an interview with Courtney Carver

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Courtney Carver of Be More with Less and Project 333 is an internationally recognized expert in practicing simplicity in your life. Courtney currently is travelling with her Tiny Wardrobe Tour to discuss the ins and outs of Project 333, her minimalist fashion challenge that has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, on the Today Show website, and elsewhere around the world. Courtney and her new Tiny Wardrobe Tour are coming to Minneapolis on June 29.

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Courtney in a phone interview about her “Be More with Less” philosophy and Project 333. She is truly delightful – down to earth and passionate about her work. The Tiny Wardrobe Tour promises to be an informative, engaging, and inspiring event!

Read on for our conversation and details for attending the Tiny Wardrobe Tour.

ndwc: What led you to the Be More with Less philosophy and Project 333?

It really all started for me in 2006 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was this big wakeup call for me – I was working all the time, always very busy, in a lot of debt – my life was very stressful. And I realized that while all of that stress didn’t cause my MS, it definitely exacerbated the symptoms and made me feel bad – I didn’t feel well a lot. I think a lot of us can relate to that – where we’re overworked, overcommitted and just really burning the candle at both ends and not feeling well as a result.

So I really set out to eliminate stress from my life. While that started with something as simple as changing the food in my diet, the next change had to do with debt and stuff, and then busyness, and then work. And I realized there was this common thread throughout all of the changes, and that was simplicity. That’s really where my Be More with Less philosophy developed.

ndwc: Tell us about Project 333.

In 2010, in the midst of decluttering and letting go, I realized that one source of stress I had been ignoring for a long time was my closet, and it was always just full of clothes, a place where I was constantly shopping – I was just adding, adding, adding and never subtracting. I had no idea what I really enjoyed wearing, because I was always just shopping for events and emotions – I wasn’t really shopping for what I needed.

Again, it just builds up, and I realized every time I opened my closet, which was often several times a day, I was faced with the reality of my debt and discontent, my bad purchase decisions, and clothes that didn’t fit me – things that didn’t support a good day, let alone a good life. So I decided to challenge myself to dress with 33 items or less for three months to see if I could define what “enough” really meant. I didn’t know what to expect – I just knew there was something to be learned there, and the way things were going in my closet right now, it wasn’t working.

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ndwc: One of the things I uphold in my work in wardrobe consulting is being “true to you” – specifically, expressing your authentic self with the clothes you wear. How does Project 333 help you feel true to yourself?

Interestingly enough, it allowed me to begin to figure out who I was so that I could be true to myself. I went through this period of time where I was just accumulating, accumulating – whether it be clothes, or stuff, or obligations, and I was just on auto-pilot, taking things in. And especially in my closet – I was wearing things that didn’t represent who I was at all, but it was because I didn’t really know who I was.

It wasn’t, “Gee, I know I’m lost.” I didn’t know. I was doing work that I didn’t really enjoy, but dressing to fit the part. I was caught up in a very stressful, busy lifestyle, and again, dressing to fit that part and to fit my role in all of these different things in my life, but they weren’t things I had purposely chosen. They were things I just let happen by default. So by beginning to dress in clothes that actually fit my body and my lifestyle – not the life that I aspired to have, or I thought people wanted me to have, or that I should have, or the life I thought I was supposed to live – but the life I really wanted to live. I was so much happier.

I’m not really a fashionista in the sense that I make good decisions for other people in terms of style – that’s not my specialty – but I started choosing clothes that fit where I was, right now, instead of this made-up version of myself.

ndwc: Practicing sustainable consumerism and the Be More With Less philosophy share commonalities. With clothing in particular, making your existing wardrobe more functional addresses both of these ideals. How does Project 333 make your wardrobe more functional?

For starters, I’m wearing my favorite things everyday. In any given season, I only have 33 items including clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. So they are items that I have hand-selected that go well with each other – most everything you can mix and match.

In the beginning, because I was working with what I had, that was a little messier, to be honest, than it is now. It took some time – years actually – to distill down to a wardrobe that worked really well together. But I didn’t want to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe or buy a capsule collection for each season, because that really defeated the purpose of both being more with less and making sustainable fashion choices.

I didn’t want to become even more consumeristic in my fashion choices, so I let it evolve over time and now, many years into this project, I don’t have to give a lot thought to what I’m wearing when I pick something out in the morning, and I get ready in a lot less time. I have more mental bandwidth to make decisions all day long because I’m not stressing out over what to wear every day.

“I have more mental bandwidth to make decisions all day long because I’m not stressing out over what to wear every day.”
ndwc: You alluded to it feeling a little messy when first starting this project. Have you ever felt confined by practicing Project 333? What advice do you give others if they do?

I haven’t felt confined. In fact, the more boundaries that I’ve set, whether they be in my closet, my kitchen, relationships, or work, I find that my energy levels and interest and capacity for learning and growing and thriving become boundless. It’s creating boundaries around the things that have been holding you back to make room for the places that you want to move forward. That has been my experience and the general feedback from other people.

It’s typically the fear that it will feel confining, or the fear that it won’t be enough, or the fear that people will get bored. For the people who genuinely do get bored within the challenge because they’re bored with their wardrobe, in many cases it’s because people are so used to being hyper-focused on having the right accessories and the right jewelry and the right clothing that they’ve been dedicating a lot of time and energy to that. You take that away and they’ve now got this newfound time and space, and they don’t know how to direct that energy.

So I always encourage people, for at least those three months that they’re challenging themselves, to shift focus to something else – something new, something that you’re curious about, something that may benefit other people. Get your focus off the clothes for those three months to give yourself the time to discover what you may enjoy more than shopping and fashion and clothes.

“The more boundaries that I’ve set, whether they be in my closet, my kitchen, relationships, or work, I find that my energy levels and interest and capacity for learning and growing and thriving become boundless.”
ndwc: What are the three most surprising things you’ve learned from Project 333?

I knew I would save money, and I knew I would save time. I think it was surprising to me that no one noticed that I was doing the challenge. I started it while I was working full-time in advertising sales so I was meeting with clients and colleagues and going to business lunches and community events. And for three months, I was wearing 33 items – which with shoes, clothing and accessories resulted in about 20 pieces of actual clothing including outerwear/coats – so from October through December in 2010, nobody noticed I was wearing the same items.

It was surprising to me because I really thought people cared more about what I was wearing! But it turns out they just don’t – people care more about what they’re wearing or doing than what you’re wearing or doing. That was a great lesson to learn.

Another surprising benefit would be that I really did develop a personal style. It happened organically as I let things go that didn’t really resonate with me and that I didn’t want, and that I had only purchased because it looked good on someone else in a magazine or because I was feeling down and went shopping. So when I was really choosing items that fit me – and I don’t just mean my body – but fit ME, I found a personal style that works well for me. I didn’t expect that to happen.

“When I was really choosing items that fit me – and I don’t just mean my body – but fit ME, I found a personal style that works well for me.”

Another surprising benefit is that it contributed to improving my health and relationships, as did my entire decluttering and simplicity process. I was able to let go of more stress so that it impacted my body in a healthy way and my relationships in a very loving way. I had more time to really pay attention to conversations instead of always thinking about something else, always trying to be five steps ahead. Instead I could really be present.

Of course those surprising lessons unfolded over time. There were many more immediate benefits that I could pinpoint within a couple of weeks, but now that I’ve had many years to reflect on it I can see that it really was and continues to be a powerful experiment for me.

ndwc: It’s a significant shift in your approach to life – obviously that is the Be More with Less philosophy. But it’s really cool to see these small actions that you take – as you do that it becomes easier and easier to do them, and the snowball effect that it has is really amazing.

And interestingly enough, the biggest surprise was in hearing from other people that the challenge isn’t that challenging. Most people thought about it for a year before jumping in because it sounded so scary, and then once they started, most people say, “I can’t believe I didn’t start earlier – this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. This is actually making my life easier!”

ndwc: Tell us about the Tiny Wardrobe Tour.

The Tiny Wardrobe Tour started this year. I’m visiting 33 cities to share my tiny wardrobe and the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. And to answer questions from people who are either considering the project or want to simplify their lives in some way, or are in that place where they know things are overwhelming and not working, but they don’t know what the next step is.

It’s been really exciting – we’ve been to New York and London – and Salt Lake City, where I live. Next up is the Midwest Tour – Kansas City, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. I’m trying to do 2-3 cities a month, so it’s not a non-stop 33-city tour. I find that if I’m away for more than a week, I start to miss my husband, my routine, and my work. So this has been really a great way to do it for me.

ndwc: Can you give a taste of what the workshop will be like?

It’s about 90 minutes. I chat for about a half-hour, and then we open it up for Q&A, so then we get into the really good stuff and have a great conversation around simplicity, capsule collections, and whatever everybody wants to talk about.

ndwc: Thank you so much for talking with me today! Please share any final thoughts with us about your passion for this work.

Simplicity has completely transformed my life. There’s no other way to say that, and that is what makes me crazy to talk about it. I get so excited to have conversations with people who have either simplified their lives or are considering simplicity as an option to improve their health, their relationships, their work. Because, as I’ll mention at the event, we don’t simplify the closet or declutter our homes or reject stress and busyness to have a simple life – we do it to have a life. That’s what really makes me excited for this.

“We don’t simplify the closet or declutter our homes or reject stress and busyness to have a simple life – we do it to have a life.”

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Courtney Carver’s Tiny Wardrobe Tour

514 Studios – 514 North 3rd Street #101, Minneapolis, MN 55401
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
6:00-8:00 PM
Tickets and Info

 

Images courtesy of Courtney Carver

how to: avoid ironing at all costs and other fun laundry tips

laundry_loads of fun

Taking care of your wardrobe helps it to last longer and increases its functionality, essential elements of practicing sustainable consumerism. My clients often ask for advice on how to care for their clothing, so I thought I’d share how I care for my clothes here.

I will share the products I use as well. This is not sponsored content, nor is it an endorsement of any particular product – just sharing what works for me!

Read on for ways to avoid the iron without looking like you just rolled out of bed and other tips for keeping your wardrobe in top shape. Because face it, stains, wrinkles, and worn clothing don’t help you feel your best.

Stains, wrinkles, and worn clothing don’t help you feel your best.

washing

Wash items in as cold water as possible to reduce wear and shrinkage as well as energy use. I wash whites (underwear, undershirts, and socks) in warm and lights and darks in cold.

I use Whole Foods 365 2x Concentrated Unscented Powdered Laundry Detergent for whites and lights and Seventh Generation Natural Free & Clear Laundry Detergent for darks.

I think the powder cleans better overall, but sometimes does not dissolve completely in cold water –  especially in winter when the water is really cold – leaving residue marks on dark items. Both are environmentally friendly and scent-free as well as concentrated, so require very little product to be effective.

Reduce fading and wear by turning dark items, especially blacks and reds, inside out before washing and drying.

laundry products

i’ll have the flying baguette with a splash of vinaigrette – or – stain removal

Let me tell you a little story. I was having a lunch meeting with a potential client and ordered a cheese plate with baguette drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette – YUM, right?

The server delivered our meal, and turned just a little sharply to set down my plate. Six slices of baguette drizzled generously with vinaigrette literally went flying and tumbled down my front and into my lap. I (politely) had my hands in my lap, so I had a pile of bread sitting on my arms. The moment I moved my arms, the bread continued its journey down my legs. At that point, the only item I was wearing that didn’t have dark vinaigrette all over it was my underwear. My linen scarf, sweater, shirt, and pants all were stained.

Remarkably, I maintained my composure and shared laundry tips with my client. (And I got a free meal!) Here’s what I told her:

The sooner you treat a stain, the better luck you will have. If you can’t wash it right away, treating it before you put the garment in the hamper will increase your chances of removing it because the stain won’t be able to set as well.

I was able to remove all of the vinaigrette from my clothes with Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid. Dawn is the best product for removing oil and grease stains (including vinaigrette). I have a bottle of it in my laundry area.

Rub it generously into the stain and throw it into the wash with everything else. It can even remove a stain you missed and has already gone through the wash.

If it is a really tough oil or grease stain: apply Dawn, rub it in, rinse it thoroughly with warm water, and then apply it again. Do several times if needed.

Bonus: to remove oil stains from leather, apply baking soda to the spot, let it sit overnight, then brush off. Repeat if needed.

For other stains (food, grass, blood, deodorant/sweat, all things baby) I swear by OxiClean Multi-Purpose Versatile Stain Remover Free. I don’t use it in regular loads as a laundry booster, but as a highly effective stain remover. I have a laundry bucket in which I dissolve a scoop of OxiClean in really hot water and soak items for several hours – usually overnight. Rinse the items briefly and wash with the regular load.

It is important to rinse the soaked items a little before washing because sensitive skin can react to the concentrated OxiClean if it is not fully removed from the fabric in the wash.

put down the iron!

I hate to iron. Really hate it. Just thinking about it makes me irritable. But I do want to look tidy. With these simple, and really quite basic, tricks I iron about two times a year – for real.

Disclaimer: My personal style is more relaxed – my clothes are wrinkle-free, but my shirts are not crisp. If you want a really crisp shirt, you will have to use starch and an iron, or invest in no-iron dress shirts like this one.

Dry everything on LOW. Always. Less wrinkles, less shrinkage, less wear.

If you can’t remove the load from the dryer immediately, toss the load again for 10 minutes to remove wrinkles before taking it out.

Fold and hang everything right after you take it out of the dryer – saving several loads to fold at once will re-wrinkle your clothes.

for items that wrinkle easily (or might shrink) – cotton shirts, polyester blouses, 100% cotton knit tees, dress pants, cotton dresses and skirts, cotton or denim jackets, linen

Put the whole load in the dryer and turn it on LOW for five minutes, counting the items you want to remove as you put them in. I have to repeat the number to myself several times so I don’t forget!

Tossing them with the whole load actually removes wrinkles more effectively than just putting a few items in the dryer – more balanced rotation and friction, I guess? 

Pull out the counted items after five minutes and hang them on hangers or a drying rack. The European-style drying rack is my favorite – it holds a lot of clothes and is great for drying items outside as well.

Smooth the collars, button plackets, pockets, cuffs, and hems of relevant items. Allow them to dry fully. Give each item a shake/fluff when taking it off the rack or hanger, and you’re good to go!

Energy-saving tip: toss the whole load on low for 5 minutes in the dryer to remove wrinkles and then hang all of it on the drying rack to dry the rest of the way. Your clothing will last longer with less drying as well.

bras and other delicate items

I wash my bras, other lingerie, and some sweaters and blouses (turned inside out) in mesh washing bags in the regular load. They reduce wear, stretching of straps, and shrinkage.

I use the Handwash setting on my washer for most sweaters and other delicate items that call for that. Again, I turn them inside out to reduce wear.

Never put your bras in the dryer. It will wear out the fabric much more quickly, making them ill-fitting and useless. It is best to air dry all of your delicates to reduce shrinkage and wear. If they come out of the washer wrinkled, toss them in the dryer on Air/Fluff (no heat) for 5 minutes before hanging them to dry.

tailoring and repairs

Even if clothes are clean and unwrinkled, holes and tears, missing buttons, frayed hems, and pilled or worn fabric only drag you down. So does clothing that is ill-fitting. Addressing these issues right away with repair or tailoring not only increases the life of your clothing (the longer you leave damage, the worse it will become), but also helps you feel polished. Feeling polished leads to confidence, which leads to showing your best self. All good things! Because that’s what it’s all about – feeling great.

Feeling polished leads to confidence, which leads to showing your best self. All good things! Because that’s what it’s all about – feeling great.

Coincidentally, my friend Sally at Already Pretty just published Save the World: Do Less Laundry, a perfect companion post to this piece! Read it to find out why doing laundry less often is easier on your clothes and the environment.

What laundry tips are your tried-and-trues? Share in the comments below your favorite techniques and products.