9 tips for a minimalist wardrobe challenge

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Project 333 encourages minimalizing your wardrobe to 33 items for a 3-month period. (Stock Photo)

Project 333 encourages minimizing your wardrobe to 33 items for a 3-month period of time. (Stock Photo)

Sorting through your clothes as part of spring-cleaning can be simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed at the sheer number of items packed into your closet but underwhelmed with the actual offerings; nothing fits or makes you feel great.

Instead of heading out on an emotionally fueled shopping spree, consider this alternative: a three-month long minimalist fashion challenge.

Project 333 was founded by Courtney Carver, a Salt Lake City blogger behind Be More with Less. In 2010, after several years of simplifying her life following an multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Carver decided it was time to downsize her closet. What she came up with was Project 333, a challenge that invites people to dress with 33 items or less for three months. Intrigued? Read on for her tips for getting started:

1. Just do it.

Don’t wait for the perfect time to get started. Carver hosts four “official” Project 333 challenges each year but you can start anytime you want. Don’t wait until you think you finally every item on Vogue’s spring must-haves list or until you go down a dress size. Jump in and hope for the best, Carver says.

2. Start with what you have.

Resist the urge to buy an entirely new wardrobe before starting a Project 333 challenge. In fact, Carver recommends not buying anything new before doing Project 333 for the first time. “In the beginning I decided I wasn’t going to buy anything new so I just worked with what I had,” Carver says. “I wanted to get through those three months and see what I really liked. I didn’t even know what I liked or what I felt good in.”

3. Select your favorite things.

Ideally, a Project 333 will help you whittle your wardrobe down to clothing you really love and feel great in. “I wear my favorite things every day because that is what I have in my closet,” Carver says. “I’m never wondering what I should be wearing.”

4. Fill in wardrobe gaps with quality pieces.

Ideally you won’t buy anything during a Project 333 challenge, but if disaster strikes — a necessary item of clothing is ruined — try to buy the best-quality clothing you can afford.”I really aim not to buy throwaway stuff,” Carver says. “I buy things that will last, and I’m thoughtful about what it is I buy. It has to fit my body very comfortably and it has to fit my lifestyle very comfortably.”

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5. Pack up clothes you aren’t using.

Don’t donate every item of clothing that doesn’t make the cut for your first Project 333 challenge. Pack it all up instead and move it out of your closet. “For sure for the first three months, I think there is definitely something to out of sight, out of mind,” Carver says. “Don’t have that distraction of other clothes pushed in the back of your closet.” Assess clothes that didn’t make the cut after your challenge is complete and you’ll have a better handle on what you truly love versus what you bought to make you feel good in the moment. “… Just having that three months apart, that attachment to most of my clothes went away,” Carver recalled. “Most of it I thought, ‘I can’t even believe I used to wear that.'”

6. Use the Internet for inspiration.

Thanks to the Internet there is a plethora of Project 333 resources at your fingertips. Try the Project 333 Community Pinterest Board, the Facebook group or search the hashtag #Project333 on Instagram. Carver’s website, Be More with Less, has a Project 333 page with links to articles about the minimalist fashion challenge. Carver is also hosting a Tiny Wardrobe Tour in Salt Lake City on May 11, where you can see exactly what her tiny wardrobe looks like.

7. Remember it’s only three months.

Most people are scared to try a Project 333, but Carver says it’s so much easier than it sounds. “I think it most cases, there is a lot of fear surrounding it. Fear that you won’t have enough to wear, fear that you’ll be bored, fear that people will notice you wearing the same clothes, fear of letting go,” she says. But it’s only three months. “Don’t put it off thinking it’s a life-long commitment,” she says. “It’s an experiment in seeing and defining what is enough to you. I think when you frame it like that it feels fun and adventurous versus a chore and sacrifice.”

8. Shop smart between challenges.

Ideally, completing a Project 333 will alter your quick-fix shopping habits. “It completely redefined the way I shop and spend. I never go just looking aimlessly for something. I don’t shop for every event and emotion like I used to,” Carver says. As she plans her next capsule wardrobe, generally about 20 items will transfer from one season to the next. After filling in the gaps with clothing she’s packed away, Carver only shops for specific items needed, like a white button-down shirt or a blazer. “I know exactly what it is that I need and I look for that specific item. That doesn’t happen every season or even every year, whereas before shopping was a weekend thing,” she says.

9. Think beyond fashion.

Although Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge, at its heart it is about simplifying your life and not about clothing and fashion. People have written to Carver about how the challenge helped lessen their anxiety or improve their relationships, to name a few benefits. “It’s very powerful, which is why I always say don’t get caught up on the clothes and fashion end of it because it’s so much more than that. If you enter into it looking for what’s beyond that you not only get to notice the benefits faster but you also notice how much more time, space, money and energy you have to devote to things you are really interested in.”

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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