Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marinières

A well-edited wardrobe means that a few pieces must serve many purposes. Classic styling, a neutral palette, and basic pieces combine in ways that seem to expand rather than limit possibilities.

A recent addition to my wardrobe is this classic French marinières in a dark navy blue. I've wanted one for a long time, and decided to get one for my back-to-school wear.

I've already worn it several times, so I know it's a keeper. It looks great with my jeans and Frye boots, and tres chic with my wide-leg black cropped pants and ballet flats, and I already have plans to wear it with pearls and a long, black, silk taffeta skirt to a friend's wedding in November.

J'adore pieces that can be both casual and formal, and can be worn in so many ways. It means fewer clothes in my closest, more money in my pocket, and wardrobe of go-to pieces that I know will always work for me.

Do you have any pieces like this in your wardrobe?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lessons on Living with Less

Living with less, simplifying, downsizing--call it what you will--is not for everyone.  Let's face it, there are times in our life that demand we have a full house.

For example, children have a lot of stuff:  toys, books, art, papers are a part of raising children and it's not practical to consider downsizing.  Newlyweds have a lot of stuff: setting up house is an expensive endeavor and shower and wedding gifts take up a lot of space.  People who work at home also need a lot of stuff:  supplies, computers, fax machines, copiers are a necessary part of running a business.

But living with less is working for me.  It has been liberating to unburden myself of the excess in my life.  I love the sense of order and calm in my home, and knowing exactly what I have, and exactly where I can find something if I need it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lesson #4: Cleaning

When you have your house on the market, it has to show-ready at a moment's notice.  For the homeowner that means daily cleaning and upkeep: clothes are hung up, shower and sink are wiped down, and every surface is dust free.

It took me a few days to establish a daily cleaning routine, but by the end of the first week I had it down.  I'm an early riser, so every morning I take fifteen minutes to wipe off, pick up, and put away.  This means that I walk out the door leaving a house that is clean and ready for anyone who walks through the door.

And that includes me.

Yes, an unexpected benefit to this daily routine is that I get to enjoy it too!  It is a pleasure to come home at the end of the day to a home that is clean and tidy--what a treat.  I used to save cleaning house for the weekend, but now a few minutes each morning actually saves me time; the weekends aren't spent cleaning house, or feeling guilty because I'm not.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lesson #3: Decorating

Selling a house today is not the same as selling a house twenty years ago.  It used to be, if you were putting your house on the market, you might do a bit of fix-up, maybe some painting, and put the "FOR SALE" sign on the lawn.

But I've watched enough HGTV to know that the presentation of the house--the staging--can have an impact on buyers.  So, after weeding out all the excess, it was time to decorate, or stage my house for sale.

My realtor works with several home stagers, and I had the good fortune to work with the stager who echoed my American-Modern-Thomas-O'Brien-Paris-apartment-aesthetic.  Using only my furniture and accessories, he rearranged furniture, hung mirrors and art, and placed rugs and lamps to create clean, open spaces.  It was great fun, and I learned so much through the experience.

For example, I learned I like a limited palette in my home--taupey-greys, black, and white--almost identical to my wardrobe!  I've also learned to LOVE mirrors (I've never even had a mirror in my bedroom) for the way they reflect light and open up a room.  I have a new appreciation of how architectural features such a windows, doors, and trim become part of the decor.  The result is a restful calm created by the absence--rather than the addition--of things. You can click on the photo for a better view of my living room.

The less-is-more philosophy has helped me appreciate my home in a new way, and when I move in a few weeks, I'll be applying those lessons to my new house.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lesson #2: Discarding

After committing to getting rid of stuff, I decided to go through one box, one piece of furniture, one bin at a time.

In some ways, the furniture was the easiest; a piece of furniture will either fit in my new house, or it won't. I told my closest friends that I needed to get rid of some furniture, and before long, all the chairs, chests, trunks, and tables had found new homes.

Things that belonged to my son were also easy; I asked him to go through the things I had saved over the years, and to select anything he wanted to keep.

I had several boxes of things that had belonged to my mother; the boxes had been in my attic for so long, I didn't know what was in them anymore. I was a worried that going through them would be emotionally overwhelming, but as I started to comb through the boxes I realized that these things had been important to my mother but not to me, and after fifteen years, I was able to part with them.

Finally, there were my boxes of mementos--letters, photos, ephemera. How did I decide what to keep and what to discard? I simply asked myself did I want someone else to have to through them someday, the same way I had to go through my mother's belongings?

So, after months of sorting and discarding, one hundred twelve boxes are down to five.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lesson #1: Committing

Like any other life change, the decision to live with less should stem from a commitment to change the way one wants to live.

For me, it was a forced changed; downsizing because I am moving. But living with less is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and this was the time to do it. I was ready to commit.

What did committing mean for me? It meant 112 trips up and down the attic stairs. It meant carrying heavy boxes and getting dirty. It meant going through hundreds of photographs, one-by-one. It meant keeping only one or two things (not twenty) that belonged to my mother. It meant reading a letter one last time. And, it meant knowing that most things can be replaced, and some things never can.

But, once I committed, everything started to fall into place.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lessons on Living with Less

In a few weeks, I will be moving to a new house. I'll leave behind a four bedroom house with a dining room, living room, family room, home office, a big yard, as well as a full attic and attached garage.

I'll be moving into a two bedroom townhouse, with a small living and dining room, a small galley kitchen, and a basement. No garage, no attic, and limited storage. In this interim period, my house is on the market and has to be show-ready at a moment's notice, which means daily cleaning, no clutter, and spare, open spaces.

The process of downsizing (and it is a process) has taken months, discarding and giving-away a lifetime of stuff. At first, I was dreading the process, thinking it was going to be physically and emotionally overwhelming. What I discovered was exactly the opposite.

In my next few posts, I'd like to share what I've learned on this journey; lessons on living with less. These posts will not be about bringing touches of France into my life, but have been inspired by several of the francophile blogs I read, and discussions on the French Chic group about decluttering. The posts are also inspired by my desire to (finally) achieve a well-edited life.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week-end Simple: Write a letter

Over the summer I sorted through boxes of photographs and letters that had been in my attic for years. Among all of it I discovered hundreds of letters from my sister, written to me when she first moved abroad in the early 90s, before either of us had computers and email. I read the letters, then bundled and sent them to her, a kind of journal of what was going on in her life at that time.

Who still writes letters? I don't mean the occasional thank you note or invitation, but a letter, on a sheet of paper. Last week, I wrote a letter, my first one in years. My son, who is now at college, loves receiving mail; finding a letter in his campus mailbox is an instant high for him.

This weekend, I'll write again, having rediscovered the simple pleasure of writing a letter.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What would you want from France?

For all kinds of reasons, I really missed not going to France this summer. One silly thing I missed was not being able to stock-up or replace non-perishable items that I use throughout the year. However, in a few weeks, my close friend is traveling to Provence and has offered to bring back a few items for me.

One of things I've requested is this 0.5L Pyrex measuring cup; sadly, mine broke over the summer and I've been eager to replace it. Taller than its American cousin, this measuring cup is perfect for a variety of kitchen tasks, including frothing warm milk for the occasional cappuccino.

I'm also going to ask my friend to bring me several boxes of fleur de sel. I usually bring home several boxes from France each summer--some to keep, some to give away. I'm down to my last box and it will be nice to have some extras in my pantry.

Finally, I want another jar or two of sucre grains de patisserie, the coarse brioche sugar. I use these coarse crystals to top brioches and other yeast breads baked during the holidays.

If your friend was going to France, what would you like to have?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moving forward

As I mentioned, I very recently put my house up for sale, and today is the first open house. (If you want to take a peek, you can actually go on a virtual tour with music!)

I've lived in this house for seventeen years, and have spent the past several months paring down and carefully editing my possessions. Coincidentally, this has been a hot topic on several blogs I follow, as well as on the French Chic group posts. It seems like everyone is seeking a life with less stuff.

A well-edited life is a topic I want to explore in future posts. But for today, let's just say that living a life with less "stuff"--clothes, furniture, objects--can be liberating.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Réentrée

The month of August was filled with changes: I bought a house, put a house on the market, took my son to college, returned to the classroom.

The proverbial applecart has not been upset, but I'm not sure it can hold another apple . . .