A blog about style, minimalism & self-improvement

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If you're anything like me, the end of winter tends to be the most lethargic and melancholy time of the year. Months on end of Netflix, red wine, and stretchy tights and knits have enabled your body to become a smushier version of what it was last summer. Even though I consider myself to be pretty healthy (I exercise regularly and watch what I eat most of the time), the end of winter usually calls for a body re-set to get in my best shape for the warmer months.

The topic of weight loss and weight management is controversial, probably because it touches close to home for nearly everyone. I believe that almost everyone has wanted to lose weight at some point in their life, and that maintaining a healthy body is a daily battle that we all struggle with from time to time. We're also prone to excuses, especially when we're not feeling great about ourselves. It's easy to look at people who are in great shape and attribute it to genetics or some freakish, mutant love of exercising, rather than taking stock of our own habits and choices and taking steps to change them.

When I feel like my smushy body needs to change, conventional dieting wisdom of 'eat less, move more' doesn't really work for me: my demanding job doesn't allow a lot of time for movement, and the concept of 'eating less' works as long as I'm not hungry. That said, I tend to do a lot of research on how to whip my body back into shape as quickly as possible, and then balance there going forward versus trying to do the loooooong game of making tiny changes that never yield results, or following a strict diet for months on end.

Because my "get back in shape ASAP" posts tend to be quite popular (such as this one), I thought I'd lay out my game plan for the next week in case you're trying to do the same spring / summer prep for your own body.

#1 Cut out all alcohol Sunday through Thursday

I never said that this would be fun. Before you stop reading entirely, remember that alcohol dehydrates your skin, ages you and is high in calories. Begin associating a glass of wine with wrinkles and fat, and you'll stop wanting your nightly Pinot Noir in no time. If you've got a nightly drinking habit, it helps a lot to replace your drink of choice with something healthier. I drink club soda out of a wine glass with dinner and relax with a piping hot mug of Sleepy Time Vanilla tea before bed.

#2 Eliminate all processed foods, dairy and gluten for the entire week

If you're thinking, "But Colleen, what am I supposed to eat?" then you are on the right track. Vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and nuts (in moderation) are all fair game. It's not fun, but it will be WORTH IT when your butt starts shrinking (because it will).

#3 Don't eat after 8 p. and go to bed by 10p.

This one is huge, because it prevents you from late-night snacking AND sets you up for eight hours of sleep to give you enough energy and willpower to stick to you healthy eating goals for the next day. Although on Instagram I've been hating on the guided meditation 'Breathe' app for failing me in traffic, I've been setting a timer for 9:45p. to do an 8 minute 'body scan' meditation that puts me in a trance where I can hardly keep my eyes open. Getting to sleep by 10p. is no longer a problem for me.

#4 Fast intermittently for at least two days

This basically means that I don't eat anything for an 18-hour period two or three times per week - an intermittent fasting cycle will last from 8p. through 2p. the following day. There are a lot of benefits, including giving your body a break from digesting so it can process cellular waste and resetting your appetite. (If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of IF, check out this post.) I do intermittent fasting on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays and cannot say enough for what it does for my weight management and general health. It takes a little getting-used-to, but is worth setting it up as a habit for the long haul.

#5 Plan out your meals

The absolute WORST thing you can do is end up hungry without a plan. Even in those situations where you don't have a plan or forgot to pack your healthy lunch, you should have a backup plan. My 'forgot my lunch and I'm starving' backup plan is a Jimmy Johns Turkey Tom Unwich, easy mayo, with a pickle on the side. I also have a stash of protein bars in my desk drawer for emergencies when I would otherwise hit the vending machine.

#6 Eat the same things every day

Otherwise known as "killing your appetite with boredom." For the most part, we all stick to a pretty limited rotation of foods. It's human nature to gravitate towards following a pattern. Hacking this element of human nature can help accelerate your weight loss goals, because it's establishes a meal routine that is healthy AND drives boredom which will lead you to eat less over time. When I'm trying to reset, I'll eat this exact diet pretty much every day:

·         Breakfast: green tea, protein bar or shake

·         Snack: apple

·         Lunch: salad with protein and oil/vinegar dressing

·         Snack: olives, pistachios or dried vegetables

·         Dinner: vegetables with chicken or pork

·         Dessert: two or three squares of extra dark chocolate, or a decaf coffee with almond creamer

Keeping snacks and dessert as part of this is important to me so that I don't go crazy after I switch to meals with more variety. By day 3, I'm usually skipping my snacks and eating just what I need to actually ward off my hunger. Saves calories, and time!

#7 Avoid snacking whenever possible

While we're on the topic, aiming to cut snacking out of your pattern is also extremely helpful tactic. Even snacks that claim to be healthy, like nuts, are going to slow you down. Avoiding snacking is the goal, but sometimes you've got to give in. Having healthy options on hand (like dried veggies or blueberries) in the event that you cannot control the monster inside of you begging for chips will keep you on track.

#8 Limit fruit

Fruit in small portions (e.g., peaches on your Greek yogurt) is fine, but remember that fruit has a lot of sugar that your body treats the same as the sugar in, say, a Snickers bar. Overdoing it on fruit will slow you down.

#9 Exercise strategically

I believe there is such thing as too much exercise, the kind of thing that stimulates your appetite and causes you to eat all your gains. Instead, exercise smarter: add 10-15 m. of cardio exercise every morning and add two sessions of 30 min weight training during the week. I either walk my dog, or do burpees, squat jumps, and run up and down the stairs of my townhouse to get this in, and then see my trainer for the weight sessions.

#10 Take the "broccoli test" every time you want to eat 

Here's the test: when you feel that niggle of hunger or wanting to eat something, ask yourself this question: "Would I eat a plate of broccoli if that's all I had?" If the answer is no, then you're probably not hungry. This would be the time to have a cup of tea, a giant glass of water or a stick of gum.

#11 Drink 72 ounces of water per day

I start my day every morning with a glass of water with lemon, to take my supplements. Then I carry around one of those plastic reusable 16 ounce Starbucks water cups with a straw and make it a point to fill it four times. This much water is great for flushing your system, improving the look of your skin, and keeping hunger in check.

#12 Walk everywhere

To the grocery store, the pharmacy, the dry cleaner, etc. Those extra steps add up! This 'walk everywhere' mantra also helps me to get more done around the house. Taking out the trash, vacuuming, picking up the living room, putting away laundry, etc. all count as movement that burn calories. 

#13 Attach a reward to your goal

As in, "I will allow myself to buy those gold Valentino flats the moment the scale says X or my old pants fit again." I use this tactic for dual purposes: to prevent myself from spending money, and to reward myself for meeting a goal. I also like to take these fabulous turquoise silk pants that I've owned forever and hang them front and center in my closet. They are the most unforgiving article of clothing that I own, and the prospect of fitting comfortably into them motivates me to stay away from bad eating habits.

Some people might think these tactics to weight loss and weight management are unhealthy, and I recognize that everyone has to find what that work best for them. These are the ones that work well for me personally, and I'm always looking for new ideas - would love to hear any of your tips and tricks!

P.S. Do you want to get to your ideal shape even faster? Click here to subscribe and download a free copy of my secret (and very controversial...) shortcuts to fast-track weight loss.

Maybe it's just me, but I find it to be strangely thrilling when someone with amazing style walks past me on the sidewalk. Generally, I stare and take mental notes to reference later when I'm trying to recreate the look and tend to assume that said person is amazing and would definitely be my friend because we have so much in common, such as appreciation for floral boots.

Social media makes this phenomenon even more accessible, and I love finding bloggers with fresh taste and a unique sense of style that stands out from the masses. The ones I love have an ageless style and repeat key pieces often, which gives me inspiration on restyling my own closet. When I find these special timeless unicorn bloggers, I tend to seek out their profiles on Instagram and regularly check up on them for styling ideas that I can steal.

Today, I'm introducing you to one of my favorite fabulous French bloggers who, as they say in the South, is "a girl after my own heart." (For my non-American readers, this means we like similar things. Not to be confused with "bless her heart," another Southern saying that is a subtle insult that generally implies that you don't have a brain in your head.)

This fancy Frenchwoman has a very distinct personal style that's classic and a little offbeat. She loves vintage and consistently demonstrates how a few standout pieces can totally transform wardrobe basics. She and I connected on Instagram where I creepy stalk her for ideas about how to style my classic, neutral, everyday pieces in quirkier, cooler ways. I decided to take my creepy Insta-stalking to the next level by creepy messaging her to see if she'd be interested in being interviewed for this blog to share her favorite pieces in her closet that she's had forever and make her style so timeless and wonderful.

Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Emilie Darel, a 26-year-old real estate agent originally from Reunion Island and currently based in Toulouse, France. Here she is in all her glory, mixing navy with black and spicing it up with sequined pumps:

[Side note: I've been trolling the 'net for sequined pumps ever since I saw them on Emilie... contemplating these from &OtherStories. Do you think they'll stay relevant for a few years? Should that even matter when they look this good with neutral basics?!]

If you want to become more fabulous and French, keep reading for Emilie's thoughts on style and the timeless pieces in her wardrobe...

Q: How do your friends describe your style?

"Chic, eccentric… but I love all styles, I’m a chameleon!"

Q: What are your favorite pieces in your closet right now?

"Now, my favorite piece for this winter 2017 is obviously my pink puffa jacket! The oversize puffa jacket is very fashion for this season!"

[Side note: this endorsement by Emilie prompted me to wear my oversize J.Crew "puffa" all weekend which makes an icy January all the more bearable...]

Q: What are the three items in your wardrobe you've kept for the longest, and why have they stayed relevant so long?

"First, my blue faux fur coat because I love it and it’s stayed trendy and chic for several seasons. Second, my derby shoes because I love the boyish look. And third, my big burgundy bag because I can put everything in it."

[Side note: Does anyone else now want a navy fur coat after seeing Emilie in it? I have a giant white fox fur one from Wes's grandma that would look nice on a modern-day drug lord. Emilie has inspired me to take it to the furrier and inquire about an update...]

Q: Who are some of your icons in fashion or other creative fields?
"I love two women in fashion: Solange Knowles and Shay Mitchell. Both have chic and elegant styles. And they are so beautiful!"
Q: What do you do when you're short on creative inspiration?
"I listen some music to empty my mind. And suddenly, the light appears!"

Thanks so much to Emilie for her thoughts, and for providing these photos. I asked her to include a few pictures of her actual closet and was surprised (and very inspired) to see how clean, compact and well-edited it is. She proves that you need only a few amazing pieces to have wonderful, remarkable style, and helped me to see that I still have more work to do in refining my own small closet.

I hope you find Emilie to be as much of an inspiration as I do! If you do, definitely take a few minutes to check out her blog,

Also, I'd love to hear if you have anyone that you creepy stalk on Instagram for style ideas so I can add to my rotation and potentially interview - let me know in the comments! Thank you as always for reading and supporting this little blog.

Before diving into this post, I want to acknowledge the tone of divisiveness and negativity that is permeating conversations across the world right now. Although I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the importance of controlling your thoughts and being careful with what you allow to enter your mind, these past few weeks I've allowed myself to wallow in pessimism and it has not been a good look. (Picture endless pajamas, melancholy sighs at random intervals, fixation on dissecting every single problem and potential future problem in my life, and a very concerned dog spending most of her waking hours sitting on my feet.)

To kick off this (long overdue) first post of 2017, and to reset my own attitude, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that everything is going to be OK and we all need to simmer down. I'd also like to suggest that the population of America is not a simple-minded group that is easily edged into two neatly packaged and conveniently polarized factions as many of our politicians and media outlets would like us to believe. I'm going to remind myself that fervor and despair following an election is not unusual in our history, and is necessary to strengthen our democratic processes. And, I'm going to consider what I can do with my own thoughts, actions and interactions to drive my own little sphere of influence forward in a positive and productive way.

With that being said, and on a somewhat related note, let's begin today's topic: how to master the subtle art of not giving a f*ck except about those things that are truly worth your time and attention. This is derived from one of the best books I've read recently, Mark Manson's 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.' (Please excuse the foul language; I tried to replace THAT word with a classier substitute but "hoot," "darn," and "care" just didn't get the same message across. So, we're going with Mark's original choice and hopefully you can forgive me for that.) Here's the short summary of Mark Manson's method for how to stop caring about everything except what really matters:

#1 Remember that there are very few things that truly matter in life

You innately know what these things are, and they're pretty obvious. A great way to figure out what those things are is to flash forward time and imagine yourself on your death bed and what would be going through your mind. There have been studies on the topic of what dying people regret, and it's generally related to time they didn't spend with the people they loved and instead spent on empty careers, living up to other people's standards and expectations, and chasing things they mistakenly thought would bring them happiness.

My grandmother, pictured above in the sassy pink dress, is someone who stayed focused on the things that truly mattered in her life. She was the happiest person you'd ever meet who was dying of cancer, saying that she'd done everything she could have ever hoped to do, created a wonderful family she loved, and had no desire to spend her last days undergoing chemotherapy in a hospital. "I'd rather die of alcohol poisoning right here with all of you!" were her exact words on the last day I saw her alive.

#2 Understand that you have a limited amount of f*cks to give

While we can all acknowledge the truth in point #1 above, it's difficult to keep it in the forefront during our busy, demanding lives (and also unhealthy to be constantly imagining yourself on your deathbed, but that's besides the point).

Let's cue Maslow's hierarchy of needs for a moment, and consider what modern psychology has proven we benefit from caring about. Things like putting a roof over our heads and food on our tables, living in safety and security, having a family we love, developing confidence and earning respect, and striving towards higher values pretty much cover the drivers of fulfillment in our lives.

Yet we're exhausted and unfulfilled because we stray from focusing our attention on what actually matters. Instead, we waste our f*cks by freaking out in traffic jams, gossiping about our irritating coworkers, worm-holing on Facebook for hours, fixating on past or future choices, obsessing over a mistake or an offhand comment we can't take back, or getting overwhelmed by cleaning our houses filled with stuff we don't need.

#3 Realize that other people are constantly telling you what to care about

In addition to all of the time-sucking activities we voluntarily sign ourselves up to care about, we have a whole set of additional time-sucking activities that other people try to force upon us. It is extremely hard to say no to a mentor that tells you to spend more time networking and "building your brand" when you're craving authentic connections at work. It's challenging to say no to a colleague who wants your time, energy and support of a new venture when all you want is to carve out time to go to a yoga class. It is annoying to say no to giving your money to a skincare pyramid scheme your friend joined when you're really satisfied with your current face wash, thank you very much.

It's equally difficult to say "no" to ideas, suggestions and feedback about what you should be doing, how you should be spending your time or what you should really value. Here are a few examples I've struggled with: I've had people tell me I have too much time on my hands when I talk about a book I loved. Colleagues have insisted I will have no future unless I invest the time and money into getting an MBA. Friends have told me it's a shame that I waste my time and talent writing this blog, that I need to shift my focus to monetizing it or quit entirely. Certain family members have told me to take a step back in my career, otherwise it would end up hurting my husband and our future family.

#4 Know that listening to them sucks your time, attention and joy

Instead of saying no to these non-value-added activities and unsolicited suggestions, you feel guilty and do all of the above and consider the ideas that don't line up to your values. After taking the time and energy to care about all of those dumb things you cannot control, you have no energy left to invest in walking your cute dog, or taking a spontaneous road trip with your husband, or calling your wonderful mom or volunteering your time to help youth learn to read, or writing that novel on your bucket list.

If you're like me, you tend to ruminate over these things even if you do know that they don't matter. I waste a significant amount of time ruminating, which is yet another thing that detracts from enjoying the moment and the things in my life that are truly worth my energy. As the Souza quote above suggests, time is our only limited resource and it's our prerogative to use it wisely.

#5 Get comfortable saying no and ticking people off if you really want to change

Spending your time and attention on things that don't add value to your life throws things off balance, causes unnecessary stress and angst, and ultimately prevents you from having the most fulfilling experiences possible. You have to make a conscious decision to change, and learn to start saying no and to stop giving a f*ck about the things that don't really matter.

Implementing this in real life is hard to do because not everyone is going to like your newfound lackadaisical attitude towards what they want you to care about. After trying this concept out myself, here are some helpful, tactical suggestions for mastering the art of not giving a f*ck:

A. Quit Facebook and any other modes of social media that make you care about stupid things.

Seriously, it's non-value-added and you'll be amazed how people are still able to contact you by leveraging other modes of communication. No one will artificially remember your birthday, but the best gift will be forgetting the names of people who you should have omitted from memory in 8th grade. I've been off the 'book since 2012 and can honestly say that when people complain about seeing ultrasound images of the fetuses of distant acquaintances, I cannot relate.

B. Offload all of the commitments you currently have but don't really want.

Also opt out of any optional activities that you feel obligated to partake but don't really understand the value. We're told never to give up under any circumstance, and I think this is bogus. So does Mark Manson. Giving up the right things can set you free! Or, at least will set your time free to reinvest in something you actually care about.

C. Train yourself to say no in creative ways.

When someone makes a suggestion or gives advice that you don't value, simple say "Thank you for your input, I'll consider that" and don't let it take hold in your mind. If someone asks you to do something that you don't care to do: Say, "Thank you for thinking of me for this. Let me consider that and get back to you." Then, simply follow up with a brief, polite "No thank you."

Ok, that's all I have for today. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and what works well for you when it comes to staying focused on the things that you care about. And if you totally disagree and hate this whole post, let me know that too!

Welcome to the last day of 2016, folks! I've thought for a long time that this year of my self-imposed no shopping for new things vow would end with much (internalized) fanfare and a long, exciting shopping list of things that I can't wait to run out and buy with my thousands in savings.

This post has taken me several days to write because each time I sat down and opened my OneNote to organize my thoughts, I kept coming back to the fact that I don't really want much. So I'm going to wax poetic for a few minutes on what I've learned, and then give you a few pieces that I've observed are gaps in my wardrobe that I intend to fill in 2017.

At the end of this year, I've realized that style and fashion are two very distinct and separate concepts. Fashion is seasonal, mass marketed, and driven by trends. Style is forever, highly individual, and driven by choices. What we choose to buy and how we incorporate it into our existing wardrobes is what builds style. It truly cannot be bought, and I'm convinced that it's impossible have great style without taking the time to inventory and organize your closet, thoughtfully plan outfits, and carefully identify the gaps in the pieces you own to drive your purchasing decisions.

I've also started to think of developing style like we think about furnishing a home. There are pieces that you buy intending to use for years and years, such as your couch and dining table. And there are items you buy and move around from room to room as your inspiration changes, like rugs and accent tables. There are also a few accessories that you buy to add some spice to your rooms and realize that they're impractical and just collecting dust so you donate them quickly.

Building your wardrobe should follow the same thought pattern, considering the foundational pieces you'll wear forever and then selecting pieces that work with your basics to create new and creative combinations of outfits. There are eight major rules about developing great style that I've learned from my year of cutting back, and I've synthesized them for you below (along with some thoughts on the gaps I have in my wardrobe and how I plan to fill them for those asking for the "want" list).
#1 Invest in quality coats

Coats (and coatigans) stay in style longer, hold their shape, and can make your entire outfit when you live in places with long winters. None of my cheap coats survived the Goodwill donation purges that I made this year. I gravitated towards only the really wonderful coats I already owned, and most I've had for several years. Neutral colors (gray, black, cream), quality fabrics (wool, cashmere, down, leather), classic cuts and slightly oversized are the elements that will make a coat last in your wardrobe for a long time.

I've learned how to take better care of my coats, how to layer them, how to accessorize them and how to make them the focus of an outfit. And I've also realized that there's really only one classic coat missing from my collection: a camel wrap coat that I can toss on over a suit, a dress, or a pair of jeans to look fabulous. I plan to invest in a cashmere MaxMara wrap coat in 2017 and hold onto it for the rest of my life (and have my initials embroidered inside so my future granddaughter can think of me fondly when I'm long gone and she's wearing it in 2087).
#2 Buy remarkable, walkable shoes

Although I have an extensive collection of heels, fabulous flats and walkable low heels get the most wear in my wardrobe because they can go literally everywhere. My lace-up, strappy and super-high-quality flats took me from meetings to weddings to Friday night dinner-and-a-walk dates with my husband. In 2017, I'll be investing in a couple of additional pairs to round out my options and add some extra personality to my outfit combinations.

If you're curious what's on the list, I've been eyeing these nude Valentino Tango pumps (a classic in my opinion) and these satin Manolo Blahnik Hangisi flats. (FYI, I plan to get them both from eBay or ThredUp rather than new. I have this complex with new designer items, sort of like the whole buying a new car paradox where the premium depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot.) I've also had my eye on a couple of trendy flats that have stayed relevant for years that I might spring for if I find them at the right price point.

#3 Go with classic bags

Like coats and shoes, bags also have a much longer shelf life in your wardrobe and deserve extra thought and investment. Right now, I'm good with my selection of bags and have gotten a lot of wear out of my well-loved and reasonably priced Monserat De Lucca Docente large tote bag. It travels well, holds everything, has an interior zippered pouch to keep your wallet and phones secure, and comes with a cross-body strap.

Once it wears out, I'll continue my research on the best bags. I've been looking to upgrade one basic bag that everyone thinks is a leather Longchamp but is actually a cheaper lookalike that is starting to look tired. I'd upgrade it with this one. I've also been eyeing a few super-structured, wear-it-forever bags (on my friend Pam, and real estate agent Renee) like this one that I'll also wait for the right deal to come along. And just like with the shoes, I plan to source second hand.

(I've also been hearing a lot about Cuyana and Shinola from my colleagues so will be investigating those brands, too.)

#4 Stick to simple, fine jewelry

While getting my toenails painted, I came across a magazine ad for Patek Phillipe that justified the cost of fine jewelry in a way that spoke to my heart. It read, "You never own a Patek Phillipe, you simply take care of it for the next generation." I think this touches on why we love certain pieces, because they have history, memories, stories. There is meaning attached to it that cannot be bought.

That lens is a great one to apply to the jewelry you choose to buy and wear. For the past year, I've worn the same jewelry every single day aside from a select few pairs of earrings, a Lucite 80s necklace, and a carved bone bead necklace I got on vacation in Europe. I've worked to pare down my jewelry collection to only those pieces I truly treasure, enjoy wearing, and would save for future generations. 
#5 Wait out the trends

Old Colleen used to snap up trendy items without much thought, such as spending $300 on a pair of leopard print jeans that were out after a couple of seasons. Taking a year off and observing some of the trends this year gave me a chance to see if they'd last, and really think about whether I need to add them to my wardrobe. (It turns out I have no desire to purchase flamenco sleeves and a saddle bag.) Giving trends a year or two before deciding to buy in has the added benefit of lower cost because you can find the better quality pieces at consignment shops or on eBay.

#6 Trust your inner judges

This might sound crazy, but I think everyone has an inner 8-year-old self and an inner 80-year-old self that drive the balance of fun and practical in our choices. My inner 8-year-old wants me to eat cookies for breakfast and buy glitter heels, while my inner 80 year old wants me to take care of my health and avoid bunions. They are both right, and learning to listen to them has helped me to build better style that is both fun and practical. (In this example, the answer would be a coconut chocolate RXBAR for breakfast and well-supported glitter flats.)

#6 Don't be a snob about your sources

One of the reasons our culture is stuck in the fast fashion cycle that is polluting our environment and making us collectively poorer is because we're sold this idea that the ability to buy lots of new things makes us rich. Feeling rich and actually being rich are two very different things. Feeling rich for a day because you can buy a pound of polyester clothing on sale at Ann Taylor that will collect dust in your closet does not, in fact, make you rich. (We all know this but forget it when we find that cute top for $49.95.)

Shopping on eBay and hunting consignment, vintage and thrift shops are amazing sources of high quality pieces, and it's also a sustainable practice because you're not adding to the demand for new clothing to be made in Bangladesh by poorly treated and compensated women and children. I think people are afraid to shop in thrift stores and consignment shops because that somehow means they are poor or don't have the means to get clothing from traditional retailers. Or that it's gross to wear used clothing. Just remember that all billionaires are people who think differently than the masses, and that it's equally gross that a five year old sewed those pants you fell in love with in Banana Republic.

#7 Choose versatile items that can be worn many ways

Traveling with my wardrobe has taught me the value of versatility. Any new item that I purchase going forward has to provide me the ability to wear it in many ways and for many occasions. I've written a lot about my collection of suits, and trying to style them in multiple ways without feeling stodgy and corporate. I received a comment (hi, Erin!) that suggested a suit should make you feel the opposite. It inspired me to donate EVERY suit that made me feel too stodgy, and led me to do some research on what would be the perfect suit that would make me feel fabulous no matter how I style it. Nordstrom has a signature line with Caroline Issa, and right now has an amazing navy tuxedo pant and matching jacket that have my name on it.

#8 Remember who you are and what you value

Last but certainly not least, I feel like the biggest thing that I've learned this year is how to be honest with myself about my lifestyle and what I care about. It's so easy to be influenced by beautiful pictures, seriously talented marketers, and what everyone else seems to be doing. In taking a conscious step back, I've learned that resisting influence with thoughtfulness is the ticket to building a wardrobe that works for you and your personal style.

This year has also taught me that style is deeper than the choices we make regarding what material things are worthy of swiping our little plastic cards. Style is about how you think, what your opinions are, what matters to you, and how you express those things to the world. In many ways, it's a means to give other people a sense of your personality and worldview. That's why I think we all find it so fascinating.
And finally, some closing thoughts for you...

In reflecting on the past year, I've been  thinking about what these takeaways mean for what I want to share in this forum. One thing that bothers me about style blogging is the hyper focus on telling people what to buy. (I'm convinced that "like it to know it" is creating the largest outside sales organization on the planet.) We're collectively overwhelmed by people pushing things on us, and it's leading us to overspend and generate waste. (FYI, I counted every single promotional email I received in one day and realized that I get one EVERY 20 MINUTES round the clock, not counting the lists I unsubscribed - that's 26,280 in a year!)

Instead of focusing on what to buy, I want this blog to be a forum for ideas and inspiration about how we can think differently, be more authentic, and make better use of our time and resources to improve our lifestyles. And I'll still talk about developing personal style every chance I get because I love it. More to come on that…
That said, thank you so much for taking the time to follow this little blog, read this particular post, and for your thoughtful comments and encouragement over the past year. I am so appreciative of your support, and look forward to hearing more from you in 2017!

One of my very best friends from high school got engaged a few weeks ago. I cried after she called to tell me about it, just like I did when my older sister Karen got engaged.

Like my older sister, Michelle helped to make me the person I am today. Nearly all the pivotal moments in my life over the past 14 years we've been friends have been influenced by her friendship, fearless refusal to take no for an answer, insatiable desire for a challenge, and sometimes brutally honest advice. She's been my sounding board for the hardest questions I've had in life, the person who has been on the other end of the phone in the middle of the night with me a blubbering mess, gripped with loneliness, fear and self-doubt. There have been countless times when Michelle has helped me navigate those hard times through her strength, perspective and unique brand of girl power that leaves a wake wherever she goes.

There's a saying that hard times reveal true friends. The people who know your character flaws, insecurities, vulnerabilities and stick with you through it all are rare and incredibly valuable. They become like family.

Marriage, at its essence, is finding in a life partner that same feeling you get from your family and closest friends, that in-it-for-the-long-haul-despite-your-obvious-and-plentiful-shortcomings commitment and loyalty, and combining it with attraction, shared values and life goals.  Realizing that I had that rare combination in my now-husband Wes is how I knew I wanted to marry him. Not because he's dizzyingly handsome, driven, confident, thoughtful and hilarious (although he is), but because he sees me for who I am and accepts me, challenges me, pushes me and ultimately makes me a better person. He has fundamentally helped shape who I am today, and I'm not sure what path my life would have taken without him in it. I think that's why they say that the single most important decision you make in life is who you choose to share it with.

All this "making each other into better people" business comes with A LOT of effort, at least for me and Wes. Our first year of marriage was a rollercoaster of learning experiences which we culminated with a half-serious formal year-end performance review based on a 1-5 rating scale, with 5 being an F. (For the record, I gave Wes a 3, and he gave me a 4.) My lowest point of that year was within a month of our honeymoon: I walked into our tiny 2-bedroom rental after a week on the road for work and an extreme flight delay to find pizza boxes and beer cans in the middle of the living room, basketball shoes and dirty gym clothes in the hallway, and my husband with a newfound appreciation of PlayStation. I dropped my bags and started crying. Wes jumped up to comfort me, confused when all I could say was that I felt homeless. I slept in the guest bedroom that night, and we learned to discuss our needs in more concrete detail. Wes has had the house clean on Thursdays ever since.

Getting married to Wes has been the best decision I've made in my life. When I look back on our engagement and first year, my only regret is that I wish someone had given me a head's up that the ups and downs were not only normal, but necessary to continuing to grow in our relationship. I wish someone had told me that the ideal of a picture-perfect movie marriage is not only unrealistic, but would also be incredibly boring. Wes and I have an extremely strong relationship that I measure by the moments where we're suppressing desires to flick each other in the forehead and find ourselves laughing and holding hands minutes later.

Ok, if you've made it through that long prologue to this point, here are the things that I've learned in my marriage that I want to share with Michelle and my other closest friends who've decided to take the plunge:

#1 You will have a minor identity crisis

Mine kicked in the moment I got engaged, but according to my informal research this happens to others at unpredictable intervals. It starts with considering your name change and realizing that the name you've built independently will cease to exist. For some odd reason, I couldn't get over the fact that "Colleen Kelly" on my birth certificate will never be on a tombstone.  There was also this secret vision I had of myself living in a studio apartment in Paris taking art classes that I had to let die a slow death in order for the new vision of myself getting married to take hold.

#2 You will come in with unwritten expectations of marriage based on the only one you know

Subconsciously benchmarking marriage with what you grew up with isn't surprising, but I was surprised at the small assumptions that I had about marriage in general, about Wes in the role of husband, and about the assumptions he had of me in the role of wife. My friends know very well that my engagement story involved Googling "Why am I freaking out about getting engaged?" at 4 a.m. and ordering books titled "A Bride's Guide to the 'Happiest Time of Her Life'." For some reason, I'd always associated marriage with Honda Odysseys, lots of crying children, and a selfless wife with the patience of Mother Theresa. Also known as my mother's life, one that she loved but produced a daughter who hated her van, disliked babysitting and ended up with the patience of her litigator father.

Marriage is something that the two people in it create for themselves, and it takes a conscious effort to identify and discuss the assumptions you have of each other, determine which ones aren't going to hold true, and learn to specialize where it works for you. In our marriage, I'm the haphazard handyman and cook, and Wes meticulously does the laundry and bills.

#3 You will realize that your former standards of cleanliness do not have a place in your home

I've already described my low point in year one above, but I thought my mom had an interesting take on this. She told me that I had to "lower my standards" of cleanliness if I wanted a happy marriage. (WHAT?!?!) After a long internal battle that involved me independently Swiffering and vacuuming on Saturday mornings in a silent rage, I decided that I'd rather have a slightly dirty house and a happy marriage than be sterile and alone. Hiring a cleaning lady to come every other week helped, too.

#4 You will become more accepting of yourself, your flaws and your path

It's strangely paradoxical, but having Wes see all of my bad qualities (like the neuroses that may be evident in #1-2 above…) and love me anyway made me more confident and willing to work on them. Having him as my sounding board has helped me overcome self-doubt and take risks that I don't think I would have done on my own.

#5 You will be humbled daily by having to look at yourself through someone else's perspective

Sentences like, "I guess I can see how my refusal to hang your giant glowing beer signs and framed portrait of Ronald Reagan in our home could be offensive to you and your interests" suddenly became relevant when Wes and I got married. Learning that I had habits that deeply annoyed Wes opened my eyes and I learned to look at myself more objectively. One in particular was my tendency to go radio silent for hours at a time when I was engrossed in an activity (e.g., exploring a flea market, selecting appropriate wattage light bulbs at Home Depot). I'm still a bad texter (as my friends will attest) but have made amazing progress since 2013.

#6 You will strangely feel more comfortable interacting with men

Let me just say that I used to be uncomfortable interacting with men in certain situations because I didn't want to give the wrong impression that I was interested and end up 1. being asked out on a date that I would have to awkwardly turn down or 2. inadvertently becoming known as the Bridget Jones of the office with a hopeless crush and forever be break room cooler gossip.

Somehow, being publicly and clearly off the market eliminates the need to overthink what you are saying to some random guy on the subway so he doesn't somehow get the impression that you are available and interested. Again, I'm neurotic and recognize that this sentiment may not be widely shared, but it was mildly problematic for me and for my close girlfriends that I surveyed at length about the topic. (I've met a few women who tell me they don't have many girlfriends and have closer relationships with men, and I always ask them how they prevent said men from falling in love with them. I am probably a closed-minded product of my strict Catholic upbringing…)

#7 You and your husband will challenge each other to become better versions of yourselves

In my opinion, marriage is progressive: it's a relationship that is constantly changing, growing and evolving. To keep it progressing means you have to be all in, commit to it fully while continuing to invest in your independent interests, to stay focused on your shared values yet not take yourselves too seriously, to hold each other to the high standards you went in with and keep each other accountable when you're falling short, and to make time for shutting out the world to enjoy each other's company while simultaneously remembering to confirm that your anxious dog has been fed and walked.

For all the joy in our relationship, I'm convinced we'd be stagnant and boring if we never disagreed, got angry, or wanted to flick each other in the forehead out of sheer annoyance. This might be unique to my marriage, but I'm convinced that the challenges we've faced have made us closer and our relationship stronger.

I could write this list for hours, but taking a break here to let my married readers weigh in on this topic. I know many of you have been married for years and years, and am curious what you've learned along the way that surprised you! Please let me (and my newly engaged friend Michelle) know in the comments.

Not sure about you, but I am high risk for looking frumpy during the winter months. My motivation to take the time to plan out my outfits and inject a little creativity into what I am wearing tends to wane about November.

This winter, in the last few weeks of my challenge to cut out new things, I decided to do a final pare-down of my winter things to the ones that I love the most and keep the focus of my outfits on just a few key items.

If there is one thing I've learned over the past (almost year) of not buying new things, it's that your money should go to high quality basics, bags and shoes: they don't go out of style, and have the power to make even the simplest outfit look fancy. There are several pieces that are on constant repeat in my closet in cold months (like cashmere sweaters and scarves in neutral colors, my trusty coatigans, and leather leggings) that make me feel instantly put together. Adding a little personality with the right shoe or a cool bag (like the fringed number in the picture above) is easy once you've got the right foundation.

Below are my go-to outfit formulas for the days when I have zero desire to try (like today, where I find myself wearing my trusty Transit coatigan for the one millionth time this year...)

# 1 Flats + distressed jeans + basic button down + coatigan + tote + red lipstick

For whatever reason, I have an aversion to boots. They're hard to style with pants, so I tend to brave the cold ankles and keep everything else well-cocooned. This outfit has been repeated many times, and looks even better when you add a cashmere hat and scarf.

#2 Oversize gray sweater + leather leggings + fancy flats + neutral bag

An oversize gray sweater in a substantial, thick wool has been a gap in my wardrobe for years. ThredUp recently offered me a credit to shop their site, and I was so excited to find this Eileen Fisher number! It's the perfect counterpart to my leather leggings, long enough to cover my buns and versatile enough to work with ankle pants or a skirt and tights for work.

#3 Tall boots + loose, sleeved dress + simple bag

I know I just told you I don't like boots, but I like to contradict myself. These equestrian boots are a deep brown suede that my mom bought for me in college and I love them. I wear them exclusively with dresses in the winter, with thick wool socks and no tights so only my knees are at risk for getting cold. I love that they're such a classic style (unlike over-the-knee boots that I categorically hate for reasons I cannot explain). This simple Malene Birger dress is also a gift of ThredUp, one that is truly meant for all seasons and works great for winter with boots. (Also kind of a unicorn find!)

Ok, that's all for now! I'd love to hear about your go-to outfit formulas for the winter in the comments below. Also, thank you so much for all of your continued support of this little blog. I have really appreciated all your comments on this blog, Instagram and via email! To those who have asked for my revised "Things to buy in 2017" list, I promise it is coming soon!

If you haven't read Dr. Nigma Talib's book (Younger Skin Starts in the Gut), reading it will blow your mind, cause you to question your behavior, research the claims in hopes of disproving them, fail, become somewhat depressed, and then finally become motivated to change your behavior. (That is exactly what happened to me when I read it.)

Although I highly suggest reading it in full, Dr. Talib's advice is too amazing to sit on your bookshelf until you find the time so I'm sharing a summary here (and shouting it from the mountaintops, and boring my coworkers with it, and my husband, etc.)

Before we begin, let's start with a little exercise based on the premise of Dr. Talib's book, which is that consumption of sugar, dairy, wine, or gluten causes distinct signs of aging on your face.

Take a look at the below diagram, read the descriptions of each, and then look in the mirror at your own face. Do you have any signs of Wine Face, Dairy Face, Gluten Face or Sugar Face (or all four...)?

Sugar Face Symptoms:
  • Sagging under eyes
  • Widespread blemishes
  • Pustular or cystic acne
  • Thinning skin
  • Dark gray or pasty white hue to the complexion
  • Lines and wrinkles on the upper forehead

Dairy Face Symptoms:
  • Under eye bags
  • Darkness under the eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Widespread acne and blemishes
  • Pale cheeks
  • Concentrated pimples on the chin

Wine Face Symptoms:
  • Lines between the eyebrows
  • Enlarged pores 
  • Reddish cheeks
  • Dehydrated skin
  • Feathery lines across the cheeks
  • Deep nasolabial folds 

Gluten Face Symptoms:
  • Puffy cheeks
  • Jowls
  • Blemishes across forehead
  • Bloated appearance to face
  • Redness or red spots on cheeks
  • Blemishes or dark patches on the chin

Why is this happening?!

In the book, Dr. Talib explains that sugar, dairy, wine (and all alcohol), and gluten are all common causes of inflammation that lead to the symptoms described above.

We are all familiar with acute inflammation, the response your body has to injuries like cuts and bruises. White blood cells rush to the area to repair the damage, resulting in redness, swelling and discomfort.

Dr. Talib suggests that consuming sugar, dairy, wine and gluten cause a similar inflammatory response in our bodies but that it is chronic and long-term, leading to a variety of health issues in addition to the aging face scare tactic that she used to lure me in to reading her book in the first place! Here are some of the reasons why they're so bad in cause you want to fact-check her like I did:

  • Sugar leads to glycation, a process that breaks down the collagen essential for keeping your skin firm and youthful
  • Dairy is extremely difficult for our bodies to digest because we lose the enzymes that process dairy as we age
  • Wine is full of sugar, sulfites, pesticides and alcohol which dehydrates you, causes your liver to work overtime, and disrupts your gut bacteria
  • Gluten causes a leaky gut for many people, which means that things you are supposed to be digesting literally leak out of your digestive tract to who-knows-where in your body

I have Wine Face, and I'm going to fix it

Although I cut gluten and dairy from my diet earlier this year at the insistence of my dermatologist (and with great results), I love wine - in full disclosure, I have a glass or two almost every night. Dr. Talib showed me that as a result of that habit, I may have Wine Face (!!!!) and am likely causing myself to age quickly and paving the way for future health issues. Considering that I am pushing 31 and willing to spend $130 on an ounce of Skinceuticals serum to keep my skin in tip top condition, this is NOT ACCEPTABLE and I decided to do something about it.

Before any of my fellow winos freak out, know that the book advises that moderation can eliminate the issues. Dr. Talib suggests taking four straight days without alcohol each week, and keep it reasonable (no more than three glasses) on the "off" days.

I'm testing her theory by cutting out wine entirely and replacing it with La Croix, Perrier and chamomile tea during the work week. Although the logical part of my mind would love to do a full month without any wine or sugar, the illogical impulsive side of my mind lacks the will power to survive the holiday party circuit under such austere circumstances. (Suggestions welcome.) I'm considering this advance training for 2017 behavior changes...

If you're a fellow candidate for Wine Face (or Sugar, Dairy or Gluten Face) and considering making some changes, I'd love any ideas you have on healthy substitutes for wine and chocolate, or cheesecake and French bread. (For the record, I just got hungry typing that...)

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a chance to check out this book!