Earlier this month, our family went on a week-long beach vacation. I expected my limited closet would make packing especially easy, and I beamed with pride at my great planning and organization. I made a list in advance, picked things that layered well and could be combined into several outfits, and then laid everything out to admire my work. I mean, look at that spread: efficient accessories, options for temperature swings . . . I felt really pleased with myself.
And then I started filling the suitcase, which was a standard, rolling carry on. My packed suitcase was thoroughly packed, and I suspected I had packed too much. I pulled a stack of items off the top, removed a pair of shoes, and zipped my luggage easily.
None of the items pictured above were among the things removed from the suitcase and left at home. Rather, I had taken out pajamas and lounge clothes. For a week-long beach trip with my family, I had brought about a dozen outfits’ worth of clothes and only one set of pajamas. We also had in-unit laundry, which I used while there but completely ignored while packing.
I forgot that reality is reality. I spent half my time in lounge clothes or swim wear, relaxing with my family. A pile of lounge wear doesn’t make a Pinterest-worthy picture, but fewer outfits and more pajamas would have been a better fit.
Obviously overpacking for a car trip a few hours away is a mistake of little consequence. Still, I’m trying to cut down on these fashion mistakes and the time, money, and stress that they cost me.
My unedited closet contained plenty of mistakes: the mint green tank that was on sale but isn’t the right color for me; the designer skirt that was a great deal but is a size too small and only fits while I’m standing and wearing super-constrictive shapewear; the silk top in the perfect color that must be dry cleaned after every wear. Those three items collectively cost me less than $60, but those are only three mistakes of many.
Meanwhile, this is my basic black tank top:
Yes, that’s a large hole. It extends beyond the seam into a long run, and it gapes right around my left hip whenever I wear it. That $60 spent on mistakes could replace my basic tank along with my favorite tights that have a run and can only be worn with boots. I think I would even have enough left over to re-sole a beloved pair of heels and possibly alter my charcoal skirt that’s a bit too big.
Not one of those investments has the appeal of buying a new top, even a top in the wrong color. Similarly, packing pajamas sounds far less exciting than packing outfits I will not have an opportunity to wear. I am swept up in the thrill of the new and the idealized, and I end up missing what I actually need.
I’m hoping that with greater intention and objectivity, I will make fewer fashion mistakes. I have grace for myself in this learning process, and I know I’m growing in the art of packing and living lightly. And next time I go shopping, will someone please remind me to replace that hole-y black tank top?
For the past six weeks I have dressed from a thirty-three item wardrobe inspired by Project 333. Though you can start anytime, Project 333 participants generally begin their three month terms to coincide with the seasons (January, April, July, October). I began in early March along with Lent, and I “gave up” about three quarters of my wardrobe to try living with less. Some of these items have been donated or will be sold, and others are packed away for the season or because I am not yet ready to part with them.
While I’ve been engaged in this limited wardrobe experiment, I have recorded my outfits with notes and photographs. I am also keeping a “wear count” because I’m curious about which items I wear frequently. Since I have bridged seasons with my time frame, some items have not yet been worn due to weather (i.e., my linen romper–come on already, Spring!), and I have swapped out at least one item that was decidedly Winter (a lined brown tweed jacket) for something more Spring-ish (a half sleeve hooded jacket).
What I’ve found most interesting is that I have not worn the exact same outfit twice. With the twenty-seven clothing items I’ve actually worn, and with an intentionally limited selection of shoes and accessories, I have made a unique outfit every single day. Documenting my outfits has inspired me to find different combinations.
I am more self-aware and less self-conscious. I feel like I have a better idea of which shapes and proportions work for my body, and I feel more confident in what I’m wearing. Viewing my style in photographs has given me slight objectivity, and building outfits from a smaller, preferred selection of items is producing better results for me. I guess it’s similar to cooking with the best ingredients available to you; even simple recipes taste delicious when built from quality ingredients.
Based on my wear count, here are my most popular items:
1. Dark wash skinny jeans (14 wears)
2. Dark wash bootcut jeans (7)
3. (tie) Rust cardigan; denim jacket (6)
4. (tie) Chambray tunic; mustard cropped chinos (5)
5. (tie) Cream lace top; purple dolman tee; striped dress (4)
While I wait for warmer weather so I can actually wear the shorts and skirts that I included, I’ll remain reassured that I have more than enough. I’m not bored with my options yet. Though I committed to the project through Easter, I have decided to extend it through June. I may swap out a couple more items between now and then, but I know I’ll have plenty to wear.(Oh, the possibilities! Here is one sweatshirt, six slightly different ways. I cut the tag out of the sweatshirt, and now it’s reversible. I ended up wearing the combo in the lower right.)
I have now spent a month living in my limited wardrobe. Whether these present constraints remain a short-term experiment or become a permanent lifestyle choice, I’ve discovered that I do prefer having fewer things in my closet. I like knowing what I have and having what I like (as opposed to what I think I should like). In order to maintain some of this newly carved out space in my closet and my life, I have laid out some goals for building and maintaining my wardrobe:
I want to enjoy wearing my clothes as much as I enjoy buying them.
- This is the primary thing I want to consider when shopping.
- Most of my favorite clothes were not impulse purchases. Either I pondered the item for days or weeks before finally buying, or I looked for a specific type of item (i.e., a striped dress) for months before finally finding a deal and purchasing one.
I want to curate, not accumulate.
- My wardrobe is an ongoing design project that requires regular editing. I want my additions to be thoughtfully and intentionally made with regard to my style, shape, lifestyle, and budget, and I will keep the total number of items limited with a “one in, one out” policy.
- If a new item isn’t worthy of replacing something already in my closet, it probably doesn’t belong in my wardrobe.
I want my purchases to be long-term commitments rather than flings.
- I want to buy the best quality I can afford and wear things for many years.
- I will try things on, try them out at home with things I already own, return things that don’t work, and have things altered in a timely manner if necessary.
- I would like to build a savings reserve so I’ll be able to replace or repair something when it wears out.
- If I want to experiment with a trend, I can “rent it” (i.e., buy it secondhand for not much money and donate it back after a season).
I can’t buy off unpleasant emotions.
- I recognize that feelings of sadness, grief, insecurity, powerlessness, or anger do not disappear when I throw money around. I am only buying myself a temporary distraction.
- I want to choose other ways of dealing with my feelings, preferably ones that don’t leave me with souvenirs. Do I really want a closet full of clothing that commemorates my bad days?
Fear has no place in my wardrobe.
I don’t have to buy something because I’m afraid . . .
- that I’ll miss a great deal
- that I need it to look stylish
- that I’m missing out on a trend or that my look is dated
I don’t have to keep something because I’m afraid . . .
- that I wasted money
- that I’ll need or want it after it’s gone
- that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings (this one is especially difficult for me)
What about you? Do you have rules for what comes into your closet or your home? Or do you find the idea of “rules” restrictive (as I do)? In that case, what sort of guidelines direct your shopping?
I am three weeks into my Project 333 wardrobe experiment. In my modified version of the project, I cut my closet down to thirty-three items, not including shoes and accessories (though I also limited those categories).
I am no photographer, but I’m enjoying documenting my outfits. Having fewer items encourages me to put things together in more interesting ways. I’m also finding that a picture gives me a more objective look at what I’m wearing, and I have adjusted some outfits by adding a belt, tucking or untucking a shirt, or changing shoes after seeing how it looked on screen.
If you are interested in the details, here’s what made the cut:
1. White knit tank
2. Ivory silk tee
3. Ivory lace top
4. Abstract floral tank
5. Black crochet top tee
6. Navy / rust crop sweater
7. Wide stripe top
8. Teal cashmere v-neck
9. Purple dolman sleeve top
10. Blue floral outline sweatshirt
11. Pinstripe / dot button down
12. Peach owl button down
13. Blue button down
14. Mustard short sleeve cardigan
15. Purple crop ruffle cardigan
16. Rust cardigan
17. Blue knit moto jacket
18. Denim jacket
19. Brown tweed jacket
20. Dark skinny jeans
21. Bootcut jeans
22. Black ponte ankle pants
23. Mustard cropped chinos
24. Coral chino shorts
25. Rust high-waisted shorts
Green A-line skirt Charcoal gray fluted skirt (I found the green skirt wrinkled too easily for regular wear, so I swapped it out)
27. Abstract print flared skirt
Dresses and Wild Cards:
28. Chambray tunic
29. Breton stripe dress
30. Gray structured dress
31. Purple infinity wrap dress
32. Black linen romper
I’m looking forward to transitioning into warmer weather with my limited closet. Since I began my wardrobe minimizing between seasons, I have several Spring-y items I’ve not yet been able to wear. Hopefully these pieces will show up in the next round of outfit shots.
I love to shop. Even with a tight budget, I get an intoxicating rush when I discover a perfectly fitting dress on the sale rack or find a secondhand shirt for a fraction of its original retail price. I am swept up in the thrill of the bargain, and if the deal is “too good to miss”, I will overlook a multitude of issues (the fit is slightly off, it’s not really my style, I already have something similar, I have no occasion to wear it in the foreseeable future…). I will reason that I am making a good investment, that I am actually saving money by spending so little, and I will leave with a shopper’s high and a happiness that will never be matched when I actually wear the item.
And I may not even wear it. I may try it on briefly before abandoning it for an outfit I like better, and my “super amazing steal of a deal” will languish in my closet.
You know the game where you try ten things on while getting dressed and nothing quite works? And then you end up wearing your favorite jeans and sweater for the third time that week. And then you are fifteen minutes late to wherever you are supposed to be because the simple, daily act of getting dressed took way too long. Tell me I’m not the only one who plays this game.
I love to shop, and yet a nagging discontentment has crept in as I’ve added more and more to my tiny closet. My closet is crowded, but I struggle to find something to wear. My heart feels crowded, too.
I am ready to try something different, something radical.
For Lent this year, I am giving up (at least temporarily) the vast majority of my wardrobe, and I’ll wear just thirty-three things from now until Easter.
I’ll be doing a modified version of Courtney Carver’s Project 333, which challenges participants to dress from a 33-item wardrobe for three months. Official P333 rules include shoes, accessories, and outerwear in the count; I’ll be counting these separately. Pajamas, loungewear, gym clothes, and underwear (including tights, socks, etc.) aren’t included in the count. Though I’m bending the rules a bit, I do plan to work from a limited selection of all of these items. One of my favorite quotes from the website is this: “This is not a project in suffering. If you need to create a version of Project 333 that works better for you, do it.” I’m going with that.
I’ve made lists, sorted piles of clothes, selected, swapped, and worked my way down to 33 things (plus three coats) which are now back in the closet. I moved everything else to the guest room closet, which is now overflowing. Please don’t open that door if you are at my house . . .
I am looking forward to the challenge, and I’m also fighting some trepidation. I wonder if I will get bored of my limited choices. I’m bridging two seasons, so I’m concerned I may not have all I need to bridge dramatic temperature swings. I worry about what other people will think. Will anyone even notice or care if I’m wearing the same thing more often? Were these the items I was wearing all the time anyway? I wonder if I’ll feel guilty for forsaking all those other clothes, as if inanimate objects somehow know they are being neglected. I am considering what it would mean to fail and put everything back next week . . . or to succeed and end up giving most of it away.
Lent is a time of remembering and practicing sacrifice, of reexamining priorities and values, a time of not only giving up the bad, but of giving up the good in favor of the better. All that extra space in my closet makes me anxious, but it also makes me excited. There is space, breathing room, and that feels like the start of something better.