Project 333: How a Minimalist Wardrobe Can Save Your Sanity and Save the World

Project 333 book cover

Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that is more about freeing the mind from overwhelming choices and clutter and less about the actual clothing. I have been participating in Courtney Carver’s Project 333 for almost 2 years, and this year she released a book about the project, which I highly recommend.

Today, I’ll tell you about Project 333’s role as a model for minimalism as well as about my own journey with the wardrobe challenge.

“You can  remove a significant amount of stress from your life simply by reducing the number of items in your closet.” -Courtney Carver

Clothes and eyeglasses folded
Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

“We wear 20 percent of our clothing 80 percent of the time, yet 100 percent of our wardrobe gets 100 percent of our attention, emotion, space, and time. That’s exhausting.” -Courtney Carver

The Project

Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge where you dress with only 33 items – including clothing, accessories, jewelry, and shoes – for 3 months. A few exceptions include undergarments and workout clothes, but check out the website (link below) and the book for the full guidelines.

“Remember that what you are wearing is probably the least interesting thing about you.” -Courtney Carver

The experiment began when Carver tried wearing the same 33 pieces interchangeably for 3 months to see if anyone noticed. But no one did. “People care more about what they wear than what I wear,” she writes on her website. We can simplify our lives and free up mental and physical space for things that matter more than clothing.

“There are so many things I’d rather think and talk about than what’s on sale, or where you got that dress/purse/shirt.” -Courtney Carver

Clothing rack with business clothes
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Too Many Choices

Decision fatigue, as minimalist and author Courtney Carver describe it, can be eliminated by reducing the amount of small daily decisions. If you think about all of the decisions we have to make every single day, it is no surprise that we are all overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and worn out. What or where to eat multiple times per day, what to cook, what to wear based on what we are doing that day, what to say in conversation, write in an email, what chores we need to complete, errands we need to run, exercise, what to watch out of thousands of choices, what to read, what to listen to (audiobook, podcast, or music?), when to take the car in to get the brakes checked.

If we have children, we have an additional set of decisions to make: school, homework, meals, clothes, hygiene, permission slips, lessons or sports, money, when to fit in quality time, and when to teach them about any number of topics. Add in any kind of shopping, which is nothing but decisions at every angle and which overwhelms all of the senses. On top of that, we have social media, a monster of comparison and decisions based on what other people post. If you take the time to think about all of the micro-decisions we make every single day, it’s mindblowing. So most of us don’t, we just power through and that eventually takes a heavy toll on our mind, health, and lives.

What to do about Decision Fatigue

We have far too many daily choices to make, far more than humans have ever had to make in history, and it overwhelms our brains and taxes our ability to make good decisions. It makes us mentally and physically tired.

What can we do about it? We can eliminate some of those daily choices by meal planning in advance, checking email less, and by reducing the number of clothes in our closets. Less decision making equals less stress and more time for the decisions that matter to us. This was the driving force for Courtney Carver’s creation of Project 333.

“Fewer decisions about what to wear allow more clarity for more important choices.” -Courtney Carver

Additional Benefits of a Small Wardrobe

Improved Self-Esteem

If you only own clothes that you feel and look good wearing, then every day you will feel more confident. “It’s utter madness what we do to ourselves while simply getting dressed,” Carver wrote about the negative self-talk and guilty thoughts we have from owning clothes we spent too much on but don’t wear or clothes that don’t fit our bodies correctly.

“Limiting your clothing items to 33 items for 3 months forces art. Limiting your wardrobe does not rob you of personal style – it causes you to find it.” -Joshua Becker, Clutterfree With Kids

Saving Money

You will obviously spend less if you buy less clothing overall. “Investing in one $100 dress that actually fits you saves more time and money than spending on five $25 dresses through-out the year,” Carver explains.

“The average woman owns $550 in clothing that has never been worn.” -Courtney Carver

By eliminating impulse buys from shopping to fulfill boredom, you will save even more. Carver has talked about how she used to fulfill a deeper need by shopping, thinking she was bored with her clothing, but that the issues were much more complex and had nothing to do with her wardrobe.

Saving the Environment

A minimalist wardrobe not only helps you live a better life, but it helps the environment too. Here are a few fashion facts from Carver’s book:

      • The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year.
      • 95% of discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled.
      • The amount of water for annual clothing production could fill 32 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, while over 1 billion people across the world lack access to safe drinking water.
      • Polyester (which is plastic) clothing can take up two hundred years to decompose.

Carver says when trying to build a new, more eco-friendly wardrobe, don’t try to replace your entire wardrobe all at once. “The most eco-friendly thing you can do is to consume less by using what you have,” she writes. Stay away from trends and look for clothes that have a more classic appearance, and your clothes won’t feel out of style.

“Trendy looks good today; timeless looks great everyday.” -Joshua Fields Millburn

My clothing journey

Like many people, I used to have too many clothes. I had two dressers and a closet full. Years ago, I reduced my clothes by a third because I wanted to move one of my dressers into my son’s room instead of buying additional furniture. Later, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and cleaned out my clothes even more.

Clothing piled on bed
I piled my clothes on the bed. This photo was taken after the first cut.
Piles of clothes on the floor.
My pile of clothes to donate.
Drawer using Marie Kondo's method of folding.
Dresser drawer using Marie Kondo’s folding method.

My Project 333

When I discovered Project 333 almost 2 years ago, I was surprised and excited about this new challenge because I felt like I’d already let go of so much. By then I’d become inspired by minimalism and began living with a more minimalist mindset. But I still owned far more than 33 items of clothing.

Using the Project 333 website to clear out clothing again, I began building my capsule wardrobe. I put everything on the bed again. I made three piles: favorites, maybe keep, and donate. My favorites went back into my closet and dresser. Per Project 333 guidelines, a large amount of maybe’s and out of season items went into a storage container. The donate pile got boxed up for the local thrift store.

Bin of clothing
Bin of clothing to reassess next season.
Closet clothing
My closet after doing Project 333 almost 2 years ago.

I ended up with a few more than 33 items, but as Courtney Carver always says, the purpose is not about the exact number as much as it is the intentionality. I think I had around 45 items including shoes and accessories (but not jewelry). But I was left with about thirty empty hangers which I was able to donate. I also had an entire empty dresser drawer which became my bedsheet storage, instead of the bathroom closet.

Today

My Project 333 has evolved over time, as it does for everyone. I ended up getting rid of many of the items in the storage bin because I forgot about most of them within the first 3 months. I also do not rotate my clothes seasonally anymore because of where I work and where I live, both of which have changing climates! I keep all of my clothes in the closet and dresser and have no clothes in storage. So I do own more than 33 items, but for year-round wear.

Closet clothes
Image of my current closet.

I continue to follow Project 333 rules, such as:

      • My workout clothes do workout
      • I don’t go shopping unless I actually need an article of clothing
      • I only own shoes that do not hurt my feet
      • I let go of items I haven’t worn in the past year, with a few exceptions: one vintage dress that belonged to my mother, a Halloween costume, and my wedding dress.
      • My size fluctuates sometimes so I keep a few items that are too small and too big.

As I replace articles of clothing, I’d like to buy more sustainable clothing. I’d also like to buy more muted tones so that it will be easier to mix and match.

Minimalist Fashion Might Be the Answer

Overall, this minimalist fashion mindset is about what’s important for our sanity and the environment as consuming less is the key. If you want to make your clothes last longer, Carver says to “do laundry better” by line drying clothes or using wool dryer balls. Furthermore, common laundry detergents and fabric softeners are full of toxic chemicals that are harmful to human health. You can read my post on how to replace fabric softener and dryer sheets to learn more.

Thank you for reading, and please subscribe. Let me know in the comments below if you are participating in Project 333!

 

Check out these great links related to Project 333:

      • The Project 333 website
      • Courtney Carver’s article, “33 Little Lessons from Minimalist Fashion Challenge Project 333”
      • Carver offers a list of sustainable clothing resources on her site
      • The Minimalists’ podcast with guest Courtney Carver
      • Minimalist Joshua Becker expands on the benefits of a small wardrobe in this video.
      • For inspiration, you can search Project 333 on youtube or Instagram and you will find people who are participating and their experiences.

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