COCO BORDEAUX

A blog about style, minimalism & self-improvement

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One thing I love to do with my girlfriends is invite myself over to their homes to overhaul their closets, give them unsolicited style tips, and put together outfits for them using things they already own. It's sort of like "happy hour and shopping on a Friday night" but backwards and costs a lot less. It typically involves a couple bottles of wine, lots of emphatic tossing of things on the ground, and rounds of forced try-ons and posed pictures to file away for future reference. It tends to be a ruthless process with A LOT of items ending up in the 'toss' pile and some third-degree questioning about why certain things needs to be saved or why others are never worn. It's also extremely rewarding in that it yields many new outfits that had been sitting there all along, results in a short shopping list of items that are truly needed to round out what's left in the closet, and feeds my insatiable need to be in charge at all times. (Just kidding, of course.)

After going through this process with many of my friends, I've learned that we all struggle with the same things when it comes to getting dressed every morning. Over time, I've realized that there are five common mistakes most people make with their wardrobes and I wanted to share them here along with some thoughts on solutions in case you run into these pitfalls, too.
 
 
#1 They spend too much on trendy, occasion-specific items rather than investing in basic, everyday staples

We all fall into this trap, but avoiding it and instead committing to allocate your money towards the items you'll truly get the most cost per wear is a surefire way to develop better style. When my friend Gill and I went through literally every item in her closet, it amazed me that she had several extremely expensive designer cocktail dresses that were literally collecting dust in her closet yet didn't own black jeans, high quality cotton tee shirts, silk blouses, or a great tailored blazer. To survive this closet of many gaps, she wore Lululemon leggings everywhere.

Without a collection of great basics that work well together, getting dressed every day is difficult and requires more effort and thought. Before spending money on a new dress for a special occasion, think about what basics your wardrobe is lacking and whether that money might be better spent on something that will get more mileage like a great tote or a pair of tuxedo pants that fit you perfectly.
 
#2 They overlook really amazing items because they're not sure how to style them

Leather skirts, cage heels, and trendy items like bell sleeves are great because they have the power to spice up an otherwise basic outfit. I have many friends who buy these things but don't wear them because they're not sure how to incorporate them into an outfit. One of the best styling tricks I've learned is to pick one item as the focus and balance it by choosing opposing items that are different textures, shapes and colors. For example, a leather skirt is an edgy, tough fabric that needs to be balanced with a softer texture like cashmere or cotton and dressed down with flats to make it appropriate for day. A shirt with 70s style bell sleeves needs to be balanced with simple classics like distressed jeans and basic pumps.
 
 
#3 They don't make the time to plan outfits in advance
 
Whenever I fall into a rut with my closet, I intentionally carve out a couple of hours on a weekend to go through it item-by-item and put together outfits, try them on and take photos so I'll remember the combinations. It gets my creative juices flowing and gives me a great reference file of outfits to pull. Every night before I go to bed, I pick out my entire outfit (starting with the shoes) based on the weather and what I have to do the next day. It guarantees that my outfit will look put-together and helps me get out the door faster. Advance planning is the only reason why I can put together a stylish outfit in one minute.

#4 They fail to assess gaps in their wardrobe before going shopping

This is the root cause of pitfall #1 above, and it the most difficult habit to break when it comes to developing style. In a culture of instant gratification, it's so much easier to think that your wardrobe woes can be cured with a trip to a store to buy new things rather than recognize that you have work to do in evaluating what you already own, how your wardrobe works for you, and your purchasing decisions.

The absolute best thing you can do to develop great style is to buy less and spend more strategically on items that will truly fill a gap in your wardrobe. Prior to my "No New Things" challenge, I was a victim of 'bargain' impulse purchases that didn't serve what I really needed. Now that I'm older and wiser, I've realized that it's actually cheaper to make investment purchases. After spending a lot of time planning and assessing my wardrobe gaps for a year, I've spent in the ballpark of $2,500 on just 7 pieces: a couple of high quality flats  that I'll use for the next 5 years, a few timeless dresses that can be styled for countless occasions, an amazing oversize woven tote bag that can go anywhere, and a timeless trench coat that fits me perfectly and can be worn with literally everything.

That might sound like a lot of money to some of you, but I'm convinced it's far less than what I would have spent if I didn't have a plan. How many times have you spent under $100 on a 'bargain' dress, or pair of shoes, or a bag or jacket that you didn't really love and just took up space in your closet until you eventually donated them? Wouldn't it have been worth it to omit those purchases and save that money for a few thoughtfully selected pieces that will really serve your lifestyle for years to come?

 

#5 They lose focus on what works for them, their shape and their lifestyle

Getting brutally honest with yourself about what works for your body and your lifestyle is a challenge, but will help you have better style. Cap sleeves, the color yellow, empire waists, and strapless styles are examples of items you will never (or extremely rarely) see me wear because they just don’t work for my broad shoulders, pale skin, or boyish shape. Learning to avoid wholesale the things that don't work for me and selecting items that highlight my assets has been a game changer. It's also been a game changer to really look at my lifestyle across a 365 day span and consider the percentage of time I spend in various settings such as work, lounging at home, on dates with my husband, out with friends, or at parties and fancy events. Making sure that my wardrobe reflects that lifestyle has helped me to refine my everyday style and focus where I build my wardrobe. For me personally, this means spending more on versatile items that I can wear to the office or dress both up and down, and deciding to buy cashmere sweatpants that work for both reading in my living room and for the times my husband successfully drags me out to a neighborhood bar on a Friday night.


In addition to these common mistakes, I also tend to find common gaps in my friends wardrobe or missing staples that would help to create dozens of new outfits. And I think this is a problem that can be hard to diagnose without an outside perspective. Many of you have also emailed or left comments in the past asking for thoughts on the basic, foundational items that everyone should own.

Although I'd love to be your online personal stylist and Skype-edit your closet, I figured it would be easier to just create a checklist of spring + summer wardrobe staples to help you take inventory of your own wardrobe, guide your purchasing decisions, and develop better personal style. If you're interested in my wardrobe staples checklist, please join my email list for access to a free copy!
 
P.S. This post is dedicated to my friend (and beauty vlogger) Pam Sanchez and the 300 flow-y tops I forced her to donate. May they rest in peace.

If you've never failed at anything in your entire life, this post is not for you. And for the record, I assume you must live in a bubble and be incredibly boring and we would never be friends because perfect and interesting are mutually exclusive concepts in my world.

That's not to say that I think I'm a failure. There are some things that I do pretty well: corny puns, rearranging furniture, finding grammar mistakes in newspapers. My dog literally thinks I'm the most amazing person on Earth. But there are thousands of things that I do terribly: anything that requires hand-eye coordination, selecting gifts, remembering to RSVP, carrying a tune, cooking chicken breast. Among others that I could spend hours listing here.

I've been thinking a lot lately about shortcomings and failure, and reflecting on the lengths I personally (and we collectively as a culture) go to correct or avoid them. From a very young age, we're taught what's expected, and over time we unconsciously begin to do two things:
  1. Strive to overcome shortcomings
  2. Avoid failing at all costs

There's something inherently wrong with both of these tendencies. An innate drive to change ourselves to meet some false vision of perfection leads us away from who we truly are as human beings, and what we're really meant to do for the world with our unique talents. A fear of failure holds us back from experiences and lessons that are necessary to learn, grow and expand our value to others.

Rather than making us collectively better human beings, striving for 'perfection' and fearing failure causes us to become versions of ourselves based on false standards that might not be quite right for who we are as people. My girl Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: "When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being."

How often have you heard the tale of the straight A student who followed the path of achievement until they morphed into a miserable investment banker yearning to own a food truck? Or the one about the young woman who forgets to relish the amazing, independent life she's built because of an intense loneliness driven by a false life timeline that dictates expiration dates for brides and mothers?

The pressure to achieve other people's vision of perfection can be overwhelming, and the fear of failure can paralyze us. It doesn't matter what you do, where you live, who your partner or friends are, or what your version of perfection and failure looks like. We all experience this and have to get past it in order to be better people and more value to the world.
Why Falling Short and Failing Is Good For You

A reader (hi, Cindy!) recently helped me think about this from a fresh perspective. After reading one of my posts, she emailed me to say that she was unsubscribing because she was offended by what I wrote. I was stunned. After exchanging a few emails with Cindy to better understand her perspective, I realized how badly I failed: in her explanation, Cindy told me that she loved to read this blog and often printed the posts to reread. Like many people, she'd grown weary of the negativity in American politics and exhausted by the constant commentary. Finding that tone on a blog she'd grown to trust to provide a positive and productive perspective was incredibly disappointing.

For me, realizing that I made at least one reader feel marginalized and negatively impacted their day was a much-needed wakeup call. I'd forgotten something I learned from one of my longtime favorite authors E.B. White, who famously said that the purpose of writing is "to lift people up, not lower them down."

Failing in this example taught me that I had an opportunity to better serve my readers and needed to be more thoughtful about the purpose and intent of my messages. The lesson Cindy helped teach me that day also made me consider where I needed to be more thoughtful about the value I was delivering in other roles in my life, including as a sister, daughter, wife, friend, colleague, manager and consultant. 

Beauty, prestige, popularity, money, and power are some examples of how our culture defines perfection and success. If you struggle to resist those powerful cultural forces, you're not alone. In fact, I think we'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't have that same struggle. I personally believe the fear and insecurities driven by those false ideals are the reason why we as individuals become stagnant, and why our society is collectively anxious, exhausted, lonely and obsessed with efficiency, productivity and instant gratification.

The good news? There's a cure! And it's easy, but requires that you actively recognize and resist those external influences, and take steps to consciously focus on what truly matters to free yourself up to fall short, fail and feel fine about it (otherwise known as "growing"). To get you started, here's a list of life truths that I find particularly inspiring when I start to get sucked into the comparison trap:
#1 You are the only person on Earth who truly understands who you are, and who you are becoming

People love to tell you what you should or should not do, how you're holding yourself back, what you should value or what should or should not be important to you. They probably have good intentions and presume to know you, but are really just projecting their own standards onto you. Learn to ignore them, and stay focused on what you truly value and know to be right.

#2 Prestige or money should never be your motivation for anything

Instead, understand who you serve and the value you provide in your efforts and define your success around that concept. Failure, at its essence, is when you do not serve others in the way you've intended, or do not provide value to others in what you're doing. Prestige, money and other rewards may come if you are exceptionally good a delivering value or serving others but it cannot alone motivate you to become successful. Focus instead on the things you are doing every day and how those things are helping the world.

#3 If you're not failing regularly, you're not growing

It's that whole 'a ship is safe in the harbor, but built to go out to sea' cliché, I know, but it's true. Playing it comfortable and safe got nobody anywhere. If you think back on your life and career, I bet it's the times that were the hardest where you were forced to take stock of yourself and your life that helped you to grow and made you who you are today.

#4 Make balance a priority in your life

I don't know why this is, but we tend to brag about how busy we are, how little sleep we get, how crazed our lives are, how early we got to the office or how late we stayed. This is inherently ridiculous, and I've started to realize that when I do this, it's coming from some internal drive to prove my work ethic or importance or some other quality that I feel the world uses to measure my value. Instead of bragging about busy-ness, seek to simplify and put the things that matter most in life at the top of your priority list. Remember that how you choose to spend your time is how you will spend your life.
#7 Criticism from people that matter is necessary to improve

It gives you insight into the value you provide or are expected to provide to the person expecting it, and enables you to shift, change and grow to increase your impact and value to the world. The hard part is defining the people that matter (see #1 above). For me, my close friends and family and the people that are inherently affected by the work that I do - my clients, the junior staff on my projects, my colleagues, my readers - matter. As do all of the people I've encountered in life who have inspired me, challenged me, invested in my and helped me along the way.
#6 Allow yourself to change your mind

This is so important today, more than ever. Our media is rapidly changing, moving away from trusted sources of balanced truth to conglomerate engines that put ratings and viewership over their duty to the public. We form baseless opinions based on what we hear others express, rather than thinking critically about what we're hearing and seeking alternate perspectives. Then, we associate those opinions as part of our identity and defend them even when presented with conflicting information. Replace the need to be right with the desire to understand, and be open to change.

#7 Anything truly wonderful and worthwhile takes time

This is a hard one to accept in a world where you can have virtually anything you want shipped to your home within a matter of minutes or hours literally without lifting a finger. Having an incredible marriage, a meaningful and fulfilling career, a healthy body, a home you love, a higher purpose to your life are great things to aspire to, but cannot be achieved without significant effort. There's no such thing as finding the perfect man, or job, or diet, or short sale. The value you realize in any of these endeavors is directly related to the willingness you have to do the tedious, unglamorous, and often self-sacrificing work involved. It's taken me a very long time to recognize this, but I've realized that the primary reason I value the most wonderful elements of my life is the sacrifice and effort that it took to obtain them in the first place.
#8 Actively fighting off negativity is the only thing that can make you happy
Although I talk about the power of positivity a lot on this blog, I've been very susceptible to negativity during certain times of my life. It was easy for me to blame external factors at the time, but the reality is that I allowed myself to become lazy in my thinking and enabled cynicism to take over. It saps joy, diminishes your motivation, blocks your ability to be grateful and blinds you to the amazing blessings in your life. Choosing to be happy is actually a thing.

In summary, I'll leave you with my all-time favorite quote that helps to keep me centered, resist external influences, and focus on the things that truly matter to me (and if you've been reading for a while, you'll remember this from a past post): 

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting." - E.E. Cummings

Thank you so much for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post - please let me know in the comments.

This post is in honor of those of you who follow this blog for style ideas. I've been lagging a little in this category, partly because I've spent more of my money on books this year than clothes. Which actually is something that I hope to do forever, because your brain should be getting bigger investments than your closet. However, I promised to continue sprinkling in style posts so voila!

There are a few things that I've hunted and invested in over the past several months that I wanted to share here, because they've truly been worth it and on repeat in my closet. Not only were these pieces awesome in their own right, the fact that I've worn them so much is a little boost of confidence that my year of cutting back has helped me to become a more discerning shopper, in tune with what I truly need or will enjoy wearing for years. I've included links to some of them because I felt they were great buys worthy of sharing, but do not under any circumstance encourage you to buy them unless you've considered your own wardrobe gaps first!

Without further ado, here they are in no particular order:

 
#1 An oversize, pleated midi dress

This dress pictured above deserves its own post (note to self) because it is hands down the best piece of clothing I've purchased in years. It was pricey, but I decided to invest in it after trying it on, walking away, realizing how many different ways I could wear it, and calculating the cost per wear. I went back to buy it and dropped the cash guilt-free. It's super high quality, versatile and hand made in the USA which meets all the qualifications in my book. I love that it can be styled so many ways, for weddings with cage heels and a cool clutch, weekends with flats, even the beach with sandals.

If you're looking to make an investment, here's the link to this exact dress.
 
 
#2 Statement, artsy earrings

Although I wear the same fine jewelry every day, I realized that I had a gap of truly special earrings in my collection that can be a statement for outfits that are otherwise simple and basic. I looked for a few months before finding these perfect two-tone semicircle earrings and snapped them up on the spot because I could think of a dozen outfits that I'd pair them with AND they're also hand made in the USA.

If you love these too, here's the link to these exact earrings.
 
 
#3 An oversize woven leather tote

When I was 17, I found this woven leather Falor tote at TJ Maxx and fell in love with it, but didn't buy it and have always had it in the back of my mind since. It's simplicity, lack of branding and hardware, oversize shape and quality construction make it amazing. When I decided to invest in a new tote, I selected this one over the Gucci Boston bag that I've had my eye on for a few years. It's been coming with me everywhere lately, including work.


#4 A crisp, white blouse

…That's not an oxford or a tunic. This blouse is from my favorite consignment shop in Chicago (shout out to McShane's Exchange for all my Chicago based readers) and has given more mileage to my work outfits by adding some excitement to my tailored pants and skirts, and also polishing up my weekend basics like these distressed jeans.


#5 A small, neutral, high quality weekend bag

There's something about a great bag that makes anything you wear look better, and I realize that while I had a few great weekend bags that were small and easy to throw on and go, they were statement pieces that couldn't be worn with everything. I needed something in a camel or nude that wouldn’t compete with my outfit choices and would balance out items that might be a little out there (such as a pleated midi dress…). When I found this 3.1 Philip Lim nude bag at a great price point (and second hand), I snapped it up and have been wearing it every weekend since.

#6 Amazing, walkable heels

The two pairs of shoes that been breathing new life into my wardrobe lately are a pair of glitter block heel pumps from &Other Stories, and a pair of velvet strappy sandals that look much more expensive than they actually were (and have been inspiring me to keep my toenails painted to I can continue to wear them). I've been taking my go-to basic all-black or black-and-navy outfits and adding glitter heels to dress them up for nights out. I've been pairing these velvet pink sandals with my tried-and-true favorite spring dresses and they're making them feel fresh and new.


#7 A trendy off-the-shoulder dress

Although I've resisted the OTS trend for a while now, I picked one up at a cheesy tourist shop when Wes and I were in Miami because I was literally DYING OF HEAT in my maxi dress. Also broke my rules on hemlines and heel heights (but when in Miami…) and sort of loved it. I'll be wearing this with cool sandals, hats and bags all summer once it's hot in Chicago.

Also, special shout out to the Illesteva sunglasses worn in basically every picture here because I cannot get enough of them. There are a few other items that I have on my want list for spring and summer (like white high-vamp flats and a straw bag), and I'll share those in a separate post once I've fully vetted my choices…

Anyway, thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave me a comment and let me know what you think of these picks, what you've picked up recently that has helped to refresh your wardrobe for the warmer months, or what you want to see more of on this blog.

 
Tomorrow I'm presenting to a group of college women about my experience as a woman in business, what it was like to transition from college to the workforce, and what they should be thinking about as they prepare to graduate. Loaded topic, right? Thinking about what I wanted to say, I realized that 22-year-old me could have really benefitted from some practical advice about topics people don't really talk about (e.g., staying motivated while sitting still inside of a beige cubicle, excusing oneself from meetings to cry in the bathroom, etc.) She also could have also used some straight talk about how almost everyone in the world would determine her value, how she needs to develop a thick skin, and how to be both fulfilled and successful.

Instead of planning remarks, I decided to write up a list of the key things I've learned in my career to date to share with the group and hit on a couple of them with some stories about the amazing people I've worked with in my career and encountered in my life who have helped me to learn these things. I thought I'd share this list here, expecting that you may relate!
  1. Understand that no one in the entire world, especially in business, cares how nice you are, who your parents are, whether you were a National Merit scholar, where you went to undergrad, or how smart you are. They care about the value you provide to them and how you can make their lives easier, simpler or happier in some way.
  2. Accept that you know literally nothing as a 22-year-old despite what your college degree may seem to suggest. You desperately need experience, and should be doing everything in your power to gain skills and relevance in the market. The first company that hires you is banking on three things that you absolutely must deliver on if you want to move forward:
    1. Your eagerness to gain experience no matter how menial the tasks you're asked to do may be (i.e., order lunch, coordinate meetings, complete mind-numbing PowerPoint formatting tasks, etc.)  
    2. Your ability to learn quickly
    3. Your positive attitude and ability get along with others
  3. Let go of the need to have a predictable path with clearly defined milestones that you've enjoyed in your 22 years of life to date. You are in uncharted territory, and the direction your life takes is 100% related to the decisions and actions you choose. It's terrifying, but extremely exciting and empowering. Know that the decisions you make in your twenties will lay the foundation for the rest of your life. ('The Defining Decade' by Dr. Meg Jay should be required reading in college.)
  4. Learn to manage and save your money. Give the maximum amount to your 401K.
  5. Know that the only way to gain responsibility (and more interesting work) is to take full ownership of literally everything that crosses your desk. Think critically about what you're doing, understand every single input you're given, ask detailed questions. If you don't understand the answers, continue your line of questioning until you do. This is how you gain the trust and confidence of the people who have the ability to push you forward.
  6. Do not assume, under any circumstance, that you are the smartest person in the room. You are often quite the opposite. Remember that you can learn something from literally every person with whom you cross paths, and making it your job to figure out what they know will make everything you do more effective.
  7. Be an interesting, dynamic person. Let go of trying to be cool, because you're not. Try new things, often. Stop caring about what everyone else is thinking or doing. Take risks. Have an opinion. Tell stupid jokes.
  8. Invest as much as you can afford into a high quality work wardrobe, and be thoughtful about how you present yourself in a professional environment. Your judgment, level of confidence and attention to detail are reflected in how you dress. Doing this right from the start will make everything else easier.
  9. Be open-minded and a voracious reader. Keep this quote taped to your bedroom mirror: "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read."
  10. Surround yourself with brilliant, uplifting people who do remarkable things. Never forget that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.
  11. Stop expecting praise and thanks. Do excellent work, every day, because you hold high standards for yourself. If you let your sense of fulfillment and motivation to continue to push yourself rest with other people, hoping to earn some sort of A plus equivalent feedback, you won't last long.
  12. Remember that almost every job is a sales job. If you can't influence people to take action, you'll go nowhere fast. Know that influencing people requires the most basic steps that many people struggle with, and you can differentiate yourself by learning to do these things:
    1. Ask other people questions about themselves, care about and remember their answers, and reference the things they are interested in every time you see them. Get to know them on a personal level.
    2. Listen to other people's ideas, use their ideas every chance you can, and avoid at all costs negating them or disagreeing with them (especially in front of other people)
    3. Give credit and praise often, generously, and never to yourself
    4. Admit when you make a mistake, and apologize. It has the exact opposite effect you think it will.
    5. Add value to their lives. (See #1 above.)
  13. Develop a thick skin and be resilient. You cannot avoid criticism, rejection, or jerks, so you might as well figure out how to expect and embrace them. You'll look back at the worst times in your career and realize that's when you learned the most. The terrible manager who made you cry was the biggest reason you're a really good one today.
  14. Stick to your values, especially when it feels like there will be consequences if you do. There will be moments in your career that truly test your character and ethics, and you will never regret sticking to your guns on the things that truly matter.
  15. Have a life. Reserve time for things that give your life and career meaning. Pick up a hobby that has nothing to do with your job. Say yes to random requests for dinner dates. Force yourself to meet your friends at that filthy D.C. bar after the longest day of your short career. (You'll meet your future husband there.) Be as good of a daughter and friend as you are a businesswoman. Remember that there are four elements of your life that will give it purpose and meaning: your spirit, your family and friends, your health and fitness, and your life's work. In that order.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? Please let me know in the comments!
 
P.S. Thank you to Becky Howe for the photo, and to Patricia Green for gifting me those amazing suede heels I'm wearing in it (the most fabulous-yet-comfortable pair in my work wardrobe, a great buy for #8 above).

 


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, www.lescoquetteriesdemilie.com.

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!