After watching “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” on Netflix back in August, I felt inspired to start taking some steps to a simpler life, less focused on material goods.
Before I discuss minimalism any further, I want you to disassociate the image of minimalism within fashion & architecture – whereby you picture lifeless, white clad rooms with little or no objects in them. Yes, minimalists do have fewer things, but the movement looks different to each and every person. When I talk about minimalism from a lifestyle perspective, it is about being intentional with your actions and only owning items which serve a purpose to you.
For those of you who don’t know, the Project 333 challenge was initiated by Courtney Carver a few years back, and challenges people to make-do with 33 items in their wardrobe for 3 months. Courtney Carver is a protagonist in the minimalism scene, and you can check out her blog “Be More With Less” here. She also released a book on the Project 333 challenge earlier this year! Anyway, these 33 items are to also include bags, shoes & jewellery. Sounds daunting right?
But, I was intrigued…
I’ve never considered myself a fashion focused person, but over my early 20s I have accumulated many “bargains” or gifts from others that I feel guilty throwing out because “that’s worth so much” or “I might need that one day”. If truth be told, I have always hated the job of sorting out my wardrobe because of this guilt. However, the year of 2020 hit and (like many others) I was stuck at home mostly wearing the same clothes everyday anyway.
Even for someone who doesn’t care too much for fashion, 33 items seemed like so few. Here’s what I whittled my wardrobe down to:
I know it’s supposedly cheating by starting with 36 items, but those marked with an asterisk were only to be used IF required. I also included my engagement ring – which I think is rigorous counting on my behalf! It’s important to note, I didn’t include underwear, swimwear, luggage bags and pyjamas in my count. I later found out that these things don’t need to be included in the challenge, along with marital rings and gym wear – so I was safely within 33! Regardless, I happily packed everything else into storage boxes, so I didn’t find myself reaching for extra items from convenience. As I did this, I pre-empted some hurdles that I may face with the challenge:
- Feeling like I didn’t have anything to wear
- Coping with changes of season and “holiday” clothes
- Occasional wear which I required for work
- The general versatility of clothes – working from home, visiting the office, walking the dogs, playing team sports, going out for dinner, running to the supermarket etc.
From day 1 I have to admit that the effect was astounding. I never seemed to feel like I didn’t have anything to wear. And, because I “owned” so few items, I loved every single thing I wore and I felt fantastic in all of these clothes. It seems cliché, but I had genuinely felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. Not only did I not have to put much thought into what I was wearing each morning – but I also wasn’t confronted by an angry looking wardrobe bursting at the seams every day. Its one of those things that I have realised makes me subconsciously angry and was clouding my mind.
Within the first week or so however, the weather became unbearably hot. I faced my first major hurdle. Where it was so hot & sweaty my clothes were going into the wash bin faster. With only 2 vest tops & 2 pairs of shorts – my hot weather supply was short. At the same time, I also couldn’t fill the washing machine enough to warrant a wash. Similarly towards the end of the challenge – in October – I struggled with the number of “dog walk friendly” clothes, where they were more commonly becoming wet and/or muddy.
So, as I faced such challenges, my wardrobe organically grew. Where possible and appropriate, I tried to swap in/out items to stick as close to my original number as I could. For example, when I returned from my holidays in September I replaced my sandals with my Chelsea boots. All in all I ended up with a total of 43 items in my “current” wardrobe, with a total of 54 items being used in 3 months – not a shabby effort in my opinion! I did also gain 4 new items within 3 months: one gifted t-shirt from Kind Clothing, a black sports t-shirt, a new pair of trainers & some leather boots from the charity shop (my puppy ate my other ones!). Here’s a list of how my wardrobe ended up:
On review, here’s how I now feel about those initial challenges…
Feeling like I didn’t have anything to wear
From a fashion perspective, I never really felt like I had nothing to wear. I never felt unfashionable and as I stated, I loved everything I wore. I realised that I feel more fabulous in a black t-shirt and jeans than I did in a top I bought because it was “fashionable”, but didn’t suit my style. It’s actually helped me to understand what my style is…
Coping with changes of season and “holiday” clothes
This was probably my biggest anxiety heading into the challenge & the reason I thought it could be unachievable. Taking on the challenge on 7th August meant that I would be finishing on 7th November. Anyone reading from the UK will surely cringe at the thought of wearing August clothes in November?!
I faced this challenge as expected, but instead of giving up I swapped clothes in and out as applicable. When I found I REALLY needed some items, I gladly welcomed those things into my minimalised wardrobe. As I mentioned at the beginning: minimalism looks different for everyone involved.
Occasional wear which I required for work
I made some allowance for work wear at the beginning, but at the end I realised I had worn my more formal clothes only once in three months. I suppose the challenge here then translates to: could I have done this challenge if I wasn’t working from home? In all honesty, I think I would have struggled. Looking at my mostly male colleagues however, most people I work with wear a cycle of the same three or four shirts. I can’t wait to try this when I eventually return to the office… just to see if anyone notices!
The general versatility of clothes – working from home, visiting the office, walking the dogs, playing team sports, going out for dinner, running to the supermarket etc.
The clothes that I selected were a lot more versatile than I thought they would be. Jeans can be worn on a dog walk & to run to the supermarket, but also dressed up to look appropriate at work or to go out for dinner. I learned that relying on fewer clothes forced me to make the outfits versatile. The items that were less versatile – i.e. smart blouses – were barely worn at all. I now see such items holding less value than the items that can be worn for everything!
I didn’t make any allowances for party wear in this challenge, as I have a box full of dresses that I pull out for weddings, award ceremonies & formal parties under my bed. Given that it’s 2020 and all events are cancelled, I didn’t face this as a hurdle. On this journey however, I learned that you can rent clothes from places such as the Hurr Collective – something to definitely bare in mind for weddings and formal parties in the future!
To further sing the praises of the challenge, the impact that the challenge had on me has been remarkable. I gradually disassociated the sentiment of my clothes and hence their value as material items became clearer to me. I found myself quite early on really longing for a few items that I had left out of the challenge – a pair of my mums old flowy holiday trousers, and my cosy jumper on colder days. I knew a few items would definitely remain in my wardrobe after this challenge. However, even after just a few weeks in boxes, I had simply forgotten about many of the items that used to take up prime place in my wardrobe. Then, quite easily, I managed to reduce my wardrobe by about 60%. Guilt. Free.
I was also beginning to consume more content from self-proclaimed minimalists. I listened to “All That Remains” by Joshua Fields Milburn & Ryan Nicodemus and “The Minimalist Home” by Joshua Becker. I started to take down decorations in my home that were only there because they matched other pieces of decor in the room. I cleared out my kitchen and found out that we owned FOUR whisks. I stopped posting on Instagram “just because”, and started to make sure that I was posting with intent each time. I was beginning to view all aspects of my life in a different light, asking myself this simple question: “Does this serve a purpose to me – i.e. is it useful or does it bring me joy?”
I began to research further into the environmental impacts of overconsumption – conveniently at a similar time to David Attenborough’s “A Life on our Planet” documentary was released. I have been aware of the effects of fast fashion for a while, and if you’re not, then please check out this Unearthed article on the effects.
I also saw a fantastic blog post (which I now cannot find for the life of me!) regarding how charity shopping – although considered more ethical – is actually just a means of satisfying your need for material gain. I was now viewing at items that I bought second hand or in sales in a different way. Around the same time, I came across the below quote on Instagram stating “Would you have bought it if it wasn’t on sale?”, and that hit me with full force.
It was here that I found a little friction between the minimalist intention and my environmental morals. I couldn’t find the motivation to throw out all of the clothes I didn’t include in the challenge. Yes, I threw out about 60% – but I would not throw out the remaining items just to suit my minimalist goals. I cringed at the thought of having to replace the items in the future, contributing further to fast fashion.
Lastly, I need to briefly mention the economic benefit to consuming less. This isn’t something that I tracked, but its pretty obvious that if I buy less “stuff”, I will have a higher disposable income. I will therefore be able to spend this on things that are genuinely important to me. And – when it does come to needing to replace items of clothing – I will be able to spend more on sustainable, better quality items… which usually carry a higher price tag!
So overall – yes – I’ll admit that I failed the challenge. However, I do feel like it has sparked some positive change in me. I have made sense of a lot of thoughts & feelings I contained within myself, and hence the challenge has given me a new level of direction, motivation and consciousness. I have summarised three important lessons I have learned in the last 3 months from undertaking this challenge:
- Minimalism looks different for everyone involved.
- Memories are not in the items, they are in you!
- Over consumption is not sustainable, even if it comes from a “sustainable” source…
I have tried to link all of the information that helped me along this journey. If you have any questions or experiences about your minimalism journey, please feel free to share below…
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