3 Months Living With Only 33 Clothing And Accessory Items: How It Went & Will We Continue?

This blog post was written by Carly Wilson.

For the past three months, my friend Stacey and I have been experimenting with the minimalist fashion challenge known as Project 333.Project 333 challenges you to create a 'capsule wardrobe' comprised of 33 useful, quality pieces that can be mixed and matched. The idea is to wear only these items for a three month period as a practice in simplicity. The challenge aims to help people put a stop to constant shopping and save time and money with a more stream lined wardrobe. For Stacey and I, the challenge was also about minimising our role in 'fast fashion' and the heavy social and environmental toll the booming industry of cheap, poor quality clothing is having on the world. As children of the 90s, Stacey and I both are wary of Dr. Seuss' prophecy in the "The Lorax". In starting the challenge we were both eager to avoid the temptation to be constantly purchasing 'thneeds' - the factory-produced garments referred to metaphorically in the "The Lorax" that are taking a real life heavy toll on our world.

A couple quick facts about the challenge.

  • underwear, workout wear, and home clothes don't count in your 33 items
  • shoes and accessories do count. However, sentimental jewellery you wear every day (like a wedding band) does not count.
  • it's ok to replace items throughout the challenge if they become damaged or unsuitable for whatever reason
  • if you choose to continue past the first three months, you create a new 'capsule' every three months for each season. You are encouraged to re-use as many items from season to season as possible, but swapping in and out seasonal items.
  • you don't have to throw everything out that doesn't fit into your 33 items. You are encouraged to box these things away for the 3 month duration. Stacey and I however did donate tons of stuff but boxed away what was not seasonally appropriate.

We started this journey in May, 2017 and enjoyed it so much that we have both decided to extend the challenge past the initial 3 months and are now preparing our capsules for the next three months, starting on September 1st. Here are our thoughts on what we have learned so far.

How was the experience of living with only 33 things to wear?

Stacey: Overall, I think it was a great lesson. It taught me a lot about how I actually feel in my clothes vs. how I want to feel in my clothes. It also got me out of the habit buying things on impulse, and reserving my funds to purchase good quality pieces that I will love for a long time. I've learned that a piece of clothing can be as cute as can be, but if you don't feel good in it, it's not worth your time and money. It's better to take the time to find things that suit your body and your personal style.

I also figured out what's really important to me when I choose an outfit (particularly on a work day). I find that I'm always looking for something that is comfortable, fits well, and expresses creativity in some way (like a funky print, an interesting mix of colors, or a cool accessory, etc.). I don't have to have a perfectly put together outfit, but if what I choose doesn't hit those 3 things, I feel off all day.

The one drawback of this 1st round of Project 333 is I was trying to find things I could mix and match as much as possible. I did pretty well with the comfortable and the well-fitting requirements, but the creativity part was lacking. Trying to mix and match as many pieces as I could left me with a lot of items that were very basic and neutral. I missed my cool prints, bright colors, and interesting embellishments. Next time around I'm going to try to find ways to be more creative with my capsule pieces.

Carly: I have loved every minute of this challenge. In the past I never cared much about clothing but this experience has changed that. I now really love planning my outfits and creating a cohesive wardrobe. I also love that my closet is always organised now. Every item has a specific place, a little home to return to, after its journey to the washing machine. I don't just casually own anything any more. Everything that is hanging in my closet is there with intention and is loved.

There is also no more stressing about what to wear. I know what I have and what works well for different occasions. I also love shopping now because I am never just aimlessly wandering the shops. I now have a clear plan for what I need to purchase and enjoy the challenge of picking out high quality pieces that will flatter my body and are versatile enough to be worn with multiple other items in my wardrobe.

These days, I find myself frequently standing in front of my closet, just admiring it - especially now that I have made it through the first awkward three months (where you are encouraged not to buy anything new but just cull your excess down to 33 things). Going into Spring, I have purchased a few new items and culled several others that I've realised just should never have been there in the first place. There is space between every hanger and most of my hangers now are wooden which is so lovely to look at. Dressing is now an enjoyable, luxurious experience and something I look forward to.

Did you miss the clothes and accessories that you had boxed away?

Stacey: There were only maybe 2 or 3 pieces that I missed wearing, but most of my stuff I really didn't miss. There are actually some pieces that I'm not sure I'll wear again now that I've cut out ill-fitting clothing. Guess it's time to make another trip to the Goodwill!

Carly: The day after I paired down my wardrobe to the 33 items I stood in front of it, in tears. It looked so empty and bare and I wondered if this was all a mistake. The truth though is I never missed a damn thing that I donated and really didn't think about what was boxed away, either. The only exception was my jewellery which I missed a lot. I only allowed myself two pieces of jewellery for the first three months of the challenge and I really missed being able to accessorise with a large jewellery collection.

Did you replace many of your items or buy new things during the challenge?

Stacey: Yes. For most of my life I've had a heck of a time finding jeans that properly fit me, so I decided to spend a little more and buy a higher quality pair. Let me tell you… I am NEVER going back! It was an investment well made. The quality of the denim is so much nicer and softer, the fit is perfect, and I got them hemmed to the perfect length (for free! Thank you Nordies!). I like them so much I just went out and bought a second pair in a different color. I feel so much more confident now that I'm not walking around with a muffin top or diaper butt! Haha

Carly: I also purchased a pair of jeans. At the start of the challenge my capsule included two pairs of jeans - one pair of dark, dress jeans and a pair of lighter, slouchy jeans. The slouchy jeans had started to stretch out badly mid challenge from frequent wear and were so saggy on my butt. I spent a long time in the shops picking out a replacement pair and I also spent more money than I ever have before on a pair of jeans. I have absolutely no regrets about this, though, and am understanding now for the first time in my life that it is much more satisfying owning fewer (but better) clothes. I also impulsed purchased a dress on a bad day when I needed a pick me up and then had to find an item to get rid of in its place so that I still only had 33 things. This was definitely not what the project was meant to be about and the experience has helped me to realise that I can be some what of a stress shopper. It's definitely time to address that.

Read this next: How To Turn Your Closet Into A Capsule Wardrobe

I only allow one pair of pump heels each season because I tend to wear sandals and my more casual wooden heels more often. For Spring, I am using the purple ones but I will probably swap those out with the gold ones for Christmas/summer. The black ones are for Fall and Winter.

Did you save money?

Stacey: I think so. I live within walking distance of Target and would sometimes head over there just to get out of the house. I'd often come back with a new shirt, cardigan, or some kind of accessory. However, lately I've been choosing a different path when I want to take a stroll. When I do go to Target it's to buy something specific, and I skip the clothing section altogether. I'd say that alone has saved me something.

Carly: I'm not completely sure I actually am not someone who spends much money on clothing anyway so there is a chance I did not really save any money this time around especially considering the expensive jeans I bought mid challenge. Even if I didn't save any money by doing this challenge, it has absolutely still been worth it.

Do you plan to continue using a capsule wardrobe now that the initial 3 month challenge is over? And if so, will you alter the challenge rules to suit your life?

Stacey: I still think I have a ways to go before I can trust myself not to go back to my old habits of impulse buying and standing in a closet full of clothes feeling like I have nothing to wear. Capsuling has really helped me with those struggles so I'd like to keep it up for a while. Perhaps next time around I won't be so strict, though. I'm considering giving myself a "cheat day" or something to that effect. Ideally what I'd really like to (eventually) have is a capsule-like wardrobe of some basics that I can use as a starting point. I'd like to have a small collection of pieces that are of good quality, fit well, and will look great for a long time. I'd like to use those pieces as a jumping off point for the rest of my wardrobe. That way when I do go shopping I'll have those pieces to reference back to, ensuring I'm buying pieces that I can coordinate with them. This will keep me from buying things that look great on the hanger but when I get them home I find I have nothing to wear with them. I also think it will be a big time saver in the long run to have a capsule wardrobe, even if you don't wear those items exclusively. It'll be nice to know that I have some great pieces that I can just throw on and not worry about how I look or feel in them.

Carly: Absolutely, I will be. The main change I will be making going forward is that I am going to allow myself one jewellery box. It's not a huge jewellery box and I actually culled a lot of pieces to get down to just a single jewellery box. Before doing Project 333, my jewellery collection was scattered between two small bowls on my dressing table, a ring holder, a jewellery box that I couldn't even access without having to move about 6 other things, five nails in the wall that held all of my necklaces, and another set of necklaces that hung on the bathroom towel rail. Now everything fits in a single wooden jewellery box that has no obstructions to its path. At the moment, I don't feel the need to minimise any further than this. In the first 3 months when I stuck firm to the challenge rules, I only allowed myself two necklaces and I genuinely missed being able to accessorise with the rest of my collection. The challenge is not meant to be about deprivation and so i am allowing myself to break the rules with this one. I'm a grown up so I can do things like this.

At the end of each season, you go through your boxed (or in my case, bagged) up things to work out what to include in the next capsule. These are my bags after creating my spring capsule. The two big bags hold all of my winter stuff (including coat, heavy dressing gown, slippers, and fluffy pajamas). The small bag holds everything for spring/summer that I am not using for Spring - mostly stuff for very hot weather and Christmas things - because I live in Australia where Christmas is hot. Part of the fun of this challenge is being able to 'shop' through your own things four times a year as you put your next season's wardrobe together.

What did you learn?

Stacey: Over all I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that how I feel in my clothes is important to me, and really affects how my day goes. My clothing effects not only my level of confidence, but also my ability to feel like myself. Getting away from trends and fast fashion has allowed me to start focusing on my individual style. It's forced me to focus more on what suits my personality and my body type, and less on what is "in" right now.

Carly: I have learned so much through this challenge. Stacey has always been great with clothing but I never have been so there was a big learning curve for me. In the past, I rarely bought staple pieces and instead gravitated, like an emu, toward shiny things. Not much could be mixed and matched and despite my best efforts, I still felt very frumpy a lot of the time. In preparing my spring capsule, I have purchased several staples - a dark jean jacket, a brimmed hat, a plain white t-shirt, a dark green skirt, some versatile sandals. I've also eliminated pieces that should never have been there in the first place - learning how avoid bringing home the wrong things was probably the biggest lesson from all of this. I have found it challenging to let go of pieces that are either are still basically brand new or that I spent a lot of money on. I kept a couple of these types of pieces through the first three months but it eventually occurred to me that I purchased these items to look the part of the person I sometimes like to think that I am instead of who I actually am. This challenge has helped me realise some basic truths about my style and has helped me to feel more comfortable dishing out more than I usually would to invest in quality pieces within my true style instead of spending way too much money on flashy pieces for my imaginary life.

Carly Wilson is a filmmaker and environmental professional specialising in wildlife care and habitat management. She also blogs on her personal website. Right now she is making a film about the effects of released helium balloon on the marine environment. Please follow her on Twitter (@carlycreature) or through Facebook if you would like to keep abreast of the film's progress.

Read this next: 7 Simple Tips For Minimalist Living

Images: Carly Wilson & Header by Shanna Camilleri on Unsplash

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