Project 333: Three Is Not a Magic Number


School House Rock taught us that three is a magic number. After this week, we disagree.

For this week's decluttering experiment, we picked Project 333, which challenges you to reduce your closet to only 33 items. Here's how it works. You pick 33 items. Everything you don't select gets stuffed into a box and hidden away. (We're not sure how this qualifies as minimal living if we're just hiding stuff in boxes. But okay, we'll give it a try.) After the three months are over, you get all your clothes back out, select a new set of 33 for the next three months and continue the cycle.

Here are the fine-print rules. Included in the 33 items are: work attire, shirts, pants, skirts/dresses, accessories, belts, jewelry, shoes, and outerwear (basically anything you’d wear in public). Not included in the 33 are your wedding ring or sentimental jewelry worn daily, underwear, socks, pajamas, “lounge” wear, and gym clothes. (But you can’t wear your pajamas to work or dinner parties to cut corners.)

After reading the 333 website, my first thought was that if the author has to tell us three times in her introduction that, “this is not a project in suffering,” that’s a red flag. If you're invited to your friend's house for a 'party,' and he tells you multiple times before you get there that, “it's not a cult"…red flag.


First, I fundamentally believe that adults should not need guidance or rules to dress themselves. I’ve been doing just fine for 29 years. (Well, arguably more like 20 years, because things like this happened when I was allowed to dress myself before the age of 10.)

I anticipate this outfit will come back into style in the year 20-20-never. 

I anticipate this outfit will come back into style in the year 20-20-never. 

After several hours of trying to whittle my closet down to the hard-and-fast number of 33 items, I had an inkling that I was heading straight back to that childhood picture. I’d piled my favorite items on the bed—prints, polka dots, and florals—and none of them matched. I either had to give up my favorite clothes or look like a maniac. That’s when I felt an overwhelming urge to go shopping for 33 new things that would make me happy and combine into the most possible outfits. What a monumental failure. We are supposed to be getting rid of things, not buying more things.

I was starting to feel defeated, so I went into the closet to see which 33 items Chuck had chosen, hoping for some inspiration. I buckled over from laughing so hard. Here's what Chuck had selected:

Okay, I'm exaggerating. He also had a pair of khakis and a pair of jeans in his 33 items. But I'm still laughing.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. He also had a pair of khakis and a pair of jeans in his 33 items. But I'm still laughing.

Anyone who knows Chuck knows that he was clearly keeping the items that brought him the most joy. But I’m not sure he was planning for the long game here. Or maybe he was. Chuck's relationship with plaid clothing is deep and never to be broken, even by Project 333. For this reason alone, I don’t think Project 333 is going to work out.

But there’s another, far worse, problem with Project 333: laundry. In the pile of 33 items we’ve chosen, we have whites, reds, colorful patterns, delicates, and darks. But we only have 3–4 of each. It is fundamentally irresponsible to do a load of laundry that small. Those little pieces of laundry would be so lonely, twirling around in that sea of emptiness and soapsuds. And I would be in complete agony in the next room, thinking about all the Californians drinking their own filtered pee while I’m washing three shirts in a full-size washer. The way I see it, we have three options if we want to keep going with Project 333:

  1. Wash all our clothes in the sink by hand.
  2. Deplete our valuable water resources and become terrible people.
  3. Continue depositing layers of sweat and filth on our clothes until someone mistakes us as homeless.

We don’t like our options.


Neither of us could figure out the point of Project 333. The number 33 seems arbitrary—and insane. We even tried changing the arbitrary number to 444 (four seasons, 44 items for each season). Still arbitrary. Still insane. There is something painful about packing away perfectly good, joy-sparking clothes that you know you would wear. It creates unnecessary turmoil. This is not a happy closet. This is a sad, sad closet:

Not to mention that we've now spent upwards of 37 collective hours reorganizing, refolding, and resorting our clothes during the month of April. This doesn't seem like a productive use of time.

What if it snows in May, which is guaranteed in Colorado, and I want to dig out a heavy sweater for a day? Imaginary hand slap! What if I get an unexpected job interview and I just need to slip into the box for one minute and pull out my suit coat? Imaginary hand slap! What if I’m exhausted, and it’s 10pm, and I don’t want to do laundry, but everything I own smells like garlic and wet dog? Imaginary hand slap!

We already hate the invisible 333 hand. So we are banishing the invisible hand…mostly because I have no desire to be thrust into the 24-hour reality TV show, Chuck Wears All Plaid All the Time for All Occasions. But also because neither of us can find a good reason to continue Project 333. It's ironic, but after trying this project, I'm starting to believe that Marie Kondo's method was reasonable and purposeful. Did I just say that out loud? Did I just admit that I'm starting to enjoy folding each pair of underwear into a delicate triangle? I think I did. I think I actually miss my KonMari closet. I didn't see this coming.


Now for the final test of April: The 100 Things Challenge, which promises to help us “fight American-style consumerism.” Sounds good in theory, right?