Soft summer wardrobe replenishment from Goodwill

               When I was a young teenager, my mother gave me a copy of Carole Jackson’s “Color Me Beautiful” book about seasonal color analysis. I was fascinated by the subject and quickly categorized myself as a “Summer.” A decade later I resume reading on the subject and found that the original four season theory had been further developed and expanded by several modern color analysis pioneers. For my birthday a few years ago, I had a professional color analysis done and received the official diagnosis of “Soft Summer.” At first I resisted the colors given to me because they looked a bit dull on the swatch, but when I actually tried wearing them the difference they made on me was astounding. Because my coloring is so soft and light, in the wrong colors my skin tends to look white, red, or yellow, and my hair often looked gray even though I have no gray hairs yet. The right colors make my skin look peachy pink and my hair looks brown. It isn’t the most striking coloring women have been blessed with, but it works when I wear the right colors. After four pregnancies my body shape has changed quite a bit; combine that with owning practically nothing in my suitable color range and I have a very good excuse to go shopping!

               My current spring/summer wardrobe, not including two pairs of jeans, one pair of shorts, and two tees:

               (It’s small and sad and half of it is outerwear.)

               I am in desperate need of tshirts, shorts, pants, dresses, skirts, blouses, and a blazer/jacket. So pretty much everything except jeans! For the past month I have scoured my local mall but practically everything, even in the higher end and classic type stores, was trendy. And most of the trends thus far in 2015 are not my style! So yesterday I went to Goodwill hoping to find treasure. I got 6 t-shirts and a pair of shorts. They were reasonably priced and they all matched or coordinated with my color swatch perfectly! I was super excited! Since a lot of the “Soft Summer” collections and items I’ve seen on Pinterest and Polyvore look nothing like the colors on my swatch, I wanted to share a picture of what I got in natural lighting (sunlight through a window) in case it resonates with any of my readers who have similar coloring.

               My loot:

               At first I felt awkward shopping with a swatch–I am pretty sure seven different people gave me the “you are a weirdo” eye–but the satisfaction of knowing that I bought stuff that not only just works but also looks great on me, even second hand tees, was worth the awkwardness of shopping with a swatch at a store where many people aren’t so picky. The other great thing about shopping at Goodwill was that the items were arranged by color, and being able to compare, say, 20 different shades of navy was helpful for determining which one matched or coordinated with the swatch most closely. At a different store, any given product may be offered in navy, pink, white, and yellow, which creates such a contrast that it’s easy to look at the navy one and think that since you have navy on your swatch, that must work–but it may actually be a green-navy, pink-navy, or brown-navy instead of the gray-navy you wanted (for soft summers).

               Have any of my readers had a color analysis done, or do you follow your own intuition of which colors make you look fab versus drab? I’d also love to hear your secret shopping strategies for looking your best. Anyone else shop second hand/consignment? Let me know in the comments!


Housekeeping routine

               After buying a home last October, I finally began settling back into the routine of living in an actual house, not a hotel or summer cabin. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had no routine; the length of time since I’d last kept house (May) and the new house layout left me needing an entirely new approach. So I tackled a project I’ve been wanting to do for a while but had never accomplished before the move.

               When I got married in 2007, my life went from zero to sixty quickly. We rented two apartments in the first two years of marriage, then bought a house. By that point we were expecting our second child. The children kept coming until 2013 when we had four and had maxed out our tiny house. I never really ironed out a working plan for housekeeping. I cleaned, cooked, and donated stuff all the time, but not consistently or with any reason. I also devoted a lot of time to tidying up and putting things away, which made me feel better temporarily. But I’d see the inches of dust high on shelves and the calcium streaks in the toilet and feel majorly guilty. I just couldn’t seem to find the time to actually clean because I was so busy picking up. My mother always devoted an entire Saturday to cleaning the house top to bottom, but that was not my style. Between fatigue and cabin fever, I knew I’d never devote my precious Saturday to cleaning. Besides, I was home all day every day, so I really wanted to spend part of each day doing part of the work, yielding a semi clean house all the time. All I had to do was make a comprehensive list of all the chores to be done, label them by frequency, and paste them onto a calendar. But I was nervous. What if my results yielded that I now had to spend EVERY day cleaning all day?

               As the last boxes got unpacked in the new house, I started noticing–you’ll never guess–the beginnings of dust piling high up on shelves and calcium streaks in the toilet. I had to do something. If I was going to adopt a cleaning schedule, it was now.

               It was a week’s long project, but I listed every chore and made a schedule. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. The first two weeks it took me almost all day to get everything done on the heavier days, but it soon became routine as I didn’t have to check the list as much. I included things like standard cleaning as well as checking my free credit reports online a few times a year, scheduling maintenance for the slate roof, sorting through the kids’ clothes, and tuning the piano. I tweaked a few things and now I’m really happy with it. I just need to be told exactly what to do each day as if I were working at a job with regular responsibilities or else I’ll flounder with no direction. If any of you are thinking about changing your cleaning and housekeeping routine to something different, even if it’s radically different, I encourage you to do it because it will be worth it once you get accustomed to it. I started in November and now that it’s April, I can get almost everything done in 2 hours or less in the morning, leaving me the rest of the day to play with the children, home school, relax, try new recipes, and……tidy up. 🙂

Example month

Reflecting on regrets

               While I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything, until recently I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently.   I married young in what I now perceive to be unnecessary cautiousness and dependence on my future husband’s income earning potential.   Having moved out of my parents’ home at 19 and run out of money to continue college, I saw a moment that I felt I had to seize and took it.   Even though things were going well, it took only three years before tiny seeds of regret began rooting in my mind:   was I too young? too desperate? too uneducated?   Had I greatly missed out by not living independently for a while?   Did I have too many kids?   Did I know how to raise them?

I was supposed to look contemplative here.

               Since 2010, I’ve alternately wallowed in and denied these regrets–until I fully gave in to the what if’s and made an important discovery.   Last week I found myself once again reflecting on my fate, destiny, and circumstances.   As I went through “what if” scenarios in my mind, I realized that having done things differently in the past may have led to a very different physical outcome but that the internal transformation I’ve been undergoing would likely have been the same.   I realized that my choices led to my destination.   That means that presently, even if I’ve made some decisions I could regret, I actually have great power because the ability to choose is still mine.   I’m not resigned to let whatever happens happen because in the past, I jumped on a hamster wheel of no further change, metamorphosis, or control over the future.   Of course, some things are fixed now, commitments made must be held onto, but some things are easier than the alternative would have been, especially when it comes to being financially stable.   I must stop looking at this life of mine as a series of undetermined, uncontrollable events that now occur like dominoes just because I made hasty decisions as a younger woman.   Indeed, I still have much power over my day to day life and most definitely over my future by the decisions I make each day.

               In my imagination I can picture everything, from one’s exercise and beauty routine to what one eats to how one pursues religion and spirituality to one’s moral principles and character to what transferable job skills one acquires, potentially affecting the course of one’s life five, ten, and twenty years later.   I think a lot of people read lifestyle blogs and self help books looking for a prescription formula of how to lead the perfect, ideal, best, fulfilling, or otherwise desirable life, but since the ideal outcome varies for each person, so should our choices.   We don’t need others to dictate our choices;   instead we need to recognize that we each have more power than we think to choose our way to our desired outcome.   I believe most people are already innately aware of their true desires, preferences, opinions, and comfort levels, although for some like me raised in strict families, churches, or schools it may take a few years as a young adult to fully acknowledge one’s inner self and personality.   But as a person discovers herself, she should make every decision based on her best true self, her own characteristics, the part of herself that knows what she needs and wants.   Like a muscle, the more one gets in touch with one’s innate self, the easier it will become to choose wisely across the entire spectrum of life’s activities.   One doesn’t have to follow a certain skin care routine, for example, or buy this makeup or that fashion item, attend this religious group or parent a child that way, just because of the opinion of someone else.   While there are scientific facts supporting a lot of emotional, mental, and physical health issues that I think each person has a responsibility to study and apply, there is a lot of room for leeway in personal dietary requirements , the type of relationship style that suits one, or how introspective or not one wishes to be.   The internet is full of information but it is even more full of copy cats who emulate their favorite blogger or celebrity without thinking about the fact that it is their own life, not the blogger’s, that they’ll be living twenty years down the road.   Living with the then current product of today’s choices, all the time and energy spent making these daily lifestyle decisions now won’t be recoverable if it didn’t lead the way they wished it to.

               So my challenge to you is to consider the power you have to direct your future, besides current unavoidable commitments and responsibilities.   If you’re unmarried, I cannot emphasize enough to know yourself before making a marriage commitment.   If you have regrets about the past, that isn’t bad;   it’s better to feel them and even give in a little to the “what if’s” than happily deny them, because eventually they’ll explode from your subconscious to the possible major upheaval of your current world, such as a midlife crisis.   I found thinking through the “what if’s” of my decisions from college onward–mentally exploring as many roads not taken as I could think of (along with a tiny bit of Facebook creeping on ex-boyfriends or boys I was too shy to approach)–to be mind clearing.   That is, in my imagination I still found myself developing mentally and socially in much the same way as I have over the last decade, although perhaps a bit more legally independent.   I realize hindsight is 20/20 and for some this exercise may seem foolish or a waste of time, but for me reflecting on the power of one’s choices seemed like a breakthrough.   Perhaps it can help one of my readers, as well.

               In closing, Shannon of one of my favorite blogs, The Simply Luxurious Life, touched on this topic in last week’s newsletter.   The gist of her thoughts were that we can imagine our future life developing all we want, but passivity will merely render us sitting on the sidelines assisting others in their dreams.   To make the life of our dreams, we must proactively make the decisions needed to carve out our future.   Might I add, no matter the past.

Teaching our children

               One of my young sons just brought me some tiny stuck-together Legos to unsnap.   As I helped him, it occurred to me that he had asked for me help instead of trying it himself because I am an adult and, in his mind, more capable than he.

               But then I remembered that even as a child I used to unsnap rows of thin, tightly connected Legos for my brothers.   I guess it’s something I’ve always been good at doing.   Since I was efficient at the task, they continued letting me do it, and I was glad to help.   After all, the way my brothers treated me growing up lead me to believe that my worth–my value–was intrinsically linked to how useful I was.   That is, I felt that what I could do for others was what endeared me to them and made me worthy of them.   This harmful notion hindered me when I began dating;   coming of age, I slowly began to recognize how harmful and objectifying this view is.   No person’s worth or value should be judged by their behavior.   In a world of economic significance–checks and balances and bottom lines–it often seems that one’s abilities, skills, and character become one’s currency for material measurement.   But the interpersonal relationships that ought to be crafted between us, specifically the sacred ties of families, marriages, and intimate relationships, ought not depend on the false notion that what one has to offer determines how much one is valued.   These days, I am happy to have finally begun rejecting this notion as I endeavor to teach my children that they are intrinsically valuable and worthy, no matter what they do.   Next to imparting the principles of my faith that I hope they will accept as their own, the single most important thing I wish to teach my children is that their worth is not dependent on their behavior nor on what they can do for me, their siblings, or society.

               What is the most important thing you want to teach, or feel you have taught, your children?

Everyday elegance: the bed

               I have always liked doing things the fancy way and admire the look of things carefully arranged and beautifully displayed.   When I was in eleventh grade I dined at the Signature Room in Chicago and observed the individually folded hand towels in the elegant ladies’ restroom.   That inspired me to display my bathroom wash cloths rolled up in a basket on the counter instead of folded flat and kept out of sight in a drawer.   In the past I displayed dry goods in glass jars on the counter, although lately it has just been flour.   Although it will take me years of perfecting, I am pursuing the fascinating art of arranging my everyday items as part of my household decor.   It is also perfect for me as I have never been a fan of a lot of purely decorative, useless objects sitting around serving as decor.

               One of the areas I have struggled with since I married was making my bed.   Not that I was unwilling to do so, but after I would finish it, the bed would never look as nice as I thought it should.   After investing in down comforters, cotton sheets, and down pillows, I was sad that the bed just did not look as inviting and beautiful as it should.   Some days, I would not even make the bed because the results did not seem worth the effort!   Then last month when I was reading through a home decor magazine and thinking how unrealistic the staged beds looked, I realized that maybe the designers arrange them that way for a reason.   I learned to make a bed as a child, and it included pulling the covers up over the pillows with a fancy tuck under them.   While this method worked great for flat pillows and thin blankets, it did not with fluffy down accessories.   So I tried making the bed the way I saw it in the magazine: Sheet pulled up, comforter turned down a quarter to a third of the way down the bed, pillows standing up on edge arranged by color and pattern, and a throw blanket (in my case an afghan from my great grandma) at the foot of the bed for color and added sumptuousness.   The result?   My ordinary bed now looks, to me at least, like the fancy beds of magazines, warm, inviting, beautifully arranged–and it takes no longer to make!   I am glad to have added one more way to make my home beautiful without having to buy anything or adopt a complicated routine.

Fancy bed

               Do you like doing things the fancy way?   How do you incorporate this into your life?   How do you like to artfully arrange your possessions?   I love hearing your thoughts, and as always, thank you for reading The Well Bred Woman in Progress.

The well managed life

               So many blogs I read nowadays have a self deprecating tone.   After bemoaning her frantic or disorganized lifestyle, a writer makes a wishful comment about being more organized, less cluttered, more relaxed, less stressed, better at time management, and less hurried.   But then she states that oh well, who really does have it all together, since we all know that’s not possible.

               With everyone having a voice via the Web nowadays, a person can communicate with thousands of strangers at any given time.   We all have something to say and we all want to be heard. But we shy away from appearing like a know-it-all, proud, an expert, or even experienced much of the time.   It is like an unwritten American law that we have to constantly undermine our own efforts, whether literally or figuratively, so as not to offend anyone by—our opinions? our success?   I think we may overestimate how much other people care about our lifestyles, as well as overestimating our responsibility in whether or not someone else chooses to become offended when no offense is given.

               I think it is possible to have it all together if we wish.   For some people the thrill of completing projects last minute, scrounging for lost items in a sea of junk, wondering where unbudgeted money will appear from to pay the bills, and generally flying by the seat of their pants may be the life of their dreams.   It may be a reaction to an overly structured life in the past or may simply be the environment in which they thrive the most (or may be a current condition that, for whatever reason, they are simply unwilling to change).   But it is oversimplification to state that no one really has it all together, and it is a bit judgmental to imply that, simply because so many people have too many loose ends, that no one should be able to be put together.   It seems among women on the web that the unspoken code to post online is that the room only looks like this for the photo, taking time out of my day to be online cuts into one’s “real life,” we all have at least one overstuffed closet that we dare not open the door to, and we all secretly struggle with at least one if not a dozen direly stressful situations that are ever on the verge of spinning out of control.

               Perhaps the reason the web has been flooded with empathy nowadays is a backlash to the generally held idea that society expects people, especially grownups, to act and be put together or perfect (or at least, we think society expects this).   Obviously that’s impossible, especially if you believe in entropy or original sin.   However, to read the self deprecating tone of thousands of blogs on the web, it seems we’re fighting windmills in the battle against society’s supposed impossibly high standards because the opposite appears to be true:   one writer after another justifies this, defends that, and generally dismisses attempts at living a meaningful, productive, well managed life.   The patting each other on the back and efforts to love ourselves as is, excusing all our faults and idolizing the most stressed out, delicately juggled lifestyles as the only possible and moral end to all one’s striving for order has, perhaps, swung away from merely acknowledging imperfection and gone into the realm of saying that not only is it impossible to have a reasonably managed, content lifestyle but also that it is proud or vain to strive for such a thing.

               However, you can certainly find a rhythm that works for you if you wish it.   For most of us, childhood memories recall a simpler time.   If we give it a minute’s thought, we quickly realize that it was due to not having major responsibilities such as working for pay, maintaining a home, and managing money, not to mention caring completely for oneself and possibly others.   Since we cannot do away with the responsibilities of adulthood, we can try to find ways to minimize our efforts while maximizing the outcome.

               Some of the ways I try to “have it all together” are as follows:

1. Cultivate a consistent schedule.   It seems like the simplest thing, and perhaps it is, but having a set time to get up each morning, allotting time for meals, commute, self care, chores, and free time will open up time and lessen stress considerably.  For people who dislike the rigidness of an exact schedule, set the time slots wider apart and put more activities in between;   that way you can switch around the order of at least some tasks to break monotony and suit your present mood.

2. Write a budget.   I have seen some advice that having a budget is bad because it’s constricting, but it has worked well for me.   I write up all our monthly expenses, many of which are the same from month to month, and set up as many bills as possible on auto pay to free up valuable time and avoid late payments.   The rest of the bills I put into my tablet’s calendar a few days ahead of time.   I budget for spending money, too, so we’re never guessing how much we have to spend.

3. Clear clutter.   I know, everyone’s on the anti-clutter bandwagon nowadays.   But we really do live in a nation of stuff-aholics;   I have spoken with many friends who have expressed concern over having to go through all their parents’ stuff someday because there is just so much.   What I have found about de-cluttering is that it is best done in layers and made into a way of life.   That is because going back through things several times may bring a fresh perspective, and over time items that once made the cut no longer do and need to be purged.

4. Have a place for everything.   Again, seems like it should be simple but it’s amazing how many people do not have a place for everything.   If you are blessed enough to have a permanent dwelling place, take the time and invest in the storage systems needed to have a place for everything.   Then, put everything in its place.

5. Deal with emotions.   We all know there’s more to life than appearances, and the most organized, financially savvy, running on schedule home will be in discord if emotional and spiritual issues go unnoticed or acknowledged.   More than any sort of outward appearance of having it all together, families and individuals should be striving to cultivate unconditional love, deep friendship, and an atmosphere of encouragement and growth within the home.   Saying “I love you,” going out of the way to do something extra for someone, giving help when needed, and listening sympathetically will never cease to be the most important way a household can truly have a well managed lifestyle.

               How do you lead a well managed life?   Share in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading the Well Bred Woman in Progress!

Living well without manipulating

               Being well bred is not about creating, seeking out, or living in an environment in which others treat us properly.   So much of what I read online puts the responsibility on the individual to create their world.   Think about phrases such as “Create the life of your dreams,” “Surround yourself with those who appreciate you,” “Don’t associate with haters”– and the overall message that if you act a certain way you will command respect.   I have been researching corset wearing lately for shaping up purposes after discovering that I have diastasis recti (I had four kids in five years);   I was surprised to see a line stating that wearing corsets increases one’s posture and poise, which can therefore elicit greater respect and attention from those around the wearer.

               Reading all of this, being bombarded by it every day, especially by those of us who enjoy self-improvement blogs and reading, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that much of what happens to us is controlled by us.   Another reason that it’s hard for me to let go of that concept is that I was raised in legalistic religious settings for most of my youth, and I heard preaching that lifestyle choices were directly linked to outcomes that I know now happen randomly to people across the globe.

               But the truth is simply this:   being well bred (or living a refined life, living holistically, living mindfully and joyfully, or whatever one’s goal is in pursuing the well bred lifestyle) does not involve creating circumstances, either directly or indirectly, that coincide with one’s values.   Of course, one should create circumstances that meet one’s needs;   be it moving into or out of a housing situation, picking the best job or career, eating and dressing a certain way, reading this or watching that on television, etc.   Everyone has control over some aspects of life, if we take the time to figure out what they are.   Beyond that, we have control over our response to what happens to us.

               To be more specific, I have gotten the impression from reading various etiquette, well breeding, and gentility websites and books that the polite people of the world need to attempt to instill politeness everywhere, similar to how anti-smoking activists have mostly eliminated smoking in public places and restaurants.   Some of these politeness pioneers only insist it be done gently and subtly, leading by example;   others will go so far as to consider themselves the voice meant to caution a stranger’s disruptive child, to lecture a rude customer in line in front of them, etc.   I believe that such people have good intent.   It’s not that I don’t think what they’re doing will work, though I am sure that leading by example is more effective than lecturing or jumping into another family’s disciplinary issue.   But my point is that although we do lead by example, for better or for worse, our motive should not be trying to create a happier, more self-serving (for indeed it would be) world that teems with gracious, polite, well adjusted people who both appreciate our efforts to be well bred and reciprocate with their own best intentions.   We should live as well bred as possible based on our knowledge and capabilities;   however, to do so out of a desire, ever so subtle or well meaning, to change others or elicit different reactions is misguided and futile.   That is because there will always be at least one person that won’t reciprocate, can’t appreciate the efforts, and simply won’t care.   They won’t care how tall and straight your corset makes your stand;   your soft words will only infuriate them more;   they’ll think your well manicured appearance is an attempt to show off or one up.   In my opinion, it seems the number of sociopaths and narcissists is skyrocketing in the United States today, and in my short existence I have seen many reactions that simply did not make sense based on the “If I act properly, I’ll elicit a favorable response” logic.

               I feel this subject urgently needs to be discussed because there is so much opinion to the contrary, that living this way or doing that thing will “win friends, influence people, command respect, earn yourself a job promotion.”   I even see job promotions, greater influence, higher pay, and a happier existence promoted as the effects of having a personal style or color analysis done.   While I would love to have a personal image analysis–I’ve already picked out this creative stylist for when I save up the funds–I want it for myself—for the pleasure I derive from fine form, beautiful symmetry, and coordinating colors in my best hues.   Dressing as mindfully as possible would make me feel happy and better about myself.   I have already noticed a marked difference in the behavior of those around me when I wear my best colors;   in public, people often rush to open the door for me or offer to assist me.   But I don’t do it, nor do I believe I should do it, to manipulate other people.   I have been reading a lot lately on psychology and the effects people have on each other (Quiet by Susan Cain is a must read), and I keep going back to the Bible’s frequent descriptions of people as sheep (1 2 3).   Manipulating people is easy;   so easy, in fact, that most of us do it every day either unwittingly or with the best intentions.   But to behave in any way in order to elicit positive responses from others is manipulation and should not be one’s reason for acting well bred.

               To sum up, we cannot, nor should we try, to control the circumstances around us in order to create a more genteel life.   We cannot teach every rude person how to respond better to us;   no amount of dressing well will ensure we’re always treated like the Queen;   a soft answer doesn’t always turn away wrath;   and there are so many narcissists on the loose that I have considered becoming a hermit.   We should always do what lines up with our principles and act in a way that enriches our own lives;   responding graciously to a rude person enables us to sleep well at night and teaches our children a valuable character lesson;   dressing well elevates our mood and reduces stress;   soft words spoken in the heat of the moment will need no taking back.   We will probably influence many others for good, but there are those that will not be changed and it isn’t our responsibility to try changing them.   It’s time to take the burden for other’s behavior off ourselves, my friends;   a life well lived in line with your principles is your legacy to the world, not your obligation.