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Maybe it's just me, but I tend to get stuck in wardrobe ruts that conjure that all-too-familiar feeling of "closet full of clothes but nothing to wear." Getting in a rut with my closet makes me doubt my taste and purchasing decisions, and inspires the need buy something new.

Since I've cut myself off from retail therapy (the cure for that sort of wardrobe ailment), I've started to find new ways to overcome boredom and get my creative juices flowing. These ideas might make me sound a little crazy (if I didn't already...), but they really work for me:

#1 Organize your accessories into cliques

If you follow my Instagram account, you know about my tried-and-true "bag and shoe of the week" strategy for traveling. Well, I've expanded that strategy to include accessories beyond just the basics. Creating coordinated accessory cliques consisting of bag, shoes, sunglasses, hat, scarf, etc. based on commonalities such as complementary colors, diverse fabrics, and similar metal tones was a game changer for me. 

In the photo above, I put a lot of thought into black-and-white straw hat, black-and-white silk scarf, nude leather tote and simple unadorned rubber sandals. They are my Switzerland clique, perfectly neutral of color and guaranteed to play nice with whatever items of clothing I introduce to the combination, be it a black silk shift dress or a shapeless green potato sack of a dress.

My group of structured orange leather tote bag, purple suede sandals and Lucite earrings, on the other hand, would not play nice with all items of clothing and require more thoughtful selections.

Creating these cliques in my closet has established easy foundations for building a variety of outfits and opened new possibilities for certain pieces of clothing I wouldn't have pulled otherwise. Of course, cliques have certain members that float between them and are just frameworks for organizational purposes such as when you need to quickly pull together a dinner party (or an outfit for a dinner party).

#2 Speaking of cliques, befriend the weirdos in your closet one at a time

One weirdo in my closet is the pictured and aforementioned shapeless potato sack of a dress. It's French and I've always loved it, but avoid wearing it due to it's controversial and hard-to-style nature. I made a commitment to wear it this summer after it spent a few years sitting dormant in my summer box. Combining it with the Switzerland clique added some simple-yet-much-needed class, and made me feel fabulous wearing it. I added bright red lipstick, wore it out for a Saturday, and got compliments all day. It was sort of like a Princess Diaries success story for my potato sack.

#3 Hide your favorite things from yourself

Psycho, yet effective: if I have my go-to items within arms reach in my closet, I'll wear them over and over again. So I packed up my favorite items and put them in the back of our foyer coat closet. This helped to refocus my attention on less worn but equally amazing pieces. I rediscovered a few old pairs of shoes this way and have been getting a lot more creative with my work wardrobe when packing.

Added benefit is that the same exact feeling of excitement you get when buying a great new piece is conjured up when you find those forgotten items you hid from yourself a few months earlier. I know this for a fact out of the sheer excitement I had when I found my favorite blue silk Tibi shirt while searching for my feather duster a few weeks ago.

#4 Choose a theme for the day, week or weekend

One theme I've been choosing lately is "I'm going to the beach" when I actually have no plans to do so. This helped me to wear an amazing but very short LaRok dress that I love but never wear out in the city. Instead, I resign it to being a beach cover up. A couple weeks ago, I put it on with my swimsuit and wore it running errands and meeting friends for lunch. Shocker was that no one was shocked: I got over my mental hump and now comfortably wear it for many occasions.

Other themes I choose include "I'm going on a first date" when I have dinner with my husband, or "I am a high powered CEO" when packing for my work trips. 

#5 Rearrange your closet in the order you get dressed, and by "like item" and color

This took a few tries, but I realized that the way I was organizing my closet wasn't conducive to the decision-making required to have great style. I follow a structured process when getting dressed, starting with selecting shoes and coordinated bag appropriate for my day's activities, and then select bottoms, tops or dresses afterwards. I arranged my closet in the order I get dressed and it changed my thinking: I have shoes and bags right up front when I walk in, then have sections for skirts, pants, shirts, and blazers. Each section is sub-divided into like item and ordered by color, resulting in a nice little ombre balance to all of my things. Taking this strategy with organizing my closet helps me quickly assess what will go with whatever item I have on hand to wear.

Of course, I am not perfect and have to spend a little time every week keeping my system organized. A few minutes each week to get everything in order has paid dividends for me and I truly think that I'm getting so much more wear out of the things I own because I can so quickly identify and find them with this system.

Alright, that's all for now, hope you find some of these ideas helpful in getting more use out of your own wardrobe! If you have any ideas that work well for you personally, I'd love to hear them (and use them)!

One of the secondary reasons that I embarked on this 'no new things for a year' challenge was to dial back my spending and make a change to my lifestyle to test whether I could walk away from high-salaried corporate life for a freelance creative venture of my own. 

No matter how much money you make, there's a sense of freedom in questioning how you spend it and realizing that you can do less and get better results. Although this is a concept that I intuitively understood, I knew that long term success required me to learn more about personal finance: it's a topic that makes me incredibly uncomfortable for a number of reasons but not least of which is my utter lack of thought, planning and strategy in that arena.

For years, the extent of my personal finance strategy was to simply make sure I was living within my means, paying my bills on time, and saving a little every month. Obviously, I knew there was more I could be doing, but the topic bored me, long term plans scared me, and I didn't really understand investing.

When I started thinking about what I really needed to live a comfortable life, I did some research and came across "I Will Teach You To Be Rich," Ramit Sethi's simple guide to accumulating wealth. It's sort of a "get rich slow" scheme. In addition to describing the most pragmatic perspective on how to think about money I've ever heard, Ramit outlines very simple steps you should be taking with your money to make the most of it.

People, I took copious notes. As in, disregarded the guy sitting in seat 4C and just kept elbowing him as I furiously scribbled away in my notebook. Then I researched them, talked to my husband and have implemented in full. Although I highly encourage you to read the book (arguably the best $7.13 I've spent this year), here's a summary straight from my plane seat…

Key takeaway: You don't have to change your lifestyle to improve your financials

When I think about saving money, my mind wanders to an image of me sitting forlorn on an old futon in windowless room, eating lukewarm ramen noodles out of a Styrofoam cup. When I think about making money, I imagine scenes from Wolf on Wall Street and feel a sense of shame that my ability to decipher the NASDAQ ticker is somewhat reminiscent of my ability to decipher my 6th grade French textbook.

Ramit argues that becoming wealthy doesn't require a lifestyle overhaul, and has NOTHING to do with investment strategy. Your personal finance strategy should enable your lifestyle. With small adjustments and some thoughtful planning, you can actually spend more on what you care about in the long term. But first, you need to establish the right foundation and set up a system to manage your finances… and it's simple to do. Here's the short, step-by-step version:

#1 Stare your finances in the face

Gather the facts on your current financial position: this includes debts, expenses, savings, what you have coming in, and where you're spending your disposable income. This is your current financial position.

#2 Figure out your 'non-negotiable' expenses

If you want to improve your financial position, you need to consider what expenses are important to you, be it a beautiful apartment in a desirable location, designer bags or traveling the world. When I sat down to really think long and hard about my non-negotiables, it was a surprisingly short list.

#3 Scale back on 'negotiable' expenses

Cut back on every possible expense that does not support your top priority or priorities. For me, that meant cutting out things like coffee shops, frequent fancy dinners, manicures/pedicures and Sephora runs which sometimes ended up costing hundreds of dollars in the course of a month. And that outrageous cable package for my husband… Netflix it is, folks!

#4 Pay off debt

This should go without saying, but paying off any debt should be priority number one.  There's a lot out there on debt payment strategy, but fundamentally you want to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

#5 Set up auto-pay on all of your bills

You'll never miss a payment or pay a fee again. Those cute little fees add up.

#6 Decrease your APR payments

If you're paying for anything on an installment basis (a credit card, a loan, a car, etc.), you can sweet-talk your way into a lower annual percentage rate (APR), or what you are charged for the full year for that loan. Just pick up the phone, and politely ask them to decrease your APR by 50%. If they say they cannot do it, continue asking for a supervisor until you find someone who can grant your wish.

#7 Increase your credit score

Assuming you've paid off debt and are paying all your bills on time, the easiest way to increase your credit score is to ask for a credit increase on all of your cards and DON'T SPEND ABOVE YOUR CURRENT CREDIT LIMIT. This is actually genius: 30% of your credit score is your credit utilization, meaning how much of your credit you've spent. If you have credit increases, but aren't spending it, your score goes up. And your interest rates go down. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang. It's that simple, people.

#8 Open a high-interest online savings account

Ramit recommended CapitolOne, I researched it, and it's the best interest you can earn on money that's just sitting in savings (between 0.6% and 1% depending on how much you've got saved). And there are zero fees. None.

#9 Open a Schwab online checking account

Read my lips (ok, read my typeface): no ATM fees, free checks, free bill pay, and 0.6% interest earned on any balance. It cannot be beat. You have to open a brokerage account with your checking account, but it's free and you don't have to use it. Downside is that there are no Schwab brick and mortar banks if you like getting the free lollipops, and it takes a couple of business days to access your money should you need to make a large payment beyond what can be offered by your billions of now-free ATMs.

#10 Automate transfers

Between your sparkly new Schwab checking account to your high-interest savings account, and any other accounts you might want to set up. CapitolOne will let you set up as many savings "accounts" as you want, so you can earmark for things you want such as a kitchen renovation or a $4,000 purse (see 'non-negotiable expenses' in #2 above).

#11 Max out your 401k

Sadly, I hadn't been doing this and have lost a lot of free money. If you've got a corporate 401k, figure out what your company will match, and max out that percentage. Then sit on it and watch the dollars roll in. Your 65-year-old self will thank you (in addition to judging your 25-year-old self for wasting what could have been 401k match dollars on TJ Maxx shoes). Live and learn.

#12 Open a Roth IRA at a discount brokerage

It doesn't matter what brokerage, as they are all the same (no offense to any brokers who may be reading this). Ramit says that playing the stock market gets you no real returns in the long run. So open one, max out your contributions, and don't touch it until your anti-wrinkle cream routine becomes a fruitless venture.

#13 Create a spreadsheet to keep everything in one place

Make it an extremely simple document so you can manage it over time. Put all of your financial accounts (banking, credit cards, loans, etc.), login/passwords, interest percentages, monthly contributions, etc. into one place so you've got the ability to check in and keep your system working seamlessly. And obviously store it in a safe place.

That's it, now you can sit back in your La-Z-Boy recliner and watch the money build up. I'm kidding, of course, because no reader of this blog would voluntarily own a La-Z-Boy nor would just let this passive personal finance system be the end of the story. The whole point of this is to set up reliable structure that enables savings to become automatic, and also focuses your disposable income on what you actually care about. I really love Ramit's tip for having separate, labeled "accounts" to save for the things on your non-negotiable list. Imagine how much more free you'd feel traveling, knowing that you've earmarked and already have saved the thousands it's going to cost!

As you increase your income over time, this system can also flex to accommodate additional accounts and investments.

If you have any other tips for making the most of your money, please let me know in the comments!

(And, last but not least, special thanks to my friend and cousin Becky Howe for the artsy photo above...)

Tomorrow, it will be six months since I set out on my self-induced "no new things for a year" challenge to be more thoughtful about how I spend my money and be more creative in how I style myself every day.

Since I'm officially at the half-way point, thought I'd take an intermission to write this post reflecting on the lessons I've picked up along the way. I'd also love to get your perspective on how to focus going forward.

*WARNING: This is a super long post, you should probably get a drink and a snack before diving in.*

Every Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m., I meet my personal trainer Vern at a gym in Lincoln Park and leave 45 minutes later pouring in sweat with renewed inspiration to eat well and take care of my body. This weekly appointment keeps me accountable, helps me to make better decisions, and is the only reason I have any muscle tone whatsoever. ("Build lean muscle" was on my 2015 goals list, jotted down in permanent ink after completing thorough research on tactics for maintaining metabolism, managing weight and staying young forever.)

Personal training is hands down the best investment I've made for my health, an expense that reaps long term benefits that is much cheaper than a wasted gym membership or prescription drugs for health ailments. The benefits I've enjoyed from working with Vern once per week for the past 15+ months include those I touched on in the first paragraph, but the best thing I've taken away from my sessions has been a minimalist fitness plan that fits my lifestyle.

Since getting fit with minimal time is what this post is all about, here's exactly how to do it:


One of the benefits of my full-time job's travel requirement is the option to travel to an alternate location for a weekend instead of to my home in Chicago. This was much more exciting when I first started and before I was married, but I still love to take advantage of it every now and then. It gives me a chance to stretch my light packing muscles! 

The people at vegas.com reached out awhile ago for my light packing tips for a weekend getaway to the Sin City, a place I've actually never visited but have on my short list. Even though I'm not planning to go any time soon, I loved the idea of a post on how to pack light for weekend getaways in general - especially for a place you've never visited! (By the way, I should mention that this post is not sponsored; I'm just stealing the pitch...) 

Without further ado, I'll share the six steps I'd take to pack my lone carry on for a theoretical weekend in Vegas, as well as a few tricks I use to make my minimalist, multipurpose approach to packing work:

Styling one piece multiple ways is one of the tricks I've used for years when traveling, but have started to apply the principle to my wardrobe in general as part of my minimalist challenge to stop buying new things for a year. Asking myself how I can wear a piece in a new way has helped me to get past the boredom, and "discovering" an outfit that's already in my closet has helped to fulfill my desire to buy. It's also helping me learn which pieces are truly versatile and deserve a spot in my closet, versus those that are just taking up space and should be donated.

A few months ago when it was still cold in Chicago, I wrote a post about five ways to style a basic black dress and since received a few requests to repeat the process for a summer staple. For me, a simple white dress is the epitome of a summer classic: it never goes out of style, and can be worn everywhere from the beach to the office. 

Here are just five of the ways that I style my longtime favorite white summer dress, a slightly oversize linen in a simple a-line cut from J.Jill (and for those of you who aren't on a buying fast, I've decided to honor your requests for recommendations on "best buys" and included links to similar items at the end of the post that I feel would live a long life in my closet.)

There is something about being true to who you really are that is terrifying. Especially when you have thin skin, and I'm pretty sure that I do. When I hold things back, it protects me from judgement and criticism and allows me and my thin skin to bask in the peace and comfort of the Safety Zone.

The CEO of my consulting firm recently sent out a note on the importance of authenticity and why being real was so important in creating a diverse workplace. The crux of the issue is that when we aren't being true to ourselves, we're closed-minded, not learning, growing, and challenging norms. Everyone trying to fit a mold that's not reflective of the real world leads to stagnation. She is brilliant, our first female CEO, and her thoughts on this topic really stuck with me - that there's inherent business value in diversity of thought, experience and perspective, yet we choose to edit out what's diverse about ourselves. It made me think about how I do this, and how to change.

Obviously, there are some parts of your "real" life and personality that are worth omitting in a professional setting, such as political beliefs or college spring break stories (not that I ever had a wild spring break, unless you count binge eating Key Lime Pie in Sarasota with my BFFs). The challenge is defining the line of how much of yourself to bring to the table.

Personally, walking this fine line has been a struggle for me in the 7 years I've been gainfully employed. The things that I choose not to share at work, but will admit here, include:
  1. This blog, my Instagram feed, any of my freelance publications. 
  2. Any photos of me from middle school. (Think bowl cut, braces, glasses, extremely anxious Odyssey of the Mind world champion and last chair violinist in orchestra.)
  3. That my biggest fear (aside from losing my family) is being judged - and worse, being judged as stupid. (Yet somehow I still muster the audacity to continue posting photos of myself on the Internet…)
  4. I have a brother whose struggle with alcohol and drug addictions has been affecting my family since I was 14 (but the upside is that it motivated me to be one of the rare successful graduates of the D.A.R.E. program).
  5. When I take the train, I never get on the first or last car due to an irrational fear of a collision.
  6. My favorite genre of books is self-help, and I can give you ten titles that truly changed my life.
  7. That I graduated with a journalism degree, never took a finance class in my life and get extremely uncomfortable when my colleagues start doing math out loud in their heads.
  8. That I'm not sure where I would be in life if I didn't meet my husband at 24. As cliché as it sounds, he is truly my rock in life and demands that I stop second-guessing myself and go after what I want. Anything I've accomplished in the past 6 years can be attributed to his influence on me, but I give him zero public credit for that because of my deep-seated need to be seen as Miss Independent. He is generous, trustworthy, hard-working, hilarious, etc., yet sometimes I also want to kill him for inexplicable reasons. (Do all married people experience this dichotomy, or is it just me?)
  9. When I walk into people's homes, I immediately want to rearrange their furniture and change the paint. (I think it's a tic.)
  10. I spent way too much time in my 20's worried about what everyone else thought, and living up to other people's standards.
  11. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and be a yoga teacher, but I don't because of #3 above.

There are thousands of things that I could add to this list, and I'm sure you have one equally as lengthy. It's problematic, in some ways, that we edit so much of ourselves - not just in our professional lives, but with anyone outside our trusted inner circles.

The problem with being inauthentic

Editing who we are means we miss opportunities for connection, for mutual understanding, and for sparking relationships. We also fail to serve as an example to those around us who may desperately need to feel accepted, included and OK with themselves by watching someone demonstrate what it means to be genuine and comfortable in her own skin. (There are several women who have been this to me, and I am incredibly grateful to having them in my life at exactly the right moments - and I am equally grateful for everything Anna Quindlen has ever written.)

 Social media often compounds this issue, leading us to compare ourselves, our lives, our families, and our successes to impossibly perfect images of other people's tastefully edited 500 pixel squares that we surround with our own assumptions and projections. It plants seeds of self-doubt, as well as desires for things we think will make us happy but we don't really need. (Recently, I found myself pages-deep into a blog wanting a baby… and a remote farmhouse in Montana.)

How do we solve it?

Despite our collective craving for realness, it's hard to find people and content that satiate that need and inspire you to genuine, to embrace who you are, where you are at, and the value you bring to the world. (I've also heard this described as, "Let your freak flag fly.") It's not really surprising that inspiration and role models for realness are hard to find, given how fearful we all are to be our own authentic selves.

In an effort to improve, I'll be exploring new topics on this little blog to use it as a podium for authenticity while continuing to pose in my old clothes to prove you don't need any new ones. Also, I challenge you to find ways bring more of your real self forward - where having an opinion, taking a stand, or sharing something about yourself that's not necessarily comfortable or mainstream in order to inspire someone else to do the same. 

I'd also love to hear your ideas on the topic of authenticity and what might be worth exploring or expanding! 

(Now I'm off to go take perfect little pictures of my bea-yoo-tiful home and snuggle with my perfect dog who never chews my shoes or pees on my friends' feet when they come over.)