Can my friend and I dress in only 33 things for 3 months?

(This post has also been published on 1 Million Women).

For years I have been interested in minimalism and the concept of pairing down one’s physical possessions and filling the vacant spaces they leave behind with meaningful life experiences.  I am also attracted to one of the major side benefits of minimalism whereby where one owns less, one wastes less.  Minimalism is usually not intended to be an environmental philosophy but it often is, by accident.  Over time, the quantity of my belongings has yo-yo’d up and down somewhat but I have consistently aimed to avoid worshipping ‘things’ and instead place my focus on the careful crafting of a meaningful life.

Some of you may remember several years ago when I challenged myself to a one month ‘buy nothing’ challenge.  Around the same time I also wrote about my awe of the uniquely Parisian ability to possess very few clothes while at the same time being incredibly stylish.

I was recently re-inspired to examine my wardrobe after learning about something called Project 333.

Project 333 is well known in minimalist circles but was unfamiliar to me.  I investigated it after learning about it in the incredible film “Minimalism” which is available worldwide on Netflix.  With a little research I learned that Project 333 originally launched five years ago as founder Courtney Carver’s personal fashion challenge and has since been taken up by people all around the world.  The challenge is to create a set of clothes, or “capsule wardrobe” as it is often called, that you will live out of for three months consisting of only 33 items.  Included in the 33 items are all of your basic clothing items including shoes and accessories.  Not included is underwear, pyjamas, lounge clothes you only wear in the house, gym wear (so long as you aren’t wearing your yoga pants to do your grocery shopping), or sentimental jewellery that you never take off like your wedding ring.  Everything else is boxed away until the end of the challenge.  Every three months you put together a new capsule, swapping out seasonal clothing from your boxed up collection, and/or purchasing new items if necessary.  The idea is for all 33 items to be things that fit, that you feel good in, and that you enjoy wearing.  Everything else is removed to make mornings easier, cleaning easier, and to help you to feel more confident as you embrace your day.

Everything Stacey donated to charity before starting Project 333, Wow!!

One of my good friends, Stacey, lives in Los Angeles and is a textile designer and former costume designer.  I emailed her to ask if she had ever heard of this challenge and she told me that she had actually also just learned about it through watching “The Minimalists” on Netflix and had started making a list of the 33 items she would choose if she were to do the challenge!  That blew us both away and we decided to take on the challenge together.  This past week, we both whittled our closets down to 33 items each and started the three month challenge on May 1st!

I thought it would be fun to blog about our journey as we go so here are a few thoughts from the both of us on our third day of the challenge.


“What inspired you to take on this challenge?”

My ‘capsule wardrobe’ of 33 items

Carly:  After hearing about Project 333 through “The Minimalists” I realised that I, like almost all women of the western world, had a ton of clothes.  I should have looked great every day for how much clothing I had but I didn’t at all.  So often I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a store window or the mirror in an elevator and be disappointed with how I had put myself together.  Project 333 and the concept of designing a wardrobe with intention really struck a chord.

Stacey: After watching the documentary “Minimalism” and learning about Project 333 I immediately started cleaning out my closet. I began getting rid of things I didn’t like anymore, things that didn’t fit right, things I just don’t feel good in, or things that I hadn’t worn in over a year. At first I thought 33 items was far too few, but it seemed like a fun challenge, so I decided to give it a shot. After going through my closet I realised this is totally doable for me, and may even be a great chance to flex my creative muscles. I also thought it might help prevent me from buying things I don’t need. In this culture of “fast fashion”, we often make impulse buys that in the moment we think we have to have, but then once we get home we realise we don’t have a lot to go with them, so we end up buying more stuff just to go with the other stuff we just bought. I’ve definitely been guilty of this, so I thought narrowing down my wardrobe to 33 items might help stop me from buying frivolous garments I don’t need.


“What was it like it pairing down to 33 items?”

Stacey’s ‘capsule wardrobe’ of 33 items

Carly:  At first, I was pretty daunted by the whole thing but I read an article about 33 things to eliminate from your closet and discovered that I had a habit of hanging onto sentimental items – think, old running t shirts from high school – and sparkly things that rarely, if ever, actually made it onto my body.   Giving myself permission to let go of these things was really a big breakthrough for me and helped get the ball rolling on my journey down to 33 things.  Now that I have finalised my 33 items I feel like I can breathe easier when I walk into my bedroom and getting dressed in the morning is unbelievably easier.  Pairing down my wardrobe has also inspired me to let go in other areas.  I have gone a little de-clutter crazy this past week, selling lots of things and donating others.  My home now feels much lighter and is easier to keep tidy.  It’s a great feeling.  I must admit, though – the day after officially pairing down my closet to 33 items, I did have a small freak out.  My closet

My only shoes, scarf, and belt for the next three months

looked so bare and I wondered if this was all a big mistake!  It didn’t take much to reassure myself, though, that if there really was some kind of fashion emergency, clothing is never hard to come by and I still had that box of clothing in the other room.

Stacey: So far, it’s been fun! I hate clutter, and nothing makes me feel better than having a well-organised, clean space. Now that my closet is organised and de-cluttered, I feel like I can think more clearly when I go to choose my outfit for the day. The beauty of the challenge is you don’t have to get rid of anything you don’t want to. You can just pack it away for a few months and then bring it out in your next rotation. There have been a few beloved tops of mine that

didn’t make the cut this time, but I know in 3 months I’ll be so excited to swap something out for them.


“What did you struggle with most as you paired down your items?

The measly two necklaces I will be wearing for the next 3 months

Carly:  Jewellery!  I have well over 33 pieces of jewellery alone and I really enjoy wearing it so this is a hard one for me.  It’s been interesting, though, because often I don’t wear any jewellery.  I used to wear lots of jewellery every day but when I started working with wild parrots, that stopped.  I also have so much jewellery that I think it stops me from wearing it in a weird way.  At the start of the challenge I had a hand-shaped ring holder overflowing with rings and bracelets and two little bowls of random earrings and pendants next to it that were right in front of my jewellery box, blocking access to it.  Often, it was easier not to wear anything than to sort through the collection.  I think that after the 3 month experiment is over, I

will continue dressing in a 33 item seasonal wardrobe but may allow myself to still keep a jewellery collection – albeit a paired down one.

Stacey: I think the biggest challenge for me is finding a balance between having pieces I can mix and match, without creating a bland and boring wardrobe. I love textiles, and am obsessed with prints, color and texture. However, those things often create statement pieces that don’t mix and match well. I’ve found I have to be very careful not to incorporate too many statement pieces into my 33, or I won’t be able to creatively mix and match pieces as well. On the flipside, I also don’t want to have a boring mix of solids and neutral colors, so there need to be a few pieces in there to kick things up a notch.
“Did you purchase anything new for your capsule?”

3 of Stacey’s 33 items

Carly:  Courtney Carver, the founder of Project 333 recommends that you don’t buy anything new for your first 3 months.  She says that building your first ‘capsule wardrobe’ using what you already own will help you work out what you really want and need.  For that reason, I didn’t buy anything new for the first capsule but I was very tempted to!

Stacey: Not this time around. I think part of the fun of this challenge is not buying anything new for a while. I think it will really help change my perspective on when and why I buy clothes.


“What are you looking forward to most in doing this challenge?”

Carly:  Quite simply, I’m looking forward to dressing like a grown up for once in my life and finally learning how to put an outfit together properly.  I know I am going to learn a lot from doing this challenge with Stacey – she is so much better than me at the whole fashion thing!  It’s funny that what it took for me to finally get interested in clothing was to get rid of most of it!  I’m also looking forward to contributing far less to the culture of fast fashion by learning how to dress in quality staple pieces that can be mixed and matched, tend not to go out of style, and don’t often need replacing.

Stacey: I’m looking forward to coming up with new and creative outfit combinations. I think it will be really fun and will help me get out of the pattern of just wearing the same pairings over and over again. I’m also looking forward to sharing my outfit pics with Carly, and seeing what she comes up with! She’s very creative herself, so I’m sure I’ll be stealing some of her ideas from time to time.

These pants were in the donate pile because despite how much I love them, I rarely wear them.

Late one night I decided to re-purpose them instead.  Goodbye pants, hello pillow cases!


.. Is there anyone out there that would like to join us in this challenge?  Let’s do it together!

My month without buying crap

Hi Everybody,

Just a quick update this evening as I’m afraid I have been neglecting this blog a fair bit lately as a result of my day job and my studies. I have enjoyed keeping in touch with everyone via Facebook and Twitter as always, though.

I have endeavoured to spend the greater portion of one month (it would have been a full month if I hadn’t thought of it on the 2nd of June!) without purchasing any personal items. Of course I am allowing myself to buy food and basic toiletries if they run out but that’s about it. No books, no dvds, no clothes, no craft stuff. I’m still allowing myself to purchase experiences (going to the movies, etc.) because this is more a test in non-consumerism than it is in frugality although if at the end of the month I find I’ve spent less than usual, well then that would be terrific.

So far I am only three days in and already it has been tough. I am selling my fish tank (long story – turns out I simply cannot keep fish alive and I get really upset when they die!) and now that the fish tank is going I desperately want to get a little desk fountain to go in its place in my feng shui ‘wealth corner.’ Normally I would have got obsessed with the idea and spent the day prowling through Chinese trinket shops looking for one but alas, this time I must wait three weeks! Can I do it? Who knows. I think so. We shall see. If anyone wants to join me in this challenge (ending July 1st 2012) let me know! I’ve been watching all these documentaries about African tribal communities and our lives looks so wasteful and stupid compared to theirs!

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You don’t need a Prius – you need a fucking bike!

I was totally inspired this evening by an article my friend Stacey sent me about eco-homes.

The article talks about how in a lot of ways “sustainable” homes are not that at all because despite the fact that they might have grey water recycling toilets, all the materials and labour has to be trucked in. Buying a simple, modest home where you open a window instead of running AC, plant a veggie garden instead of going to the super market, and use good old fashioned cow poop on the garden instead of chemical fertiliser is likely to be just as sustainable of a lifestyle as what any snobbish “eco-home” can offer.

It reminded me of the line in the flick “Baby Mama” where Tina Fey asks Amy Poehler why she doesn’t eat organic food and she says “that stuff is just for rich people who hate themselves”. That line always cracks me up because in a lot of ways, she’s right. Organic foods and “green” products have become elitist and pretentious!

For the record I believe that the philosophy behind the green movement is awesome and I’m all for it. I buy as much organic stuff as possible (including all my cleaning products and makeup) BUT I really believe that the “green” homes, the “green” cars, and the fucking $7 “green” carrots just make the average person feel like living life in a sustainable way is out of reach for them.

And when the whole Green movement isn’t elitist it is really hippy, right? Well I don’t know, anymore actually, because I always have associated hippies with being broke and there’s no way you can be broke and afford the crap these eco-pushers are selling.

Have you ever been to a “co-op”? You’d think they’d be cheap-as because everyone who goes there is either a uni student or a dread-locked, bare-footed 22 year old BUT A JAR OF PEANUT BUTTER COSTS LIKE ELEVEN DOLLARS!! Honestly, maybe these kids could afford shoes if they weren’t buying such expensive peanut butter!

Also, have you guys ever seen those “eco-clothing” stores? I’ve wandered into those on occasion to find FIFTY DOLLAR T-SHIRTS!!!! OMG!!!! Seriously, have you people never heard of the SALVATION ARMY? Second hand clothing does not require any extra resources to create, wearing it prevents it from being thrown into a land-fill, and usually it’s been sourced locally. PLUS IT COSTS LIKE THREE DOLLARS! Granted, a lot of people (myself included) have an aversion to second hand clothing because a lot of it is ugly but I’ll be the first to admit that we all need to give it a try. It’s just a matter of wading through the crap to find the kick-ass vintage treasures. I’m going to plan a thrift store adventure soon. I’ll post some pictures here for you guys when I do.

OK this post is getting a lot more ranty than I had planned but honestly, this whole subject makes me angry because I really think that we should be promoting the cheap stuff that people can do to live more sustainably instead of raising the “green standard” to a level where it is unrealistic for the average household.

Here are some of my ideas for alternatives to elitist, green snobbery:

You don’t need an “eco-home” – you need a fucking small house that you don’t pollute with nasty chemicals (or a yurt if you can stand to be that awesome).

You don’t need a Prius – you need a fucking bike! (click here for an awesome set of baskets for carrying your groceries on your bike)

You don’t need $7 carrots – you need a fucking veggie garden!

You don’t need organic free-range beef – you need to become a fucking vegetarian! (or at least cut out as much meat from your diet as you possibly can and then buy the free range, ethical stuff.)

You don’t need $10 free range eggs – you need a fucking chicken! (haha)

OK I better stop before I get too carried away but honestly, if you want to live sustainably just go visit your grandma and ask her what life was like when she was growing up .. and then just go do that. It’s really that simple.

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