The Beautifying Effects of Ditching Cosmetic Komono

Marie Kondo claims that decluttering one’s life can have a demonstrable effect on our bodies. From observing her clients, she has noted that once their houses are tidy, “their figures are more streamlined, their skin is more radiant and their eyes shine brighter”. She adds that the categories seem to have a corresponding effect on certain parts of the body – discarding clothes leads to slimmer tummies, jettisoning books and documents leads to a clearer mind, and chucking out cosmetics leads to a smooth and clear complexion. I’m not sure I can lay claim to any of these bodily benefits but once I’d discarded the ton of cosmetic and beauty products from my life, there was something else that reaped the rewards: the flat itself. Suddenly I became interested and invested in improving the aesthetic of the flat; I wanted to beautify my living space. Cosmetic improvements to the look of my living space had not been something I’d cared much about in the past. Having lived in a series of rented properties, I’d never had the inclination to do much with them – there never seemed much point as I wasn’t staying longterm. Consequently, it was like I was living on the surface of these properties, never investing much more effort than merely stringing up some buddhist prayer flags in the window. I’d always thought that once I got settled somewhere properly, then I’d make an effort with interior design. But this just meant that with my forties creeping ever closer, I was still living like a student. Seeing snaps of other people’s homes on Facebook, I was struck by how grownup they looked – they had pictures hanging on the walls, nice furniture, ornaments, soft furnishings, there was a sense of an overall aesthetic and, most importantly, they looked lived in, like a home should. Whereas my flat had the random, eclectic, no effort involved, mishmash look of a student house. An extremely clean and tidy student house for sure, but the house of someone just starting out on the road to adulthood, not the house of a woman in her late thirties. The trouble had always been, as well as not wanting to invest in a place I wasn’t going to stay, I also had no idea how to make a house look good because, fundamentally, I had no idea what I actually liked. But, with my commitment to lifestyle design and trying to create my ideal life in the present moment, along with moving into the back bedroom and throughly clearing out my cosmetics, I was suddenly imbued with the impetus I needed to spruce the place up.

The importance of imagining one’s ideal lifestyle is a cornerstone of Kondo’s philosophy. Without it, one will end up discarding but with no sense of direction and purpose. One risks being left with a barren house, devoid of not only objects but personality too. She warns that “the act of discarding things on its own will never bring joy to your life”. This is why it’s crucial to be clear about your end goal with a detailed, preferably pictorial representation, of your own personal ideal lifestyle. She urges one to think and dream big when imagining this ideal lifestyle. With Pinterest to aid my inspiration, I spent time looking at bedrooms. I had already discerned that I liked a “cosy minimalist” look. Purely minimalist bedrooms seemed too stark and cold but by adding adjectives such as “cosy” or “feminine” I discovered images that appealed to me. And upon gazing at these pictures I began to see qualities they shared. Notably, a predominance of white. Ah, a white room – the ultimate minimalist cliche! But I was no stranger to embracing cliche, I did come back from India with those prayer flags, after all.

The defining features in these pictures were white walls, white furniture and white bedlinen. I would never in a million years have bought white furniture. I always thought it was…I don’t know…twee, naff, cheap looking? I wasn’t even entirely sure why I was prejudiced against it. Yet here it was, time and time again, in these pictures that called to me and that seemed so calm, peaceful and relaxing. And then there was the “feminine” or “cosy” touches, often rendered in accents of pink. Pink! So twee, so naff, so pathetically girly! Yet…these rooms sure did look nice. And the pink wasn’t over the top, it wasn’t seven year old girl with aspirations of being a princess, it was just touches to bring a bit of warmth to the place. And I had to be honest with myself: I had actually always liked pink. Years of arguing against the pinkification of little girls with their limiting range of clothes and toys had made it seem traitorous to admit that I liked it but like it I did. And it had even featured heavily in my tomboy clothes – often as a stripe running through a polo shirt. And having discovered, from my House of Colour consultation, that strong, bright pinks were actually one of my best colours, I felt emboldened to come out as a card carrying lover of pink. Before I began this process I would have vehemently denied that I would have wanted a white room with accents of pink. I didn’t know what I wanted but I would have sworn blind that it certainly wasn’t white and pink! But if I wanted a bedroom that looked like these lovely peaceful rooms on Pinterest, I was going to have to go against my preconceptions and actually buy things in these colours. Kondo says that by tidying you can come to know yourself better; it seemed I still had a lot to learn about what I truly wanted as opposed to what I thought I wanted.

So I set about prettifying the house. Beginning with the bathroom, I discarded the shower curtain that was in a bright pattern of purple and green. I had always thought I liked things with patterns, I thought they were more interesting than something plain, and purple and green had always been colours I liked. But I replaced it with a white shower curtain with little flecks of a more shimmery white and suddenly the room seemed brighter and lighter. I also replaced the old green bath mat with a dark grey one that matched the dark grey of the lino and hand towel. My time spent on Pinterest had revealed to me that plants were of great importance to my idea of an ideal living space. But the bathroom, in the basement of the flat, lacked any natural light. Fearing that a plant would live a sad and depressing life down here, I instead bought a little fake one in a copper coloured pot. And, discarding the old plastic bin, I bought a new copper coloured metal bin. And suddenly I had a bathroom that all came together! It’s never going to be the nicest bathroom in the world, there wasn’t much I could do about the lack of natural light and its persistent dampness, but now, at least, it had a consistent colour scheme of white, grey and copper and it seemed more cohesive, stylish and grownup. Was it really this easy, I thought to myself? All you had to do was decide on some colours and buy that stuff? I had always just bought things on an individual basis, whether I happened to like that one particular thing, I had never had an overall look in mind. It’s no wonder everything about my clothes and house had been a disparate, random collection of things! Previously, I never would have bought a white shower curtain or a grey bathmat, thinking both would look terribly boring. But, in fact, they looked smart and I now saw the importance of keeping the overall look in mind and buying things that fitted that aesthetic.

Kondo warns that the bathroom can be one of the hardest areas of the house to keep tidy what with its propensity to get wet and slimy, the number of different products and supplies it holds, and that, commonly, there are multiple users of the space. Having discarded all the bath related products that were going unused and were out of date, and with my already ingrained predilection towards completely finishing a product before beginning a new one, I was left with just a small collection of items that needed storing in the bathroom. The usual suspects of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving gel and a razor had previously lived around the edge of the bath. Kondo says that storing items around the edge of the bath or on the floor of the shower cubicle is a recipe for slime. And it’s true – the bottoms of the bottles did get slimy and gross and the can of shaving gel always left a little ring of rust wherever it sat. And my razor! Literal grimness! The rubber handle, with its ridges and grooves that are obviously meant to aid grip when using it in the shower, was colonised by black mould! But Kondo offers a solution to this ecosystem of mould and slime that we allow to set up residence in our bathrooms: keep everything away from the bath and shower and put items away when you’re not using them. She instructs that, after use, items should be dried off with your bath towel and put away. In my bathroom, there is a slim chest of drawers between the sink and bath. It has four drawers which makes two each for me and my new housemate, my sister. So I bought a new razor (a Gillette Venus Swirl Flexiball which is actually really good!) and I added it, along with the shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving gel, and a Tangle Teezer to the top drawer. Actually now I think about it, that Tangle Teezer is a relatively new purchase – the last one went mouldy, sitting round the bath, and it had been impossible to clean in between those tiny little rubber spines. It might seem like more work and hassle to dry everything off and put it away when you get out of the bath or shower but in reality it only takes a few seconds to wipe the bottles down with the towel, that is already at hand, and stow them back in the drawer. The bottles no longer get slimy, the shaving gel no longer leaves rust rings and the items with rubber components no longer get mouldy. And the area around the bath is now clear, clean and tidy. Also in that top drawer, I store eye makeup remover and nail polish remover. I call it the “wet drawer” because it houses liquid type products and things for use in the shower. My other designated drawer is the “dry drawer”; it houses cotton wool, toothpaste, dental floss, interdental brushes and spare toothbrush heads. Now the only things I have out in the bathroom are hand wash and my toothbrush by the sink. It’s unfortunate that the drawers in the bathroom are not high enough to apply Kondo’s strict maxim to store everything upright, so most products need to be stored lying flat. But with the products streamlined and no unnecessary extras to clutter up the space, it still looks neat and tidy and everything has its spot to slot back into after use. With the newly implemented colour scheme and with the bath and sink areas now clean and clear, the bathroom looked a whole lot better than before.

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The Wet Drawer

 

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The Dry Drawer

We have a separate toilet in the flat and that too was subject to some cosmetic and beautifying improvements. Kondo points out that the toilet is the most public space in a person’s home and, therefore, appearance is important in this area. But beyond merely tidying and decluttering the space, she recommends increasing the joy factor with items that appeal to the senses, such as aroma oils, flowers, pictures and ornaments. Although clean and tidy, with the minimum of items (a bin, toilet brush, bleach and a Febreze), there was certainly room for aesthetic and sensory improvement. On the wall behind the toilet, I had a picture that brings me much joy (a framed Nintendo promotional poster from the late 1980s) but when sitting on the toilet, the only nod to aesthetics one could see was a cheap picture of Hindu Gods in a garish gold plastic frame which was perpetually slightly wonky due to an uneven bit on the back of it. While sitting there, one could either gaze upon it or the badly painted, empty corners of the room. The cheap, garish Hindu Gods picture didn’t bring me joy but I had two white tiles with Hindu Gods on that did. Previously, these had been propped up on a bookcase in my old bedroom but now I got them professionally framed and hung them in the toilet instead. I had kept my personal touch of traveller cliche but had upgraded it to something more pleasing. Kondo says toilet paper is best stored in a basket or box and, while browsing round John Lewis, I happened upon the toilet roll holders. Here was one, a cylindrical white woven basket thing, that would be perfect for the ugly corner of the toilet. So I bought the toilet roll holder. What had I become?! The sort of person who buys toilet roll holders?! Who even am I?! And it felt extremely un-minimalist to buy a toilet roll holder, a completely unnecessary item. But it sure did look better than the empty corner with its paint smeared lino. Turning my attention to the other ugly corner of the toilet, I bought a large white vase, satisfying in its size and shape, and put some pussy willow branches in it. I’ve always liked pussy willows and would stop to stroke their tiny softness whenever they were being sold in the supermarkets. Despite liking them, however, I’d never bought any, nor had anything to put them in, nor had a place to put them. But now I saw how it was possible, and indeed important, to put the effort in to create space in your life for the things you love.

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Since moving into the flat, finding a lamp for the living room had been a perennial problem. But with slowly increasing confidence in identifying what I like, I finally bought one and its soft light brings a cosy touch to the high-ceilinged room come evening time. The living room, kitchen and garden also got a few cosmetic retouches in the form of a host of plants – Theo, Ken and Jeff for the living room, Brenda and Janet for the kitchen, and Brian, Sheila, Eric and Susan for the patio. I’m not sure why but when naming plants my main inspiration seems to be the guest-list of a dinner party from the 1970s.

While I smartened up the living room, bathroom and toilet, I also made inroads to creating my ideal bedroom. Upon moving into the back bedroom, I quickly realised that the mattress was a pathetic and uncomfortable specimen who, like a passive aggressive friend, had long since given up being supportive. Luckily the landlord was amenable to a bit of bedroom beautifying and agreed to pay for a new mattress, curtains, and a white chest of drawers & bedside cabinet – both of which almost killed me to put together. I don’t whether it was the fact they were from Argos, my rubbish screwdriver or my lack of DIY ability (I suspect a combination of all three) but, dear god, they were horrifically hard to screw together. And I managed to cock it up. I nailed the backboard of the bedside cabinet to the front of it. I had to stand on it to prise it apart and there are now nail holes running down the front of it. I almost cried. But when I spoke to others, everyone seemed to have a tale of cocking up self assembly furniture which made me feel slightly better. And nail holes aside (which you can only really see if you know they’re there), it looked so good when it was all finished! The white meant both the chest of drawers and bedside cabinet blended in with the walls and didn’t overwhelm the small dimensions of the room. With the chest of drawers built, I could now store my remaining skincare and makeup komono. I headed Kondo’s advice to keep makeup and skincare products separate. She says the moist, watery nature of skincare products can compromise the quality of powder based makeup and the two should therefore be segregated. My new chest of drawers has two small drawers at the top so one became the skincare drawer housing moisturiser, eye-cream, suncream, deodorant and the like, and the other drawer became the makeup drawer. In both drawers, I stored what I could upright and the rest was laid flat.

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The skincare drawer

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The makeup drawer

I made sure my love of houseplants extended to the bedroom and bought a pink orchid (which I named Daphne) to go on top of the chest of drawers and a leafy green plant (which I named Howard) to sit on the floor by the bedside cabinet. These joined Larry the peace lily who was stationed on top of the wardrobe. I bought a little vase, a miniature version of the one I got for the toilet, to go next to Daphne and put up some pictures. I hung a carved wood picture above my bed, the white and brown of the exposed wood going perfectly with the white walls and wooden bed frame. And I ordered three digital pictures from the internet which I got printed and put in rose gold frames. The frames, along with the blush and rose gold tones in the pictures constituted my nod towards the more feminine touches I’d been coveting. They also represented a DIY milestone as I had to purchase a tape measure and carefully work out, pencil behind ear and tongue slightly protruding in concentration, exactly how high and far apart to hang them.

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The last picture for my bedroom was of a dragon intricately and vividly embroidered in sequins and beads on a red velvet background. It was certainly not in keeping with the minimalist aesthetic of the other pictures. I’d bought it in the night bazaar in Chiang Mai in the year 2000. Even then I’d thought it was a bit much and possibly a bit tacky and I’d initially spurned the stall holder’s attempts to sell it to me. Yet something had kept drawing me back to the picture. And every time I returned to look at it, the stall holder would incrementally drop his price until it became churlish to refuse to buy it. How on earth will I get it in my backpack, I implored as my last crumbling defence. But I managed and the dragon spent a couple of years hanging from a plastic clip in the living room of one shared house I lived in. But upon moving from there, it’d been put in a bag and relegated to items to go into storage. Whenever I’d stumbled across the dragon since then, I’d gazed fondly at his bright cheery expression and lavish colourful beadwork but I’d been unsure how to properly frame his velvet backing and while living a transient life in rented house after rented house, sometimes staying no more than a couple of months, I’d never thought to ask landlords to do something as permanent as nail pictures to their walls. So the dragon hadn’t seen the light of day for over 10 years. But when I recently unearthed it from things that had been kept in storage, there was his cheerful face which had attracted me all those years before. A few beads had been lost in the intervening years but he still seemed to be smiling. This dragon undeniably brought me joy even though its over the top styling wasn’t something I normally liked. With the Konmari mindset of cherishing and displaying things that bring joy, I went to a framers to get the picture properly displayed. The framer recommended a flecked matte silver coloured wood that perfectly matched the dragon’s sequins. He now hangs opposite my bed, resplendent in his bespoke frame, and his cheerful smiling face never ceases to make me smile too.

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Dragon picture, Larry the peace lily and a wire cat sculpture I made for GCSE Art.

For a long time, I’d been thinking of getting a new duvet. Every time I changed the cover, I’d be slightly perturbed by it. It was old, heavy and a tad grim. I couldn’t actually recall how long I’d had it or even where it had come from. I held out for the Special Buy sale in John Lewis and bought a new (ethically sourced) down duvet. I marvelled at its light softness – it felt so luxurious! Then I finally bought white bedlinen, the staple feature of any minimalist bedroom. I’d always thought white bedlinen was an unwise move (because periods) but having purchased a menstrual cup (a move so life-changing and revolutionary that it deserves its own blog post) I no longer needed to worry about accidental leakage. Waking up each morning under the luxurious duvet in the white bedlinen was like waking up in a smart hotel room! Slowly, over many months it had all came together. By copying elements from pictures I liked, I had created a room that I couldn’t quite believe was mine. Before my bedrooms had always just been a collection of random stuff, most of which I hadn’t really cared for but I’d accumulated it throughout my life and therefore kept it. There had never been any overall look and I’d never considered colours or actively trying to create a space I loved. I hadn’t known how to choose things. I hadn’t even known what I liked. But now I would stand in the doorway of my bedroom as I cleaned my teeth, thinking “Crikey! Look at my bedroom! It looks so nice!” And not only does it look nice, it has a wonderful calm, relaxing and peaceful feel to it which others comment on.

 

So the decluttering of my skincare and cosmetics had the knock on effect of beautifying the house but there was also one change to my appearance – I took my last piercing out. Previously, I’d had two piercings in my forward helix and one in my tragus. But one in my forward helix had never quite healed properly and, in the end, it annoyed me so much I’d given up and taken it out. The second piecing in the forward helix had looked lonely by itself, I’d liked the look of two but not one solitary one, so I’d removed that as well. Which left only my tragus piercing which I’d had for almost 10 years. But it just seemed that maybe I didn’t need it anymore. I spent loads of time looking at it in the mirror before I managed to pluck up the courage to get it removed. I went to the piercers in Topshop Oxford Circus to get it taken out as I was far too squeamish to attempt it myself. There’s something very final and quite emotional about taking your last piercing out. It’s a final goodbye to youth and rebellion. I was getting rid of that last little vestige that said hey, I’m not a square, check out my piercing, I’m edgy and cool! But I felt like maybe it had said what it needed to and was now superfluous to requirements. I was a little trepidatious to look at myself afterwards. Would my face seem naked, like it was lacking something? But it looked good, it looked right. It looked neater, simpler and fresher. Hello new me! And now I can fully relax at the hairdressers without that little nagging fear that they’ll accidentally catch the comb on a piercing, the mere thought of which always filled me with a gagging, retching horror. I then bought a new grownup handbag to match my new grownup face. It was the first expensive handbag I’d ever owned. But now was the time. It seemed fitting.

My piercing wasn’t the only long-standing friend to go during this time of change. After an overwatering incident, my beloved silver torch cactus, Spike, passed away. I’d had him since I was 10 years old. You’d have thought that my 29 years worth of experience looking after him would have served me better. This was actually the second overwatering accident I’d subjected him to. A couple of years ago, he began rotting when I overwatered him before going on a month-long holiday. But after amputating the affected part and applying rooting powder, I managed to revive a foot-long section of him. But this time, even with a couple of emergency amputations that saw him reduced to a tiny fraction of his former glory, I couldn’t escape the creeping rot of the Grim Reaper’s touch. I thanked him for being such a loyal friend, apologised for having failed him by giving him too much water, and buried what was left of him in the garden. Before embarking on this minimalist journey, the loss of Spike and the fact his death was entirely my fault would have hit me hard. I know he was only a plant but when you’ve nurtured something since you were 10, and if you’re a sentimental and anthropomorphic fool, you do get very attached. Maybe it was because it was touch and go for a good few months as to whether he’d make it so I was already prepared for the worst or maybe because I’m now getting better at letting go of the attachments to the past but I was more sanguine than I expected. Maybe it’s what Kondo identifies as mono no aware, or the “pathos of things”, which describes the deep emotion that is evoked when we are touched by nature, art or the lives of others with an awareness of their transience. It also refers to the essence of things and our ability to feel that essence. She says that the tidying process heightens our ability to feel this essence, allowing us to be kinder to ourselves and others. And it’s important to always be kind to yourself. Even when you’ve just killed your favourite cactus by loving it too much.

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Spike. He was a great cactus.

 

 

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Komono: The Kings of Clutter

Finally! Finally, I had made it to the komono category! Embarking on my minimalist journey had opened my eyes to how we live surrounded by so much we don’t need and the odds & sods and bits & bobs of komono seemed emblematic of the unnecessary clutter that adheres itself to our lives. “Komono” is a Japanese word defined as “small articles; miscellaneous items; accessories; gadgets or small tools; parts or attachments; an insignificant person; small fry”, and Kondo uses this apt description to encompass all the general miscellany that accumulates in our homes. This diverse and daunting category includes all the random things one keeps “just because” – from hair ties, to buttons, to batteries, to paperclips, to lotions & potions and free novelty goods. In one particular shared house I lived in, we had a specific drawer (as many people do) dedicated to komono. We imbued it with a sense of reverence and called it “The Mythical Third Drawer Down”. Unsure where to put something? Why, just add it to The Mythical Third Drawer Down! My collection of komono had grown over the years and I now nurtured several drawers and large bags of the stuff. With it, I felt prepared, ready for whatever life should throw at me. It was almost like the komono were a security blanket woven of trinkets and oddments. At one point I think I viewed my harbouring of komono with a sense of pride, a reflection of adulthood: “Behold all the random things I have collected in my life! If I should ever need a random thing I will be able to sate that need with something from my extensive collection!”

But now I viewed its ramshackle existence not with satisfaction but with disquiet. I saw how it took up space – the drawers in the bathroom, the drawers in the kitchen, the many drawers in my bedroom, the bags in the cupboard under the stairs and the bags in the cupboard in the hallway. I saw how, despite giving off an air of necessity and usefulness, I never actually used 98% of the komono I diligently stored and carried with me whenever I moved house. And I saw how quickly the komono could slip into chaos and disarray. I always seemed to be organising the drawers in my bedside cabinet but one hastily shoved back in packet of painkillers could set off a domino-like chain reaction that quickly saw my medicines drawer reduced to a higgledy piggledy heap of boxes. It was time to shed myself of this komono security blanket, time to say goodbye to these omnipresent Just in Case items.

After my last epic and totalitarian clothing revisit, I had intended to do a quick sweep back through paperwork and books, but I put that on hold in order to begin komono. The specific reason I wanted to make headway with komono was that my housemate was moving out and I wanted to swap into her old bedroom, a quieter room at the back of the house. However it was also smaller and had considerably less storage space. This downsizing of rooms seemed the perfect time to ditch the komono from my bedroom.

The basic komono categories are:
CDs & DVDs
Skincare products
Makeup
Accessories
Valuables (passports, credit cards etc)
Electrical equipment and appliances (digital cameras, electric cords, anything that seems vaguely ‘electric’)
Household equipment (stationary and writing materials, sewing kits, etc)
Household supplies (expendables like medicine, detergents, tissues, etc)
Kitchen goods/food supplies
Other

I had already decided to skip over the CDs and DVDs category at this point. Firstly, I don’t own any DVDs. Rather like my lack of an extensive book collection, I had previously wondered if not having a DVD collection was a bit of a failing on my part. How would visitors to my home know about me as a person and make a judgement about my values and taste if there wasn’t a DVD collection on the shelves for them to peruse while I was out of the room? But the truth is, I rarely watch films and in this digital age of streaming on demand, I don’t see the point of keeping the physical copies that just sit taking up space. My feeling that physical DVDs are an unnecessary burden has hardened after observing a number of different housemates – they basically never actually watched any of the DVDs they owned. The DVDs sat resolutely untouched year upon year. Physical books seem a different kettle of fish to DVDs. I still enjoy the physicality of books – after all, a book you carry with you, you sit with it for hours on end, you hold it in your hands, feel its weight and turn its pages. But a DVD is something you touch only for a few seconds as you transfer it to the DVD player and it’s not like you sit holding its plastic case as you watch the film.

But somewhat hypocritically, tapes and CDs, I think, are a different matter. One look at my old Britpop tapes and CDs and the CDs from the clubbing years gave me the familiar nauseous feeling at the thought of discarding them which indicated these would fall into the sentimental category. Marie Kondo can’t love music, I thought, if she considered it komono rather than sentimental! Music is representative of a time and a place, of those friends and experiences, of the hopes and dreams of that time in your life in a way that DVDs just aren’t, in my opinion. And if I’m looking for further justification of why I would treat films so differently to music, I just need to think of the time and effort invested in making my Britpop mix tapes off the radio and the hours spent sat on my beanbag in my teenage bedroom with my Britpop CDs, pouring over their inlay cards, learning the lyrics and starring longingly at pictures of Damon and Jarvis. The tapes and CDs had definitely earned a reprieve for now, a get out of jail free card to elevate them out of komono and into the hallowed halls of the sentimental category.

Kondo says that if you live without a family, the particular order you deal with Komono is not important, so, for the purposes of swapping bedrooms, I concentrated my efforts on medicines, skincare products, makeup, and beauty accessories. The same premise applies when sorting komono as any other category – all items from a category should be collected together and you choose which items to keep based on whether you love them and they bring you joy, not just because you think you might potentially need them one day. And they too deserve the time and attention to be individually handled, properly sorted and considered with gratitude.

I began with my medicines drawer. The striking thing here was that medicines really don’t last that long! With the contents of the drawer having been a jumbled mess for so long, it felt good to do a thorough purge and only keep the few things that were still in date. As well as expired items, there was also a small collection of miscellaneous pills, including a collection given to me at an army base in India when I broke my foot. I couldn’t remember what any of them were for, so out they all went. Also into the discard pile went a bunch of out of date condoms. There’s few things more disappointing in life than expired condoms. Still, Kondo espouses the philosophy that by getting rid of things you can invite more into your life and offers an example of a client who discarded her collection of business cards and then suddenly started making the business connections she’d been desiring. So, by that token, if I get rid of all the old condoms then I’ll surely be fending off suitors in no time! Also discarded from the medicines drawer was an impressive number of ear plug cases. I’m a pathetically light sleeper – if a moth sneezes three miles away I’m like “Who woke me up?! Damn your eyes!” – so I rely heavily on ear plugs. Every time you buy new ones, you get a new case so I had amassed quite the collection. But suspecting that a collection of plastic ear plug cases was not exactly Antiques Roadshow material I added them all to the recycling bin.

Then it was time to hit up the cosmetics. Kondo urges one to be strict with deciding what to keep, saying now is the time to say goodbye to any old cosmetics or ones that no longer suit your taste. Since discarding the annoyingly wobbly cloth drawers from my bedroom, I’d had a huge bag of cosmetics sitting in the bottom of my wardrobe. I tipped it all out and rounded up every other piece of makeup and beauty accessory I had. It was a lot. I tended to hang on to makeup products. Whether they had been perennial favourites finally ousted by a newer product, free samples that came with another purchase, misguided purchases in themselves, or gifts, hand-me-downs and leftovers from friends – they all seemed to implore “But what if one day you need me? What if one day you’re getting ready to go to a sexy party and you want to look sexy and I am the only thing that can bestow sexiness upon you?!” Better keep them, just in case, I’d always thought. And then there’s the problem that I seem immune to the idea of use by dates on cosmetics. Which is strange as I live by the idea of sell by dates on food. Objectively, I know that sell by dates on food don’t really count for anything and you’re supposed to look at and smell the food itself. But screw that, I don’t care for elderly food and mould is one of my biggest fears. I am a supermarket shelf-stacker’s nightmare as I burrow my way to the back of their neatly arranged displays on my quest to find the bag of salad with the expiration date furthest in the future. But when it comes to makeup, I just really don’t care about that tiny little, barely legible symbol that tells you how long it keeps after opening. And consequently, I own makeup from when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s fine, it’s not like you eat it! Well, maybe you kind of do if it’s lipstick but whatever.

So having always been of the opinion that old products were still eminently usable, it was a surprise to see that, once decanted from the plastic bag they’d been languishing in, they were, in fact, gross. The packaging was grimy and everything looked old and battered with fading labels. Some of the liquid products had separated and one splattered all over my leg when I opened it. I had so many not quite finished things – it seemed wasteful to discard them when the last mere drop had not been used up but here they still were, burdening my life years later. Maybe once something slips out of regular use it’s best to get rid of it even if it’s not finished yet. Or I could just stick to the use by dates from now on – that would be a good way to keep things in check. One thing was for sure, all this mangey makeup was certainly not going to bring me closer to my ideal lifestyle. It was time to get ruthless on this plethora of partially used products.

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Ready for decluttering

So it was goodbye to the concealer, a relic left over from when I’d had spots. I’d held on to it not quite daring to believe that the Roaccutane prescription had actually worked. But a few years down the line, I’d had no reason to reach for that concealer again. Also into the discard pile went some old mascaras. When does mascara even run out? I like the finality of properly finishing something but mascara just seems to limp on and on. I chucked all the various products friends had given me because they hadn’t wanted them. Sure, I’d said, I’ll take ‘em, who turns down a freebie? I might totally use these! But I hadn’t. So out they went. On the subject of freebies, I also binned the free samples that had come as gifts with larger purchases. I remembered eagerly taking any freebie offered to me – free cosmetics being second only to free food in the hierarchy of happily received free goods. But so many of the free make up products I’d only used a few times or not at all. I’d often been uncertain whether those lipsticks, eyeshadows and blushers had even suited me. Having had my colours done with House of Colour and having purchased quite a few of their makeup products for the certainty that they matched my complexion, I now felt emboldened to discard anything not in my colours. That meant culling a host of eyeliners in shades of green and brown. Like mascaras, it’s hard to finish eyeliners so I had many that had hung around my life for an exceptionally long time. The oldest two, both from Urban Decay, dated from about 2001! Sixteen year old make up! A little past their use by dates, I’d imagine. Both were the chubby style of eyeliner, good for creating a smokey look – one was black and the other was black with silver flecks in it. Due to being a massive tomboy, I’d been a late starter with makeup, only really embracing it in my early 20s. These two eyeliners came from the early days of learning how to do my eye makeup and realising I was actually quite good at it. They’d been my staple look from the clubbing years. Those clubbing CDs I mentioned earlier, they’d be playing at loud volume as I’d stood before my mirror getting ready to go out, building up my eye makeup into something dramatic, and finishing off with a generous cloud of Hugo Deep Red perfume – a scent that now takes me straight back to that bedroom, that mirror, that music and that makeup. But now that black eyeliner had gone a little white and dried up so completely that I couldn’t even draw a last farewell line on the back of my hand.

I had so many old lipsticks, lip glosses and lip liners! I had always felt I should make more effort with lip products but had never managed to successfully assimilate them into my makeup arsenal. It was only now, armed with my new House of Colour lipsticks, that I actually wear something more than just tinted lip balm. These new lipsticks work cohesively with my face and the rest of my makeup rather than being an awkward and garish addition that’s there for the sake of it. It was with relief that I added all the lip products to the discard pile – especially the sticky lip glosses which I’d never liked as my hair gets stuck in them. Amongst the lip products, I excavated two more ancient relics – two Clinique lipsticks that had come as part of the Bonus Time free gifts that I’d once been fond of. I tried to carbon date them by searching back through my memory archives to remember when I might have used them. I settled on the time period 2002-04. Yuck. Whenever I’d tidied up my makeup previously, I’d always resolved to make a real effort to use the various lip products, vowing that this time I would truly embrace them and wear them on a daily basis. But it just never happened. The two Clinique lipsticks were, in a way, opposite to the two Urban Decay eyeliners – the eyeliners had been kept for so long because I’d loved them, loved how they looked and loved the time in my life they represented, whereas the lipsticks had never been loved and hardly ever worn; they’d been kept out of a sense of duty, a feeling that it would be a waste to get rid of them. But with the Konmari mindset, neither clinging to the past nor a sense of guilt were reasons to keep the products. And they were probably all a biohazard by now anyway.

I also discarded some sparkly body lotion which I’d been meaning to use when going out but it had never seemed quite the right occasion – probably because my sparkly body lotion days are behind me. Out went various eyebrow products and I kept only the one product I use on a daily basis. I marvelled at how beauty fashions change. As a child, I’d had impressively bushy eyebrows but they’d been beaten into submission and never quite recovered from the 1990s when we’d over-pluck them into dubious little lines. Everyday as I try to fill in the sparse and scrawny bits, I think that if only I’d known that 20 years down the line my hirsute brows would have been the height of fashion!

Not only had I tried to beat my eyebrows into submission but I’d also spent many years trying to force my hair to be straight. My hair, voluminous and curly, would have been so rad in the 1980s but, coming of age, in the 90s, when I desperately wanted to look like Louise Wener from Sleeper, it was a distinct hinderance. I spent many years and much time and money trying to turn my curls into smooth, flickable, straightness – all with limited success. I binned the various heat-protection sprays and curl relaxing potions I’d accumulated before I’d decided to embrace my curly hair. The only time I have it straight now is when I’ve let the hairdresser do the donkey work of wrestling it into sleekness.

I had many a pair of false eyelashes which I’d worn when going out to swing dance social events. But swing dancing had slipped from being a full-on passion to an occasional occurrence and it had been a long time since I’d needed any of the eyelashes or their accompanying little pots of glue which I’d always had knocking around in my makeup bag in case my eyelashes suffered a malfunction while out. I balanced a set of eyelashes on my eyes for old times sake. They were a full glam set. Holy hell, they were huge! I looked like a cartoon character! I collected up all the other swing dance paraphernalia – hair clips & adornments, bright red lipstick, and the body spray I’d used before classes – it all went in the discard pile along with the eyelashes and glue. Getting rid of it all was to say goodbye to those few years, that fun and exciting time, when I’d got really into swing dancing and I’d attended numerous classes, socials and camps. But I had to accept that it wasn’t a big part of my life at the moment. I’d slowly but surely swapped it for yoga, which was less conducive to full-glam makeup but more beneficial for the ability to touch my toes.

Another collection, added to the discard pile in its entirety, was nail polish. They were all either garish, girlish, ancient (the oldest dated back 10 years to 2007), or simply not in my colours. The only one I kept was a clear polish but I resolved to buy more, as need arose, in my colours and preferably in smaller bottles as finishing a full size bottle of nail polish seemed an impossibility for me. And here was another collection all bound for the discard pile – hair scrunchies! Since growing my hair long, I’d had to stop using regular elastic hair bands as they get tangled in my curly hair. The last time I tried, I actually had to cut the hair band out of my hair with scissors! So I’d adopted the use of scrunchies, which didn’t get stuck in my hair, and I’d loved their ironic retro throwback vibe. Until one day, suddenly, I just didn’t anymore. I saw someone else, sporting a scrunchie around their wrist like I always did, and I just didn’t like how it looked. Luckily, current trends offered me an alternative which also doesn’t get stuck in my hair – the plastic spiral style ones that look like telephone wires used to.

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Scrunchies!

The bag of items to discard was beginning to bulge as I added all sorts of beauty & cosmetics paraphernalia: in went all manner of hair bands and clips, a bag of hair rollers (the kind you imagine grannies using), old kirby grips that were obsolete now I’d discovered the existence of strong kirby grips which were so much better suited to taming my hair, two little manicure kits which I just never used, two little mirrors which didn’t quite close properly and, although pretty, sparked no actual joy, some elderly bottles of suncream, an ancient pot of Tiger Balm, two hair brushes which I’d had for years but were never used now that I didn’t straighten my hair, old make up brushes (including a set I’d got when I was at university), bath oils, bath foams and bath bombs – having a bath in my flat is just too depressing, it’s dim, a little mouldy and, even though the water is hot in the shower, for some reason it’s never hot enough when you run a bath. I’d been keeping all the bath products for an unspecified time in the future when I may live somewhere where I could have a nice relaxing bath. But with my new adherence to use by dates on cosmetics and mindful not to keep things for imaginary future events, I binned them all. There was also so many toothbrush head covers and the electric flosser from when I broke my wrist and couldn’t use two hands to floss! I guess that could have been dealt with in the electrical items section of komono but it had always lived with my beauty and cosmetics paraphernalia so I considered it such. And I had so many little pouches, all which had come free with cosmetic purchases and none of which sparked joy. I kept finding more – there were pouches within pouches. I used to think it was great to get a free bag – so handy for organising and storing all my things! But now I just wonder if the charity shop will take them or if they’ll add to the destruction of the planet in landfill.

I had two bottles of Benefit High Beam highlighter – one big and one small. I looked at the back – they only last 6 months! How long had I had these? Contouring is currently the makeup look du jour and I used these bottles of High Beam in conjunction with a bronzer to create a contoured look. But the bronzer was part of a much larger box and couldn’t be separated. It seemed annoying to keep the whole box for just that. Maybe I should invest in an actual contouring kit and get rid of the High Beam and bronzer? Kondo says that it is important to get joy from cosmetic products as they are “part of the ritual that prepares you of your day”. Your morning routine sets the tone for the kind of day you’ll have so it’s important to start off on the right foot. Both the bronzer and High Beam were clearly out of date so I decided to be ruthless in the pursuit of joy sparking makeup. The bronzer went straight in the discard bag while the High Beam bottles were put to the side to join the small collection of makeup that I was having trouble saying a cheery goodbye to.

I’d been using Benefit High Beam since the earliest of my clubbing days back in 2001. Luckily these bottles were definitely newer than that but it was tugging on my sentimental heart strings to say a final goodbye to that look, that version of me that this makeup helped to create. I hadn’t counted on the fact that tackling the makeup category might be sentimental but getting rid of some of this stuff was harder than I thought. Joining this difficult to discard selection was another highlighter, an FCUK one that I’d bought in 2004, and a little set of four eyeshadows that I’d taken travelling to India in 2006. This little set had been a firm favourite since then and I’d been perturbed to discover that it wasn’t even in my colours! Damn khaki green, tricking me for all these years! These, along with the two eyeliners from the clubbing years, were left out of the discard bag until the very end. These particularly sentimental pieces were given their own separate emotional goodbyes and heartfelt thanks. Apart from these special items, I felt a bit bad that I didn’t thank all the cosmetics and accessories individually but there was just so many of them. I settled on a group goodbye as I held the bag and I thanked the products for their support and their role in my life. I thanked them for the fun we’d had on nights out. And I thanked them for the time we’d spent getting ready together, often one of the best parts of the whole night. I always love getting ready to go out and seeing the transformation from plain to pretty, it was like artistry and it was the makeup that made it possible. Me and this makeup had spent many, many happy hours together – listening to music, sipping on gin and tonic, and enjoying the anticipation of the night ahead.

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Survivors of the cosmetics cull

I divided up the discard pile into three: things for the charity shop (this was a small pile, consisting of things they might take e.g the many pouches), things for the bin (it seemed wasteful to be throwing so much out, especially things like makeup brushes and hair clips but I don’t think they can be recycled or that the charity shop would take them), and things to be taken to the chemist for safe disposal e.g. the old medicines and nail polish as I don’t think you’re supposed to put them in the bin. I’d previously taken three bottles of old mosquito repellant there for disposal and they’d seemed quite pleased that I hadn’t just chucked them away. I added all the old makeup and cosmetics into this bag for the chemist just in case it counted as hazardous waste that shouldn’t end up in landfill. The man in the chemist’s that I handed the bulging bag to seemed a little perplexed but took it nonetheless. On the way back home, I felt much lighter. Although all small items, their combined weight, the space they had occupied, and the attachments to the past they represented had been considerable. I was already looking forward to a more streamlined approach of only keeping products that supported my life in the here and now.

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KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: Brought to you in glorious technicolour

Early on in my journey into minimalism I became aware of one particular facet of the movement – that of clothing and its surrounding ideologies.

And is it any wonder minimalists are concerned with the question of clothes? It’s an area where consumption has spiralled out of control. The fashion industry manufactures new trends at a dizzying rate, advertisers seduce us with images of the lifestyle that could be ours if only we bought the right things (and when we do buy the right things and we grasp at that lifestyle it becomes smoke between our fingers only to reform again just out of our reach, beckoning to us beguilingly from behind a different purchase), and the fast-fashion outlets of Primark, H&M, Forever 21 et al feed our orgy of consumption that goes forever unsatiated. And all this intersects with our lives lived permanently performed before the looking glass of social media. We see our image refracted, multiplied and shared in the camera flashes of numerous smart phones. When once a single dress could be recycled for a number of occasions, we now baulk at wearing it again. After all, everyone saw us wearing it at that wedding – not only the wedding guests, but all our friends on social media, and all the friends of those friends too. But why wear the same thing again when you can pick up something new so cheaply? Youtubers speak to the youth of their clothing hauls – surely the bulimic binges of a society struggling with disordered consumption. And what are we left with? Wardrobes full to bursting with cheap, badly made clothes we don’t really care for and a nagging sense of guilt when we accidentally let ourselves think too long about how those clothes were actually made.

It’s no surprise that Marie Kondo recommends beginning the process of decluttering one’s life by tackling clothing first. And upon confronting my wardrobes and drawers, I had realised I had a problem. I had so many clothes. But more to the point, I had so many clothes I didn’t even like. With clothes so readily and cheaply available, I’d slipped into the gravitational pull of the fast-fashion black hole.

To start with it had been quite fun to dabble in fast-fashion – there were so many things to choose from, so many things to try! It was all so cheap that I didn’t have to worry about buying something that wasn’t going to be a perennial staple. I could experiment with trends at no great financial loss. I knew it was unethical. I’d read the articles about what the pay and conditions were like for the people who actually make the clothes. But I’d told myself two things, firstly it doesn’t mean that conditions are any better in places where clothes cost more, it probably just means mark ups are higher. And secondly, there was so much coverage of poor working conditions that companies had to be more careful these days so conditions were probably better now.

However, the fun waned and fast-fashion fatigue set in. I could tell myself glib things but underneath, I knew I could be making better choices. I started reading things about the other end of the clothing lifecycle too and the burden being placed on the planet from the excess waste caused by all the discarded clothes. Also the fashion treadmill became tiring – fashions changed constantly meaning my fun new outfit was decidedly less on-trend in the blink of an eye. And the shopping experience itself was an ordeal. There’s nothing enjoyable about shopping in Primark – its daunting size, the rummaging through racks of clothes having to look at each individual label to find your size because invariably everything is on the wrong hanger, the changing rooms, the queues, the hordes of people everywhere all single-mindedly scurrying, delving, foraging for a bargain, leaving disarrangement and disarray in their wake. If the brightly-lit dystopia of a normal Saturday at Primark was filmed and put in a sci-fi movie we’d all be shaking our heads at the folly of the mindless masses.

But shopping experience and ethical considerations aside, as I followed the KonMari method and filtered and processed my clothes, I knew there was a fundamental problem underlying my haphazard procurement of cheap garments.  When it came down to it, I just wasn’t sure what clothes suited me. I didn’t know which styles to go for and which to avoid. And I didn’t know what colours flattered me and which made me look peaky. No wonder I found shopping an overwhelming experience – when you’re not sure what suits you it leaves everything on offer as an option and that’s a lot to choose from. It’s not uncommon for me to spend an inordinately long time in a changing room swapping repeatedly between outfits thinking to myself “I just don’t know which one suits me more”. Thus, the fast-fashion ethos had been a less daunting way to shop. Don’t know which looks best? Buy both! It was all so cheap I didn’t have to worry about spending money on something that wasn’t quite right. Get a few wears out of it and it’s justified the meagre amount I spent on it. Fundamentally, I was fearful of spending a lot of money on something when I wasn’t sure what would be a wise buy and what would be a fashion faux pas. As I had stood surrounded by piles of clothes in my bedroom I had vowed to educate myself about fashion so I could make more informed choices.

As I continued my journey exploring the minimalist landscape, I signed up to various email feeds and soon discovered that the question of what a minimalist wears gets a lot of online air time. Only a few weeks after I stood despairing at the dismal state of my clothing this article arrived in my inbox and opened the door to a new approach to clothes. Clicking through the various links in the article was revelatory. I particularly liked the idea of a capsule wardrobe – how appealing to have a select few items of good-quality clothing that you really, genuinely liked and could mix and match with ease and confidence. It all seemed to be suggesting a more put together, stylish approach rather than the eclectic mishmash I had that left me feeling vaguely disgruntled. I resolved to look into these ideas when the time was right. And until then I put myself on a clothes buying embargo until I had things more figured out (an embargo that ended up lasting eight months!) And, I have to say, it felt really good to step off the treadmill of consumption. Previously, if it had been a while since I’d bought anything I’d start to get the nagging feeling that I should buy something new, just because…just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re a woman – isn’t it about time you bought yourself some new clothes? Keep consuming and everything will be alright. It felt freeing to take a break, to have given myself a reason to not even bother trying to find something to buy. Obviously I’d need to buy new things at some point but I was going to wait until I’d looked into different approaches and ideas.

Initial direction and guidance came from a friend’s recommendation. She had had a colour analysis from House of Colour and was eagerly explaining the process and results to us over some drinks in the pub. She talked us through her colours, explaining which looked good on her and why, and showed us the little leather wallet of fabric swatches that matched her “season”. This was exactly what I needed! Someone to tell me what colours suited me! And the little wallet of swatches was just the sort of thing I love – cute, compact and containing wisdom. Knowing that this was definitely the first step I needed to take on the path to fashion enlightenment, I signed up for a class.

This was a divisive move. When I told friends I was planning on having a colour consultation the responses fell into three camps. Some thought it sounded a great idea and would consider doing it themselves, others thought it sounded good but recoiled from the consultation price of £130, and others thought it sounded a thoroughly ridiculous endeavour and told me I was a fool with more money than sense. Fool I may be but I was a fool with no idea what colours suited me. Somehow along the path to adulthood I seemed to have missed the life lesson where you discover what suits you. Maybe I was off sick that day. The amount of times I’ve stood in front of a mirror, with two tops in different colours, stuck in an endless feedback loop of repeatedly holding one then the other in front of me, just not knowing which looks best. I had a friend who would always ask me if what she was wearing matched or which colour shoes suited her outfit better. I don’t know why she insisted on always asking me because my response was always the same – I’d freeze, look slightly scared and confused at the same time, and admit, with a hint of embarrassment, that I had no idea which ones matched. She would then look aggrieved at my lack of helpful advice and also concerned about this peculiar form of colour blindness I seemed to suffer from. If only I’d spent less time skateboarding during my formative years and more time pouring over Just 17 then maybe I could have overcome this affliction.

Several friends who thought I was fully bonkers to spend £130 to have someone tell me what colours to wear offered to take me shopping themselves. They would happily point out what suited me free of charge, they said. These were kind offers but ones I was never going to take up. The fact is I very much enjoy proper instruction in an official learning environment. It’s geeky but I like it. That’s why I paid for ukulele lessons and pay an insane amount of money to go to a posh yoga studio despite the fact I could learn both of these from youtube videos. I like the ritual of going somewhere to learn something, the anticipation of receiving new knowledge, I like the space where the learning is done, I like the presence of the teacher and the way they impart their ideas, and I like the close proximity of other humans who also want to learn. (In case you’re wondering, the foray into ukulele playing was short-lived. But for those couple of months I really enjoyed being the sort of person who carries a musical instrument on the tube.) So rather than wafting round H&M with a friend pointing out stuff that might suit me, I wanted the full experience, I wanted the full weight of expertise and knowledge from someone whose job this was. If I was going to tackle my clothing quandary, I was going to do it properly. Then, with a full arsenal of information, it would be up to me whether I took the advice on board or not (I was always going to take it on board; I have a lot of respect for authority. Probably because I’m a first born child).

Before I had the consultation, I mused upon my current thoughts on colour so I could compare these ideas with what I would later learn. Here were my thoughts:

  • Pale colours make me look washed out
  • I’ve always stayed away from white
  • Yellow is not my friend
  • I’ve always liked green for it matches my eyes.
  • Grey and pink have featured heavily. I don’t know if pink actually suits me but I like it.
  • Purple eyeshadow is supposed to bring out green eyes.
  • I like the Clinique True Khaki eyeliner
  • I have no idea if red suits me.
  • And that’s about it!

The day of my colour consultation dawned. I was excited to be going. I was looking forward to having a new experience and learning new things. Fresh-faced with no makeup on as instructed, I set out through the streets of north London and arrived at a house on an elegant street in Primrose Hill. Fiona, the House of Colour representative, ushered me to a room on the lower ground floor which had been turned into a consultation room. One other person was also there and she too was a teacher taking the opportunity to have the consultation during the half term break. Fiona began by talking through a bit of colour theory and showing us the colour wheel where the spectrum of colours were divided up into four parts, each labeled with a different season. This was it! This was the life lesson I’d missed somewhere along the way! Actual proper instruction underpinned by actual theory! The main premise came down to the fact there are warm colours and cool colours; the seasons autumn and spring were ascribed to the two categories of warm colours and winter and summer denoted the two sets of cool colours. The idea of the consultation was to ascertain whether you suited warm or cool colours, then narrow it down to which season worked best, and within that season work out the quantities of each colour that would specifically suit your skin tone. I had heard talk of the idea of warm and cool colours before but I had no idea what colours counted as which. Indeed it was interesting to see that most colours occupied space in all the four seasons, but whether a colour would suit you or not depended on the shade and tone. Fiona demonstrated the warm and cool colours on herself, saying it’s often easier to see the difference the colours could make on someone else rather than ourselves. She said one’s own judgment can be clouded by personal preferences for certain colours or influenced by previously held assumptions. She held an array of bib-like drapes of fabric around her neck for us to see the contrast. And yes, held against her I could see how the warmer tones were much more flattering. She pointed out how the wrong colours made the fabric seem cheap and garish whereas the right colours seemed more balanced and sophisticated.

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The colour wheel

Then it was our turn. Katerina, my fellow consultee, went first. Apparently, she would be more straight forward as her hair wasn’t coloured – my dyed hair would skew the results and thus need covering. Katerina already thought that her season was autumn but she was hoping for confirmation and to better understand the full range of colours that she could wear. And as Fiona began draping the different coloured fabrics around her neck it became obvious that she was indeed autumn. I could see how those colours had a better effect on her skin. Draped in the wrong colours, the cool colours, she looked more washed out and the shadows under her eyes were more pronounced. Once she had been confirmed as autumn, Fiona took each individual autumn colour and, with an expert’s eye, declared which colours she could wear in which quantities. I was charged with being the scribe at this point; in the little booklet pertaining to autumn colours there was a table detailing each colour and columns denoting 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. Regarding Katerina’s reflection while she was draped in a certain colour, Fiona would make proclamations such as “50% – would be lovely as a camisole under a jacket” and I, using a key of ticks and stars, would record this on the table. The colours recorded in the 100% column are one’s “star colours”. These colours can be worn top to toe, such as a high-necked dress, and are said to have ability to create radiance and garner compliments. The 75% column is for the colours that look good but maybe not for an entire block colour outfit, 50% colours would be good for a top or bottom half, and 25% colours are best for accessories and accents. There was further categorisation such as colours that would be best for casual wear or colours that should only really be worn below the waist. This level of detail and analysis was what Katerina had been after. Despite knowing she was autumn she hadn’t realised quite how many colours were included in this category or how she could combine different colours in different quantities. Makeup analysis was also included – Fiona selected a shade of foundation and blusher and applied a couple of different lipstick shades too. All of them suited Katerina and gave her features a little more life and sparkle. She regarded herself in the mirror, unaccustomed to wearing any makeup at all, she was quite mesmerised by the bold-looking reflection staring back at her.

After a quick loo and biscuit break, it was my turn. All throughout Katerina’s consultation I’d been glancing at the colour wheel trying to decide what my season would be. I still didn’t know. Would the more yellow tones of autumn and spring make me appear a little jaundiced or would the bluer tones of winter and summer make me look pale and washed out? Katerina said she thought I would be winter. Why did I have no idea? I must be seriously colour blind to my own style. But this was, after all, the reason I was doing this – to understand some principles of colour theory, learn some basic guidelines and foundations which I could take away and build upon, and have some much-needed practice getting my eye in. I sat in the chair in front of the large full length mirror and a white headscarf was tied over my hair making me look a little like a maid from times of yore. Fiona began tying the fabric bibs around my neck, one on top of the other, alternating between warm and cool shades. I squinted hard at my reflection trying to ascertain which suited me more. Fiona and Katerina murmured their approval at the cooler tones. By the time I had been draped in a multitude of fabrics I was beginning to see that the warmer colours made me look more sallow. Fiona then removed each scarf from around my neck in quick succession to give a rapid flickering good/bad effect. Declaring I was definitely in the cool camp, Fiona then alternated between the colours for winter and summer. It was decided that the brighter, stronger colours of winter suited me more.

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My colours!

Fiona then went through each of the 36 colours of winter, draping me in the fabric bibs and deciding which quantities I could wear them in. Katerina, who continued to steal looks at her made up face in the mirror, duly noted down the results. The bold, strong colours of royal purple, royal blue, dark emerald, lobelia (which I’d never even heard of before), fuchsia, raspberry and carmine were my star colours. These were not the sorts of colours I would naturally gravitate towards. I realised I was going to have to be braver to override my natural inclination towards less bright, less attention-grabbing colours. Greys were confirmed to be a good choice which was a relief considering my life-long commitment to grey clothes. It was also a relief to hear that I could wear black (apparently winters are the only season that can) which is convenient as it’s a good staple. Although I did find this surprising as I’d always assumed black would wash me out. It was the same with white, another colour I’d assumed my pale skin would need to avoid, the soft whites of linen and lambs wool are apparently fine for me in smaller quantities. It was also interesting to see that I could wear very pale, ice colours. There’s no way I would have thought those suited me but, again, in smaller quantities, maybe as a top to wear under a jacket or as an accessory, these would provide a good contrast to the strong colours that I could wear in larger quantities. It was somewhat unfortunate to discover that I’ve been dying my hair the wrong colour for approximately the last 15 years. Warm red tones are out, cool brown shades are in. Ah well, you live and learn!

Then it was time for my makeup. We’d been told to come to the session bare-faced so an accurate assessment of our skin tone could be made. First primer and foundation were applied. The name of the foundation Fiona selected for me, China White, gives you some idea as to my lack of swarthiness. Fiona added some flattering blusher and suggested I was the sort of person who needed to wear blusher in order to lift my complexion out of the realms of the undead (she didn’t word it quite like that but that’s what I inferred). Then it was lipstick time. I’ve never been very good with lipsticks. Eye makeup has always been my forte; I have an extensive collection and am confident with its application. So I’d always sort of avoided lipsticks assuming that in combination with strong eye makeup it would be a bit much. But also when standing in front of row upon row of lipsticks in a department store display I’ve just never known what colour to go for. Safest to stick to some faintly tinted lip balm, I’ve always thought. But with Fiona matching the lipsticks to my complexion suddenly I had the gift of certainty and confidence. I bought two lipsticks, a lipliner and a blusher. House of Colour have their own makeup range and although it’s not the cheapest in town, I decided it was just easiest to buy these precisely matched shades that I knew flattered me rather than later dithering in Boots wondering if the cheap makeup I was clutching really did match the colours in my little booklet.

With the makeup purchased and my little wallet of winter season colour swatches and the booklet containing the colour ratings, I finally had the knowledge I needed to start making more informed choices about clothes. I now knew what colours suited me and what to avoid. I knew which colours I should wear in which quantities and how to combine different colours. I knew the full spectrum of colours that were available to me and it was so much more varied than I’d expected. And, most importantly, I understood the principles and theory behind it all. So impressed was I with the service and all that I had learnt, that I signed up for the style consultation class there and then. After all, I was as clueless about what styles of clothes suited me as I had been about what colours suited me. I didn’t want half measures, if there was more information and knowledge to be gleaned then I wanted it.

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When I got home I compared various items of clothing to the swatches in my wallet. I was interested to see that actually more clothes than I might have expected did in fact match my season. Maybe I’d had more of an idea than I’d thought I did. Although there were a few notable exceptions – I’d always thought browns were pretty good on me but they’re a no no for winters and the green I’d always favoured, khaki green, was also not in my season. This was causing a serious malfunction in my logic circuits – on the one hand, for my sense of order and equilibrium, I needed to be able to trust Fiona’s authority on this matter but on the other hand lots of people had always told me that that particular green looks good on me. I resolved to ask her about it when I went back for the style consultation.

My homework from the colour consultation was to wear the lipsticks every day for three weeks. They looked disconcertingly bright in the familiar environment of my bedroom but, being a goody two shoes, I would dutifully fulfil this homework assignment. I guess after wearing them for three weeks you get used to looking more vibrant and become more comfortable with the more colourful you.

Overall, the colour consultation was great fun and so informative. I felt like I came away from it with a new found sense of clarity and understanding. I now had some guiding principles to go forward with. There’d be no more standing in a changing room confusedly flitting between different coloured tops with simply no idea which to buy. Instead I’d just compare them to the colours in my little wallet and viola! Decision made! Rather than the haphazard array of mismatched clothes I currently owned I could slowly, as finances allowed, work towards building a wardrobe with a sense of cohesion and harmony where clothes complimented each other rather than bristled acrimoniously and refused to get along. Finally the clothing cold war, the unspoken hostilities between me and my garments, was coming to an end; we were entering a new and hopeful period of rapprochement.