Several months ago I came across Project 333, an exercise in simplifying your wardrobe (and hopefully your life). I was intrigued, because at the time I was feeling the drain of how many decisions I was making every day. I had trouble getting anything done in the morning, and it was mainly because I was trying to make too many decisions before I was even awake.
The premise of Project 333 is simple: choose only 33 items in your wardrobe to wear for the next three months. Ideally this would include outerwear, shoes, and accessories, but exclude workout clothes, pajamas, and underwear. However what I really like about Project 333 is how committed the founder is that the project shouldn’t be an exercise in suffering. She tells people that if limiting shoes is too hard, don’t include them. If three months is too long, try three weeks. And if an item gets damaged or no longer fits, replace it.
Last spring I opened up all my drawers and began pulling things. I wanted to choose what to keep rather than what to lose, which made it much easier. Pretty soon I had my 33 items and set to work hiding everything else. There’s a lot to be said about the effects of visual clutter, and I didn’t want to constantly look at things I wasn’t going to wear. I grabbed a bunch of scarves and began draping them everywhere. I moved all of my 33 pieces into one drawer and hid everything else in the others. Even though I wasn’t counting socks or underwear, I still went through them and hid about half of each in drawers that I wouldn’t bother opening for the next three months.
The project was a huge success. I credit my victory to the “this isn’t about suffering” philosophy it came with. I cheated plenty of times. Some were legitimate, like pulling out costume outfits for shows and theme parties. Other times I just wanted something more casual than my usual wardrobe, so I grabbed a t-shirt that wasn’t part of my 33. And along the way I switched out one or two items when I realized something else would be better. But none of that cheating matters, because I still solved my original problem. Every morning when I got up, the decision of what to wear was easy.
In July I picked out a new batch of 33 items, though many were the same ones from my first batch. In theory I still have 30 days to go before I switch out again, but after five months I’m wondering if the lesson I needed to learn wasn’t about living with less (which wasn’t hard), but about giving up some control. My problem wasn’t that I had an overflowing closet, but that every morning I approached my closet as a blank slate with all options open to me. Once I switched to only 33 items I had very few options, and you know what? I barely noticed or cared. Neither did anyone else. The only real problem was having to do laundry more often.
For me Project 333 wasn’t so much an exercise in minimalism of objects but in minimalism of effort. I have a simple style, and mentally going through the hundreds of permutations I could make between pants, shirts, and shoes doesn’t hold up to cost/benefit analysis. This is one part of my life where I’m no worse off for not thinking about it.
Perhaps my next experiment will be limit to my vision rather than my clothes. I might stack my sweaters directly on top of each other so I only ever see the top two. Those will be the sweaters I wear until they need to be washed, at which point new ones will be revealed. I’ll solve my laundry problem without adding back the unnecessary decision-making.
My sense of frugality will probably make it difficult to let go of perfectly good clothes even if I don’t wear them, so for now I’ll just have to keep hiding the things I don’t need to see. The scarves work wonders for that. And one day I’ll have to own up to another obvious problem: I own too many scarves.