My Top 8 Lessons from Project 333

This post is part two of my “debrief” on my Project 333 experience.  On Monday, I shared all of my Project 333 numbers, including how often I wore the various pieces of my wardrobe capsule, how many shoes and accessories I wore (I didn’t include these items in my 33), and my favorite outfits worn during the challenge.  Today I’m highlighting the top lessons I learned from my minimalist fashion experience.

Project 333 Minimalist Wardrobe

This was my April through June wardrobe – just 33 garments!

Project 333 “Back Story”

If you’re new to this blog or my Project 333 journey, here are some links to help bring you up to speed:

Lessons on Many Levels…

When I decided to do Project 333, I was definitely nervous.  I knew dressing with only 33 garments in my closet wouldn’t be easy, especially considering that I started this year with 272 items of clothing!  However, I was willing to experience this anxiety and discomfort, as I knew that doing the challenge would produce a great deal of growth and learning.  What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would learn and grow!  I experienced benefits I really couldn’t have foreseen, and I likely wouldn’t have believed anyone else if they told me about some of these “plusses” of Project 333.

Listed below are what I view as my “Top 8 Lessons” from doing Project 333.  These benefits fall under the categories of physical, emotional, and spiritual and are not listed in any particular order.  I’m sure these are not the only benefits of the challenge, but they are the ones that came to mind upon reflection.  If you have done Project 333 and have anything to add, I welcome your feedback!

Lesson #1:  Less Wardrobe Anxiety

I used to stare into a jam-packed closet each day, struggling for something to wear.  Although it seems unfathomable that one could think “I have nothing to wear” when looking at 272 garments, I swear it happened to me on many occasions.  What I now realize was that it was virtually impossible to make sense of so many clothes.  The “tyranny of choice” was driving me crazy and causing my head to spin!

With only 33 garments to choose from, getting dressed became a breeze.  I was able to compile outfits in minimal time and with very little stress involved.  I was late to far fewer appointments because the getting dressed portion of my morning routine had been streamlined.

Interestingly, as I opened my options again to my entire closet (now pared down to 174 garments) at the beginning of this month, the stressed-out feeling returned.   I had happily become accustomed to the ease and simplicity of fewer sartorial choices.  For that reason, I am strongly considering doing Project 333 again very soon (I’m currently writing down what I wear and will see what’s on my list once I reach 33).

Lesson #2:  Wardrobe Decluttering on Steroids!

Since the beginning of 2013, I have reduced the size of my wardrobe by approximately one-third (98 garments).  While I was gradually paring things down during the first three months of the year, Project 333 sent my wardrobe simplification process into overdrive.  Although the rules of the challenge specify that items not in one’s 33 be put away until the end of the term, I found myself going through my boxes every few weeks.  Just knowing how much I had irritated me and I wanted to downsize my wardrobe sooner.

The experience of dressing with only 33 garments showed me that I don’t need nearly as much as I once thought I did.   Once I really got this concept “in my bones,” it became much easier to release the ho-hum pieces that really weren’t serving me.  I’m sure I will pare things down even further as the weeks and months progress.

Lesson #3:  Raising My Standards

For years, I adhered to the philosophy of “more is more.”  I was constantly shopping and buying an overabundance of clothing to fill my closet.  In order to continue the flow of buy, buy, buy, I often skimped on quality.  I purchased a lot of knit garments made from synthetic fibers and with shoddy workmanship.  While I usually shopped at better stores like Nordstrom, I was always looking for a “good deal” and ignored the higher-end departments for the ones with lower-priced merchandise.

In selecting my 33 garments for Project 333, I tried to incorporate many of my favorite pieces.  However, as I wore these items over and over again, I noticed that their quality was not optimal.   I started to crave more special pieces made from natural fibers which would feel better against my skin. I also began to pay more attention to where my clothes were made and consider the ethics involved in the manufacture of what I’m wearing (reading “Overdressed” really opened my eyes to the downside of “fast fashion”!).

I now choose to purchase fewer garments of higher quality that are made with ethics and sustainability in mind. I still have a lot to learn about this topic and plan to share what I discover in a future series of posts.  I also welcome suggestions, resources, and guest posts on this and other topics!

Lesson #4:  Dressing Better & Evolving My Style

I’ve been taking photos of my outfits on and off for several years and shared my favorite outfits from the first three months of 2013 on this blog.  The purpose of the photos was to help me learn what I like and don’t like and assist me in evolving my style.  As part of my Project 333 experience, I committed to photographing all of my outfits and sharing them in my weekly update posts.

While I felt extremely self-conscious in sharing all of my looks, I’m now happy I stayed the course.  I noticed that I liked a larger portion of my outfits during Project 333 than in previous months and years.  Because I was forced to dress with fewer pieces, I became more creative in how I combined garments and in my accessorizing.  I was also wearing the things I liked most instead of pushing myself to wear my less beloved “wardrobe benchwarmers(many of which are now gone – update coming soon!).

Seeing all of my outfits in front of me also got me thinking more about how I want to dress and the style statement I’d like to project.  Although I’ve helped a lot of other people in developing their style, I have descended into some of my own personal style ruts.  Doing Project 333 helped me to identify these ruts and better understand how I ideally want to dress moving forward.

Lesson #5:  Noticing Patterns and Identifying Priorities

My outfit photos also allowed me to see patterns and areas of repetition in the way I dress.  I began to see how often I dress in a type of “uniform.”  As I wrote in “The Ups and Downs of Uniform Dressing,” there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with dressing by means of a formula.  However, I now desire more variety in the way I dress and feel the need to add a few more uniforms to the three standards I’ve been wearing in recent years.

I’ve also noticed that I wear too many dark colors and knit pieces, so I’ve placed a moratorium on buying these types of items for the time being.  Instead, I plan to focus on finding higher quality pants, skirts, and dresses, as well as a few blouses to incorporate more variety into my looks.   I’d also like to lighten things up a bit by adding a couple of light or bright bottoms to my wardrobe.

I don’t think I would have reached the above conclusions without the “pause” I gained through doing Project 333.  The challenge allowed me to take a few steps back and consider what I have instead of continually looking for what is cheap, compelling, and readily available to buy.

Lesson #6:  Appreciation for What I Have

Although I have identified a few priorities for my future shopping trips, I’m also appreciating my current wardrobe more as a result of Project 333.  My wardrobe is far from perfect, but I do have a number of pieces I really enjoy wearing.  I was excited to pull out many of my summer garments and start wearing them this month.  Many of them feel almost new since they’ve been out of my view for the past three months (and I haven’t worn them since last fall).

In addition to appreciating my wardrobe more, Project 333 has helped me feel more gratitude for other areas of my life.  After the first few weeks of anxiety around my pared down closet subsided, I began to focus less on my wardrobe and more on the rest of my life.  As dressing became easier, I had more time and energy to focus on other things.  I started to take more pleasure in the simple things in life, such as reading a book, listening to music, petting my cats, and taking long walks by the water with my husband.

Lesson #7:  Shifting Focus to “A Full Life”

When I started this blog in January, I came up with the tagline “Trade Your Full Closet for a Full Life.”  However, the majority of my posts thus far have centered on the full closet part of the equation.  It was difficult to consider much else when confronted with this each and every day:

My Closet Before Project 333

What my closet looked like before Project 333 – packed and overwhelming!

As I grew more accustomed to my much more minimalist Project 333 closet, my focus started to shift to the “full life” portion of this blog’s (and my life’s) mission.  I saw that I was bored more with my life than my wardrobe and started to consider what a “full life” really means.  I now feel ready and inspired to cultivate a fuller life and share my insights on this blog.  I’m excited to build a more fulfilling life for myself and hopefully inspire some of my readers to make similar changes.

Lesson #8:  Increased Connection

Many of my readers found me and my blog through the Project 333 website and social media channels.  If I hadn’t taken the leap to do Project 333 despite my trepidation, I may not have connected with many of you.   I would have missed out on a lot of great interaction through the comments sections of my posts and on Facebook and Twitter.  I truly value connecting with my readers and I’m grateful that Project 333 increased both my readership and my interaction with like-minded people around the world.

Three Short Months, Many Benefits!

As I wrote this post, I was struck by the many, many benefits I derived in only three short months of Project 333.  I’m reminded that growth and learning are frequently accelerated when we put ourselves out there and take on challenges that push us out of our comfort zones.  I’m glad I decided to “feel the fear and do it anyway” surrounding Project 333.

I know that many of you have also done Project 333 or a similar wardrobe challenge.  I’d love to hear about your experiences and what you learned from dressing with less.  Perhaps you’ll remind me of yet another benefit that I experienced but neglected to mention!

For those of you who haven’t done Project 333 but are considering taking it on, I highly recommend it!  I would be happy to answer any questions you have either before you start or along the way.

18 thoughts on “My Top 8 Lessons from Project 333

  1. Hi Debbie,
    I have been keeping up, but didn’t get around to commenting. You made some interesting observations, some which I can easily concur with since decluttering my closet . The last stage happened this past weekend when I sent off the clothes that I have shrunk out of even after having altered them. Two skinny jeans and two beautiful linen knits (yes, I do like my knits) were added, but my wardrobe is about half the size it was before. But, I have much better quality items and everything seems to have a purpose for being there. One of your readers commented on the frequency some garments are worn, and I wear many of mine more than 12 times a year. But as they are neutral in color and classic in cut, that is a positive in my world. Any top that makes me as happy with a pencil skirt as with a pair of jeans and does not look dated after a year or two is fine in my book. My jewelry and /or scarves do the yeoman’s work in adding interest. And as you point out, if your clothes feel good enough to make you happy you will appriciate them. Best wishes on your continued journey.

    • Congrats on your excellent progress with your wardrobe, Cornelia! How wonderful that you wear many of your pieces more than 12 times per year. There are only a handful of my items that make it out and about that often, but at least I’m headed in the right direction. I look forward to having a smaller wardrobe that makes me happy!

  2. Debbie, I am so proud of you (98 items gone!) and in awe of the many great things you learned from project 333!
    As I was reading your lessons learned I found myself nodding as I went along. All 8 are such good realizations that will always be with you and you can refer back to them if you ever start questioning the merits of your smaller wardrobe.
    When you mentioned wanting to work on your style statement I thought of Sally McGraw’s book Already Pretty ( She’s approaches style in a very positive way in the book and on her site and the book offers style exercises that I’m sure you’d find fun and challenging. 🙂
    I look forward to reading more about your journeys!

    • Thanks for the kudos, Emmy, and for the book recommendation. I’m actually a big fan of the “Already Pretty” blog and bought Sally’s book not long after it was released. Although I’ve read the book in its entirety, I have yet to take on the exercises. I agree that they could be helpful. More things to blog about, too! Stay tuned…

  3. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your Project 333 and can really identify with your lessons. I lost closet anxiety when I cleared out my closet too. Every day when I get home, I hang up the clothes I wore that day and put dirty items in the laundry, and lay out clothes for the next day. 5 minutes, tops. Such a relief!

    • It sounds like Project 333 has served you well, too! Love your blog title and will check it out. Congrats on your excellent wardrobe progress and to the end of closet anxiety. I’m not quite there yet, but well on my way.

  4. Great work Debbie! I’ve really been enjoying your posts in the short time I’ve been reading this blog, and look forward to more in the future.

    I’ve already noticed #1 and I’m only a week and a half into my first session! I am actually excited to get dressed in the morning, and have my outfits for the next week plotted out already!

    I wish I’d had the foresight to count how many items I had prior to my closet declutter and to track how many I’d given away. My declutter was space forced, a requirement of moving from a 922sqft condo with 2 walkin closets, to a 500sqft studio with a walk through closet that’s 35inches wide and 24inches deep on each side. And only one side is dedicated to clothing! I have also definitely noticed that it becomes easier to part with your clothing as you do it more. the first purge, I only got rid of a few things. Than the next time I got rid of a few more things. I swore I wasn’t going to part with any of my sports team tees and I’ve since cut that collection in half. Then this past weekend I got rid of even more clothing because I decided I didn’t want my mother to have to hold 30 gallon bins of clothing for me, and I wanted to pare down enough that the out-of-seasonal clothing would fit in my suitcase. I am definitely thinking about doing a count once I get my winter clothing back from my mom, and then seeing where else I can pare down. I will admit, I bought several shirts at Old Navy yesterday. Their Oxford button down is a wardrobe staple of mine, and they had some colors on clearance, so I purchased a few to replace well worn onces in preparation for the fall season.

    The next area to pare down is my shoe collection. I’m planning to invest in a pair of well made knee high riding boots, and then stop spending money every fall on a new pair because I wear out the pair of low quality boots. I have 6prs (!!) that don’t get worn much because they are so worn out, but I’d previously had trouble letting go of. When I do the great shoe purge of 2013, all but the least scuzzy pair, to be worn until I find a pair of boots I like, will go out the door to goodwill/dumpster. It’s one of those holes in my wardrobe that needs filling.

    Then it will be handbags. I think this will be the most difficult part for me. However, one does not need 17 wristlets/clutches, 7 wallets/change purses, and 15 different purses….

    • Thanks for sharing some of your journey with me and my readers, Melissa! I’ve been enjoying reading your blog entries about Project 333. It seems like you are learning a great deal in a short period of time. Like you, I’m getting rid of things in my closet in a sort of “phased approach.” I’ve noticed that my standards have continued to increase as time went by and I realized I didn’t need SO many things in my closet. I still have too many clothes, shoes, handbags, and accessories, too, but I now believe I will get it all down to a more manageable level. I look forward to reading your future Project 333 updates!

  5. Debbie, I’ve been following your posts with interest, though I did not participate in Project 333. I have been working steadily at decreasing the items in my closet and it is looking better all the time! I haven’t yet figured out what the optimal number of items is, but I’m working on figuring it out.

    I really like the idea of having fewer items but better quality. I have been working steadily toward that, and only allow myself to buy items that I really love. One thing I’ve found is that the more I declutter, the more I realize that I don’t really love many of the things I have. I started getting rid of things I disliked, that didn’t fit. Then moved to getting rid of things I didn’t like. Now I’m much pickier about what I buy & what I’m willing to wear. I’m definitely buying a LOT less!

    It’s an ongoing process. I hope to have only items that qualify for an 8-10 someday! I’ve also found I’m in a rut with wearing the same “uniform” all the time. I’m okay with that, as long as I have some variety for when we go out. Since I work at home I’m not really interested in dressing up every day. My standard jeans & t-shirt work fine for daily wear, I just want them to be good quality & well-fitted.

    One question I have… do you typically pack up your seasonal items? I don’t really know how many I have, since I live in Louisiana and my winter things are all packed away. I keep a couple of long sleeve tops out, along with light weight sweaters & jackets. I’m sure I’ll find a lot to donate when I get out the winter clothing!

    • Your experience sounds much like mine, Diane. I’ve found that my definition for what’s an 8-10 is changing over time. My standards are definitely increasing and that’s allowing me to purge more and to buy higher quality as time goes by. You’re right that it’s an ongoing process for most of us. There are those who can do it all at once, but they are rare. Most of us take steps forward as we feel comfortable and that’s fine, as we will still get to where we want to be.

      To answer your question, I often put out of season items in our other closet (my husband and I live in a two-bedroom apartment), but I haven’t truly packed things away in recent years except for when I did Project 333. We don’t get really distinct seasons here in Southern California, so I may need the summery clothing in January when we have unseasonably warm days. I usually want to keep them reasonably accessible. However, with Project 333, I have some items in 3 plastic bins and others hanging in the other closet. I’m only bringing things back into my closet as I wear them and that’s working out fairly well. I recommend that approach even for those who aren’t taking on Project 333!

  6. You should be really proud of yourself for all that you have accomplished. I think the personal things you mentioned are worth even so much more than the physical clearing out of your closet. It is amazing what this has opened up for you. There are a few blogs that I enjoy reading, and now yours is definitely one of my favorites. That is really saying something about you that people read what you have to say…and then come back to read more in future posts. Well done!

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful praise, Andrea! I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog and I am honored to have a nice group of committed readers like you. I work hard on my blog and I’m glad that my efforts are appreciated and that my words are helping people. I DO feel proud of myself for the changes I’ve made this year! Although I expected to shop less and pare down my wardrobe, many of the other changes have been unexpected, but I’m very happy they have come!

  7. I have been traveling along with you these weeks and purging my own wardrobe with great enthusiasm. I feel a lot better about my clothing too, and its a lot less stressful to get dressed every day when pieces work together.

    My latest rediscovery is a gem of a book that I had “forgotten” about as I was reworking my closet, and I think its a worthy project for everyone: The Color of Style, by David Zyla. In this book you will learn how to identify your best wardrobe colors based on your personal coloring. Zyla, a professional stylist, touches on the seasonal color approach but takes it a giant leap forward–because the palette you develop is truly unique to you alone. I have had a surprising learning experience from this book, and what I have learned from it is going to help me cull through my fall winter wardrobe way more efficiently when the time comes, because I already know there are some totally wrong colors that need to go! Just because I like a color doesn’t mean it looks good on me!

    Here is a funny story. Shortly after I did my colors the Zyla way, I spied a Ralph Lauren matte jersey summer dress in my particular red (which Zyla refers to as your “romantic” color) on sale at one of my favorite retailers. Red has always been a problematic color for me, because many reds look simply too harsh even though I have contrasty coloring. I had always been told I was a Winter, but the reds in the winter palette just never seemed right for me. After I analyzed my perfect red to be a rich coral red–when I saw this dress in the exact color, I said, “how often does THAT happen?” I had to at least TRY it. So I got the dress home and hung it up to think about, because for me the idea of a red dress is a little intimidating. I put the dress on with some trepidation…but when I saw myself in the mirror, I was actually amazed. The dress, a softly draped sheath with a scoop neckline with artful twists to the fabric, glided smoothly over my body and fit perfectly. A proper dress in terms of skin exposure–no slits, no cleavage, but because the color was my red, it made me light up like a valentine and I was astonished. It is one of those dresses that I’m not sure if I have the confidence to carry off even though it looks beautiful on me! And I said to myself, “that David Zyla really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to color!”

    • I always love reading your comments, Deby! You really know how to paint a picture with your words. I felt like I could actually see the beautiful red dress you described! The book you mentioned sounds intriguing and I’m going to add it to my list of books to read soon. I don’t feel confused about color, but there is ALWAYS more to be learned! I know you know a lot about color, but it sounds like the book made a big difference for you. That’s a ringing endorsement and I hope some of my readers decide to check it out. Congrats on your excellent wardrobe progress! I know you will continue to make changes, as I will, and I’m happy to have you along on my journey.

  8. The photo of your “before” closet shows how overwhelming it must have been to make your daily clothing selection. You are spot on in your observations that we often settle for quantity over quality. I have always had a small wardrobe (more or less 100 items sans undies for all four seasons) due to limited closet space. I try to focus on quality in my limited purchases but it’s getting harder and harder to find well-made clothing no matter where I look for it. I now only buy to replace items in my well-edited collection of clothing and I spend next to nothing (under $300 a year) on clothing, including lingerie and shoes. This keeps me out of stores and limits on-line shopping — thus reducing the temptation to buy stuff I don’t need. Due to the need to purchase some sandals to replace a 7-year-old pair that bit the dust, I am nearing my annual clothing budget limit. So I will be dialing back even more.

    • There is something to be said for limited closet space, Dottie! Believe it or not, I used to have THREE closets full of clothes when I lived in a bigger place. But even so, my closet at the beginning of this year WAS truly overwhelming! I hope to have a smaller, more functional and higher quality wardrobe like you do sometime soon. Project 333 has definitely helped! Having a set budget that one adheres to is a good way to keep things under control, too, as long as one doesn’t overdo it at thrift stores. I’ve been known to do that when I was low on cash. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, thrift and consignment stores can be excellent resources as long as one still shops with a list and keeps quality and fit (for both body and lifestyle) in mind. Congrats on being able to cultivate and maintain a manageable wardrobe that makes you happy!

  9. I am nodding my head along with your observations. I’ve also noticed, when working with a smaller wardrobe, it is far easier to rotate your clothes, so that you wear them all more equally.

    I also have found that I am more prone to remixing items to freshen up my outfits. It’s become a little game, how many ways can I remix the pieces in my working closet? Sometimes I come up with a ‘meh’ look that I will not repeat, but other times, I come up with a new combination I really like. I still repeat favorite combinations often, but when I want to freshen things up, I’ll start a remix challenge for a week.

    • Remixing was one of the best benefits of Project 333. Since I really love clothes and variety, I was forced to be much more creative when dressing with fewer pieces. I found some fresh new combos to enjoy and used my accessories and scarves more often (since I didn’t include those in the 33). Like you, I had some “meh” outfits (I’m sure you saw those in the photos…), but I was happy with far more outfits than I would have thought when dressing with only 33 garments for three months. I truly learned a great deal in those three months and I’m so glad I did it!

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