Beyond Capsule Closeting: How and Why to Try a Style Challenge

For many years, my disorganized and overflowing closet was the focus of my mornings. I’d stand in front of my clothes, not wanting to wear what I could see and unable to see what was hiding in piles and boxes meant to help organize the mess. I’d notice the minutes ticking by on the clock, and then throw on whatever I grabbed first.

Then, five years ago, I read about capsule closeting and Courtney Carver’s Project 333. By concept, capsule closeting is a way of simplifying and streamlining your wardrobe to a manageable number of items. It’s an opportunity to reduce wasted time and energy spent doing exactly what I had been doing each morning.

Project 333 puts specific guidelines around that concept, suggesting that participants select 33 items to wear for three months, packing anything else owned out of sight (or donating, consigning, or swapping it) until it’s time for the quarterly rotation.

I thought I’d give it a shot. It wasn’t easy. As I pulled everything out of my closet and from storage containers gathering dust under the bed, I learned first and foremost that I had an appalling amount of tops, pants, denim skirts, dresses, and coats. My overspending became visual through large, lumpy piles.

Now more than five years out and many cycles of Project 333, donation runs, and swap parties behind me, I haven’t completely escaped the lure of a new cozy flannel or trendy T-shirt. But I’m much more aware of what I’m taking on both financially and emotionally when I hand over my credit card. And I’ve learned that while I’m a stress shopper, I also regularly feel a desire to head to a local boutique or resale store when I’m simply bored.

Enter style challenges.

Get Creative

As the capsule closeting movement has grown, so too have the opportunities for style challenges. A quick Google or Instagram search offers up numerous opportunities, and that’s how I found the 10 x 10 Style Challenge by Lee Vosburgh, Canadian designer and owner of the Style Bee website.

Vosburgh says she started the free 10 x 10 Challenge in 2015 to help her “get more creative” with her clothes during a 30-day shopping fast.

Most minimalist style challenges push you to work from a microcapsule closet. Vosburgh’s is no different. She has you choose 10 items that you mix and match for 10 days. The only rule is you can’t wear the same outfit multiple days — though putting together a different outfit may be as simple as swapping out sneakers for boots. It’s an opportunity to test out new looks and ways of styling your clothes that you might not otherwise attempt. (How many of us rely on the same sweater with the same jeans and the same comfy Converse?)

“Creativity loves constraint,” says Vosburgh, “and it’s so cool to see the results of working within set limits.”

Though I took the Project 333/capsule closet route first, and challenged my style after, that’s not everyone’s path. Vosburgh says that at the time she kicked off the challenge, she’d been intrigued by the idea of a capsule closet but was reluctant to sign on for several months. “This was a way to try the concept without a lengthy commitment. I ended up loving the experience and learning so much about my style that I’ve continued doing them almost every season since.”

I’ve now participated in two rounds of the 10 x 10, one last fall and the most recent challenge earlier this year. Playing with my clothes in this way does slow down my mornings, but not in frustration. Instead, I’m sorting items in my head, putting together new configurations: Will that shirt work with those black jeans? What if I layered this T-shirt under that jacket? How about trying my favorite Converse with a dress?

When I ask Vosburgh about what she’s learned from doing these challenges, she identifies three things (and, she says, they’re similar to what the 10 x 10 community at large reports back):

  • “I gained a better sense of my personal style. Learning more about what I feel best in and what works for my body-type and lifestyle.”
  • “I had a style breakthrough and found a new silhouette or look I would have never tried but love. So often there is a gem of an outfit hiding within our closet just waiting to be discovered. This finding is always so encouraging!”
  • “I really don’t need a huge closet (or to shop a lot) to satisfy my style.”

Education in Style and Self

The first 10 x 10 I participated in, I enjoyed from start to finish. My 10 choices were spot on, and I fell back in love with a sweater I’d forgotten about. It’s since become a staple in my closet.

The second challenge I participated in was a struggle. My 10 items consisted of pieces I don’t wear regularly. I was trying to figure out why I don’t often choose them and thought this would be a good place to test that out. What it meant was I spent 10 days wearing clothes that ranged from unflattering to ugh. Was I slightly uncomfortable all week? Maybe, but I was super cheery on Day 11, and I had a pile ready for my next swap party, so it all worked out.

When asked about what someone new to a style challenge should know, Vosburgh says, “Try not to take it too seriously or focus too much on results. Fashion is meant to be fun, and personal style is meant to be individual, so go at your own pace. If you need to switch a piece half way, go for it. If you end up stopping a few days in, no prob! Just pick up again when you’re ready. If you really don’t love an outfit or two, that’s a good thing.”

When I started capsule closeting, I thought the education might end with understanding my shopping addiction and reducing my overspending, but I’ve only continued to learn more about my habits and my needs, helped along through these challenges.

“Throughout the whole process, it’s key to ask why and try to learn from the answer,” Vosburgh says. “The challenge is much more about style insights than it is about cute outfits.”

If you want to give the 10 x 10 Style Challenge a try, Vosburgh’s next session begins March 30. Find her on Instagram at @leevosburgh, or follow the community at #Spring10X10.

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Kirsten Akens

Contributor for The Simple Dollar

Kirsten Akens is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Colorado Springs, Colo. In addition to her work for the The Simple Dollar, her bylines can be found in a variety of online and print publications, including O – the Oprah Magazine, People, and Lifehacker.