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What I Learned From 33 Articles of Clothing

The following post is from Joshua of Becoming Minimalist:

empty closet
source: Todd Metcalfe

I can remember where I was sitting when I first heard about Project 333. I was sitting in my mother-in-law’s house in Omaha, NE, when one of my friends mentioned that she was picking out her clothes for Project 333.

I was intrigued. And then, next thing I knew, I was in.

Project 333, founded by Courtney Carver, is a 3-month long experiment in personal fashion.

The rules are pretty simple: Wear only 33 articles of clothing for the next 3 months. All clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes count towards your number. But exceptions include wedding ring, underwear, sleep wear, in-home lounge wear,  and workout clothing. Clothing that no longer fits or becomes in poor condition may be replaced during the time period.

I decided to try it for a number of reasons:

1. The project sounded both challenging and reasonable

2. Pushing personal limits can be life-changing

3. The Project 333 community seemed encouraging

4. I like a good challenge

Thus, the project began on October 1 and concluded on December 31.

To be fair to myself and the community, I broke the rules twice during the 3-month experiment (once during a trip to Phoenix when I wore an uncounted pair of shorts and once during an Ugly Sweater Christmas party when I wore an uncounted ugly sweater). But other than that, I was able to stick to the rules of 33 articles of clothing with only minimal adjustments to my weekly routine.

Project 333 is not about forced suffering. It’s about setting boundaries in our life. It’s about experimenting with life inside them. And ultimately, it’s about improving our lives through them.

Consider for a moment, the benefits of life within boundaries:

1. Boundaries keep us restrained.

Artificial boundaries can keep us in check when our natural self-control does not. Over the years, I have amassed a closet full of clothes – far more than I truly need. Looking back, I am embarrassed at the amount of time, money, energy, and attention devoted to my clothes.

In similar ways, the average American carries $8,000 in credit card debt and watches over 35 hours of television per week. We are in need of boundaries. Good parents set boundaries for their children…and good adults should set boundaries for themselves.

2. Boundaries force our values.

When you are challenged to pare down your clothing to 33 items, you are forced to identify which items are absolutely necessary. You are forced to single out the most important, most versatile, and most loved items. You are required to identify the most valuable things in your closet.

Similarly, boundaries in life help to force this exact same thought process — just ask anyone who has ever been given a limited amount of time left to live.

3. Boundaries promote creativity.

Orson Wells said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Limiting your clothing items to 33 items for 3 months forces art. Limiting your wardrobe does not rob you of personal style…it causes you to truly find it.

4. Boundaries bring freedom.

This may sound contradictory…and depending on the exact boundaries, it may be. But in the example of clothing, I found great freedom in the project. So much so, that even though I’ve finished the project, my closet still holds only 33 items. It has been three weeks since the challenge, and I have not added anything to it.

It’s a refreshing feeling to look inside a closet and see only clothes that you love. Getting ready in the morning is less time-consuming. Laundry is easier. And I’ve saved a few dollars over the 3 months as well. This experiment has literally granted me more time, energy, and money — the very things I was losing without it.

For me, Project 333 became something far greater than wearing fewer articles of clothing. It became about recognizing the value of boundaries. And the value of boundaries reaches far beyond our closets. It begins to spill into how we decorate our homes, the toys we buy for our children, our yarn supplies, and even how we choose to spend our time, money, and energy.

Since its introduction late last fall, Project 333 has received media attention from numerous media outlets. Its community has grown rapidly, an increasing number of people have signed on, and a new Project 333 website was born.

Would boundaries benefit your life as well?

Joshua Becker inspires and encourages others to live with less on his blog, Becoming Minimalist. He has also authored two e-books, Simplify and Inside-Out Simplicity. But more importantly, he loves his wife and two small children.