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Simple is the New Black

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Person holding clothes hanger

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"A simple closet didn’t just change my wardrobe, it changed my whole life."

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As I was simplifying my stuff, there was one area of my home I ignored for a while … my closet. I just didn’t want to go there. My closet was the one place where I could continue to pick up a thing or two, and after all, clothing was a need. We need to wear clothes. By the time I decided to include the closet in my simplicity journey, I knew I couldn’t lean into this one. A slow approach to decluttering my closet wasn’t going to work. There were decades of clothes stuffed not only in my closet but in drawers, boxes in the garage, and other spaces in my home. I decided to go all in and create a challenge for myself.

I started minimalist fashion challenge Project 333 to figure out what I really wanted and needed in my closet. I challenged myself to dress with thirty-three items or less for three months including clothing, jewelry, accessories, and shoes. I didn’t count underwear, sleepwear, around the house loungewear, or workout gear. That said, to count as workout clothes, my workout clothes had to work out. My yoga pants had to go to yoga. If they were spending more time at the grocery store or out running errands, they would count toward the thirty-three items.

Project 333 started with a personal challenge to end closet chaos and further define what “enough” really means to me. Since the beginning of the challenge, so much has changed. A simple closet didn’t just change my wardrobe, it changed my whole life. I’ve completely redefined my relationship with stuff and shopping.

There were the easy‑to‑identify outside changes:

  • My mornings were easier.
  • I got ready on time.
  • I had more free time.
  • I saved money.
  • I was getting more compliments.

And then there were the more meaningful, life-changing inside shifts. I felt lighter with less guilt and decision fatigue. Seeing all the money I spent on clothing I didn’t wear or enjoy every day wore me down. When the stuff went, the guilt went with it. I had more attention for things I really cared about. Now that my weekends weren’t consumed with shopping, and I wasn’t searching the Internet for the best deal, I had time to consider what my real interests were. I began to find confidence in who I was instead of what I wore. I always thought I needed something new to wear to be confident. I needed the right heels to feel powerful, or a new dress to feel sexy, or a new jacket to feel put together and prepared. I felt all of those things and more without anything new. 

I learned so much from dressing with less, but there are five lessons that inspire me to continue to dress with thirty-three items every three months and to recommend it to others:

1. I need way less than I think to be happy. The more I had, the more I wanted. It seemed like my clothes needed more clothes. “That sweater would go great with those jeans I have,” I would think. Or, “A new scarf or belt will really pull this look together.” My constant quest for more resulted in frustration, overspending, and discontent. Choosing from a small selection of thirty-three made me feel light, and I almost immediately felt gratitude for what I had instead of thinking about the next thing I needed.

2. No one cares what I’m wearing. What a shock! People weren’t thinking about me all the time. All of the efforts to demonstrate who I was by what I wore went unnoticed. When I started the challenge, I was working full time in advertising sales for magazines targeting a very affluent audience. Between in office sales meetings, client lunches, and community events, I was out and about most of the time, with many of the same people. No one noticed I was wearing the same few things for three months. My colleagues didn’t notice, my clients didn’t notice. I actually received more compliments. I even wore the same dress to every holiday function and event that year.

3. Deciding what to wear requires mental energy better spent on other things. Have you ever experienced decision fatigue? Even the cereal aisle at the grocery store is overwhelming with choices. There are fourteen different kinds of Cheerios. According to Consumer Reports, between 1975 and 2008, the number of products in the average supermarket swelled from an average of 9,000 to 47,000. I remember trying on several outfits getting ready in the morning in hopes of finding the perfect thing. Now, in curating a small capsule wardrobe, there are no daily decisions required. I get to wear my favorite things every day.

4. A simple closet is the gateway to a simple life. Once you begin to enjoy the benefits of dressing with less, you’ll get very curious about living with less. Simplicity in the closet seeps into every other area of your home and life. Once I realized how little I needed in the closet not only to get by but to thrive, I wondered what else was holding me back from even more thriving and happiness. Did I really need all of those spatulas and wire whisks? Why was I holding on to CDs and their cases when my music was all digital? 

5. Simplicity is the way back to love. It’s been my way back to the people I love, work I love, and a life I love. By eliminating everything that doesn’t matter, I finally know what does. It’s love. (More on how this powerful idea can shape your simplicity journey as it did mine in section four.) You will never find something that makes you feel beautiful, smart, or loved until you believe you already are. And you are. Simplicity has transformed my heart, my health, and my whole life. I don’t spend my evenings poring over sales flyers or my weekends at the mall. I don’t covet my neighbor’s new car or Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection. I don’t compare what I wear to what you wear and I don’t measure my self-worth by my net worth.

This is an excerpt from Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver, published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Copyright 2017.


Courtney Carver launched her blog “Be More with Less” in 2010 and is one of the top bloggers in the world on the subject of minimalism. She has been featured in countless articles, podcasts, and interviews on simplicity, and is the creator of the minimalist fashion challenge, Project 333, which was featured in O Magazine and Real Simple.


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