6 Steps to a Simple Summer Wardrobe

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume two things.

  1. You value simplicity.
  2. You value having a thoughtful wardrobe that helps you look and feel your best.

Architect Le Corbusier said, “Simplicity is a choice, a discrimination, a crystallization. Its object is purity.”

To effectively simplify our wardrobes (or anything in life), we have to specifically choose what we want. And that means not choosing everything else.

With that in mind, let’s get right into the six steps to choosing a simple summer wardrobe.

1. Write your style statement. Decide on two words that best express your personal style. Check out my recent post on this at https://thesimpleswan.com/2023/05/10/write-your-own-style-statement/. By the way, I think it’s perfectly logical for our style to evolve. My style statement is simple + significant.

2. Choose a uniform. An everyday uniform will consistently express your style, reduce decision fatigue, save money and keep your closet, mind and life less cluttered. Think of Anna Wintour’s floral dresses, Mark Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirts and Mr. Rogers’ cardigan sweaters. Decide how many versions of your uniform you need. My summer uniform is a simple dress, and I would like about a dozen. (That may sound like a lot or a little to you, but that number worked for me the past few summers.)

3. Clarify your clothing preferences. Next, get crystal clear about what you like to wear. Carol Tuttle of Dressing Your Truth recommends considering these five elements: color, fabric, pattern, texture and design lines.

4. Make a checklist. Define your preferences for each of the five elements. The more specific you can get, the less likely you’ll waste time and money on things that aren’t quite right for you. I’ll share the checklist for my summer dresses so you get the idea.

Color: black + cool, deep colors

√ Fabric: comfortable + cool + easy-care

√ Pattern: solids + elegant, modern prints

√ Texture: soft + smooth + slightly stretchy

√ Design Lines: clean lines + fit & flare + tasteful sleeves, neckline & length

5. Curate your wardrobe. To curate means to select and organize a collection. Go through what you already own to see what matches your checklist. If you need to purchase anything, do so with your checklist and budget firmly in place. Think of your checklist as requirements and refuse to compromise. When you find something that works, consider buying it in multiples.

6. Store everything else. Remove everything from your closet that isn’t part of your carefully-curated summer wardrobe. Only keep out specialty items like exercise clothes, swimsuits and sun hats. Store everything else in another closet, under the bed or in dresser drawers. This step will make your closet (and your life) feel simple and serene.

And that’s it. Stop shopping, browsing, clicking, comparing and questioning. Resist the urge to buy something new for a one-off event. Wherever summer takes you, you’re going in your own simple style. §

Be a Swan with this Easy Acronym

Every day is a new chance to practice gliding through life with the serenity of a swan. So when I find myself flapping about like a chicken with its head cut off, I picture a swan peacefully floating on a placid lake. Then I think of my acronym for SWAN. These four little words help me quickly adjust my attitude and face the world with a modicum of elegance and grace.


Simple. Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making complicated.” We humans are infamous for making mountains out of molehills. There are few things in life that wouldn’t benefit from a little more simplicity. From our possessions to our words to our busy-ness, simplicity is the secret to our serenity and wellbeing. 

Wise. Being wise means showing good judgment. Some synonyms include being prudent, discerning and insightful. A quick look around may indicate these qualities have fallen out of fashion, making them ever more precious. Rumi said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 

Accountable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where people accepted responsibility for their own behavior? When we are accountable, we stop being deceitful, blaming others and making excuses. Accountability reminds us, despite the behavior of others, we can always be in control of our own actions and reactions.

Nice. Sometimes it seems people are just too busy to be nice. It only takes a second to smile, hold the door, say thank you, or ask about someone’s day. Our minor irritations are no reason not to be nice. Billionaire Sir John Marks Templeton said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.” 

We routinely find ourselves in situations that offer the opportunity to be a swan. Recently, I was headed to the grocery store when the skies opened into a pouring rain. A driver ran a stop sign causing me to slam on my breaks. My purse flew off the seat spilling the contents on the floor.

As I began to pull into a parking spot, I had to swerve to avoid another driver going the wrong direction. To my surprise, she was angrily cursing at me out her window. My cell phone slid deep under the passenger’s seat. I practically stood on my head while moving the seat forward and backwards trying to grab the phone that was just out of reach.

By the time I retrieved it, I was cold and wet. Muttering to myself and ready to stomp into the store feeling anything but serene, I paused and thought about the swan acronym.

Wouldn’t we all be a little better off if we embraced the virtues of simplicity, wisdom, accountability and kindness? Such an easy way to peacefully glide through life like a simple swan. §

Some Simple Lessons from Kids

As a volunteer docent with our local art museum, I got to spend a few days last week with elementary school students. My own children left the nest more than a decade ago, and I’ve been retired from teaching for a few years, so I almost forgot how meaningful time spent with kids can be. Here are just a few simple lessons they reminded me.

  1. Be Energetic. From the moment they tumbled off the school bus, the students exuded a contagious sense of energy and excitement. I think it’s possible for adults to maintain a youthful energy without bouncing around like Will Ferrell in Elf.
  2. Share. Kids are used to sharing. Whether it’s a crayon, the water fountain or space in front of a painting, they know they have to wait their turn.
  3. Learn. Kids are proud of what they know and are little sponges for learning new things. As adults, every day is a chance to learn something new.
  4. Create. Give a dozen kids the exact same art supplies and they will confidently create a dozen completely different things. Creating stuff keeps us young and sharp.
  5. Follow the Rules. Kids know there are almost always rules to follow, and they understand there are consequences if they don’t. Imagine if adults did the same.
  6. Give Hugs. Spend a day with little kids and you are guaranteed to remember the sweet gift of a hug.
  7. Play. If you’ve forgotten how to play, watch kids for five minutes. They will remind you how.
  8. Be Yourself. Look at any group of children and you will quickly see their individuality even if they’re wearing the same school uniform. How wonderful it is that we aren’t all the same.
  9. Keep it Simple. Show kids an ornate marble sculpture and they just might be more impressed by the ladybug crawling on it.
  10. Think About the Future. Children remind us we will be replaced by the future generation. What kind of world do we want to leave them? §

Spring into Simplicity with this Decluttering Method

Nearly every time I mention to someone that I write about simplicity, I’m greeted with a long sigh, a sheepish look or a desperate story about wanting to get rid of clutter but not knowing how to get started. My own search for simplicity began more than forty years ago with a massive declutter of my messy dorm room during finals week. As soon as my physical space was cleared, so was my mind, and I was able to focus on my studies.

Since then, whether living alone in an efficiency apartment or with a busy family in a three-bedroom house, I’ve kept my home clutter-free. Hands-down, the easiest way to get started, especially if you don’t have much time, is this three-box method. You’ll need three boxes (or bags) and as little as half an hour. Here’s the simple process:

  1. Take the first box and walk through your entire house quickly picking up all the trash. This includes garbage, paper, magazines and anything that is broken or otherwise unsuitable for donating. Don’t forget those half-used bottles of products you aren’t going to use up. Immediately take the box and dump it in the trash or recycling. This step declutters the most obvious layer of junk from your home and gives you a little momentum.
  2. Take the second box and walk through your entire house picking up everything that belongs someplace else. Immediately put each item where it belongs. If an item doesn’t have a home, leave it in the box until you can decide where it should go. In this step you are likely to find you have more stuff than space. If, for example, you don’t have enough space for all your coffee mugs, you’ll know you need to get rid of some.
  3. Take the third box and walk through your entire house picking up anything that isn’t being used and is suitable for donating. This might include toys, clothing, books, lamps, knick-knacks, kitchenware, art and office supplies and furniture. I recommend being ruthless and immediately taking the box to the donation center. This step often reveals some big-ticket items you might be able to sell. If you can’t make a plan to sell it within the week, cut your losses and donate it. It might hurt a little, but I promise the space you free up will be worth it.

Depending on the amount of clutter you have, you may need to repeat this process several times over several days. The trick is to stay laser-focused on each step. When you’re searching for trash, don’t get distracted by a pile of laundry. When you’re looking for things to donate, don’t get overwhelmed by unorganized office files. Start the process by going through the whole house addressing only what is out in the open. Then, room-by-room, apply the same method to every cabinet, drawer, shelf and closet in your house.

The three-box method isn’t the only way to declutter your home, but it is a good way to spring into action and put a spring in your step. Going through this declutter process quickly will immediately energize your home and your life. As home organizer Peter Walsh wrote, “Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.”

10 Things We Don’t Buy for Our Home

Simple living requires us to be more intentional about what we buy and bring into our home. What we choose to consume is a personal decision dependent on many different factors, so I’m not suggesting you stop buying the things on our list. Contemplating what we routinely purchase can lead to saving money, reducing clutter, caring for the environment and being more mindful.

Here are ten things we no longer buy for our home. I’d love to know what you’ve decided to no longer purchase.

  1. Flowering Annuals  – Mike and I got tired of spending time and money on planting annuals every spring. Last year we decided to stop buying flowers that only last a season and landscape our yard with perennials that return year after year. Now our yard magically blooms with a wide variety of flowers, grasses and shrubs through all the seasons.
  2.  Most Cleaning Products – I used to buy dozens of different products to clean windows, mirrors, furniture, toilets, tile floors, wood floors, showers and sinks. These days my house gets just as clean with one concentrated cleaning product, water and a little elbow grease.
  3. Plug-in Fragrances – I’m a sucker for good smells, but I no longer buy those plastic plug-in things with silly names like Cashmere Woods and Hawaiian Breeze. The artificial scents tend to be overpowering for few days and then disappear. Now I just make sure my house is fresh and clean and rely on a clean-burning candle for subtle fragrance. (I don’t see myself scratching good candles off my list any time soon.)
  4. Seasonal Decor – I enjoy celebrating the holidays, but I’m done decorating our home with pumpkins, turkeys, hearts, leprechauns, bunnies and Uncle Sam. Passing up these seasonal knick-knacks saves money, reduces clutter and makes our house feel less like a kitschy gift shop and more like our own home.
  5. Wall Decor – This one is pretty extreme, but we stopped buying things to hang on our walls. We find bare walls enhance the view of nature through our picture windows. This blank space helps create the serene ambiance we enjoy in our home. (I’ll be writing more about negative space in an upcoming column.)
  6. Decorative Window Treatments – We prefer to leave our windows as unadorned as possible. Where needed for privacy, we have simple curtains that are opened first thing every morning. We even removed those square grids (called muntins) and screens from our windows making them look larger, more modern and so much easier to clean.
  7. Photo Frames – A couple of years ago we got a quality 8 X 10 digital picture frame and got rid of all the small picture frames placed around our house. The digital frame sits in our living room and constantly rotates through hundreds of photos that can easily be added  through an app on our phones. I can even take pictures of old photos and pop them into the mix. Our digital frame has become one of our favorite possessions.
  8. Kitchen Gadgets – Mike and I are simple people who eat simple food. Somehow we’ve made it to 61 without needing an avocado slicer, an egg separator, a corn peeler, a pineapple corer, a crumb sweeper, a waffle-maker or an air fryer. We are pretty sure we can make do with the simple basics our kitchen has always had.
  9. Indoor Plants – One summer in my youth, I sublet an apartment where I was working and going to school. I lined my extensive collection of 70s record albums on the floor under the stereo system, never once having time to listen to them. For three months, my roommate overwatered a corner plant soaking the hideous brown shag carpet and destroying all of my precious albums. Ever since, I’ve been skeptical of indoor plants.
  10. Fresh Flowers – I love fresh flowers and used to purchase bouquets for our home a couple of times a month. Unfortunately, my cat loves flowers, too. He loves to eat them, play with them, hide them and knock them over. I’m happy to trade fresh flowers for free snuggles and purrs that really make our house feel like a home. §


My Cat is Teaching Me to Set Boundaries

Last July, my husband and I took in a scrawny, flea-infested two-pound kitten that showed up on our back porch. Mr. Darcy is now a healthy 12-pound cat who thinks he’s lord of the manor. While he is quite dashing, my Mr. Darcy lacks the refinement of his namesake from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One thing this endearingly aloof cat has taught me is how to set boundaries.

Setting boundaries wasn’t a phrase I heard until the past couple of years. According to the Wellness Center at the University of Illinois Chicago, boundaries are an invisible line that defines what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable to us. Setting boundaries is a way to create clear guidelines about how we expect to be treated. Setting boundaries is a form of self-care, and though it may not always be simple to do, it will simplify our relationships and our lives.

We all know people who test our boundaries by crossing the line time and again. These people may be may our children, spouse, friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, boss or even strangers. As a lifelong people-pleaser, I’m not great at setting boundaries, but my cat has offered me some good practice.

A few of Mr. Darcy’s boundary-crossing behaviors include grabbing my pen while I’m writing, pouncing on the sheets while I’m making the bed, attacking my leg as I pass by, and pulling the hair tie out of my pony tail. At first, I endured his antics because they were kind of cute. Stopping them brought up some familiar fears. What if he thinks I’m mean? What if I hurt his feelings? What if he stops liking me? What if he leaves me for a more tolerant human? I know you think this ridiculous, unless you, too, struggle with setting boundaries.

I realized my inability to set boundaries with my cat indicated a need to improve this skill in general. In her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace, Nedra Glover Tawwab says setting healthy boundaries requires self-awareness, good communication skills and assertiveness.

Tawwab outlines these three steps to setting healthy boundaries:
1. Be as clear and as straightforward as possible. Do not raise your voice.
2. State your need or request directly in terms of what you’d like, rather than what you don’t want or like.
3. Accept any discomfort that arises as a result, whether it’s guilt, shame or remorse.

My cat is highly intelligent, but when he doesn’t seem to understand steps one and two, I gently pick him up, put him in his room and shut the door. Even if he meows pitifully and looks at me with those big green eyes, I leave him there until I am able to give him my attention. Setting boundaries with my favorite four-legged friend is teaching me to do the same with the two-legged variety.

Setting boundaries is a serious and important interpersonal skill that can improve our relationships and our well-being. Author Brené Brown said, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”

As for my cat, Mr. Darcy, I do believe he is beginning to behave in a more gentlemanly manner that would even please Miss Bennett.

Write Your Own Style Statement

I recently wrote about having a personal mission statement. The process brought me so much clarity that I remembered a book I read a few years ago called Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design. While a mission statement might define our style to some extent, a style statement is all about it. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly stylish, and I don’t follow trends, but I do hope to express a consistent and authentic presence. Joseph Campbell said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”


Authors Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte created their style statement to be a two-word compass that directs all of our style choices. The first word is our foundation and represents 80% of our style. The second word they call the creative edge, that extra 20% that makes our style unique. Some examples are contemporary + organic, refined + playful and classic + creative.

The book is filled with stunning photography, real-life examples, a long list of possible style words and a bunch of soul-searching questions. In one section, there are dozens of word pairs from which you choose the word that most resonates with you. Let’s try a few:


Questions like these really get you thinking. Once you come up with your two words, the authors ask you to consider, “What is the spirit, look, and feel of my style statement?” They further guide you to imagine it in different areas of life. Based on your style statement, what would your jewelry, stationery, couch, and hair look like? A style statement extends to non-material things, too. For example, what type of music, exercise, entertainment or vacation best expresses your style statement?

My own style statement came to me quickly: simple + significant. I stole it from Don Draper, a flawed character if ever there was from Mad Men. I liked the concupiscent advertising executive a little more when I heard him say, “Make it simple, but significant.”

I find a two-word style statement to be an effective decision-making tool. It helps me decide what to buy and what not to buy, what to keep and what to give away. It also helps me make decisions that have nothing to do with physical possessions. Having a style statement simplifies life and makes me feel more confident and composed.

You don’t really need to buy the book to get started on your own style statement, but if it sounds interesting, I highly recommend you do. It’s available on Amazon in hard-copy and Kindle versions. I’d love you to leave a comment about your own style statement. Even if you say you don’t care about style, you’re still making a statement.

Memento Mori Makes a Great Birthday Gift

I celebrated my birthday this week. While I blew out the candles and toasted to my good health, I had in mind these two words: memento mori. In English, the Latin phrase means, “Remember death.”

Now, before you think I’m the world’s biggest party pooper, hear me out. The point of memento mori is not to be maudlin or morbid. On the contrary, it is meant to provide inspiration to embrace every day as a gift not to be wasted or taken for granted.

The inevitability of death has been recognized throughout the history of the world. It is a central theme in religion, art, architecture, music and literature. The phrase memento mori can be traced back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. Socrates said the proper practice of philosophy “is about nothing else but dying and being dead.”

I always knew I wouldn’t live forever, but as I rounded the sun for the sixty-first time, it really started to sink in. Like Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “I do not want to come to the end of life and discover I had not lived.”

Contemplating my mortality urges me to take Thoreau’s advice to simplify, simplify, simplify! The best place to start is with our physical possessions. Evangelist Billy Graham said, “I never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.” What a good reminder that, in the end, we won’t be taking anything with us.

However, I’ve found stuff isn’t the most difficult thing to simplify, nor is it the only thing that fritters life away. Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” I shudder at the thought of how much time I’ve wasted doing things that had no real purpose, saying things that had no real meaning, and thinking about things I couldn’t control.

Memento mori reminds us our days are indeed numbered and helps us get crystal clear about our priorities. We can start with our possessions, but from there we must examine our behavior, pursuits, relationships, finances and attitude to see if they reflect what is truly important to us.

This constant awareness that life is short leads to living more intentionally. Intentional living means building your life around your core beliefs and values. Instead of acting on impulse, cruising on auto-pilot, following the herd or trying to impress, our daily life becomes more purposeful and authentic.

The best gift we can give ourselves is permission to spend the rest of our lives living each day as if it’s our last. This doesn’t mean shouting, “YOLO!” while doing something stupid or irresponsible. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Seneca said, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let’s postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day.”

I’m excited to start the rest of my life with memento mori tatooed on my consciousness. To remember I must die inspires me to remember I must live. After all, as Thoreau reminded us, “Living is so dear.”

Birthday Wishes and Wisdom

Cue the balloons and confetti because tomorrow is my birthday. Actually, for me, birthdays are less about celebrating than they are about reflecting and improving. (I know, I’m a real party animal.) In my lifetime, I’ve spent way too much time worrying about things I can’t do anything about. So here’s my birthday wish: the wisdom to focus on what is in my control.

These familiar words are from The Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr is credited for writing it in 1943, but the idea goes back much further.

Epictetus, a former slave turned Stoic philosopher, wrote during the second century, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions – in short, whatever is our own doing.”

An 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar wrote, “If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes, what reason is there for dejection? And if there is no help for it, what use is there in being glum?”

A 1695 Mother Goose nursery rhyme expresses the sentiment more lightly, “For every ailment under the sun there is a remedy or there is none. If there be one, try to find it; if there be none, never mind it.”

In 1801, Friedrich Schiller wrote, “Blessed is he who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity what he cannot save.”

Just this week, Ryan Holiday wrote on a similar theme in his email Meditations on Strategy and Life. He suggests one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves, “Is this in my control?” He writes, “Making this distinction will make you happier, make you stronger and make you more successful if only because it concentrates your resources in the places where they matter.”

It seems humanity has long-acknowledged the simple wisdom of heeding what is in our control and letting go of the rest. Tomorrow, when the smoke clears from 61 birthday candles, I’m claiming that wisdom as mine.

Prepare for next year’s taxes now

Did you file your taxes well before the deadline, rush them off without a moment to spare, have to file for an extension, or did you bury your head in the proverbial sand hoping it would all just go away? Benjamin Franklin reminded us of the certainty of death and taxes. If doing your taxes was stressful, now is the time to start preparing for this time next year.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there are four steps you can take now to make filing your federal income tax return a little easier. The first step is to create your account information at IRS.gov/account. This online account allows you to securely access the latest information about your federal tax account and view information from your most recently-filed return.

Through this account you can view your tax records, change your address, apply for payment plans and make payments. You can also electronically-sign certain forms and manage your communication preferences with the IRS.

The second important step is to set-up a system to organize your tax records. The IRS doesn’t require a specific record-keeping system as long as it is accurate. File-folders are a time-tested method of staying organized. The files you need may include Income, Business Expenses, Medical, Mortgage, Student Loans, Investments, Retirement, Child Care, Home and Property, and Charitable Donations.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get by with one folder labeled 2023 Taxes. If the trusty file-folder method seems too old-school, the IRS accepts scanned and digital receipts as long as they are clear and complete. Use a receipt tracking app to organize and save your images.

You can’t file your taxes until you have all of your tax records, which are required to be distributed each year by January 31. Your tax needs may include W-2 forms from employers, 1099 forms from banks, agencies and other payers, and form 1095-A from the Health Insurance Marketplace. Remember, most income is taxable including that from unemployment, interest, the gig economy, and digital assets. As a general rule of thumb, the IRS says you should keep your individual federal tax records for three years.

Step three is to make sure you’re withholding the right amount. If you owed a lot or received a large refund when you filed this year, consider adjusting your withholding. Changing your withholding can help you avoid a big tax bill or let you keep more money each payday. Remember that life changes such as getting married or divorced, having a child, or taking on a second job may also mean changing your withholding tax.

There is a convenient tool at IRS.gov called Tax Withholding Estimator that can help you determine the right amount of tax to have withheld from your paycheck. Any change will require you to submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. If you receive a substantial amount of non-wage income from self-employment, investments, and some pensions and annuities, you may want to consider setting up quarterly estimated tax payments.

Finally, the fourth suggested step is to set-up direct deposit. The fastest way for you to get your tax refund is to file electronically and opt for direct deposit. You will need your bank account and routing numbers. For those without bank accounts, the IRS offers some possible alternatives. Direct deposit avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen or returned to the IRS as undeliverable.

Paying taxes is a reality of life. This year’s deadline is behind us, but don’t wait to take the necessary steps to get prepared for next year. Tax season will come around again as sure as flowers bloom in spring, but we can simplify the process to make it a little less taxing.