BTR: Creating a Home Retreat for a Traveling Professional

Room: Wardrobe (all clothing) and Bedroom

Hours to Complete: 10.5

Main Objective:  To open up floor space and lighten the feeling of the cramped room by removing duplicative furniture and clothing the client no longer inspired creativity or joy.

The Details:  Client K approached us to redesign her bedroom.  As with all bedrooms, we start with clothing.  Its a crucial first step because it illustrates how much actual storage a room needs, rather than what might appear necessary while the wardrobe is bloated with outdated and underused clothing.  

Thankfully, K already had plenty of practice creating what we call an Essential Wardrobe.  For work, K often travels to Europe for weeks at a time.  In living out of a carry-on suitcase, she was forced to distill to her most practical, versatile, and loved pieces.  Yet while she was able to travel with a select capsule, K's wardrobe at home still had an abundance of clothing that she was not longer using or inspired by.

In the before image, you can see that there are two large dressers in the room.  There is one on the left of the frame, and one near the windows.  We determined that it would be best for flow and the limited floor space to reduce the clothing so that we could remove one of these dressers.  Not all pieces of clothing can be hung or folded, and we knew that by removing one of these pieces, we would need to create drawer space elsewhere.  In the after photo, you can see how much bigger the room feels with one less piece of furniture.  Now K can easily access her windows and city views!

Above is a photo of one of the two armoires in the bedroom.  We decided to make up for the lost drawer space by adding a free standing set of Elfa drawers here.  Now workout clothing and undergarments have clear homes, extra linens are stored above, bags and scarves to the side.  

K placed two armoires flanking the head of her bed.  We all agreed the armoires added nice definition to the space and K liked the cozy sleeping nook they created.  However there were a few design and feng shui elements we needed to remedy.  

If you look closely in the before image, you can see that the bed was not pushed against the wall but instead had several suitcases and a full but unusable bedside table behind the headboard.  This ate into the already-tight floor space and not being against a wall creates a slight sense of unease while lying in bed.  We decluttered all the items under and behind the bed, finding new homes in the hall closet and in the newly decluttered dresser for the small group of keeps. 

For a finishing touch, we added custom cabinet pulls to the drawers.  This small detail had a huge impact of tying the armoires into the rest of the décor.

By thoughtfully editing her gorgeous shoe collection, we were able to easily fit all of K's shoes on her rack or neatly tucked in the base of the closet (rather than in a large pile like before).  The biggest difference to notice here is that all of K’s winter coats and long dresses now live here in a neat and orderly fashion.  By relocating her long hanging items to this closet, we freed space in one of the armoires to make space for a new shelving unit.  Plus, having her jackets close to entrance of the space makes for an easier transition out the door. 

This shot looks towards the entrance of the bedroom.  You can see the second dresser before was cluttered with daily-used items, and the back of the door was full of jackets and scarves.  We completely emptied this dresser and removed a the majority of makeup (which was expired or out-of-date) and donated a bag of costume jewelry and accessories.  Afterwards, this piece of furniture neatly housed all makeup, non-bathroom toiletries,and office-related materials. With the mirror now, the countertop is clear and able to serve as a proper vanity.

A final look at the beautiful space!

BTR: Hayes Valley Studio, Part II


Room: Walk-in Closet (including Elfa installation) and Supply Closet

Hours to Complete: 8.5

Main Objective:  Customize the closet to serve multiple functions of clothing storage, dressing area, landing zone and art archival storage.

The Details:  The closet is a very important design element in any home.  If you can properly utilize closet storage so that it meets your specific needs, then the rest of your home will remain clutter free.  This was the main objective for our client, “M”, and we were so thrilled that she was willing to invest in customized Elfa storage to make it happen.

Having just moved from a large loft to a small studio, M was using the large walk-in closet as a temporary dumping ground for boxes of archived art and personal mementos.  The clothing had no storage option, so aside from the few items which were hanging, most clothing ended up in piles in the closet and in the main room.

After understanding M’s habits and storage needs, we determined that a custom Elfa storage system would work best here.   That way, we could use half the closet for clothing and the other half for archival art and office storage.  Elfa is a sturdy, well-designed product we truly endorse!  We even have some clients who have successfully taken their Elfa systems to 3 different homes. 

Tip:  You must first declutter before diving into the Elfa game.  Knowing specifically what items need storage will determine what type of system you invest in.  Know your needs before entering the Container Store.  Elfa designers at the Container Store are trained to maximize your space.  If we had approached an Elfa designer without a plan, we would have ended up with twice as many drawers and wasted time with a second trip to the store to return unused merchandise.

Here we implemented simple pull-out drawers to hold all M’s folded clothing.  We included a top shelf to act as her dressing area and a designated place to corral keys, jewelry and sunglasses. A few hats easily hang from simple nails in the wall.  To the right of the frame we placed M’s coat rack and installed a few hooks.  Whereas before all of M’s currently in-use bags and jackets ended up on the bed or couch, now with an official “landing zone” these items won’t make it past the closet, leaving the main living clutter-free.

Tip:  To add some personality we hung artwork that M really loved but didn’t have an appropriate home in the main living area.  A closet is a great place to show off pieces you love, but that don’t necessarily reflect the vibe of your entire home.

Located across the hall from the walk-in closet is a skinny supplies closet.  Before the decluttering it was serving a few too many purposes.  We determined that M first and foremost needed a place for her quick-grab art supplies and a place for sensitive documents in the event she is hosting a short-term rental and wants to lock items away.  We designated most of the shelving for this purpose.  And we used the top shelf for towels and seasonal blankets.

Tip: Rethink what items you decide to put in each storage area of your house. Just because you have a “household supplies” closet does not mean you have to store household supplies there. For our client who regularly creates art, it meant primarily using this easy-to-access closet for her art supplies.

Finally, curious about what happens in between?  Here is a behind the scenes photo of the sorting process in all its beautiful chaos. 

Winter Capsule Wardrobe: The Big Reveal

It hardly feels like it, but I'm just over three weeks into the official Winter Capsule Wardrobe Challenge.   Below are some early takeaways and my complete Winter Wardrobe!

Having a capsule wardrobe is:  Liberating, creative, and pleasurable.    

Benefits:  There is something so fulfilling about wearing every single item in my closet, and not because of the challenge, but because I genuinely love each piece.  The biggest surprise to me is how creative I've become with my clothing.  I'm conscious of trying each of my 37 items out and combining them in unique and creative ways.

What was hard:  It was strange to need to prepare for a start date.  It's kind of like how before you get in the car for a road trip and you pee 3 times beforehand, but as soon as you sit down you panic that you maybe need to go again?  In this first go round I struggled with feeling confident that I have everything that I needed to last me until April.  

22 days in, I can tell you that without a doubt I do.  I've had the full spectrum of experiences, aka: been hiking for 4 days, hosted a cocktail party, worked with a half dozen clients, had a cold, been on date night with my husband.  So far I've literally needed nothing.  

What I focused on: Layers.  Winters in SF are temperate (mid to low 60s during the day, low 50s at night).  But the sun/wind/rain/fog can make it feel like summer some days and a Pacific Northwest winter others.  Just switching the sunny side of the street to the shade can require 2-3 additional layers.  

Layering pieces: lightweight sweaters, 3/4 sleeves, tees and tanks.

The Details:

Tops: I started with a few great basics for bottom layers: grey and blue tanks, grey and white tees, grey and white longsleeves and a few sweaters.  I know this makes my wardrobe sound heinously boring, but the variance in texture, shape and material provides a lot of depth.   I then added in a few nice silk tanks and tops, as well as patterned and collared long sleeves.  Capped it off with a couple of easy sweaters and a pair of blazers.  

Bottoms: For pants I went super basic, sticking with a core of dark garments: stretchy high waisted jeans, classic denim skinny jeans, black skinny jeans.  Something I learned recently in my work is that medium to high-wasted pants are key.  I spend my days bending, lifting, grabbing things under couches and on top of shelves.  The last thing I want to worry about is exposed underwear (!) or lower back.

Dresses: A knit sleeved dress for cozy days, a black sheath dress with an exposed gold zipper up the back for cocktails and when I'm feelin' fancy, a blue silk belted dress that can go from work to party.  

My three winter dresses.

Shoes: My basics include

  • black leather booties;
  • cowboy boots, these might be duplicative, but I cannot imagine a day when I will let go of my 10 year old, perfectly broken in, 4x resouled Tony Lamas;
  • suede booties, fun for in cocktail and slightly nicer day-to-day;
  • gold flats, can be worn to work or with a dress;
  • TOMS, are great day-to-day and post weekend hikes; 
  • Converse high-tops -- my go to everyday shoes.  They're grey (oh my god, I'm starting to freak myself out with this grey thing) with black leather accents.  And while I'm not the type who thinks that therefore makes them fancy, I do think it makes them a serious upgrade from normal sneakers;

Fancy shoes have historically been challenging for me, because: 1) I'm already quite tall and 2) I hate anything which might impede my ability to dance my face off.   But Cam recently told me he thinks high heels (worn on rare occasions) are sexy.  Hello, information that would have been useful 7 years ago!  And I've learned from several clients how investment shoes really can make a massive difference in levels of comfort.  So now I got myself a baller pair of Manolos (ebay) that make me feel amazing even in my normal black sheath dress.

Jackets: I have a range of key jackets to work with the large weather swings we experience in SF.  Leather, patterned (awesome for on top of all that grey:), green winter coat, olive drab light weight coat.

Jackets to take me through San Francisco's varying winter weather.

Jackets to take me through San Francisco's varying winter weather.

Non-Counted Items

Scarves:  Though they're not a part of my core 37, I did limit myself to 3 scarves.  An oversized deep-red patterned scarf, a navy basic in a quality silk, and a grey knit infinity.  The three range from dressy to cozy to bohemian, which I love and suits my various wardrobe needs.

Jewelry: I also paired down my permanent jewelry even further even further.  Key has been the addition of a Madewell gold bib necklace and Whitley Paige necklace.  Plus my Bittersweet mala-style necklace (an old Christmas gift from my mother-in-law).  Again, these three can be worn over cocktail dresses, over a t-shirt and jeans, over my yoga clothes all to help me feel instantly pulled together but also very me.

Added to this are my wedding rings (which I love more than anything) that I wear separately or together depending on my mood (or how swollen my fingers are:).  Plus a few bangles/statement bracelets.  And, my very favorite new addition in the world, my gorgeous Circle + Hide watch.  It is a conversation starter for sure, something I get compliments on whether I'm wearing it with a dress or to a yoga class.  Interchangeable bands help me dress it up, but my day-to-day leather band feels perfect for me, relaxed but elegant, full of personality but also timeless.

Bags: To close everything out I have my work bag (Mijlo backpack), my small crossbody Coach purse, and my daily black Foley & Corinna purse.

Other clothing:  In doing this challenge of my day-to-day clothing, I've also seriously reduced my workout and lounge wear.  Now that I have clothes I love, I tend to stay dressed in real clothing even at home, even on weekends, even early in the morning.  And I actually really like it.  A few items of clothing that I've loved but in the process I realized are past their prime I now use as yoga cover ups and hiking layers.  I love this because I don't feel like an overly spandexed out lady in my casual life and I can run to a meeting or even a client in my workout gear but looking really put together (see statement necklace, gold flats, sweaters).

The best part?  

Knowing that I'm not going shopping for the next several months.  This gives me a break in my budget (much needed after the holidays/ in prep for wedding season) but perhaps more importantly, it gives me a mental break.  I don't have to worry about sales, I can unsubscribe from all retailer emails, I don't need to consider the windows of the stores I pass by.  Though I haven't been a big shopper for years, this mental pause of knowing I'm not shopping. at. all. It's really spacious.

What about you?  What has been the biggest benefit?  What scared you the most going into this challenge?  Have you found yourself tempted to shop or to swap out items?  Please share below!

Capsule Wardrobe Challenge: Let's Go (micro) Shopping

Image //  via .

Image // via.

Can you believe that 2015 is just a sleep away?

I personally got sucked into vortex of preciousness known as my nieces and nephews back in Chicago and got a little behind on the Capsule Wardrobe.  Luckily with my list and budget in place, I know exactly the few items I need to procure before January officially begins.  

And, of course, though this is a Challenge but also meant to be Fun, if we happen to kick-off a day or two late it ain't no thang.  

That being said, and this might be the one time you'll hear it from me -- it's time to go shopping! 

Or micro-shopping as I'm calling it, because let's be honest, we don't want this to spiral into some Cher Horowitz-worthy Galleria binge.  

So before you run screaming to the mall with all your credit cards flying out of your pocket, let's get clear on the rules.

In a Capsule wardrobe, mediocre items have nowhere to hide.

Capsule Wardrobe shopping rules:

  1. Stick to your list.  This is the key difference between shopping as you previous knew it and shopping as a minimalist.  Gone are the days when you wander around the mall seeking inspiration and leaving with 3 sale sweaters that don't fit right but were such a good deal.  Know where the holes are in your closet and allow your current pieces to inspire you before leaving home.
  2. Stick to your budget.  Remember, you set your budget not only to be mindful or minimalist, but also to inspire creativity and for the thrill of a challenge -- don't cheat yourself out of that!  (Also, I've included a few friendly tips below if you find your stash dwindling.)

Capsule Wardrobe Tips (to make following the rules a bit easier):

  1. Shop vintage/used.  My November shopping spree is a great example of why vintage rules.  Theory silk tank = $7.  Zara blouse = $10.  Bad ass vegan leather jacket = $25.  Sure, shopping vintage can take more time and a bit more patience, but the payoff can be huge, especially when you're looking to make a budget stretch.
  2. Swap with friends/family.  Growing up with two sisters, I essentially had 3 wardrobes to chose (steal) from.  I never realized how massively this impacted my clothing choices.  Now as adults living in different states, we still get together and give each other items that we might be sick of ourselves but are still in great shape. 
  3. Don't shop sales.  Now sales aren't all evil, what I really mean is don't buy something just because it's on sale.  If there happens to be an item on your list which fits you perfectly that is also on sale -- then by all means buy it.  But don't let rosy-colored sale goggles make you end up with an item you don't love.  In a Capsule wardrobe, mediocre items have nowhere to hide.
  4. Repair what you already have.  When you invest in good pieces, they tend to stand the test of time.  But much like a car engine or amazing hair cut, they do require some maintenance.  Rather than getting a new pair of boots, get your old pair re-soled and polished.  Find a leather shop that can fix the strap on your favorite purse.  It costs a fraction of buying new and is kind to the earth.  Win - win.
  5. Alter what you already love.  I've found as my wardrobe gets smaller, I've become more and more particular about fit.  Through my 20s and into my 30s I've discovered certain shapes that work for me.  I've also discovered that few things feel more glamorous than a garment tailored specifically to your measurements.  For $10-$20 you can update an old favorite to make it truly fit you.  

Share with us in the comments below! 

What tips have you used in the past to stay on budget?  What are you most nervous or excited about as we get closer to January 1st?   

Capsule Wardrobe Challenge: where are your holes?

image  via

image via

Just joining the Capsule Wardrobe Challenge?  Check out Week 1 then swing back here to get up to date.

To recap: From January until April I'm going to be wearing only 37 items -- my Capsule Wardrobe.  

Oh, and I really want you to join me.

I ended sticking with 37 garments.  I like the number and the fact that it feels challenging but still leaves me with hundreds of potential outfit combinations.  

About 31 of these items are much loved pieces from my current closet.  Those items in my current closet that didn't make the cut for this Winter wardrobe were divided into 2 camps:

  1. Donation.  This option was for any item which, when faced with the possibility of having to wear it bi-weekly for a few months, left me cringing or at least feeling uninspired.  Since this is my first Capsule Wardrobe, I applied this philosophy to whether that garment is in season or not.
  2. Storage.  This category I used for out of season items that I love (jean shorts, bikinis and a few summer dresses) AND for a few very special winter items that I adore but don't fit into this finely tuned capsule (about 5 items).  All in, everything I'm storing fit into a bin about the size of 3 shoeboxes.

I also decided to take Lisa Gordon's tip and not include scarves in this final number (check out her amazing advice in the comments).  There is a chance that all my accessories will fit in the original group of 37, but this challenge is meant to be joyful, so I'm not going to force it.

This Week's Focus: Find the holes in your capsule and set a budget for acquiring them. 

If we're being totally honest, knowing that I get to purchase 6 new items is both super exciting and slightly daunting business.  

After spending so much time paring down and getting rid of things that don't spark joy, I'm thrilled to add some new pieces to my wardrobe.  But I also want to be sure I'm super thoughtful about getting the right things -- which is why this week prepare for intentional wardrobe additions (aka: shopping!).

1. What's missing?   

I used to shop by walking into a store and letting inspiration hit me.  If a certain color I loved was in style, I might walk out with a sweater, scarf and shirt all in that same shade of green.  Or if a salesperson told me those uncomfortable shoes were just meant for me -- well I'd purchase a pair or two  (likely to be donated many years later without a single wear).

Working within a Capsule Wardrobe necessitates viewing all your garments as a part of a greater eco-system.  You'll need to account for a range of temperatures, levels of formality and moods, but with only 37 items, you'll also want each garment to work with most of the others in terms of style, fit, and function.  

When I look at my wardrobe, I realize what I am missing most are items that can be worn alone or layered to achieve varied degrees of warmth.   Being cozy, loving and patient are some of my core desired feelings for this winter -- and I know I feel none of those ways when I'm dealing with tight shoulders or numb fingers.   

As I prepare to fill out my 37 item Capsule Wardrobe, I’m going to be focusing all of my extra items and creating a solid layering system and acquiring a few really warm pieces.   

2. Create a budget. 

For my winter Capsule Wardrobe Challenge, I’ve set my budget at $300.  Now of course you can set any budget you'd like, but keep in mind the intentions behind this are both minimalist and for this to be a challenge, so set accordingly.

I've ear-marked $300 on my Mint budget pages, so I will know exactly when I've spent that cash.  However, as I've shared before, I’m all for creating extra money through non traditional routes.  So, if I end up selling old clothing or finding a gift card, I am not counting that against my $300. 

I do this not to bend the rules but to encourage the resourcefulness and play that I’ve developed with my things.  I view 90% of my items as temporary and as such I'm always willing to sell, alter or trade them when it seems right.  The excitement of bringing in new things is made that much more intense when I know that I’ve cleared room for them.

Please share your budget and any tips you use for shopping below!

Next Week:  Fill out your wardrobe

Week 4: Finalize and document your wardrobe.

The 11 Decluttering Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

At the very core of it all, the reason we simplify our things is to increase the quality of our lives.  

As New Minimalists, we believe that less time spent organizing, cleaning, tending to and hunting down our things, the better.  Instead, we use those precious hours every week to practice our art, enjoy our hobbies, give and connect to our communities, savor relationships with those we love and those we've just met.

Then why is it so hard to get rid of the things that are clearly holding us back from living this life?

Most of our clients have attempted to declutter on their own before calling us in.  They're already clear on all the potential benefits to their lives by simplifying their homes and aware of the pain and distraction their clutter is currently causing.  They know they want kitchens with clean counters and have entire pinterest boards of minimalist closets.  But for some reason they can’t release the clutter that is holding them stagnant.

The missing piece of the puzzle is not a matter of willpower or desire -- it's actually far simpler than that.  

It's a matter of semantics.  

Specifically, they're are not asking the right questions to reflect the standards they aspire to.  

We hear clients still asking questions like: 

  • “Could I wear this?” 
  • “Might I need this at some point in the future?” 
  • “Did I spend money acquiring this?” 
  • “Did I get this as a gift or from a neat trip?”
  • “Does this item have value?”  

.... all of which lead to holding onto far more than you want, need, or could ever use.   What you really need to be asking the questions below:

11 questions to ask yourself when you are {really} ready for a New Minimalist life.

For items that are “useful”:

1.  Does this item provide a great benefit to my life on a frequent (daily/weekly) basis?  

2.  Is there anything I own that could do this job just as well but I like more/has more uses?

For personal momentos + sentimental items:

3.  Does this item symbolize or tell the story of my relationship with someone massively important to me OR a life-changing experience? 

4.  Does this item give me a profound feeling of love/joy/adventure when I see it?

For items of beauty or decoration:

5.  Is this item so beautiful that it speaks to me every time I lay my eyes on it? 

6.  Does it fill me with wonder and curiosity or settle and soothe my soul in ways beyond words?

For To-Dos and Projects:  

7.  Do I love this project and excitedly anticipate the time each day when I get to work on it? 

8.  Am I working on this project not because I feel I should or people expect me to or I’ve already put so much time into it, but because working on it makes my heart sing?

For Clothing and Accessories:

9.  Do I feel like a goddess/warrior/the most brilliant person in the room/the best version of me when I have it on? 

10.  Of all the clothing items in the world, would I repurchase this exact one today -- even if it cost 2x as much?

11.  Would I seek out a special tailor or seamstress to fix or tend to this item should something happen to it?


Just listen to the answers that come up for you.  

Some will be wholehearted yes's or simple no's.  There will be times when fear and guilt arise, trying to make you hold onto things that you "might need" or that you spent too much money on or that you should finish.  

And then with great love and desire for all the spaciousness and freedom that arises on the other side, choose to let it go.  Choose this new life.  Choose to have faith that life is not in the having but in the living.