The Minimalism Challenge You Need To Try: Project 333

By SarahT
In Style

Courtney Carver of Project 333 is coming to The Book House in Manchester on Monday, June 27, to speak about “being more, with less.” Project 333 is a three-month challenge that encourages people to minimize their wardrobes to 33 items or less, cutting out the clutter from the closet and in life. Carver guarantees that implementing a tiny wardrobe will have you looking and feeling your best.

Photo courtesy of StyleMy.

Photo courtesy of StyleMy.

In an age where more is more, why is “being more with less” such an important concept for people to understand/implement, especially when it comes to their wardrobes?
People are finding out that more isn’t more. For me, “more” resulted in a lot of debt, work that I didn’t care about, poor health, compromised relationships. The problem with that is that you don’t really recognize that as you’re going through it, so you think that the solution to not feeling good about things is even more.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2006, I realized that things had to change. Slowly but surely, I started simplifying my life, starting with diet, moving on to clutter and “stuff,” and then really thinking about my debt and how to get that paid off, and my time and how I spent my time and engaged in relationships.

In 2010, once I had really begun decluttering and noticing how much freer I felt with less stuff, I noticed that the closet was one place I had been avoiding. When I decided to start Project 333, I really wanted a challenge that would really help me consider what ‘enough’ meant to me, and challenge some of the ideas I had about my clothes and what I had to dress and look like on any given day. I decided to embark on a three-month experiment, dressing with 33 items or less, including shoes, accessories, jewelry and clothing. Today, five and a half years later, I still dress with 33 items or less every three months, because it has worked so well for me. It’s taught me so much about not just the closet, but my whole life and what I need and want.

What would you say is the most common problem/difficulty people face when taking part in the Project 333 challenge?
Without question, the biggest obstacle is fear. Before people even get started, they are worried about or afraid of what people will think. They’re afraid that they won’t have enough, that they will be bored. I’ve had the same apprehensions, so I could clearly see that this was happening. It’s really interesting; it seems to me that people consider the project for a few months or even up to a year before they jump in. Once they start, they realize that the challenge isn’t that challenging, and things are even easier than they were before. So the biggest challenge people face is that fear of “Will I be able to do this?”

How can a woman/man taking part in the Project 333 challenge still remain fashion-forward while taking part in the challenge? Or is it about moving away from that world?
I don’t know if I would consider it fashion-forward; I haven’t really thought about it in that context. But I think you can look even better than you do now by dressing with less. That’s the main thing. When I was doing the project, I was receiving more compliments. They weren’t “Oh, nice shoes,” or “Nice shirt,” but it was more, “You look good today,” or they couldn’t really put their finger on what it was.

I think for many people, myself included, once you stop trying to dress like someone else, or how magazines tell you that you should dress, or the person you think you’re supposed to be dressing like, you really dress for who you are, with clothes that fit your body and your lifestyle. When you’re dressing with fewer items, those items usually are simpler. They don’t have the excessive patterns or bells and whistles that some of the other clothes you might be buying to spruce up your wardrobe, so everything naturally feels better together.

Do you think this minimalist wardrobe movement will take hold and spread to the fashion industry? How do you think it will impact the overall industry, designers, and retailers?
I know that it’s definitely inspiring people on a one-on-one basis, to shop less. I have to think that, on any type of scale, it will have an impact. But I don’t know, it’s a really challenging situation when retailers are offering clothes for $4 or $10, or very inexpensively made clothes; it’s easy to buy a lot. It’s easy to think that you’re spending less, when in reality, you’re buying even more because it’s cheaper.

The main focus of the project is doing your part by starting with consuming less, dressing with less, owning less, not living in that fear of not having enough, where you’re constantly buying things. It’s thinking about the items you are purchasing. For the first season of Project 333, I recommend that people don’t buy anything new, that they try to work with what they have. As they move forward in curating their collections, that they think about where they buy their clothes, buying higher quality items that will last, so they don’t have to replace them like items that were poorly made.

What are the can’t-live-without piece(s) in your tiny wardrobe?|
Interestingly enough, I don’t have any. There is nothing in my wardrobe that I couldn’t live without. If you had asked me that question six years ago, before I started this, I could’ve named 50 things in my closet that I couldn’t live without. My mindset has definitely changed, in that it’s just not on that scale for me anymore.

But there are things that appear in almost every capsule collection that I have, like a pair of jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a black formal dress that I can wear to almost any occasion or event. Those are the main pieces; things that are very versatile that are comfortable not only on my body, but in my life—without being sweatpants or yoga pants.

That’s one of the caveats in the rules. Workout clothes don’t count towards your 33, but you have to wear your workout clothes to work out. That was a challenge for me, I think it was my daughter that said, “You have to stop wearing your yoga pants everywhere!”

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