A fresh start

I’m so glad I took part in the six item challenge. Since the challenge ended I’ve been filmed for a fashion journalism student’s final project, taken part in a sustainable fashion Q&A and I was recently interviewed  for Brighton based blog, Revival Collective. An all round positive experience.

Aside from raising over £300 – heartfelt thank yous to all who donated; learning how to live with a tiny capsule wardrobe – super useful; and having the opportunity to explore my own relationship with clothes, fashion and my body image – enlightening; I fell back in love with writing. Writing this blog filled the 6 weeks with so much pleasure. A little sanctuary just for me at the end of the day. 

As a result of the challenge I want to try to lead a more ethical life, to do less harm, to be more mindful and to be more engaged too. But I also want to keep on writing! That’s why I set up my new blog Practically Ethical just after the challenge. It’s taken a few weeks to get it off the ground – thanks chicken pox! But as we’ve found our routine settling back into a vague norm over the last few days I’ve managed to finish all the niggly bits and pieces and do some writing too. I’d love you to swing by the new blog and to let me know what you think! 

Challenge days 43 

The End

The challenge is over. As I type this I can’t believe that I’ve actually finished. And, thanks to all the very generous donations, I’ve smashed my target.  I’ve really done it.

I’m wearing the gem dress and jeans today. I decided to wear this as it’s the outfit I wore on day one of the challenge and that seemed quite poetic. It’s been a very positive experience and I’ve been thinking about the things I’ll take away from it.

Finishing off as I started in the gem dress and jeans with a cheesy selfie. I’m very much looking forward to a haircut this weekend. My fringe is crazy wild and completely impossible to style at the moment! 

So, here are the things I’ve learnt.

The Fashion industry is much worse than I ever imagined

Through the challenge I’ve read a lot. I usually read a fair bit but I’ve really up’d my game. I put this down to having more time (less TV, less internet shopping, less thinking about outfits, less reading trashy magazines), being absorbed by the challenge and wanting to immerse myself into it as much as possible and also being a bit terrified that I wouldn’t have enough interesting material to write about in my blog. Here are some of the memorable things I’ve learnt.

  • The fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world. Second only to the oil industry.
  • Garment workers are among the most poorly paid workers across the world. Approximately 85% of garment workers are young women; CEOs of large fashion brands are among some of the wealthiest in the world (and the majority, unsurprisingly, are men).
  • A shirt before the industrial revolution in the UK would have cost more than £2,000 in today’s money. You can buy a “formal” shirt for £5 from Primark.
  • Industrial disasters happen frequently. People are dying in their work places because of woefully inadequate safety standards.
  • Large numbers of garment workers are scared to join Trade Unions. There are workers who have been locked in rooms and brutally beaten by their employers for being considered an agitator whilst trying to fight for a better deal at work.
  • Large companies will appeal to governments in developing countries to be allowed to undercut the minimum wage.
  • The leather industry is abhorrent. I really didn’t have any idea about how awful this industry is. From the treatment of the animals; to the effects the chemicals used in the tanning processes have on those who work with them; to the horrific industrial waste that pollutes our planet and the bodies of those who come into contact with it. It really is a nasty, nasty industry. I’m ashamed by how much leather I have consumed in the past. This is an ethical dilemma for me and presents a real challenge about how to buy better and / or different products in the future.
  • Ethical fashion and working out who is producing genuinely ethical garments is a nightmare. Tansy Hoskin’s stance is that ethical fashion is an illusion and doesn’t exist. I understand where she’s coming from and many companies are clearly greenwashing, I think H&M are a very good example of this. But I do think there are some pioneering brands, such as People Tree, Kerala Crafts, Ethletic Shoes and Matt & Nic who are providing a real ethical alternative and who are worth supporting.

It’s possible to wear clothes from a single capsule wardrobe  365

The 6 items I chose all those weeks’ ago have been incredibly versatile. I started way back in February when the weather was pretty chilly; not the depths of winter but still cold enough to need a chunky knit scarf, coat and winter boots. The weather for the past couple of weeks has been glorious, with warm sunny days. Admittedly, not high summer but I’ve worn a t-shirt and skirt with no tights or cardigan a few times. I’ve been comfortable on most days of the challenge with the exception of maybe 2 when I really could’ve done with my thicker coat or a warmer jumper.

I’ve learned that you don’t need special clothes for each season. This is something I read about in Marie Kondo’s book a while back and dismissed as nonsense. Especially as we live in a small house. Of course you need to put your winter things up in the loft when it’s summer and vice versa. But I get what she’s saying now. I’m planning to condense my wardrobe into an all season capsule wardrobe: key garments + seasonal extras (shorts, vests, tights, scarves, jumpers etc) As I said in a previous post I have an annual ritual of bringing my summer clothes down from the loft and putting on a sunny soundtrack; and then packing them away and bringing down the winter items and sticking on some winter inspired tracks. I doubt I’ll do this any more. I’ve cleared a whole drawer since the beginning of the challenge and I plan to use the drawer to store the “seasonal extras” in.  I will probably still listen to the sunny or winter inspired soundtrack as the seasons change but I’ll do something more fun or worthwhile whilst I’m listening to it. Like baking, or drinking wine, or reading or playing with Lego or dancing with the girls.

The same goes for occasions. You don’t need special clothes for special occasions. I could easily have worn the gem dress to a smart restaurant or a wedding with the right accessories; it’s also perfect for the school run with jeans and boots or trainers. I’d much rather spend money on something I love and can wear frequently than something that gets worn once or twice and either takes up space or gets chucked out. I dread to think how much money I’ve spent on clothes for one time wear special occasions. What a waste.

Less washing is a GREAT thing 

At the beginning of the challenge I talked about my washing rage. I have contributed a tiny amount to our weekly washing over the course of the challenge. If I’d just had my laundry to do, it would’ve been a breeze. I’ve still had a family’s worth of washing to do, but I’ve definitely done less overall. I’ve learnt these 4 valuable things.

  1. Clothes can be worn many more times than once before they need washing unless they are covered in sick, poo or wee. So, unless you hang out with tiny humans, you can get away with a lot less washing. If you do happen to be around small people, baby wipes (I use water wipes) or a damp cloth will get rid of most stains (toothpaste, chocolate, snot, pen, for example) except for the aforementioned bodily fluids. I wore the jeans for a record 5 days in a row at one point in the challenge and they passed the sniff test right up until the end. There were too many little stains on them (mostly mud) by the end of the 5th wear to tackle with a cloth.  Well, I could’ve done but I just couldn’t be bothered.
  2. Less washing means more time for fun and productive stuff and makes for less bad moods. Laundry is horribly time consuming and quite frankly boring. What a waste of precious time. I will be washing clothes a lot less in the future. Garments benefit from less washing and look and last longer too.
  3. Less washing is brilliant for the environment and reduces electricity and water bills. Win, win.
  4. A heated airer is amazing if you need to be able to turn small amounts of washing around quickly. It’s also cheaper to run than a tumble dryer. I couldn’t have done the challenge without mine. I haven’t had to wear any damp clothes. I can turn clothes around over night, which is brilliant if you only have access to a few garments.

Save your sanity, time, the planet and your money: wash less and use a heated airer! Take my advice, it’s brilliant. You won’t ever regret doing less laundry!

You need a lot less than you think

I was really dubious as to whether I would be able to get away with just 6 items for 6 weeks. Especially for a week away on holiday with two messy toddlers. But actually it’s been fine. I’ve been thrown up over and wee’d on once. That’s just 2 out of 43 days where I’ve needed to change clothes. I clearly worry too much.

And the revelation that you can get by on so little is amazing for future holidays. Packing for a week away at the beginning of the challenge was beyond easy. I didn’t run into any problems whilst away from home. I felt appropriately dressed. I didn’t have to worry so much about outfits. I had fun and spent time with my family. I will always pack light from now on.

Shopping will not mend your broken heart and sales will not save you money

How many times have you gone on a shopping spree to cheer yourself up? I know I have. But after giving up shopping for lent (well, except food, Easter eggs, fair trade knickers, books, and birthday presents) I’ve had so much more time to do other things. Shopping to mend your broken heart or cheer you up just doesn’t work in the long term. I suggest countering the urge to splurge with a phone call to a good friend, time at the park with your family, a glass of wine or a hot cup of tea with your other half or favourite person, baking something, reading something, watching a comedy, writing a blog, listening to a great album or just doing that thing you love that you always say you don’t have time to do. I’d love to take up playing one of the instruments I learned at school or to improve my French. Maybe I’ll be able to do this with less focus on what I’m wearing. And with only a narrow range of shops to buy from I will definitely save time. Shopping costs money, time and energy. Unless you really need to do it there are so many other fun things to do. I wish I’d grasped this sooner.

And sales. All I’ll say is, buy what you love not what you think is a bargain. It’s a false economy. 5 out of the 6 items for the challenge were full price and I’ve really had my money’s worth. The dress was in the sale but that was just lucky. I would have paid full price for it. I won’t wait out for the sales any more. If I love something, I’ll buy it because I know I’ll be wearing it lots, making it worthwhile.

Less stuff is liberating

Less to wash, less to tidy, less to choose from, less to manage. Easier mornings, tidier bedroom, no bulging drawers. Less brain clutter. Amazing.

The other benefit is that with less stuff, you care about your possessions more and look after them properly. My apron has been indispensable and has saved my clothes from so many splashes and stains.

Now this sounds really weird. I don’t really know how to explain it. But, I feel like I have an understanding and connection with the garments from the challenge. I guess that I’ve worn them so much that I have experience at what they are good at doing. For example, the rainbow tee looks great tucked into the skirt or jeans with a ponytail and make-up for a casual look that can take you anywhere; the Breton can be smart or scruffy depending on how and what you wear it with. The dress can be ordinary or very glam. I know how to use each item. You only get this from wearing stuff a lot. I’m also much better at accessorising with my bits and pieces than I was before. And it’s all just practice. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. I wonder if there’s a tipping point for outfits when you just feel completely at ease and sartorially competent?

Creativity, resourcefulness and community 

The challenge has connected me to lots of new and wonderful people I wouldn’t have  otherwise met: Siobhan from The Fair Shop, Hermione from Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Brighton, Alma from Alma’s Alterations and Dressmaking to name but a few. I’ve also had a conversation starter about something that I really care about. I haven’t really talked about my interest in fair trade, organic and ethical consuming outside of my family before. The challenge has given me the opportunity and confidence to do this.

I’ve also been forced to look at what other stuff I own: accessories, shoes, make-up and to use things which have lain in drawers unworn for years. Some of these things I’ve had for over 10 years and have moved between 4 properties. And they’ve only seen the light of day during the challenge; the last time they were seen may have been 2008. I’ve also learned to tie a scarf in two different ways. I have worn scarves more in the challenge than I have done in my adult life. I am officially a grown up woman now. And who knew how practical scarves can be? From keeping you warm, to covering up stains to mopping up snot and sick. And they can be washed. I’ve never washed a scarf before. I thought they were hand wash only. They’re not. All of my scarves have been through the machine and look and smell better for it.

When the old holey jeans became too tatty and the weather cheered up I didn’t head to the shop to buy something new. I couldn’t. So I had those tatty old jeans upcycled. This was a great moment in the challenge. I love my skirt. I can’t wait to pair it with some other t-shirts I own and to wear it all through summer. And now I have plans for other things like a pair of old Levi jeans that will make a great pair of shorts and a dress I really love but that needs altering to fit me properly. Now I know about Alma and her amazing talent, I’ll be able to breathe new life into other old garments.

Confidence

I really love each of the 6 garments and will continue to wear them until they fall apart or need up-cycling. They each have a story to tell. Together they’ve created outfits that I’ve enjoyed wearing (well, except the one with the Nora Batty tights and undignified crawling around soft play in a short dress). By only wearing things that I love and feel that I have a connection to, I can approach the day with so much more confidence. This is the biggest revelation of all.

And you ask. What was the downside? 

Nothing. How can I, a privileged Western women complain about something as trifling as wearing just 6 items of clothing for 6 weeks as opposed to having access to a better stocked wardrobe. I really don’t feel the need to complain about anything. On the contrary, the challenge has been enlightening and life changing. It’s boosted my self esteem, it’s got me reading and writing again. I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved writing this blog.

After watching The True Cost and learning about the woman who only gets to see her daughter twice a year; reading about the lives of garment workers in the Garment Worker’s Diaries; learning about industrial disasters where young children lose their mothers and mothers lose their daughters I feel completely grateful and at the same time full of guilt that I was born into my life and not theirs. I hope that the money I have raised can make a genuine difference to some of these people. I look back on my blog and all I see is freedom, support and privilege. I’ve always known it deep down but our materialistic society has a way of making you feel constantly dissatisfied or wanting more. I’ve taken more pleasure in spending time with my daughters, my husband, my parents, my friends and family as a consequence of this challenge; I see that having the choice to be a stay at home mum is such a luxury; I’m glad that I have the choice to spend my money as and when I chose. Like I said, this challenge has been life changing.

Ok, I lied. There has been one annoying thing. It was a bit of a nightmare to remember to wash all of the items at once and sometimes I cursed that there was a grubby item hanging in the wardrobe or still on the floor that missed it’s wash. This gave me tiny washing rage. And I have done a bit of Wishlist internet shopping. See I’m not perfect.

Thank you for reading and for supporting me for the past 6 weeks. I’m off to change into my pjs and have a celebratory glass of organic red. And I’ll leave you with this photo.

IMG_3644Snuggled up with the little one in bed. Such a precious time that no amount of stuff could replace…

…Although I do love this sweater very much. 

Goodnight.

Challenge day 41 & 42

Day 41 – Tuesday

Today we’re off to the cinema. It’s the little one’s first time: Peppa Pig’s 1st Movie. Once toddlers are old enough for the cinema, you’re on to a winner: a dark room with a comfy seat for at least 90 minutes; coffee and snacks. You’re on to an even bigger winner when it’s the delightful Duke’s At Komedia (a Picture House cinema in the North Laine in Brighton), because they serve decent coffee and really nice snacks – think organic chocolate bars and cake.  After the cinema we’re meeting the Husband for pizza. I’m really looking forward to our outing today. It might not be an art house film but it feels like I’m handing down a little piece of me to the girls. I love going to the cinema, you see.

The sun is shining and I won’t be clambering around softplay, the park, the farm or the nature reserve, so I’m wearing the skirt with the beige belt, the Breton, my Veja trainers, my sunglasses, a bracelet I haven’t worn for years, the gorgeous sari scarf and my Casio watch. I’ve got a cardigan for each of us in the rucksack along with all of the usual stuff that I have to cart around for the the girls. As it’s the Easter holiday and there is more time to get ready, I’ve put a bit more make-up on today and I’m wearing my all time favourite Kjaer Weis lipstick.

IMG_3704.JPGThe Breton , skirt, bracelet with delicate purple beads and flowers, my watch all on the sari scarf. Such a pretty print to compliment the otherwise fairly neutrals based outfit.

After our trip to Brighton, heads full of Peppa Pig, bellies full of pizza, the girls fall asleep in the car on the way home. I leave them to sleep on their beds when we get back (which is a huge mistake for later) and take advantage to speak to my Mum on FaceTime, finish my book (Stuffocation) and have a snooze under a cozy blanket on the sofa. Such a lovely day.

Day 42 – Wednesday 

The penultimate day before the end of the challenge is here! I can’t quite believe it. I’m wearing the Breton (again), over a pale pink vest, with my jeans and Converse trainers.

Today we’re hosting a playdate and then I plan to take the girls to soft play and do a bit of Easter shopping. I’m not organised this year. I haven’t done cards. I’ve still got the annual Easter Sunday egg hunt to sort out. And I’m hoping the Husband remembers the bits he’s supposed to pick up for the girls. I’d really like to get the Husband a Cocoa Loco Easter Egg too. He’s allergic to dairy and Cocoa Loco dark chocolate is dairy-free plus they sell the most beautiful eggs. If you haven’t heard of Cocoa Loco, they’re a company based in West Sussex who make delicious organic and fair trade chocolate. They have an online shop and I’ve seen a few of their products in local independent shops near to where we live; they also have their own shop in Horsham. If you can get to the shop, it’s a real treat, especially as they have an amazing cafe with the most delicious hot chocolates, cakes and brownies. They do a mean latté too. This is one of the reasons we go to the softplay in Horsham quite regularly!

We drive straight to Horsham after a lovely play date. The little one ends up sleeping for the whole of the time we are in the soft play cafe. And by the time we’ve done an hour and a half the big one is bored. There’s a bunny hunt competition being organised by the Rotary Club and Council around Horsham. The soft play centre are one of many local businesses taking part and the big one wants to join in. It’s such a lovely day and I don’t know Horsham outside of the shopping mall very well, so it seems like a fun Easter themed activity to do whilst also seeing a bit more of the town centre. Plus it’s free, will stretch everyone’s legs and get us all out in the lovely sunshine. We end up searching for bunny posters for about an hour. The big one is super happy because some of the shops taking part are handing out little treats as part of the game (she’s bagged 2 lollies, chocolate and a lego set); this motivates her to walk for much longer than she usually would without complaining.

On our way around town,  I notice just how much stuff there is everywhere. I haven’t really been shopping very much since the start of the challenge. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been reading Stuffocation by James Wallman this last week or because I haven’t really been on a leisurely shopping trip for myself since the day before the challenge started, but it’s easy to see how we end up with so much stuff. I can’t lie, there are lots of nice things in windows and on mannequins, as we pass by some of my old favourite shops. And the little voice that goes “ooh, look, nice. I could wear that to such and such event” or “wow, what a great dress for spring. Maybe I should just go and…” is quite loud this afternoon. I know that before the challenge I would’ve probably come home with a couple of new bits. For Spring. Essentials, if you like. I also think it’s funny that we’re taking part in a competition, which is experiential and not based on buying anything. We are clearly en trend as this is the key theme of James Wallman’s book: that capitalism is moving away from a materialistic society to one based on people buying experiences. He recommends that we all make memories through getting out into the world and not just stockpiling material possessions 80s style. We spend the afternoon going into shops hunting for bunnies drawn on posters whilst ignoring all of the items for sale in those shops. We have a whole afternoon of memories and nothing to show for it in physical form. Well, apart from the lollies, chocolate and lego; but 3 of the 4 have been greedily consumed already, so we just have the free lego to take home. 

That’s a lie. I bought 3 new books this afternoon. We popped into Waterstones (who were not taking part in the competition) and books are my absolute weakness (alongside gin and lipsticks: what can I say, I’m human). I bought Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls for the girls; and Sarah Bakewell’s book At The Existentialist Café and The Art of Happiness by Epicurus for me. You can never have enough books, or knowledge, it’s just finding the time to read them. And I can always find time for a good book.

I’d like to end this post with a quote from The Art of Happiness:

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”

Epicurus said this somewhere between 341 and 271 B.C. And it still stands strong today. We all know that stuff isn’t the key to our happiness; we all know that corporate greed leads to exploitation. You don’t even have to do the 6 week challenge to know that deep down, stuff, is just fluffy distraction from the bigger questions about our existence. But when is enough is enough? Well, it’s enough when your own needs are met. It’s enough, when people are dying or being exploited or hurt. We need to make a stand together. We need to make life better for those less fortunate than ourselves. Yes, we need clothes but we need to stop exploiting humans for the sake of fashion. It will mean spending a little more as a consumer and making a little less profit as a company. It probably means having less posessions but that’s ok. We can all get by on less stuff. You might even feel lighter and happier as result. I hope that I’ve provoked you to think about your future purchases by documenting my experience of taking part in the fashion fast. Maybe you’ll even join me in a couple of weeks’ in asking #whomademyclothes for Fashion Revolution week. Because transparency in this system is vital too. 

On that note, I’m heading back to my wine and contemplating my final challenge outfit for tomorrow. Not that much to contemplate given that there are just 6 things to choose between. And that’s the beauty of capsule. More time to do other, more important or interesting things. 

Challenge day 40

A spring in my step

Today is the first day of the Easter Holiday. I never really know where I sit when it comes to a) celebrating having both children home b) feeling the cold sweats of panic that is entertaining a two- and three-year-old for 10-hours a day for a whole fortnight, without an awful lot of time or space to have independent grown-up thoughts (or quiet toilet breaks). I’m probably on the fence. Actually, I think that’s overly pessimistic I really do love having them home together (for the most part – I’m human after all).

Today I’m wearing the same outfit as yesterday plus my cardigan and a vest. I’ve planned  to be outdoors as much as possible, so I need layers. It’s not quite as warm as yesterday so I’d rather err on the side of caution. It’s still a lovely day and I won’t be needing my coat though, which is always a bonus. I do need to be prepared to get a bit mucky, the plan for today involves mud, sand, stones and clambering around rustic play equipment. Fun, fun, fun!

We head off to Stoneywish Nature Reserve with a picnic early. This is one of my all time favourite places to go with the girls. They love it too. It’s beautiful; there’s stacks of space to run around; there are farm animals to admire; there are loads of areas to explore; there’s a duck pond with different breeds of ducks and geese (we have our own “pet” duck, Rosie, that we always feed and sometimes stroke); and best of all there’s great play equipment – think ancient Jeep to clamber around, slightly too steep slides, tyre swings hung from great big oak trees, wigwams, wooden boats and a gypsy caravan adapted to be a slide. The girls love it and always make up the best games using pure, wild, toddler imagination. And best of all, I have some of my best ideas here too. Plus they usually sleep really well after a trip to the Reserve. Big bonus. It’s only open for half of the year, so I’m delighted to be back for our first visit today.

IMG_3645Gorgeous views of rural Sussex from our favourite haunt on a glorious spring day.

I’ve still not heard from Dr Denim about my jeans. In a bid to try and do a bit of research before the end of the challenge I head online and log into my Ethical Consumer account. The Ethical Consumer website has some brilliant online resources. I often consult their league tables before making purchases. I find the clothes section and click on the jeans link. Dr Denim are not mentioned in this table. I’m not surprised. I am however, delighted to be reminded of an ethical and organic UK based brand called Monkee Genes I read about ages ago. In fact, I could kick myself that I didn’t buy a new pair of jeans from here for the challenge. I think they might even sell them in a shop in Brighton that’s just around the corner from my old flat. Oh well, I know for the future. If I need any new jeans over summer, I will be buying them from this company. One of the things I really love about their website is that they are using different sized models to showcase their products. This is so helpful for choosing online, especially as we’re not all 5’10 and size 6.

Sadly, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll have to give up on Dr Denim jeans until I can find some more reliable information. I’m not really comforted by the label in my jeans that states they were made in Thailand. I’ve had a skim read of the Clean Clothes Campaign 2015 Thailand Country Report. There are approximately 1 million garment workers in Thailand and it would seem that most live in poor conditions in factory dormitories, have little or no access to maternity rights and only 5% are represented by a Trade Union. This makes for pretty grim reading actually. So,  I’ll take good care of my challenge jeans; hope they last for a long, long time; and hope that they were made by workers who were being treated and paid fairly.

The other thing I check while I’m on the Ethical Consumer website is the Product Guides for ethical trainers and shoes. I feel very uncomfortable with some of the shoes and boots that I own (well, all of the leather goods that I own to be honest). Plus summer is coming and I threw my flip flops out at the end of last summer. They had provided 3 years’ service and were not only filthy but also falling to pieces. A shame because they were so comfy. I will need some new summer shoes and a pair of flip flops this year. In the back of my mind, armed with the knowledge that I can get by on a lot less, I will only need to buy a few new things for summer: flip flops, light shoes, a couple of new vests or t-shirts and maybe some jeans and a light cotton dress. This is a tiny shopping list compared with previous years. I feel quite embarrassed admitting that. Or maybe it’s just normal?

Through the challenge I’ve become more and more aware of just how unethical leather goods can be. From the treatment of the animals, to the chemicals used in the tanning process, to the effect that these chemicals have on the workers who handle them and the environmental pollution that they cause. There are so many shocking films depicting the devastating consequences of the leather trade online.  I’m going to be so much more fussy about the footwear that I buy in future. The Husband has switched over to some new trainers now it’s Spring and I’m delighted that he’s gone for trainers by Ethletic Shoes rather than his usual Nike trainers. All footwear made by Ethletic Shoes is vegan, sustainable and fair-trade. They are at the top of the Ethical Consumer’s ratings table with a remarkable 17/20, followed closely by Veja’s vegan trainers. The Husband felt compelled to research ethical trainers the other week after watching parts of The True Cost Movie with me and hearing all sorts of snippets of things that I’ve been reading of late. He came up trumps when he found this fabulous company; I hadn’t come across them before. I’m really touched that I’ve had a small ripple effect on some of the people around me. After all that was one of my original aims: to raise funds and awareness.

Anyway, I’ve had a quick browse of Ethletic Shoes this evening and I’m delighted that they make flip flops, ballet flats, lots of lovely trainers and espadrilles. Maybe I need to revise my pledge that I will only be buying 2 new pairs of shoes this summer… Actually, I’m going to enforce restraint on myself. I reckon after wearing just 6 items for 6 weeks I can get by with just 2 new pairs of summer shoes, especially if I promise to look after them and wear them into 2020.

What’s on your summer wardrobe shopping list for 2017? Will you be switching to any ethical brands? Changing the way you shop? Or considering if you can get by with less stuff? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Challenge day 39

The last challenge wash day

After the sick-fest that was yesterday I’m delighted to see sunny blue skies outside this morning. I forgot to mention that as soon as I got home yesterday I changed into the gem dress. I cooked curry last night so the dress is quite aromatic today. The good weather means that I can crack through the stinky washing and make use of my big whirly washing line. Hooray!

Sunny Sunday means one thing in this house… lots of washing! 

I’m wearing the rainbow tee and jeans today. The girls have been quite intense this morning so I’m looking forward to a couple of glasses of wine this afternoon with the Husband. We haven’t really spoken properly for a while. Bed times have been late and mornings have been early. This week has been busy. A couple of hours in the sun is just what we need. And this outfit is just perfect for an afternoon in the garden at our local wine bar; it’s become a bit of a regular on Sunday’s through the challenge (the outfit, not the wine bar 😉). I like it because it’s casual but not too slobby. I’ve worn my converse trainers, made a bit more of an effort with make-up, stuck my sun glasses on, slung my bag over my shoulder and we’re off! 

Once home, there’s oodles of washing to sort out, bring in, hang up, fold away.  Oh and I’ve still got to wash 4 of the 6 items this evening as I forgot to put the dress and cardi in this morning’s loads and I’ve been wearing the tee and jeans all day. The challenge has been lighter on washing but also more of a logistical conundrum. And on that note, the tumble dryer is peeping, the children are finally asleep and I’m off to enjoy the last of the weekend.

Challenge day 38

Sunny Spring Stars and Stripes

Today we’re off to a birthday party. It’s a long but beautiful drive through the countryside and I’m looking forward to catching up with friends. The Husband is staying at home to do some DIY in peace.

I’m wearing my skirt with a beige belt, the Breton, Veja trainers, watch, sunnies and star print scarf. I really like this outfit. I’m still really pleased with the skirt. It’s really warm today and this outfit is just perfect.

We arrive at the party venue on time and it’s in a stunning location with loads of space for the little ones to run around. 

What a beautiful way to spend a Saturday lunchtime!

The big one has a great time; the little one is grumpy and complaining about everything. I take her to one side after she spills squash down her top (for a fussy 2 year old this is the end of the world) and change her into a new vest. She’s freshly changed and then starts to be sick everywhere. She covers my skirt, herself and the grass all around her in sick; I don’t have time to get to the baby wipes and as she’s freaking out I end up wiping her nose on my scarf. So gross. Sick now complete, I wipe her down with wet wipes and change her into new clothes. She seems to pick up and starts to enjoy the party. Especially the hot dogs and cake. I’m slightly nervous that she’s eating too much, it’s a hot day and we’ve got a long journey home. But maybe it was a one off. Everyone enjoys the rest of the party.

Off we go, in the car. We’ve been driving for about 20 minutes when I smell sick and then hear crying in amongst heaving. The big one proclaims that the little one has done a huge, mega sick. And it just keeps going. It’s everywhere, Mummy. There’s more, Mummy. Great. We pull over as soon as we can and I do my best clean up with wet wipes (hardly touching the sides, really), put her sicky clothes in a bag and change her into a clean t-shirt. I’m now covered in sick; the car smells horrific. The girls fall asleep and I enjoy the rest of the drive in peace listening to Radio 4 with the windows down.

I’m really enjoying my latest read Stuffocation. Once home I make a cup of tea and let the girls sleep in the back of the car whilst I have a read.


There is so much in this book that resonates with me. Stuff makes life interesting, fun and is quite often necessary. But too much stuff can make life stressful and as the book highlights, dangerous. I was dumbfounded by the stats about house fires; that the flashover point (the point at which a fire gets so hot that firefighters will no longer go in to the building and survival of anyone inside is virtually impossible) has significantly reduced from about half an hour 30-years ago to 3 – 4 minutes nowadays. And this is simply because we have more stuff in our homes and because much of it contains plastic or synthetic materials. Ok, so this is a little off point but the challenge has made me realise how we could all do away with so much stuff, not everything, but lots of superfluous things that we just don’t use.  And maybe by doing this we could all improve our personal health and safety.

I’ve heard about fires in garment factories, where garment workers have lost their lives because of devastatingly poor safety conditions. One of the worst was in  Pakistan where 254 people were killed and a further 55 seriously injured. I’ve never heard of the flashover point before but if middle class homes full of plastic clutter become incinerators in 4 minutes, I bet a factory over crowded with fabrics, people and machines isn’t much different. There have been cases where doors have been locked. It doesn’t bear thinking about the human suffering that would follow in a serious fire with a quick flashover. Safe working conditions and a fair wage should be the absolute minimum that an employer is providing; not a luxury entitlement. In fact, safe working conditions are a Human Right, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Labour Behind the Label campaign for safer working conditions and for compensation for workers when disasters happen. You can read more about it on their campaign page here.

By sponsoring me, your money could make a huge difference to saving or improving garment workers lives. You can donate to my page here

Challenge days 36 & 37

Counting down now!

Day 36 – Thursday

I’m wearing the new skirt today, with the rainbow tee and old converse trainers. I’ve popped a vest underneath the t-shirt. I’ve got my sunnies on and I’m wearing the Casio watch. I ❤️ this outfit. There’s still a bit of a nip in the air, but I’m not really feeling it, even without tights. The older one is happily skipping along in a tee and leggings with no coat or cardigan this morning. I’d forgotten how much I love this time of year. Sun, blossoms, no coats. Light and easy. It feels good to be out in a sort of new outfit too.

Today is pretty non-stop. There’s a lot of sorting out to do at home: toys to tidy; clothes to put away; beds to change. The Spring Clean is in full swing! And the more I get going, the more I realise there is to do. I’m looking forward to going through my clothes next week. I’ll put all of the winter stuff away properly, and take out the lighter clothes for the warmer weather. I usually do this with a sunny soundtrack playing. It’s a bit of an annual tradition. I’ve got some ideas about how I can alter some existing clothes – there’s a dress that needs taking in and some old Levi jeans that could become a pair of shorts. When the challenge has finished, I will be keeping a much more minimal wardrobe. Life has been far easier with fewer clothes, I plan to keep it up. But I won’t lie. There are things I’m looking forward to having back. I’ve decided to see if there are any local women’s shelters or charities that need direct donations of clothes and toys. I wonder if this would be a better way of recycling my clothes and the girls old possessions than just dumping them at the local charity shop. We’re also considering a car boot sale for some of the girls things and there is a Fashion Revolution garment swap happening at the end of the month, which I may donate a couple of items to. It will just be a case of getting organised.

As it’s Thursday, my parent’s are here to hang out with us girls for the afternoon. We head to the farm. It’s a lovely way to while away a sunny afternoon. One of my favourites in fact. In between toddler wrangling and having a small rest I get to have snippets of brief conversation with my parents. I mention the Swedish shopping centre (see yesterday’s post Challenge day 35) to my Mum and she tells me about an initiative in Guildford called the Repair Cafe (https://www.guildford.gov.uk/repaircafe). This looks absolutely brilliant and I must check out if there’s something similar nearer to us. If not, I may well take myself to one of their events in then future if I find myself with broken goods.

Day 37 – Friday

Today I’m wearing the Breton, jeans, blue floral scarf, Casio watch and loafers. We’re off to the pre-school Easter party and then I’ve got my grandparents coming to visit. I’m really looking forward to today.

I’ve mentioned my shoes, accessories and vests alongside the 6 main items throughout the challenge but I realised earlier this week that I haven’t mentioned underwear in the whole of the challenge. This is probably partly guilt that my undies are not ethical; and partly that underwear is unlimited under the rules and so, hasn’t really been a feature of the challenge. Plus I’m sure no-one wants to know the specifics about my smalls!

All of my knickers (and bras) are from M&S. Yes, I’m that boring. In my defence, their sizes are predictable and it’s easy shopping – either in store or online. They usually have a cafe and baby changing in their loos. Priorities are very different these days. Now, I haven’t had a chance to watch the Panorama documentary aired on BBC2 at the end of last year. But I’m aware that M&S were caught up in using a factory employing Syrian refugees and that the factory was accused of child labour. This isn’t good at all. So, over the past few weeks, I have been looking into ethical alternatives, and I haven’t found anything remotely suitable. Until Tuesday when I happened across a magazine article in Natural Health (May 2017) Easy Ways To Make Giving Feel Good. One of the companies mentioned in the article is Kerala Crafts (http://www.keralacrafts.co.uk). Kerala Crafts sell  fair trade underwear and believe in promoting social development and commitment to liberating women through trade. Isn’t this brilliant? I ordered a pair of knickers on Wednesday; they arrived this morning.  They are packaged beautifully in a pink organza bag and wrapped up in pretty paper too. What a lovely touch. The package includes some information about the women who made the knickers. And a card that says People before Profit. The knickers cost £6 a pair and they’re really lovely; £6 seems like a really sensible price for a pair of 100% fair trade cotton knickers. The whole experience has been much nicer than the usual M&S experience. I ordered the knickers whilst standing in a field and their website is incredibly slick. The only reason I ordered just one pair is because I’m not too sure of my size. If they fit well, I will definitely make this my go to company for knickers. They sell some lovely pjs too. I think this is a brilliant find. As the old pants wear out, I hope to be able to replace them with these ones. I will also be looking to their website for future gifts for family and friends.

Update:

The knickers don’t fit comfortably. They’re much too small (or maybe it’s my bum that’s too big). There’s no stretch in them as they’re 100% cotton. It was a mistake to order the same label size as my M&S knickers as these are much, much smaller. I always forget how generous M&S are with their sizes (and lycra content)! I will definitely be ordering some more in a bigger size, as these are so pretty and I love the ethos behind the project. I would urge you to check out their website and at least have a look at their about page. I think this is the perfect example of how garment workers can be treated well, paid well and can be empowered through paid employment. I hope that the money I raise throughout the challenge goes some way to helping improve the lot of garment workers across the globe.

Challenge day 35

The last week of the challenge

Today I’m wearing the gem dress, tights and my Veja trainers. I’m not completely convinced by this combo but it’s sunny; I’m sick of wearing jeans; and my DMs are far too hot for a beautiful spring day like today. I’m really excited that my skirt is being picked up today and I’ll have something new to wear tomorrow. The denim skirt would have been perfect for this morning.

After the pre-school drop off I meet a friend for coffee and a walk to the park, it’s a really lovely day and the little ones are no trouble at all. It’s one of those perfect mornings where everyone seems content and everything is easy and pleasant. A couple of hours soon passes and it’s time to pick up the big one from school. I love picking her up. She’s drawn a picture of our family today and it’s little moments like these that I’ll cherish forever. Sod what I’m wearing; it’s so unimportant in the grand scheme.

After lunch and the little one’s nap we head off to the local family farm for lots of fresh air and a dose of vitamin D. I was right that this wasn’t the right outfit to wear today. My tights keep falling down and I keep having to hoik them back up again. Thick black tights with the Veja trainers looks a bit rubbish. A short dress is completely impractical for crawling around after toddlers in the soft play area. I didn’t think they’d want to be inside today but there we go. Safety before dignity. That seems to be my Mum mantra. Oh and even better, just as we were leaving the house the big one asked if I’ve got a baby in my tummy because it’s looking REALLY fat. Feeling quite insulted but trying to promote “positive body image” I just say that it’s not fat, it’s just normal. Nope, she’s not having any of it. Sticking her hands up my dress and grabbing my belly, she’s says “No. It’s definitely fat. Like a baby’s in there”. Fabulous. (For the record, I’m definitely not pregnant, I may be a little bloated today after a carb laiden day yesterday and there has been a lot of cake and booze over the last few weeks. But I didn’t think it was that bad).  I won’t cherish that little moment. On a more positive note, I’m feeling like I’m a good temperature in the outfit, which is at least something. It’s practical. Even if I do look like a sort of Ab Fab, pregnant Nora Batty.IMG_3565

IMG_3566

I’m really not so keen on this outfit today. It’s wrong in lots of niggly ways.

ReTuna Aterbruksgalleria

Retuna MAll

On a completely different subject and back to the jeans I’ve had made into a skirt. I was reading an article posted by the Good News Network this morning about Sweden’s  first shopping centre for repaired and recycled goods. You can read the full article here. I think this is a brilliant idea. A few months’ ago I read about another Swedish initiative to reduce unemployment and landfill by training people to repair broken goods. The Swede’s seem so committed to making life better for everyone and being lighter on the planet too. Maybe we’ll see more of this sort of thing in the UK in the future. I think a shopping centre like this could work really well in Brighton.

But it’s just so easy to chuck something in the bin or take it to the dump, isn’t it? And I bet that those things could probably be fixed with the right knowledge, tools and parts. This is what’s so clever about Sweden’s model. They’re not putting the burden onto individuals; it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone can turn their hand to everything. They’re training people to have the skills necessary to fix things and then creating a beautiful space to donate and shop in too.

We may not have this to the same extent in the UK, but it is possible to go about it yourself, you just have to get on google and find the person for the job. I mean, just look at my old holey jeans. As you know, I can’t sew. I did a few weeks’ of textiles classes at school when I was about 14. One term out of the nine that we rotated around the technology department. And all I had to show from the textiles term was a pretty crappy bean bag that took me an age to even sew around the edge with a machine (to start with I managed to sew up the middle and create a large, unwieldy fabric butterfly to the amusement of the teacher). The finished item was not very good at all. And then I didn’t do any more sewing. As an adult, I’ve never had to worry about mending anything, apart from the odd button on a shirt. Alma, who has a qualification in fashion design and is brilliant at sewing has set up her own business and beautiful shop and has the skills to turn my jeans into a fab new skirt. She also does lots of other amazing alterations and dressmaking from scratch. A tiny piece of my own ReTuna network from now on. 

My new skirt is now home and I’m really pleased with it. I’ve emailed Alma to thank her. I’ll just have to make sure I’ve got some non-baggy tights to go with it for the next round of soft play tomorrow!

Challenge days 33 & 34

Day 33 – Monday

All 5 items are clean this morning, so I’m spoilt for choice today. I’m wearing the rainbow tee, jeans, cardi and I’ve got my Tatty Devine necklace and watch on. I’m nearly through Stitched Up and I’m thoroughly appalled by some of the fashion industry’s behaviours documented in the book; it’s a real eye opener. I’m hoping to finish reading the last few chapters this evening but for now we’ve got a play date. And I’ve got two little girls to get dressed and out of the door.

I’m really chuffed to get a text message half way though the morning to say that my skirt is ready. I’m hoping the Husband can pick it up later today so I can wear it tomorrow. I’m amazed at how quickly Alma has managed to turn it around! What a fantastic service.

I’m really looking forward to pairing the skirt with my two t-shirts. And I reckon a belt could look really good on the skirt, especially with the rainbow tee tucked in. I don’t have many belts. I haven’t worn any in the challenge yet and I’ll need to have a dig around to see what I’ve got. I donated lots of belts to the charity swish before Christmas; I may only have one or two left.

The rainbow tee: my favourite laid back item pictured here with Weleda’s tinted lip balm. I quite often wear these together for a low key look.

A few weeks’ ago I contacted People Tree about this splendid t-shirt. They replied really quickly, and the email was super friendly. I asked who made the t-shirt and if they had any information about the designer / design. The response included good luck wishes for the challenge and a link to a webpage providing information about Assisi Garments, the company who made this t-shirt. Unfortunately there wasn’t any information about the design or the designer.

One of the impressive claims made in the article (link here) is that People Tree and Assisi Garments was the first supply chain entirely in the developing world to achieve the Soil Association Global Organic Textile Standards mark. This means that this t-shirt is made from cotton grown sustainably and in a way that respects nature. And most importantly by farmers who are paid fairly.

The company has grown from 8 employees to 100 because of People Tree’s support and regular orders. Among their employees are deaf, mute and economically disadvantaged women.

Assisi Garments uses profits generated to grow their business and create jobs and to invest in the local community through social projects, such as a cancer hospital and AIDS rehabilitation centre. There’s a link to a short video about Assisi Garments made by People Tree here.

I’m really impressed by this empowering success story. Wouldn’t it be great if all our clothes were made in safe factories, where employees are treated humanely and paid fairly? And profits are used for business growth and social projects: whether in the UK, India, Cambodia or Haiti. This really feels like a much more sensible and compassionate approach to doing business in stark comparison to companies who push for the cheapest price and the cost of human suffering, thinking specifically of the Rana Plaza disaster.

I’m a big fan of conscious consumerism and hope that it’s a sector which grows, and fast, during the course of my lifetime. And whilst I understand the calls by campaigns such as Fashion Revolution that boycotting the High Street isn’t all of the answer to ending or changing the ways of fast fashion, I know where I want to cast my consumer vote with the £s in my purse. I’d much rather support Assisi Garments (or similar) than a sweatshop or exploitative factory.

Day 34 – Tuesday

So, unfortunately, the Husband wasn’t able to pick up my skirt yesterday because he didn’t have my order number and I didn’t answer the phone when he called. He’s unlikely to have time in his busy schedule today. Oh well.

Today I’m wearing the Breton tucked into my jeans and I’ve acessorised with the recycled sari scarf. I’ve found a belt in the bottom of my wardrobe under a bag of clothes due to be taken to charity (although I may not do this and may think of recycling them differently). It’s a taupe belt that I bought from Beyond Retro (a large vintage shop in Brighton) about 5 years ago. I’m glad I’ve found it in my search for belts, although I was right, I only own 2 now. I don’t have anything that will really go with the skirt and rainbow tee. I was hoping I’d forgotten about a nice brightly coloured belt I might own. As I’ve never shopped in charity shops for clothes before (only furniture, home accessories, the odd toy if I’ve got a child with me and old vinyl records)  I might use this as an excuse to have a root around for a belt to brighten up the skirt and tee combo for the last week of the challenge.

I still can’t believe tomorrow marks the first day of the last week of the challenge. Please don’t forget to support me with donations. You can find my donations page here

Outfit 34: The Breton, skinny jeans, belt and sari scarf. 

Challenge days 31 and 32

The Emperor’s new Fool

Challenge day 31 – Saturday 

April Fool’s Day! Ha. Ha ha ha. We’re up pretty early (no, that’s not the April fool’s prank. That’s just life with tiny people) and I’ve played my prank on the Husband. I get him without fail every year. It’s always something quite gentle but I like to think it’s pretty funny. April fool’s are a longstanding tradition in my family. Not so much in the Husband’s. Plus he never knows what day it is, so he’s the perfect victim. Feeling pretty smug I shovel in breakfast as I’ve got a cake to make for this afternoon.

An hour later, the cakes are in the oven and I decide to phone the venue to check that all is ok for this afternoon. And then disaster strikes. They have nothing in their diary for this afternoon (and no, it’s not an April fool’s joke). I haven’t profaned on the blog yet but: WTAF? I booked the party in February and paid a deposit. How has this happened? After a brief and tetchy phone call they tell me that they’ll speak to their Manager and let me know what they can do. In the meantime, I’m watching the clock to make sure the cakes don’t burn and then start phoning around other possible venues. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. The venue for the big one’s 2nd birthday party was cancelled at short notice too, sadly because the venue had gone bankrupt. So after a brief phone call with the girl’s favourite (but manic) soft play centre I soon have a back up plan in place. The phone rings again, it’s the original venue, and I’m assured that the party is on. Phew. Time to take the cakes out and start cleaning the kitchen. As I don’t have huge amounts of time to get everything ready, I pop them on the back step to cool down, grab myself a cuppa and start wiping down all of the kitchen (I love baking but I’m really messy. There’s icing sugar and cake stuff, everywhere).

So this morning, I’ve stayed in my pjs for getting everything ready. I haven’t planned my outfit for today. I’m even more limited now that I’m down to 5 items; plus I’m not sure that anything is really very clean at the moment. I’m not usually this disorganised or relaxed about an outfit for an “occasion”. Based on what’s clean-ish in my wardrobe (and on the bedroom floor) I decide to wear the gem dress and jeans. I’ll be crawling around soft play so dress and tights are a bit of a no-no. I bung my cardigan in my bag in case I need to layer up later on.

I’m just wiping the last few bits up and slurping tea as the Husband passes by to go to the bathroom and exclaims “Oh my god, there’s a pigeon on your cake”. Heart in throat I run to the back door to see a wide smile on his face. This is the first April fool he’s played on me in 11 years. I so deserve it, but my stress levels are super high after the possible rearranging of the whole party. I’m not taking any chances so I sit on the back step with my cup of tea and watch the cakes. Cleaning up will have to wait!

IMG_3441Yeah, nice April fool’s joke, the Husband. Well played. Here’s me on the back step watching the cakes in my PJs. I forgot to put my apron on, so I’m covered in food colouring and icing sugar. Definitely wash day tomorrow! 

Cake decorated, party bags packed, children wiped down and dressed we head off in the car. On the way to the venue we get stuck in traffic and it looks like we’re going to be late. It’s quite a warm day for April and all I can think is that we’re going to be stuck in traffic, miss the party and that the cake will melt. I try and get a grip and reflect that our family really is very privileged and nothing bad will come of being late or turning up with a pile of chocolate goo. It’s so trifling. We get to spend lots of time together, we have wonderful friends, our children are healthy, we have access to public services, such as clean water, health care and education and we have so much choice in our lives. I’m really very grateful to be in our position. Not everyone is and I can’t help but feel guilty about those in less fortunate situations. My problems this morning are really, not problems at all. And deep down I know this. Perspective in check, I notice that we’re pretty much at the car park. Such a beautiful last bit of the journey to the venue too. Sussex really is very pretty.

We arrive in the nick of time. We’re not late and the cake is in one piece. I’m still relieved even though I’ve had get-a-grip words with myself.

2.5 hours later: the party was a roaring success and there were no more hitches. The children are all very happy (and will hopefully sleep well tonight). I’ve had lots of compliments about today’s outfit and also about my blog and about the cake. I’m actually really proud of the cake this year. After gathering up our bits and kissing our friends goodbye, we head off for an early dinner with our family; this has become a really lovely tradition and something which I imagine we’ll do for years to come. After dinner we head home with two exhausted little girls. They’re both snoring by the time we get back and are so deeply asleep that we just slide them into their beds. The dream! Time for a couple of espresso martinis. The little one really is 2. I can hardly believe it.

The cake: before & after! 

Challenge day 32 – Sunday

Urgh. Hangover. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a proper hangover. 2012? Or maybe 2014. I’m not sure. Anyway, after some breakfast, tea, coffee, water and a shower I go upstairs to find that I have no clean clothes. There is nothing hanging in the wardrobe. The t-shirts are in the washing bin with stains on (coffee on one; chilli sauce on the other). My cardigan is screwed up in my handbag. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve worn my jeans. My dress is smeared in chocolate, mayo and snot and I spilled  martini down it last night. Even my yoga trousers are in the washing bin. And my pjs are covered in cake making goo from yesterday morning. I groggily remember that I was supposed to wash a handful of things when we got home last night. Clearly I forgot in the excitement that was 2 sleeping children and the offer of a cocktail! So, let’s have a proper look. It’s sunny outside, so I don’t need too many layers. I give the jeans a sniff and they’re perfectly fine. This really makes me think again about how much I’ve been over-washing jeans all of these years. I grab a vest and then just pop the cardigan over the top (you can only see a tiny hint of vest under the cardigan). As it’s sunny I dig some loafers out of the shoe box at the back of the under-stairs cupboard – no need for socks or boots today. I pop on my anchor necklace, some mascara, brightening moisturiser, sun glasses et voila, ready for some fresh air. I’m actually loving this outfit. And it’s a new combo. I’ll definitely wear this again over the next week and a bit. So, it’s entirely possible to be resourceful and creative with virtually nothing. Does less choice give you more options? Or does it just make you less fussy and a bit more resourceful. Would this also apply to the weekly food shop? Or the girls’ toys? How much stuff do we actually need in our lives? And then I remember that there are just a few days of the challenge left. I can’t imagine having all of my old clothes back. It actually feels quite overwhelming. I’ve loved the extra space, calm and tidiness that has come with having so few things. I’m not sure I can even remember all of the clothes that I own. I haven’t missed much, well, maybe a couple of things but not sorely. Has it really been 32 days of just wearing the same 6 things? Time has flown and it really has been so much easier than I ever imagined before I started.