Category: Goals

Year of Back to Basics: January

The monthly updates return!

As this goes to press, I’m on a train to Scotland for a work event which I’m both nervous and excited about. Once again I’m going to be a bit of a fish out of water when it comes to demographics with the other attendees (my best work pal and closest peer is off on maternity leave) but I’m trying to buck up my confidence – armed with my Barbour, a backlog of podcasts and books, and a black dress.

In case you’re relatively new around here, internet veteran CGP Grey explains why themes are better than resolutions. and provides a much better perspective on why structuring your life this way is probably something you should try.

Happy new year, if we’re still allowed to say that.


I want to say I bought NO personal items this month but I actually had to some thinking about this. Categories of items like health and beauty replacements or toiletries I don’t count if they are strictly replacements for items that I have used up, however I did pick up a cream blush from Glossier when I was replacing a moisturizer…and I managed to do it without even thinking! Bad start to the year, C.. However, I’ve added it to the shopping list tracker in the spirit of honesty and fairness. Historically I have treated personal care and beauty items as different from clothing, housewares, and other goods, but I think that differentiation was given me an “out” in my head and I’m not going to make a distinction this year. If I want to buy makeup of any kind, on this list it goes! I’ll continue to make an exception for skincare, however, so long as it follows the replacement rule.

Otherwise? This was a baller month for money! I prioritized home cooking significantly (which had the added bonus of helping me work towards completing some of my food related 101/1001 goals) and unsurprisingly, this had a noticeable effect on my walking-around money. We also continued to prioritize credit card debt and bent over backwards to avoid putting purchases on it. This allowed us to throw another sizable chunk of money at our total debt, which feels so bloody satisfying. Next month we’ll pay off another credit card in full and possibly two. Meaning that if we keep this pace up, we can easily eliminate all our credit card debt by the middle of the year, which means we can focus on loan debt and building savings. Each month I feel lighter and lighter about money, it’s a fantastic feeling.



This month I focused on communication, which is something therapy is helping me with especially. It’s resulted in lovely chats, text chains, letters, and emails with all kinds of friends and loved ones, as well as clarity in conversations at work. Most importantly, I’m trying to listen more deeply and learn when others voices are more important. Have I recommended therapy lately?


Basic Bitch

Weight loss – made some progress simply through home cooking and ensuring that everything I made was really healthy. On the flip side, and somewhat at odds, I also started baking once a week. Jeff got the majority of the spoils. Definitely not continuing this approach indefinitely–I don’t believe in long term ridiculous self-denial–but I am going to continue cutting back significantly on carbs and sugar and ensure that what I do consume is home made and not bought. Nothing effects my weight more than food, and more than those categories in particular.



This was a fantastic month for books, I read over a dozen (which puts me WELL on the way to reading 100 in a year), including several Agatha Christie novels (advancing my goal to read all her works), and three topical books on the human body and health as part of my armchair-expert-via-literary-osmosis goal.

My focus on cooking also progress my goals to try 25 new-to-me recipes.

Kicked off my cold weather capsule wardrobe project.

Started listening to a new album every week. Fiction and music help keep the badness of the news in check.


A Winter Capsule Wardrobe

Last summer I did my first capsule wardrobe project in preparation for our apartment move. I figured the new year and a refreshed emphasis on intentions and frugality was as good a time as any to do its cold weather equivalent.

I’m already two weeks in (admittedly lounging about for the Christmas holidays made this a fairly easy project to start) and already finding similar benefits as to last time. Having done several wardrobe culls this past year, I feel that my closet is more sharply edited than it was prior to our move and most of what I own is a much better reflection of what I like and actually wear.

I pulled 16 items from my closet (leaving four “wildcard” slots that I can fill in later if I find an unfilled need) and am seeing if I can make two months worth of outfits using just them and accessories. Without really intending it, I noticed when typing this up that many of these items are considered “basics” in and of themselves–lots of neutrals, simple silhouettes, and a couple of prints just to shake things up.


Chunky black and camel sweater (& Other Stories)

Black turtleneck (J. Crew)

Gray turtleneck sweater (Uniqlo)

Camel crew sweater (Uniqlo)

Striped pullover top (Everlane)

Printed silk shirt (Joy)

White shirt (Everlane)



Blue jeans (Everlane)

Black jeans (J. Crew)

Leather trousers (vintage/thrifted)

Leather skirt (?)

Black trousers (Gap)



Cashmere knit dress, navy (The White Company, thrifted)

Striped knit dress (J. Crew)

Leopard print dress (& Other Stories)

Black dress (M.M. LaFleur)


Emotional spending has long been my bug bear (I’ve already had to sit on my hands a few times in the last few months to avoid temptation) but short self challenges like capsule wardrobes or spending challenges that you track can be great ways to help check impulses. My very old-school approach to tracking progress is to literally tick off a day in a notebook–a dinky but useful way to view my project history in a single place.

And do you know what, it helps! While tempted, I’ve not given in to a single post-Christmas sale and the only money we’ve moved is to pay down another chunk of credit card. By the time this project is done, we should be able to pay off another credit card (our third) in full and then turning our attention to our final, largest card. As I’ve written, that’s one of my big money goals for this year. For the moment, that’s what my closet represents and no temptation is stronger than that.

Have you ever done a capsule wardrobe project, or something similar? What was your motivation? Did it change your behaviors or habits in any way?

2020: The Year of Back to Basics

Truth telling time, I struggled in trying to visualize this year’s theme and I’ve been wrestling with how to frame it for more than a month. A lot of my previous yearly themes have been about achievement and “leveling up,” but in trying to think about what I wanted to accomplish in 2020, what I really want to do in the coming year is to come back down to earth and ground myself.

I 100% attribute this to recent conversations with friends (and a doctor) about what has actually happened in my life over the several years: a faith collapse, career changes, international immigration, health issues…every single year in recent memory has had some kind of dramatic and deeply changing set of events in it. Some of these have been very empowering and good, some have been the most humbling and painful experiences of my life.

It’s a strange thing, and not very au courant to admit, but achievement isn’t as high on my list this year as much as centering on what I already know is good for me. My aspirations are…oddly basic.

Money Basics

I wrote a bit about this in my wrap up post, but I want to build on the financial progress of last year. I’ve spent years breaking bad money habits and building better ones, and this is the year I plan to see them (literal) pay off. I’ve given myself some measurable goals around savings and shopping, to recap:

  1. Achieve my first “fuck off fund” goal and have three months of living expenses set aside permanently
  2. Pay off our largest credit card in full
  3. Begin investing properly and proactively instead of allowing my work conditions to manage it for me – this means consolidating my historic pension information and opening a portfolio
  4. I’m going to try and only purchase 20 personal items in 2020. This doesn’t necessarily include basic items like replacing socks or everyday toiletries, but it will include all purchases made strictly by me, for me, based on wants rather than needs.

And the way I’m going to achieve a lot of the above is by “going back to basics.” I’m going to prioritize cooking food rather than buying it (something that I did way too much of this year and which adds up scarily quickly). I’m going to continue my “no buy/low buy” challenges for personal shopping and blog transparently about what I do purchase this year to hold myself accountable.

Ultimately, the most basic thing of all, I want to begin saving up to purchase property. I’m officially moving into my “mid 30s” this year and I’m tired of having no net worth. While I have no illusions that we can save enough for any kind of deposit or down payment in a single year, I do know that having a “big goal” to work towards helps me maintain a vision and make lots of smaller, everyday choices that add up. Part of my transparency will include broad updates about our savings milestones and debt repayment, with this big ambition in mind. By the end of 2020, I want to be able to visualize and work towards a definite path towards property ownership.


Relationship Basics

This year I’m going to focus much more on cultivating my existing relationships, as well as trying to build new ones. A dark side of depression and anxiety is how self-centered and self-focused it makes you–you often are so trapped in your own head and experience that you lose the ability to see outside yourself. It’s a trait I’ve observed in loved ones who have struggled with mental health challenges and unfortunately, it’s something I’ve noticed in myself over the last couple of years. God bless my friends who have not just tolerated this extended period of selfishness, but actively helped me navigate it and are helping me out of it through good counsel and sheer love. In 2020 I plan on spending time and money to connect with friends and loved ones better. In addition to being a better friend to those I already have, I want to try and cultivate some new friendships. I don’t really have a “tribe” here in the UK, not even after years of living here, and that’s something I need to change.

I’ve also noted how my partnership has been affected by mutual career ambitions and time commitments. While this has often resulted in some really spectacular support in both directions, 2019 was a rough year for us both work-wise and it led to a lot of disconnection. It’s been good to talk this through as part of our year end wrap up, and identify the ways we want to challenge our defaults in 2020, including travel and work/life changes.

It’s a myth that good relationships of all stripes don’t take effort – the best ones usually are a result of the right kind of effort: love, empathy, support, and prioritization. And there is nothing more important in my life than the friends and loved ones who make it worth living. My behavior and choices this year are going to actively reflect that.


Basic Bitch…

Finally, and the most “basic” and shallow goal of all, I want to lose weight. I’m not about to frame this as a “health” challenge or anything else that’s particularly woke…it’s purely for vanity and self-esteem. I’ve struggled with my weight for a long time and, with the benefit of therapy, anti anxiety drugs, and hindsight, I can see how many other issues related to money and health have gotten tied up in body issues. FOR YEARS. It’s cliche and annoying…but it’s my reality.

2020 seems like it may be a more low-key year, but that may not be a bad thing.

End of Year Empties

As part of my “no buy/low buy” challenges I’ve been eschewing the buying of makeup for several months with two exceptions: the launch of the Victoria Beckham Beauty brand, and the Glossier pop up shop in London. The first was something I’ve been looking forward to for years and the second was a chance to try new products in person before making a call as to whether to purchase them or not. Both of these safely behind me, my wallet has been on lockdown and I’ve been focused on using up the plethora of products I already own.

You know where this is going…the last empties post of the year! Part I, Part II, and Part III here for your prurient pleasure.

Here’s everything I used up in the last few months!

Ignore the sloppy addition of the skincare item (Paula’s Choice Vitamin C, which is excellent), it’s due to idiocy on my part. I used up several makeup items in the last few months, which is always interesting and instructive to report. There is little to surprise here in terms of brands. I used up a bottle of Glossier Skin Perfector (which isn’t really worth the money unless you already have magnificent skin), another tube of Boy Brow (which is very much worth the coin) and their clear gloss (which is perfectly acceptable). I used up an entire compact of Charlotte Tilbury powder and a concealer, both of which are very good products, but I am trying to replace at lower price points…thus far without success. The powder is the very best I have yet tried and as soon as my current, cheaper option is done for, I’ll probably repurchase it. The lipstick is 1975 Red, which was a very lovely birthday present from former coworkers which I used to the last swipe. It’s limited edition, but the brand is pretty good when it comes to its lipsticks, so I’d never call even LE items bad for money. I also used up a lip gloss from Bite Beauty, and another tube of my favorite cheap mascara (which I absolutely picked up a handful of in the States when I was there for my brother’s wedding this summer). Finally, I polished off a Maybellline primer which was very nice, but which I haven’t been able to find again since finishing and so have replaced with a slightly more expensive option.

Oh look, my boring shower reliables.

A lot of additional reliable products which longtime readers will recognize, including the Thank You Farmer SPF and No 7 Gel Cleanser. I am trying to find a replacement for my Glossier moisturizer that costs less, and have been having luck with the Avene line thus far. Garnier is a good alternative to the Bioderma micellar water, and more easily found than the latter (even though it has now found its way to the UK through commonplace pharmacies). The Ordinary also continues to make really affordable and effective serums which I love and use regularly.

Et voila! The last empties report of the year is finished.

Per my 101/1001 goals, I’m going to attempt to use up $1,000 worth of items and blog about it in 2020–primarily because no one should own that much stuff of a perishable product in the first place and I want to significantly reduce my overall number of products, and second to get my literal money’s worth. I’m not proud of the fact that I own as much stuff as I do, and I’m curious how much I can use up in a year if I don’t purchase anything new to divert my attention. It’s a niche goal, admittedly, but in keeping with my aim of getting “Back to Basics.”

Year of Discipline: The Wrap Up

Did I live up to my theme this year? Well, sort of…

General Motivation

2019 was a middling year for me. There are some distinct high points and progress, but quite a few rough patches and some of them are ongoing. While discipline was a useful framing device for many aspects of life this year, it was fundamentally inadequate in others and possibly held me back in a few areas where what I needed wasn’t discipline at all…

Quite often “discipline” became a code word for “sticking something out” when what I actually needed to do was make a change, confront an issue, or seek help. I’m still unpicking this revelation and trying to learn the difference between things I need to endure and the things I’m allowed to opt out of or switch up. While I wish I didn’t have to learn this lesson in the hard ways that I did, I’m grateful to have this insight and will be taking it into the new year with me.



This was up and down until September when a lot of mental health and adjacent health issues were well and truly confronted. The wrestling match continues, but it feels like a big missing piece to the puzzle of my health overall and I’m looking forward to hopefully continuing the necessary work in 2020 to get better. I’m still not ready to write more publicly about this yet, but things are improving.



Financial discipline continues to be an area of growth of which I’m extremely proud. It’s far from perfect but I’m ending the year nearer my goals than I was when I started. While we still have too much debt, our spending habits underwent another year of change, helped by things like moving to a cheaper home and reducing our expenses overall. This turned out to be a double good thing when things like therapy and tackling mental health came into the picture. I can afford it and add to savings at the same time, which was not the case at the start of 2019! This is a work in progress, and a lot of my 101/1001 goals have helped continue to curb my old consumerist habits. Two credit cards have been paid off this year, several personal buying challenges have been completed or are in progress, and a much more aggressive approach to savings has been implemented.

But money has been a particular stress point this year that has infected almost everything in my life, from work to relationships. In 2020 I want to achieve a number of things that I think will break the hold money has on my brain and allow me to feel in control of it, rather than the other way around.

  1. Achieve my first “fuck off fund” goal and have three months of living expenses set aside permanently
  2. Pay off our largest credit card in full
  3. Begin investing properly and proactively instead of allowing my work conditions to manage it for me – this means consolidating my historic pension information and opening a portfolio
  4. Doing more personal no buy/low buy challenges to ensure my current habits stick. Namely, I’m going to try and only purchase 20 personal items in 2020…wish me luck!


Grooming and style were big goals for me because of a change in my work circumstances in 2018. I was put on a board in my company which made me one of the two youngest people around that particular table–a fact of which I’m both proud and constantly self conscious. Presentation matters at work and it’s an area that I still struggle with. However, 2019 was the year that I did, in fact, “tame my mane” and learned how to style my hair properly–it turns out that hairstyling products are the key. WHOMEVER COULD HAVE GUESSED. And, as I have mentioned before, my closet is probably the best it’s ever been due to consistent evaluation and decluttering. I’ve donated or sold a decent minority of stuff this year, and what remains is a much more curated batch of clothing that better reflects my life and style.

Ditto for my bathroom shelves. Abject beauty lover that I am, this year I used up or gifted an absolute shedload of products in the aim of generally downsizing my life. All of my makeup now lives in two acrylic containers, and I am going to try and only repurchase items that I use up fully in 2020 without purchasing anything new at all. Wish me luck again.


In Summary

Adulthood is hard, my ducklings. Every year in recent memory has had challenges and headwinds (see again, my conversation with my doctor…), but it has also had victories and growth and goodness. This year was no different. Much went wrong, much went right. I think I can safely say that 2019 was the year that either enabled or forced me to make some big changes that were long overdue and while the growth has been painful in places, my chief regrets have to do with waiting as long as I did to make them in the first place. Of all the lessons I’m taking from this year, a rejection of apathy is the biggest one.

Huh. Which, come to think of it, may be the most basic tenet of discipline there is…

Year of Discipline: October and November

Hi kittens, I’m not dead. Read on for more info.

General Motivation

Some things have really helped me stay on track this month. I was finally able to hire for my department which has been a game changer in my work life. Simply having another set of hands has freed up my time and brain tremendously, which has in turn allowed me to focus and be more effective. In turn, this has allowed me to free up energy and time for other things, like continuing to order the house and prioritize health…



The most important thing I’ve done for my health over the past couple of months is to finally tick off that major goal of setting up some mental health support via therapy. This is something that I should have done a long time ago, but like an idiot, I can see in retrospect how I was trying to muscle through some really challenging things and times thinking that because I wasn’t actively falling to pieces that I was fine. And the frustrating thing is that I KNOW this is bullshit! Had my experience been one of my friends or loved ones, I’d have pushed them to take advantage of therapy a long time ago. The ability alone to create mental space for and talk through the paths in my brain that have become entrenched and may need paving over has been game changing. I foresee there’s still a while to go in some of this work, but I’m grateful to have simply bitten the bullet and wondering again what took so long to do something that would have clearly been of benefit.

Anyway, if you think you may need therapy: seek it out. There are resources at most pricepoints (even though I know it remains a financial burden for way too many people…) and I don’t know a person alive who wouldn’t benefit from a check in with themselves at some point, guided by a professional.



This month I opened a new UK savings account and set up standing orders to pay into it. We made this a joint one to try and share the savings load a bit more than we have done to date. While this may seem odd and very basic, it’s been due to our unique banking situation over the past six years (both US and UK banking that we have to track meticulously, and US debt with UK income from separate jobs). I wasn’t actually eligible for a UK bank account when we first moved here and we had to develop a lot of work arounds, as well as phase my full financial set up in this country, which has taken years. Stemming from this, we have set up a probably too complex system with lots of joint collaboration on debt, but without enough household collaboration on savings. We have this is in our US banking, but didn’t in our UK one and it was good to change that up deliberately.

I also continued my culling project and sold multiple items. In fact, my personal moment of smugness this month was due to scoring a new winter coat–something I put off buying last year–by TRADING for it with a luxury consignment and vintage seller. I had another piece that I bought years ago, a classic case of shopping for a fantasy self rather my real self–which was still in pristine condition. Due to swapping, I effectively scored a brand new with tags, beautiful camel coat that would have cost me a few hundred pounds on its own for no cost, and got value out of something that otherwise was causing me a lot of unhelpful guilt. Second hand shopping, people!



This year has been good for my hair (she admitted grudgingly). It’s taken literal months but I’ve finally found the combination of products that seems to produce a sleeker, shinier strand that I want and feels more professional.

On other fronts, this has also been a good year for my overall presentation skills…but perhaps more on that in the yearly wrap up?



Completed another month of no/low buy challenges, continuing the slow but steady march towards the financial situation we want.

Deep cleaned the apartment and did some more settling and rearranging of stuff.

Read tons of books! I’d fallen a bit out of the habit and behind on my book goals, but more than made up for lost time over the past two months.

Began planning some 2020 travel. I’m sick of talking about it and not making it happen.

Did a small social media fast from Instagram.


Year of Discipline: September

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”
― Louisa May Alcott

The Year of Discipline is three quarters over; how did September go?

General Motivation

Septmber was the Month of Getting Shit Done, kittens. Was it always as healthy or as efficient as it could have been? Nope. Did it get done regardless? Hell, yes. I actually feel momentarily caught up on work projects, settled into the new apartment, and more or less in charge of my brain. While I’ve not always felt that the Year of Discipline has been as successful a project as other annual themes, this month the habits and skills I’ve been cultivating for months now have helped break what could have been a really stressful month into much more manageable pieces.



Exercise fell by the wayside again thanks to the move, and takeaway binges have not helped. I’d be lying if I said I was feeling good in my own skin this month, but that’s no one’s fault but mine. Perversely, our gym is now easier to get to so I have no excuse not to rectify this in October.

It’s not all bad. My new commute is quicker but actually involves more walking and our new apartment is on the third floor of a building with no lift so small lifestyle adjustments are working in my favor a bit. And about halfway through the month when I was able to start cooking again, it definitely made a difference in my general wellbeing. MUCH soup was made and consumed this month.

My mental health was mostly okay, with one really bad anxiety episode which was more debilitating than usual. Once I register with a new GP, I think this is going to be the next health project I tackle. I’m a million times more healthy in this respect than I was a couple of years ago, but it still controls too much of my brain and I’ve made as much progress as I think I’m going to be able to without professional help.



Let’s be blunt, money was tight this month! Between paying rent in two places, the costs of a move and setting up new utilities, and various associated fees, our bank accounts are frowning at us grimly. That being said, we knew this was coming and had prepared as best we could. Cash was king in September and was used in every situation possible. We spent too much on food because we had to move our kitchen in stages and it wasn’t until last week that I started fully cooking most of our meals again. Entirely too much takeaway has been consumed and we’ve mutually agreed to put the kibosh on all food delivery until about Thanksgiving.

It was also not an entirely virtuous month for shopping: I picked up a dress and two skirts from charity shops and then of course bought products from the newly launched Victoria Beckham beauty line. Then I had an oops moment at 282 Portobello Road when the estimable Claudia cut me a really, really good deal on a long-coveted Barbour wax jacket. I am but human, kittens!

Lest you think I’m detestable for my irresponsibility, we are being partially refunded for some parts of the immigration process (for Jeff at least, partners don’t get this benefit from his work) and I was paid a bonus this month. This got split across savings and debt payments in a heartily satisfying way. We are also due a return of our deposit from our previous apartment which will get the same treatment. The journey towards a significantly improved networth continues!



A middling month for this, but I am finally wearing my hair down more and more, and thanks to work that has required me to be more client-facing than usual, I’ve had motivation to make more effort in my appearance. On the flip side, every single weekend has been a study in sweaty hair and yoga pants by contrast. We’re going to call September more good than bad overall. I’m delighted that fall has finally arrived. It’s easily my best and easiest season for dressing and I’m excited to pull out the jumpers and boots!



We completed a house move!

Got my new passport.

Repotted my plants.

Read several books.

Stocked the kitchen.