A Design for Life: KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design – Clothes Part 1

“To put your house in order is to put your life in order and prepare for the next step. Once you have dealt properly with the current phase of your life, the next will come to you naturally”. With the desire to actively forge and fashion my ideal lifestyle, based on Kondo’s declaration that tidying can help “create a bright and joyful future”, I once again turned my attention to my clothes.

I began, as previously, by pulling everything out of my wardrobes and drawers as per Kondo’s instructions. I was feeling very motivated and buoyed by the confidence of having a new litmus test with which to judge my clothes. Not only would I question whether they sparked joy but also whether they were in my colours and style. And having first decluttered my clothes over a year ago, I had the added barometer of whether I had worn the item in the past year. Even my booklet of information from House of Colour urges one to be merciless, saying that if you haven’t worn something in a year, you won’t wear it again now you know the colour doesn’t suit you. I also had less fear of being left with too little. Inspired by capsule wardrobe ideas such as Project 333 and even The 10 Item Wardrobe, I knew it was possible to look perfectly good with fewer clothes (not that I was intending to implement such a hardcore regime!). Plus, from the last two clothes decluttering sessions, I didn’t regret discarding a single thing. The one thing I had initially lamented the loss of – a brown cardigan that matched my green trousers – I now knew wasn’t even in my colours. My initial feeling that I should get rid of it had been the true feeling. The later regret that it was the only thing that matched the green trousers had been masking the fact that the trousers weren’t in my colours either!

I piled all my clothes onto the bed. Well, this was insane! How on earth did I still have so much stuff?! I stared in disbelief at the mountain of clothes. I had thought this would be a quick process but I hadn’t reckoned on the fact I still owned so many things. I began a new discard pile with the easy pickings of a collection of cardigans that weren’t in my colours. Then I picked up my green hoody. This hoody had been with me through thick and thin over the last few years. But it wasn’t in my colours and one of my most fashionable friends had been trying to prise me away from it for as long as I’d owned it. It now represented the me that I’m trying to move away from – the default casual, tomboy who only makes an effort if there’s a good reason to. If I’m going to buy into the idea of lifestyle design, of actively living on a daily basis the way I want my life to be, of living it now rather than only on special occasions or in some mythical distant future, then I was going to need to cut the umbilical cord that kept me tied to these types of clothes. Kondo says that if you let things go they will come back to you “as the thing that will be most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness. A piece of clothing might come back as a new beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection”. And how was creativity, inspiration, a new house and even Cupid going to find me if I persistently looked like a slob who didn’t want to be found? So goodbye green hoody, emblematic of the skin I’m trying to shed. It was quite emotional to add it to the discard pile but maybe in getting rid of it I could indeed make space in my life for something new to come along. Maybe something (like a new house or even a man!) that will represent and provide me with the warmth and security that my hoody has given me. Maybe someone who will look after me and be there for me through thick and thin, someone to rely on, just like my trusty hoody. If one is seeking a romantic connection, Kondo assures readers that tidying can “help us set our love life in order”. She says her years of work as a consultant have made it clear to her “that people who haven’t yet met someone they really like tend to have accumulated a lot of old clothes and papers”. With love and romance having been distinctly lacking in my life for a pitiably long time and with this towering pile of clothes blighting my room, I knew it was time to get ruthless.

In the same vein as the green hoody, I added both my pairs of tracksuit bottoms to the discard pile. They too had been constant companions over the past few years. But without the tracksuit bottoms, I would be forced to make more of an effort. I wouldn’t be able to regress to slobbiness with no slobby clothes to wear. It seemed like a bold move to rid myself of all tracksuit bottoms but if I was trying to create my ideal lifestyle then these two pairs were definitely not part of that vision. And there was no way Cupid was ever going to find me while I was wearing either of these baggy shapeless things. He would skip right on over me, his marksman’s eye caught by the beguiling livery of someone who actually looked like they were trying to attract a mate. I told myself that once I’d experimented with making an effort on a daily basis then I could potentially buy a new pair of tracksuit bottoms that fitted me nicely and looked good if I decided that hangover Sundays just weren’t complete without a comfy pair of trackies to lounge around in.

When it came to my t-shirts, my newly acquired ruthless credentials got another workout. I had too many that I’d teamed with my tracksuit bottoms i.e. slobbing around, unflattering ones, the type I wouldn’t wear if I intended to meet anyone, yet I’d been more than happy to wear them on a regular basis when I didn’t plan to see anyone. Some were not in my colours nor style but most were just so far removed from being even remotely cute or stylish. Ideal lifestyle? These t-shirts were doing nothing to make that a reality. Off they went, leaving me with just a few remaining t-shirts and the resolution to keep my eyes open for tops that could straddle the spheres of being comfortable and relaxing but also worthy of being worn when interacting with other humans. On top of that, I added a whole host of insipid jumpers, mostly grey in colour, none of which sparked joy and most of which didn’t even fit me well. I also discarded the grey work trousers that had been critiqued during the style consultation. Why do I own so many unflattering grey things?! Slipping the trousers on one last time, I now couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought they looked good. How quickly I’ve got used to my new eyes that can now see what works and what doesn’t! Similarly, I could now see the problem with a red dress, the existence of which made me feel guilty as I’d only worn it once and it hadn’t exactly been cheap. But now I could see that it clearly wasn’t in my style. Its large full skirt just didn’t look that good on me. If I pulled it tight into a pencil skirt shape it was much more flattering, then it had the neat, tailored lines of my gamine style. As I put the red dress in the discard pile, I bid thanks to it for helping me to see how the style principles work in practice.

There was an extensive cull of my jackets as I rooted out ones that weren’t in my colours, style nor aspirational lifestyle. These included an ancient denim jacket that was too wide, a big, bulky North Face jacket that I’d bought in New York in 2005 and was actually meant for 12-year-old boys, and both my rain macs. One of these I’d bought in Vietnam and, as well as not being in colours, its waterproof qualities (quite fundamental to its purpose as a rain mac) had never really filled me with confidence. With the Vietnamese rain mac in the discard pile, I slipped on my other rain mac, a green one that was in my colours. This I had been expecting to keep but I stared with incredulity at my reflection. This mac was absolutely huge. How had I not noticed this before? I looked at the label. Men’s size medium. It swamped me. Why on earth had I bought it?! I suspected I may well have been pushed for time in the purchasing of items for my first backpacking trip in the year 2000. And only being a couple of years past my heydey of wearing ridiculously huge men’s t-shirts in the mid-90s, I think maybe it hadn’t looked that big to me at the time. But a giant unflattering rain mac did not fit with my idea of a curated life so I added it to the discard pile with much heartfelt thanks. This rain mac had been with me from the start of my adventures. It had looked after me in the inclement climes of far off lands and had come with me every time I’d been to Glastonbury. It was a sad farewell but my hope was that it could go on to live a happy life with a medium sized man who would get much joy from its superior waterproof qualities and handy stuff sack.

My last pairs of harem trousers were also unexpected casualties of this final clothes cull. I hadn’t necessarily expected to get rid of them but trying them on, I suddenly knew it was time. Harem trousers are only really happy in their natural habitat of India and with no plans to return anytime soon and their elastic beginning to wilt I decided to set them free.

I undertook a totalitarian purge of my knicker drawer, a place that had already seen its population decimated in the last culls but still seemed to be teeming with unnecessary members. I mean how many pairs of knickers did I really need when I do a wash on average of once a week? I seemed to have so many bog standard black pairs from Marks & Spencer’s. They were my uninspiring but reliable daily staples while nicer ones waited patiently in the wings for their moment in the spotlight which never came. In a decisive move, I took all the bog standard black pairs from my drawer. No longer would there be the segregation of best and bog standard – in the socialist utopia of my underwear drawer, all knickers would now be for wearing daily. Rather than add all the bog standard blacks to the discard pile, I initially put them in a corner of my wardrobe. I decided to see if I could get by with just the knickers that I had been saving for best. If it turned out I didn’t have enough, I could then reinstate a few bog standards.

In the time between doing that and writing this blog post, I’ve not once had to resort to putting on a bog standard black pair. I have enough nice pairs to see me through to each wash and now I get to wear nice knickers every day. Kondo says your joy sensor should be set to maximum when it comes to underwear as, although it goes unseen by others (for the most part), it is in direct contact with your body. The same goes for socks. The socks you wear at home are important, she says, because they are the contact point between you and your home and you should, therefore, choose ones to make your time at home more enjoyable. I, however, had been guilty of wearing “make do” socks around the home. Although I’ve never been one for wearing socks with holes, I would often choose to wear less pleasing socks around the house on the grounds that I would save nicer ones for going out. Yet again I purged the socks, keeping only a small number and getting rid of any that weren’t comfortable, made my feet too hot or had patterns I no longer liked. Creating and curating my ideal lifestyle would be built from the socks up!

Leggings were another category that I unexpectedly annihilated. I had amassed an extensive collection from when I did a lot of dance classes and had found they were handy to wear under skirts. But leggings under little skirts was a girlish look that wasn’t really my style. The amount of leggings I had took up a lot of space in my drawers so I decided to reduce the ranks to only two pairs – one knee-length pair and one full-length pair. I ummed and ahhed for ages, going back and forth between the many pairs, trying to decide which two should be the chosen ones. Then I just thought fuck it and threw the entire lot in the discard pile. I had only worn one pair once in recent memory and that was at the style consultation when we had been specifically told to wear something like that. Without direct instruction to do so, I couldn’t envisage actually choosing to wear a pair of leggings. My leggings for yoga were a separate matter, those being sports leggings made of a different material, but these “fashion” ones? Nope, I just never actually wear them. Was it foolish and wasteful to throw out every pair of leggings I owned? It seemed an audacious and radical move as a woman to not own a single pair of leggings. But I couldn’t see how cheap leggings which I never actively choose to wear would constitute part of my ideal lifestyle. And, in adherence with The Minimalists 20/20 Rule, and with all the high street shops only five minutes walk away, it would be no hardship to source another pair if the need suddenly manifested itself.

As I worked my way through the pile of clothes, it was interesting to see that I had quite a physical reaction to some of the items – some were too itchy, or too tight, or too hot. Hurriedly and breathlessly pulling them off again was a sheer relief. Regardless of my reasons for saving them in the last two culls, this time the bell tolled for them.

I paused over some of my travel clothes. A green pair of North Face trousers and a beige pair of walking shorts – neither in my colours. Then there was a grey pair of North Face trousers, in my colours but the elastic on the belt loops was sagging and curled and they were really quite wide-legged, more so than I’d remembered. And a pair of walking boots, not in my colours, which looked a little battered but when I slipped them on they still felt great – so comfortable and supportive. However, these were ankle length walking boots and on my last trip I’d swapped their weight and bulk for a lower rise walking trainer. But ultimately, I decided to keep all the travelling things given that they had all been very expensive and were still eminently practical. To discard them because they weren’t in my colours or were a little old seemed incredibly wasteful.

One thing I realised, as I assessed all I owned, was that I had been a bit neglectful with my clothes. There were things that needed repairing and shoes that needed reheeling and polishing. I certainly wasn’t going impress the house network like this. I dutifully polished all my remaining shoes and took other items to the cobblers and dry cleaners for repair. I resolved to take better care of my things in future and not let little jobs fall by the wayside meaning my possessions languished in an unloved state. Through the process of decluttering, you inevitably foster a greater appreciation for and desire to take better care of the things in your life, Kondo says. By living mindfully in a carefully curated space it then also leads to taking better care of yourself and helps you recognise and do something about habits that have not been serving you well.

Now that my clothes had been thoroughly and comprehensively KonMaried, all that was left to do was store and discard…


KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design: Creating and curating your ideal lifestyle​

I’d had such grand plans over the summer to really make headway through the KonMari process. Surely the halcyon days of the lengthy summer holiday would mean I would finally reach the milestone of tackling the komono category. Yet, somehow the weeks had slipped away through a wormhole of odd jobs, business about town, and the heady thrill of saying yes to all sorts of social engagements usually turned down due to the general workload and exhaustion of teaching. And suddenly here I was, staring at the dying embers of the last days of the summer holidays. And what was reflected in the glow of these embers? Not the sleek, tidy, minimalist abode of my dreams, but clutter here, there and everywhere.

Kondo warns that temporary clutter may well appear during the tidying process and, sure enough, things were piling up on the various surfaces in my room. Feeling the effects of not having finished the other categories yet, clusters of badly organised, ramshackle komono had taken up squatters rights in various places, giving my room a disordered, messy feeling and making it hard to store things that should have had a designated home. Not only was there komono clutter but I was starting to spot items from the categories I’d already tackled that now seemed ripe for decluttering themselves. A good example of this were the scarves that hung from the hooks on the back of my bedroom door. Although I’d already weeded out a fair number in the first two clothes decluttering sessions, as I gazed upon them hanging there I felt, instead of joy, the prick of annoyance. I realised that not only do I hardly wear any of them but that the door area would seem a lot more peaceful and calm without their gaudy presence drawing the eye.

Added to this was the fact that having had the colour and style classes with House of Colour, I could now spot newly unmasked traitors nestled amongst my clothes – items that were neither my colours nor style and were thus unlikely to be worn again with anything approaching enthusiasm and joy. Writing up the blog post on the style class had focused my thoughts on the importance of wearing clothes that make you feel good. As I mentioned then, my default home-wear was the slobbiness maximus combo of a hoody, t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms (often worn in a mix of colours that would have made Fiona, my House of Colour guru, bite her knuckles in horror). But inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s assertion that making an effort to look and feel good can do wonders for the propagation of your creativity and Kondo’s manifesto on creating your ideal lifestyle, I had decided to make a concerted effort with both my attire and my living environment.

At first this was hard to remember. I would sit down to start writing or be about to head out to the shops when I’d suddenly remember I had no makeup on. In some of the empty days of the summer holidays, with no plans to meet anyone, it seemed a waste of makeup to be putting it on for no particular reason. But, with a grudging sense of duty, I’d apply the basics of Touche Eclat, powder, blusher and mascara. I’d also try to put on clothes that I’d actually be happy to meet friends wearing rather than the sorts of clothes that might encourage security guards to follow me around Marks & Spencer’s. Again, this felt like a waste. Wouldn’t it be best to save my nicer clothes so they’re lovely and clean for when I do go out to meet people? And rather like a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it, if I wear my nice jeans around the house with no one there to see me, does it actually make a difference?

It didn’t take long to realise that making an effort with my clothes and makeup really did make a perceptible difference to how I was feeling both about myself and the day itself. I’d catch glimpses of myself in a mirror and be surprised by the pleasant looking reflection staring back. “Gosh, you look nice!” I’d think to myself. I also felt more ready for the day, more prepared, more like I was actively participating in it rather than skirting around the edges hoping not to be noticed on account of looking a bit scruffy. This video is a nice summary of the difference that making an effort can make. I particularly like the part about how you feel much more ready, willing and able to do something social when there’s no effort involved in saying yes because you’re already all ready to go. And there’s even science to back up the idea that clothing has more of an effect on us than we might like to admit. As explained in this episode of Invisibilia (from 31 minutes in), what we wear can affect not only how we feel about ourselves but even our intellectual abilities. Professor Adam Galinsky, from Columbia Business School, has shown that wearing a doctor’s white coat can make people perform better on attention tests. In fact, the participants wearing the coat made about half as many errors as the participants in regular clothes. And when they were told that the exact same coat was a painter’s coat, its magical test-acing properties evaporated. Just looking at the coat had no effect but there was something about putting it on that imbues the person with all the beliefs associated with that particular piece of clothing. Ergo, if you want to feel good about yourself and on top of your game, dress in your finery, and if you want to feel professional and confident, dress for success. They’ve even coined a term for this powerful symbolic association that clothes afford the wearer: enclothed cognition. With scientific fact supporting the idea that what you wear matters, I realised it was time to up my game in the daily fashion department.

Wearing my nicer clothes on a daily basis with no intention to see anyone initially seemed like it would be subjecting them to needless wear that might hasten their degeneration. But having decluttered my closets already, I was aware that clothes don’t last forever anyway. I need only think back to my collection of sexy knickers patiently waiting for their Prince Charming to come. Their hibernation had not been the cryogenically frozen state of stasis I had imaged it would be and, when unearthed, I had discovered time had taken its toll. In their drooping, wilted elastic was the lament to wear nice clothes on a daily basis. The special occasions you save things for are few and far between (and possibly never arrive). Best to make the most of your nice things and enjoy them while you can.

Thus it is important to enjoy your things in the here and now, enjoy their physical presence while they can give you their best and also reap the psychological benefits of feeling good about yourself and engaged with the day. But Kondo goes further than just urging you to appreciate your possessions in the present moment. She asserts that how you live on a day to day basis can help you create your ideal lifestyle for the future. A thorough declutter and tidy up can, she says, forge new paths and connections in your life, creating a vibrant and happy life, a life that seems as if it’s “been touched by magic”.  Tidying is, she says, the tool rather than the final destination. By undertaking it, you press the reset button on your life bringing about “dramatic changes” and making it possible to “achieve the lifestyle to which you aspire”.

One passage in Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy, seemed to hold particular relevance. She addresses the question of whether to undertake your tidying marathon before or after moving house. The answer is a resounding “before”. If you are looking to move house and haven’t yet found one, she urges you to begin tidying right away. By tidying up your current house and treating it and the things within it with the proper respect they are due, it sends a message to the “house network” that you are a worthy house dweller and this attracts another house to make itself known and available to you. Kondo says that many of her clients have found perfect and beautiful homes that are just right for them once they’ve tidied up and taken good care of the one they currently reside in. Now I’m currently in the market for a new house. I seek a reasonably priced one bedroom flat – a distinct rarity in London Town. Twenty years of living communally in a rotation of houses and housemates has finally grown wearisome. Which serves as a reminder of how one changes as they age. Once I remember declaring that I would always want to live communally with housemates because it was just so much fun. Just like I also remember swearing that I would only ever listen to Radio 1. Yet now I find the DJs silly, shouty and jarringly ebullient and as for the music…well, it seems entirely forgettable, jejune and, boy, they sure don’t make it like they used to, huh? Now I crave the peace, solitude and space of my own one bedroom flat where I can relax, undisturbed by others, listening to 6Music and Radio 2. If push comes to shove, then no, of course, I don’t really believe in a “house network” that gossips like ladies of a certain age about how clean and tidy you keep your house and serves as arbiter of whether you’ve proved yourself worthy of a prime piece of real estate. But rather like the atheist who sends a prayer to god as their plane falters in the sky, I figure I’ve got nothing to lose by believing in my time of need. Kondo claims that the “god of tidying is sure to reward us” when we tidy up thoroughly and decisively. Anyone who has ever tried to find a reasonably priced one bedroom flat for single occupancy in London will attest that only an act of divine intervention will achieve this feat. Thus, rather like Fox Mulder: I want to believe.

This seems to be one of the main differences between being a minimalist in America compared to one living in London. A lot of the reading from America extols the virtues of eschewing the American Dream of owning a large house in favour of a smaller dwelling. If only that was an option for me! What I want more than anything is just a little flat of my own. I would be perfectly happy in a tiny place. But my regular google searches of “micro-apartments London” yields only Pocket Homes as a viable result and there I languish on their waiting list. Not having a significant other to share the millstone of London rents severely limits your options. It’s like a tax on being a single person. Can’t get a boyfriend? Well, you can’t have a nice flat either! London, you’re such a bully. But you’re so cool that I want to be your friend anyway.

“Only when you know how to choose things that spark joy can you attain your ideal lifestyle”, says Kondo. So with the desire of currying favour with the house network combined with the active pursuit of designing and curating my ideal lifestyle, I set about decluttering again. Despite yearning to get to komono, I knew I had to revisit and audit the categories I had previously tackled: clothes, books and paperwork…

KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: The Je Ne Sais Quoi of Style

Having just about got my eye in with the colours, it was time for the next stage of my quest to discover some sort of style and fashion know-how. I’d been so impressed with the colour consultation from House of Colour, that I’d booked in for their style class which promised to help me understand the language of clothes. Like with all foreign languages, I didn’t appear to be a natural with it. In fact, I’d say my understanding of the language of clothes was about on a par with my French: extremely basic but able to get by while being expressed with faint embarrassment. My clothing comprehension was the equivalent of being able to awkwardly order a ham and cheese baguette at a service station somewhere in France. I don’t particularly like ham and cheese baguettes but when hungry it would suffice. That’s basically how I felt about all the clothes in my wardrobe.

I had been keen to go shopping straight after getting my colours done but I had held off, knowing I needed to wait for the style class. Without this key part of my education, there was every chance I might end up buying things in the right colours but in an unflattering style.

Decluttering my wardrobes with the KonMari method had shown me I was a bit lost with knowing what suited me. Historically, I’d favoured a tomboy approach to fashion but I had also attempted to experiment with more feminine looks. However, whether tomboyish or not, everything I owned seemed a bit too youthful. I needed something to reflect my age, I needed to know what would be stylish and flattering as I approached my 40s.

Before the class, I tried to muster some thoughts about style and what suited me. I considered that showing off my slim waist was a good idea. However, slowly but surely I’d slipped past the age for crop tops (plus, it’s not the 90s anymore). I also couldn’t do things that required much cleavage as I am not asset-rich in that department. Possibly due to my lack of womanly curves, I have to be careful not to end up looking like an awkward teenager when wearing dresses. Although I sometimes try to wear skirts, in general, I’m just not a massive fan of them and much prefer trousers. This is mainly because I like to sit like a man. It’s comfortable and I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that crossing your legs gives you varicose veins. I’d always thought that trousers that were fitted around the bottom and with a bootcut were flattering on me (again, though, it’s not the 90s, love.) Recently I’d gone for mum-style jeans, which are much roomier around the bottom and hips, as they’re in fashion. But as a work colleague said to me, “You’re almost 40, you’re much too old to be trying to follow fashion. Go for style instead, good style never goes out of fashion”. She speaks the truth.

Should I be going for girlier shoes, I have often pondered. My more feminine friends tend to disapprove of my sensible footwear. But I have a lot of dedication to flats and have never managed to cultivate that cliched love of shoes that so many women seem to be afflicted with. I love to both walk and dance so comfort is my number one priority.

And I actually have really no idea about what tops look good. For work, I tend to favour a vest top with a looser chiffon type blouse over the top. But for casual or going out tops I have no clue. I don’t really have anything I’m happy with or that I would consider stylish. Help was needed!

Before the session I was a tad worried about my fellow consultees. I knew there would be about three other people there and I was concerned they’d be a group of friends who would whisper behind their hands, scornful that I was there. Two decades of being dismissively told “You’re so lucky, you can wear anything because you’re a skinny bitch!” does make one a little wary of conversations surrounding clothes. It’s also really hard to know how to respond to that statement. I normally just favour a weak, nervous laugh.

On the day of the consultation, I arrived back at Fiona’s abode and was introduced to the other women. I needn’t have worried, rather than a close-knit group of friends they had also all come as individuals and were a range of shapes and sizes. They were all remarkably similar to me in that we were all professionals in our mid-to-late 30s and early 40s. And each said they felt quite lost and clueless about clothes, stuck in a rut and unsure how to dress for their shape and age. Phew, not just me then!

We all sat down and were handed our work booklets. The first pages required us to discuss our objectives for the day and describe how we want to be perceived. I explained how my journey through minimalism had brought me here and how my realisation that I needed some education about style dovetails with the minimalist ideas about owning fewer, better quality clothes that you love. As for how I want to be perceived, I decided upon cute, stylish and nothing that requires too much effort! I also need to adhere to the dress code at school and take heed of the fact that I teach a lot of teenage boys. Interestingly, everyone else also mentioned their need to dress in relation to men. They worried about trying to make sure tops weren’t too tight or revealing and that skirts were appropriate for work. And they spoke of trying to get the tone of professionalism right when they might be the only woman at meetings, of trying to walk that fine line between not being too casual and not being perceived as too stuffy and buttoned up. How interesting, I commented, from a feminist perspective that we should all reference our need to dress in relation to men’s perceptions, whether that’s the teenage boys in my classroom or all the men in the boardroom. Everyone looked faintly like they agreed but clearly no one else wanted to discuss feminism and the sisterhood and would all rather be talking about clothes. Which was fair enough really considering that’s what we were there for.


We perused the lifestyle pie chart which was next in our workbooks. The idea here is that you shade in sections of the pie chart according to where you spend your time – be that work, home, social activities, hobbies or holidays. The areas where you spend most of your time should have the most money channelled towards them. After all, there’s no point buying loads of party dresses if you actually very rarely go to parties. Luckily there is some clothing crossover for my pie chart – most of my time is spent at work (boo) but those clothes can be shared with my hobby of swing dancing. The fact that there was a segment of the pie chart dedicated to home reminded me that I needed to get something comfortable but not too slobby to wear around the house. My default home-wear is to languish in tracksuit bottoms and a hoody. However, Marie Kondo says this is to be avoided if you are trying to create your ideal lifestyle. She says that what you wear in the house impacts on your self-image and the fact there is no one there to see you makes it all the more important to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love. The importance of not going to seed when home alone is echoed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book on creativity “Big Magic”. In order to entice creativity and inspiration to come to you, you should seduce it by presenting your best self, she says. Take a shower, put on some nice clean clothes, do your hair, makeup and accessories and you will draw creativity to your side. Sprucing up my loungewear could help me feel good about myself and my appearance on a daily basis rather than just when I dress up for going out (I’m always quite surprised at how well I manage to scrub up once I actually put some effort in!) Plus, it would remove the embarrassment I feel when I’ve popped out to the shops looking scraggly and then bump into someone I know.

Skim reading over the page in the booklet about capsule wardrobes made me realise that I had a lot of shopping to do. A capsule wardrobe was one of the minimalist ideas I had wanted to embrace but looking at House of Colour’s list of recommended items I saw that I didn’t really have any of these basic staples. Nothing about my mishmash wardrobe, that at best could be described as eclectic and at worst schizophrenic, said chic mix and match style. There was even a handy grid in the booklet so you can create a visual checklist of what items match each other. It was all so formalised and logical – something I find very appealing!

Fiona then led a discussion about the importance of budgeting and buying investment pieces and gave us tips on the various ways we could tell if a garment is actually good quality. She encouraged us to move away from the habit of buying lots of cheap clothes and move towards a more intentional mindset of buying good quality clothes that will last and will work cohesively with the rest of our wardrobe. She also gave us tips on how to get the most out of the shopping experience, such as to go round the shops about once every six weeks, to wear appropriate clothes and makeup so you can properly assess if things match, and to buy items when you see them rather than panic buying in the run up to a job interview or party – something I’m definitely guilty of!

We also discussed wardrobe management which included the advice to file your clothes into categories, just as Kondo recommends. There was also the good suggestion of creating a pending section to hold clothes that need something doing to them. This would alleviate the severe vexation of hurriedly pulling out a blouse only to discover that you never did get round to sewing that button back on.

Apparently, 55% of the first impression you make comes from your appearance, with what you say actually counting for very little, so it’s easy to see why clothing matters and, especially in a professional context, why it’s important to strike the right note with your attire. Fiona explained how items like shoes help connote status, authority and attention to detail. Some of the advice had quite a psychological basis. For example, the idea of neck adornments such as necklaces and scarves conveying a sense of jugular protection and authority. Continuing the idea of symbolic protection, apparently, your bag represents your shield so you should make sure it’s up to the job. Using a variety of different bags, Fiona demonstrated how different ones can create different perceptions about you. And apparently what comes out of your handbag is your entrails! Previously my entrails had been a scrumpled mass of receipts, semi-used tissues and rewrapped used chewing gum. However, since reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I’d tried to implement Kondo’s rule on emptying your handbag every night which means I have a chance to process the day’s detritus.

Then we looked at a checklist for creating an interesting appearance. You basically get points for how many interesting features you combine in your look. I scored a paltry three for wearing make-up, rings and a watch. It would appear that I counted as “underdressed”. Foul! I called when one of my fellow consultees got a point for her curly hair. I have curly hair too!, I objected. I have big curly hair, it’s a thing! I took it down and shook it out. I was then granted an extra point. This gave me pause for thought – considering I count my hair as a feature it would seem that I need to be making more of it. I conceded that having it pulled up in a scrunchy isn’t exactly showing it off. Unsurprisingly, I received no points for my battered Keds sneakers or denim rucksack. I watched as one of the other women harvested points for her nice bag and cute little ballet pumps. It made me see how the little things can make a difference to your overall look. The fewer points you have accumulated for your appearance, the less ready or authoritative you seem. Fiona demonstrated this by removing points from herself. She removed her lipstick and jewellery, swapped her stylish jacket for a drab cardigan, and changed from smart, cool shoes to older, dowdier ones. It made such a difference to her appearance. She went from put-together, professional and stylish to looking like someone’s ordinary mum. If she’d looked like that to conduct the class, there’s no way I would have put faith in what she said which goes to show the difference your appearance can make to your authority.

After much discussion and expounding of theories and principles, we were ready to start identifying our own personal styles. I was raring to get going – enough chit-chat, tell me more about me! We had been instructed to wear something that showed our body shapes so, one by one, wearing leggings and vest tops, we all took our places in front of the full-length mirror. In our booklets, there were diagrams of five different body shapes. These weren’t the usual pear, apple etc but had names such as “sharp straight” and “soft curved”. Fiona talked us through her assessment of each of us. Pointing out my angular shoulders, Fiona deemed me to be sharp straight. Within sharp straight, there were the subcategories of rectangle or triangle, with my small waist putting me within triangle. Then it got even more technical and specific. Fiona pulled out a tape measure and began measuring different segments of our bodies – from head to bust, bust to leg break, leg break to knee, and knee to toe. With all the information collated, Fiona described, with an impressive and reassuringly thorough level of detail, what we should embrace and what we should avoid in order to create balance for our proportions. The analysis covered everything from where detailing on clothes should go, where belts should be worn, what sort of necklines worked best (I should go for high & tight or angular necklines and avoid curves or drapes), flattering coat, skirt and dress lengths, right down to what length of boots should be worn. Just like with the colour consultation, it was this sort of precise in-depth analysis that I was after. We all had different body shapes which were useful for seeing and understanding why some things worked for some people and not for others.

Fiona also scrutinised our faces to determine their shape. Despite poring over countless articles in magazines over the years to ascertain my face shape and its corresponding flattering hairstyles, I’d never been entirely sure what I counted as. The choice of ten different face shapes in our booklets was much more nuanced than those I’d seen before and I was declared to have a diamond face with an angular jaw and average to long neck.

Included in our booklets was a quiz to determine if we were yin or yang personalities. Who doesn’t love a good personality quiz?! There were 20 sets of binary opposites and we had to say which side of the opposition we fell under. We discussed each one which was useful as some of the questions weren’t what I’d thought they’d be. One opposition asked if we were formal or informal. I had been all ready to put a tick in “informal” assuming my preference for informal casual clothes would yield this result but, in fact, it was nothing to do with that. Fiona posed the question “Would you like it if someone dropped round your house unexpectedly?” Nope, not at all – which thus put me in the “formal” category. One of the oppositions was “mature and sophisticated” vs “natural and youthful”. Fiona proposed that I would fall under the “natural and youthful” category and hesitated to see whether I would agree with this assessment. No one has ever accused me of being mature, I assured her. One I was thoroughly stuck on was “risk taker/rule maker” vs “plays safe/follows instructions”. Now I’m a big believer in following instructions. Instructions are there for a reason, people. They’re so informative, so helpful! Yet on the other hand, I have been known to take some astounding risks. Like the time I taught myself to ride a motorbike, a ridiculously huge Royal Enfield Bullet which I couldn’t even lift off the ground, and then drove it over the third highest motorable road in the world (the scar on my ankle is a testament to how that adventure ended). I recounted the motorbike story and everyone decided that my smug adherence to instructions was definitely trumped by the undertaking of such activities and I was placed squarely in the risk-taking category.

The “chucks out” vs “hoards” opposition was interesting. I used to be a hoarder (not in a getting suffocated to death by piles of newspapers way, more in a “I should probably keep this because one day it might be useful” way) but now, as a minimalist, I’m definitely more in the chucking out category. Should I choose what I was for three and a half decades or what I’ve been in just the last 12 months? Fiona suggested I should go for “chucks out” as, after all, something must have drawn me to the minimalist lifestyle. Then there was the opposition of “decisive” vs “indecisive”. Well, sometimes I can be decisive – if I weigh up all the options and there is a logical conclusion then I am very decisive, for logic and reason has spoken. But if there’s no obvious answer, well then yes, I can be terribly indecisive….as I continued to mull upon this out loud, one of the other women turned to me and pointed out that if one can’t decide whether they’re decisive or indecisive then that’s pretty damning evidence for being indecisive. Ok, yes, strong point, I’ll give you that. I glanced over her shoulder at her booklet – she’d already given herself a firm and resolute tick in “decisive”. We finished the quiz and added up all the points. I was a definite yang personality, the most so out of all those there.

With our personality scores added into the mix with our body shapes, it was time for the big reveal: what style category we would be. The different categories were: Dramatic, Classic, Natural, Gamine, Ingenue, and Romantic. There were mood boards for each of these styles depicting clothes that exemplify and flatter each one and also pictures of famous people who match them. My fellow consultees and I had already scrutinised these mood boards while Fiona had been upstairs making tea. Just like with the colour consultation, I had no idea which I would be. As we listened with bated breath, Fiona told us the category she’d placed us in and the reasons why.

I was “dramatic gamine”. This meant I was predominantly gamine but with some dramatic in me. We were handed information sheets about our styles. I was pleased with mine – the words to describe gamine included quirky, neat, impish, boyish, youthful, witty & fun – I could definitely work with this! Like everything in the consultation, it was unexpectedly and impressively thorough giving specific advice for ensuring a gamine look in everything from fabrics, patterns, shoes, accessories and more. But here was an anomaly! Hairstyle: “Short, neat and snappy”. My hair, long and curly, was definitely not this. Fiona reassured me that my hair could count as a dramatic element of my look. Other elements of dramatic that I could consider adding included sharp angles, contrasting colours and “zany” fabrics and details. Once again, I realised I was going to have to be braver. Never quite knowing what suited me meant I had tended to shy away from anything too outré for fear that I would draw attention to myself for the wrong reasons. A useful section on the sheet was what to avoid – for gamines that’s anything too loose or baggy, anything that would swamp our neat, fitted look. I was relieved to see that trousers are a particularly good look for gamines and that we’re advised to stay away from shoes with very high heels. Finally, a bona fide get out clause for my aversion to high heels! Although, it also stated gamines should avoid shoes that are too clumpy and I thought guiltily of my Dr Martens.

As part of the consultation we had been told to bring three items of clothing for review – one item that we thought looked good, one item we were unsure about and, if possible, something we didn’t think worked well for us. I had settled upon three different pairs of work trousers and had thrown a shirt in too. We changed into our different items and all discussed what worked, what didn’t and why. I started with the pair of trousers I didn’t particularly like. However, my reservations about them turned out to be unfounded – everyone agreed that the slim-fitting, tapering legs matched my gamine style, was flattering for my figure and the turn-up detail on the bottom counted as cute styling. I had clearly judged these trousers much too harshly! Then I swapped to the pair I thought looked ok – a pair of bootcut trousers. But oh no! Everyone said these were much less flattering. I had thought the bootcut looked good and provided more balance than the slim-legged ones but apparently I was mistaken! There was too much fabric at the bottom and it was too loose, they looked all flappy and had too much movement, they said. Oh dear! Clearly I had no idea what suited me! But hence the reason for doing this consultation. Then I put on the trousers that I was pretty certain looked good and added the shirt too. This combination of shirt and trousers had drawn many compliments at school. The trousers were khaki green and the pattern on the shirt also contained this colour. This was the colour I had been baffled about after the colour consultation for this green was not a winter season green yet people had said it looked good on me. The collective complimented the look – the styling was perfect for dramatic gamine. The neat tailoring of the trousers and the shirt buttoned right up provided the boyish gamine while the geometric pattern on the shirt added a touch of dramatic. This was a winning combo. But what about the colour, I enquired, don’t you think it matches my eyes? Fiona pulled out the fabric bibs used in the colour consultation and draped me in the allegedly wrong and allegedly right greens. The difference was clear. The right green, the winter season green, was met with oohs of appreciation whereas the the wrong green, the khaki green, elicited hmmms of disappointment. The right green complimented my pale skin, they said, made it look striking whereas the wrong one washed me out. So it might match my eyes but apparently, it did nothing for my skin! I slipped out of the clothes and back into the trousers I’d arrived in. These were also given a critique for good measure – too shapeless round the bottom was the conclusion, not tailored enough, and should be made of stiffer material. Jeez, I’d thought these ones were ok!

The last thing we looked at was jewellery. Fiona adorned us in a variety of different necklaces so we could see how the same necklace could look completely different on different people. What looked interesting and fun on one person looked cheap and trashy on someone else and something that looked delicate and pretty on one looked lost and insipid on another. I discovered I needed necklaces that would sit quite flat against me and would hang around the clavicle. Also, jewellery that was too sparkly and feminine didn’t work that well with my gamine aesthetic.

With the session drawing to a close, we were given extra handouts on jacket, trouser, skirt and dress styles and final instruction on detailing and accessories – the shape of lapels, types of patterns to go for or avoid, and what style of handbags and belts would compliment our looks. Fiona also noted down which specific shops we should aim for to provide clothes for our style categories. This was useful as I find the sheer amount of shops to choose from quite overwhelming.

Then it was time to go. I emerged back onto the street at the tail end of the day. There was a beautiful light and the crisp, clean air seemed to heighten my senses as my head reeled, filled to bursting with all the new information I’d acquired. I’d learned so much I almost couldn’t process it all. I would need time to revisit my notes and let it all sink in.

When I got home I threw open my wardrobe and surveyed my clothes. I could see the problem – hardly anything was in my gamine style. Most things were too baggy and not fitted, tailored or neat enough. Of the few clothes that were in my style, most were not in my colours. I could count the items that matched both my style and colours on one hand. But this was great! I could now actually see and understand the problem!

The whole consultation exceeded my expectations, even more so than the colour consultation. The level of detail and analysis was such that I now have guidance and certainty in my styling from head to toe. Now when I go shopping I know what to look for. I can skim around a shop thinking, nope, nope, nope, oh yes – that would work! The time I can save now I don’t have to dither! The confidence I’ve gained! It’s a revelation! Now when I look at my clothes I look at them with newly literate eyes. Instead of a vague dissatisfaction, a nameless, formless malaise and ennui, it’s a specific, targeted, semantic understanding. I can look at an individual item and see the exact reasons why it works or doesn’t work. Clothing no longer speaks to me in tongues. I can now read and articulate the language of clothes and, with this new lexis, I feel as liberated as someone who has finally mastered the local lingo and gets a thrill from communicating and being understood.