The Twenty Pieces Project

What percentage of the items in your closet do you actually wear?

Are you holding on to pieces that are too small, too big or simply out of style?  WHY are you holding on to them?

Julie Barrios and Cate MacDonald, two sassy SoCal gals asked themselves these same questions and decided to do something about it: The Twenty Pieces Project.

The basic premise of the project is to live for one year with only twenty items of clothing and NO shopping!

Wow,  these ladies are crazy haute!  Their project officially starts in Jan. 2012 but they have a long way to go to prepare for it so the closet clean out and reduction begins now.

I sat down with Julie and Cate who filled me in on the inspiration behind The Twenty Pieces Project plus some closet clean-out and organization tips and advise!

Q: Tell me about The Twenty Pieces Project

Julie: It started one day when Cate and I, two frustrated artists (she a writer and I a painter) planned a “creative day.” We would get together and start actually doing the stuff we know we ought to be.  We shared our work back and forth, me my paintings and Cate her writing.  Through the course of the day we talked about life, frustrations, jobs, boys, hopes for the future and some how all of this got us onto the topic of our clothes. I am not sure how? Do you remember Cate?  I guess we wear clothes in all of these life experiences? Can’t totally remember.  But I think we started to hit on how overwhelming life can be and how we longed for something simpler, then Cate mentioned the Vogue article she had read years ago.

Cate: I think the conversation turned to beauty and simplicity, and how both were needed for a creative life. This Vogue article (which I talk about in more detail on one of our first posts on the blog) was about a woman who only owned around ten pieces of clothes (including shoes!), but everything she owned was the best of the best and perfectly fit her minimalist style. I had always loved the idea, but never had the determination to actually get rid of my BELOVED clothes. As we started talking about the project we realized it could be such a neat combination of creativity, style, and embracing a philosophy of low-consumerism and supporting true artisans rather than mass-producers of crappy clothes. The more we talked, the more the opportunity of actually doing it and writing about it was just too good to give up!

Q: What made you decide/what inspired you to start this?

Julie: While I think we had good reasons (as stated above), I think there was something sort of magic about that day.  We were just ready to go! Ready to make a change! I think the creative energy had been building to the point where we simply couldn’t not start pulling the clothes out of Cate’s closet and do it!

Cate: Yeah, we were definitely on a kind of art high, as corny as that sounds. We had finally managed to set aside a whole day to pursue our passions and just be in them and that led to wanting to make bigger changes in our lives that would allow for more beauty, more creativity, more simplicity, and better ethics in what we buy and how we use it. But seriously, I would have put it off, maybe indefinitely, if we hadn’t happened to be in my apartment and Julie hadn’t started rummaging through my closet pulling everything out!

Q: Twenty that’s scary!  How do you plan to accomplish this?

Julie: As we have thought it through, we think it can be done in a southern California climate, for other climates, it may need variation (check the blog to see those progress as seasons change!).  Both of us are spiritual directors by training and education, and while this may sound like it has nothing to do with fashion, it has a lot to do with this project.  Our specialty is gentle, long-lasting, incremental change that leads to growth from the inside out.  We are not cold turkey kind of people. We hope to lead our readers through experiences that will help them learn to live a twenty pieces lifestyle and love it.  And we will find out if it works because we ourselves will be the guinea pigs! Some of what we have already done is given a few easy steps to begin the closet purging process, then some questions to help our readers learn from their purchase mistakes and notice where their victories have been! Awareness leads to the ability to make better choices, the choices that are right for them, for their natural aesthetic and lifestyle, not just what a magazine is telling them to do.

Cate: I say amen to everything Julie said, but yes it is scary! I am a clothes collector and an Anthropologie addict, so I had a lot to say good-bye too, and have a lot more to go before January. But we counted through what we thought we’d need given our lifestyle and climate and twenty pieces seemed totally doable, while still challenging. So that was the number we went with!

Q: Any tips for readers on how to clean out their closets?  Its often difficult and overwhelming to get started!

Julie: One practical hint Cate and I stumbled on: take all of the clothes out of your closet and put them on your neatly made bed.  There is something about working from a tidy space that will make you want to keep it that way.  If your room is too cluttered, choose another room! Let the cleanliness of the space appropriately contrast the closet chaos.  It will help you want to get rid of stuff!

Cate: Another tip: Don’t even try to do it alone. Do it with a good, kind, but honest, friend, sister, or daughter. I wouldn’t have done this at all without Julie. Pull everything out of your closet and dresser (EVERYTHING), lay it out, and only put back the really good stuff.  It will help you identify where you have too much and what you really need (my process was helped by the fact that I’d just done a ton of laundry and hadn’t put it away yet, so I just emptied out the basket on the couch). And for those of you in SoCal who need help culling, we do consultations!

Q: How should one decide what to keep and what not to keep?

Julie: I think there are a few key rules that are no-brainers.  If it is falling apart, doesn’t fit, you haven’t worn it in a full calendar year, or just don’t like it, get rid of it, no question.  This is a great start for most people and you will already feel lighter and your closet will be so much more manageable!

Cate: Another rule: What you spent on it originally doesn’t matter. We both found that we had a much tougher time letting go of the stuff we spent too much money on in the first place, but it was a good lesson in being careful about what you buy, and serious about getting rid of what you don’t wear.

Q: Where do you stand on the “saving the skinny clothes” in the back of the closet even though you haven’t been able to get into them for years issue?

Julie: I didn’t anticipate this when we first started this, but I think one of the great unexpected side affects of Twenty Pieces is that it can help you accept yourself and your life just as it is right now, certainly not without goals, but challenging the some of the lies in our head that tell us “life will start when… .” I say no to the skinny clothes.  You can look great and feel confident now, at any size, and as you do, you actually put yourself in the best psychological place to lose the pounds and keep them off. (I could say much much more about this, but that’s a whole other blog!)

Cate: I’m with Julie. I was actually a little surprised by the amount of women who’ve already mentioned those skinny clothes lying in wait for them in the back of the closet. I had a friend tell me she’s been the same size for eight years, and still feels like she shouldn’t get rid of the clothes from the size she was before she had kids, because she wants to get back there. And you know what? No one needs that kind of emotional punch when looking in their closet. GET RID OF THEM! You don’t need to be shamed by your own clothes. They work for you, not you for them. Embrace your size, get clothes that look great on you, and if and when you lose weight, you’re going to have an awesome time shopping for your next twenty pieces!

Q: What about items you feel emotionally attached too, even though you don’t wear them?

Julie: That depends.  If it is your wedding dress, it does not have to count as your twenty pieces.  Family heirlooms, of course, but the T-shirt you wore the the Strokes concert when you were in college that has trace amounts of Julian Casablancas sweat on it, that you havebeen keeping all these years,  give-away-bin.

Cate: Here’s the thing: clothes are a really emotional issue for a lot of women. As Julie said, if it’s a wedding dress or your grandmother’s fur coat, or something truly irreplaceable and special, keep them and enjoy them (and why not think about wearing that fabulous coat more, hmm?). I have a small collection of 40s and 50s dresses that I will not be getting rid of, even if they don’t fit in my twenty pieces, because they’re just too special. They’re like my art collection. But, we hang on to stuff for all sorts of weird reasons, some of which can be unhealthy. So take a good look at WHY you’re hanging on to what you’ve got, make one of those tshirt quilts our of your old stuff if you must, and then get rid of them. We’ve got enough emotional baggage crowding our lives without it crowding our closets.

Q: Any tips for organizing your closet?  Fav products or systems you have developed?

Julie: I wish I were a better organizer.  It is actually because I am not the greatest organizer that Twenty Pieces is good for me.  Twenty Pieces don’t require a whole lot of organization, but as you are in the process of whittling down, I have discovered this trick.  After you have done a fair amount of purging and are down to say, sixty pieces, choose twenty to try to live from for the week, and put the rest in the back of the closet. At the end of the week, think if you would want to trade anything out for anything else.  Use this method to learn what really are your staples and if there are any items you may need, but don’t have. This is what I am doing now and there will be more about this method on the blog soon.

Cate: I’m a serious lover of tidiness, though manage to be chaotic within those tidy spaces anyway (for instance I keep all my important papers in my piano bench to keep them safe and out of the way, but it’s a total disaster in there and really needs some organization). But the less stuff you have, the easier it is to keep it organized, accessible, and beautiful. I’ve got a pretty small closet, but now that I’ve culled down to fifty pieces (with thirty more on their way out soon), I’ve got everything in a small dresser and on matching hangers inside the closet. It makes my life so much easier to be able to see everything I’ve got right before my eyes as I’m getting ready for work in the morning. I also think having a beautifully organized closet can be a big motivator for keeping your possessions to a minimum. If you’ve got too much stuff for you space, you’ll never be organized and tidy.

The Twenty Pieces Project has truely inspired me.

I am one of those people who hoards clothing in a crazy unhealthy way!  Although I don’t know if I have the guts to take my closet down to 20 pieces- I did take around 60% of my closet- all pieces I don’t, can’t or wouldn’t want to wear to Buffalo Exchange.

It was terrifying at first but now I really do feel liberated.

Gone are the skinny clothes, gone are the fat clothes, gone are the “maybe I’ll wear this someday” pieces and the “why did I even buy that” pieces.  I’m left with a clean canvas to paint some fab fashion looks with.

Follow Julie and Cate’s Twenty Pieces Project at

Reduce Clutter and Get Things in Order with Everything Storage at! SAVE $5 OFF orders over $75 with Promo Code: 5OFF75 wants to help clean up your closet and organize your fashions.

1 Lucky winner will receive a closet organization pack from pictured below.

(a set of 2 Chrome shelf dividers, 1 Swing arm slack rack, 3 sets of  felt suit hangers, and 3 black storage bins)


First, if you haven’t already, subscribe to this Blog (you can subscribe VIA EMAIL at the top right of sidebar)

Next, visit Organize.comand check out their amazing closet organization solutions.

Then, leave a comment on this post between July 17 and July 23 telling me your favorite product to get your closet in order! (I just ordered the Park-a-Purse handbag organizer- where has this been all my life!)

For additional entries use the buttons below to “Share” on Facebook and Twitter!

Good Luck and Thanks for reading!

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  1. Hey Christie! I love the organizing racks to put on shelves about the closet. They make the closet look so much cleaner. I also enjoyed the 20 items article. It’s so true that we only wear a small percentage of our clothes. We have a few favorite signature items and be others collect dust!

  2. Love the 20/80 theory. You only wear 20% of your closet 80% of the time anyway. I also love taking clothes to bufflo exchange, if feel like I get to go shopping for free.

    Great Post, you blog rocks

    Oh yes, I like the sock drawer organizeres, and the bra hold/ organizers. Along with wooden hangers

  3. One thing that I noticed is I have a lot of sunglasses. They are just shoved in the closet. I never thought to get a glass holder to organize them. I checked out the website and it was cool! I also am thinking differently about my cloths. After I red this I walked into my closet and felt anxiety. I realized the unhealthy feelings associated with the decades of cloths that I have never let go of.. Why not create a closet that celebrates you TODAY. Thank you Christie for this blog!!

  4. Handbag organizer? I never knew such a thing existed. Inspired by this post and the Twenty Pieces Project, I purged my closet of all of the things I haven’t worn in ages, including the pre-baby clothes that I keep telling myself will fit again someday. The only things I couldn’t part with are my Coach bags, each with its own acquisition story. So I am going to purchase the canvas hanging purse organizer right now.

  5. Christie! Thanks so much for this interview. We’ve been so happy to be talking with you about this. I should be out in Vegas again in a couple of months and we should get a drink and talk clothes!

  6. I could never do only 20 pieces. Julie and Cate are courageous and inspiring! They may not be able to influence all women to reduce their wardrobe to just 20 pieces, but I am confident they will influence most women to reduce their wardrobe down to a reasonable, easy-to-control size. I applaud Julie and Cate! I totally agree with their point about skinny clothes. Donate the skinny clothes and love your body now. However, I must admit I am guilty of holding onto old concert tees. I still have my Cyndi Lauper T-shirt from 1984. But, that makes it vintage and collectible, doesn’t it? LOL

  7. oh WOW!!!!!- that website is DANGEROUS!!!! First off, Ive been wanting some felt hangers so my tanks and dresses stop slipping off. Now I want a purse organizer, belt holders/ hangers, tie rack for my hubbies new found love of ties he never wears ( maybe HE should read this article) Pretty sure I need a jewelry organizer, sunglass one for sure, and i could go on and on.

    I go through my closet when Im in a bad mood. Sounds crazy but it works, your emotional attachments go right out the window with your clothes cuz you have an ” i dont give a crap bad attitude” BUT when Im all done and my closets less cluttered, Im suddenly in a better mood!

    I dont know if I could do 20 pieces. Maybe 20 pieces of work clothes, 20 pieces of work-out clothes, 20 pieces of going-out clothes, 20 summer, 20 winter, ect… Im hrorible , i know. But Im def inspired to get rid of the dont wear, dont fit, and dont like clothes!

  8. Christie girl, LOVE the article! Wishing the girls luck on the 20 pieces project and look forward to following their progress next year, I know I could learn a thing or two about a minimalistic wardrobe! You ladies are truly an inspiration and I’m glad we could be a part of this. Next time you’re in San Francisco let’s grab drinks!

  9. This has inspired me to do a major closet clean out! I think Buffalo Exchange is going to see a a record number of people this week because of this article!

  10. Oh, it is definitely the hair dryer holder under the sink! I need to get the hair dryer and flat iron off of the counter space, but still easy to get to and put away.

    I actually tried this a few years ago… wanted to save money…wanted to get more creative with the clothes that I did have and purge out the clothes that I was never going to wear again! I love this idea! Great post!

  11. OMG!!! I love this website. And I love your blog cuz it introduced me to the website. Double YAY!!!! It’s hard to narrow down what I absolutely have to have from but I think it would have to be the Birdseye Over the Door 10 Hook in Black. SO CUTE! And would take care of my sweater bulk up on the back of my 1 hook on the back of the door currently. BRILLIANT. And pretty affordable too! 🙂 Thanks Christie for another great find.

  12. Great blog Christie. Out of shear necessity, that is moving from a place where I had a huge walk in closet to a house where I now have 2 simple slider door closets, I rid myself of a lot of haven’t worn in years clothes. Now with a baby on the way, one closet is what I need to use but I have a problem with organizing the one because I am vertically challenged and most closet organizers assume you are at least 5′ 6″. actually have a clothes hook just like at department stores – wow – so I can actually do two levels and reach the upper level. Thanks again organizing here I come.

  13. Christie! Thanks for featuring us! It has been so fun reading all of the comments. Love to connect if we are in Vegas. But don’t forget you have friends out here if you need to beat the heat!

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