A Small Wardrobe Defines What’s Important

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tara Laxson.

I read about Project 333 a few months ago. I turned the idea over in my mind several times before taking on the challenge.

I knew where my struggle would be. There were items in my closet that did not fit me or my lifestyle, and yet, I didn’t want to let them go.

I picked a Saturday in March and made the decision to begin. I made great progress as I started sorting things into piles.

I started with the “love” pile. I ended up with 32 items that really define my lifestyle. They reflect who I am, the work I do and the places I go. These are the pieces of my wardrobe that feel like me.

The “donate” pile came together quickly. There were pieces of clothing and accessories that no longer (or never did) fit me or my lifestyle. Letting them go felt good, though I wished I would have donated them sooner so that someone could have been using them. Lesson learned.

As predicted, there were several items that didn’t make the “love” or “donate” piles. They didn’t look great on me or fit my lifestyle, but, they tugged at me. I boxed them up and put them in my closet. Over the next few weeks, I thought a lot about those items and why I didn’t want to part with them.

There were lots of different pieces in that box, a skirt that no longer fits, a pair of jeans I wore when I was much younger, tops that don’t look “right” on me, outfits I bought that don’t fit my life. They are pieces that engendered dissatisfaction. They didn’t reflect who I am now, instead, they reflected the woman I used to be, a woman I want to be, or, think I should be.

I realized with some sadness that holding on to these clothes meant holding on to the idea that who I am now isn’t enough. For years I’ve wasted mental energy sorting through a closet sprinkled with disappointments.

I completed the challenge a month ago. I donated the (unopened) box two weeks ago. Since then

  • getting dressed is a much simpler process. I have fewer choices, they all look great, and my wardrobe is easier to maintain.
  • I feel great when I look at my closet. There’s nothing in there that I don’t love.
  • I see myself more clearly. I’m better able to focus on the present and what my life looks like now.
  • I have more time and energy to devote to what’s important.

I’m grateful for this challenge. I could have cleaned out my closet on my own. But, like all the times before, I would have held on to things that no longer fit.

I feel more myself now. My clothes fit me. They project what I feel about myself and they fit the life I’m living now.

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  1. Delores says

    Maybe I’ve never really found my style. When I make a pile of the items I love, they fit me and I look and feel wonderful wearing them… BUT… they don’t really go together. And they aren’t really all one style. I have a whole lot of great pieces that don’t mix and match well, leaving me feeling I need a lot of support pieces. As an example, I don’t wear one length of skirt. So my skirts need different shoes/heights to look right. Some of my skirts are full and some are straight, needing different profiles in tops and jackets. I keep thinking if I pull it all out into piles some sort of pattern will emerge but so far no luck.


    • Marc says

      Hi Delores,

      I’ve been thinking about this problem, too, lately, when discussing the issue with some friends of mine. Though, being a man makes my view on it somehow a little different, I guess. For the male species, you can get along very well with jeans and t-shirts, and are even able to put a formal style jacket over your tee, to have something that will be identified as “fine clothes” or formal dressing. I have been doing it that way for almost twenty years now, and it worked fine. 😉

      Nevertheless my friends – as being ladies – were stuck in the same dilemma as you described it. Most of their personal style is made up by looking breathtakingly DIFFERENT every time you meet them. Here, in Europe, that’s an important thing that counts for “fine clothes” as well, when it comes to women. As far as I know from my US friends it’s pretty much the same over there. Wearing “the same” is often recognized as “being poor” or “carelessly dressed”. But I think we just have to identify this as “social tags” or just prejudices that do not have any rational foundation. Nevertheless we are judged that way by others. By others that don’t know us, it is. Inevitably. Maybe that’s what makes you feel a little uncomfortable in the back of your head.

      The true dilemma behind that is, that society demands from us to show that we possess a lot of things, to be accepted as successful, hard working and “socially integrated” and that we “blend in”. “No-havers” are “under-achievers”, freaks and whatever else- but: simply people that are different. By applying these unconscious “tags” to other people, no one cares for the fact that there is some rationale behind the things people do and a rationale behind not stuffing one’s life with “things”. No one cares for rationale, everyone cares for “blending in”. And people being (or only thinking) in a different way are simply suspicious to most of the folks. Plain as that. But it even affects our cupboards, obviously.

      In our discussion the rational mind came up with some sort of a “clothing matrix”. What we wear – apart from underwear – is simply defined by a “clothing matrix” that we tried to work out together: the two dominating factors are TEMPERATURE and OCCASION. What seemed enourmously helpful – at least in our discussion – was to draw a list. In the upper row just add all “occasions” or “activities” you normally do. Add everything you can think of, from “going to work”, “shopping”, “going out” to special occasions like “attending a friend’s wedding”. In the first column define temperature ranges or seasons. Then you can fill out every box with – at maximum – 2 ALTERNATIVES of what you wear top or bottom. They should also be combinable.

      It may lead to tough decisions, at times – but in order to get rid of the stuff, you’ll have to take them. If your list is complete, it will show exactly, which clothes you will actually NEED. And the 2-alternatives-rule will prevent you from leaving open too many alternatives for yourself, which will result in keeping a lot of clutter.

      By the time, when you look over your list again and again, you will find a way here and there to replace one or two things by others already in the list, or find more combinable items, and so reduce the number of clothing items further without any discomfort. It’s just a process. When purchasing something new, be sure to write it into your list and give away an item in your cupboard that it shall replace for it.

      Put everything – everything! – that does not appear on your list into a big box and donate it. You have to stick to your list for a while when dressing, before the uncomfortable feeling vanishes – but it will. It’s our inconscious fear of possible negative reactions of society, that often keeps us from being simply rational. And that make us join the rat-race of piling up possessions and “show-offs” – although hardly anyone can actually afford, and although that rat-race puts an enormous, incredible pressure on us.

      Remember that not everything is good solely because most people do it this or that way or judge everything different as “bad”. Good things come from rational, sensible thinking. Be proud of yourself that you are RATIONAL – instead of being thoughtless sheeple. It will put you above all “no-thinkers-but-followers” and much closer to a happy and free life.

      Hope that way of seeing it has helped a little. Sorry if there may be some odd expressions or clumsy explanation, English is not my first language and thus maybe not so polished.

      Good luck with your decluttering further on,


  2. MySummerTouch says

    Pick one item, ie a skirt and find a look in a magazine or internet with a similar skirt (pinterest is a good place to search a certain type of a garment). Start to assemble similar look, preferably frim clothes that you already own.
    Then pick the next thing from your closet, a similar look, etc.

  3. Sarah says

    Here’s my conundrum: My job has 2 very very different aspects to it. I am a project geologist for an environmental consulting firm and work both in an office and in the field (outside.) When I am in the office, I have a strict business professional dress code: skirts, trousers, blouses and cardigans. Guys have to wear ties every day. When I am in the field, it’s all jeans or work pants, Carhartt coveralls, steel toe boots and hard hats. And then you throw in hanging out at home: jeans and tees if i am working around the house, or fleece pants and a sweatshirt lounging around reading. I love the idea of project 333, but am kind of at a loss as to how to incorporate it into this crazy mishmash I inhabit. Ideas??

  4. Lulu says

    Hi Delores! Passing along tips in hopes that they also will help you-
    For now:
    Decide what looks work for you, considering job/hobbies/social life for your needs, and then choose what is *actually practical* and *flattering* for those occasions
    Only buy those supporting pieces for the looks that really work, let the rest of those items go find friends through eBay, charity, giveaway/swap party
    If you are undecided about some items then the turned hangers, boxed in storage tricks really help!
    Ask for help finding bits that work with different outfits, even hiring a pro could pay for itself

    For future:
    Plan purchases to work together, maybe try capsule dressing, and do not impulse shop (especially big sales) unless there is a fabulous return policy
    Again, I think that a good consultant can save you money in the long term helping you avoid purchases that aren’t right and wasting your wardrobe budget. Talk to him or her first and be sure you like the portfolio and that he or she understands YOU and not just trends.

  5. naeroe says

    Wow, what a terrific post! Thanks Tara, and thanks Courtney for inviting!

    Winter was so hectic, I never got an “official” 33-ish collection together, though my closet was skinnied down from previous years. This post is getting me back on the bandwagon!

    For Sarah: Maybe I’m wrong, but I think coveralls, steel toe boots, and hard hats shouldn’t count as part of your “wardrobe” – those would be like scrubs for a nurse or doctor, and I wouldn’t count those either, or maybe I’d count them at half value. The jeans would count only if you also wore them for non-“field” activities, like a casual evening out or a leisurely hike with friends.

    For Delores: The first and second seasons I created a 33-ish collection, I put a bunch of things aside that I really did strongly like. It was hard, but the freedom gained was so worth it. I told myself, I’ve gotten good use out of these pieces for several years – now it’s OK for someone else to get some use out of them. I ended up having to purchase 3 new things, to make my resultant wardrobe work, which made the separation easier. Maybe people like you and me just love too many things – not necessarily in a materialistic way, but just for enjoyment’s sake. Though it makes it harder to give things up, I found that the freedom and simplicity of a skinny closet were even more enjoyable than owning all those lovely clothes – and knowing the joy that someone else would get from a useful garment was a plus too. Good luck!