Project 333: Reflections on a Minimalist Fashion Challenge

All the sweaters and jackets I could wear for three months.

When we talk about living greener, better lives around the office, reducing consumption comes up a lot. There’s lots of areas where we can reduce consumption: at home, at school, at work, in our communities. In an attempt to find out how little I could live with, I decided to tackle a major source of at-home consumption: my wardrobe. While I’m no fashionista and don’t think of myself as a person who buys a lot of clothing, I still realized that I have a lot of room to improve in this area. I did this through a three-month challenge called “Project 333” (P333). You can read more about this at Be More With Less, the blog that started it all, because P333 is something that people around the world are trying! 

What Did I Do?

I spent three months wearing only 33 items of clothing. Counted in that 33 were my normal clothes, shoes, outerwear, jewelry, and accessories. I did have unlimited access to my underwear,socks, pajamas, and workout gear, so long as I used them all for their designated purpose (no yoga pants sneaking into Saturday errands unless they were one of the 33!). Check out my original post about the challenge for more details on the rule. Because I found this intimidating, I began with one month of relaxed rules: still only 33 items but I didn’t have to count shoes and outerwear in that number. Once I realized this was more than doable and I hadn’t actually worn about ten of my items, I pared it down to follow the original P333 rules strictly. I had several questions about how much laundry I had to do, and the answer is: the same amount as usual. I had to plan somewhat carefully but I did one load every week or two, and I line-dry, so I didn’t increase my environmental impact in this area.

Surprising Benefits

Are you afraid that “only” wearing 33 items for 3 months will result in comments from friends and co-workers? Let me reassure you that you will likely…receive compliments on how good you look! Because I only wore the nicest, best-quality, best-fitting, most comfortable, coordinated clothing in my wardrobe, I felt and looked more confident and put-together. While that wasn’t my goal, I definitely loved getting compliments on my appearance. Despite living with less, I felt like I had more than ever!

By the Numbers

The “before” photo of my wardrobe. I couldn’t get all 250 items into one photo!

Think you couldn’t possibly do P333? Neither did I! I did a full inventory of all the wearable items I owned and I counted 250 that counted under the P333 rules (scarves, jewelry, shoes, clothing, coats). That means I packed away 85% of my wardrobe, or 217 things. I didn’t have to give away any of that, making the process less painful. However, since packing that all away, I’ve started the divestment process and have donated nearly 50 items and feel lighter with each one. I have more distance to go, but I’m only divesting because I’ve seen how good I feel when I have less! Alternatively, do you think you have a tiny wardrobe and don’t need to do P333? I challenge you to do an inventory and see just how much you really have – I sure startled myself with how much I own.

 

Confession: I Cheated Sometimes

A month’s worth of shoes!

 

The biggest challenge has been accessories. I cheated and wore a different pair of shoes once or twice, and I was given a couple of pieces of jewelry for Christmas that I wanted to show my gratitude for by wearing. I’ve probably only worn 5 things that weren’t in my 33 items, and that about a half-dozen times. If you do this challenge, I recommend adding in some mental flexibility for a little bit of cheating – but only after you’ve done it strictly for a while! I’ve also done a “soft finish” fading out the last week or so of the challenge and ended a few days early. After all, the challenge is customizable and it’s done the work for me that it needed to do!

 

P333 Is About So Much More Than Clothes

Yes, I even included my outerwear for a Winnipeg winter in the challenge!

What began as a sustainable fashion challenge turned out to teach me so much more. By focusing on the difference between wants and needs, I found myself realizing how much I’ve let my stuff own me, instead of serving me as it is supposed to. There’s the scarf I was given and rather like, but never wear, and makes me feel guilty whenever I see it. There’s the necklace that has pleasant memories but doesn’t fit my adult style. Or the T-shirt I got for free and don’t love, but wear out of obligation since it’s in the drawer. Or the expensive sweater I only wore once but can’t get rid of because “think of the money”. It’s amazing how often I’ve imputed emotions to my clothing, which is clearly just a set of inert objects! Doing P333 has given me permission to stop keeping items, even hobbies, in my life out of obligation. It requires looking honestly at who you are right now, at who you want to be, and what your priorities really are. That doesn’t mean I won’t be holding on to the camp shirts that bring back wonderful memories whenever I hug them, or that I’ll be tossing out the jewelry that was my grandmother’s last gift to me before she passed away. But it has allowed me to give away half my jewelry and get rid of that layer of guilt-inducing clutter. Now I get to enjoy wearing my favourite things: the most beautiful, the best quality, the ones that really do give me joy. I don’t have to dig through physical and emotional clutter to find what I really enjoy wearing; and maybe I’ll be able to spread that into other areas of my life as well.

Should you do this challenge? That’s for you to decide! It’s made a big difference in my life. If you do this challenge, make it your own. Have fewer items, have more items, include more categories than I did, include fewer categories than I did, do it for 30 days or 6 months, create a supplemental capsule for your Mexican getaway in the middle of February: break the rules to make it work for you. Project 333 has re-oriented my thinking on how much I need and how (and how much) I will consume going forwards. I’ll be “buying nice, not twice” and seeking out local fashion sources, reducing my dependence on fast fashion and all the problems that go along with it. Why not join me?.