Wednesday, August 20, 2014

33333 (The Project 333 Wardrobe Challenge, on a 33 foot Boat)

Developing a 33-item list

About 17 years ago, before we even owned a boat, much less thought about what kind of radical downsizing it would take to live on one, I met my friend Krysty Anne in an online message board devoted to simplifying your life.  So the two of us have been chatting about redefining your relationship to your possessions, and how mainstream society has evolved in this, for a long time. Even though she is an old hand at this streamlining possessions game, when she pointed me to this minimalist challenge called Project 333 she told me she envisioned that it would be hard: dress with 33 items including clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes, for 3 months.  The website gives you a few exceptions; the 33 items doesn’t include your wedding ring or another sentimental piece of jewelry that you never take off, underwear, sleep wear, in-home lounge wear,  and workout clothing (you can only wear your workout clothing to work out). In her email to me, Krysty Anne said that when she saw the challenge she thought of me immediately, given the space constraints of our boat life.

“Sure thing!”  I thought to myself.  “This is gonna be easy…Krysty Anne is right, this is just my ordinary life, given how tiny my clothing locker is.  And besides, everything I buy I have to be able to hand wash using limited water, and air dry, if we're away from civilization for a while so my selection has always been limited.  I bet if I simply listed what I own, right now, no preparation at all, it wouldn’t be much more than 33 items.  I just don’t have the space for more, haven’t since we moved aboard.  Watch me breeze through this so-called “challenge!”  Let me show you how it’s done.”

So I went into my clothing locker with pencil and paper and started to make a list. I got to 27 shirts alone and my cocky attitude evaporated.   Maybe when we first moved aboard almost 13 years ago,  I had started with only a few carefully coordinated outfits per season, but over time, I’d pick up a t-shirt from a festival or got a scarf as a gift, and pretty soon the locker is crammed to capacity and the 33-item limit is receding in the rear-view mirror.  Maybe this would be a good challenge for me to do, a bit more humbly than I first thought!  It’s apparently time to purge my lockers again, and maybe get some insights.

Sixteen tops, seven pants, and ten shoes, accessories, and other items would bring me to 33 pieces to wear for the summer.  I got my list of 27 shirts and started numbering my favorites in order.  Number one was easy -- a dark teal drapey v-neck; number two was a gray Hawaiian shirt with dancing dolphins, and number three a t-shirt that proudly reads “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”  I continued and when I got to sixteen I looked back over the list, and at what didn’t make the cut.  Hmm, not too bad: I have 3 nice tops, 2 sun-protective long sleeve shirts for sailing, one Hawaiian shirt, and ten tees (three with printed messages or logos from festivals, six plain slim-fitting v-neck ones for every day, and one long sleeve.)  And they are all things that I find fun to wear, or that have sentimental meaning for me, and that I think I look good in.

After I finished with the tops, I started on bottoms.  According to my list I had thirteen pants and shorts in the locker (I never wear skirts) so I had plenty to choose from – or so I thought.  I started ticking off my favorites, as I had done with the tops.  Number one was the great pair of jeans that were a hand-me-down from my BFF Karen, numbers two and three were lightweight gray everyday pants and black dress pants, number four was a cute pair of gray shorts (another Karen hand-me-down, the girl’s got style), number five was … um, um, err… I had written “old” next to the entry for “khaki twill pants;” their hems and pocket edges were frayed.  I’d written “NQR” next to the brown shorts, the black shorts, and the white pants.  NQR: Not Quite Right.  Too baggy in the hips or too tight in the waist or too short, these were more or less placeholders; I needed a pair of white pants in a hurry for some reason, or they were on sale, and though they weren’t perfect they would get me by until I found a better one, but I never bothered to shop for that better-fitting one, and never felt great wearing the one I had.  I had written “H” next to the jeans with the sparkly pockets; H stood for “hanging out at home only, do not be seen in public in these. Yes, they make your butt look fat, LOL.”

Clearly if I only was going to wear seven pairs of pants for the next 3 months I’d like them to be ones I felt good in.  But I only had four that made the cut.  Four! And this was the first advantage I gained from the Project 333 challenge – it had pointed out to me that I was wasting my very limited space on nine pairs of pants that I didn’t like.  I sort of knew something was wrong when it was laundry time.  I would have to do laundry because I had “nothing to wear.”  But the locker wasn’t completely empty, so how could I have “nothing to wear?” I didn't have "nothing to wear" -- I had nothing I wanted to wear.  BIG difference! Now I could quantify it – nine of 13 – almost three quarters – of my pants, were items I didn’t like.  Time for some simplifying, and a shopping trip. If I was going to own fewer pieces, each one was going to work harder, and I could spend more money for each one for the same overall clothing budget.

The last ten items were the easiest: purse, 3 pairs of shoes (yes, those same black and bronze ballet flats I wrote about before made the list), hat, raincoat, sweatshirt, belt, sunglasses, and earrings.

I’ve said before that keeping things all in one colorway was critical for fitting my business wardrobe aboard, so that I only needed one set of shoes-socks-belt-purse accessories (not black and brown and navy blue, for example.)  So I looked over my final choices paying attention to how each worked with everything else in my newly-streamlined clothing locker.  I looked over the collection and got my second startling revelation after learning that I only liked four pairs of my pants.  Six of my shirts were pink! I don’t do pink!  The color looks decent on someone of my ethnicity and skin tone, but there’s just flat out too much cultural baggage for me, child of the sixties, one of only two girls in the advanced math class from my school, and all that.  Pink – how the heck did I end up with so much pink? Chalk it up to another insight from this project.  I feel like I need to apologize and make excuses and explain, give you the backstory on how each of these came into my life just to prove it wasn’t on purpose, that I wasn’t collecting pink: for example, the Washington Cherry Blossom festival shirt is pink because, well, cherry blossoms are pink, so what other color could a festival celebrating them possibly be; and the one with marbleized swirls was a gift from Karen that she said reminded her of an art project we did in our sophomore year in college (she’s right, it does); the “well-behaved women never make history” shirt was only available in that one color, and frankly because of the cultural association of pink wouldn’t have quite as much impact if it were any other color like green or black; and so on.) So there you have it, “it is what it is.” Oh, and when I pick out my 33 items for autumn?  Count on it – I’ll be looking for gray, or orange, or blue, or brown … anything but pink! 

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Details for those also in the Project 333 challenge:

We drove to Annapolis for a two week visit in mid-July, and the overwhelming value of this challenge became apparent, because I didn’t have to think about what to pack. I merely gathered my 33 items and put them in one (small) duffel bag, and I was done.  Perfect!

I gave myself 3 exemptions.  The first was for sailing related items, like my sea boots and sailing gloves; and swimsuits.  Another was for the grungy, its-okay-to-get-paint-on-them clothes I wear around the boatyard or for scrubbing the bilge.  The third was for historical reenactment garb.  Because, really, it’s not like I’m going to wear my sword to the grocery store or sea boots to a restaurant.  Those specialized items just don’t work for everyday street wear!

After about six weeks, I realized that I wasn’t missing my packed-away clothing at all.  Thirty-three items was plenty.  What I was missing was variety in jewelry.  I have a long, narrow face and earrings really liven me up, you’d almost never see me without two in each ear.  I had started the challenge by choosing a pairing that I thought I could wear every day: a small diamond stud above a modern black onyx and silver swirl that I had bought on vacation last winter.  I love the combination, but it was getting old.  To keep things fun, I decided to cut myself a bit more slack than the challenge technically allows, just on the earrings.  Besides, living full time on a 33 foot sailboat is all about storage space, and gemstones just don’t take a lot of space (insert smiley face here).  I had picked one set to wear for the next three months, but so far all that had done was make me grumpy with no real gain in understanding my storage.  I wasn’t going to bring all my jewelry back, however.  I wasn’t abandoning the challenge that much.  So in the spirit of the 333 challenge, and my particular challenge in my space constrained life, I limited myself to what would fit in a single tiny fishing tackle box with six compartments.  I ended up with the diamond studs, pink crystal studs, silver hoops, malachite arcs, scrimshaw anchors, and crazy silver wire squiggles made by silversmith and fellow liveaboard Brenda.   And I noticed that I didn’t choose the onyx and silver swirls that I thought were my favorite at the start of the challenge. I had burned out on them – score one for self-knowledge gained by trying this crazy adventure.

 Sixteen tops.  I can tell you the stories behind many of these, from the one I wore to my father’s funeral that still reminds me of him every time I put it on, to the one my BFF Karen said she bought because it made her think of an art project from our sophomore year in college, but … where did all this pink come from?
Three pairs of pants and one pair of shorts that made the final cut, and a pair of NQR khaki pants that'll do until I get something that fits better, because I needed something to tide me over until the next laundry day (and now I'm inspired to seek a better-fitting pair).  Even with that concession, I'm two pants/shorts under my plan. 

You get an exemption to the 33-item limit for jewelry that you never take off, and this necklace came with a story.  My grandmother had a pair of diamond earrings, and two sons.  As each young man met the woman he wanted to marry, grandma gave him one of the earrings to have reset into an engagement ring; my dad presented his to my mom in 1950.  Some years later, my mom replaced her ring with an eternity band, and had the diamonds from the engagement ring reset yet again into a necklace. I have photos of her as a young mother in a white shirt with this pendant dangling from her neck, posing with baby me.  She passed the necklace on to me, along with its story, in 1995, and I’ve worn it ever since.
I finally cut myself some slack for earrings, but demanded that they all fit in this tiny case.  (The black and silver swirls on the bottom outside the case are the ones I thought I could wear as my "only" ones for the 3 months of the challenge, but I burned out on after 6 weeks.  The silver squares on the upper right were removed so you could see them better, folded, they fit into the empty compartment in the case, )


  1. jaye! what a surprise when I read this! I love Courtneys blog and off course doing my own project 333 - although finding it a struggle. I totally admire you doing this and you are an inspiration to all of us project/living with less wannabes! go you!

  2. Thanx! It was a lot of fun, both to do, and to write. And while I was learning that 33 is a good size number, I found two people online who were doing 10 or 11! and

    Now, that impresses me!