One thing I love about Courtney Carver’s Project 333 is her careful clarification that it is not a “project in suffering”. The rules are there for you to follow, modify, adapt, or ignore. If something wears out, replace it. Swap things that aren’t working. It’s a great system and starting point that can be adjusted to different climates, lifestyles, and body types.
I deviate from the rules of P333 by not counting my shoes and accessories (or my outerwear in colder seasons–I count sweaters and jackets that would be part of my outfit but not coats that I would only wear out in the elements). I include up to 33 items of clothing and 8-10 pairs of shoes. In my summer collection, I have four belts, three scarves, and a selection of jewelry (though I generally wear the same 5-10 pieces). Obviously this ends up being much more than 33 items. I may try a strict 33-item wardrobe in the future, but for now this system works for me. It has helped me ease into a lighter way of living.
I also still do some shopping while participating, though I try to focus on finding specific items rather than impulse buys.
I mentioned in an earlier post that one top has left my collection, and I’ve added in one dress and one pair of jeans. I also left some space in my original count to add a few things. My galoshes are also falling apart, so I’ve swapped them for some brown loafers that will work for rainy days.
After my initial closet clean out in March, I realized I no longer had a green top in my wardrobe. Green is one of my favorite colors, so I’ve been on the look out for a flattering and versatile top to fill this color hole. This month I finally found one! It cost a little more than I wanted to spend, so I left the tags on while I considered. Then something lovely happened: it went on sale! I was able to get a price adjustment and receive about a third of the cost back, and now I feel great about my purchase. This is a year round shirt that I can wear under or over things, buttoned, tied, tucked or untucked. It’s the perfect shade of mossy, forest-y, olive-y green.
I feel a different sort of delight with this purchase. Rather than the adrenaline rush of spending money and acquiring something new, I feel something more akin to when I finish a project or complete a household chore. It’s satisfaction, not velocity. I think I’ve discovered a different kind of shopping.
This week I’ve made two more purchases of this sort. I have been looking for some jean shorts that fit the following criteria: not cut off or distressed, not too short or too long, mid-rise, dark wash, good quality, inexpensive. After months of scouring the thrift store and trying on plenty of duds, I finally found some that fulfilled all my requirements! So these are going into my capsule wardrobe, and just in time, as temperatures are in the high 90s Fahrenheit this week. Jeans are starting to get a little too hot and sticky most days.
I also had a top hit the wear out point. My blue and white striped tee (J.Crew, purchased at the thrift store over three years ago) was already starting to fade, but this week it got a hole. Goodbye, striped tee. It survived longer than I ever expected, especially considering I wore it when I was nine months pregnant. I don’t know how it returned to its original size after so much stretching! But now it’s done. Stripes are a staple for me, so I knew I wanted to find an alternative. I bought a blue and white more subtly striped Gap tee from the thrift store, and it will be replacing my old one.
I am about midway through this season of the project, and these adjustments help my closet feel fresh and interesting.
The best thing about my new additions, though, is that they inspired me to remove some things. I filled a shopping bag with clothes and accessories to donate, and I love that clearing out is now a part of the shopping process for me. Shopping involves maintaining my closet, not just endlessly growing it.
I’m about six weeks into my second round of Project 333, a minimalist wardrobe challenge that involves wearing just thirty-three items of clothing for three months. I bend the rules by not counting shoes and accessories in my 33 items, though I’ve chosen to limit those as well. I started this round with 28 items of clothing, and I have since lost one item and gained two (more on that later!) to bring my working total to 30. I left a little space in my count this time so I could fill some holes or bring in a couple fresh items, and I think this is a good approach for me.
Here are some snapshots of outfits I’ve put together this round:
Like I mentioned, I have made a couple modifications to my collection since beginning this round. The mint tee (seen in the fourth outfit from the top left) has not survived. Pasta with marinara sauce, a toddler, and overly ambitious stain removal tactics left the top with two large bleached out circles. So that shirt has left the collection.
I have added two items that were both hand me downs (hand me overs?): a maxi dress not yet pictured and a pair of straight leg designer jeans (seen in the bottom row, third from the left). Free clothes can be a help or a hindrance to dressing with less. In this case, these two items fit me and my style well, and they filled gaps in my wardrobe. I was thankful to accept these generous offers.
I’ve also noticed some differences in seasonal capsule wardrobes. In my first round, I tried to make a different outfit for each day of the project. I made a game of it, and I enjoyed the creative styling challenge. Making unique combinations was easier when the weather was cooler and I could layer sweaters, jackets, and scarves.
Though I have fewer layering options in the summer heat, I’m still finding plenty of new combinations. I’m also repeating outfits at will. The second outfit from the top left (striped tee, dark skinny jeans, black canvas sandals) has been one of my summer favorites.
Another aspect that makes summer more challenging is laundry. I live in the Deep South of the United States, and the weather gets HOT! Sweat is an unfortunate summer reality, and my items require more frequent laundering this time around. I have adjusted, but I’ll be happy when the weather cools down again in a few months.
I have now been dressing with less since March, and I am dressing with more freedom and confidence than ever before. I haven’t fully cracked the code on my impulse shopping, but I’m making strides. I can now say with assurance that I have enough. Thirty-three items are enough–more than enough, even. I would rather have a closet contain 33 items I love than one bursting with things I sort of, kind of like.
Are you thinking about trying a capsule wardrobe or Project 333? Are you already dressing with less? I’d love to hear about your experience!
My last post was all about simplifying, but what if you need to add to your closet?
I’ve already admitted I have a bit of a shopping problem. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I decided to simplify my wardrobe. I wanted to say goodbye to regrets and impulses that clogged up my closet and were seldom worn. Cutting back on the retail therapy is helping me maintain my cleaner closet.
But clothes do wear out, especially if you are wearing them more often! Lifestyles, jobs, seasons, sizes, and bodies change. Sometimes we do need to shop in order to maintain a functional wardrobe. This is a huge relief to me, as I’m not ready to give up shopping entirely.
I wanted to let you in on my biggest secret for building and maintaining a capsule wardrobe on a budget: thrifting.
Here are some looks from my late winter/early spring wardrobe. Each of these outfits includes at least one secondhand item.
Nearly a third of my summer capsule is secondhand. My closet includes clothes from J. Crew, Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, and Stuart Weitzman. All of these items together cost me less than $50 because I bought them at the thrift store. Most of these items appeared barely worn, and some were new with tags.
I don’t care much about brands, but I am thinking more about quality as I shop. Buying things secondhand makes higher quality items more budget friendly.
I started shopping at thrift stores when I was in junior high school, primarily so I would have a wardrobe that was different from what my classmates were wearing. I liked the idea of building a look that wasn’t straight off the mall racks, and I still have an eclectic style in my home and my wardrobe. I continue to enjoy treasure hunting and regard my best thrift finds somewhat like trophies. I’ve tried to restrain myself from enthusiastically responding to a compliment with “Thanks! This was only five bucks!”, as I’ve found most people aren’t as excited about my deals as I am.
If you’re new to thrifting and think you’d like to give it a try, here are some of my guidelines:
1. Look for quality and value. Familiarize yourself with labels so you can recognize whether a shirt came from Walmart or Neiman Marcus. In general, a secondhand Old Navy tank top is not going to be a good value, as it could be found new and on sale for a similar price. Check for condition (no pilled sweaters, stains or twisted side seams). Factor any necessary dry cleaning or alterations into the total cost. For example, I found $100 jeans for $7. Even though they need a $10 alteration for the best fit, they are still a good total investment for me.
2. Try it on. Even if a tag lists a size you don’t normally wear, it might be worth trying on the item. Clothes sometimes end up in thrift stores because of mismarked sizes or inaccurate fit, and these mistakes could be to your advantage. Sizing conventions for vintage clothing and international brands also vary greatly, so don’t count something out based on listed size alone. Also consider whether an inexpensive alteration might make the item a perfect fit. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you could even do these yourself!
3. Have a plan. Make a list of items you’re looking for to replace or fill the current or next season of your wardrobe. It’s helpful to think in advance of wardrobe needs when thrifting, as it’s unlikely you’ll find the exact item you’re looking for on the first try. My striped tunic dress is starting to wear out, so this is something I look for every time I go to the thrift store. I don’t need it urgently, but I can see the need on the horizon. I also want some type of olive or muted green top for fall, so I look through these color sections when I shop.
4. Try out trends. If you’ve been wanting to try a trend but don’t want to invest in an item you may only wear for a season or two, thrifting is a great way to give it an inexpensive go! I found my floral joggers (new with tags!) for $6 at the thrift store. I’ll enjoy them while I wear them, and I won’t feel bad about donating them back to the thrift store when I move on. For trendy items that aren’t likely to become classics you wear for years, buying secondhand can keep your cost per wear low. Since trends are often revisiting fashions of earlier eras, you may even find a vintage item that looks fashion forward (I’m looking at you, 90s crop tops!).
5. Go often. I regularly explore three or four thrift stores in my area. Because I go often, I am generally familiar with the merchandise and can spot new items fairly quickly. I actually enjoy searching through every item, but becoming familiar with stores in my area makes it easier to quickly browse. Merchandise also turns over regularly, so going often gives you the best chance of finding the item on your list before someone else does.
6. Search outside your area. Thrift stores often vary greatly by location. I like to occasionally look in other parts of town for a different selection, and I also try to find thrift stores when I’m traveling. Areas favored by retirees may have great vintage merchandise, and places inhabited by young professionals may have good options for an office work wardrobe. You never know what you’ll find, but trying out different places will give you the broadest selection.
7. Shop online. If you don’t have thrift stores conveniently nearby, or if you prefer not to rummage through racks, you now have some great online options. Sites like Twice and thredUP buy and sell quality used clothing. You can search by size, color, or brand. People can buy and sell clothes directly with one another through apps like Poshmark, and even Goodwill has the option to shop a selection of goods online. Of course, there’s always ebay (where I recently bought gently used boots for fall for 20% of their retail cost) and the vintage section of Etsy. If you don’t mind paying a little more for convenience, you may find shopping secondhand online can help you build your budget capsule wardrobe.
What about you? Are you an expert treasure hunter with more tips to share? Are you a fledgling thrifter ready to give it a try? Do secondhand clothes have a place in your wardrobe?
Full disclosure: this wardrobe simplifying thing is still a work in progress for me. I have clothes in two closets, one dresser, and two under-bed boxes. I still have too many clothes. But I am making progress!
Here is my closet from February and my closet now:
I have also done some major cleaning out in the second (guest room) closet. A couple months ago, that was an “open at your own risk” type of closet, the type to open v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y. It was packed to a comical, pile-toppling point. If you came to my house now, you could not only open the closet door, but also safely step inside! The single rack is still full of clothes on hangers (mostly my off season or vintage pieces), but a guest could easily stash a suitcase there. Progress.
I’m still learning, and I feel my relationship to my belongings being transformed. Simplifying is a process.
If you are interested in simplifying your wardrobe and don’t know where to begin, here are some ideas. These are things I’ve found helpful in my closet makeover, and perhaps they can get you started on your own journey.
1. Start the “keep” pile with your favorites and your basics.
Begin by setting aside the items you love and wear often, the things you know you want to keep. Sometimes it’s easier to eliminate some clothes once you’ve identified what stays. Also include your wardrobe basics or staples, like your favorite jeans.
Note that your basics might not be typical neutrals, like a trench coat or a white oxford shirt. Just because these items appear on many “must have” lists does not mean you must have them! I do have a trench, but in a darker tan that suits me better than classic khaki, and I prefer my blue button down to white, especially since I spend much of my time with a toddler–crisp white and everyday childhood messes do not mix well for me. High-waisted, rust-colored shorts might not be everyone’s basic, but for me they are a staple. They go with all my favorite tops, can be worn with flats or heels, and I even sometimes rock them with tights and a sweater in the fall.
I love pattern mixing, and for me, stripes are a basic. I wear my striped tops with just about any and everything. A capsule wardrobe can be black and white and gray, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.
Find your own staples, pieces you feel great wearing and can easily combine into outfits. Let these be your signature pieces and form the base of your wardrobe.
2. Eliminate duplicates.
You may find you have two or three very similar items but generally prefer wearing one of them. When I put my colorful tanks (or my oxford shirts, or my patterned skirts) side by side, I usually have a clear front-runner. The others serve as back ups or extras, and I can free up closet space by keeping the favorites and donating seconds. Now instead of going to my second best when my favorite item is dirty, I just do laundry. It’s slightly less convenient, but I actually feel happier and more comfortable wearing only my top tier clothing.
3. Store out of season and out of size items.
If you have the space (under bed storage, an extra drawer or closet space), store things you aren’t currently wearing, or at least move them out of the front of your closet. Since I had a baby two and a half years ago, I finally put those last couple maternity dresses in storage. No need to have these items right in my sight line when I’m dressing each day. The weather has also gotten hot, so under bed boxes and space bags keep my sweaters out of the way and moth-free during the summer. When the seasons change, it feels like a treasure hunt to rediscover what’s been hiding in storage. If space is at a premium, a wardrobe bag in the back of your closet or a box on a high shelf could keep these items out of the way.
4. Remove things that are worn out, stained, or beyond repair.
When I examined some of the clothes I wasn’t wearing, particularly former favorites, I discovered that many of them were worn out. It’s hard for me to say goodbye to once beloved clothes, but I am not going to feel good wearing the pilling sweater or the shirt with twisted side seams. If the items cannot be cleaned or repaired, I am better off without them crowding my closet. If you are particularly attached to something that is no longer fit for daily wear, consider whether it could transition to lounge wear. This is the best second life I’ve found for moth-eaten sweaters that I still like but wouldn’t wear out of the house.
5. Find new ways to wear what you have.
This won’t get anything out of your closet, but it might grow your appreciation for some things you already have. This is one of my favorite uses for Pinterest, where I keep a secret board of capsule wardrobe inspiration. I included the mustard cropped chinos from my spring capsule in my summer collection, and when I search “mustard pants outfit” or “mustard color combo”, I get lots of new ideas. If you have a piece you’re unsure about or wonder if certain colors work together, search for how others have worn them and find inspiration. You can do a regular internet search as well, but I like how easy it is to collect and store inspiration on Pinterest.
Also think about whether some pieces could be worn unconventionally. Two of my dresses also serve as tops when tucked into a skirt or knotted at the waist with a pair of pants. The two outfits on the right, from my late winter/early spring Project 333, show that in action.
6. Discover what you’re actually wearing (and eliminate what you’re not wearing).
Try the hanger trick or keep a log (written or photographic), or use an app or online resource to document what you wear for a season. If you are struggling with some of the previous tips, this one might lend some objectivity to the simplifying process. Becoming aware of unworn clothes may make it easier to part with them or could motivate you to make new outfits and transform these items into favorites.
Seeing what’s not working can also help with future shopping. Common themes among my unworn clothes included demanding care requirements (dry clean only, etc.), unflattering styles and colors, or items unsuited for the climate where I live. I now check care labels when I shop, and I limit “hand wash” and “dry clean only” items. I have also avoided buying additional cold climate items like heavy sweaters or lined pants; I live in the Deep South of the United States, and I will rarely have a chance to wear those clothes.
7. Go for a trial separation if you have trouble letting go.
Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes out of sight is out of mind. And sometimes clichés also apply to clothes. Try stashing clothes about which you are undecided. I kept a pile in that doom closet for a couple months and then reassessed. Most of those items have since been donated, but I’m holding on to a few until I make my fall wardrobe. A box or bag in an out of the way place can give you a break from the clothes. If you haven’t accessed the stash or thought about its contents for a specified time (I recommend between one and six months), you might be ready to part ways. You could do this sight unseen or go through items again–whatever works for you. Or you might discover you are more attached to an item than you realized and choose to keep it in your closet.
Ready to try it? Let me know how it goes!
Have you already cleaned out your closet? What helped you get started?
On July 1st, I started a new season of my capsule wardrobe experiment. After completing my first round this spring and donating carloads of clothes, my closet and I feel freer. By having fewer things in my closet, I find I actually have more (and better things) to wear.
So for the next three months (give or take), here is what’s in my closet:
1. Bronze drop shoulder top
2. Southwestern print tank
3. Mint tee
4. Floral silky tank
5. Striped tee
6. Confetti peplum
7. Plum halter
8. Striped tank
9. White knit reversible tank
10. Cream tee
11. Crochet/patterned top
12. Black tank
13. Black crochet tee
14. Harvest gold cardigan
15. Rust cardigan
16. Denim jacket
Bottoms / Dresses / Etc. (12):
17. Black flowy shorts
18. Rust high-waisted shorts
19. Denim midi skirt
20. Red print skirt
21. Dark wash skinny jeans
22. Medium wash jeans
23. Floral joggers
24. Mustard crops
25. Black linen romper
26. Striped dress
27. Chambray dress
28. Eyelet midi dress
– Black canvas sandals
– Beaded sandals
– Lace-up booties
– Neutral heels
– Outdoor wedges
– Black brogues
– Black booties
And, for practicality:
Are you living with a capsule wardrobe or thinking about trying it?
Here are some great resources if you’re wondering where to start:
A new season of Project 333 began July 1st (more on that later!), so now seemed like a good time to follow up on my first season. I began my own version of Project 333 in March and continued through May. I had a “between seasons” grace period for June and have now begun a new three month season.
Here are the outfits from season one, all put together:
I survived three months with only 33 clothing items (plus shoes and accessories–my modified rules), and I actually enjoyed it–at least for the first eight or nine weeks. After that point, the weather started changing. I started getting a little bored. I made some extra money and bought a couple new shirts. I just…lost a bit of steam.
But I also took two carloads of donations to the thrift store! I kept going back to my stored clothes and further culling my stash, and I know that will continue.
I’ve noticed a modification in my shopping habits. My purchases are much more thoughtful, more intentional. I still make some impulse thrift buys, but my “It was on sale at Target!” spending is down significantly if not altogether gone. I consider this a win. I’m also looking more critically at fit and quality when buying clothes. Rather than shopping only for pleasure, I’m shopping with the goal of building a wardrobe that reflects my style and suits my lifestyle.
I began this project with the suspicion that my constantly growing wardrobe and packed closet were not adding to my life. Wearing only thirty-three items of clothing for a set period of time seemed like a fairly simple way to see if I might enjoy living with less. Turns out I do.
In seven weeks, I have not worn the same outfit twice, and I have not grown bored with my options. It almost feels like a game making new outfits from my options, and I find what I’m wearing is more creative and more reflective of who I am. I can confidently say that you do not have to be a minimalist to enjoy a simplified wardrobe.
Though I’ve done some online window shopping, I have not added to my wardrobe during these weeks. I’ve even left my “off limits” clothes (those not selected for my thirty-three items) alone, with the exception of making two swaps.
I chose not to include shoes and accessories in my count, though I did limit my selection of these items as well. I have had a tougher time sticking to my pared down options here, and I’ve added back some packed away shoes and jewelry. I’ll keep working with those things to find what works for me.
Now that Easter is here and Lent is over, I’m setting a new goal to extend the project with my current items through June. I feel like I’ve taking one significant step toward simplifying my life and having my reality more closely reflect my priorities, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me.
Anyone else care to join me and give this a try? Where might you benefit from less in your life?