project 333

You know that feeling when you open your closet and just can’t decide what to wear? For me, it usually happens the same morning that I’ve decided to get up and get to the office early to be extra productive, or that moment I realize I’m late to meet a friend for drinks.

Yeah, sure, my propensity for procrastination might be somewhat to blame, as well as the joy I take in exploring my personal style. But largely, it’s a direct result of the overabundance of options. Last fall, I put all my stuff in storage to live out of a large duffel bag for the summer while I worked for a rafting company. When I moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the fall, I sort of didn’t know what to do with the colorful blouses, t-shirts, sweaters, dresses, jeans, slacks, and skirts I suddenly had access to. Every day I felt like a kid playing dress-up: over-stimulated and a little clueless.

Since then, I’ve moved back into a duffel bag — or, rather, a carry-on. And, as a digital nomad currently living in Colombia, I’m probably not going to turn back for a while. But even if I could own more, I’m not sure I’d do it. And that’s what brought me to Project 333.

One Simple Goal

project 333

The story of Project 333 begins with Courtney Carver, a working parent from Utah. She was living a fairly standard American existence of business and consumerism when suddenly, everything changed: she received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. After a period of processing and grief, Carver started to look around for ways to live healthfully and happily with MS. She honed in on stress.

In order to be healthy, Carver decided, she needed to simplify her life. She started with her diet. If it didn’t make her body feel good, she got rid of it. Next, she looked at her shopping habits, which went hand-in-hand with her debt. All at the same time, she stopped spending and focused on downsizing her debt. This led her to her closet, and to Project 333.

The Challenge

33 items, three months: Project 333. It’s a clothing challenge Carver initially posed to herself and blogged about, bringing others along for the journey. The rules are that for three months, you must stick to 33 items in your closet, including clothing, shoes, outerwear, and accessory items. The list does not include workout clothes, sleepwear, and in-home loungewear, and you can only wear your workout clothes to work out.

The challenge took off around 2010, and now just searching for Project 333 on Instagram or YouTube comes up with a whole list of people who have tried the challenge and are showing off their new minimalist wardrobes (caution: extremely addictive!).

Most people who try the challenge say that people around them don’t really notice their lack of an extensive wardrobe — that in fact, the challenge encouraged them to focus more on their favorite pieces of clothing and thus develop and hone in on their own personal style. Verena Erin, the creator of the YouTube channel My Green Closet, has a great video with tips about how to stay true to your own experience in this endeavor, suggesting things like not buying new pieces right away to create the “perfect” capsule, or asking why you wear certain clothes more than others.

Above all, both Carver and Erin make sure to point out that this is your capsule wardrobe, and you shouldn’t worry too much about following the rules or having a minimalist style or making it match someone else’s. The idea kind of reminds me about how hard it can be sometimes to choose what to pack — you want to be prepared, comfortable, and stylish; but it’s hard to leave your loved pieces behind. However, at the end of the trip, if you’re like me, you’re so used to the clothes you ended up bringing that you forgot almost entirely about the rest.

Capsule Wardrobes Aren’t a New Thing…

33 items are actually quite a few, when you think about it. In fact, comparing Project 333 with long-term travel and even other capsule wardrobe challenges, the amount of clothing you’re allowed to have actually feels a little luxurious. It’s certainly more than I have in my suitcase, which does include workout clothes. And speaking of that, what about those of us who combine our workout clothes with everyday wear? Theoretically, we could have even fewer items in the closet.

I’m sure we’re all well aware that only decades before, people owned fewer clothes. And the French are credited with maintaining a similar standard today, while somehow managing to be some of the most fashionable people in the world. In 2014, Jennifer L. Scott, author of Lessons from Madame Chic, gave a Tedx talk in St. George about the 10-item wardrobe — an idea she’d gotten while living abroad in France with a stylish French family. Another woman from Seattle went even more extreme with it, wearing a single homemade brown dress every day for an entire year as a performance art piece (yes, she washed it). And there are about a million articles on building a capsule wardrobe.

…and They Aren’t an Old Thing

All this is to say that capsule wardrobes aren’t some wild and crazy trend — they’re actually quite easily attainable for even the most fashion-conscious among us, and entirely customizable. We all have different lifestyles (some of us even live out of suitcases) and it’s not all about the challenge, or even about the rules. It’s about having that space in your life, so you can fill it with positive things — not worry about how many items are in your wardrobe.

Nearly a decade after being diagnosed with MS, Courtney Carver experiences practically no symptoms of her illness, and she attributes this to the simplified life she worked hard to build for herself. In just a few sentences, she summed it all up during a CGTN interview from last year: “For me, the decluttering is not about owning the stuff, or just having less. For me, it’s about love and health. And in order to give my family and friends the best of me, I have to be healthy.”

You can follow Carver and the project on her blog, Be More With Less.