Toward the end of the Uncluttered Course, I challenge each participant to try an abbreviated version of Project 333.
Project 333, the fashion challenge started by Courtney Carver, invites people to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months— underwear and workout clothes don’t count, but everything else does: jewelry, shoes, outerwear, tops, bottoms, etc. You can find more details on the Project 333 website or read here how it changed my life years ago.
I encourage people to try the experiment because, as Maya Angelou once said, “We need much less than we think we need.” The project helps people realize that truth. Besides, 33 articles of clothing in a closet is more than most people think.
Pamela Mullins is a teacher and piano instructor in North Carolina. Recently, she accepted the Project 333 Fashion Challenge and emailed me a list of her 33 items.
Her son, Eric, is a principal software architect with a mind for mathematics. Pamela decided to include him in the challenge by sending over her list of 33 items and a specific breakdown mentioning which items could be worn together. Based on that information, Eric created a mathematical model to determine how many unique outfits she could wear with the 33 articles of clothing.
His conclusion? 25,176 unique combinations.
That is 25,176 different outfits from only 33 articles of clothing. To put that into perspective, Pamela could wear a different outfit every day for the next 69 years without ever repeating the exact same combination of clothes.
I found the number almost too unbelievable to be true. So I asked Eric to share how he reached that conclusion. The math looks like this:
First, here is Pamela’s list of 33 items for Project 333:
1. Jean Jacket
2. Black Boyfriend Jacket
3. Long Black Pants
4. Black Capris
5. Jean Pants
7. Black Skirt
8. Pink Print Skirt
9. Denim Shirt
10. Checked Shirt
11. Elephant Shirt
12. White Shirt
13. Cream/Black Print T-shirt
14. Black 3/4 Sleeve Slight V T-Shirt
15. Paisley Blouse
16. Polka Dot Blouse
17. Blue Sweater
18. Black Scarf
19. Floral Scarf in blues, reds, etc.
20. Black and White Scarf
21. Long Necklace
22. Bicycle Necklace
23. Flower Necklace
24. Fake Diamond Earrings (but you would never know the difference)
25. Silver drop Earrings
26. Red music note Earrings
27. Silver Bracelet
28. Silver Bracelet
29. Black Wedges
30. Black Sandals
31. Black Flip-flops
32. Black Close Toe Shoes
Second, Pamela included detailed information about each piece. Here are a few of the examples she provided:
- Four pairs of black shoes, various styles, go with all outfits.
- One dress (#6) can be worn alone, or with the black jacket (#2), and with all jewelry combinations.
- Two black pants (#3 & #4), one black skirt (#7), and one jean pants (#5) can be worn with every piece.
- Jean shirt (#9) can layer with black camisole or t-shirts.
- Jean jacket (#1) cannot be worn with sweater (#17) or dress (#6).
Third, with the information for each item of clothing, Eric built models “for each terminal condition and added them together, approaching the most restrictive terminal models first, broadening the baseline for subsequent models.”
In other words, he took every article of clothing, multiplied out the number of outfit configurations for each, and added them together :
*Never changes: 1 purse, 2 silver bracelets – only one configuration.
*Can go with every configuration: 4 shoes – top level (baseline).
Model Dress: 4 (baseline) x 2 (black jacket or no jacket) x 3 (earrings or none) x 3 (necklaces or none) = 72
Model Pink Floral Skirt: 4 (baseline) x 3 (jacket + sweater + none) x 1 (camisole) x 3 (earrings + none) x 4 (necklace + none) = 144
*Can go with every other configuration: 4 bottoms x 4 shoes x 4 (2 jackets, sweater, none) = 64 new baseline
Model Jean Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 5 (shirt + t-shirts + camisole) x 4 (earrings or none) x 4 (necklaces or none) x 3 (scarves or none) = 15,360
Model White Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 4 (earrings or none) x 3 (2 necklaces or none) x 3 (scarves or none) = 2,304
Model Elephant Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 4 (earrings or none) x 2 (1 necklace or none) = 512
Model Black Checked Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 4 (earrings or none) x 2 (1 necklace or none) = 512
Model Blouses: 64 (baseline) x 2 (blouses) x 4 (earrings or none) x 4 (necklaces or none) = 2,048
Model Black Knit Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 4 (earrings or none) x 3 (scarves or none)= 768
Model Cream Knit Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 3 (2 earrings or none) x 2 (1 necklace or none) x 3 (scarves or none) = 1,152
Model Striped Knit Shirt: 64 (baseline) x 3 (2 earrings or none) x 4 (3 necklace or none) x 3 (scarves or none) = 2,304
72 + 144 + 15,360 + 2,304 + 512 + 512 + 2,048 + 768 + 1,152 + 2,304 = 25,176 Outfit Combinations.
It should be noted that some of the configurations contain very minor changes (with earrings or without earrings, for example). But still, a different outfit combination every day for the next 69 years is pretty unbelievable—and accomplished with only 33 different articles of clothing.
There is a reason Project 333 is such a popular experiment in owning less. Most people who try it discover there are numerous benefits to owning fewer articles of clothing. And many people discover 33 is more than enough—including Pamela who recently wrote this about her experience, “I actually love the simplicity and feel I have more than enough to wear.”