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!
Over the past few weeks, I have watched crises and struggles unfold, not only in my news apps but in the lives of people I love. Though my own home is peaceful, this feels like a season of suffering. My heart breaks for friends and loved ones and for those I’ve never met. I haven’t felt much like blogging, especially about clothes.
Here are some of the things I did manage to do: cry, pray, sing, talk, listen, hug, exercise, sit around, stay up too late, sleep too late, play games, eat, not eat, read, work, think, draw, cry again, pray some more, and wait.
And I also managed to shop.
I have so much good fullness in my life–people I care about, pursuits I enjoy and find meaningful–but still I shopped.
I felt compelled to seek comfort through consumption, and for a few moments and hours, I found it.
While browsing racks of clothes, I felt peaceful and in control. I could focus or let my mind wander. I could accomplish the task of acquiring something. I could make decisions or not. I felt powerful and productive.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit this.
If there were a spectrum of healthy-to-unhealthy coping mechanisms, I could easily classify shopping in the neutral middle. I’m not going into massive debt, I’m not hurting myself or anyone else. I can justify it. But if I’m trying to live with less—and I am—I’m not sure I want shopping to remain my automatic response to difficult emotions. It doesn’t seem to line up anymore. It feels a little self-sabotaging.
On my most recent retail therapy excursion, I really didn’t have money to spend. I had already spent most of my month’s fun money on clothes (and you’ll note that even now the month is less than halfway done). While I was shuffling hangers, I took comfort in knowing the tags were still on my previous purchases. If I found something else I liked, I could always return the other things. I wish I didn’t find that so reassuring.
I enjoy shopping, and I don’t mind that I enjoy shopping. I like finding interesting, beautiful, unexpected things. Sometimes I find shopping inspires me and feeds my curiosity and imagination. But shopping for comfort does not inspire me. At best, it temporarily distracts me, delays the inevitable. And plenty of other (free) things can inspire and feed curiosity and imagination even better than buying things.
In the end, I didn’t buy any clothes on that outing. I went home and spent time with family and friends and dealt with the undercurrent of emotion in quiet company.
I don’t want to stop shopping completely. I do want to stop trying to buy off unpleasant emotions. In so many ways, I can’t afford that. It’s not about the action but about my motivation. If I’m shopping to fill a hole or meet a need (in my heart, not my closet), I am going to be left unsatisfied.
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.
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.)