10 lessons from Project 333: the ups and downs of my capsule wardrobe experience

Could you get by wearing the same handful of outfits for the next few months?

Courtney Carver’s wildly popular capsule wardrobe challenge Project 333 asks people to do just that: wearing only 33 items, including clothes, coats, shoes and accessories, for a three-month period.

I’ve reached the end of my Project 333 challenge and if you’re thinking about giving it a try yourself, here’s a warts-and-all account of how I’ve found the past three months:

1. Project 333 is harder than it sounds

I thought I had a pretty small wardrobe as it was, but limiting myself to 33 items was tough. I went on holiday and couldn’t wear flip-flops because they weren’t among my 33 pieces of clothing. I have to admit to questioning my commitment to the cause when I found myself barefoot on a beach, standing repeatedly on broken glass. (Note: broken-glass barefoot torture is not a compulsory part of minimalism)

2. Your clothing choices have to be pretty strategic

Project 333 doesn’t stop you from wearing bright or patterned clothing. But it’s easier if you can mix-and-match your items to create a variety of outfits, and I found myself coming back time and time again to my staples of plain greys, blacks and blues.

3. Limiting your choices can make life simpler

Most of the time, heading straight to a select few hangers each morning to pick out an outfit for the day was a pretty simple undertaking. Similarly, it didn’t take me long at all to choose what to wear on a night out with friends. And as for fancy occasions, my choice of dress, shoes, bag and necklace were pretty much made for me already.

4. You have to be on top of your laundry game

Do I wear the slightly-damp-from-the-washing-machine top, or the dirty top with yesterday’s cooking stain on it, into the office today? These were the glamorous choices I ended up making when I neglected to do the laundry for more than a few days at a time. (I went with damp, by the way)

5. The project will make you realise the value you get (or don’t get) from what you buy

This applies to people, like me, who rarely buy clothes as well as those who hit the shops all the time. In the three-month period, I bought one item of clothing – a good-quality new raincoat – which had left me with feelings of guilt and buyer’s remorse. I had still been battling debt at the time, and felt I’d succumbed to an unnecessary impulse purchase. The day after, I very nearly returned it. But it turned out to be one of my most frequently worn items. In hindsight, it was a good buy and I should have chilled the heck out about it.

Just as it will help shopaholics question excessive spending habits, it will help frugal types loosen up about buying higher-quality items, if they know they’re going to get a lot of value from them.

6. Build in some ‘wildcard’ choices to give yourself extra flexibility

When I first began Project 333, I chose 30 items and kept open three empty slots, which I called my ‘wildcards’. Boy, this came in handy. The slots were filled within a few weeks, because I’d been fairly bad at predicting everything I’d need for three months, hence the later barefoot-on-glass scenario. The three items I ended up selecting were:white scarf

A white scarf (which doubled up as a kind of shawl over sleeveless dresses)

pink and silver necklace

A necklace (I’d forgotten to add any jewellery to my list)

turquoise raincoat

My new raincoat

7. Take it all with a dash of humour if you don’t want it to add to your stress levels

Picture the scene a few weeks ago: A heavy shower had abated, leaving the late evening sunshine glistening over the newly cleansed streets. I’ve taken the opportunity to go on a quiet stroll around the neighbourhood with my wife and dog. I feel…content. Even my wellies feel comfortable, and I can splash through the puddles without a care in the… Hang on, wellies aren’t on my list!! Goddamn!!!!!!!!!

I spent the rest of the walk in a sulk, so mad at myself for having broken the rules. But if you read Courtney Carver’s great website, you’ll fairly soon realise that this is not the point of the experiment at all. She’s pretty clear that while there are rules, you’re then free to make them work for you. For me, the challenge was about trying to remove an element of stress from my life. So beating myself up over one mistake was hardly in the spirit of the endeavour.

8. People probably won’t notice

I had no comments from workmates about why I was wearing the same outfits to work day in, day out. I can only assume they hadn’t realised. People are usually taking less notice of you than you think they are.

9. When you reach the end, your original wardrobe will feel ridiculously extravangant

I have to admit, I really loved creaking open the drawer where I’d stashed all my other clothes. So much choice! I thoroughly enjoyed putting on long-lost favourites that I had taken for granted beforehand. I also – straight off the bat – got rid of nine or ten items I knew I didn’t need any more, either because I hadn’t missed them or they had been a staple during Project 333 and so I’d worn them to death.

10. One round of Project 333 is enough to give you a serious insight into simplifying your wardrobe for good

Many people go straight from one round of Project 333 into the next, choosing another 33 items which will see them through the next season, and repeating season after season. I guess living within those boundaries permanently helps them to simplify their lives, and that’s great.

But others – like me – work best by thinking of a strict challenge as an experiment of sorts, to see which elements to keep and which to leave behind.

Project 333 has helped me in many ways: I have a new appreciation for the things I own, I’ve found it easier to say goodbye to clothes I didn’t miss, it’s helped me pack light on a holiday and it’s also helped me get a greater sense of my personal style.

I’m now ready to take what I’ve learnt and apply it to my full wardrobe, building a smaller, permanent collection of the things I love but without feeling hemmed in by any self-imposed rules.

Do temporary challenges help you simplify? Have you tried Project 333? Share your experiences below.


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5 thoughts on “10 lessons from Project 333: the ups and downs of my capsule wardrobe experience

  1. Susan says:

    Less is better if the less is still “enough”. I think that is what the project is ultimately about and I love how game you were to try the challenge, even forgoing flip flops and wellies. 🙂

    1. LM Radja says:

      I agree with Susan. I tried 333 and while I could never get down to 33 items I did significantly reduce my wardrobe (per season) to less than 50. I have a core group of clothing that I wear and they are my most loved, most comfortable and most reached for items. Excitedly I actually wore out a pair of jeans recently! It was kind of thrilling that I had them for 5+ years and they just wore out. Felt like an achievement!!

  2. I’ve always been intrigued by the capsule wardrobe idea but have never taken the jump to actually doing it. I don’t have a huge wardrobe and even of that I tend to wear certain things much more often. I’m sure it would make things easier when getting dressed every morning but I’m not sure I’m willing to be restrictive about fashion, sometimes easy is great but I also like to play with fashion every so often.
    I do like your wildcard idea, that would help with keeping things fresh.

  3. Sandra says:

    I love reading your posts and I’m always so happy to see a new one in my inbox. I haven’t tried Project 33 yet but hope to do so in the autumn. I think what is important is to stay flexible and e.g. change flip flops for wellies when the weather asks for it but I understand how you wanted to be true to the Project 100 percent 🙂

  4. Within the past year, I reduced my year round clothing too one small closet. I know there is a bit more then 33, it has been refreshing knowing that this is everything. And also for once…wearing something out. I loved it. Thanks for sharing.

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