Update: Project 333

Should you open the door to my walk-in closet right now, you will find twenty-three items of clothing and four pairs of shoes. That’s it.


I have been participating in Project 333 since October 14, 2012.  That’s the day I went through my entire wardrobe and picked thirty-three items I would wear for the next three months. For me, that thirty-three included clothes, shoes, coats, and jewelry.

The process of choosing wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I started with the jewelry. I opted for one pair of earrings, my favorite necklace, and a watch. I chose six pairs of shoes, three coats, and the rest comprised jeans, sweaters, shirts, pants, one dress and one skirt.


I took everything else and put it in a smaller closet in the eaves.

Now, the rules are not set in stone.  I did break out a sparkly dress for New Year’s Eve, and traded out a pair of winter shoes for summer shoes when the weather got unseasonably warm late in October. But for the most part, I’ve stuck to thirty three.

Now that my three months are up, I get to do it all over again.  I get to put everything back together and pick thirty-three for the next three months.

I must confess: when I started this I didn’t think I’d continue it after the three month trial.  But now, I don’t know that I’ll ever go back. Here’s why:

  1. Opening my closet door in the morning makes me smile.  It’s not crammed with stuff. I don’t have to search for anything. There’s space in there! 
  2. always have something to wear.  Ironic since I’ve so severely limited my choices. 
  3. I spend much less time trying on outfits before going anywhere.  I only have a few options – and I know which ones look best for which occasions, and so I just go with those.
  4. Something about fewer options has given me such a sense of relief. 
  5. A less cluttered closet = a less cluttered mind = a less cluttered life. (In place of “closet” you can substitute bedroom, basement, desk, office…same effect.)

A few other observations:

  1. I open the closet in the eaves (the one with all the rest of my clothes) and think, “What on earth is all this stuff?” 
  2. I have two paper bags filled with clothes to be given away. Some are things I initially deemed as worthy enough for my original thirty-three, only to realize I don’t really like them anymore. Others are from that closet in the eaves — I realized I’ve lived through days ranging from 35-70 degrees and haven’t missed much, so it’s easier to let things go.
  3. My first three months is up and I’m not really sick of my wardrobe yet — but I am looking forward to a change. This means three months is an optimal time: long enough to see the positive effects, short enough to not drive me nuts. (I admit I was sick of my choices after two months, but exchanged two items and then was fine.)

I’ve been invited to a swap on Saturday. We can bring anything we want to get rid of: clothes, books, furniture, anything.  So it’s a perfect time for heading into my closets and pulling out all those clothes and letting some more go. And, as I choose clothes to wear into April, it will be a nice reminder how close spring really is:)

29 Gifts – Day 8

One of my students had an issue with his homework.  The issue?  He never did it.  It was eventually decided that a call home was needed.  Oh how I dreaded that.  But thankfully, his father was very appreciative.  “He’s always been an A student, so we never had to check on his homework,” he explained.  “We were surprised when he got a B first quarter in your class.”  I explained how homework is the practice students need in order for the material to move from short-term to long-term memory – and that’s why he did poorly on his tests.  The father promised to take away some privileges and keep on top of him.

Well, it worked.  Since that conversation two weeks ago, he’s had his homework in on time every day.  So I called dad to tell him what a good job his son was doing.  Then, I walked in today to find him with an excuse as to why last night’s homework wasn’t in my basket.  Ugh.  Just when I thought it was getting better.  He swears he had it earlier.  Two classmates attest to this fact.  But he can’t seem to find it.  “I’ll reprint the worksheet for you and you can do it at recess,” I said.

When recess came, he came into my classroom to do his work.  Normally if the work isn’t in on time, it’s a zero.  But today I gave him a gift.  “I believe you when you say you had it,” I say.  “So I’m not going to give you a zero as long as you turn it in by the end of recess.”  “Thank you,” he said.

As he worked, he stopped once in a while to chat with me about random thoughts that crossed his mind.  “My sister took this course and she said it made high school a lot easier.”  “Oh, really?” I said, hoping he’d continue.  “Yeah – so I’m glad I’m taking it now.”  Did he really just say that?  The student who complained the first two months that he didn’t want to be in this class?  The one who said he wasn’t good enough to be in this advanced course?  I had noticed a turn in him the last couple weeks and it was amazing to watch.

That afternoon, he found his homework.  He had put it in the wrong section of his binder.  Organizational skills is one of the topics we’re working on, so I’m just happy it was in his binder.  And thankful that by believing him and beliving in him, he’s come to believe in himself.


To see what other gifts I’ve given as part of the 29 Gifts project and to read about others doing the project, click here.

The Pursuit of Happiness

A speaker I went to hear last night said it seems we forgot about our right to pursue happiness.  That, instead, we’ve replaced it with the right to pursue materialistic things.

I see his point.  People think the accumulation of more or bigger “stuff” leads to “happiness.”  So we’re a society with lots of stuff.  But not a lot of happy people.

Which is why I love helping people clean out their “stuff.”  It makes them happy.  It releases tension.  It gives them space – both in their homes and in their heads – that they haven’t had in a long time.

So consider this an invitation to face that junk drawer, that hall closet, that garage shelf.   And if you need some help, I’m available.  I love organizing so much I travel the country doing it.  I’ll be in the Providence, Rhode Island area in August.  If you want to me to plan a trip to your area, visit clutterclearingcompanion.com (a web site in progress) and let me know:)

Putting Yourself First

Tonight I’m teaching a class at my local library.  It’s the second in a series given by the Clutter Clearing Companion (that’s me!).

The first was last month.  The topic was paring down your stock of books.  The timing was perfect as the library was having a book sale two weeks later.  We had about a dozen attendees and, based on what they told me after the class and what they wrote in their evaluations, they learned a lot.

Tonight’s topic is clothing.  Specifically, I’m focusing on closets.  I will confess that prior to 7AM this morning I was not prepared.  I woke up and knew that I had two things to accomplish before 8AM: my morning walk and preparing for my class.  In the past, I would have scrapped the walk in favor of doing class preparations.  But I know how much better my days are when I start them with a walk, so I took off – and accomplished both tasks, in less time!

How did I do this?  As I was walking, I started teaching the class in my head – literally going through everything I would say.  I should explain that “not being prepared” for my class was not really true.  I had all the ideas in my head, I just hadn’t put them down on paper yet.  But I find that if I talk through it first I get 1) a dry run done and 2) it’s easier to put my outline on paper.

So upon my return from my walk, I had a good portion of my talk outlined in my head.  So I opened up my computer and in 10 minutes had my outline down.  Then, I wrote this blog post.  And it’s not even 8AM yet!

Here’s the thing:  I put myself first this morning.  I knew how important my walk was, and I didn’t let other things I needed to get done stop me from doing it.  And in putting myself first, I inadvertently got my other tasks accomplished!  Oh how I love life’s lessons in action:)

How many do you need?

I’m helping my parents get ready for their garage sale this weekend.  This is a momentous occasion as they have lived in this house for over 25 years and in that time have had only one other garage sale I can recall.  On the other hand, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen stuff being moved into their house.  They take a Honda Odyssey when they drive from NY to NC to visit my sister.  When I was younger, that van was filled with kids.  Now-a-days, they return with it full of antiques they found on their way back.  Mom has enough furniture to furnish a whole other house.  Which, I must admit, comes in handy as I don’t own much in the way of furniture.  People ask where my end tables came from and I say “the Gallo Family Collection,” as if it’s its own brand.  And my parents actually are thinking of building another house (though that was not on the horizon when most of the furniture was bought).  But I’m not entirely sure they’re building a new house because the property would make a great place for future grandkids to visit or simply to house their extra furniture.

Having helped mom work her way through some of the basement last week, she offered to help me work my way through belongings I still had in the barn.  I have just about everything I need where I live now, so didn’t have much trouble parting with the remnants in the barn.

Then mom and I started looking around the rest of the barn.  And here’s my question:  How many coolers does one man need?  We counted 11 on the second floor of the barn (yes, it has not one but two floors of stuff).  And these were just the coolers in the barn.  Mom and I both knew Dad had a few more in the garage.  And who knows how many elsewhere.

When I mentioned the plethora of coolers to my father, he said, “Yes – but these are really good coolers.”  As if their quality has anything to do with the number of them a person needs!  “That’s fine,” I said, “but how many do you really need?”  With a huff he started looking at them and pulled four off the towering pile.  “But you know – your brother might need one of these,” he told me.  “Ok – so that’s one.  You’re telling me you need the other six?”  His patience with me was waning, so I let it go, happy of my success at getting him to move four out of there.  “These are good coolers,” he said again as we brought them down the stairs.  “How much to you think these are worth?” he asked.  “No idea,” I said.  The only cooler I have is one dad let me borrow – a small one that fits on the shelf under my microwave.  And he’s never missed it.  “I’ll have to go to Kmart tomorrow and find out what these things cost, because they’re worth something.”  Apparently they are – worth so much that the man thought he should “invest” in 11 of them.

When I told a friend I was helping my parents prepare for their garage sale, she said, “Oh – good to do that now.  Otherwise you’ll be stuck doing it later.”  She meant when they passed on.  Which made me realize – they could easily live another 25 years.  Twenty-five more years worth of stuff?  I pushed that thought out of my mind remembering the best line I learned in Philosophy class:   Epictetus said, “Don’t worry over things you can’t control.”  It’s a good policy.

My Morning Jolt

Lots of people use coffee to get them going in the morning.  I was never a coffee drinker, but have finally found something that energizes me first thing in the morning: working on something for me. My inspiration came via my friend Stacey.  She’s a writer, a runner, a wife, and a mom of two adorable kids.  We met at the John C. Campbell Folk School in March.  Upon hearing that our writing teacher gets up at 5:30 each morning to give herself time to write, Stacey decided to do the same thing.  And you know what?  She said on the days she wrote, the whole day went better.

So a few weeks ago I started getting up at 6:30 to work on my organizing business.  When I first awake, I lay in bed just giving myself time to get used to the idea of getting up.  Then, I pull my Simple Abundance book off the nightstand and read today’s passage.  I reflect on it for a spell, and then get up.  I make myself a cup of tea, and sit down to work.  Today’s project was the web site.  I worked on the Services Page.  In the past couple weeks, I’ve used this time to prep for the organizing classes I’ve been teaching, to get my printer working so I could print things for my class, to read organizing books, and to talk with my fabulous web page guru (we had a 7:30 phone call one morning!).

I can say Stacey is right – my days feel so much better when I start them by taking care of myself.  This has been a Monday-Friday thing, but I found that my weekends didn’t have the same spirit about them as my weekdays did, so I’m extending my plan to the weekends.  So yes, I’ll be up at 6:30.  Quietly working away in the stillness of the morning.  Thanks for the inspiration, Stacey:)

When The Timing Is Right…

I would often beat myself up over my fear of starting an organizing business.  But over the last couple of years, I’ve come to believe that when the timing is right, things will happen.  One of the things about “the right timing” is that you can’t really predict when that will be.  Which I think makes it more exciting when the time does finally arrive.

A few members of my writing group were attending a course at a local adult education center on writing memoir.  These were women who had traditionally focused on other writing forms – fiction and poetry mostly – so they were excited to discover the talents they had in this other arena.  Each time they came to writers group, they would rave about the instructor and the assignments they had been given.

Their excitement did two things for me: it caused me to reminisce about my own first memoir writing experience at the John C. Campbell Folk School and it also stirred in me some curiosity about this adult education program.

A few months earlier I had come back from a conference for those of us with a business idea that are “stuck.”  While there, someone helped me to come up with a fabulous title for an organizing class I could teach at an adult education center.  We were encouraged to teach at places like this because you can test out your ideas on a group of people and build your confidence in your knowledge of your subject matter.

So when my fellow writers raved about their memoir course and other courses they had taken at this place, I went on the web site to see what it would take to teach there.  I was thrilled to see that you didn’t have to submit a course proposal – you could just call them with your idea.  I wasn’t a fan of blindly submitting an idea – get me talking, though, and people love me.  So I called and left a message saying I had an idea for a course.

When I was called back the next day, the woman asked me about my idea.  Then, she asked my experience.  Here’s the thing: I’d only ever been paid to help someone organize once.  But “experience” does not always mean “paid.”  So I told her honestly about my background.  Then she asked about my teaching experience.  On this, I was golden.  I’d taught in adult ed programs before, and I was teaching a college course at that very moment.

She loved my idea, but then said, “The committee that decides on courses for the spring meets tomorrow.  There’s a form you’d have to fill out.   If I e-mail it to you tonight, can you get it back to me by tomorrow morning?”  Ah, a deadline.  “No problem,” I said.

I titled my class, “You Can’t Take It With You….And Your Kids Don’t Want It Either.”  My description started with, “You may have an empty nest, but does your house still look like the entire flock lives there?  Is every closet filled, but you’re not sure with what?”  I had a grand time filling out the form, and I sent it off.

The woman called me back the next day and said, “When I read about your course, everyone on the committee was either laughing or sighing because they all know they need to take it.”  I was in!

When the course calendar arrived a couple months later, I saw my words in print.  Oh how exciting!

There was only one problem: I had a course to teach in a few weeks, and had yet to plan out what I would tell these folks.

You Get What You Ask For

For years I have wanted to become a professional organizer.  Friends and family have heard me talk with great excitement about helping people declutter their houses to the point that one, each time I bring it up, says, “Do you hear how excited you are talking about this?  Get out there and do it!”  For a girl who usually just “gets out and does” a lot more things in a year than most do in a lifetime, it was a mystery to me why this one was so hard to tackle.  I knew it was fear, on some level.  But fear of what?  And then a couple years ago a spiritual director I was seeing got it out of me.  It was a fear of failure.

I don’t mind “failing” in general.  In fact, I see it as part of life.  To the point where, when people ask about my failures, I struggle to think of any as I view them all as what was meant to happen.  I view them from an angle at which I can see that, without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.  Failure has such a negative connotation, so I don’t use it that much.  Things others would consider “failures” I don’t see very negatively at all.

But when it came to starting an organizing business, the idea of failure paralyzed me.  Here’s why:  I had been dreaming of doing this for years.  If I failed at it, what would I do then? I would have no more “What I really want to do….” because I would have tried it and failed.  This idea had always been on the horizon.  If I failed at it, what would be on my horizon now?  This is really a poor argument from a girl who finds new things to do nearly every month, if not every day.  My spiritual director then wondered if I fill my life with all this variety in order to avoid doing that which I’d really love to do.  Hmm.  It’s a thought, but honestly I think the variety is just who I am.  And this organizing idea could fit right into it.

The idea for this business didn’t just come out of the blue.  I’ve moved ten times in ten years and my favorite part is getting rid of all the stuff I don’t need anymore before I move.  I also absolutely love helping other people pack and unpack, figuring out what they need to take with them to the new place and, once they get there, where to put it all so they can find it again.  My closest friends call me with their move date knowing what joy it brings me to help them.  But it’s not just friends and family I like helping.  I can walk into a strangers house and if they happen to mention in conversation something about a spare room that’s unusable because it’s a collection spot for who knows what, my first reaction is to go in there and help them clean it out.

There’s always more to learn.  I’ve read about the psychology behind why we keep what we keep, the processes by which one is able (or not) to part with things.  I’ve watched the organizing shows on the home channels and I want to be the one going in there to help those folks!

So I’ve been in a limbo state with this idea for quite some time.  The entire plan sits in my head.  And if someone asks me about it – how much would you charge, how would you find customers, could this idea really work – I’ve got all the answers.

I’ve said before that some of my ideas I act on immediately, and some percolate for a while.  This one percolated and sometimes the idea would bubble to the surface and I would take some sort of action.  Well, those actions finally got somewhere.  And that’s what I’ll be writing about over the next couple of posts.

(For those of you wanting to know the rest of the “How I Got Here” story, I’ll get back to it sometime!)