I’m what you might call an organized maximalist — I love prints, colors, and beautifully arranged messes. My style speaks for me: that kind of eclectic, collected-over-time wardrobe and home with stories to tell (they're way too talkative for a minimalist). And while I’d fully embrace a simple black dress or a Danish-modern lamp in my mixed bag of belongings, I’d be the last person to attempt minimalism as a holistic lifestyle.
That all changed when I read about Project 333, the minimalist fashion challenge created by Courtney Carver that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for three months in an effort to see what you really need in life — aka my worst nightmare, one would think. Though it wasn't exactly my M.O., there was something unexpectedly appealing about minimalism's alleged perks: a clearer mind, more zeros in your savings account, etc. And while I wasn’t ready to give up my wardrobe just yet (can you blame me?), that didn’t mean I couldn’t benefit from a lesson in living with less. Case in point: The sight of my vanity overflowing with beauty products was enough to get me to accept a challenge of my own creation, Project 111. Curious to experience said clarity and extra cash flow, I decided I would pare down my beauty arsenal to 11 items total over the next month, including makeup, skin care, hair, and fragrance.
This wasn’t going to be easy, to say the least. On an average day, I opt for a “natural” look that involves more than 40 products — including multiple face and body scrubs, a million and one hair serums (even more to fight the summer humidity), and don't even get me started on makeup. For as long as I can remember, I've longed to be one of those on-the-go gals, hopping out of the shower and into brunch like the women in deodorant commercials, without the passive-aggressive texts from friends saying, “We’re meeting at 11 a.m. — sharp.” I wanted to free up the time I would normally spend primping and polishing and put it towards the things that mattered.
Thus the process of elimination began. For body cream, I narrowed it down to Palmer's Cocoa Butter. Shampoo and conditioner were easy, my usual from Organic Caviar. And as my one hair styler I chose my ride or die, Moroccanoil, which smells amazing and brings my ends back to life. For skin care, I left it to my go-to Image Vital C cleanser; Revision eye cream; Elta MD tinted moisturizer with SPF; my favorite Sunday Riley Juno serum; and the all-purpose Egyptian Magic, which triples as hand cream, lip balm, and face moisturizer. For fragrance, I kept Marc Jacob’s Daisy in rotation. I’ve worn it on and off for years, yet it still feels fresh and feminine every time I spritz it on. For my 11th product, I chose to keep Chantecaille Faux Cils Mascara. That’s right, my entire makeup regimen rested on one product. I know, I know, you're probably wondering how I could get away with only using mascara, right? Well, to be honest, I've been #blessed with fairly clear skin for most of my adult life yet have never gone sans makeup for longer than a few days, so I wanted to give my skin a break and see what would happen. Plus, being Arab, I have naturally thick lashes; I figured mascara would over-dramatize my eyes and serve as a distraction. That was it. So, following the advice from Project 333’s challenge, I boxed up the rest of my products and put them out of sight. Let's do this.
On the first day of my challenge, a friend came over and asked to do some face masks while we caught up. Not a great start for an addict, but I curbed my temptation with my mom's old trick of icing. (According to her, rubbing an ice cube on your face accomplishes what some masks do: It closes your pores, reduces puffiness, and shocks your skin awake with a rosy blush hue.) Relapse averted. My purse was lighter thanks to Egyptian Magic, and considering it replaced basically all the beauty products from my purse — a variety of lipsticks, lip balms, and hand lotions — it lived up to its name. I also bought travel tubes for my shampoo, conditioner, and cleanser to live in my gym bag. Before the week was over, I saw one major benefit of this challenge: I didn’t have to go out of my way and drive home to primp post-gym.
In week two, what surprised me most was that, while I thought I’d be using my limited products more than ever, I was actually using them less. To me, it was important to distinguish my daytime look from my nighttime look, so my mascara and fragrance became my special-occasion products. I also dabbed moisturizer along my cheekbones as a highlighter to create a dewy glow — another trick from mama.
Week three would provide the ultimate moment of truth, as I would be traveling from New York to Los Angeles. In the past, I’d always bring two separate cosmetic bags — one for skin care and another for makeup — which I’d always keep stuffed away in my checked suitcase. Since I didn’t need to pack an entire makeup bag for mascara, I was delighted that I could consolidate everything. Maybe I didn’t need to check a suitcase after all.
During the flight, I missed spritzing rose water on my face, but as an alternative, I just kept reapplying my face lotion on dry areas. As soon as I landed, I was out of the airport in no time. I texted my friend, “On my way,” which threw off her plan — she was on the way to the gym because she didn’t expect me for another hour. I told her it was cool and I’d let myself in, with a sense of satisfaction.
I was out in the sun for most of the trip (it is L.A., after all), so my tinted moisturizer with SPF became my BFF. I also finally figured out how to smooth flyaways — even in the 100-degree summer heat. How, you ask? Instead of using three products at once, I just re-applied Moroccan oil throughout the day to give my hair a friendly reminder that gravity is the law and it needs to step in line.
With three weeks under my belt, I felt like a veteran and began to reflect. You can take the products from the girl, but you can’t take the girl from the products. I still primped, but instead of rushing through a variety of products, I used each one with love and intention: slowly massaging in eye cream with my ring finger, icing my face each morning, and actually taking the time to care for my hair.
I do have a confession to make, though: I had one minor hiccup during the last week. Blame it on withdrawals, but as the end of the week approached, I couldn’t resist ordering a new contour kit online. I don’t even contour, but just purchasing it felt like a thrill and a nice reward after my four weeks of being low-maintenance. I’m not perfect, okay?
All in all, Project 111 was remarkably easier than I expected. Sure, I missed face masks, soothing rose-water mists, and bright lipstick, but not having to wear a full face of makeup every day meant that I didn’t have to use harsh cleansers and scrubs to remove it. In the future, I’ll probably stick with my shortened daytime routine, but I’ll definitely add a bronzer — and my new contour kit — into the mix for the nights that I decide to go out. I didn’t notice a huge difference with my skin, but I loved the fact that I would take stock in what it needed versus just mindlessly applying products for the sake of “more is more.”
Sure, saving time — flying with ease and arriving to brunch on time — was a major plus, but for me, my biggest selling point was a mental one. I noticed that by the end of this challenge, my mornings felt mindful and concise — instead of rushed and flustered — giving me clarity on a day-to-day basis. And to my surprise, I was actually on time to meetings and appointments. There might be something to be said about this minimalist movement, I just can't promise you I'll give up my wardrobe for it.