Lessons From a Chronic Closet Cleaner


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Your goal: To love every item in your wardrobe.

To get there, you have to give away every piece of clothing that you don’t absolutely love.

If I had followed this advice when I started my style journey, the only things left in my closet would have been a cocktail dress and a couple of pairs of hand-knit socks. Not a good look.

Truly cleaning and organizing your closet is not an overnight task, no matter what Real Simple magazine may try to tell you. It took me nearly a year, but today my closet only holds clothes that I love and look forward to wearing.

I have spent years purging my closet, then filling it right back up with the same type of detritus I’d just gotten rid of. During this futile cycle I read every article on closet organization I could find. After much trial and error, I present to you my lessons for cleaning out your closet.

Lesson one: Start easy

Have fun getting rid of the obvious wardrobe downers. Take an hour one afternoon and throw out anything pilled, ripped, ill-fitting or faded in a non-fashionable manner, no matter how much you used to love it. This goes for workout clothes as well as work clothes. Hold it up and think, “Would my most polished friend wear this?” If not, get rid of it. If you’re wondering if anyone will notice the little stain, I’m here to tell you they will. Put it in the give away box. *

I can only shave the pills off a sweater so many times. It’s on to new adventures for you!

That’s not to say ripped and faded clothes can’t be stylish. I have a couple of t-shirts that are just now ripening to perfect vintage softness. But I’m wearing them because they’re faded, not in spite of it.

You deserve nice clothing that fits and is in good repair. Get rid of anything that does not fit this description. And no, you may not save all these clothes for the day you repaint the living room or turn the garden. Keep one set of work clothes for these occasions and purge the rest.

Lesson Two: Give it the Allan test

Your closet is now free of stained, stretched out old clothes. How do you decide what to keep of the clothing in good shape? Allan.

Years ago, a friend was dating a man (Allan) who was not good enough for her. She spent several months convincing herself to settle for this guy, and then he dumped her.

Is there anything worse than being dumped by someone who wasn’t good enough for you in the first place?

Now, obviously her life got a lot better after losing this chump, but there was still that annoying little sting that went with his memory. Until one day, my friend ran into Allan. It just so happened that she had on a killer outfit, and had taken an extra 30 seconds to pull her hair back. Allan, looking shlumpy and under-employed as always, could barely get a sentence out.

We all have an Allan in our past, don’t we? And you never know when you’re going to run into him, or that old boss who didn’t take you seriously, or that girl you knew in school who looked down on everyone else. Every outfit should make you feel ready to take on the bullies and bummers in your life. Look at the clothes you have in your closet. Would you want to run into Allan wearing that sweater? No? Give it away.

Oh, hello old boss who didn’t think I was capable of teaching advanced classes. I didn’t see you there in the glow of my AP pass rate.

Lesson three: It’s OK to be indecisive

You will have some items you’re unsure about. They might be things you loved last year, but are a little tired of. Or something you had a lot of fun in, but doesn’t fit well anymore.

Take these items and store them outside of your closet. See how well your wardrobe functions without them. As you shop, keep an eye out for similar pieces that would serve the same purpose, but you like better.

I am lucky enough to have bought a house from a couple who loved closets more than Ludwig II loved Wagner. I keep one wardrobe just for things I’m unsure about. In most cases these clothes find their way out of the house, but I feel better when I give myself time to say goodbye. If you don’t have a spare wardrobe, use a box, the hall closet, your son’s closet (He never hangs things in there, anyway, right?) the trunk of your car, just get these confounding pieces out of your closet.

I’m pretty sure one of these leads to Narnia

Lesson four: It’s OK to keep once-in-a-while pieces

Common wisdom suggests you rate your clothing by how often something gets worn. While that’s a good indicator of how something is working for you, it doesn’t always make sense.

You make Easter easy.

For instance, I have a bright pink coat I only wear on Easter. Easter is always cold in Oregon and I need a coat. It doesn’t get much wear, but it has made every Easter for the past 6 years really easy. That’s worth the closet space to me. I also have a platter with turkeys on it that belonged to my grandma. I only use this once a year  and no one is nagging me about it.

If I can keep a Thanksgiving platter, I can keep an Easter coat.

If something gets worn regularly, no matter how infrequently, keep it.

Lesson Five: Respect the feelings of your clothes

I love the work of Marie Kondo but the truth is I don’t have much in common with her. She and I feel very differently about how much fun it is to tidy things up.

I read organizational books… then leave them lying around the house.

But her book is lovely. The biggest take-away for me from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was to respect the service of our clothes.

Give the clothes you are wearing space to breath and relax after the hard work of running around with you. If you have a shirt that isn’t being worn, release it to the world so someone else can love it. Piles and racks of squished up, unworn clothing are just sad.

If you haven’t already, read Kondo’s reflections on socks here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/marie-kondo-showed-us-how-to-fold-socks-perfectly?utm_term=.xdBdErLN#.yo817O0g

Your wardrobe should be made up of pieces you respect and value. How would you feel jammed in a closet, never being worn by someone who resents you for not fitting correctly? Exactly. Give it away.

Lesson six: Nostalgia is for photo albums

Love an item of clothing that you’re really never going to wear it again? Take a picture. You can then open up the photo album and remember that great skirt for years to come.

I was crazy-proud of this sash.

You wouldn’t store your 6th grade book reports on your desk at work. You don’t haul your childhood skis with you every time you hit the slopes. You wouldn’t keep your children’s pottery experiments in the cabinets with your everyday dishes (OK, maybe you would…) The point is, a closet is a working space. Don’t overwhelm yourself as you get dressed every morning with memories from the mid-1990s.

If you really must keep something (OK, my 8th grade graduation dance dress) store it properly in a chest with cedar or the moth repelling substance of your choice. But before you do, imagine people cleaning this out when you’re 97 and downsizing to a tiny house in an elder community. Do you really want someone else to have to throw out your mud-stained sweatshirt?

Let’s not make this any harder than we already know it’s going to be.

Lesson seven: Give yourself time

Pulling everything you own out of every drawer, and your closet, and going through it all in one afternoon is a very bad idea. Trust me here. You will get better long term results, and cultivate good habits, if you slowly purge your closet.

Yes, an all-in-one clean out is invigorating and dramatic, but it’s not the best strategy for creating a well-functioning closet. Particularly if you’re left with one cocktail dress and two pairs of socks.

Not an inspiring photo

The process of culling the chaff from your closet will take time. Start small (lesson one) with items that obviously need to go. Then take a half hour and go through your t-shirts one day, and another 20 minutes in your shoes another day. Notice a pair of pants you keep putting on and taking off in the morning? Set them free. Over time you will learn to identify the items that are taking up space and weighing your wardrobe down. You will begin to purge your closet effortlessly.

Keep two bags in your closet, one for Goodwill, and one for resale shops. Get in the habit of dropping anything that doesn’t pass the Allan test into one of these two bags. If you have a spare afternoon by all means go through your clothes and do a big purge, but keep practicing regularly getting rid of things that aren’t working for you.

Over time you’ll find space opening up in your closet. Like pulling weeds from the garden, getting rid of unwanted clothes will allow the items you do like to shine and thrive in your wardrobe. You’ll find a few holes and need to do a little shopping. We’ll look at strategies for filling these spaces in a future post.

This will be hard work, but over time you’ll find your closet has only items you love. You will enjoy incredibly easy mornings of getting dressed and will for the rest of your life. Awesome.

*Ever wonder where all your clothes go when freed from your closet? According to Elizabeth L Cline (Over-Dressed, a great book!) Some, of course, will be resold an go on to help other people’s wardrobes. Some will be recycled into new clothing. Some will be recycled into insulation, carpet padding, or any number of things. Some are shipped in huge bales to other countries. It’s like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, only for your clothes.

Top 7 Fall Transitional Pieces


All I want from my wardrobe is to pull the perfect pieces out of my closet, get dressed in less than three minutes, and love my outfit all day long, every day, for the rest of my life.

Is that too much to ask?

I hope not, because that’s where we’re heading. But fall can be a tricky season to dress through. We’re all craving our cozy sweaters and wool plaid jackets, but most days are still quite warm. It would be all well and good if it were just hot out, but mornings can be  chilly. Thus we all have to layer, which is one of the toughest chores in fashion.

The following pieces will help build a bridge between your summer and winter wardrobes. Find them in the rich colors you reach for in the fall, along with classic denim. Keep these items in heavy rotation as you eek out a few last days in your sundresses and tank tops. Then stir them into the mix when you start to pull sweaters out of storage.

A classic cargo jacket

Sanctuary, new last spring

This work horse will slip over you sundresses as easily as it will a cashmere sweater. Wear it with jeans, a skirt or even a comfy pair of joggers on the weekend. It has the hip feel of a leather biker jacket without the weight.

A nano-puff vest

Isis, new two years ago

Ever wonder why you feel so comfortable in a vest? The longer the eye can run in a straight, uninterrupted line the better it feels. (This is why you are tempted by solid color, sleeveless sheath dresses.) A vest not only adds warmth, it adds visual harmony to the universe.

I suggest a nano puff because they are warm but less bulky than traditional puffer vests. Add one, or five, nano puff vests to your wardrobe for easy warmth and interest. If you need more inspiration just google “Kate Middleton, vest” to see about a million pictures of this wardrobe staple working for one of the world’s most photographed women.

A trendy layer

Life in Progress, 2nd Hand

Think of trendy items like that soccer player you dated off and on for a few months in college; Cute and super fun, but your not making any plans around them or investing too much. You might try fuzzy faux fur, a jumper or a nautical-inspired scarf. I found this bomber jacket at Value Village (Fall Style Research Part 1 – Value Village)  I’ll pop it on over skinnies or wear it with a skirt when I feel a little trendy energy would help me get through the day.

Skinnies (or your fit of choice casual pant) in a fall color

From left to right; BDG, Lucky Brand, Old Navy, Generally new

I find skinny jeans are the easiest for my life of bike commuting and Frye-boot wearing, but find a shape that works for your body. ( Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece)  I’ll rotate through these, pairing them first with tank tops, then lighter blouses and finally my sweaters.

A light weight plaid shirt

Target, new last winter

I found this at Target, and I wear it all the time. I sized up to a large, then had it hemmed several inches shorter so it had more of a boxy feel. It satisfies my need for rich fall colors, but the shirt itself is so light I can wear it on a warm day.

Closed-toe sandals and a cute pair of sneaks

Roxy, new. Clarks, new last summer

When you aren’t wearing boots, an easy pair of slip on shoes can take you all over town and into any number of adventures. Right now you can find so many styles of cute sneakers. Vans and Converse are classics. Toms are always fun. Just because this shoe is casual, don’t assume it isn’t versatile. With a nice blazer you can dress them up easily, with a fun t-shirt they look hip and funky. Find your favorites and wear them all fall.

Closed-toe sandals help transition summer wardrobes into fall by providing a little more warmth and structure. You don’t want your toes freezing off on your bike ride in to work!

The perfect cross-body bag

Patricia Nash, new

If there was ever a time you needed your hands free, it’s back-to-school, holidays-approaching, pick-up-another-box-of-mason-jars-because-the-apple-tree-is-going-nuts-this-year fall. The size and color of this Patricia Nash bag work for my needs and taste. Find one that fits your life.

These items will tide you over until you are ready to go fearlessly into the cooler weather. You can pull them out again in early spring, when you can’t stand a single item in your winter wardrobe and are itching for your summer clothes.

Happy Fall!

P.S. Do you have a great fall transitional piece? Email me a picture and I’ll include it in inspiration.

We Are Photoshop Free on M&GS

“You’re going to photoshop out my funky ear spots, right?”

Recently a friend jokingly asked if I was using my “skinny lens” to take photos for this blog. I laughed, then went home and googled “skinny lens” to find out what she was talking about.

Apparently I can spend hundreds of dollars to buy a lens that will make everyone look 5 pounds thinner, which is all we ever wanted, right?

Mud and Grace Style is about looking good in this world. I want to post pictures of real, stylish women. If a person wanted to roll through thousands of pictures of perfectly photoshopped women, there are plenty of places on the internet willing to oblige you. Start with Facebook.

Here, all pictures will be uploaded as they are taken. I sort through the photos to choose the ones that best express the beauty of the woman in question, but I’m not taking out anyone’s freckles, blackberry scratches or sunburn lines. Including my own. Mud and Grace is a place for real women, with lives, to find good advice about getting dressed everyday.

I will, however, photoshop the mess out of my house. This summer two owls have been living above my front door. I love them. They leave their droppings and the occasional owl pellet on the front doorstep. I can clean this up all day long and the next time someone comes to the door, there will be more owl mess. My friends understand. You, however, get the digital clean up. Enjoy!

Cleaning is futile.

Fall Style Research Part 2 – Stitch Fix

Have you tried Stitch Fix?

Oooh! A package!

Stitch Fix may be the most brilliant marketing idea I’ve come across. You register with the company, letting them know your sizes, your likes and dislikes. A stylist then reviews your profile and selects clothing for you. Stitch Fix sends you a package of 5 items, and a return envelope for anything that doesn’t work.

It’s like getting a surprise present from yourself.

I can just imagine the stylist “Jessica,” looking through my profile, scanning my Pinterest, going through what I imagine to be an enormous, brightly lit warehouse, picking out the perfect striped t-shirt just for me.

OK, she probably did it all on a computer, but whatever.

There are three primary reasons to give Stitch Fix a try;

  1. Give your wardrobe a pick-me-up with on-trend clothing
  2. Try new brands and styles you might not have thought about
  3. It’s easy. Ridiculously so.

It’s really fun having a box of surprise clothes sent to you door. Having someone with authority (Jessica, no less!) choose clothing for me felt somehow reassuring. I also appreciated the lack of packaging. You get a neat, cardboard box with five items wrapped in tissue paper. The only plastic is in the form of the return envelope they send.

What’s in the box?

My experience with Stitch Fix was mixed. I tried Stitch Fix twice before writing this article (This blog is such a heavy responsibility…) here’s what I learned abut getting your best Fix.

Enter your measurements into you style notes. Don’t skip this. They can then get a sense of your shape and best looks.

They advise you to set up a Stitch Fix Pinterest. Do this. It’s kind of fun to go scrolling through Pinterest and create your own look book, and the stylists take it seriously.

Try everything on twice. Part of the reason you’re getting a Fix is to move out of your comfort zone and try something new. In my first Fix I pulled out a pair of pants and thought “Oh, no way.” But the second time I had them on I said, “Maybe?” I now wear them all the time.

Don’t feel bad about sending anything back. You want them to get to know you and your style.


Be clear about what you want. I didn’t want Stitch Fix sending me footwear, because, as you might have noticed, I’m pretty picky about shoes. Unclick the boxes for anything you don’t want.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t want this to be my primary source of clothing. I know my needs better than the girls at Stitch, and I enjoy the hunt. There is also the problem of fit. Like all the other women in the world, I span sizes. Every fix had clothes that didn’t fit, or didn’t work with my shape.

There are no sales prices, so I wound up paying more for items that I might have ordinarily. Add to that the cost of having some things tailored, these clothes were more expensive, but not of substantially higher quality than my regular shopping haunts. On the other hand, I am paying for the service of being introduced to new brands and looks, and that should be factored in to the overall cost.

Fair warning, Stitch Fix can be highly addictive. The pleasure of wondering “What are they going to send? Will it be the magical sweater that goes with everything and brings about harmony in the universe?” is intense. I knew after the first two fixes that this wasn’t a service I particularly needed, but I was tempted to keep going back. So I had to go cold turkey after two hits.

Plus, if all my clothes came from Stitch Fix, how boring would this blog be? “Yep, got another box of clothes. Wearing them. Yeah…”

I know women whose entire wardrobes come from Stitch Fix. They look great and enjoy the ease of the service. If this is you, go have fun, honey!

I see myself possibly using this service to make updates, and try new things.It would also be good for unusual fashion situations, like travel or a new activity. And anytime you want a surprise present from yourself.

P.S. Want to check it out? Here’s the link – https://www.stitchfix.com/

Love and Appreciate Your Body

Ladies, it’s time. We have to stop the madness.

Having felt acute shame surrounding my body from my earliest years, I know how difficult it is to love and appreciate your body. Unrealistic images, unhealthy habits, unimaginable time spent worrying about my body have shaped much of my life.

I’m done. There is too much going on in this world to fuss about my figure.

If there is one, truly important thing I want do with this blog, it is to help you love your body. (The second most important thing is to convince you to buy a pair of boots, Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece)

If you don’t love your body, you will never have effortless style. You will always look and feel a little uncomfortable. You will buy outfit after outfit, and nothing will ever feel right. You will never have a moment’s peace. It is my hope that this post will start you on the road to loving the body you have.

Step 1: Decide you want to stop hating your body.

“Well, obviously I want to stop, lady, or I wouldn’t be reading your post,” you may be thinking. But indulge me as we dig a little deeper. We focus negative energy on our bodies out of fear, anxiety and frustration. In this chaotic world we come up with elaborate food constructs and measure our bodies for results to impose some regimen of order over a life that we can’t control. We nurse our body-hatred in times of stress.

We fear that if we allow ourselves to love our bodies we will gain weight, even in the face of good scientific evidence to the contrary. If you’re going to feel good in your own skin, it will take a major shift in thinking and habits. Ready to commit? Then keep reading

Step 2: Exercise out of respect for your body, rather than punishment

We know healthy, daily activity is good for us six ways to Sunday. You’ll sleep, your mood will improve, dopamine will be released and small happy birds will flutter around as you go singing through the woods, etc.

We can express respect for our bodies by giving them the exercise they need. But so many of us take exercise to the level of punishment. We exercise on empty stomachs, leaving us light headed and cranky. We exercise out of anger at our own bodies. We exercise only with the goal of being thin.

Regular, enjoyable exercise is good for you, and it’s even better if you can do it outside. Grueling workouts done in shame and frustration are not.

Make your workouts cheap, easy and fun (walk somewhere, ride your bike, do yoga in your living room with a YouTube video) and do it regularly and selfishly. If you enjoy more activity, do more. If you want to, go ahead and join a gym, take up a sport, get a horse and train it. But do it on your terms, because you love it and love the way it makes you feel.

Not the world’s hardest route, but seriously fun.

Step 3: Stop the crazy diets, step away from the internet weight loss advice

By all means, eat healthy food. Good food is essential to respecting and loving our bodies. But bypass the draconian and even goofy diet plans. There are a few straightforward, doable, steps to keeping your weight at a healthy set point. There are no “secrets of a flat belly,” there is no “one weird food” that will be the key to weight loss. Eat reasonably, exercise reasonably and your body will settle at a healthy weight. Then get on with your life.

So, you mean I could eat this healthy meal, instead of a lump of coconut oil covered in turmeric with a side of cauliflower doused in hot sauce?

Step 4: Go on an image diet instead

When I first got serious about kicking my dysmorphia, I found my attempts were thwarted by the constant barrage of catalogs and magazines I received. They were full of pictures of emaciated women. Not just thin women, not women with great bodies, but literally emaciated. (Sundance, I’m calling you out here. You are the worst. You market to women over 40, and you use models who look unnaturally thin. Knock it off.) I wrote a scathing letter to Sundance catalog, then another to Garnet Hill and another to JCrew. I put my name on the national “no catalog lists” (This, as it turns out, is as good for the budget as it is for the environment.) I cancelled several magazine subscriptions.

Don’t allow an industry that makes money off of women’s dissatisfaction to profit by you. Take a week off from media images and see how differently you begin to view your own body.

Instead, seek out other images. Turn to classical art. Look at the wonderfully soft faces of the women pictured during the Song dynasty in China. Track Raphael’s Italian Renaissance attempt to paint the perfect woman, culminating with the rounded beauty in La Velata. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous faces portrayed of the women in Mughal Indian art. Enjoy the svelte ancient Egyptians and their attempts to make their bellies seem larger than they actually are. Mayan glyphs, beautiful Benin bronzes, Paleolithic stone carvings all show an ideal that differs from our modern one.

Step 5: Compliment your body, basic

I can’t stand it when someone tells me to engage in positive self-talk. It always seems so fake, and almost passive aggressive. “You’re just great, body! I don’t care what society says, I’m completely happy that you store fat every single place except my breasts. That’s fantastic!”


And besides, my body always knows that I’m just saying it for some ulterior motive, and that I don’t really mean it.

The trick is, you have to actually mean what you say. You have to give your body an honest compliment. Start small, like, “Cuticles, you’re quite nice.” Work your way up to larger body areas, “Forearms, you have a lovely shape.”

For parts of your body that you’re not quite comfortable with yet, you might try something like this, “Belly, I do get annoyed by your general floppiness, but I’m really grateful that you were willing to stretch way out, twice, to accommodate the babies. I love my children and if you have to be floppy for them to exist, that’s fine.”

Be honest, but find something truly nice to say. Do this until you are ready to move on to advanced body compliments.

I like my collar bones.

Step 6: Compliment your body, advanced

You will respond to the habit of saying honestly nice things to your body. You’ll begin to look for the best, rather than focus in on the worst. As you start to recover from the negativity with which you have viewed your body, move to a more advanced appreciation. Every day, take a moment to admire your particular curves and edges. Look at yourself with an artist’s lens, rather than Hollywood’s lens. Wear clothes that show off the particular beauty of your body.

Step 7: Play what if

I was getting dressed one morning, bemoaning my high waist. If it were just lower, I thought, if my waist was just lower, then there wouldn’t be quite such a long space for my belly, all clothes would fit me, then everything in the world would be right.

And then I thought, what if? What if a high waist offering plenty of space for a softish belly were the cultural ideal? I pictured models padding their bellies and setting a belts on their ribcages. I thought of designers pushing reams of high- waisted clothing, despite the fact that only a lucky few genetic winners had this sought-after form.

Why not? When you think about it, nearly every shape has been idealized throughout human history and across the globe. At someplace, in some time, your shape was the unattainable ideal.

I walked out of my closet with this in mind, pretending as I went about my day that all my body’s little idiosyncrasies were what other women spent enormous sums of money and time and mental space trying desperately to emulate.

And suddenly the whole system seemed ridiculous. When I thought about other women trying to create my body through extreme exercise, (“You’ve got to build up those butt muscles so it really sticks out!”) diet (“I heard recently that if you consume at least two tablespoons of fish oil at every meal it will burn fat everywhere but your belly”) and silicon (“I’m thinking of getting inner-thigh implants…”) the whole enterprise is ridiculous.

Every time you start to measure yourself against our culture’s crazy beauty standards, replay them with your own particular beauty as the ideal.


Step 8: Look at your family photos, listen to your daughter

When we look at family photos, there is never any talk of who had fat ankles or sloping shoulders. We talk about the people; what they accomplished, who they were, the funny stories they told.

Beauty is transitory, but our words and actions will outlast us. Do I want my great grandchildren to be told stories of how I kept slim all my life? Heck no! “Great-Grandma could climb 5.11 trad!” is more like it. (OK, I have a long way to go before I get to 5.11 trad, but I also have a long time to go before there will be any great grandchildren. I can do this.)

Similarly, do we want our children to be proud of how we declined bread in a restaurant, or do we want them to see achievement as a little bit deeper? Watching my daughter, and my friends’ daughters grow up with confidence in themselves and their bodies is beautiful. I love to hear them talk about delicious food, great clothes and the awesome activities they pursue. If we can learn to love our bodies, they will emulate us and love theirs.

Sorry, but I’m probably going to re-post this picture of my grandma about a thousand times. It’s good for you.

Ultimately, my body is fine. I’m not a supermodel, and I’m not interested in putting in the time, energy and silicon it would take to get me there. My body may not fit the standards of beauty for any time period, but it has scaled cliffs, run thousands of miles, made countless rounds of a classroom to check that every student is on track with their current assignment. It has created two upstanding human beings, and been a willing canvas for some great ensembles. It deserves respect and care. All bodies do, no matter what standards people choose to measure them against.

P.S. Want to read more? Here’s an article I wrote for the Eugene Weekly on teens and body image http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20150108/lead-story/let-them-eat

Fall Style Research Part 1 – Value Village


The demands on my wardrobe increase significantly in the fall. I’m back in the classroom, my mom duties amp up and social affairs become less casual. Piecing together a workable wardrobe while keeping a lean closet is a challenge.

After cruising a few shops and seeing what my favorite on-line retailers had to offer, (bomber jackets, wide leg crops, midi skirts. so. much. denim.) I realized I needed to do some serious research.

But I want to try clothes out, wear them around for a few days, let them hang in my closet to see if they can play well with others. I need a few cheap flings before I say yes to a streamlined wardrobe for the next few months.

At Value Village, you can try out just about any color, style, shape or fabric at very little cost. It’s a long, exhausting afternoon, but a treasure hunt that will leave you satisfied. Because you are recycling, you’ve made no environmental impact if an item doesn’t work out in the long run. You are reusing, not contributing to the world of throw-away fashion.

On this trip I bought 20 items, and spent $101.83. Three of the items didn’t last 24 hours in my house. Five are already new favorites. The rest are still under evaluation.

I urge you to give it a try. Here are a few tips for a research trip to Value Village:

Try something new, at very little cost

This is the primary reason to take a Value Village run. As you see trends move in and out, you can try them, love them or reject them as you see fit.

Bomber jackets are everywhere right now. I’ve been unsure about how the shape will work on my body. Trying it out at $90? Not so comfortable. $5.99? Sure. I found this sweet little jacket with the tags still on. I’m very comfortable in denim, which also eased the risk of trying a new trend.

I’m just dipping a toe into the world of the bomber jacket.

Similarly, high waist, wide leg crops couldn’t be more on trend right now. (I don’t exactly know how this happened? Maybe the fashion industry got bored?) But being that they’re on trend, that probably means they’re going to be off trend just as quickly.

I found a pair for $3.99, wasn’t sure about them, but brought them home anyway. Four hours after purchase I looked just as silly as I thought I would. Honestly, I looked like a load of laundry on spin cycle. It was ridiculous. So I put them back in a donate bag less than 24 hours after bringing them home. Now I have tried wide leg crops and I don’t have to do that again. You’re welcome.

Oddly, no picture survives of me in these pants. Weird.

Be open to off-season finds

I have found the most awesome winter coats in July, and perfect sundresses in January. If you stumble across something truly wonderful, don’t worry about the season.

This pink and green plaid flannel is exactly the sort of thing I reach for in late February, when I desperately long for the soft colors of spring but it’s still 38 degrees and raining.

Just waiting for February…

This lavender Nike jacket will be great for cold morning walks with my neighbor in a few months.

Pretty sure the original owner never wore this. Maybe lavender just wasn’t her thing?

Walk in with a plan, not a list

Anyone who has gone second hand shopping with a list knows how futile that exercise is. Just as you would never hit the cookbooks before you go to the farmers market, you should never have specifics in mind when you shop second hand. Let the clothes you find inspire your creativity.

On the other hand, a large secondhand store can be overwhelming without a plan. It’s a good idea to have a color, a particular silhouette or a fabric in mind.

I knew I wanted my fall wardrobe to incorporate a little peach/pink this year. In each section I headed straight for that color, coming up with this versatile find. I can see how well this pairs with the rest of my wardrobe, and if it works invest in more of the color later.


Since I was conducting research for a fall wardrobe, I by-passed sections for items I don’t need. I’m all sweatered up, and really don’t need anymore cozy sweaters (well maybe just one more…) and don’t have any pressing sweater questions that can be answered by research at this time. I skipped the sweaters. For now.

Hidden treasure

This summer when touring the American Southwest I saw so many European women rocking denim skirts. Seriously, there were Dutch women in denim everywhere. If you were in Amsterdam in late July and didn’t see any people, it’s because all 780,000 of them, and their jean skirts, were at Bryce Canyon. It was awesome.

I wanted to try a 2016 denim skirt, but was looking for the classy feel of a European tourist, rather than the trashy feel I remember from 1987. What should pop up but an Anthropologie denim skirt? Love!

Have worn this nearly everyday since purchase.

I recognize that I got really lucky this time. Every so often, I find something incredible at Value Village. Other times I find nothing. But it’s the hunt that keeps me going.

Don’t go completely hog-wild

Pushing yourself to try a new look is one thing, buying something you don’t need, or clearly doesn’t work for you, is another. I found a well-maintained suede jacket, but it didn’t fit or feel good. It’s not a bargain if you never wear it.


If it helps, set a limit on the number of items you plan to buy. You have to get all this home, and test it out, so it doesn’t make sense to buy anything you aren’t seriously willing to try. Also be sure to bypass anything that’s pilled, ripped or stained. You are here for research, not repair.

Be prepare to laugh, to cry, and to get really tired

I have tried on items that looked so silly I laughed out loud looking in the mirror. I have also found gems so close to perfect, but… not perfect. Jeans that were just a little too tight. Blouses that were amazing… except for the coffee stain on the left sleeve. I once opened my mouth to ask a salesperson if they had a dress in another size. Saying no to BCBG dress that almost works is difficult, but part and parcel of second hand research.

Doing some serious research at Value Village also takes a full afternoon, and it’s exhausting. There isn’t the oxygen-rich air, soft music and elegant lighting of a boutique. But getting the chance to try something new for next to nothing is worth the time, and will save you frustration in the long run.

I think I can… I think I can… I think I can…

When I was very poor, Value Village was a treat. As many of you know, it’s a little more expensive than Goodwill or St Vinnie’s, but better organized, brightly lit and not quite so musty. I discovered the research value in the Village after I gained financial security, and was struggling to figure out which wardrobe items to invest in. Whenever my closet needs some experimentation, this is where I head first. Give it a try and let me know what you find!

Late summer wardrobe chores


It’s mid-August, and my husband and I have been spending time in the garden. We harvested half the potatoes and spread them out to cure in the attic of the barn. We braided garlic and shallots to hang in our kitchen over winter. We reseeded garden beds with fall crops of broccoli, beets and lettuce. These little jobs are satisfying and fun, but more than that they ensure good food for months to come.

So many potatoes, such tasty garlic…


Similarly, while I have no immediate clothing needs, I do have a few chores to take care of as summer comes to a close. Here’s the Mud and Grace work list:

Evaluate your summer wardrobe

Now is the perfect time to take note of what you’re wearing, and what you aren’t. Go through your summer clothes. Is there one dress you’ve been wearing over and over? Is there anything that’s just hanging there, never making it into the mix? These are your work horses and your space hogs, and I’ve got plenty of both.

A few reflections on the Mud and Grace Summer Essentials…

The hiking shorts were too big.

I wore my Maison Jules tank tops all summer.

Man I love this skirt!

This sweatshirt is cute, but it only worked with a few of the other items and I didn’t wind up wearing it all that often.


What do you reach for, but never find in your closet?

Next up, evaluate what you don’t have. Like me, you’ve probably searched your closet for something that just wasn’t there. A light cotton dress, maybe? An easy pair of market pants?

Last summer, it was t-shirts. I had about 20 of them, but none fit right, and I was constantly shuffling through my drawers trying to find that magical t-shirt I’d never taken the time or energy to find and purchase.

This summer I found myself reaching for a light denim jacket. I have a wonderful jacket that I bought in Rome nearly 20 years ago, but the shape and color are heavy and it just doesn’t work well with my summer ensembles.

It’s not you… it’s me. I just need some space until it cools off a little.

I also keep reaching for a classic, cross-body leather bag. I have a whimsical, not-cross-body bag that is bright yellow in which my wallet and sunglasses don’t fit. I keep looking at it, hoping it had changed color and grown a strap. It hasn’t.

Keep tabs on what you reach for, and make a list. When I plan for next summer, I’ll be sure to remember the jacket and the bag.

Perfect bag, where are you?

Stock up on anything you know for sure you’ll wear next summer

Overbuying and stocking up on things you’ll never wear is not stylish. But knowing what works and preparing in advance is. Think of it this way;  I’ll can about 50 quarts of tomatoes this summer because I know we’ll use them. I’ll only can about 10 pints of pickles, because I haven’t settled on a good pickle recipe yet, and we just don’t eat that many of them.

If you know you’ll wear something again next summer, go get it while you can find it. It’s probably on sale by now. I ordered more of those tank tops in neutral colors, and replaced my too-big shorts. (Read about the ill-fitting shorts here The Complete Camping Road Trip Wardrobe, Summer 2016 )


Hello my neutral colored friends! I’ll keep you cozy and fresh until next summer.

On the other hand, as much as I love it, I didn’t buy another Boden jersey dress. This one is so well-made it will last at least one more summer if not two. By that time I’ll want the pleasure of picking out a new dress.

New: Boden
Love! For now…

Sell your space hogs to a resale shop while they’re buying

It’s still summer. If you have nice summer pieces in good condition, a second hand shop will be interested. Free your space hogs to become work horses for another woman.

Start looking towards fall

Stores and catalogs are beginning to scatter a little fall foliage around. You can definitely start thinking about what you want to be wearing in the coming months. When you sit down with a catalog, flip through it without any intent on buying. Look at the colors and shapes and note what appeals to you. Stop by your favorite shop in the middle of running errands one afternoon, and just walk through. Do you like the outfits coming out this fall? What colors do you want to base your wardrobe around? Think about the activities your fall is likely to include, and plan ahead for them. This is the style equivalent of looking through the Territorial Seed Company Catalog in January.

Can I build my entire fall wardrobe around this Lululemon sweatshirt?

Make a list

You should be keeping a style notebook by now. In it, make a detailed list of everything you’d like to have for fall. I mean everything everything, even the unders you haven’t replaced in forever. Don’t worry your list is crazy-long. Our list for seeds was crazy-long, and look where it got us. Pre-planning is for more than just your retirement portfolio.

This deliciousness was brought to you by foresight.

Enjoy your summer style chores, then kick back with the knowledge that you’ve made getting dressed that much easier for yourself in the coming months and years.