Scrimping with Style

In an article I wrote for Native Magazine last week, I reflected on how the greatest compliment I’ve ever received was being told by a complete stranger passing me in the street that she loved my style.  The fact that we were outside Vogue House in London only added to the magnitude of my pleasure at hearing this!

Charity shop skirt & the washbag that doubled as a clutch bag

I was also thrilled because what the kind stranger particularly liked was my skirt, which I’d bought for £2 from a Scope charity shop in Coventry the previous day.  Since that January day, I’ve worn the skirt innumerable times in all kinds of weathers and I always feel good in it.

We all have these kinds of treasures in our wardrobes.  The items that whenever we pull them on, we instantly get a confidence boost.  The garments that we know will get us through the day (and night too) feeling that bit more pulled together.

Yet as my skirt suggests, our fashion favourites aren’t necessarily the most expensive things that we own.  On the contrary, sometimes it’s the bargain finds that bring us the most happiness!  My friend Catherine over at Midlands Minimalist shares this view; she found that a cream and black Jean Muir skirt that she picked up in a dress agency fitted her perfectly and lasted for years.

Sartorial scrimping doesn’t mean sacrificing style. 

Choose to make-do-and-mend, whether for financial or ethical reasons, can drive ingenuity.  Not being able to chuck money at wardrobe crisis forces us to come up with more creative solutions.

Scrimping Style: washbag that doubled as a clutch bag || raeritchie.com

I admit that this is a lesson that I’ve had to learn over and over again.  I’ve made expensive mistakes, like limited edition trainers in a colour I loved but that I only wore once or twice because at the time I always wore heels.  In contrast, some maroon canvas pumps that I got for 20p from a jumble sale had a happy life on my feet last summer.  When I then wore out another pair of second hand trainers, I figured maybe it was time to invest in some brand new ones.

 

Last week I forgot to take a clutch bag on an overnight trip.  Given half a chance, I’d have purchased another but as that wasn’t possible I ended up using my small washbag instead.  I got several compliments on it and afterwards was glad to not have impulse purchase guilt.

Changing the buttons

Changing the buttons seems to have particularly magic powers in the realm of make-do-and-mend.  Over the years I’ve had two gorgeous second hand coats (one from a rail at the back of an ice cream parlour in the Cotswolds) that just needed replacement buttons to bring them back to life.  If you’re a bit uncertain about how to do this, Jen Gale of My Make Do and Mend Life has a straightforward guide to this entry level repair job.

Scrimping Style || raeritchie.com

Life styling

It isn’t just our wardrobes that can flourish when opt to make-do-and-mend.  It can benefit our spaces too.  Recently one of the sun loungers broke beyond repair, prompting a search for some new garden furniture.  Determined to continue the thrift theme, I dug two cream kitchen chairs that we no longer use out of the garage (purchased at the tip shop for £3) and found a butcher’s block in a local charity warehouse.  I added two bright cushions from John Lewis in the sale, and that little corner is now a new seating area.  And I feel inordinately proud of what £20 can do!

Scrimping with style

I’m now a bit obsessed with this idea of scrimping with style, looking around wondering what I can tackle next!

To help scratch my new itch, share your scrimping with style stories.  Tell your thrift treasure tales!

Reworked, reused, recycled – whatever it is, I’d love to hear about times when you’ve scrimped but the results have seemed anything but cheap.

You can comment below or on social media.  And if you’ve enjoyed reading this post, then please do share – it really does make a huge difference!

Thank you for reading 🙂

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Repurposing repurposing: the joy of the toy-box

Repurposing repurposing: the joy of the toy box

Last week, I looked after Little Niece for the afternoon and she decided that she wanted the toy box and book basket out from their spot by the sofa.

Soon we were outside, having a teddy bears’ picnic in the shade before playing schools.  Little Niece was the teacher, I was her helper and the cuddly toys each had a book of their own.  Helpfully they also doubled up as clipboards when we had to take them on a nature walk.  She is very imaginative!

It was so much fun for both us, with the nostalgia element adding another level of emotion for me.

I’m not sure there is any greater joy than watching a small child enjoy playing with toys that you loved when you were young.  

The experience reminded me of why I put the toy box together in the first place.  I wrote about this two years ago and decided to reprise the post here…


This morning, my mum sent me a photo message showing my poorly eight year old nephew clutching a well-worn soft toy in the shape of a panda.  Pandan, my nephew used to call him, and for years he was never far from his side.  I was always extremely thrilled by how much Joe loved Pandan as I had bought the toy for him (although it is perhaps more accurate to say that I collected tokens from the packets of a well-known brand of toilet paper and sent them off with £1.99 for postage and packaging).

Now Joe is almost nine [NOTE: he turned eleven last week!], I hadn’t seen Pandan around for a while.  It was so heart-warming to discover that he continued treasured him and still drew comfort from his frankly manky and slightly discoloured fur.  It’s funny which toys find a place deep in our heart and which remain simply playthings.

I replied to my mum’s message saying that maybe Joe will put Pandan in a future toy-box too, a joking reference to the toy-box that I have recently created.  Over the last few weeks, I have been boring friends and family talking about my new toy-box (okay, so talking and making them look at it).

The toy-box is one of my latest mini-obsessions.  I love it almost as much as I love some of its contents.  I had thought about putting something like it together shortly after moving into my new home in mid-April, having realised that we live in possibly the most un-child friendly space ever (think lots of potentially dangerous items at low levels and little to distract curious small people with).

Whilst we don’t have kids of our own, I want visiting children to be at home here and want their parents to feel relaxed rather than nervous or worried.

One Sunday afternoon, I read an Apartment Therapy post that mentioned the same toy-box idea and that was that: I seized the moment and tore round the place gathering
up any suitable items.  Some pencils, plastic cups, a few children’s books that happened to be in unpacked boxes.  I had a large basket just right for the job.  I even remembered the two hand-knitted rabbits, one of whom featured in my first day at school photograph, suffocating in a plastic box under the bed.

In the weeks since, more bits have been added.  I picked up a colouring book from a coffee morning.  My boyfriend put in his childhood chess set.  I’m keeping my eye out for suitable bits (please someone somewhere get rid of some Lego!) but most of all I’m encouraging my mum to get up the loft and find more of my actual toys out.  I’ve already begun bringing things from my parents’ when I visit, including the first book I ever remember, yet I know there is more still in the attic.

Suddenly all these possessions that I’ve never been sure what to do with have had a new
lease of life.  This sense of repurposing has bought me genuine joy and contentment. Lots of the standard advice on sentimental items or such like instructs you to have a clearout, perhaps taking a photograph as a reminder of a once-prized object.  But is that really
what we always want?  Whilst drowning in reminders of the past can stop us from getting on with life in the present, surely we can find ways to forge a new path where we give space to honour our earlier treasures and let the happiness that they bought us then infuse our worlds now.

That is what I feel my new toy-box does.  It is my own way through.  It isn’t getting rid
of everything, although there will be much from my childhood that I won’t keep.  Nor is it shoving it all in some place out of sight (under the bed, the loft, a spare bedroom – preferably in someone else’s house), hoping to never have to deal with it but also never
getting any pleasure from it.

Seeing another child being entertained by toys that you also happily played with is a beautiful sight.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a toy-box.  This sense of repurposing can be applied to other possessions too.  What item in your home (or left elsewhere!) is languishing?  What stuff aren’t you sure what to do with?  Is it something that you can breathe new life into in some form or another?

If you like the idea of upcycling then Pinterest is full of amazing ideas to give you
inspiration; I’ve made a board with some of my favourite ideas.  Not that you have to be artistic or crafty; if you love reading, can you simply spare some shelf space to your favourite childhood books?

It may be that you decide repurposing actually does involve giving something a new home or to a new owner.  I used to have a gorgeous ragdoll that an older cousin made for me when I was born; when she had a daughter, I passed the doll on to her.

Or do you need to rethink in a broader way?  Is there a different way of looking at the item(s)?  It may be that a mental shift is more useful than a physical transformation.  Old toys were literally just old toys until I recognised that they still held their magic for a three year old today just as much as they had for me thirty years ago.


Thank you for reading! Share your repurposing stories in the comments or via social media (the buttons are below).  And if you enjoyed reading this post then please do share it – this really makes a difference!

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My top three tools of the beauty trade – & you can win them!

My top 3 tools of the beauty trade - & you can win them!

Confession time: despite writing in a guest blog post for Midlands Minimalist last week about the ‘one in, one out, one spare’ rule for toiletries and makeup, I have started stockpiling Shu Uemura eyelash curlers.

In my defence, parent company L’Oreal announced at the end of April that they were withdrawing the Japanese beauty brand from the UK and already the products are vanishing.  In a panic about losing access to what are universally regarded as the best lash curlers on the market, I felt compelled to hoard.

My top three tools of the beauty trade - & you can win them!
I keep my spare pads in an old gramophone needles tin

I think I’ll probably now be okay until at least my next birthday ending in a zero.

Each pair lasts for ages.  They come with a replacement pad and regular replacement pads fit too.  I’m only on my second set in what must over a decade of use.  How many mascaras have I got through in the same time?

This longevity is a key factor in why I love eyelash curlers, specifically the Shu Uemura ones, so much.  Plus they really make a difference even if you use them alone, as I do 99 percent of the time as I get a monthly eyelash tint.

My top three tools of the beauty trade - & you can win them!

Using curlers drastically reduces the amount of other eye makeup that I buy and use, which is important to me.  There’s little point in committing to feature eco, ethical and sustainable brands from the world of fashion and beauty in my work if I’m not careful and considered in my own use of resources.

Eyelash curlers are one of several long-lasting tools that I use in lieu of a product with a shorter shelf life.

 

 

The other two that top my favourites list are:

Exfoliating gloves

My top three tools of the beauty trade - & you can win them!
Exfoliating gloves, £3

Thanks to Danielle the beautician for this tip, which she passed on as a solution to ingrown hairs (possibly TMI).

Rather than rubbing yourself down with a pot of body scrub or even a currently popular dry body brush, exchange your sponge or puff for a long lasting textured glove (£3.00 from Boots).  You save time and effort by exfoliating while you wash.  The floor of your shower isn’t left covered with slippery grit.

Plus you get to channel your inner Michael Jackson by prancing round with one white glove on!

Bonus tip: make sure you buy exfoliating glove rather than just a body wash one as the latter aren’t rough enough to slough your skin.

 360 foot file

My top three tools of the beauty trade - & you can win them!
360 Foot File, £5.49

A friend bought me one of these last summer, which sounds like a weird gift now I’ve written it down!

Anyhow, I’ve tried a lot of creams and gadgets for hard skin on the feet over the years but none have been as effective as this spongy scrubber (£5.49 also at Boots).  I use it at the end of my shower each day.  It even works better than the classic pumice stone and has a satisfying squishiness.

 

I love these products so much that I wanted to share them with you too, so I’m offering a special giveaway! 

You can win a set of my three favourite tools (Shu Uemura eyelash curlers, a pair of exfoliating gloves and a 360 foot file).

All you have to do is share your favourite article by me, either from my blog or elsewhere, on social media and tag me so that I see it (you can find a collected list of my other writing over here).

The winner will be chosen on Wednesday 7th June at 18.00 BST.

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Stop me from buying a pair of sliders: the allure of new shoes

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I own a dozen pairs of shoes.  This includes wellies, walking boots and the trainers I wear (occasionally) to actually exercise in.

I used to have over fifty pairs.  Back then, visitors to my bedsit studio apartment would marvel at them all stored in their boxes and stacked neatly against the wall in two tall piles.

Back then, I was known to choose cleaning my shoes over eating breakfast if I was running late in the mornings.

Over the decade since, I’ve become more committed to minimalism as well as ethical and sustainable fashion.  I spend more and buy less (actually I always spent a lot on shoes, so I guess I’m just buying less of them).  Right now I’m wearing a pair of patent loafers that I purchased sometime before I started dating my current partner, and we’ve lived together for two years.

I pride myself on having a pretty small wardrobe and sticking to my own style rather than slavishly following trends.  I’m even currently reading a book, Inger D. Kenobi’s How Do I Look?  The year I stopped shopping, about her twelve month boycott of clothes buying – and contemplating doing the same.

Of course you know that this is the point where I insert the big ‘but’.

But I want a pair of sliders.

I really want a pair of sliders.

Stop me from buying a pair of sliders: the allure of new shoes
Puma Fenty £64.99

This thought has been lingering for a while.  My interest was piqued a few months ago when I saw the beautician from next door to the coffee shop where I like to work wearing an Ivy Park pair.  Then yesterday I got serious shoe envy of a woman in a grey suede number on the train.  Now I’m obsessing.

Suddenly all my own shoes seem wrong: too warm, too dark, too heavy, too try hard.

 

More dangerous are my fantasies about what a new pair of sliders would do for me:

They’d complete my wardrobe.  I’d not need buy anything ever again.  This would be the final perfect purchase (even though I already suspect that my plans to wear some new linen trousers for a wedding in August will fail as I’m already wearing them pretty much daily).

Stop me from buying a pair of sliders: the allure of new shoes
Office Sweetness £38

They’d make everything better.  Literally everything in my life would be better if some beautiful new slip on summer shoes graced my feet.  Borderline personality disorder?  Building my career as a writer?  Fears that mental health issues will prevent me from having children?  But I would have bows on my feet!

Most pressingly: I’d feel amazing on at a friend’s birthday drinks on Friday evening.

 

As Inger recognises in How Do I Look?, such longings generate conflicting feelings.  I know that new shoes, any new shoes, won’t improve my life beyond the pleasure of the shoes themselves.

Yet still I hope they’d be as transformative as Cinderella’s glass slippers.

Such is the power of our desires and the lure of the fairytale.  Beneath the fantasy, though, what do I really want?  To lose the five stone I’ve gained through medication, to quell the anxiety I’m feeling about going out socially at the weekend (no matter that these people are my friends)… and to feel as carefree as I did when I was younger, when picking up a new pair of shoes for a night out really did seem to have magical powers.

This is how I felt back in the late nineties – back in the late nineties when I last wore sliders.

I’ve featured here some of my favourite sliders on the high street at the moment (I’d have bows on my feet!).  You can view some others over on my specially curated ‘Stop me buying sliders’ Pinterest board!

Tell me, have you ever had any magic slipper shoes?  Why were they so potent?  And what is your attitude to shoes now?  Do you buy cheap and often or would you rather a pair that lasts?  Do you own a cupboard full but always seem to end up wearing the same two pairs?  I’d love to know.

You can comment below.  Plus if you enjoyed reading this post, please do tell others about it on social media – it really helps!  Sharing buttons are also below.

Thank you for reading.

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Interview with Courtney Carver, of Be More With Less & Project 333, on making sustainable changes

Rae Ritchie interviews Courtney Carver (bemorewithless.com & Project 333) on making sustainable changes || raeritchie.com
Courtney & I previously worked together to host the London leg of her 2016 Tiny Wardrobe Tour

Last Thursday, I was privileged enough to spend some time interviewing Courtney Carver.  Courtney is well known the world over for sharing her journey to minimalism on her blog, bemorewithless.com, and also for masterminding the Project 333 wardrobe challenge.  We’d arranged to talk back in the autumn as I knew she’d have some wise words to share about making long term and sustainable changes.  It’s an apt conversation for this time of year as by late January many of us are despairing about our seeming inability to alter our behaviour and habits.  Courtney has plenty of reassuring and practical advice if that’s you!

Our conversation is a great counterpoint to the one I had last week with Helen Rusell of Leap Year and The Year of Living Danishly so if you haven’t already listened to that then head over and catch up!  It’s been a huge honour to interview two such inspiring women but a challenge too, particularly with the technicalities of getting a decent quality audio.  In today’s recording, Courtney’s voice is super clear but I’m accompanied by a bit of a fuzz.  Apologies for this although it’s really her that you’ll be wanting to listen to anyway!

Dropbox: Rae Ritchie interviews Courtney Carver

Things that we mention:

‘Your clothes know your secrets and they’re shouting them to the world’ does indeed come from friend and coach Anna Kunnecke

Gary Keller & Jay Papasan The One Thing 

Courtney’s post ‘Seven Perks of a Minimalist Wardrobe’

 

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Interview with Helen Russell, author of Leap Year’ & ‘The Year of Living Danishly’, on decisions, change & resilience

Rae Ritchie interviews Helen Russell, author of Leap Year and The Year of Living Danishly || 19th January 2017 || raeritchie.com
Helen (L) and me (R)

On Tuesday, I had the privilege to interview the writer Helen Russell while she was in London to promote her latest book, Leap Year, a guide to making big decisions, becoming more resilient and making changes in your life.  I’d previously read her first title, The Year of Living Danishly, and loved her willingness to take on the challenge of try to live one’s best life while retaining a self-deprecating and not-too-earnest British perspective on the world.  Although I was nervous as this is the first interview I’ve conducted, chatting to her about the book and her adventures in facing change and developing resilience was a lot of fun as well as being insightful.  Come, pull up a chair next to us at breakfast in a busy hotel dining room and share our conversation…

Dropbox: Rae Ritchie interviews Helen Russell

Soundcloud: Rae Ritchie interviews Helen Russell

I also have an interview with Courtney Carver of bemorewithless.com and Project 333. You can get all the details and listen here.

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Sunday Suggestions 15-01-2017

Sunday Suggestions 17-01-2017: a round up of things to read, watch, listen to and do || raeritchie.comHello!  An especially warm welcome to those of you who may be new to Sunday Suggestions.  This weekly column is where I share a round-up of what’s caught my eye during the previous week, from articles to viral videos.  I try to ensure that it’s a mix of insightful, intelligent and amusing links that available to all.  Enjoy!

  • If, like me, you’re looking forward to the forthcoming release of ‘Jackie’ at the pictures, then check out this review of the film by scholar Oline Eaton: ‘Jackie’ and the post-truth biopic.  It’s a great read with an in-depth critique from an expert on Jackie O, going beyond the usual film review territory.  I know Oline from my academic days and love her insights into the world of celebrity and gossip.  Whether you’re planning on seeing or not, if you want a perceptive view on popular culture then follow her blog, finding jackie.

 

  • Another famous figure from US history surrounded by layers of myth and imaginings is Henry David Thoreau – yes, the man who ventured out to Walden Pond to see what he could learn about life from living in nature but omitted to mention that he still got his washing done by his mother and sister!  Despite his oversight in crediting unpaid female domestic labour, I am fascinated by Thoreau and his adventures.  One of the happiest afternoons of my life was when two friends and I ventured to his hometown of Concord, MA, then visited Walden Pond.
Walden Pond & scientific discovery || Sunday Suggestions 17-01-2017 || raeritchie.com
My friend Mel & me at Walden Pond, March 2014

Earlier this week, one of those friends forwarded me this article from the New York Times about the scientific research going on at the lake.  It’s a fascinating read about geology and time and the impact of humans on the environment.  It also touches on the intriguing subject of unconscious human emissions when wild swimming (just to warn you).  If you’d like to know more about Thoreau then check out this essay from The Thoreau Society.

 

  • Back to the present day, specifically 15th January 2017.  It’s the third Sunday of the new year.  How are your resolutions going?  Statistically the chances are that your resolve has ebbed away by now.  Maybe you didn’t make any at all.  I prefer to concentrate on plans and having a one word theme for the year, but I do set some goals too.  One for 2017 is to read a book for thirty minutes everyday.  It’s going pretty well so far.  I’ve polished off three interesting titles and have a pile more to keep me going (I’m recording my progress on a Pinterest board if you fancy taking a look or getting some bibliographical inspiration).

Because of this goal, I was pleased to discover that the master of, well, self-mastery, Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness ProjectHappier and Home and Better Than Before) had produced a handy download with tips on how to read more.  On the same page, she has other useful worksheets on topics such as working, eating and exercising.  You can freely access them all on this page.

  • As regular readers know, I’m a big fashion fan.  Today I want to offer up several different sartorial reads that have caught my eye in the last seven days.

Firstly, last Sunday night saw the start of the awards season with the Golden Globes.  Rachel Evan Wood found herself the centre of much discussion for her decision to walk the red carpet in a tuxedo rather than the standard couture gown.  As always, the Pool presented a measured assessment of the debate.  Incidentally, Wood’s look was my favourite of the night; she along with my other choices feature on another Pinterest board, Looks of 2017, where I’ll be pinning any other winning styles that I see in the public arena this year.

Secondly, I am becoming increasingly absorbed in the topic of sustainable and ethical fashion.  As is so often the case when you develop a new obsession, you find references to it all over the place.  This week, Refinery 29 featured ‘Six Ways To Make Your Wardrobe More Sustainable‘.  This offers some good suggestions although it does read like a barely disguised promotion for the ethically minded online retailer Rêve En Vert.  Coincidentally, this week I met with another e-retailer who concentrates on sustainable fashion: check out Sheer for more.  You can also read about some ethical clothing companies that I love in a previous Sunday Suggestions post.

These brands are all small enterprises but the big guns are getting on the mindful fashion bandwagon too.  For three months Selfridges are promoting ‘Mindful Materials’, a showcase for eight brands that they stock with a focus on their environmental kudos in terms of the fabrics that they use.  It’s easy to be cynical about such initiatives but they can raise awareness of important issues.  Did you know that our demand for cashmere has led to the overgrazing of land and maltreatment of some animals?  No, neither did I until I read the Selfridges’ article.

A different approach to the topic comes from my friend Catherine over at Midlands Minimalist.  She’s written a guest post for Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist site about undertaking a wardrobe edit, a move which as a by-product can help us develop a more sustainable stance on what we wear.  Happy to get a little shout-out in the post too!

  • Finally, I like to finish on a funny or heartwarming video.  Today it’s the turn of ‘Our Dancing Town’.  On Wednesday I stayed up far later than usual and stumbled across a gem of a TV programme on the BBC.  Entitled ‘Our Dancing Town’, it’s about a choreographer visiting a rather down-at-the-heel working-class Yorkshire town called Barnsley.

His job is to get locals involved in performing a kind of mass flash mob on the streets of this former mining community.  It’s a tough challenge that you can see him undertaking in this clip of him spreading the word.  But I don’t think I’m giving away an spoilers to say that it all comes together amazingly in the end with a fun music and dance spectacular that could rival the theatrics of ‘La La Land’.  You can watch the foot tapping scene here.  It’ll put a spring in your step and smile on your face for the whole day. Watch and share!

If you find yourself regularly coming back here, how about signing up to my mailing list?  You get a monthly letter from that comes complete with links to all my writing (blog posts, Sunday Suggestions and articles elsewhere) as well as a creativity prompt for you to try.  

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