end. It felt amazing having my ears massaged. Since then I have included my lobes in my skincare regime. And they do look quite plumped up and smooth.

You don't want to be one of those little old ladies with withered, dried out, hangy earlobes do you? Non, you want to be the one with beautiful, compact rosebud ears, with pearl stud earrings in.

And I think, I think I read somewhere that massaging the earlobes reduces stress. I could just be making that up but if it's true that's just another reason to do it. Starting tonight!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reasons to Smile

I found this list in English magazine ‘Woman’. I liked all the tips so much I thought I couldn’t not share them with you.

Often these types of lists are clichéd and pointless (if that’s not too harsh). This one makes me want to smile more so I can be younger, happier, healthier and more popular!

5 great reasons to smile

1. Smiling makes us more attractive, so if you’re trying to impress, a smile will draw people in.

2. A smile changes your mood for the better – even if you don’t feel like smiling, it actually tricks the body into feeling better by releasing endorphins.

3. You’ll look instantly younger. The muscles you use to smile lift the face, making you appear younger.

4. It lowers your blood pressure. When you smile there’s a measurable reduction in your blood pressure readings.

5. Smiling relieves stress. It also helps to stop you looking tired, worn out and overwhelmed, so making you better able to cope.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Embracing the New Year

Even though it’s only a date and another day, the new year feels different. I’m excited at the year to come, and full of optimism of how I can better myself.

We have been away on holiday. Our shop was closed for ten days and we were staying at a lovely, sleepy beach town a short drive from where we live. Mr Atlas had a week in the country with my Poodle Rescue and retired poodle breeder friend Faye.

A beach town yes, but a beach town which has a twelve level luxurious (to us) high-rise resort/apartment building, one block from a beautiful swimming beach and with Indian restaurants, a grotty yet fun bar and various shops within a two minute walking distance. That’s my kind of beach town. The picture above is the view from our level five apartment.

As much as I’ve enjoyed our end of year holiday (I typed most of this post in my bikini before going for a late morning swim) my head is full of possibilities at home.

Coming back home from being away somewhere (whether it’s a decent length of time or a long weekend) I am always itching to get back home and get stuck into all the little projects I am planning (and have half-finished). I think it’s imperative I go away on a regular basis just so I get things done!

My focus this year is ORGANISATION. By being more organised at home I can be more:


And many more good ways to be.

I started decluttering within the last two years, and have gained a lot, but clutter creeps up on you doesn’t it? My husband calls it recluttering when I come home from the Salvation Army charity store with a new candle, rustic basket or book.

And having my 40th birthday in October and then Christmas - both times in which I’ve been given lovely gifts of course. Well, our small home is now bursting at the seams. I know, it's a very Western society problem to have when you have too many gorgeous things and can't move for them.

I am full of the possibilities of making our home very similar to the luxury high-rise apartment we stayed at the beach in. From the nature of holiday accommodation it isn’t filled with the ‘stuff’ we have in our homes. It even has floor length white gauzy curtains which blow softly in the breeze, a la my ideal French girl Sabine’s Paris apartment.

And of course I have Edith Piaf playing in the background while I dream of our sparsely furnished home where every cupboard and drawer is neat and organised.

This year I will have a ‘Slim Pantry’ like Anne Barone’s. I have streamlined it fairly recently, but you can’t do it once, it needs ongoing maintenance to straighten out and find unused items which can be incorporated into a meal.

I will also have a wardrobe in which I divide into three sections:

Clothing which looks fabulous and is comfortable on me right now.
Clothing which I love but is maybe a little... snug... to be put away and tried on at a later date.
Clothing which looks frumpy and plain on me at any weight and/or is a scratchy fabric. This clothing is being boxed up and shipped out.

Over the coming months I will be visiting every cupboard, drawer and storage hidey-hole. I will be refining my possessions and using up what I’ve got, before going out to any store. I will be examining how I spend my time, and how I think.

Even though I could move right into a French-style decorated home, and have a number of gilt-type pieces around the house now, I am inspired most by simple, plain and airy homes like Tara Dennis shows. I have her book ‘Home – Classic Essentials for Easy Living’. I will keep it to hand to remind me what I am aiming for.

I will not decide when I’ve made a small improvement that that is enough. As a procrastinator and a perfectionist I have to be bold and trust that I know best!
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