capsule wardrobe thoughts, project 333 & more

January 17, 2018

On yesterday’s podcast episode (#24), Laura and I discussed clothing and wardrobe selection.   We had the opportunity to interview Courtney Carver, a leader in the minimalism sphere best known for her wardrobe strategy, Project 333.  In essence, she recommends limiting the number of in-rotation clothing items to 33 — and that includes shoes, bags, and other accessories (jewelry & sunglasses).

I’ll admit it — I have been intrigued by this project for some time, but was always intimidated by the specificity of the number.  Why . . . 33?  I’ve been much more inclined to follow the Kondo way:  if it currently sparks joy it stays, and if it doesn’t — thank you and goodbye.

However, there is something to be said for Courtney’s idea of having some items officially out in circulation (33?  or more, or less; she essentially admitted the number is not necessarily right for all!) and others packed out of sight.  Currently, I have a number of pieces that DO spark joy, but they don’t actually fit.  Or perhaps ‘fit’ isn’t the right word — I can get them on, but they don’t look good.  While I am not far from my pre-preg weight, I have plateaued at a few lbs over (and since breastfeeding makes me STARVING all the time, I don’t see the number dropping any time soon) and my body is definitely not back to ‘normal’.  I’m actually much more patient this time, having gone through two rounds of this before and finally understanding that YES, things will shift eventually, but it takes time (and often I don’t completely ‘deflate’ in certain areas until weaning, which is months away — hopefully even a year!).

Anyway.  So given my current situation, strict Kondo-ing doesn’t quite work as well as it usually does.  There are items that do not spark joy now because I cannot wear them, but they are worth keeping because in this particular scenario, there really is a good chance I will want to wear them in the future.  I am NOT a clothing pack rat — I will show you in pictures below — but still, the number of items definitely exceeds 33.

I’ve played with the idea of a sort-of-capsule before, inspired by Caroline of un-fancy (currently on hiatus; come back Caroline!).  But I never got all official about it with any physical demarkation of which clothes were in rotation and which were not.  It seems like now is the time to try it!

Clothing currently in circulation:

hanging: tops + dresses
my only drawer (excluding workout / loungewear / sleepwear / underwear):
jeans, shorts, sweaters, tees

Daily uniform – skinny jeans of some kind (4 options), button down shirt (1) or t-shirts (6, including 2 long-sleeved) OR empire-waist tunic with leggings (2 tunics, 1 leggings)
Alternatives – shorts (2), sweaters (2)
Dressing up – nicer tops (about 8 options) (with jeans) or wrap dress (3)
Shoes – sandals OR sneakers OR casual platforms OR short boots (2 pairs) = 5
Accessories – rose-colored Lotuff purse, black diaper backpack bag, my Chanel sunglasses (birthday gift purchased with a gift card in 2016 and worn constantly since then — example of a splurge that definitely was worth it!), one pair earrings, one necklace

Total = 39

Assessment: close enough.  I could certainly pare down the tees or tops more, but this seems like a reasonable and manageable assortment.  I wish I had more button downs/easy nursing access outfits, but I don’t feel like purchasing things just for this short time, so I’ll just lift up my t-shirts and tunics and/or use covers in public!   I would definitely need more work-appropriate items if I were currently working.  (That said, once I am back at work I won’t need so many jeans + tees!).

The only thing missing is a pair of black skinny jeans (such a versatile item!) because my go-to pair doesn’t really fit well yet.  I am thinking of ordering an interim pair (a size up from usual) of these on Ana‘s recommendation.

I don’t have any special occasion wear on this list — nothing really works now anyway, so it was easy to leave out.  We actually do have a big family wedding this coming weekend and I decided to Rent the Runway rather than invest in anything.  Hopefully my chosen piece will work out!

Clothing in hibernation for future capsules:

everything in this clear box sparks joy but nothing actually fits
(box above it contains extra sheets/blanket)
((yes it has actually been cold enough to wear the slippers on the left!))

In the box –>
Work pants
Tops that do not accommodate current chest or are too fitted
Dresses that don’t currently fit / flatter
Other bottoms / shorts / skirts that don’t currently fit

While Project 333 uses 3-month windows for each capsule, I’m going to use my Quintiles (for further explanation see this post) as they seem like more natural/logical divisions for me this year.  Notably, climate doesn’t come into play much here, but there’s definitely a ~4 month “winter” (Nov – March) where one can wear sweaters for layering at times, and we’re in it now.   The rest of the year is basically just hot & hotter.

Favorite brands / stores:
Over time I have noticed that items from these stores/brands tends to stick around:

– Madewell
– AG Jeans
– Boden (especially work clothes)
– Anthropologie IF I do NOT look at the sale section or price tags and instead only buy pieces that . . . truly spark joy
– Nordstrom Trunk Club (example haul here) especially for work items
– Camper shoes

Exceptions to capsule:
I recently went through loungewear / underwear / pajamas / workout-wear, #konmari-style, but I don’t consider these a ‘capsule’.  That said, I am very happy with my culled-down collections.  I do eventually want to get a few more lounge pieces for warmer weather, but I’ll wait until spring!

Interestingly, going through this process has not made me want to shop at all.  I may feel differently when I am back to ‘normal’ though, I guess.

Thoughts?  Has anyone tried a capsule approach?  Does 33 sound like a reasonable number to you?  Are there specific brands/stores you swear by?  Kids clothes are another fun topic – to be addressed in a future post!

capsulation process 


  • Reply Omdg March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Not really capsule per se, but I recently decided that all my base clothing workwear (pants and dresses mainly) had to be black, navy, or gray. Cutting Browns out has helped me pare down significantly.

    • Reply Solitary Diner March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      This is my clothing strategy. I buy black and grey pants for work and tops that work with black and grey and then just mix and match.

      • Reply Sophia March 10, 2019 at 9:00 pm

        Me too. Ditching brown was revolutionary. Pants are black, khaki, grey or navy for work + jeans and red skinnies for leisure

  • Reply MLT March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    OK, this is so timely! I just "capsuled" (quotations bc I am no where near 33 items! …and def not including accessories and shoes) my closet yesterday with a mix of capsule/spark joy. So thank you. As always you are so inspiring.

    Also that picture! Your baby is so sweet and cute. : )

    And lastly, just yesterday I had an epiphany that nothing I buy at anthro lasts any purges. (and I’ve only bought on sale.) So your comment made me laugh and confirmed my own thoughts. Why is that? Is it the lighting? Their styling? Mystery of the ages.

  • Reply PingPong Root March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Great piece of the work.

  • Reply Irene March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I really enjoyed this episode! I have to say I don”t find getting dressed particularly stressful- perhaps it”s because I have about 0 other creative outlets but I get a lot of satisfaction out of putting together even a decent outfit! I work with all other scientists so perhaps our bar for looking good is pretty low 😀 but as I was listening it occurred to me that for the past 5 years or so I”ve had to buy essential new wardrobes every 1-2 years ( first office job after working in a lab, then pregnancy, postpartum and then another pregnancy) so I”ve had a pretty limited set of options that are all reasonably new at any given time. Maybe I was already following these principles more than I realized?

    Btw – you have introduced me to Boden via the blog and I LOVE their clothes for work. Absolutely my aesthetic and I get tons of compliments whenever I wear my couple of dresses from there. Will definitely invest in a few more after baby 2 arrives! Thanks for the tip 😀

  • Reply Alissa March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I successfully did capsules back in 2013/2014 but they fell apart when I got a new job mid 2015 that I felt I need to dress up more for. And then I gained weight. Anyway, this fall I went back to the capsule approach because it does ultimately make me happier. I followed un-fancy’s formula of about 40 pieces not including accessories. Winter is always a tough one (I live in the midwest) as I seem to just keep buying sweaters. My closet is in need of a good purge and I hope to conquer that this weekend as the podcast and your post inspired me. Love your podcast with Laura – that’s how I found your blog recently.

  • Reply Sheryl March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Your note on Anthropologie clothes made me laugh out loud! It seems that every time I buy something from the sale rack, it never lives up to expectations… but when I’ve ignored the price tag (within reason, of course) and bought the pieces that truly "sparked joy" they have become some of my most treasured pieces.

  • Reply Holly March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I lived in quarterly 37 piece capsules for over a year! Using fairly loose definitions (didn’t count accessories/lounge wear/outer wear but did count shoes). I rotated them quarterly but had a decent core overlap (~15-20 pieces) of work classics between each season. For me, it worked but it often left me wearing the same things a lot on the weekends because most of the capsule was tilted toward fancier work stuff, with just a few casual items thrown in. But I LOVED having a super simple closet to look at when I got ready for work. I noticed I actually became MORE creative with outfits (oh look how this layers with this) instead of constantly falling back on the same pairings.

    So after that I loosed up quite a bit and essentially created separate "work" and "weekend" capsules. But I’ve definitely noticed though now that I’m not trying to stick to a strict number that it’s definitely easier to just buy a thing or two every season but not actually let go of anything at the same time, and my closet is feeling too crowded again. So I’ve been debating creating "stricter" separate capsules for work and home in the new year…maybe 30 for work and 13 for home? Maybe listening to the podcast will be the push I need to actually get this done!

  • Reply Margot March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I have never done a capsule wardrobe, but am working hard on eliminating the pieces that do not spark joy! I have to admit, one thing I liked about maternity clothes is that I had limited options and it was really easy to get dressed. Which makes me think a capsule wardrobe is possible.

    And thirding on the Roadtripper jeans! They are amazing. The other skinny jeans I like a lot are the Paige Skyline.

    By the way, long-time reader, first time commenter. I don’t know why this post compelled me to do so! Even though I do not currently work outside the home, I am really enjoying the podcast.

  • Reply Erin March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Love this idea – after cleaning out my kitchen cabinets and pantry now my closet is itching for a clean out! Second on the Roadtripper jeans – they do run "big" though so I actually ordered a size down from my usual to get the fit I wanted (strangely the blue I probably should have had two sizes down but the black are one size down).

  • Reply watrika March 10, 2019 at 7:05 pm

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