Saturday, August 16, 2014

Project 333 and Smart Shopping

"Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes." - Henry David Thoreau

For my entire adult life, I've had a slight obsession with my clothing. I'm on a never ending quest for the perfect wardrobe: If only I could buy that one perfect thing, my life will be complete!

It's strange because when I was a kid, my mom would buy me exactly four pairs of pants and four shirts during our annual back-to-school clothes shopping. I'd sometimes get clothes for Christmas and then I'd get shorts for summer, but that was it. I had outgrown the clothes from the year before, so my wardrobe was literally four pants and four shirts, and I was quite content. When I was older, I started buying my own clothes and succumbing to the pressures of fitting in.

Since then, I've had colleagues and professors who've worn the same two or three outfits every day. Although I noticed it, I never thought it was weird. In fact, it just seemed practical and, well, very professor-like. In other words, I think I've always admired people who could adopt a signature style and keep their wardrobe minimal, but I haven't been able to do it for myself.

Cue Project 333.

Project 333 works like this: Pare down your everyday wardrobe to 33 items and wear only those 33 items for 3 months. Mostly, this project is about de-cluttering closet space and simplifying the morning routine. It's also helpful with saving money on clothes shopping.

I tried starting this project way back in March. I quickly saw my biggest problem was that my favorite items didn't go together, and I had very few favorite items. If I got rid of everything but my favorites, I wouldn't be able to get dressed. As it was, if my favorite shirt was in the laundry, it would throw everything off. Frankly, I don't feel comfortable giving a t-shirt that kind of control over my life.

You think I'm joking, but I had to contend with the fact that I'm quite a bit heavier now than I'd like to be. That by itself isn't a crisis, but when I have to see a pair of pants I really like that I used to wear all the time that don't fit me anymore, I feel like crap. I've worked really hard over the years to accept the various shapes and sizes I come in. Giving pants the power to deconstruct all of that is unacceptable. Those pants had to get out of my face.

Obviously, this was going to be more difficult than I had anticipated, so I put the project on hold for a while. My wardrobe was already pretty small, but it wasn't functional. I needed more versatile, good quality clothing. Since I'm moving to a different climate and starting a new job, I figure now is a good time to start fresh. So much for Thoreau.

I did it in a planned way. I made a list of the items I definitely wanted to keep in the daily rotation and what went with what. Basically, for every top, I wanted to have two bottoms that would match, and for every bottom, I wanted to have two tops, so I wrote down, what if anything I needed to buy. I stuck to the list, and everything I bought served a purpose in the wardrobe.

At first it was frustrating to shop with a list because I couldn't just buy whatever looked pretty and was on sale. In the end, though, it was supremely gratifying. I only bought about six new pieces, and I knew I had found the right items because I had such a clear picture in my mind of what I needed and how I would wear it. It just required patience. 

My favorite outfit (left) and what I happen to be wearing today (right). 
I did stash away a few winter items and those stupid pants that don't fit. When October rolls around, I can revisit both the weather and waistline situation and adjust accordingly. Everything else was donated.

Exceptions: I didn't count underwear, workout clothes, loungewear/pajamas, leggings, shoes, and accessories. These are not things that have much effect on my daily clothing choices, and I don't have a habit of collecting a lot of them. I also freely give myself permission to replace items that I truly can't wear anymore such as my favorite jeans that now have a hole in them (yes, I can patch them, but I still need a decent pair of jeans that I can wear to work and a patched hole on the inner thigh means I won't be wearing them in front of students).

At last count, I had around 27 items (it's hard to know if I should count this or that item because it's something I wear so rarely), which gives me some wiggle room if I feel I need a couple more seasonal items. 

At some point I realized it wasn't about having exactly 33 items. Eventually, I'd like to get down to about 15 really great, everyday items and a handful of accessories that make me feel like I can play. You know, old school: 4 pants and 4 shirts (plus 3-4 dresses and 3-4 cardigans because I'm a grownup).

So it's not a magic number, but it's a structure to work with. I don't even know if I would still call what I'm doing Project 333, but it was a starting point to smarter shopping habits and a healthier relationship with my self-image.