Accepting my reality and celebrating my personal style that fits it

It’s been two years since I first began experiencing symptoms of the rare autoimmune disorder I’m living with. It’s fortunately very responsive to medications and I only rarely experience symptoms now, and when I do they aren’t the worst ones. But my gums are still sensitive—I can’t eat food nearly as spicy as I used to, and I wasn’t a heat fiend by any means—and my torso basically won’t tolerate a waistband. Bras can only be of the very softest kind—we’re way beyond “no underwire” here—and its a grudging negotiation. Thank goodness for overalls.

Seriously, Carhartt saved me. I loved overalls as a kid and when, desperately trying to figure out what to do with the “no waistbands” problem in January of 2018, I finally ended up reading a clothing discussion on an IBS forum and saw “You could always wear overalls, I guess, ha ha! :D” it was a hallelujah moment. Amazingly, that was just when they were on the cusp of becoming fashionable. When I was at my most vulnerable, dealing with all kinds of discomfort and anxiety from my diagnosis, the disorders, and the medication side effects, I would go out in my Carhartts and get sincere “I LOVE your overalls!” Such a blessing at that low point.

It’s been a year and a half. I’ve weathered the body distortions of the corticosteroid Prednisone—which redistributes your fat and gives you moonface—along with having some weight gain from profound fatigue interfering with my ability to exercise.

me in July 2017, 2018, and 2019
Prednisone can radically change your appearance to the point where you start not looking like yourself to yourself in the mirror. It is deeply unsettling and compounds other possible side effects, anxiety and depression. Oh yes, and something in the mix has also changed my complexion, but that’s minor in comparison.

Now that I have tapered Prednisone down to 1mg/day, and hope in a month to be able to continue weaning my body off it, I’ve got a lot more energy, a lot fewer side effects, and a lot more confidence in taking on something like a wardrobe refresh.

Now overalls are not something that leaps to mind as the obvious thing to build a capsule wardrobe around, but I am up for the challenge. I’ll be on these medications for at least another year or two, probably more, and while I’m looking and feeling WAAAAY better (thanks!), overalls are gonna be my jam for a good long time to come.

Time to lean in and embrace overalls as the core of my style. And why not? They bring me constant compliments everywhere I go!

So, today is the start of my building a greatly pared down wardrobe. Time to let go of a lot of stuff that’s been sitting in the way, not being wearable, and find the good pieces hiding behind it that work with my current lifestyle, body, and style.

I began over the past week by reading and watching a lot about capsule wardrobes and finding your style.

Caroline Joy of un-fancy.com has some good stuff including this high-level set of notes on how to create a capsule wardrobe.

I haven’t done the full questionnaire but I’ve started thinking about a lot of the questions here in this free printable wardrobe planner also from un-fancy.com.

Use Less on YouTube has lots of great advice. Here’s the Capsule Wardrobe Guides, but also check out the other playlists.

What all this has brought me to is deciding my clothing tends to fall in 6 categories (with the last three each being used a tenth as much as any of the first three):

  • Routine (Lowkey Lapgoat* Ready)
  • Out and About (Routine out of the house)
  • Get Togethers and Shows
  • Mess Making
  • Hot & Lazy (a.k.a. tropical climate vacation)
  • Fancy Time

My day-to-day life sees me bouncing from typing at my desk to watering plants in the back yard to cleaning to meditation. I want a comfortable, practical, unfussy, friendly, relaxed, cheerful wardrobe.

My style goals are:

  1. Have a great base of would-wear-every-day items
  2. supplemented with things to dress up fancier but still feel comfortable and radiate Dinahness
  3. and built around items that encourage me to be active and creative.
  4. Keep my look well-coordinated to offset the casual comfort with color and texture poise.
  5. Keep black as one of my core colors because I look great in it.

So the first step to making that easy, is to look at what I have.

I gave myself clear space in the bedroom for the job—cleared top of the dresser and the whole surface of the bed—and pulled out and rough sorted almost everything but jackets and underwear/leggings in half an hour.

I roughly sorted things on the bed, colder weather on the left and warmer on the right, with stripes across the bed for my six categories (and my most used categories nearest the foot of the bed for easy access).

What was clear at this point was:

  • I had totally forgotten about some great stuff I already had (because it was in drawers that didn’t have daily items)
  • I have a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit and I’m only beating myself up by holding it over myself like some kind of body-conformity sword of Damocles
  • All that stuff folks say about you actually having MORE style when you work with a smaller, more carefully curated wardrobe is clearly true.

Time to pull out the rest of the clothes!

I pulled together my core colors: black, chocolate, the greens of forests and mosses, and (probably) cognac—because that’s the color my preferred medium-light weight overalls come in. (Carhartt Crawford Double Front Bib, which I get from Zappos)

New unwashed pairs of overalls bracketed by faded pairs on the top here. I don’t actually like the faded color of the cognac/caramel (“Carhartt Brown”) that much, but I needed to be able to switch it up somehow over the past year and a half.

Anyone who has been in our living room will laugh because you can find all those colors there.

Using this advice I’m going to try dyeing a few faded pairs in the washing machine. If it works, cognac/caramel becomes an accent color not a main color.

Having my main palette represented in actual garments made the next step go quickly.

I held every garment piled on the bed (except the black ones) up to see how well it went with each of my main colors. As I went I laid them out with the best matches nearest to me.

Sadly, my custom buttondowns from Kipper Clothiers (shirts 1, 2, and 4 from the front) are still too tight around the armhole to wear comfortably. Almost to the wear-them-unbuttoned point though!

It’s amazing to see so many of the greys that were the core of my wardrobe moving off center stage, but with a changed complexion and chocolate brown coming in as a new main color, they need to make room for greige.

That choice to bring chocolate brown in as a main color is surprising since I basically own nothing that color besides these overalls. But I’ve been wearing these about half the time for over a year and a half, so they’ve had a good test. 😀

I need more green and to add brown, but I’m fine on black as you can see.

So, taking stock after a couple hours work on this, I had confirmed that my sense of the categories of my clothes matched reality when I rough sorted them. Then sorting by color allowed me to direct half a dozen items or so to the charity box (e.g., some blueish-gray shirts).

I had created a prioritized (by matchiness of color) set of things to try on and make sure they actually fit.

The trying on is the most physically tiring part, so I’m set a timer for 30 minutes to see how far I got. When it went off at 10 minutes to 4pm, I chugged on through up to the hour and got through all the Main colors and all but a couple dozen pieces of those arrayed along the floor beside the bed.

My plan, after trying on those last pieces, is to take the stuff that fits from the laundry basket where it was thrown in the fitting frenzy and arrange them in the now empty drawers. I think I’ll group them by Category and within that by cold/middling/hot (we have very variable weather here in San Francisco).

This went way faster than I feared.

*It’s great to be ready for unplanned baby goats in your lap.

Creating Space to Be Myself Now

One of the key lessons for me of the past few years is that it detracts from my wellness to try to have both my list from before the various crises in my life and my list of what I need and want to do now. However much I say, “oh well that old list is on the back burner”, it is still bubbling and using my mental fuel. I can’t have two #1 items, even if I tell myself that one of them is not active for the moment. I gotta recalibrate and bring it together in one calm vision for myself.

The best thing about accepting that is that the process of integrating my expectations of myself is an inherently therapeutic process. Though the enhanced calm is important, most of that benefit is coming from really giving myself permission to drop things. Not just shove them back ‘for right now’ (i.e., years), but let them go. Discardia is good for the soul and for reducing that overwhelmed, inflamed feeling.

The biggest change is re-orienting myself to my writing and other creating. I am refocusing myself on the creative work and away from the idea of producing products on a particular schedule. It doesn’t make anyone less of a Real Writer to give a work the amount of time it needs to come to fruition. Nor is it mandatory to bring out a new book every couple years. The publishing industry would like you to, but I don’t write for a publisher; I write for myself and my readers.

As I’m sure a lot of stay-at-home parents or others who are outside the paycheck economy have struggled with, validity is not measured by take-home pay. Much of our culture sends a different message, so it takes work to find solid footing to appreciate yourself and what you do. In my case finding that footing is helping me recognize a few “to-do” items on my list which were more cargo cult enacting of “being a publisher” than necessary to the process of writing and sharing my work.

One thing that prompted some of this change is that the medication I was prescribed about a year ago limits me to two cocktails a week. I find I really can’t be an active cocktail writer under that constraint and I don’t want my work and my wellness to be in conflict, so I’m giving cocktail writing a big “I love you, man, you’re the best, no I mean it, I love you, all you guys” sloppy hug and going home.

Not writing a sequel to The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level lowers the need for a lot of the capital P publisher infrastructure we’d created. Simplifying that part of my life is some of the work I’m doing this month and I’m already enjoying the lightness it is giving me. I don’t have to put out a book this year because it’s been “too long” since the last one. I don’t have to feel guilty over a long list of posts and essays I thought at one time that I’d write. Cool ideas! Okay to let them go!

This exercise in looking at where my time vs. where my mental energy goes vs. my actual current priorities has also unveiled some time sucks that I can prune away. Goodbye, Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you. You make me anxious and distracted and frankly, you have too many nazis and misogynists and racists and homophobes and paranoid dudes who think giving babies free food is gonna take food off their own plate. Ugh. Good riddance to that distraction.

I looked at the carefully curated list of accounts I followed, added a lot of them to the website feed reader built into WordPress.com, let go of the “need” to keep up with some, and made a monthly reminder to check the other two that couldn’t go in the feed reader to see what they’ve been up to. Then I added the Switcheroo Chrome extension to redirect me to my WordPress Dashboard every time I try to go to Twitter.com. It feels fantastic and I am already getting a lot more done with my day.

Yes, I’m on Mastodon, but both it structurally and my decision of the number of people I follow on there are designed to be very quick to keep up with. It doesn’t devour twenty minutes of my time multiple times a day in the way Twitter can.

I’m excited about this paring down and focusing. I’m excited about the space I’ve created for healing and for whatever creative projects I want to do now. I’m grateful to myself for the permission to let go, to be done with things. My shoulders feel lighter.

I’ll be posting more in the coming days as I part with some of these past projects. I hope you enjoy this somewhat random tour through my interests. 😀

Switching

This afternoon and evening are about choices, changes and letting go. I have decided to no longer own a PC, so I’ve been going through all my boxed software and setting aside items to sell or give away. I’ve also come to the realization that I love DVDs and hate tv, so I really don’t need all these videos. More things go on the sell or give away piles.

Hard to part with items that are available for Mac or on DVD are going on my Amazon wishlist. Ah, and that has prompted me to update my list, a task which does not seem to go well in Mozilla 1.1. Which means the switch away from Microsoft Internet Explorer won’t be happening just yet.

In a month and a half I’ll be looking for a new apartment to switch to, but after a sudden shopping trip this evening (“Oh no! I need another teaspon of turmeric for this recipe! And I’m out of frozen organically grown peas! And I want an extra strong Jamaican Ginger Beer!”) which was completely successful, I am feeling reluctant to move out of range of my lovely neighborhood market, Nabila’s.

[San Francisco readers: If you know of a quiet studio or one-bedroom apartment that will be available in mid to late January or on February 1st which has rent under $1150, no upstairs neighbors, a gas stove, enough room for a California king size bed, more than 6 feet of kitchen counter space (or room for a kitchen table) and an easy route to BART, please drop me an email at this domain. Thanks.]

I begin to think that my first decade or so was for learning about the world around me, my teens were for learning that world didn’t revolve around me, my twenties were for trying new things and my thirties have shaped up to be about focusing on the things I like and which really matter to me. I hypothesize that my forties will be about living that optimized life and seeing if it is as good as I hoped, perhaps adding to it or paring it down further. How about you? What are the themes of your life so far?

A few tips

– When you have too many lemons or limes or oranges and some are going to spoil, slice some thinly and then freeze the slices. Use them in place of ice cubes in water glasses.

– Sliced bread can also be frozen and used for toast with no ill effects.

– In cities, you can pay people to do laundry for you instead of going to the laundromat. The clothing comes back folded and you will get string which you can use to make a ball. Whee!

– Every year, take a day to go through your closet and pull out items to go to Goodwill or sell/trade at Buffalo Exchange or similar second-hand stores. If you’re keeping an outfit purely for sentimental reasons, but you actually never wear it, see if there’s another way to keep the sentiment and not have the outfit taking up space. Could you take a picture of it and keep that? Or make a pillow or scarf out of some of the fabric? As you go through the closet, watch for items you don’t recall wearing in the last year. If you can’t bear to part with them right away, mark them with a clothespin on their hangers. If you wear the item, take off the clothespin. Six months later, get rid of all the things that still have clothespins on them. During this process, it’s a great idea to take everything out of the closet, vacuum in there and then put things back sorted by type (shirts, pants, etc.) this really saves time when getting putting together an outfit when you’re half-asleep in the morning or just going for a particular style (“Hmm, soft comfy pants and a flannel shirt. Which flannel? Ah, red. Good.”)

– You will make clothing shopping less horrid if you pick just a few colors as “yours” and ignore things that don’t fit your palette. It also makes your clothes more flexible as more things can be worn with each other. For example, my main colors are sage green, very pale pink, very pale blue, cream, taupe, black and greys from dove to charcoal. For fun, non-work clothes I also still wind up buying red things, but those go with the greys and blacks.

– Paradoxically, the best way to feel like you have more is to get rid of things. Weeding out things that no longer need to be in my home (that juicer I never use, those books I’ll never reread, that old beloved decorative object which has morphed somewhere along the way into just a thing to dust) always leaves me uplifted and energized and draws my attention back to those things that do still matter to me.

– The library now rents CDs, videos, DVDs and software in addition to books.

– Ben & Jerry’s CoffeeCoffeeBuzzBuzzBuzz does not make a good bedtime snack.

Give Yourself Simple Pleasures

[Here’s an incomplete draft of a post found in January 2004 when I was working on getting all my content published in TypePad]

When you’re feeling a bit low, sometimes you’ll find yourself wandering about looking for something to lift your spirits.

choose something which will remind you of that lazy afternoon and refresh your senses every time you use it

memory and smell

Pacifica lemon grass soap

Zum Bar goat milk soaps, especially their Clove-Mint scent.

Burt’s Bees bay rum exfoliating soap