Capsule Wardrobes & The Road to Simplicity

Courtney Carver didn't go out in search of a simple life. The notion of a simple life, in fact, is rather ironic in its complexity. Is it as easy as a single spatula instead of four in the utensil drawer or an “any occasion” handbag? Or, does it embody a more complex journey that results in a life free of worry or doubt? To be honest, there's really no single definition as to what comprises a simple life. And, maybe that's the point. Carver didn't set out to find simplicity; she made changes to her life and it found her.

Imagine having an entire wardrobe that fits in your carry-on luggage. Years ago, Carver couldn't have pictured it either, her love of designer handbags and statement necklaces as strong as anyone's. In fact, there was a time when it was her goal to buy a new pair of sunglasses in every city she visited. “Simple is the New Black hasn't always been my fashion philosophy,” she explains, an unexpected medical diagnosis bringing a halt to what she knew, how she lived, and where her attention was focused. Faced with Multiple Sclerosis, a condition with symptoms that are known to be exacerbated by stress, Carver decided to focus more on personal wellness and the need to eliminate unnecessary burdens from her life. She found that the stuff around her – the literal and figurative things that filled her time, home, closet, and mind – were contributing to her stress. One-by-one, those things had to change and that stuff had to go.

“I never thought about simplifying my life,” Carver explains. “But all the changes I made were about simplicity. We didn't de-clutter to have a simple life, we did it to have a life.” One of the biggest – and hardest – changes she made to her life focused on her closet and the amount of clothing, shoes, and accessories that were taking up space. One day, she emptied the contents of her closet onto her bed and was shocked by the excess. So, one-by-one, she sifted through those items and selected certain pieces to keep out, boxing up the rest. “I needed to figure out what enough meant to me,” she explains. And there, faced with a pile of clothes that she didn't wear, was born an idea. Carver challenged herself to choose 33 items (clothing, shoes, and accessories) to wear for a three-month period. That challenge – now extended to anyone who would like to give it a try – is called Project 333 and has transformed more lives than Carver could have imagined.

Capsule wardrobes may vary by definition, but simplicity, efficiency, and a nod toward classic pieces are usually common threads that unite them. Carver's method to creating a capsule wardrobe through Project 333 gets a strong reaction both ways, some unwilling to believe they can survive on such a small number of items and others eager to try. Although capsule wardrobes and the effort to streamline takes on many forms, Carver emphasizes that her challenge does not involve 33 new pieces for each season, but rather 33-item collections created from a core set of pieces that are substituted out for one another as weather needs change. She estimates that her entire wardrobe is comprised of approximately 60 pieces, including a winter coat and boots that will take the place of summer pieces when the time comes. Although Carver intended to only dress from a capsule wardrobe herself for three months, she adopted it as a lifestyle. “It was such a powerful challenge, that I kept going.”

Fast-forward six years and the Salt Lake City resident finds herself in Kansas City on her Tiny Wardrobe Tour, a chance to share her thoughts about streamlining her closet. There, on a folding table at the front of the room, is her entire 33-piece wardrobe spread out for everyone to see. “These three months are just an experiment,” she emphasizes to those who have come to hear her speak, and she's prepared for the questions that typically follow. What about black-tie events? Well, there's a little black dress in the collection for that. What will people think? In her experience, nobody even noticed that she made a wardrobe change. “Don't you get tired of your clothes?” Well, no, she simply doesn't.

For Carver, the pile of clothes and accessories that she initially spread out on her bed represented so much more than stuff. There was the heaviness of guilt when she stared at clothing never worn, no longer fit into, and the amount of money that went into both. “Excess gets overwhelming,” she explains, stressing that guilt shouldn't be a driving force to hold onto anything in life. “Haven't you paid enough?” she asks.

And, just because she doesn't spend her free time shopping anymore doesn't mean that Carver doesn't take pride in how she looks. “I've refined what's in my wardrobe,” she explains, “But my overall look hasn't changed that much.” Quick to point out that doesn't provide style advice or help followers create their own capsule wardrobes, Carver's website provides the tools needed to navigate the process of streamlining more than just your closet. Although her personal style may not have changed over the years, other things have. Carver's closet was one of many steps that she took to transform her life, finances another challenge that she and her family faced and conquered with determination and careful planning. After downsizing from a 2,000 square foot home to a 750 square foot apartment, Carver and her family now have the time, energy, and peace of mind to live the life she's always wanted and enjoy the things that really matter. Eager to help others do the same, she shares some advice for how to purge, streamline, and rid your life of the stuff weighing you down.

“It doesn't matter where you start,” she says. “Just that you start.”