Fewer clothes can reduce laundry mess

One of the ways to avoid having a constant laundry mess is to have fewer clothes in your closet. Here are 15 tips to get you started:

1. Get rid of any clothes that do not fit you. It sounds like an obvious statement, but you would be shocked by how many people store clothes that are not their size. Many people have told me that they hold onto smaller sizes because they want to lose weight and fit into their skinny clothes again. This doesn’t make sense, because when you lose weight the first thing you want to do is buy new clothes — take my word on it, I’ve recently lost 20 pounds.

2. When buying jeans, shop for ones that are unadorned and inconspicuous. You want jeans that you can wear, wash, and wear again the next day without people thinking you’re in the same pants you were in the previous night. You can’t do that if there is a giant dragon embroidered on the leg. If you work in a corporate office and don’t often wear jeans, I suggest having only two pair (one designer pair and one “I don’t care if these get paint on them” pair). If you work in a casual environment or from your home, then I suggest having no more than four pair of jeans (three designer pair and one “I don’t care if these get paint on them” pair).


3. Unless you’re a personal trainer, aerobics instructor, or professional athlete, you don’t need a full separate wardrobe for exercise clothing. Two tops and two bottoms work fine for a gym enthusiast.

4. Donate or give away any clothes in your closet that don’t coordinate with anything else in your wardrobe, have only one matching piece, or are limited to a specific holiday season. You want clothing in your collection that has multiple-outfit and multiple-season potential. The basic white t-shirt is a prime example of what to keep (wear it with jeans, shorts, under a sweater, or with a sports coat at any time during the year). The red sweatshirt with a snow man on it, however, is an example of what to toss (limited seasonality, difficult to wash with other clothing, and usually can’t be worn with anything but jeans).

5. If you wear underwear, have no more than 14 pair. Get rid of any that have holes, bad elastic, don’t fit correctly, are uncomfortable, or you’ve just never liked. If you’re someone who has intimate apparel, bump your number up to 16. These items are fun to replace on a regular basis, anyway, so keep the number low and switch them out often.

6. Have your favorite t-shirts from your past made into a t-shirt quilt. My mother hijacked my t-shirt stash after college and paid a woman to turn them into a quilt. Now, whenever friends from college come to visit, I pull out the quilt for their bedding. It’s a little bit cheesy, but it’s more useful than having all of those old t-shirts taking up space in my dresser. If an old t-shirt doesn’t have any sentimental value then use it as a rag in the garage.

7. Don’t be hesitant to return clothing that someone bought for you as a gift. People buy you things because they want you to enjoy them. If something isn’t your style and will only sit at the back of your closet, take it back and get something that you need.

8. Build your wardrobe on basics. I’ll be writing two posts on this in the coming days — one for men and one for women — so stay tuned. In short, though, focus on a style and stick to it. The more your wardrobe can mix-and-match with multiple pieces, the better.

9. If you feel that you must have a robe, only have one.

10. Own (and properly store) only sweaters of the highest quality fibers. Cheap and short-staple fiber sweaters easily pill and wear unevenly. One hundred percent cotton sweaters stretch out after just a couple hours of wearing. The best sweater fabrics for long-term wear are long-staple wools (like merino) and natural cotton blends (like cotton/silk). Cashmere and alpaca, if they’re premium quality, also can wear well over time. Bamboo is a durable and comfortable fiber for people seeking non-animal fiber alternatives. If you don’t know much about fabric quality, I suggest talking to a hand spinner or textile engineer.

11. Invite your friends over for a fashion show and model all of the pieces that you’re on the fence about keeping. If you have good friends, they’ll tell you honestly which of the items look best on you and which ones you should donate to charity. Sometimes having a second opinion makes all the difference.

12. Institute the sock purge I discussed last week.

13. If your wedding dress is hanging in your closet, it needs a different place to live. Consider donating it to charity — seriously, do you ever plan on wearing it again? If you want to keep it, though, have a professional wrap it and box it in archival materials and then store it flat on a shelf instead of on a hanger.

14. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn in 12 months.

15. If something needs to be repaired, and has needed to be repaired for more than six months, give it away. By not having it immediately fixed, you’ve already shown yourself that the item is not an essential piece of your wardrobe.

18 Comments for “Fewer clothes can reduce laundry mess”

  1. posted by M on

    Yep, Yep, Yep. Agree.
    Clothes purge: done
    Sock purge: done today (!)

    Love the idea of the t-shirt quilt. A friend of mine has a 9yo daughter who regularly goes in ski races. She recently sewed all her race bibs into a quilt and it looks AMAZING. So cool for a 9yo too.

  2. posted by jk on

    IF you wear underwear? IF?

  3. posted by Erin on

    JK — I cannot tell you how many iterations of tip #5 we came up with here at Unclutterer. Ultimately, what was published was the most, um, decent of my ideas. There are some afternoons when things are a little goofy around here … :)

  4. posted by Nicole on

    Do you have any ideas of where / how to find someone to create a t shirt quilt? How much does it cost (in NY area)?

  5. posted by Erin on

    Nicole — I’d call Purl Patchwork in Manhattan at (212) 420-8798 and see if they know of anyone who sews quilts for hire. The owner and the store’s employees have been wonderful every time I’ve been there. I’m a big fan of the store.

  6. posted by Nicole on

    Erin – you’re rite! They have someone to recommend and for others not in NY, you can check craigslist – under services. Thanks for the advice!

  7. posted by Nikki on

    I saw a tip one time (can’t recall where) but it said to turn around all your hangers (hang things with the open part of the hanger facing outward) and then after a year look to see what hangers remain in that position. Those are the items you never wore – take them off the hangers, pack them up, and give them away!

  8. posted by Adam Snider on

    I do a clothing purge at least once a year. Haven’t done it since I moved last summer, so I guess it’s almost that time again. I’m a bit of a packrat, though, so even though I’m getting better, I still have a hard time throwing stuff out. I’ll find that old t-shirt at the bottom of the drawer and say, “Hey! I forgot that I had this! But, now that I’ve seen it, I’m sure I’ll wear it a lot.” Of course, I never do, and I usually end up getting rid of it during the next annual purge.

  9. posted by Alex Fayle on

    Another way of knowing what you wear and what you don’t is to put an empty brightly coloured hanger on the right side of your closet. As you wear clothes and put them back in the closet, put them to the right of the this hanger.

    After 6 months, take a look at what’s to the left of the hanger and poof! You know what to get rid of without having to agonize.

  10. posted by TallDave on

    “If you wear underwear…” Nice.
    On that note, I recommend travel clothing and anything wool. Wool doesnt hold onto bacteria, so it wont stink and doesnt need to be washed just because you wore it. Its also cool in summer and warm in winter. Similarly, you can get travel underwear such as that offered by Ex-Officio http://www.rei.com/online/Sear.....0&y=0
    Also see http://www.rivbike.com/webalog/clothing/

  11. posted by uneasy rhetoric on

    I recently got rid of a number of “meaningful” t-shirts. Instead of creating a quilt–which would have meant another thing to keep track of–I laid them all out on my bed and photographed them individually. They are now digitized forever.

    As for the Jeans, why bother with designer? For the price of one pair of designer Jeans you could get two, three, a half-dozen pair of perfectly acceptable and fashionable Levis. Don’t want people looking down at your Wranglers? Take off the label.

  12. posted by che on

    All this only-2-pairs of gym/running clothes and wear/wash/wear and cutting down on underwear & socks works rather terribly when the walk to the laundry is a bit of a hassle, and therefore more occasional. I think as many pairs of underwear and socks as you can possibly store is far more efficient.

  13. posted by Cass on

    This is great! I cut down on space needed in my closet by hanging up my outfits in sets. I’m guilty of having tings that only go with one other thing, but I keep minimal amounts of clothing so that works for me. OTOH, 14 is way to many pairs of drawers. Really.

  14. posted by Michele on

    Two workout outfits doesn’t seem like enough if you work out almost daily. Also, what about warm and cool/cold weather workout clothes?

  15. posted by adora on

    I have a way to sort out what I do wear from what I don’t really wear.
    At the beginning of the season or whenever I feel like purging, I turn all my hangers around. I turn the hanger back to the original position after I have worn it. After a month, you’d see that you only wear less than 1/3 of your clothes. Then I evaluate and donate the ones I don’t love anymore.

  16. posted by Sithean on

    adora – great idea! I’ve seen it in multiple organization books I’ve bought over the years, and always considered trying it out. Unfortunately, I never have. Glad to hear it’s working so well for you – I’ll have to just bite the bullet and begin it soon.

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