Project 333: Curbing & Controlling Consumption
- Wednesday, January 12, 2011
My parents separated on December 26, 1978. I was frustrated the previous evening by the breaking of one of my new toys. And when Dad announced the next morning that he was moving out, my biggest concern was the absence of my chief toy-fixer (to Dad's credit, on his next visit with me, he worked on the toy in question). Thus began my life as an only-child in a single-parent home.
Because Mom had to take me most places that she went, she started taking me shopping. At first, I really didn't like shopping (other than acquiring a new book to read - and to Mom's credit, she kept me stocked with good books to read), but by the time I became a teenager, I discovered that I really liked clothes. I liked shopping for them. I liked buying them. I liked wearing them for a while, and then I liked getting some more. Though our budget was certainly tight, Mom also liked shopping for both of us. Trips from my small town of Pryor, OK to the nearest city of Tulsa, OK occurred on most free weekends. Shopping became a way for Mom and I to connect - we had good conversations in the car on our way to and from Tulsa, and we ate out. But looking back, I don't think shopping was simply about buying things we needed or even really wanted (especially considering how packed our closets became). We were not simply trying to fill our closets, because even after doing that we still shopped. I suspect we were trying to fill a greater void.
Today I still like clothes. I'm an amateur aesthete who likes colors, textures, patterns, and shapes. And clothes allow for both an experience and an expression of all of that. Online shopping allows for acquisition-possibilities unimaginable in the 1980's (not to mention the possibilities enabled by "owning" (considering the recent economic meltdown associated with debt-financed credit, I suggest that we don't "own" our cards. They own us) a credit card). However, in spite of both my enjoyment of clothes and my credit-card-and-internet-empowered-opportunities to purchase them, I've decided to spend the next three months with only 33 items of clothing.
Sort of. The short explanation is that I'm participating in something called "Project 333." The long explanation begins with a National Public Radio interview with Elaine St. James during the late 1990's, introducing me to the concept of "voluntary simplicity." As a seminary student expecting a life filled with low-paying ministry jobs, a philosophy of possessions that encouraged me to pair down seemed especially appealing - if I purchased less stuff, purchased only quality stuff, and could somehow embrace the maxim "use it up; wear it out; make do; or do without" (a Shaker maxim. The Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" is a personal favorite; Aaron Copeland's arrangement for Appalachian Spring made it famous), then I expected that our financial problems would be solved. Unfortunately, I had not considered rising medical expenses combined with chronic health issues, but perhaps that should be saved for another discussion.
I read whatever I could about voluntary simplicity in the late 1990's and started applying some of its principles. This past year I discovered a minimalist blog by Joshua Becker (becomingminimalist.com). What I especially appreciated about Becker was that he pursued minimalism while raising a family, so he understood some of the give and take necessary in family life, house maintenance, and lawn care. Minimalism for a college student would include a backpack and a bedroll; minimalism for a married-with-kids 30-something would probably include a washer, a dryer, and a garage with some other stuff. Becker's ever-practical blog introduced me to Project 333.
You can find the rules at http://www.bemorewithless.com/2010/quick-start-guides-for-project-333/. Basically, to participate in Project 333, limit yourself to 33 clothing items and wearable accessories for three months. That may sound impossible, but there are some exceptions that make it doable. For example, pajamas and exercise gear don't count (assuming you don't wear these items to get groceries). I'm adding my lawn-work clothes to this list as well.
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