Two months of nothing new

Back at the beginning of the year I set myself the challenge of getting through a year of only buying pre-loved or vintage things for myself, the children and the house. Two months in and I thought it was time to review how it’s all been going.

Over the years I seem, somehow (ahem) to have ended up on the mailing list of quite a few of my favourite shops. First thing I’ve learnt is that the Cath Kidston, Boden, Joules, Toast and Jojo Maman Bebe catalogues have to go straight from the doormat to the recycling bin. I just don’t want to look at beautiful things I can’t have for another year!

The second thing I’ve learnt is that I can still get some lovely clothes by going pre-loved. I have recently acquired a beautiful navy and white polka dot dress, a denim tunic dress, some black skinny jeans (mummy essential!), a vintage look denim jacket and a floral maxi dress (anticipating summer  will arrive at some point) for myself, and a stunningly pretty tulip-skirted Jigsaw dress, a Cath Kidston denim skirt and some Gap shorts for Anna via my local Facebook Sell or Swap group. One of my favourite items of clothing Sophia has at the moment is a bright stripy cardi I picked up in the BHF charity shop near us, and she also has a gorgeous pink cotton dress with a bird-cage print from the same source for when the weather warms up.

My total spend has probably been about £40 – which you could easily pay for one item of new adult clothing.

The third thing I’ve learnt is that Ebay can be great, but needs to be treated with extreme caution. Not being able to try stuff on is a problem. I bought a dress for Anna, intended for immediate use, but it is actually something she will need to grow into. Probably in a  couple of years’ time, by which point the tiered tulle style of skirt she craves aged nearly eight might not be what she wants to wear at all! I’m absolutely thrilled with the vintage Cath Kidston shirt dress I picked up for a fiver, and it’s so versatile – it looks great now with thick tights, biker boots and a v-neck jumper over the top, but in a couple of months time it can be worn over leggings with some Converse, and then by itself with sandals once I’m brave enough to get my legs out. The other dress I purchased recently was less successful, however. I put it on this morning, and Sophia, who is developing quite an eye for these things, immediately declared “No. Mummy not wear dat dress. Dat dress not nishe dress. Mummy wear nishe pwitty dress.” Surveying myself in the mirror, it was clear the child had a point. How is it possible for something which is technically the right size to totally flatten your bust, whilst doubling the size of your hips and tummy, and halving the length of your legs? I pretty quickly swapped it for an old favourite jumper dress which does meet with my sternest critic’s approval. And is warm and comfortable too.

January and February is one birthday after another for us. My dad, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, several friends and several children of friends all have beginning of year birthdays. I stuck to the principle of challenging myself to consider whether there was a present they would really like which didn’t involve buying ‘things’, and only heading to the shops if there really wasn’t. So, my dad got home-made chutney and lemon curd (he is impossible to buy for anyway!), my sister-in-law got some vintage 1960s ear-rings and a second-hand book in perfect condition, one friend got a vintage brooch, another friend got a bag I had bought for myself last year and never used but which I knew she loved, another friend’s daughter got a super-cute vintage pinafore dress, and my mother-in-law got a year’s membership of the Royal Festival Hall. These all seemed pretty popular, and actually in many cases, the challenge of not just heading to a shopping mall and waving my credit card around meant that they got a better and more thoughtful present as a result.

So, what have I bought new? Keeping within my self-imposed rules I have bought some knickers and socks for Anna, some shoes for Sophia as her feet had grown, and two pairs black opaques for myself. It’s honestly not exaggerating to say that the cost of these (and they were from Next, Clarks and M&S, so not particularly high-end brands) cost more than all the other clothes I have bought put together! Boden were kind enough to send me a £10 voucher for my birthday (I suspect an unwelcome side effect of this experiment will be that I won’t be a similarly valued customer this time next year!), and I used it to buy Sophia some new vests, having tried and failed to source some second hand. The voucher expired within a fortnight and was non-transferrable, so it seemed silly to waste it. I did buy some new children’s books as other presents, too. Unfortunately secondhand children’s books don’t tend to be a condition I am happy to gift. I also slipped up and bought myself a magazine – it was popped in the trolley at the supermarket checkout without thinking, and it was only when I got home I realised what I’d done. And finally, I have replaced our milk pan, as its nonstick lining started to peel off, and I didn’t really think that was a healthy addition to the children’s morning porridge!

Writing it all down like this, it is shocking just how much money I spend, even when I’m not buying anything new! I am definitely getting a lot more bang for my buck this way, but I think I need to treat Ebay with much more caution during the rest of the year, and possibly consult Sophia before clicking the bid button. And keep my fingers crossed that my family and friends are as entranced by their pre-loved or home-made presents as I hope they are!

I had a fantastic response on social media to the idea of this challenge, with lots of people saying that they felt inspired to do something similar. Do let me know how it’s going for all of you too!



Happy (Nothing) New Year

Towards the end of last year I blogged that I was thinking about making 2017 a ‘buy nothing new’ year for me and the girls. I got masses of enthusiastic support from friends both online and in real life, and so I have decided to go for it. One of the most enthusiastic supporters has been my husband – I think he may be suffering from the delusion that by sticking to vintage and pre-loved I’m going to spend less money. Bless him.

Seriously, though, cutting down on the amount I spend on clothes and shoes and frippery bits we don’t really need is one of my objectives. Another is to reduce my carbon footprint and the amount we are contributing to landfill. Another is to make me appreciate the things I already have rather than constantly seeking something new. Another is to spend the money I do have to spare on experiences rather than things. And the final is to cut down the amount of time I waste in browsing, online and in shops, for things I don’t really want or need. I am hoping to be able to fill that time with more productive or relaxing activities – baking, reading, hot baths, keeping in touch with friends – rather than moaning I have no time and then frittering the brief windows I do have on the Boden website.

So what are the rules? I’m not being super strict, because I don’t think I need to be to achieve those objectives, but I do need a framework to stick to.

  1. I won’t buy any new clothes or for me or the children, with the exception of underwear.
  2. I won’t buy any new shoes, bags or accessories for me, but the children will get properly fitted new shoes as and when they need them.
  3. Food and household products like washing powder etc are not included in the challenge.
  4. Basic toiletries – cleanser, moisturiser, cotton wool, nappies, body lotion, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel – are not included in the challenge. However, I won’t buy any new make-up or nail polish, with the exception of mascara. You’re meant to change your mascara every 3 months to avoid eye infections, and I can’t manage without mascara or with permanent conjunctivitis.
  5. If I run out of my two Clinique must-haves (CC cream and Happy perfume) I will replace, but only if I have managed to save enough money from things which I have sold myself.
  6. I will not buy any new books for me or the children, but e-books are an exception (no waste or carbon footprint!).
  7. I will not buy any new toys for the children, with the exception of specific and reasonable requests for birthday or Christmas presents which I cannot source secondhand. I will replace art/craft items such as paper, card, glue, felt tips and paint as they run out, but I won’t buy new for the sake of it.
  8. Presents for other people are not included in the challenge, because the most important thing to me is that I give gifts my family and friends want to receive. However, I will challenge myself to consider vintage/pre-loved/hand-made/experiential items as a starting point, rather than heading straight to the high street shops.
  9. Presents for us are not included – we will be very happy and grateful to receive anything anyone is kind enough to get us!
  10. I won’t buy anything new for the house, other than like for like replacements of essential equipment (think cooker, kettle etc) if they break.

There might have to be exceptions within the year – for example items required by Anna for a school play costume which I can’t track down second-hand in the time available. Any exceptions like this will be recorded, exactly what I bought and why, so that when I look back at the year I can see how well I managed!

I will be using charity shops, Facebook selling/freegan groups, and Ebay for specific items we need.

Anna has decided that she does not want to join in the challenge with her own pocket money, so she will be free to spend her £1.50 a week on whatever her heart desires.

I’ve got off to a flying start, getting a pile of free tights and some t-shirts for Sophia, and a beautiful, barely worn, pure merino wool Cos sweater for myself for just £15 via the wonderful Walthamstow Sell or Swap.


Really interested to hear your thoughts, and see whether anyone wants to join me. I’ll be blogging regular updates on how I get on and my pre-loved bargains. Oh, and a very Happy New Year!

Something old

There was a bit of an autumnal chill in the air this morning, so I pulled an old tweed jacket out of my cupboard to go over the ubiquitous skinny jeans and Breton top mumiform. Anna immediately commented on how nice I looked, and asked if the jacket was new. It most definitely isn’t, it’s just that she hasn’t seen it for a while –  last autumn it didn’t fit me post-Sophia, and the autumn before it didn’t fit me pre-Sophia, and I don’t suppose Anna can remember three years ago! tweed-jacket

When started to think about it, I realised it must actually be one of the oldest items in my wardrobe. When I bought this jacket, from H&M (who says they don’t make things to last!), I was 22 years old. Then-boyfriend-now-husband and I lived in a scruffy and extremely untidy rented flat in Moseley in Birmingham. I was still a graduate management trainee for the NHS, and Anna and Sophia were nothing but twinkles in my eye and a panic-stricken glint in my husband’s. I bought it to wear over a dress for the wedding of a university friend – said wedding was taking place in Scotland, in a marquee, and I have an intense dislike of being cold and a profound mistrust of Scottish weather. I then wore it with tailored trousers and heels for work, and now with jeans and a t-shirt on the school-run.

It’s not actually my oldest item in regular use, however. I have a very much washed, faded, oh-so-soft t-shirt which was actually my uniform when I helped out at a summer school when I was at university. tshirtThe summer school was designed to encourage bright kids from deprived backgrounds to consider Oxford as a university choice, as research had shown that such students were as likely as any other applicant to get a place, but far less likely to apply originally. It was a cause very dear to my heart, and I absolutely loved doing the summer schools two years running, even though taking responsibility, at the age of 20, for a group of eight 14 and 15 year olds, many of whom were away from home for the first time, was umm, interesting. A development experience, as they say. For some reason, the t-shirt became my adult comfort blanket. I only wear it to sleep in, and because it is now quite threadbare I save it for times when I really need comfort – when I asked husband to bring t-shirt and leggings to the hospital when I was spending the night on a camp bed next to Sophia, this was the t-shirt he brought.

But if we move away from clothes and onto jewellery, then my 15 year old t-shirt is suddenly the new kid on the block. When I was about 13 or 14, my nanna gave me some jewellery which had belonged to her mum. It was only costume jewellery – mostly rings. They were too big for my nanna, and my mum, so one thing I know I inherited from my great-grandmother is my chubby fingers! ringsI loved them right away, and although my tastes in almost everything have changed since I was 13, I still love these rings. I save them for special occasions now, as in my everyday life I spend too much time changing nappies/washing up/cleaning/wiping sticky faces and fingers/kneading dough to cope with big rings, but I still think they’re beautiful. And, as my nanna was born in 1921, and they belonged to her mum, they may well have broken the 100 years barrier to become not merely vintage but actually antique!

What’s the oldest item you regularly wear?

Walthamstow to a Tea

I’ve posted before about how much I love where I live. But one of the things I love most about it is that it is constantly evolving and never fails to surprise, and delight, me. Take Sunday just gone, for example.

We’d had a quiet day at home, getting lots of boring but useful jobs done. Anna had decided that cleaning would be fun, so never one to avoid an opportunity to exploit my child, I armed her with a duster and a bottle of polish and let her get on with it. One entire bottle of polish later (thankfully some kind of organic, almond oil based none-child-killing polish) and the house definitely smelt cleaner at least. The wooden floors do have a few lethally slippery patches where polish was accidentally split, but hey. Husband meanwhile had the distinctly less fragrant task of unblocking the outside drain.

At about 4.30pm I remembered I needed to go out to buy milk for breakfast. Husband suggested we all go and get some fresh  (and non-almond scented) air, and perhaps an ice-cream cone. We popped Sophia in the sling, Anna grabbed her sandals, and off we went. Ten minute later we were all licking delicious cones of Gelupo gelato, which one of our local shops has started selling. And I say ‘all’ advisedly. We didn’t buy a cone for our seven-month old, but strapped to my chest in her sling, the proximity of it proved to be too much for her, and she lunged at it, licking determinedly. I know refined sugar isn’t really a good idea for babies under one. Or, I guess, for anyone really. But I didn’t have the heart not to let enjoy a couple of licks. Second-child syndrome, I suppose. I was all about the organic spinach with Anna at the same age.

We strolled through Walthamstow village, past the beautiful Vestry House museum and the old almshouses. And then it all got exciting. There is a restored Tudor house in the heart of Walthamstow village called, imaginatively enough, the Ancient House. It’s a lovely building, and I was very excited when I saw that the gate was open, and there was a sign pointing into the courtyard advertising a yard sale. We went in, just out of curiosity to see inside. In this case, curiosity was amply rewarded. tea setsWe ended up with a gorgeous vintage French tea-set, some pretty Victorian glass bottles, a Victorian tea-cup and saucer and coffee cup and saucer, a Victorian serving tureen and a delightful little forget-me-not pattered cup and saucer for Anna, because she fell in love with it. All for £17. Yes, you read that right. £17! The lady who was selling had a business hiring out vintage china for weddings, and making tea-cup candles, but she has had to move out of her workshop unexpectedly and needed to get rid of stock fast. Very sad for her, but I have to admit we were thrilled to benefit and give a good home to some of her lovely things.

So there you go. Only in Walthamstow do you pop out for a pint of milk and come back with a perfect sixteen-piece vintage tea service!

In search of style

To put it mildly I’ve never been a fashionista. In my teens my style was slightly schizophrenic. On one hand I was inspired by the indie-girl-band look in vogue at the time; my interpretation of it being an ankle-length black or denim skirt with a tight t-shirt and Adidas Gazelles, or jeans and a shapeless grey sweater. On the other hand, this look had to be funded from my wages as a shop assistant/waitress in a cake shop (£2.05 an hour), so if my mum offered to take me shopping I would bite her hand off, and she favoured a slightly less grungey style, so half my wardrobe was more tailored pieces which I flattered myself were a little bit Rachel-from-Friends. (Needless to say, they weren’t!)

In my twenties it was all about dressing for the office. My first proper job, aged 21, was Assistant General Manager for Day Surgery at a District General Hospital in the West Midlands. I was rather out of my depth, and compensated with the best Next had to offer in the way of power-suits, combined with 3 inch pointy stilettos and a crisp shirt. Hell, I even ironed in those days. As I moved up the career ladder and gained in professional confidence, I realised that the two-piece suit wasn’t really me, and I developed a work look which centred around pencil-skirts with a waist-cinching belt, fitted tops or little cardies, and I retained my passion for the three-inch heel. I worked this look, or the closest approximation to it I could manage at eight months pregnant, right up until going on maternity leave with Anna.

After Anna was born, both time and money were in fairly short supply. What I wore then depended on what I could buy in the small branches of Dorothy Perkins and New Look in our local shopping centre. I rarely tried things on because Anna was normally fussing in the buggy, so tended to grab the nearest pair of leggings and jersey tunic dress in something approaching my size. They were comfy and cheap and covered me up, and at that point this was pretty much all I cared about. Gradually as Anna got older and I had a bit more time and money I started to expand my fashion horizons once again. And then I got pregnant and was back to leggings and tunic dresses once more.

Now I am stuck, and desperately trying to develop my style for this phase of my life. I’m at home with two young children, so practicality is key. The heels have gone for good, replaced by boots, Birkenstocks, and brogues. So far, so mumiform, but I’m quite happy with that. The feet are sorted. Not least because they haven’t put weight on. But the rest of me isn’t quite so easy to sort out. I want to be comfortable and practical, but reasonably stylish and put together too. Perhaps as a reaction against spending the nineties and noughties in various shades of black and grey, I have fallen in love with colourful prints – stripes, spots, florals. I love the vintage trend, and have friends who look absolutely stunning in their charity shop finds, but when I experiment I end up looking like I’ve been dressed by Marks and Spencer’s circa 1985, and have come to the conclusion that I prefer my vintage as interpreted by Cath Kidston.

Another problem is that I’ve rather gone off the throwaway fashion at the lower-end of the high street.  It’s probably just my inability to pull it off, but I feel that a size 14 woman in her mid-thirties dressed entirely from Primark can risk looking a bit, well, cheap. I still love my bargains, but I need to mix and match them a bit more now. Putting on 4.5 stone during my pregnancy with Sophia, of which only 3 has left me, means that many of my old clothes don’t fit anyway. I’ve spent six months in denial, imagining that the weight was about to miraculously drop off, but have now concluded that it isn’t. I would like to return to my middle-of-the-road size 12 at some point, but at the moment breastfeeding and broken nights and the hard work of a new baby mean that I’m not ready for the self-denial this would entail. So I need something to wear.

And of course, into this void steps Mr Johnnie Boden. Aahh, Johnnie, how do I love you, let me count the ways. Quirky prints, flattering cuts, ethical manufacturing, quality materials. How much more of a middle-class mum cliche could I sound? Unfortunately, cliches become cliches for a reason. The only snag is the price. I really can’t afford to just open the Boden catalogue and order my new season’s wardrobe, much as I might like to. My Boden habit depends on identifying items I want, and then holding my breath and waiting for the sale (Boden do have extremely good sales), or the 20% off code, or even tracking down a particular item on Ebay.

clothesI do feel like I am very gradually starting to develop a wardrobe which works, financed by a lot of bargain hunting and some selling off of clothes I’ve out-grown physically and mentally. There have been some barely-worn mistakes, but my go-to hero items are the obligatory jeans, either boyfriend cut or skinny, a variety of stripy Breton tops, skirts or dresses with a vibrant print and a slightly 1950s feel;  bare-legged with my beloved Saltwaters in summer and with thick opaques and brogues come autumn, lightweight scarves and chunky jewellery to ring the changes, and, as I’m permanently cold, I do love me a nice cardi. It’s not a look which is going to be seen on the catwalks or the pages of Vogue any time soon, but it feels several steps up from either cramming myself into clothes which are a couple of sizes too small and past their best anyway, or resorting to  baggy tracksuit bottoms and a shapeless t-shirt. If I’m going to be a cliche, I’d rather aim for the yummy mummy one than the slummy mummy one.

So, is this just me? How do other people change their wardrobes to suit their changing body shapes and lifestyle? How do you balance style and practicality? What are your wardrobe heroes?