Why I’m Taking on the Project 333 Challenge

It’s been almost three months since I started my “Recovering Shopaholic” journey and blog.  While I’ve made decent progress and learned some powerful lessons, I still have a long way to go in healing my compulsive shopping problem.  I still spend far too much time and energy on shopping, getting dressed, and managing my overly large wardrobe.  The portion of my life devoted to these pursuits is much too large and it’s taking away from my living a full and balanced life.

About two weeks ago, I decided to accelerate my progress.  One of the best ways to grow quickly is to take on a challenge that scares you, so I’ve opted to do just that!  Beginning April 1st (no, this isn’t an April Fools’ Joke!), I will begin Project 333, a minimalist fashion challenge created by Courtney Carver of the blog “Be More with Less.”

A Challenge to Dress With Less

Project 333For those who aren’t familiar with Project 333, here’s a brief overview.  For a period of three months, participants get dressed using only 33 wardrobe pieces.   Those who follow the challenge to the letter of the law include shoes, accessories, and outerwear in their 33 items, but many have modified the rules to meet their individual needs.

To decrease my anxiety and make the project more manageable during my first phase (yes, I may opt to do this more than once!), I’ve decided to only count clothing items this time around.   You can read more about the rules and process for starting Project 333 on this page and there is even a “Dress With Less” microcourse to help you get started, but the decision to begin is the hardest part.

Tipping the Balance for Project 333

I learned about Project 333 about a year ago.  I was intrigued by the challenge and saw some potential for myself in it, but I let fear get in the way of my getting started.  Only recently did I decide to “feel the fear and do it anyway” and declare to the world (via the mighty Internet) that I will start Project 333 on April 1st.

What finally tipped the balance for me to say yes to Project 333?  I am tired of being a slave to fashion.  I’m tired of always feeling the need for more, better, and newer clothes.  I’m tired of looking outside of myself for validation and proof that I am “enough.”

Every time I open my closet, I feel a sinking feeling.  There is just too much in there, yet I continue to want to shop and buy more to fill my closet and the empty pit within my soul.  But no matter how much I shop, I still feel empty.  Buying more stuff doesn’t fill the emptiness inside.  It simply glosses over it temporarily.  After that brief respite, I end up feeling worse for my weakness in spending too much money for things I just don’t need.

Dressing with Less - Project 333

Project 333 – From a packed closet to a minimalist wardrobe

Not All Boundaries are Effective

This year, I decided to put some boundaries on my shopping by setting a rule to buy only one item of clothing and one accessory per month.  I reasoned that this would focus my buying and lead me to purchase more quality pieces which fill an actual gap in my wardrobe.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.  The majority of the items I’ve purchased this year have either not been worn or worn only once thus far. Clearly, I’m still not making good decisions on what to buy – or maybe I don’t really need anything new. Revolutionary concept, I know!

My purchase limit rule may end up being good over the long run, but for now I need a radical change.  I need to take my focus away from shopping and managing a large wardrobe.  I must prove to myself that I don’t need to keep buying more and more in order to be well-dressed and stylish.  I also need to focus on other things in life besides what I look like and what I wear!    Although I know there are more important things in life, I have been living as if my wardrobe is the “be all, end all” of my existence.  I wonder what could be possible for me if I were to shift my attention onto other things?

The Storm Before the Calm…

Enter Project 333.   As I prepare to start the challenge next Monday, I have been focusing even more on my wardrobe, but I know this is temporary.  With a closet full of 300-plus items, there have been a lot of concerns around which pieces to pick and what to do with the items that I won’t be wearing over the next three months.

The creator of Project 333 clearly states that the time between deciding to do the project and when the three month phase begins is the toughest period.  Lots of fear, doubts, and anxiety are present and I find myself obsessing and worrying more about my wardrobe than I did before.  Yet I know that all of these fears will melt away as I experience the peace and joy of dressing with less.  If I trust the process and stay present to my experience, I know that I will learn powerful lessons and gain valuable insights along the way.

Will You Join Me for Project 333?

I invite you to join me in taking on the Project 333 challenge.  We can support each other and share our fears and insights over the next three months.  For those of you who aren’t ready to start Project 333 (or if it’s just not the right challenge for you), I hope my posts will still be educational and inspiring.  I will promise to be honest and share the good, bad, and ugly with you.  I will post my outfits from time to time and include style tips and suggestions as appropriate.

I feel I’m in for a quite a journey.  I’m excited to begin!  Stay tuned for my Project 333 item list and photos, to be posted early next week, and periodic updates throughout the course of the project.

If you’d like to learn more about how to do the Project 333 challenge, I highly recommend the “Dress with Less” microcourse from Courtney Carver, the creator of Project 333.

29 thoughts on “Why I’m Taking on the Project 333 Challenge

  1. I’m excited for you, too, Debbie. And for me! I am undertaking The Great Divestiture of Stuff this year. Really feeling the need to immensely simplify my life now. I, too, am beginning the 333 Project as to my wardrobe. I’m sure it will be an emotional journey (isn’t that crazy?), but, in the end, a satisfying one. Wishing both of us well!

    • Mary Ann, Thanks for your comment and congrats on your progress in simplifying your life and eliminating extra stuff from your house. I’ve been doing that for a long time, but my wardrobe was the one place that hadn’t caught up to everything else. Project 333 should help both of us a lot! Please check back in and let me know how you’re doing. Good luck!

  2. I think this will be really great for you! I have read through all of your posts and felt a bit like there was something missing on this journey of change. It reminded me of the fact that a person can’t quit smoking or drinking if they allow themselves just one cigarette or drink a month. They’ll still think about that “fix” and look forward to it. It still consumes a large part of them. And what they’re often left with is feeling about about themselves.
    Sometimes I think “cold turkey” is the best way to go to help get it out of your system and to realize what life is like when you’re in control of your addiction.
    I recognize what a large step this is for you and I think you’re going to feel so good about yourself!
    I look forward to continuing to read about your journey!

    • Emmy, Thanks for your comment and your encouragement! It took me a few months to be ready to take on Project 333. It’s true that I started my journey a bit cautiously, but after seeing that my progress was slower than I wanted, I became ready to do something more challenging.

      I have tried “cold turkey” with shopping in the past (mostly for financial reasons), but since I wasn’t addressing my underlying issues, I just went back to my old (bad) habits when I started to shop again. Project 333 is unique in that it has us look at ourselves and our attachment to clothes along the way. It makes us question what we really need and what is really enough. Of course, I will be able to say a lot more once the challenge is underway for me, but I feel strongly that it will make a big difference in my recovery. Even preparing for it, I’ve noticed a shift. I am more ready to let things go and to focus more on quality over quantity. We’ll see what else happens… I know I will be writing a lot about it, so stay tuned!

    • Thanks, Jane! I believe it will be transformative for me, too! I’m nervous, but also excited! I will definitely post my outfits, probably on a weekly basis.

  3. I am going with you Debbie. Two problems I am facing already: the temptation to shop for that perfect piece, and a sentimental attachment to clothes of the past.

    • Jori, So happy to have you along for the Project 333 challenge! I really identify with the first problem you mentioned! I want to include a black skirt in my 33 items. I have, believe it or not, NINE black skirts! However, I don’t think any of them are quite perfect and I have been tempted to shop for yet another. Same thing with jeans! I don’t have the sentimental issue, but Courtney (creator of Project 333) recommends taking a photo of yourself wearing the items and saving the photos (perhaps in an album) instead of the clothes. Maybe set a limit for how many sentimental items you’ll keep and then photograph the rest. The might help… Best of luck to you! Keep me posted.

  4. Hi Debbie
    Count me in as a groupie/cheerleader! I realized sometime last year that I have developed an overshopping problem and I’ve gradually been doing many of the things you are talking about (in particular, dealing with the underlying issues – the hardest part). Starting early this month, I’ve been on a total shopping ban. Contrary to my expectations, it’s been a fruitful and creative time and I’ve received an amazing amount of peer support. I’m very much looking forward to your new posts and want to send you a lot of positive energy…

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I’m glad to hear that your shopping ban has been a positive experience for you. It is often a good idea to take some time off from shopping to take the focus away from buying more and devote time and energy to other, more fruitful pursuits. It’s great that you are dealing with your underlying issues while you stay away from shopping. Thanks for sending me positive energy – it is much appreciated! Best of luck to you on your journey.

  5. Oh and a quick thought about ‘perfect’ items – perfectionism is one of the underlying issues I’m fighting. I’m trying to adopt a more tolerant attitude towards less-than-perfect both in myself and in items that I own and wear. Just understanding this pattern has helped, but I’ve found zen-derived mindfulness techniques even more helpful (learning to love something that is imperfect just because it is imperfect).

    • Some great points, here! I definitely struggle with perfectionism and like you, I am working on being more tolerant, particularly toward myself. I know I could benefit from meditation as well. Perhaps I will take that one with the extra time I gain from not ruminating on my wardrobe and shopping so much!

  6. Hello! I followed you here from your guest post on P333. I began P333 shortly into January this year, so I am closing in on the end of my first 3 months. Like you, I did not include jewelry in my tabulation. I did include shoes and two different coats. I swapped out a couple of items as I went along – there were a few items I chose that were not that useful to include in my count and there were a few pants I needed instead. I also love clothing and love to feel like I look well-put-together, so it really was a substantial challenge. However, I am so glad I decided to do P333 and I plan to do it again for the next season. I’m ending my first 3 month segment a little early, to transition into my spring clothing. I expect you will be very happy you tried P333. It has been very eye-opening for me.

  7. My first P333 session was the most challenging–but only during that waiting / planning period. Within a few days, I found myself wondering why I ever had a crammed closet. I can’t wait to read more about your journey!

    • Beverly, I was so glad to read your comment, as I have definitely been challenged during this planning period! I still haven’t finalized my list of 33, but I am in the home stretch now with only 2 days left before I start. I was happy to learn that things will likely feel much better once I actually start the project. I will be checking in to let everyone know how I’m doing and will post my 33 list with photos early in the week. I appreciate your support!

  8. Good luck! I have followed Project 333 for about a year and a half now. It is one of the best things I have done for myself. It has helped me better define a sense of style that never fails to get me a multitude of compliments for the way I dress. This spring has been kind of a challenge as I had to buy almost a whole new ‘pod’ ( as I like to call my seasonal selections) due to weight loss. Starting from scratch seemed so much harder than culling through what I had. Simplifying has also spilled over to all aspects of my life. Enjoy the journey!

    • Julie, Thanks for taking the time to tell me about your Project 333 experience. I love hearing from people who are “on the other side” and have learned a lot from their journey. I know that will be me before too long, too! I am not surprised that you are more in touch with your sense of style and are receiving compliments. Congrats on your weight loss! I know it can be hard to build a new wardrobe from scratch, but I’m sure that the knowledge you gained from Project 333 was helpful to you in that regard. Best wishes and continued success to you!

  9. Hi Debbie,
    I’m in.
    I’m going to cut it down to 33, and then replace like with like by sewing new clothes to replace the old over the three months. This should (I hope) stop me going out and stocking up on plain T shirts tomorrow and by the end of the three months I’ll hopefully have a wardrobe to be proud of rather than one to hide behind.
    I am going to exempt my work clothing because I work in a field where I get covered in paint.
    I’m going to treat my work clothes as “uniform supplied by an employer (me)” – I wouldn’t wear them for anything else anyway – they are covered in paint and full of holes!

    • Glad to have you along on Project 333 with me! I know we will grow and learn a lot in the process. How wonderful that you will be sewing new clothes! I don’t have that skill, but I admire those who do. You will probably end up with much nicer clothes, as the quality in things we buy is lacking these days 😦

      Please check in again and let me know how you’re doing. I’d love to hear how it goes for you and learn about the new clothes you sew to replace the old ones. Best wishes to you!

  10. Hi, I am new to your blog and have really enjoyed it (I started reading from the beginning). I joined project 333 more as an observer! I couldn’t bother boxing up my clothes. I have a huge wardrobe just like yours and found the task too daunting. Needless to say I haven’t been a star student of project 333, but I love what it has brought me — awareness. I am very aware of what I buy now. My standards have risen, any item I buy has to be perfect for me. I have also honed my personal style in the process. I have given away many items and have sold some too. I still catch myself wanting multiples of the same item, but I catch myself more now. I look forward to your progress. Keep smiling.

    • Marianne, Thank you for taking the time to comment and tell me about your experience with Project 333. I’m so glad that you have benefited from it in multiple ways! It is now 2 days from when I start the project and I AM finding the task of dealing with my non-P333 clothes daunting! Still figuring it out, but I know that part will be behind me in a few days.

      Thanks for your encouragement! I will give an update on what I selected and why early in the week. I will do my best to keep smiling 🙂

  11. My best friend turned me onto Project 333 a few weeks ago, and like you I spent a long time reading the site, and wondering how on earth a person could live with 33 items. Then I saw a photo of you standing before your pre-333 closet, and I said, “there goes me”.

    To give you a little background on myself, I am a graphic designer and illustrator. I am in love with color…all colors. Every six months, I wait with anticipation to learn what are the Pantone colors of the season. I am constantly researching color via fashion magazines, store displays and internet forecasts. Because I love color so much, I want to have them all represented in my closet.

    Once I got to really thinking about the Project 333 concept, I realized that I couldn’t jump in with just 33 items, here’s why:

    1. I already arrange my closet in six month increments: fall/winter and spring/summer. I like to wear my seasonal clothing for the full six months too before I switch out again. So for me, it makes more sense to just combine two 3 month periods and have 66 garments to work with for six months, at least to start. We’ll see how it goes.

    2. Because I am so into color, I know that I would get miserably bored and depressed with the limitations imposed by 33 garments (even for only 3 months), so my 66 method provides me a bridge way to still have color with less clothing. Who knows how I will feel about this as we go on!

    I realize this is not the way you are supposed to do it, but by the same token you are not supposed to make yourself miserable either. The project is supposed to be fun along the way, so I am taking a little poetic license. And as my friend says, “anything is better than nothing”.

    So with great enthusiasm I tackled my spring/summer wardrobe last week. To make a long story short, I got rid of 157 garments, about 2/3 going to a consignment store and the rest were donated. I got rid of 65% of my seasonal wardrobe.

    What have I learned about myself in this process so far?

    1. That I have purchased clothing primarily for several reasons: I like the color and its on trend, the garment speaks to a side of my personality that I would like to express, or it reminds me of something one of my close friends would like (not necessarily what I should be wearing!).

    2. I keep garments because: I love the fabric (whether or not it fits as well as it should), or I will wear it someday (just not today, because it either doesn’t fit or doesn’t go with anything).

    Culling through my wardrobe, I learned:

    1. There were a lot of things that I chose for the color that didn’t really suit me in style.

    2. I had collected color families of separates that only went together in theory, not practice.

    3. I was able to simplify my color choices by picking out specific colors that I am drawn to and then making sure that all the relevant separates actually go together in style as well as color. I was a little surprised at how much I was able to hone down this way.

    So, I thought I would share my take on the process with you. I agree it is daunting to get started, but also quite fun.

    • Deborah, Thanks so much for sharing your process with me and my readers! I can identify with SO much of what you wrote. I used to be a web designer and currently have a wardrobe styling business, and I LOVE color! Like you, I have purchased items because I liked the color or fabric, but didn’t aim for an “8” or higher in terms of fit and style. I’ve dramatically improved in this regard, but I still make that type of mistake at times.

      I do feel somewhat limited in terms of color with my 33-garment capsule, but I’m going to keep on keeping on and see what I learn. I don’t think that you’re “cheating” with the way you decided to approach the challenge. You are making the challenge work for you, much like I did when I decided to only include clothes in my 33 items, not shoes and accessories. No one would be able to argue with the amazing progress you’ve ALREADY made! The fact that you were able to release 65% of your wardrobe is excellent progress and my hat is off to you!

      I wish you the best of luck with your 66 items for 6 months challenge. Please check in again and let us all know how you’re doing. You are already an inspiration – bravo!

  12. I’m so glad I found your blog! I too, am a recovering shopaholic. It’s finally sinking in that having more, wanting to look good, and being stylish, does not make me who I am. It does not make me feel good inside. It makes me jealous, envious, and I find myself coveting what other women wear, and thinking, “If only”….I could find a dress like that, or why don’t I ever look that good? People look good when they have confidence, and are sure of themselves. I’m a Believer in Christ, and this is what I know…I know who I am in His eyes. He thinks I’m beautiful in all my imperfections and I need to be okay with that. I need to stop caring about what others think because He is the only one who matters and He loves me for me. Clothing isn’t going to make me feel beautiful, knowing who I am will.

    • Daphne, Welcome and thanks for your comment! I’ve definitely struggled with the envy issues, too. It sounds like you’ve really made some wonderful strides in changing your perspective, though, and I give you a lot of credit for that! It’s helpful to see ourselves through the loving eyes of others. You are so right that we need to know who we are and celebrate our strengths!

  13. I’ve read about project 333 a few times and haven’t been able to do this one yet. But I did a closet challenge my husband thought up and after 4 months, I’m close to the project 333 number (for clothing only). If I subtract my gear items, I’ve only been wearing 35 items the past 4 months. And to help myself realize how nice a closet with so few items can be, everything on ‘hold’ is packed up in another closet. Seeing how neat, organized, and un-stuffed my closet is now, has really helped me to keep from adding in too many items from the ‘holding zone.’ I’m curious how many items I’ll have once I restart the challenge for our spring/summer season.

    • How great, Lisa… you’ve done Project 333 unintentionally – love it! I wish I had more space to do your type of challenge. I live in a 2-bedroom apartment and don’t really have an extra closet to use as the “boutique,” but I might be able to make it work somehow. I will think about how to potentially do it and I see if my husband comes up with any ideas (he’s very inventive, just like your husband seems to be). I was scared to do Project 333, too, and only did it after the founder (Courtney Carver) dared me to! I’m glad she did, though, as I learned a lot through the process (as you’ll read – I think it’s so cool that you’re reading through all of my past posts and commenting!).

      • When I first started hubby’s challenge, I had everything on hangers and shelves in a separate closet. Unfortunately, the shelf broke (too much weight, whoops!) and I had to relocate the clothes to my working closet. I have everything in shopping bags right now, covered with tissue paper so I cannot see in (out of sight out of mind) and each bag is labeled with what’s inside (jeans, toppers, t-shirts, etc). Maybe you can do something similar? One nice thing is, when I get the itch to purge, I can do so by the bag, which is easier for me since it is a smaller amount. It seems like our recovery paths are quite similar, thanks for sharing your experiences and for responding to my comments.

      • I could certainly do something similar to what you describe as your “boutique.” I like the idea of labeling the bags and going through one item type at a time. What I’m doing now is using “the hanger trick” and seeing what I haven’t worn at the end of a given season. We don’t have true seasons here, but we have three sort-of seasons (more like spring/fall, summer, and semi-Winter). We’re zeroing in on the spring/fall season, so I’m going to re-evaluate soon. I’ve also been letting things go as I’ve gone along. I enjoy conversing with you and I’m happy you’re taking the time to read through my past posts!

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