Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places


home organisation

How to build a Capsule Wardrobe in tiny, tiny steps

I recently came across a minimalist fashion website about Capsule Wardrobes, and the very concept both fascinated and terrified me. 

Basically, the challenge is that you choose 30 items for your wardrobe (including footwear!) to mix and match for an entire season. 

Thirty. Considering I’ve now started an office job as well,  I can no longer pass off home togs as going-out duds simply by throwing on a smart jacket and sliding on some lippy in the car. 

Thing is,  I am already recycling the same old clothes week in week out. It gets especially bad in winter –  everything pretty gets swathed in the same winter coat or thick woollen tunics anyway.

HOWEVER. It’s now Spring,  I have a new office job, and my walk-in wardrobe is basically a dumping ground of ironing I have yet to conquer since 1993.

While I know I need a kick up the backside to refresh my wardrobe and think hard about how to deal with my clutter, the other slightly terrifying thing is the throwing out of things. I am HUGELY sentimental when it comes to crockery and clothes,  I’ve come to realise. This has only gotten worse since my mother died. She is inextricably linked to a third of the clothes I will never wear but will never want to give away because they are living memories to me. They speak of many shopping days gone by –  we loved shopping with each other. We didn’t have to buy anything –  it was all about the discovering. 

Most of these clothes were my mother’s way of showing she was missing me when I moved a continent away. Some of them have never fit me, but I never told her because I didn’t want her to feel she was losing touch. 

How does one declutter like that?! 

Simply by allocating them to a box in the corner of the walk-in robe. After reading a few blog posts about capsule wardrobes obviously written for sentimental schmoos like me, I am resolved to do the following. 

  1. Putting away the seasonal stuff first. 
    That’s an easy one, because winter has just ended. I used to rotate summer and winter outfits in my wardrobe Before Children, and I need to get back in that habit. 
  2. Tossing out the Absolutely Nots
    And being really brutal if I can. No, I’m not going to tell myself I’ll fit in them again. Because if I were to ever fit into those size 6s again, I’ll look like mutton dressed as lamb anyway. As for the things my mother gave me,  I’ll have to find a special box and limit myself to that space.
  3. Definitely Maybes
    Before she moved to Perth, Rosie C had told me about this Japanese decluttering principle where you mull over each item and whether it brings you joy. And if it doesn’t, to then think fondly of the times you’ve shared before letting go. Something rama-ding-dong like that. Very Dharma & Greg. We had a bit of a guilty giggle, mostly because as daft as it sounds, it feels like a process worth trying. In the privacy of my home. With no one looking, and moody jazz playing, and posh OJ swirling in wine glass because wine = itchy for me. 
  4. The final countdown
    The magic number in other articles is 30, but I’m just going to go with my age and try streamlining my mix-and-match wardrobe to 37 choice pieces. Per season. Which means really,  I’m trying to reduce my capsule wardrobe to 37 x 4= over 4 seasons. 
  5. The peace of resistance
    This is probably the other part of the exercise that is going to mess with my head big time: not shopping for togs. Or bling. Or shoes. If I am going to train myself to live within my means (and I have lots and lots of means!), it means not adding to an already bursting wardrobe every time I go out. I will,  however, reward myself at the end of each season with a small shopping spree – only because I suspect I’ll learn more during the process what I’m missing from a Capsule Wardrobe. Like a good, tailored all-purpose jacket. Or something. 

But these aren’t exactly “tiny-tiny” steps, I hear you say. Don’t worry. I’ve recently come across another interesting project management theory that I’d like to test out on this decluttering mission. More on that to come later this week. 


Here’s a good article about Capsule Wardrobes. And a good introduction to the different approaches to capsules. And hey, Wikipedia – so it must really be a thing. And this guide is great too. And also, Pinterest

Purposefully On

I am equal parts a lover of paper and phablet, of the online and the off. My journals and organisers are probably the best expressions of this duality; from the moment my day begins, my phone and iPad are my electronic secretaries, but I turn to paper when I need to connect with myself and others deeply.

My personal journal – the one with the thoughts I never want to blog about – is therefore spread across a paper journal and an electronic app (Flava). On the one hand, I love the app for its immediacy and convenience. To be able to jot down a fleeting thought at a playground, grab a snapshot to suit. But it can’t beat writing longhand in a bound book — something I rarely make time for nowadays. Quality vs Quantity.

Gail had recently mentioned how she had deliberately left her phone by her bedside one morning, instead of picking it up to scroll through the usual apps as soon as sleep left her. The result was instant and positive. She felt more engaged with her children. She got things done. She was mentally uncluttered.

And I thought to myself, what a fabulous idea.

I’ve been trying different things on and off regarding my gadgets. I try to go without Facebook on Fridays when I remember to – except when I flick through it out of habit first thing in the morning, it tends to ruin the motivation for abstinence for the rest of the day. I’ve been weaning Arddun off the gadgets too, and have gone back to packing mini games and activities now that I’m once again lugging a humongous nappy bag everywhere I go, because of Atticus.

My biggest problem with these deliciously convenient gadgets is my rubbish capacity for delayed gratification. Have a question? Jump on Google now. Need to ask the builder something? Send him a text. Check my emails for the nth time, just in case the insurance people got back to me. Flick through ABC News and Facebook, just in case I missed something big. I’m sure my need to know absolutely NOW goes hand in hand with rubbish self-control and good ol’ kiasuism (a very nifty Singaporean word that roughly means “the fear of losing out”.)

The thing is, being constantly “on” is making me more tense and tired than I need to be. And it’s making me lazy about parenting. Every moment I spend flicking through Facebook needlessly out of stupefied habit is a moment that could have been better spent really playing with my children before they never want to play with me again.

So, three things tomorrow.

  1. Wake up with a prayer, not a phone
    I shall very deliberately move my iPad and phone away from the bedside table so I don’t reach for them tomorrow morning, before I realise what I’m doing. And when I’m finally awake enough to think straight, I shall begin the day with a prayer.
  2. Schedule my online times
    It’s going to be hard work because I have a tonne of things tomorrow, but I shall endeavour not to touch my gadgets until a dedicated timeslot for dealing with House Build things. It’s crunch time for house things I know, but this is about eliminating distractions and time-consuming tangents, and building better self-control around my electronic crutches.
  3. Go offline and be inspired
    I bought a book from Kikki K recently with 135 suggestions on how to unplug and snatch some soul-pampering moments. I’m going to do the tried and tested thing tomorrow of thumbing through the book and then doing whatever suggestion my finger lands on. Let’s hope it’s not the one that says “Go Camping”.

Declutter Challenge Accepted

While flicking through Facebook the other day, I came across a blog that was inviting its readers to do a 30-day Declutter, by sending out a prompt a day.

It immediately appealed to me for various reasons — unlike FlyLady, this challenge is finite and focused, and there is a possible prize at the end. ($150 vouchers from Howard’s Storage World, anyone?) I’d tried doing FlyLady a few times, but ended up annoyed either by their emails or website — which are both ironically cluttered and disorganised. The more I wander through An Organised Life, however, the more I fall in love.

I feel like I’ve been continually decluttering, especially since 2013 when we were

  • packing to live in Singapore for half a year, and then
  • packing my mother’s house in Singapore, and then
  • unpacking when we got back from Singapore, and then
  • unpacking boxes that we had shipped from my mother’s house, and then
  • decluttering and packing boxes in anticipation of Atticus and an eventual house move.


What I’ve been confronted with over and over in these last 2 years is my sentimentality. I had marvelled, while packing my mother’s house, at what she had opted to keep in her tiny flat. What most people would pass over as junk, I had immediately recognised as remnants and relics of my childhood and her life. And since her death, I have been finding it especially difficult to declutter because, like her, I simply can’t bear to let go of the silliest things.

Like 20-year-old eyeshadow and perfume. Like showercaps. Like bindis that no longer stick to anything.

Like shoes that hurt. Like blouses that have shrunk since I had Atticus (ahem!).

Like notebooks filled with everyday lists and scribbles. Like old contact lenses.

Like badly chipped jars. Like clothes that no longer fit either Arddun or Atticus. Like costume jewellery that’s broken beyond repair. Like lotion for stretch marks that don’t actually work because, hello? I’m a grown woman, not a bloomin’ rubberband.

And so I find I have to revisit my piles of clutter periodically, if only to summon the fortitude to let. it. go.

Since I came into this challenge late, I needed to catch up on 10 days’ worth of prompts. This, on top of my usual housework and that small matter of keeping Atticus alive and well. But thanks to the last 2 years of that constant cycle of gathering and dispensing, I managed to do the following today.

Box of shoes
Shoes! Mine and Arddun’s. A surprisingly small box, but then again my summer shoes are lost in storage somewhere.
Floor with old cosmetics strewn
Toiletries, a surprisingly difficult one for me to tackle. I had consolidated my travel-sized toiletries a few months ago, but the make-up drawers were hard work for me because they come with memories of choir days, and dates in my twenties, and shopping trips with girlfriends, and just that promise of a magical evening out dressed to the nines. Never mind that some of them are about 20 years old, and I don’t dare smear any on my face.
Cups and crockery on kitchen table
Coffee Cups & Crockery… very low yield, as I most of our crockery are hand-me-downs and therefore sentimental. In fact, I was rather reluctant to part with these except they’re quite badly chipped all over, and I never use these cups because they’re quite useless thermoses.
Candles and platter
Vases, candles and platters. I use all our vases because we only have three, so none to throw out. Heaps of candles but again, many are sentimental so these were all I was willing to give away.
Cookbooks on kitchen benchtop
Cookbooks! I’d already done a cull before, but then duly went out and fell in love with a few more volumes. These were the only ones that made the cut this time around.
Boxes of children's clothes
Children’s clothes. Two boxes worth, the bottom being Atticus’s and the top being Arddun’s. To be honest, I’d been accumulating Atticus’s for 4 months now, so it’s not like I threw everything together today although I did fill it up enough to close the box today. As for Arddun’s, I regularly go through her clothes because she grows so quickly, and now that we know we won’t be keeping most pieces for Atticus, it’s made decluttering a whole lot faster.

I haven’t tackled bags yet (Day 4), or knick-knacks and ornaments (Day 5), or toys (Day 6), mostly because there’s nothing to be done there. Most of my bags are in storage, as are the family’s knick-knacks and ornaments (mostly from my mother’s house). I had also just sorted through Arddun’s toys the week before, so I’m counting that as a done deal.

Sorry this is a boring one for you. It’s mostly a means for me to pat myself on the back. I’ve never enjoyed housework and Tony is amazingly consistent with the bits he does (all our laundry, some dishwashing, the garden, the garbage, the garage.) But when it comes to sorting and sifting, it seems to be my one constant project. And I, for one, am grateful Atticus napped for 4 hours today.

Those who don’t do, google. Then blog.

So I’m trying to Martha Stewart my house a little. I want it to look less Salvation-Army-Drop-off-Centre, more IKEA catalogue – a place for everything, and everything in its place. After viewing ElilyMommy’s very sexy new kitchen and how cataloguesque her benchtop and counters are (NOTHING on them. And oh so shiny!), I’m convinced that Less (on the outside) is Best.

Not working at my corporate job has meant several things. No $$ for cleaners. And technically, more time. We’ve talked about how my nesting instincts never got to flap its tiny wings and soar; how they were crushed by the weight of frivolous Jilly Cooper novels, and then fed an evil elixir that made them shrink back and grow lopsided so they didn’t so much look like wings, but Nemo’s lopsided fins. (I loathe housework, BTW.)

Then Arddun came, and as long as my floor was still beigey-orangey ish and not gray, that was time enough spent on inanimate objects when the balance could be so MUCH better employed blowing zer-burps on Arddun’s belly button.

Then she starts to crawl, and it’s 2012, and the Year of the Dragon beckons. And suddenly, like the rise of the phoenix from the ashes, my nesting instincts come to the fore and now I’m like, RAWR! Needtocleanmyhouse! RAWR! Needtohavespotlessbenchtops!

Except I don’t have enough daylight hours. Or rather, I don’t have enough predictable daylight hours. Because I now live a half-hour at a time.  I have exactly 24 half-hour daytime slots, of which 1 might be spent in the shower if I’m lucky. And then it’s dinner, then nightfall, and you can’t do housework in mood lighting, really. You just can’t.

So this evening, I did the next-best thing to housework. I googled. And I browsed through my unused housework phone apps, and contemplated their return from ignominy. So if you’re looking for the proverbial kick up the housewifing bum, may I present the following tools.

1. FlyLady (Free-ish)

Yes. The big, purple fairy who sends you on 15-minute de-clutters – Super Fling Boogies – and other errands around different parts of the house  (called ‘zones’) . It’s a call to action in your inbox every day. Except the last time I tried FlyLady (it’s been years), I ended up needed a Super Fling Boogie to de-clutter my mailbox. FlyLady turned out to be SpamLady. And was the email formatting equivalent of a teenager who just discovered Geocities way back in the day. Don’t know what she’s like now, though. I hear she’s still effective, for those who love her. (Even got into merchandising. Now with calendars and De-clutter bags labelled ‘Give away’, ‘Put away’ and ‘Throw away’.)

But if you, like me, are a FlyLady drop out, then fear not! For there are excellent imitation goods around, just like in China. Such as…

2. Messies Anonymous (Free)

They send you an email with a ra-ra about jumping out of bed, jumping into action, not procrastinating by googling and blogging (probably). They tell you to tackle your Mt Vernon… by sorting your stuff into boxes labelled ‘Give away’, ‘Put away’ and ‘Throw away’. Ahem.

Offline, I hear it’s a lot like FlyLady “without the passive-aggression”. This coming from a few FlyLady drop outs. Still there’s this other program that people love, called…

3. Habithacker (Free)

I’m actually going to subscribe to this one. It has 90-day programs, where you get sent a daily email with a specific task. But it doesn’t just do domestics – there’s a  90-day program for cultivating a healthy lifestyle, and another for getting that creative project off the ground. I should probably do all three, but I’ll start with the housework and the creative project one, and see where I go from there.

It actually sounds fun. But the next one sounds like it takes the cake in the fun stakes, because it’s…

4. Chore Wars (Free, or $10 one-off payment for history and no ads)

Simply put, it’s housework meets RPG. Or something. You create a character. You invite others. You do chores. You get points for done chores. You go up levels. You get to buy gear. It’s housework for geeks. It’s gorgeous. I love the concept. I’m going to invite every single person I know who owns a house, doesn’t live with their mothers, and who might be even remotely interested in computer games. And my entire Mother’s Group, even though they’re not. You have been warned.

5. HomeRoutines (iPhone app – $3.99)

This is a souped-up reminder app, really. But it allows you to log tasks to accomplish for the day, on top of routine household chores you’ve set for yourself. And you can set zones as well, so you can tackle whole areas of your house and clean the skirting boards, for instance. Dovetails nicely into FlyLady-type prompts – just harness the gist of the FlyLady type system, and key it all in your app. Repeat weekly. Even comes with a timer for your Super Fling Boogies.

6. Errands (iPhone app – Free)

A simple app that allows you to set routines and recurring chores. The one-up over HomeRoutines is that you can set chores by calendar dates (“every 15th day of every month till 2013”). But the interface is rather Clip Art 101. And because I like pretty things, I eventually retired this app. The app icon alone was making my skin crawl and I just wanted to hide it in a deep, dark place so it wouldn’t tarnish my iPhone desktop. Vain, huh.

7. Weekly Habits Pad (Kikki-K, $5.95)

I’ve added this one, because essentially this post is about breaking old habits and starting new ones. And this nifty little pad of paper sets out to cultivate new habits.

The idea is that it takes 21 days to change a habit, especially if there’s a juicy carrot to be had at the end. So you enter the habit you want to create on the left column (say, jog twice a week), tick off the days you accomplished that task, and then enter the reward you give yourself should you meet your target.

Sometimes, I enter an emotional reward (“make Tony happy”). Other times, it’s something small and maybe a little antithesis to other habits I’m trying to cultivate (“exercise thrice a week” vs “pig out on Cafe Grande Connoisseur ice cream with chocolate-coated almonds, hamana hamana hamana *drool*…) But so far, it’s been lovely ticking off little accomplishments and I’ve been quite motivated.

Of course, this works because I love lists and ticking things off. Sometimes I draw a box and list the task AFTER the fact, just so I can tick it off. Sad, no?


So there you have it. My carefully researched tools for Martha Stewart greatness (minus jail time). And now, to sleep on it. :)

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