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Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Favorite Workout Wear for Plus-Sized Women

I've been exercising regularly over half of my life now, nearly twenty years. I've gone through a lot of different styles (and brands) of sports bras & tops, athletic boot-cut pants, Capri pants, shorts, socks & sneakers. I am now & always have been plus-sized, meaning that workout wear is both harder to find and usually more expensive to buy than it is for smaller women. It's hard to know where to put the dollars- you don't want to buy shorts that ride up, sports bras that feel like someone duct-taped your chest, socks that make your feet itch or roll down into your shoes. You can't buy shoes that leave your feet aching for hours afterwards, causing shin splints or knee problems. With workout wear you get what you pay for, first of all- other than when items are on sale or clearance, you need to accept this fact. If you're watching every penny, I know that it's tempting not to invest in good workout wear. But I promise from my own experience that it's better to own two really good sports bras than six that are only so-so. You cannot cheat your body out of proper support during exercising without experiencing consequences, and that only gets more true with age. It's best to try & buy things when they're on sale, or maybe when a particular color in a certain style goes to clearance. The day after Thanksgiving & some other holidays offer these sales most consistently. If you have a serious investment in fitness, it can be worthwhile to keep a wish list of these items on hand and ask for them as gifts on birthdays and other gift-receiving occasions.

Your sports bras & tops should hopefully be supportive enough that you do NOT need to double up on wearing them. I have seen larger women wearing two sports bras at once, such as a halter-style & a racer-back style together. This was especially true in the 1990's, when most sports bras for larger busts were not yet designed so well (if you could find one at all). However, sports bra construction and availability for larger busts has improved drastically in the last decade or so and therefore doubling-up should no longer be needed, so long as you buy the right bra. The standard rule regarding sports bra sizing is to go up one band size & down one cup size from a "regular" (non-sports) bra. This is something that I've usually found to be true. You need to know your regular, correct bra size first, obviously. Before you ever order new bras for yourself, take your measurements. Even if you think you know what your bra size is, measure again anyway before ordering any new bras. If you have an odd-numbered measurement (for example, your chest circumference is 43"), size up to the next band size (a 44). You should always be able make the bra tighter in the back hooks & the shoulder straps if need be, but you can't make a bra larger than the settings allow, so it's better to size up & not down. That said, different brands or even certain styles within brands can vary. It's not very easy for a plus-sized woman to find bras out in retail stores to try on, I know. Unless you live in a major city, getting a bra fitting in a department store by a competent store employee is tough (if you're old enough, you'll remember when it was actually very common to get bra fittings in a store!) If you have such a store & can afford to take advantage of it, do so! Those rare but precious employees are trained to get you the best bra(s) for your size & style desires.

Band size is important to get right for a couple of reasons. First, most of a bra's support comes from the band itself, not the straps. Second, if a band size is too large, it'll go crawling up your back towards your neck. This not only provides less support but just plain looks worse. If your band size is too tight, you will obviously be very uncomfortable in a short period of time, plus you take a chance on giving yourself a skin rash. Don't skimp on your cup size, either. If you do, you will have bra hangover, bust spillage in the center of chest, and you won't be getting the most support & best look, either. No one wants to admit that their band size has gone up & it may make you faint to acknowledge how many inches between your chest & bust there is- but you'll just have to get over it! If your bust is five inches larger than your chest size, you need to likely order a D cup in a sports bra, and a DD in a regular bra, for example. The following sports bras are my four favorites, ones I can almost guarantee you will not have to double up on, and will provide you lasting support without sacrificing comfort.

Workout bottoms come in a variety of options & price ranges nowadays, even for plus sizes. I've found QuikWik from Junonia to be the best of the best. I sweat like crazy when I work out & cotton doesn't work nearly as well for me as the QuikWik. I stick with wearing black on bottom because a) I'm bottom-heavy & light colors look terrible on my legs + b) Black shows sweat much less than light bottoms. Heavier women often deal with the very annoying issue of bottoms riding up, especially shorts. Wearing boy-short type bottoms are nice if you're someone who likes to look at your body in a mirror while exercising, checking your form & seeing the muscle motion as you work out. Even women with heavier legs might find they prefer this short style (especially if you work out at home by yourself), because it allows your skin to breathe & feels cool even in the hottest temperatures. Dual-layer shorts are nice to help stop riding up while allowing more coverage & coolness. My personal favorite style, though, is a Capri or cropped pant. Capri pants look especially good on me because I'm tall- cropped pants make most women seem a bit chunkier & they shorten the look of the leg, but they're nice & cool to wear in hot months. Leggings are another option- you can wear ones that are form-fitting to the ankle or ones that have a bootcut to them. This is entirely based on personal preference & I suggest that you experiment to see what works best for your activity & body type. Form-fitting leggings can be nice to layer under other workout bottoms if you'll be walking or working out otherwise in the cold. Bootcut leggings can make your legs look nice & long while balancing out heavier hips- but only if they come to the right length. Too short & they'll look weird. Too long & they become dangerous because they can trip you up by getting underneath your shoe. Leggings or bootcut bottoms are your warmest option, so keep that in mind. I get so warm when I work out & I always exercise indoors, so leggings aren't my favorite option. Remember that your workout sneakers will add some extra height to your frame, sometimes as much as 2". Keep this in mind when you shop for workout bottoms & view the inseam length. I'm 5'7" & wear a 30" inseam in bootcut pants while wearing shoes that have a 1-2" height addition to my frame. However, I know some women of my height have longer or shorter legs than me (I'm short-waisted but my legs are pretty much average for my height). Here are my suggestions for good workout bottoms-

Boy shorts in plus sizes can be hard to find. Cut the ribbon off of these carefully & they'll look less like panties & more like short-shorts:

These come in petite, average & tall inseams & have a bootcut bottom. They're excellent for yoga & outdoor activities:

A decent cotton alternative to the more expensive QuikWik line from Junonia, I like these Capri pants both for exercise & for summer wear. Pair them with a sexy sandal or strappy heel & they look decent as "regular wear", serving double-duty in the wardrobe department. A win-win! They also come in different inseams (as is common with Woman Within):

These are great for layering & make toned, slim legs look great. If your lower half is your better asset, leggings show them off well. These also serve double-duty in the wintertime because you can pair them with snow boots, and your legging bottom won't get wet in the snow like a bootcut or palazzo pant would. Pair them with a good sports bra, a long thick sweatshirt + thick comfy socks, throw on your winter boots & you're set to go for many different kinds of winter workouts!

*Here's the thing about Junonia- their clothes typically run long. If you're more petite, be prepared to get the bottom of your pants hemmed to a shorter length. You may also have to get the seat of the pants tightened up if you're shorter & smaller in that area. Taller women (5'7" & above) will love the extra length Junonia provides. Also, Junonia clothes have always been pre-shrunk & I've ordered from them a lot over the years. With Woman Within, the same cannot be said. Just something to keep in mind. Junonia clothes are more expensive BUT their clothing tends to last longer. QuikWik is especially durable, often lasting several years even with constant wear. They wash up fine in the washing machine & you can put them in the dryer on a low setting. Woman Within has more color selection than Junonia in almost every product offered- Junonia mostly sells their bottoms in black alone. As a plus-size woman, inner thighs in pants or shorts may wear out and/or start pilling on the fabric will occur. QuikWik doesn't do this, making it an extremely durable & comfortable option. Polyester & acrylic will usually pill this faster than cotton, plus do not breathe as well. Function should always come first over fashion, but nowhere is this more true than in workout wear.*

Here's the marvelous dual-layer shorts I told you about:

I personally don't like bike shorts. I have heavy thighs & they always ride up no matter what brand I buy. But if you like that style & they don't ride up on you, QuikWik ones are terrific:

The QuikWik leggings:

My Holy Grail Capri pant in QuikWik, worth every penny. They make my legs look firmer, too- they work great as shapewear, in addition to their fabulous workout potential!

Your next workout purchase? Socks. They're not needed if you do Yoga, Pilates or water sports, but are otherwise a necessity. Different foot builds, varying sports & particular climates will change your selection(s). I like a thin, cool, lo-cut sock that keeps my feet from feeling sweaty. Crew & quarter-socks will make your legs look a little shorter & are a slightly more dated choice. Style shouldn't be your absolute obsession- function is far more important in the long run. But if you can choose style & still get maximum form/comfort, so much the better. Remember that I work out indoors, have a home with central A/C & heat & therefore my sock style doesn't need to change with the seasons. My suggestions are based on that. There are lots of articles on the Internet which will tell you how to address climate- & sports-specific sock issues beyond the scope of what I can address. Remember to have fun with color & style. If something comes in your favorite color, is within your budget & is appropriate for your exercise goals, buy it! Here's the styles I love best:

I've got one favorite brand of crew socks. They're made for diabetics & have lots of stretch. I'm not a diabetic but I love the warmth & comfort of these socks. They're just terrific for people who suffer from swollen feet. They also run in large sizes for those with bigger feet like me. I think they're superb for daily wear, for outdoor workouts in colder climates & for those that need a thick crew sock when they exercise.

Don't be ashamed to admit you're a bigger size than you thought after taking your measurements. So what if five years ago you were a 36C and now you're a 42D? Big deal- I'm sure in that five years you've accomplished some great things in your life. Focus on everything you've done well. Don't worry about yesterday, who you were or what size you were way back when. This is about now. Exercise should be pursued as a recreational pleasure, not torture to endure while watching each little calorie burned. People are mostly well-fed in America today & generally live longer than at any time in history- ignore the buggers who say something isn't right with you, no matter how you look, be it thin or not. Remember that most of us now have thankfully avoided the debilitating childhood illnesses that typically made people smaller & shorter in previous centuries (if they survived at all)- such as polio, smallpox, typhoid, cholera, etc. Many children starved years ago frequently through childhood, especially little girls, if one or both of their parents died, crops went bad or their father's business went bust. With far less focus on local farming being the sole source of one's food supply, most people never experience long-term famine in wealthier nations now. Our ancestors did not have modern medicine, vitamins & mineral supplements or vast nutritional knowledge to build height & weight. If you look at women from even sixty years ago, they tended to have smaller bones- not just less fat. You can tell from their shoulders, ankles, feet & ribcage that we have bigger bones (in general) today. Watch a TV show from the 1950's & you'll see exactly what I mean. Women typically don't smoke or drink alcohol while pregnant anymore, which years ago was far more common (especially for those born in the baby boomer generation & the two generations right before them), leading to a lower birth weight. And a lower birth weight is typically tied to a lower adult weight, but also to certain health problems throughout the lifespan. Hormones added to milk, meat & poultry designed to fatten up the respective animals also found their way into our bodies as we ate them, causing us to fatten up, too. There are many different obesogens out there, and we need to start recognizing that as a society. It isn't just about diet & exercise- if it were as simple as calories in, calories out, this wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar business. Please keep in mind that simply because someone is slim, it doesn't mean that they're healthy. Pat Nixon, for example, is someone who was always very slim. However, she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, suffered both a debilitating stroke in later life & a few different types of cancer before she passed away. I say this not to be mean or spiteful, but to say we must start looking beneath the surface of each other before passing judgment. We should be glad that people are generally healthy & living in plenty more often, not putting people down because they're bigger than their ancestors. Remember, it's not just women who've expanded- men are a lot bigger than in previous centuries, too! A lot of people who blame modern Americans forget that fifty or sixty years ago families were generally larger (more mouths to feed = smaller portions for most at the dinner table, especially for the girls). Many more people drank alcohol for their dinner instead of eating, had access to amphetamines & other forms of diet pills mostly unavailable today. This is no longer socially acceptable or even possible in most circles. They were also able to be more active outdoors. Gardening, doing laundry, housework- many of the activities that helped keep women slim years ago have either had to be given up as women went into the workforce full-time, disappeared due to urban sprawl or because technology eased up the methods of cleaning products like vacuums. People no longer have to do the heavy spring-cleaning of years ago due to burning less fires in a fireplace, using modern cooking methods, having central air & central heat. Waxing floors is something almost unheard-of now. Cars, buses & trains made horseback riding out of need & walking long distances to get somewhere important much less common.

Anyway, if you work out three to six days a week, which is the average for most women, you're going to go through your exercise shoes at a faster pace than even your regular walking shoes. Remember to look carefully at what shoes are right for your particular arch (high, normal or flat) & instep, if you will need a shoe that allows room for your own foot orthotics, what activity you'll be performing most often & how much flexibility you like in your shoe. Overpronation & underpronation may need to be addressed, too. For exercises like lunges, split squats or running, flexibility in a shoe is important. In these exercises you'll need to be able to move your foot through it's full range of motion, and a shoe that's too stiff or padded in the arch can hinder this. However, you'll need a more supportive shoe if you have any type of pre-existing pain condition- knee problems, back pain, bursitis, shin splints, etc. Past ankle or knee injuries make extra stability in a shoe an utter necessity. Diabetic neuropathy or other foot conditions often mean you'll need a thinner sole, so that you can feel the ground under your feel more easily. Read reviews & descriptions of shoes very carefully, because often a shoe will sound great in description (or look great in a picture), but it'll be completely wrong for your feet and/or your exercise routine. Exercise shoes can run up to $165.00/pair. The more specialized, long & wide the shoe, typically the price will just keep rising. I like a lightweight, flexible shoe that works well for my flat feet, wide size & low instep. I'm already big & don't need a shoe that feels like lead to weigh me down more. I need a shoe with some stability but a lot of flexibility to go through the aerobic weight-training & stretching that I do.

The best brands of shoes that I've found are New Balance & Saucony. For high arches, Asics are extremely popular. It probably will take awhile for you to research shoes & I cannot emphasize enough how important wearing supportive shoes are. The last thing you want is a shoe that's too heavy, makes you feel unsteady on your feet or leaves you in pain. No shoe should ever leave you in pain, period! I know that many people still believe a shoe takes breaking in & this has occasionally been my experience, as well. What I recommend is to find a vendor or retailer that will take back your shoes within thirty days of purchase, no questions asked. This gives you time to receive the shoe, try them on & wear them for several workouts (I'd recommend allowing three to five workouts for shoes to break in, max). If you don't want to get them dirty, use them indoors only for a few workouts- run or walk on a treadmill, use them to do some body weight exercises with dumbbells at home, etc. See how they feel after allowing that break-in period. If they're uncomfortable, too stiff or non-supportive after that, send them back. I know you may be out some money for shipping if you order them online or by catalog. If you've never been fitted for athletic shoes before, then I really recommend you go to Lady Foot Locker or an equivalent store for a proper fitting. They will be able to easily tell what instep you have, what type of arch, whether you under- or overpronate at all, what your true current size is, etc. You can go over past injuries & present medical conditions that affect your workouts. Please do not underestimate the fact that the body works in tandem- if your feet are out of alignment, for example, you can end up with shoulder pain. I know that sounds impossible, but it's true. The bones in your feet are fairly small & relatively fragile. The older & more inactive you are, the more true this will be. The workers at a good shoe store will be able to make excellent suggestions for the best shoes based on the type of activity or activities you'll be engaging in.

Remember that for water sports, water shoes now exist in a variety of sizes & widths. I recommend them highly if you'll be doing water aerobics or swimming in a gym's pool, because it'll protect your feet along with giving them some serious defense against scratches & scrapes. Germs, bacteria & fungus that like to live on gym floors, too- wear flip-flops or water shoes in the shower, if you're using a stall in a gym filled with other people using it. (This is another reason why I love working out at home- none of those issues come up.)

Wide widths & women with longer feet also no longer have to settle for plain or ugly shoes! I wear an 11W & I used to have to settle for bland shoes. Nowadays there are more styles available to me than I could ever wear in one lifetime. Try to pick shoes that you absolutely love in looks, not just in function. This can motivate you more than you think! I really hesitate to make suggestions because everyone's body is different. I have back problems due to fibromyalgia & painful osteoarthritis in the knees, but otherwise my bones are thick. I do aerobic weight-training & athletic stretches for my workouts. I have an hourglass figure, a lot of muscle & good posture. If you have a body, feet & workout plans similar to me, here are the shoes I've found best:

Focus on eating as healthfully as you know how to fuel your brain & life, on letting go of the habits that hurt your health (drinking than one alcoholic drink a day, more than a mug of coffee a day, smoking & excessive sunbathing), keep drinking mostly water, get plenty of sleep, get a little sun every day that you can (10-20 minutes of exposure), exercise as much as you comfortably can & try to have a fun existence with real meaning to it. If you're a beginner, three to four workouts a week is plenty. Working out every other day gives a beginner-to-intermediate exerciser the rest that they'll likely need. Increase your workouts to five or six days a week only when your body can handle the demands. If you get sick or have an emergency come up that sucks up all of your time, take a break from working out for at least a couple of days. Don't have self-hatred if you skip your workouts for awhile. That's how life is sometimes. Exercise should be something that you enjoy, especially since you're committing so much of your life's hours to it. If swimming is what you love, swim. Stop thinking that you should be running instead, since "experts" say it burns more calories, if running is something you detest doing. Obviously, you've got a better shot at sticking with an exercise routine that you truly love doing. Self-designated experts often don't take joint or tendon stress into account when making their suggestions. They don't know you personally in most cases & can't tell where your passion lies. Maybe you always wanted to learn how to dance, for example- buy some DVDs focused on that or find a dance class supportive of people in all sizes. Step out of your fear & do what you've always wanted to try. Maybe you'll fall on your tush if you try it- that happens to most of us on the fitness journey at one point or another! If you think I'm not still daunted by my workouts at times after all these years, you're wrong. There are many times when I think, "How on earth will I get through this today?!" You may start a program & want to cry because you're not as fit as others around you. We've almost all been there. No one becomes an expert at any exercise type overnight. Yes, some may have a gift & be able to perform a particular kind of exercise with great ease, but don't compare yourself to them. This is not a competition!!! Your own body knows best which exercises it can handle & which ones your need to stay away from. You may try out a popular exercise program only to find that you really don't like it. Don't give up on working out altogether, though. If you've given a program six months & you still really hate it, I think it's time you shop around for a new exercise routine. Too may people now worry about having the right combination of cardio, weight-training & stretching. NO PERFECT EXERCISE PROGRAM EXISTS, THOUGH! Many are excellent- but none of them are perfect. All have some risk of injury, some much less than others. Keep this in your head. If you end up drastically changing your body shape or size for the better, kudos. But please don't expect living healthy to automatically send you to Size Zero Land if you've been plus-sized for years. Some people are built with a small frame & some aren't. This used to be accepted by society fairly easily. It's only in the last fifty years or so that we've started hearing verbal attacks against larger people. We can make our muscles bigger or larger, we can shread body fat or add it on, but certain genetic traits can't be undone! We all have lean parts & we all have less-than-perfect parts. Accept it. Your role model should be yourself in the long runIf you're focused on some other person's body & keep it as your ideal forever, you'll lose the precious gift of learning to love your own body. I'm a big woman, but you know what? I've had women come & say to me, "Oh, if only I had you eyes/nose/skin tone/thin fingers!" Me, the perpetual fat girl, I've had admirers. So I'm telling you to wake up here! I KNOW that you also have something wonderful that other have looked at enviously, too! It may be your thin ankles, your thick head of hair, your lovely long nails, your ability to connect with kids, your swift typing skills- I guarantee someone, somewhere, envied some part of you at one point! Maybe without you ever even knowing it. Make the best of those good traits, love them boldly & others will, too. I promise that's the truth!

Read as many books as your can on the subject of balanced, clean, healthy living, such as "Firm for Life" by Anna & Cynthia Benson. PLEASE remember that you can be as gorgeous & healthy at a size fourteen or higher as you would be in a size six or less, so long as you're living well! With all of the love that I can muster for you all, and I assure you all that's a lot of love, I am begging you to accept yourself as you are right now. Celebrate the completion of every workout, when you meet a milestone, every single time you master a new step or exercise. The movement itself should generally be pleasurable. Separate the exercising from any weight-loss or body-shaping goals & you may find that the old sense of pressure you felt disappears. Working out can't come from a place of self-loathing & still be enjoyable. Of course it's fine to have short- and/or long-term goals related to exercise. That can be motivating & even fun. I just prefer goals related to performance as opposed to dropping a certain amount of weight or reaching a particular dress size. Do the workouts for the journey, not for some distant outcome unless having such a goal is truly enjoyable to you. Many times we hate exercise because it's a form of self-punishment in our minds. In this society, it's extremely easy to fall into that trap. Please watch for that landmine & avoid it. You're awesome just the way you are today.

Here's to being a healthy organized minimalist,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The “Lab Rat Maze” Method to Achieving a Clean Home Every Day

I’m not calling you a lab rat, nor am I calling myself one, but there’s an important lesson to be learned from the good old scientific rat! In particular, their path from start to finish in a maze, where at the end a prize awaits, is a great teacher to us. For us, the maze is our house. Or any other space that you're responsible for cleaning up. The prize at the end is that after we’ve gone through the maze, the space is neat, clean & smells as nice as it looks! There’s a way to achieve this every single day. Lab rats who are untrained start out in their maze cautiously. They don’t know what’s behind every corner & thus approach it slowly. They’re not quite sure where to step next at first & in the beginning getting through the maze correctly so they can reach their prize is a slow process. But over time, as they travel the maze again & again, they become quite speedy, getting to their prize with great ease. So it can be with you & your home. I know, because I have been in the rat’s position, with the clean home as my prize! Efficiency experts or time-management consultants advise that we can cut time drastically if we do things in a specific order each & every time that we do a certain task. A daily once-over of your home to keep it looking & smelling awesome is a task I can write about for you with foreknowledge, because I had to learn it the hard way myself. I only learned about how lab rats work their mazes long after I started on this method (go figure!) But now you get the benefit of my trial-and-error.

The simplest way to do this is to work in your collective space (home, office at the job, etc.) from front-to-back & top to bottom. For one thing, when you work that way it'll decrease your chances that important tasks get overlooked. For another thing, it minimizes the time & movements that it takes in the achievement of your goal. If you change your strategy every single time you sort, straighten up & clean your home, I know from experience that it’ll take your brain more work to get the exact same tasks done- meaning it’ll be more tiring for you both mentally & physically. This is actually scientifically proven, again by our little friend, the faithful lab rat. You see, as he’s making his way around the maze the first time, his rat brain has to work very hard to get through it & reach the prize. Over time however, his brain, despite the fact that his body is moving faster & faster, actually has to work far less to get the same path cleared. One universal example of this is driving a car. If you drive, you already know what I mean. What once was an exhausting, nerve-wracking trek when you first learned how to drive can now be done virtually on auto-pilot. Obviously, you still have to be aware to new sights & sounds when you're driving, or you can get hurt.  But in general your actual motions have gotten easier, to the point where you hardly notice (if you do at all) when you make your turn signal, turn on your windshield wipers, or park your vehicle.  Everything becomes automatic, even blasé.  It can even be joyful once the stress of thinking so hard is eliminated, when you're trying not to make a mistake.  Thus, the daily path through the home or office become an almost soothing & certainly a satisfying experience.  I know that once my daily go-around the house is finished, I feel a sense of accomplishment, peace & happiness.  I’m left with a home fit for company, true, but more importantly the home is nice for those who live in it, including myself.

I’m going to walk you through my own personal maze step-by-step. I work my way from the back of my home to the front.

Here’s my layout, as an example (but of course draw up your own specific layout):
My bathroom
My bedroom
Home office/Guest room
Living Room
My mother’s bedroom
My mother’s bathroom
Dining Room
Laundry Room
Kitchen/Breakfast Room

In my bathroom, I do a swish-and-swipe, which I laid out for you in one of my previous blogs.
Please adapt this to your home’s layout, decor and materials, your physical abilities & what kind of day you’re having.  Don’t let a day or two of skipped trips or a missed chore here & there make you feel like a failure.  I’ve done this more times than I want to admit & it’s no fun to think that way.  Yesterday is gone.  Let it go.  Focus on the now.

A tip: Carry your tools for daily upkeep with you- fabric refresher, disinfectant spray, feather duster, etc.  Putting these items in a basket or caddy with a handle & storing it in the same place each day will help you tremendously in making daily cleanup a habit.

In the bedrooms, I make the bed, spritz some Febreze Antimicrobial Fabric Refresher on it, straighten up the items on the nightstand, dresser & any other surface, de-cluttering as I go along.

I spritz some room freshener in each room of the house. I also spray some Febreze Fabric Refresher on beds, cloth shower curtains, bathroom rugs & upholstered furniture each day.

I scoop out the litter box in the home office & spray some Lysol Disinfectant around the litter box. Each morning, I balance my checkbook. I make sure that I've entered every deposit or withdrawal into my checkbook immediately. I check them off as they clear. I go through one file folder or drawer a day to keep my desk neat. I also go through my mail each day, handling it as soon as it's gone through. Any letters that need to be written, bills that need to get paid, etc.- if I can get them done today, I do so. If not, I file them properly. I open up any boxes from orders, put anything new away, break down the box & get the box in the trash.

I take out the trash whenever it's needed throughout the house, putting a fresh bag in the trash can as soon as I take the old full one out. I straighten up the throw pillows, fold up any blankets & de-clutter papers, catalogs, magazines, etc., in the living room daily.

If anything's on the dining table, I clear it off & put the items wherever they belong.

If the dryer is dusty or the washing machine is gunky somewhere, I wipe them down with a Lysol Wipe. I do one load of laundry a day, if needed- wash, dry, put away (the last part can be the hardest!) I don't do laundry on Sundays, because that is my day of rest, but usually I've got a load or two to get done each morning.

The kitchen gets cleaned up thoroughly in the evening (which I've detailed in another blog post), but I unload, load and/or run the dishwasher as needed each morning. I take a feather duster around quickly through the whole place daily, picking up the little bit of dust that gathers from day to day. Once I'm done using it, I shake the feather duster outside. And then I am done!

If you're like me, you'll have to do this alone. But if others are around & you can do it, delegate these tasks in an appropriate manner! Teach your kids to make their own beds, do their own laundry, swish-and-swipe in the bathroom (especially if they have a bathroom to themselves), deal with the dishwasher, put away dishes in the right spot, wash pots & pans, etc., as they get to an appropriate age. Show them how to dust, run the vacuum & wash floors, too. Advise them on how to keep a neat binder for school, manage their time & deal with the inevitable curves thrown at their plans in a peaceful manner. When they're old enough, teach them how to care for their vehicle, clean it, change a tire, etc. You're doing them an enormous favor by teaching them how to manage their own spaces & lives! They may hate it now, but eventually they'll appreciate what they've learned, especially if you teach it to them in kindness & love. And DO NOT discriminate between your sons & daughters. Nothing drives me more nuts than seeing a parent who makes their daughter do a bunch of cleaning while allowing their sons to not only get away with cleaning nothing, but also leave clutter around for others to pick up. There should be no room in your home for chauvanism in any format! I started doing my own laundry at twelve years of age. My mom showed me how to get my laundry clean & that was that. I learned to fold laundry properly from Linda Koopersmith's book, "The Beverly Hills Organizer..." My mother new how to get a bathroom clean beautifully & I learned that from her. I read Jeff Campbell's great book, "Speed Cleaning", to learn much more about housecleaning. Much of the rest (especially in daily housekeeping) I got from FlyLady. A few things I learned or developed on my own. You don't have to do exactly what I do. Just do what works for your space. Every time that you move to a new home, office, etc., you'll have to draw up a new mental map & follow the new maze until it's mastered again.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prep Your Guest Bath for the Holidays

When you've kept up your bathroom(s) through a daily swish-and-swipe throughout the year, having guests over at any time shouldn't be such a big deal. If you haven't been doing a little bit of bathroom cleaning every day, I recommend that you start now- the earlier you start cleaning a bit at a time, the less work there will be to do on the actual days you have people over for the holidays. Please read my previous blog post on how to clean your bathroom little-by-little if this is something you've been struggling with. My goal is for you to be able to actually enjoy your own gathering this year, accepting compliments on your home with pride while feeling calm, cool & collected. Last year was the first time that I entertained & actually felt this way. I was able to relax, focus on my conversation with family & savor the great food I made. I hadn't been up all night cleaning before the family gathering, I was not making a mad dash to the grocery store at the last minute over forgotten items & dinner got on the table at exactly the minute I wanted it to! I'd gotten plenty of rest, the house looked wonderful & smelled great, too. I had plenty of time to shower, dress nicely (I wore an apron over my clothes to keep them that way), put on some jewelry, get made up, spritz on a little perfume, etc. My uncle kept saying how lovely the home looked, which meant a lot to me, as he's not one to give empty compliments. My mother actually marveled at how easy I made entertaining look! When I was growing up, entertaining meant my mother staying up all night cleaning top-to-bottom like a fiend, with her showering about a half-hour before guests were due to arrive, screaming & yelling at anyone she ran into along the way. I can't even begin to tell you how many arguments, hurtful words, blood, sweat & tears were spent on that nonsense. Don't live like this. And if you're a parent, don't put your kids through this. You deserve better & you can have the peaceful home that we should all possess in this season.

Make sure to put out a hand towel for your guests in the bathroom. There's nothing worse than needing to use someone else's restroom, only to find they've got nothing available to wipe your clean hands on but their used bath towel! Purchase a few inexpensive hand towels to keep out, not only for guests, but for your own family. Wash them in a small amount of powdered detergent with hot water before putting them out the first time, to increase their absorbency. Change the hand towel every day or every other day depending upon how much it gets used. Write this down in your routines if you're not in the habit already of changing the towels. Hand towel racks can be free-standing or placed over a bathroom cabinet, if you don't have an extra towel rod to hang them from. These come in lots of different finishes now. If you have the tools and the wall space, consider adding a hand towel holder permanently to your bathroom. This will free up vanity space & make your bathroom look even more organized. If you can find a storage shelf or cabinet with a towel rack built in, so much the better. This will give even more room for storing cosmetics, toiletries & first-aid supplies year-round.

If you don't want to use actual guest towels that you have to wash, paper fingertip towels are a great disposable but nice-looking option. I highly recommend them in the quest for keeping some germs at bay in the bathroom.

Take a look at the towels you already own to see what condition they're in. This is a good time to purge old ratty towels, sheets & other linens that have seen better days. Torn-up ones with holes, just trash- don't even think twice. But ones that just have a little fraying at the edges or have gotten thin might still have some life left in them. Most animal shelters are grateful to take somewhat-worn but clean towels & blankets for their furry friends to snuggle in. Call one or two up & see if you can drop these off at the local animal shelter or Humane Society for good use. This should be a time of year where we all feel the spirit of giving. Many people have sadly been displaced by either natural disasters, evictions or foreclosures in this depressed economy. Gently-used but clean towels, linens & blankets could be exactly what a local homeless shelter needs, if an animal shelter doesn't. If you're tired of your linens or they've worn a little thin, the shelters may be glad to take them off your hands. Always call them first to check on this, though. (If you do a giveaway like this, make sure to wash everything you give first in hot water & powder detergent. Use some Clorox bleach in the washer if the items are white, to make them extra fresh & bright. Hot water & the heat from a dryer will kill dust mites & remove body oils, hair + skin cells from the linens. Put the dry items in a white or clear, clean trashbag before giving away.)

If you'll be having overnight guests, consider carefully whether or not you need to buy additional washcloths, bath towels, an over-the-door towel rack and/or spare hooks so that people can hang up their towels, robes, nightgowns or clothes. An expansive line of 3M products also exists these days to add hooks anywhere you like. These little wonders also come in a variety of finishes & a water-resistant one exists for shower storage. These are awesome for hanging up back brushes with a rope loop, net bath sponges, shower caps & anything else that needs it's own little hook. Take a good look at your shower caddy, if you own one. If it's all gunky with old soap, product residue or is rusting, toss it & buy a new one.

I would suggest putting out a room freshener or sanitizer that guests can easily see & use if they feel the need to. Lysol Disinfectant Spray is fine, but some other options smell even nicer, such as an orange-based room spray or Febreze Meadows & Rain. Or you can choose to put out an automatic air freshener that will periodically send a burst of fresh fragrance into the room. I like a neutral & natural scent such as lemon, orange or vanilla myself. These automatic machines run on a timer, and most will spray every nine, eighteen or thirty-six minutes. They take a battery or two to run on, but seem to last a long time without having batteries change. The sprays you place within them, which are refillable, also seem to last quite a long time before needing a replacement.

If there won't be young children around or you decide to choose a flameless option, having a candle or two out is a warm, inviting addition for the guest bath. Subtly-scented candles will also help mask any unwanted odors, as well.

*I would not suggest adding a major bathroom chore such as repainting or putting down a new floor at this time of year, unless you absolutely love doing this type of thing or it is just an absolute necessity due to damage from a natural disaster or some other such issue. Some people are so skilled they can get this type of big thing done in a weekend, and if you are, consider yourself very lucky & very talented. If you have a little paint on hand & you want to do a touch-up on corners or a couple of other spots, that's fine. But don't add large, unrealistic household renovations or projects at this busy time of year unless they are of absolute necessity. I know that we all want our home to look great for holiday guests, especially ones that we don't get to visit with often, but adding a monumental household overhaul to the holiday season usually just adds stress/arguments/exhaustion to one's life. If your floor could look better, clean it very well by hand & then maybe add a fresh, new bathroom rug to the area for when people step out of the shower. There are some floor finish or shine products out there, but in a bathroom, you need to be very careful applying these, as they can make a floor more slippery. A bathroom is of course going to experience more moisture than your kitchen floor, so even if that shine product helps your kitchen floor look great, be cautious about using it in the bathroom. If you're at all unsure about applying this or any other treatment to your floor, I would skip it for now. If you have friends or family over that are so critical of your home after you've cleaned it well that they'd still say something nasty...well, you can probably already guess what I'd have to say back to them. ;)*

Guest Bathroom Holiday Supply List (purchase as needed or desired)
All-purpose disinfecting cleaner or spray bleach (for toilets, floors, bathtubs, etc.)_
Cleaning wipes, such as Lysol or Clorox- I'm a big believer in using washable white cleaning cloths & a spray cleaner, but wipes like these are great when you need to do a really quick disinfecting job. I'd definitely keep these around if young children are around, because accidents can happen & it's important to sanitize spaces afterwards if they do._
Extra bar soap, bath salts, body wash and/or bubble bath, if you'll be having overnight guests_
Facial tissues_
First-aid kit, if you don't already own one or have supplies on hand_
Glass cleaner, such as Windex or white vinegar (whatever you like best for cleaning mirrors & glassware)_
Hand/guest towels_
Liquid hand soap_
New washcloths, bath towels and/or bathroom rug, only if needed_
Plastic grocery bags or trash can liners_
Pump bottle of hand sanitizer_
Room freshener/sanitizing spray_
Scrubbing Bubbles or another good tile & tub cleaner, if you need to do some deep-cleaning prior to maintenance clean-up_
Toilet paper_

You can also download my above list for printing free on Scribd:

Here's to having an organized holiday season,

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Importance in Having a Day of Rest Each Week

I know that some people reading my post title might be balking at me right now. Some churches have very strict beliefs about what one can & cannot do on their Sabbath, and that can create a knee-jerk negative reaction to my suggestion for a chosen day of rest. But I promise that this is not a religious thing, in the sense that I feel compelled to do it or I might face a reprimand from God if I don't obey. And I don't want anyone else to feel that way or think that's where I'm coming from here. If you want to simplify your life, having a day of rest every week is a tool that helps create that simplicity. I realized a long time ago that having one day every week where I know I won't have to do a ton of work just feels better emotionally. I look forward to this restful day every week now. I don't believe that taking a day of rest should feel constricting or miserable- just the opposite. You should feel freed of backbreaking work & mental drudgery on this day. I recommend choosing to take a day of rest each week for everyone, regardless of your beliefs. This day of rest should feel wonderful, not something forced upon you. Obviously, I realize that parents of young children, those taking care of the elderly in their home, etc., don't technically get a complete day of rest each week. But below I'll list some ideas for keeping the day as minimalist & relaxing as possible, regardless of your situation.

Other than washing dishes, doing your bathroom swish-and-swipe, making your bed & other very basic daily chores, I highly recommend you don't do extensive housework or gardening on your day of rest. Unless it's really enjoyable to you, don't spend hours de-cluttering or organizing on your rest day, either. It's better to do a little bit over the other six days of the week than try to cram in hours of cleaning or de-cluttering on the seventh. This isn't out of dogma, but because your body & mind really do need a rest period each week like this. That day of rest leaves you feeling refreshed & strengthened for the next several days to come.

Sleeping in is a luxury some people like to indulge in & I don't disagree with doing it. Some people don't like to do this because it'll throw off their body's clock, make them go to bed too late the following night or make them oversleep the next morning, etc. It's up to you whether or not you want to sleep in & depends upon your lifestyle, as well. You may have church services or something else that makes sleeping in impossible. But I do suggest that you really try to get at least six hours of good, uninterrupted sleep this day.

Many people choose not to exercise or go to the gym on this day. I'm one of them. I find that after five days in a row of exercise (Monday-Friday), taking the weekend off is best for me. It allows my muscles, tendons, joints & brain to get a revitalizing break. When I worked full-time outside the home (I had a weekdays-only job), I cleaned house on Saturdays, so Sunday was a nice time to completely allow my body a break. What is known as "active rest", such as taking a walk, doing a gentle yoga practice or going swimming can keep your body moving while still allowing recovery.

I suggest that you make meals that only take a very short amount of time to prepare. It's entirely up to you, but one day off from standing for long periods of time in the kitchen & having to cook a big dinner is great to me. Eating green salads with lean protein, breakfast-for-dinner, leftovers, cold-cut sandwiches, pasta salad that was made the day before...there's lots of foods that can serve you well on these days for lunch & dinner. Some people love to go out to eat on their day of rest- if you can afford that easily & it's an enjoyable experience at the restaurant, this is a great idea. My great-grandparents always went for a drive & out to eat somewhere after church each Sunday. It gave Granny a day off from cooking & got them both out of the house to enjoy the West Virginia countryside each week. Granddad was a hard worker, but he definitely believed that Sunday should be a day free from heavy-duty yard work, housework & work for pay. He saw this as a blessing, not as a commandment meant to infringe on his freedom.

Shopping on your rest day is another personal choice that you'll have to make. Some religions essentially forbid this or spending money at all on this day unless it's an absolute emergency. With the Internet, shopping is actually quite relaxing for some people these days. I personally don't think shopping on Sunday is either good or bad, but I don't go out to the grocery store on this day, for example. Sundays are very busy days for grocery stores in my area & I'd rather avoid the crowds if I can. For myself, I just base my choices on whether or not they fit my goal of giving my body & brain a rest, and that's all. I don't forbid myself from spending money, shopping or going out to eat on my rest day.

This is my day of pampering or body care, to prepare myself for the upcoming week. I've written a blog on my weekly pampering routine before, so I won't repeat all of that here. Pampering is nice on this day because I'm not rushed, having chosen to make it a day of rest otherwise. Some women feel like this is just more work & won't want to include it on their rest day- do whatever works for you.

Some choose to make their rest day one of silence and/or they'll keep the electronics off- the radio, TV, Internet, etc. This is to help their brains wind down a bit more, meditate on their lives more deeply or keep their focus on the deity they believe in. Meditation, writing in a journal, taking nature walks, prayer, going to religious services or practicing yoga poses are popular rest day activities. A lot of people are drawn to this, while some do not like the time off. Not everyone wants hours to think or ponder quietly. There are those that take this time to go out & serve others in a soup kitchen or other community activity that gives back to the less-fortunate. I encourage you to do whatever refills your own cup and service to others may do just that for you. I recommend experimenting to see how much of a balance you need between solitude vs. service to others, and not just on your rest day. I believe that everything needs to be in balance. But certain people are very extroverted, finding time with others refreshing, while others feel just the opposite (that it's draining). And most of us don't feel introverted or extroverted all the time, but are a combination of both personality types. We need to respect both types of people & allow them their personal boundaries. Don't force others to accept your idea of or plans for a restful activity you love if it just doesn't work for them. Give everyone space & opportunity to find what replenishes their depleted resources week in & week out.

Prepping for the week ahead varies from person to person. I know those who lay out their clothes & shoes for the following week in order to be more prepared each morning when they go to work. This way they'll realize it in advance if they need more hosiery, have to get an item dry-cleaned or need to do a load of laundry in order to wear a certain outfit. Many bodybuilders or other fitness buffs spend their day preparing food for their clean eating regimen- including hard-boiled eggs, brown rice, grilled chicken breasts, broth-based soups from scratch, roasted vegetables, etc. They may fill up their reusable water bottles & pack their cooler with clean eats, as well, because they often have to wake up very early for daily training. I think anything you can do in advance which will make your mornings run more smoothly & quickly is always a good idea.

Elaine St. James wrote in her great book, "Simplify Your Life", to go to bed by 9 p.m. one night a week. If you work a traditional work schedule, the night preceding the start of your workweek is indeed a terrific choice for heading to bed early. Even if you don't try to go to sleep early that night (and I understand if this is the case- I'm a night owl through & through), you can simply choose to brush your teeth, wash your face, get into your nightclothes & read quietly in bed for the evening.

A nice activity to do on your rest day is plan for the week ahead in a proactive manner through writing. You can think about how you'd like your next week to go, write about what you'd like to see happen or spend time in visualization. You can use a calendar, day planner, journal or a whiteboard for this. The format really doesn't matter that much, just do what works for you. If you're at a place where you want to get a lot done in your life, I suggest doing an exercise that I call "The Seven Baby Steps". In this, you assign seven areas of your life that you want to regularly see improvement or meet goals in. For example, these areas can include spirituality, finances, health, household, education, family & friends. A spiritual goal may be to attend church that week. Finances? Put $20 into your savings account on payday. Health- take a multi-vitamin/mineral tablet every day the following week. And so on. This can be a terrific way towards meeting either short- or long-term goals. It's extremely useful if you're feeling stuck & stymied in your life. It's a positive way to focus your time & energy while meeting your own guidelines for success. I find that writing down these steps & then accomplishing them is a way to continually celebrate small victories day after day, week after week. To me, that is the ultimate goal- to live a life of celebration, where you're enjoying every day just as it is.   

Here's to being a relaxed organized minimalist,

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Organized Makeup Applier

A real hardcore minimalist may think I'm crazy if they read this article. I apply minimalism to a lot of things in my life, I promise. But makeup isn't one of them. However, I have a list of what I use every single day, I buy only what's on that list & I don't own loads of makeup that's unneeded. I throw out every single product that's gotten old, is not the right color for me anymore or is used up immediately. I keep an organized makeup bag. Anyway, I have no idea if "applier" is a real word- but it should be! For those who don't know me personally, I am a makeup junkie. Ask my friends. I've worn it since I was ten years old. My mother has never had to tell me, "Go wash that off." For some reason, I took to applying makeup like a duck to water. I'm not one of those women reapplying it in a restaurant or anything (I am a Southerner after all and that was taught to me as a no-no for a lady!) But before I go out, more often than not, I want my makeup fully & as flawlessly-as-possible put on. I got one of those faces that lucked out in the good makeup display department, but I assure you I did NOT get a body that displays clothing equally so well, so I take full advantage of my face being my canvas! Some people on the simplicity path will tell you to ditch the makeup completely. Or you may be one of those people who either don't need it or don't like the feeling of it. Some women just truly don't have the time or inclination to wear it, and that's fine. It's of no interest to you, this post will probably bore you to tears. But for those who wear cosmetics (or have always wanted to) on your face, I'm here to help.

The first thing which you should learn about makeup is proper application technique. Technique is truly what sets classy makeup apart from so-so application, no matter what brand of cosmetics you use. Cost is not always a great indication of how good a product will perform or look. There are superb grocery store picks out there & there are very poor-quality department store products. I'm neither for or against expensive makeup- I only recommend what works for me after over two decades of trying out virtually every brand on the market in both realms (grocery & department store). For example, I've used $40 eye shadow quads that appear exactly the same as $5 ones in the container, and the wear is usually about the same. Eyelids prepped with foundation & pressed power will hold on to eyeshadow much better than bare lids, especially for those with oily skin. Again, it's often the prep work & technique that sets apart makeup longevity, not the product itself. Regardless of how long one has been applying makeup, a refresher course never hurts. I re-review technique from time to time myself. There's scores of online & book-based lessons on makeup out there. But as a rule they tend to be for applying one aspect or technique of makeup at a time. I want you to start with the basics, from foundation on up to mascara application. The classic techniques used over & over again in magazine covers, photo shoots & more are the first to learn. Trust me, when those are mastered, the most complex eye design becomes doable. You can build on these techniques, even developing your own fresh ones to create your best look. The best tutorial on classic & thorough makeup technique that I've ever found is in the link below. It is from Paula Begoun & it's appropriately called "Makeup Application Step-by-Step". I've watched it several times. Even being the makeup hound that I am, I learned a lot from watching it a few times the whole way through.

"Full makeup" application can take up to thirty minutes, until you get the hang of it. The quickest ways to shave time off of your routine? Apply your products in the same exact order every single time to develop speed. Lay out your makeup in the precise order in which you'll be using them, including the appropriate tools for application. Once you have the proper brushes, products & techniques available and you've mastered using them, it'll take about 15-20 minutes a day to apply. I've gotten it down to sixteen minutes on the nose now. I keep my products laid out in the exact order that I'll be using them in, brushes included. For me, when my face is looking it's best as I go out into the world- or even just spending the day at home- that is the biggest confidence booster ever. I have a philosophy that I attempt to follow every single day: be prepared for any eventuality that can come up. If someone knocks on the door, if I had to go to the emergency room for some reason or had an unexpected item to take outside, I do not want to feel embarrassed about the way that I look. There's nothing simplified or minimalist about feeling like you look frumpy when others see you. Not everyone will share my thoughts or opinion on the subject of makeup & that's perfectly okay. Don't feel that you have to "do it all", though. I like a full makeup look, but sometimes I just don't have the time to apply all of my products. I'll discuss how to modify the routine shortly. But below is a picture of yours truly, after using Paula's techniques for my own makeup application:

What you're seeing here is indeed my natural coloring- medium blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. I used a berry-colored lipstick & blush here, with a white/cool pink/violet/plum eye shadow quad. Plum-colored eyeliner & black mascara were used in the case, FYI. While I can pull off a variety of different looks, I stay far away from rust, yellow, blue & green eyeshadow shades. Plum, cool/taupe-y browns, pinks, cool or true reds, berries, violet, grey, silver, white- all work well for me. I avoid anything yellow-toned like the plague, as I have a cool pink undertone to my skin. Yellow or orange bases in color make me look sallow & tired. Women with warmer skin, however, can accent blue eyes with a more pumpkin, bronze, ivory, gold or coral tone to their color choices. On the browbone, cool-toned skin looks good with a white, pale lavender, pale grey or pale pink shadow/highlighter (a little shimmer in the formulation can really look nice here, too). Warmer skin which is still light in color looks great with ivory or a very pale yellow as a highlighter shade. Darker skin looks great with a taupe, beige or light brown as a highlighting shade. I absolutely love shimmery bronze, deep cocoa, cobalt or navy blue, violet & black in shadow, liner & mascara on darker skin tones.

When I don't have time for the works, I cut out using concealer, contour, highlighter, lipliner, lipstick, eyeshadow & lower lash liner/mascara. I just use foundation, pressed powder (I hate loose power- it gets everywhere, goes up my nose & if it's dropped is disastrous to deal with), a neutral pink lip gloss, a neutral pink blush, blonde brow filler, dark brown eyeliner on my top lash line & brown mascara on my upper lashes. This is a nice, natural look that is fine for everyday plus still looks polished enough for going out.

Proper skin care is the difference between a smooth canvas & one filled with bumps, crevices & spots. Now, I love Paula's Choice for a number of reasons, especially her Skin Recovery line. I have temperamental skin. I don't get blemishes anymore as a rule, but I'm allergic to a lot of products when applied topically. Bismuth oxychloride is the big one. I didn't realize that I was allergic to this until I tried Bare Escentuals several years ago. It's nice makeup, don't get me wrong, and may be a tad quicker than "old-fashioned" liquid makeup to apply. However, within a day or two of using it, I had breakouts worse than I did as a teenager (which would mean BAD acne). I stopped using it- no further acne problems. I am also allergic or sensitive to most cleansers, serums, many moisturizers & a few toners out there. I am no celebrity endorser (I wish!), but Paula's Choice Skin Recovery keeps my slightly acne-prone, normal-to-dry skin happy. I don't go whole hog; I just use the cleanser, toner & moisturizer. I first use Lumene's Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover to get eyecolor off each night, though. I have drier skin in my T-zone & it's normal in my cheeks- no, I don't have that backwards, my skin's just weird- so a lot of times I just moisturize in the T-zone. I can use an AHA product every other day or a gentle exfoliating scrub daily, but not both. Either one keeps my fair undamaged skin exfoliated. Makeup should be removed every single night, no exceptions. I don't care if you use mineral makeup or not- take the makeup off. Your skin needs to breathe. Your pillowcases don't need to wear makeup. Not removing your makeup means you don't get the chance to remove dead skin cells through proper cleansing & toning. You don't get to reap any cell communication or healing properties your toner & moisturizer can provide. In other words, you're creating the opposite of the smooth canvas I'm talking about. Not removing makeup, even mineral makeup, can cause flaky skin, breakouts, whiteheads, milia, blackheads, cysts, eye infections, sinus flare-ups & allergic reactions. None of those have any place in a simplicity-bound life! Dead skin buildup alone can cause uneven foundation application. It ages you before your time- please, just remove the darn makeup each night!
If your lips are flaky or chapped, apply some unscented lotion to your lips, then take a damp washcloth & scrub the lips lightly in a circular motion until the lotion is removed. Then apply some lip balm to keep them smooth.

I'm always hunting for beauty bargains- but I would advise you not to skimp on your foundation. There are other areas of makeup you can save pennies on, I promise. A big, big advantage to wearing foundation & powder is the sun protection that it offers. I can only speak anecdotally, but I've noticed that the women who consistently wear foundation with SPF keep the brightest, firmest, most beautiful skin the longest (assuming they remove it properly at night & don't have other contributing factors to severe skin aging, like smoking cigarettes). Not wearing sunscreen and/or foundation with SPF 8+ will almost inevitably lead to sun damage in the form of discoloration or brown spots, and is a big factor in whether or not you'll ever develop malignant lesions on the skin due to skin cancer. My Uncle Gene, who served in the Navy during WWII, was forever running off to a dermatologist to get these small brown lesions removed from his forehead & biopsied. Though it wasn't for many years on end like some people, his time on a Naval ship in the harsh sun keeping watch for hours with no sunscreen on came back to haunt him later. And men generally have even thicker skin than women.

I'll be honest...I used to be a makeup snob. I refused to buy drugstore makeup. When you actually study the subject scientifically, though, you realize that a lot of drugstore formulations are no different than the department store ones! The ingredients are often exactly the same upon comparison. The packaging may be different, but the contents are usually just as good. Does it take some hunting? Yes. Thankfully, all of the online reviews throughout the Internet are a godsend & will help you find the very best cosmetics that exist out there. For example, I did not like anything in the Revlon line years ago. However, I gave it another shot about a year ago after reading a lot of positive reviews. I've found their products (which have been reformulated for the better in the last several years) to be pretty good, even above average in some cases. Their brushes have all been excellent- no bristles falling out, they wash & dry well, they look great with their black-and-red theme. I have absolutely no endorsement deals with any company- if I suggest something to your, I promise that it is because I've personally used it & like it.

*A note about the following list- when I say Shade 1, I mean this to be the lightest shade of my eyeshadow quad; Shade 4 is the darkest. An eyeshadow quad is the foolproof way to assure yourself that the eye color design you're applying is in shades which will work together well. Also, I did not build up my brush collection overnight- if you're like me, you'll need to budget it & work your way towards a complete set appropriate for what you apply each day. Don't feel the need to stick to one brand of brushes- some brands simply don't carry the size & shape that you might need. Different nationalities of women may need different-sized or -shaped brushes than what I own, especially when it comes to eye brushes, as eye shape obviously varies drastically from woman to woman.*

My makeup tool & brush essentials, in order of use:
A box of facial tissues (use for wiping off excess makeup from your brushes every single time you use them)
Swisspers Cosmetic Wedges (for applying my foundation)
Revlon Concealer Brush
Revlon Covered Lip Brush
Bare Escentuals Angled Cheek Brush (for applying contour- I use a matte, taupe-brown bronzer)
Revlon Blush Brush
Laura Mercier Brow Grooming Brush
Revlon Double-Sided Eye Brush (one side, which has firm, angled bristles, is what I use for applying potted eyebrow color; the other side is a very small, rounded brush perfect for applying Shade 4 of my eyeshadow quad)
Bare Escentuals Concealer Brush (I use this for applying Shade 1 of my eyeshadow quad, which goes on my browbone & lid)
Revlon Crease Brush (for applying Shade 2 of my eyeshadow quad)
Estee Lauder Eye Brush (for applying Shade 3 of my eyeshadow quad)
Revlon Eyelash Curler

My makeup essentials, in order of use (please adjust what you use to your own skin tone & preference):
Revlon Colorstay for Normal/Dry Skin in "Ivory 110"
Revlon PhotoReady [stick] Concealer in "Fair"
If you like to use a highlighter on your browbone, bridge of the news, around the eyes and/or on the top of your cheekbones (and I do, because I have dark circles around my eyes & cheekbones that aren't prominent): Revlon PhotoReady Eye Primer + Brightener
Revlon Colorstay Translucent Pressed Powder
Revlon Pressed Powder Compact Bronzer in "Sunkissed Bronze" (This is used as my contour, not like a bronzer; when you use a bronzer as contour, make sure you choose a matte formulation! Some people prefer to apply bronzer over areas where the sun naturally hits. I think this is fine, but my skin is so pale that I look a little weird if I apply bronzer like that. It's just a personal choice. In either case, bronzer is completely optional.)
Revlon Powder Blush- Matte in "Blushing Berry 002"
Physicians Formula Mineral Glow (if you like a powder highlighter instead of or to be used on top of a liquid highlighter)
Revlon Colorstay [Lip] Liner in "Blush"
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick- Creme in "Rose Velvet"
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipgloss in "Pink Whisper"
Laura Mercier Brow Definer in "Fair" (which is best for medium-to-dark blonde, red or auburn eyebrows) (A good grocery store alternative is Revlon Brow Fantasy Pencil & Gel in "Dark Blonde 104")
For a neutral-to-warm color palette: Physicians Formula Matte Collection Quad Eye Shadow in "Canyon Classics" (the older you get, the more matte shadows look best, as they don't emphasize lines & wrinkles as much)
For a cool eye color palette: L'Oreal Studio Secrets Smokes Quad Eyeshadow
For a neutral-to-warm color palette: Physicians Formula Eye Definer Automatic Eye Pencil in "Taupe" (for my lower lash line)
For a cool eye color palette: Physicians Formula Eye Definer Automatic Eye Pencil in "Charcoal Grey"
For a neutral-to-warm color palette: Physicians Formula Eye Definer Automatic Eye Pencil in "Dark Brown" (for my top lash line)
For a cool eye color palette: Physicians Formula Eye Definer Automatic Eye Pencil in "Ultra Black"
For a neutral-to-warm color palette: Lancome Defincils High Definition Mascara in "Brown" (a good grocery store alternative is CoverGirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara in "Brown 815")
For a cool eye color palette: Revlon Lash Fantasy Total Definition Mascara in "Black" (I like this product because it has a lash primer. Lash primers are awesome for making lashes look longer & fuller. A tip: Lancome's Lash Primer is AWESOME. If you can afford it, I highly recommend buying that product. My mom adores it because her lashes have gotten finer, shorter & lighter with age. I have nice lashes naturally [thanks to good genes], but they're light blonde at the tips, so I need lots of color & lengthening in my mascara.)

Here's to being a beautiful organized minimalist,