Now that I’m in the home stretch of my fall Project 333, I thought I’d share an update. This three month term began October 1st and ends December 31st, and so far temperatures have spiked into the 90s and dipped into the 20s Fahrenheit. That’s quite a swing to manage with around 33 items of clothing…
So I’ve cheated a couple times. I had to temporarily pull out my big vintage fisherman sweater and my Sorel boots, and I’ve realized I really don’t have a warm coat or many sweaters left. I’m well equipped for most Southern winters, but last winter (and several days of this one) have pushed my mild winter wardrobe to the brink. My pieces consist primarily of lightweight “fashion jackets” that do little to actually thwart the cold. I’m keeping an eye on the thrift stores for a few warmer pieces, and until then I’ll pile on the layers. Thankfully, most days have lows in the 40s-50s, temps that are comfortably manageable with what I have.
I’ve also decided to keep a few spots in my closet for vintage favorites. My small collection of vintage dresses contains more statement pieces than basics, so I haven’t figured out how to fit them in a 33 item capsule collection. But there are occasions that call for a statement. I’m bringing in a few of these pieces as a sub-collection.
This season I have replaced a few items that no longer work. I bought a new pair of dark wash, high waisted skinny jeans since my others were wearing out and getting a little pointy “tail” in the back. Do you know what I’m talking about? Once it happens, the pants are pretty much done. The old jeans moved on to the “lounge wear” category (or more accurately, the “work wear” category when I’m setting up vintage displays or sorting through things in the garage).
I also ditched the charcoal skirt. I didn’t try it on before including it in my collection (lesson learned!), and it doesn’t fit well at all anymore. I still wore it once, but I immediately pulled it from my closet after seeing the baggy, saggy selfies. A plaid skirt (found on super sale!) has taken its place. While not as versatile, the new skirt is a fun piece that fits my style well, and I expect to wear it plenty this winter.
Oh, and I added a couple new pairs of shoes! I’ll share my accessories at some point.
When I did follow the rules, which was most of the time, I took some bathroom mirror shots to show how I put everything together. Fall clothes are my favorite, and they’re the easiest for me to wear. I really love these clothes, and I don’t have to think too much about them or work too hard to make outfits. I’m wondering if those two things aren’t related, and maybe that’s actually the crux of capsule dressing: effortless style.
Here are some outfits, cheats not included:
Do you have a favorite season for dressing? Have you found a way to incorporate statement pieces in a capsule wardrobe? Are you ready to try this in January?!?
When I first started cleaning out my closet, I faced some strong internal resistance. My dialog (because don’t we all talk to ourselves about these things?) sounded something like this:
What if this comes back in style? I should probably keep in just in case…
What if I gain or lose ten pounds? Even though it doesn’t fit now, I might need this size one day…
What if the weather gets unusually hot or cold? I’d better be prepared…
What if I get invited to a formal event? I ought to hold on to this prom dress…
Wait, what?!? Does this sound familiar?
For years, I catered to the “what if,” and I think this was the primary cause of my crowded closet. Even a serious shopping habit can be offset by ruthless editing, but I had a math problem; I kept adding without subtracting. There are benefits to being prepared, and holding on to things seems like a money saver. If I already have it, I won’t need to buy it…right?
There is a certain comfort in having a stock pile of clothing (or anything, really), but life rarely shakes out exactly the way we anticipate.
In reality, I will want to buy (or rent, or borrow) a new dress if I happen to be invited to a formal event. If I lose ten pounds, it could very well be during the winter, and those tiny linen pants will be of no use. I could gain ten pounds in the summer when those next size up corduroys won’t be wearable. In either of those cases, I would probably want to get something new to embrace my new size. Unusually extreme weather only lasts briefly, and I could probably manage a few days of snow by piling on lighter layers. If something comes back in style, there is little chance of me wearing the trend again and in the same way.
Last spring I found a piece of advice that made letting go seem a little easier: store it at the store.
Store it at the store.
I decided that if “what if” was my main hesitation in letting go, I would store at the store instead of in my house. If I could get a similar item for less that $20 in less than 20 minutes, I would definitely store it at the store.
I recently had an unexpected opportunity to test the efficacy of the 20/20 rule. We needed a roasting pan (and by “we” I mean my husband, who is the chef in our home). When I went to look for the pan, I realized it had been in the drawer of our old oven. We had gotten new appliances, and I forgot to check the drawer before the old ones were removed. Since dinner depended on a roasting pan, I stopped by the thrift store and found one in pristine shape for $5. The errand took less than 20 minutes, including the time it took to wash the pan.
I didn’t intentionally give away the roasting pan, but I saw how it might not be so terrible to find myself unprepared in one of those “just in case” moments. After that experience, I used the 20/20 rule as inspiration to give away some books I have already read, some art supplies I haven’t used in the last three years, and some extra plastic kitchen utensils that were taking up drawer space. I decided two slotted spoons were plenty, and in the unlikely event that I needed more, 20 minutes and 20 dollars would be more than enough to make that happen.
If the item is easily borrowed, I can also store it at the store. I don’t need to hold on to that heavy carry on luggage with the marginally functional zipper; I have another one that works perfectly, and I can borrow one from family if I ever need two at once. Friends often borrow serving pieces from me. I like to entertain and have a large collection of vintage dishes, so these items are not burdensome for me to keep. They bring me joy and serve a purpose, and I’m happy to share them. My friends could “store those at the store,” in a way.
In the process of minimizing, I found things I haven’t worn or used in years, things I was unlikely to wear or use in the near future. These are things I wanted to let go of, but I held on to them out of fear…because really, for me at least, the core of “what if” is fear…of insufficiency, inadequacy, of not enough. I no longer want fear as a motivating factor in my life. I don’t want fear deciding what stays in my closets or cabinets or drawers.
So goodbye, dress that I kept because I was afraid I might need to wear it one day! That dress took up space. It occupied physical space that I would rather use for something I enjoy wearing often, and worse than that, it wasted emotional space. I want to spend more energy living my life in the present and less effort planning for what might be.
Now when I consider getting rid of something, I ask, “Why not?” If the answer is that I really love and/or use said thing, then it stays. If not? Add it to the giveaway pile. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss it, and if I do, it’s probably stored at the store.*
Do “what ifs” interfere with your attempts to simplify?
Are your “what ifs” motivated by fear or something else?
What could you store at the store instead?
*So far, this has only backfired one time that I recall. One summer I gave away my favorite fleece lounge pants. They fit well and were broken in to perfection, and they were the most comfortable thing I had for wearing around the house. In a fit of ‘roid rage (I had to be on prednisone and was having mood swings and hot flashes), I cleaned out my dresser and donated some things, including my beloved lounge pants. In that moment of heat and bloatedness, I couldn’t imagine ever wearing them again. Whenever the weather gets cold now, I do have passing thoughts about those fleece pants. Maybe this year I’ll find a suitable replacement. So…usually “store it at the store” is helpful, unless you are medicated…in which case, best not to make any rash decisions. 😉
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?
I keep gazing admiringly upon my freshly organized closet. It really is a remarkable sight. Apparently I was mistaken about the size of my closet. It is not, as I previously thought, tiny. It is rather large! At least it appears that way now that two thirds of its contents have been removed. Here is a glimpse:
I am one week into my Project 333 experiment, and my simplifying efforts have already produced a surprising effect (in addition to my expanding closet space): I find I am wanting more . . . more of less.
After my great closet clean out, I found I was motivated to simplify other crowded areas of my home. I tackled the overflowing Tupperware cabinet and sent all stained, warped, and unmatched plastic containers and lids to the recycling bin. Our food storage containers are now neatly stacked with their proper lids, and nothing falls out when you open the cabinet door.
I also addressed my make up and cosmetics, finally freeing myself from that too dark foundation that will never match my skin, the dried up nail polish that I used to love, and the perfume sample that I didn’t like but kept anyway. I moved products from the bathroom counter to the cabinet underneath, where I discovered I now had more storage space.
I even found a friend to take my light bulbs (that I won’t use because they have a cool, greenish color cast). Yes, I was keeping a bag of light bulbs that I did not intend to use; they were perfectly functional, so I hated to throw them away, but I am picky about my light and kept ignoring this fact while purchasing more.
Beginning Project 333 has helped me re-frame my relationship with my belongings. I am considering what place these things have in my life. If the plastic storage container no longer has a properly fitting lid, why I am keeping it? In hopes that one day the lid will magically return? In what world will I, with my perpetually fair skin, ever wear foundation that says “Medium” on the package? Why am I saving a bag of light bulbs that I cannot stand to use?
I want a full life but not a crowded one, and these things take up space. They get in the way.
I know that eventually, in some weeks or months (or days if my toddler gets in there), the Tupperware cabinet will need to be organized again. More lids will get lost and more tomato sauce will stain. I will likely purchase another cosmetic item (or two or three) that doesn’t work for me, and I won’t use all of my new royal blue nail polish before it separates and must be thrown away. Organizing and simplifying is a process.
But I feel I’m breaking free from the burden of holding on “just in case”, or “because it cost good money”, or “because it still works”, even though it doesn’t work for me. I am practicing letting go of things, and my house and I are breathing a sigh of relief.
Now please excuse me while I go find something else to organize.