Ask Unclutterer: Not yet dirty clothes

Reader Susan submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

OK, this may be a strange question, but it’s one I have not seen addressed anywhere: Where do you put clothes you’ve worn for a short time that are NOT dirty enough to go into the laundry basket or to the dry cleaner’s? I am talking sweaters, blouses, pants, etc. — not underwear.

For instance, I might put on a top & pants for a couple of hours to go to a luncheon, but when I get home I am not going to put those items in the wash (unless I spilled something on them, or they got sweaty due to hot weather, etc.) because they’re still essentially clean, and I can easily wear them again “as is” — but I won’t put them into the drawer or closet with other TOTALLY clean (freshly washed or cleaned) items, because that is an invitation to moth damage, among other things.

In an average week, I might wear several different tops and pairs of pants, but not long enough for any of them to get “dirty” or smelly or sweaty.

My family had no system for dealing with this when I was growing up — we just tended to toss stuff onto a coat-rack in each bedroom, which was far from ideal. For me now, when I take off a piece of “hardly worn” clothing, it gets placed into a neat pile on a chair or ottoman in the bedroom, & then I pull the item out again when I want to wear it. But there must be a better way, and I would love to hear suggestions!

Oh Susan, you have asked such a great question. I think that all of us deal with this issue from time-to-time. Let me start by explaining what it is that I do, and then I hope that others will jump in the comments section and describe how they solve this problem in their homes.

In my closet, I have a Skubb Organizer from Ikea. I have five of the Skubb Drawers in each of the shelves that hold various things (scarves, purses, pajamas, and sweats). The top drawer is labeled for things “Not Yet Dirty.”

You could easily use a dresser drawer in the same way. Once a week, I check the drawer to make sure that something hasn’t gone sour in there. Otherwise, it’s a fairly straightforward system.

Thank you, Susan, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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91 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Not yet dirty clothes”

  1. posted by Karolina on

    I used to not see this as an issue, until I realized I had clothes that have not been washed for a year – they were “not yet dirty” when the weather got cold last year, I had enough closet space that I didn’t have to do a “season switch”, and then the summer came again, and – oops.

    My clothes are all folded neatly on shelves (I can’t stand dressers – how do you ever find anything in those drawers?!?). So now, there’s a sheet of cardboard in the middle of each stack; under the cardboard it’s “clean”, above the cardboard it’s “gently worn”. At the end of the season, all of the remaining “gently worn” things get washed and the cardboard sheets sit on top of the stacks (i.e. the N-Y-D section is empty) until I start wearing those clothes again. I highly recommend this method.

    Also, most of the time I don’t put tops away right away – I let them air out overnight or for a day or two.

  2. posted by troy on

    I don’t sweat much and live in a mild climate so I can get away with more than 2 uses out of a shirt so…

    I have multiple sections in my closet separated by special hangers that are easy to see. Clean clothes go in section 1; once-used clothes in section 2, etc. Each time I wear something it gets moved to the FRONT of the next section.

    What I like about my system is that (1) I never have to guess how many times I’ve worn something so (2) it is easy to decide when to wash and (3) you can see what you’ve worn recently so you don’t wear the same outfit too often. Also, if you notice that some clothes are perpetually in the same section it means you never wear it so it might be time to throw it out.

  3. posted by Another Deb on

    I live in a dry climate and a small pile with one shirt or pair of shorts can dessicate itself clean on the side chair. My husband tends to pile a washer-load’s worth on his side chair and it ends up cascading onto the floor by the time I demands that he move it to the laundry.

    I find that sometimes I “think” the clothes can go one more time but the next day my sniff test is more accurate. Since I’ve gotten older, I am able to wear things a few times but more often I throw it into the laundry so I don’t get that “Goodwill” used clothing smell in the bedroom.

  4. posted by Liz on

    I have a freind who hangs/folds the item inside out if she’s worn it once and feels it doesn’t need washing. It seems to work for her. (I’m not that organized yet).

  5. posted by Rachel on

    I keep my dog walking/hanging around the house clothes (a pair of jeans and a t-shirt) on a small stool in the closet so I can put them on first thing in the morning. The shirt gets exchanged for a fresh one several times during the week, every day if its above about 90 out. I change out of my work clothes as soon as I get home and hang them up on a valet bar that pulls out of my closet. Its a Closetmaid system from Lowes. I usually let them hang there all night and put them back on the regular bar the next morning. Pajamas and robe hang on a hook on the back of the closet door.

  6. posted by Michele M on

    A very easy solution, to eliminate the build-up of NYD clothes, is to take one of the items, the top OR the pants, and wear those again the next day, combined in a different way (with a different top or pants). After two wearings that item is definitely needing to be washed, and the day after, reincorporate that other remaining item into another outfit, etc. There is no sin against wearing something two days in a row, but then again you are not really even doing that.

  7. posted by Cassi on

    I can’t stand it when people wash clothes that aren’t /dirty/.

  8. posted by Laura on

    I have two small “laundry” baskets that sit between my dresser and the door. One is for my gym clothes (I don’t want to wash them every time) and the other basket is for clothes I feel could be worn again. When I do the wash, I usually go through this basket and wash everything.

  9. posted by klutzgrrl on

    formal clothes just get hung up; jumpers (sweaters) back in the closet, jeans over a chair. I try to keep this sort of thing to a minimum as you end up with a pile of clothes in various, dubious states of unwash.

    The kids have large funky colored bucket-things from an organizing store, so all they have to do is toss them in.

    Makes perfect sense to re-wear things if they still smell fresh and clean – especially upper layers – people used to actually SEW their kid’s clothes on for the winter and wash once a week….

  10. posted by Jay on

    I echo KatieBee’s comments about the direction of the hangers. I too hang N-Y-D clothes with the hanger facing in a different direction from the clean clothes’ hangers. In that way, I can easily spot the N-Y-D clothes.

    Why do I care about whether an item of clothing is worn or not? If I am doing an almost full load of laundry and have room for some more clothes, I might add an N-Y-D item. Also, there are occasions where a clean, unworn item is necessary, and I can easily make sure that I don’t wear an N-Y-D item.

  11. posted by Cat on

    I often wear a V-neck T-shirt under shirts or sweaters so at the end of the day, the T-shirt goes in the laundry basket with the underwear and the outside top can be worn again as well as the pants or skirt.

    I like breathing fresh air so when the temperature is not too cold outside, I put my NYD clothes on a hanger that rests on the knob of my bedroom’s window, and I leave that window cracked open during the night (heater turned off). In the morning, clothes are fresh smelling and go back in the closet with the clean clothes.

    I even tried that with a wool coat that had been exposed to smokers for half an hour: it got rid of the smell entirely and was cheaper than bringing the coat to the dry cleaners! Less polluting too…

  12. posted by Kathryn on

    NYD clothes usually get tossed on the back of my desk chair overnight,which I suppose serves the “airing out” purpose. I then put them on or back from whence they came the next day. I’ve got wool sweaters that get washed once a season, if that.

  13. Avatar of

    posted by Claycat on

    We have hooks on the back of the bathroom door, which my husband is finally learning how to use. :)

  14. posted by RV on

    I haven’t read through all of the comments yet, so maybe this has already been mentioned. I usually leave worn clothes on the back of a chair or over the footboard on my bed to air. Once they’ve aired a day or so, I do a “sniff” test to see how clean they seem to be. If they pass the test, they are hung on a separate side of the closet. Pants never worn go on the left side of the rack, slightly worn on the right. For sweaters, I put a safety pin on the tag if they are freshly washed and remove the safety pin when they’ve been worn. If they are clean enough to be worn again, then there shouldn’t an issue with the worn clothes touching the freshly washed.

    @ A: How do you justify wearing pajamas only two nights? Exactly how dirty does one get while sleeping?

  15. posted by Christine on

    I haven’t read all the comments, but my method is pretty simple: turn it inside out and put it back where it was.

    If it’s not dirty enough to be washed, it’s not going to stink up the clean clothes around it. I usually have two or three inside-out blouses or sweaters in my drawers, plus a pair of pants or two. I’ll wear the same pair of jeans several days in a row (I’ve got several pairs of identical jeans, so nobody can tell), but I’ll usually wait a day or two before rewearing the same blouse or pants so I don’t look like a slob.

  16. posted by Christine on

    Oh, and add me to the list of people who don’t have a deadline on how many days an item of clothing can get worn. If it passes all of these tests, it gets put back the way I usually store it but inside out:
    1) No stains or visible grime
    2) Passes the sniff test
    3) Wasn’t tossed on the floor overnight

    Number 3 is actually the failure point more often than 1 or 2, unfortunately; I’m still not very good about not shedding all my clothes on the floor as I climb into bed.

  17. posted by hadashi on

    lightly worn clothing (obviously passes the no marks & the sniff test) gets turned inside out and hung back up. this way:
    1. there’s no piles of clothing on the floor
    2. the clothes worn do not get wrinkled by being in said pile or even going into a drawer or bin
    3. i visually know which garment definitely needs a trip to the hamper next time it’s worn.
    since most of the clothing that gets this treatment tends to be nicer things that do only get worn for a few hours to a special occasion, this cuts way down on wear & tear and preserves the garment.

  18. posted by JB on

    My method for hangables is similar to the rubber band idea mentioned above. I simply put the item back on the hanger but place the hanger backward on the bar (that is, with the hook opening facing me; hope this makes sense). This allows the not-yet-dirties to be easily recognizable, yet preserves the ROYGBIV arrangement of my Oxford shirts.

    I skimmed the last 20 or so comments, so I hope this wasn’t already mentioned.

  19. Avatar of

    posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    I used to do something similar to the backwards-hanger idea (clothes hung facing the ‘wrong’ way but hanger still facing the ‘correct’ way). Then I picked up my husband’s habit of draping t-shirts over the top rail of our 4-poster bed. This may have happened when we moved once long ago.

    I’ve suggested to him that we use one of our laundry hangers-on-wheels to hang up N-Y-D clothes come our next move. Obviously it would help if we have a bedroom big enough to fit this in. Currently even our laundry basket doesn’t fit – dirty clothes have to be grabbed from the floor and shoved into the laundry ‘chute’, which at least runs from the bathroom to the laundry, so is useful when going for a shower.

  20. posted by phoneill on

    I love this thread. I am home with my kid full time, so almost everything I wear on a daily basis is dirty by the time I take it off at night. But my husband often has a pile of N-Y-D clothes and it always ends up on top of his dresser looking horrible. I will definitely be discussing some new strategies with him.

    I understand how some folks figure if it’s clean enough to wear again, it’s clean enough to put back in the closet or drawer, but my husband is adamant that it will “contaminate” the clean clothes.

  21. posted by Claire on

    Most of my clothes are hanging. If I hang something up that I’ve already worn I hang the hangar backwards. When I look in my closet I can easily identify the clothes the I’ve already worn once.

  22. posted by Tracy on

    The problem here in central Florida, is that wearing clothes for only an hour or so can often leave them too smelly to re-wear. A quick trip to the grocery store and I’m sweaty! So, yeah, we do a lot of laundry.

  23. posted by otterbyte on

    Long ago, I bought a whole bunch of inexpensive tubular plastic hangers from the Container Store, mostly in white but a few in blue. I hang all my clean clothes on the white hangers. If I wear something that doesn’t get dirty enough to wash (I often wear a button down shirt jacket-style over a blouse), then I put it on a blue hanger when I hang it up. When I take something off a blue hanger, I know it’s already been worn. I’m scatterbrained enough that I need to remember this! My husband, whose ‘wear-again’ clothes are mostly folded – jeans, sweaters and such – uses the bottom drawer of his dresser for the same purpose.

  24. posted by Terri on

    I hang the garment back up in my closet, but I turn it inside out on the hanger. This way I can tell at a glance something has been worn once. This applies mostly to tops/shirts, not to pants/jeans.

  25. posted by Rue on

    @Sooz – Okay, that makes sense, now. I’ve never had any problem with clothing moths nor known anyone who had one (at least, not one that I was aware of) so I didn’t understand what the problem with NYD clothes was. Now I can see why you wouldn’t want to put your NYD clothes back with your clean ones :) Maybe you could get a separate dresser to put them in, or hang them in a closet in a different room that doesn’t have fabric items in them?

  26. posted by Liz on

    I put them back away. If they are clean enough to wear again, aren’t they clean enough to be near your other clean clothes? I don’t see how this is a problem.

  27. posted by Emma on

    I guess I’m one of the Europeans who don’t wash enough :), because my rule of thumb is: if it doesn’t touch my skin (for example a sweater, or a skirt worn with tights), it doesn’t need to be washed til it’s visibly dirty or smelly. Things that go against my skin get washed after one use; others get folded and go back in the wardrobe (or, more likely, they get thrown into a pile next to the hamper to be folded and put away later!).

  28. posted by Ellen on

    I’ve always maintained a chair in my bedroom for NYD clothes; when I do laundry, if there’s space in a load, I’ll wash the least-likely-to-be-reworn-soon NYD items.

    My spouse is a tougher problem, as he often just tosses everything on the floor next to his side of the bed. I’m trying to figure out how to make space for a second NYD chair :)

  29. posted by Frumpulent Grumpton on

    IF: smelly or stained or super-wrinkly
    THEN: launder

    ELSE: hang up

    Life is too damn short to categorize degrees of dirtiness. It’s either good enough to wear again or it isn’t. Are you really going to wear something 0.5 days, and then only wear it 0.5 days more instead of just another full day? If it’s good enough to wear a full day, then it may as well be labeled as 100% clean.

  30. posted by chacha1 on

    Hilarious thread. … I live in an apartment with coin laundry, and washing things often kills them faster. I’m with our European friend, if it doesn’t go against my skin, I wear it many times. Pants & skirts? Do not get “dirty” in an office job like mine.

    Many shirts/sweaters can be worn two or three times between washes. Turn inside out, hang (on hanger) on hook on back of bedroom door, perhaps squirt with Febreze, air overnight, and it’s good to go back in the closet the next morning. Or, if it doesn’t pass the sniff test, into the laundry. No clutter when dealt with daily.

    I am also with the commenter who changes out of work clothes immediately. Skirts, pants, and shirts that go right onto a hanger do not often need to be ironed!

    Airing the bed: a necessity for two hot sleepers. But I make it before work, because otherwise it’s full of cats all day.

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  32. posted by Loren on

    @Sooz: Thanks for the info, that does make sense. I’ve never had a moth problem but I do shop consignment a lot so I will be more careful in the future. When I lived with my parents all the out-of-season clothes got stored in a cedar chest to prevent bugs from becoming interested, I’ll have to start that practice again.

  33. posted by Margaret on

    For many years, at our house, that pile has been called “other”, as in: “clean”, “dirty” or “other”

  34. posted by kris on

    I totally understand Susan’s problem! I would never put worn clothing in the closet with my clean clothing, as it does invite moth damage. They are attracted by the slightest bits of dirt, oil from our skin, etc. I have had problems with moths eating hole in my clothes in past years, even with cedar blocks in the closet, until I stopped putting “slightly worn” clothing back in my closet. Now I keep it all in a hall closet downstairs, separate from my clean clothes. I haven’t had a problem with moths in years, since I’ve started this habit. As someone who doesn’t enjoy clutter, the idea of having clothing in two separate places is a bit annoying. But as someone who also likes her clothing to stay in great condition, this is the best solution for me.

  35. posted by Patti on

    Awesome thread, another NYDer here.

    Since I only put freshly washed/not yet worn clothes in my closet or drawers, I have one of those free-standing clothing racks. There are some nice wood ones out there like this one (, but mine is just painted steel; it does have wheels though.

    The free-standing clothing rack works well for me because the worn-once items still go back on hangers, eliminating the need to drape them on the bed or seating areas, and they also stay separate from the “clean.” This is a tad OCD but I can even hang them in the order that I wear them so that I don’t mistakenly wear the same thing two days in a row.

    The clothing rack also has hooks that I hang my worn bra on; first thing I do upon arriving home at the end of the day is to “release the girls” if that’s not too TMI.

    Pajamas that I’ve worn I usually just toss on the unmade bed (yeah I know), but I’ve also put them INSIDE the covers on the MADE bed. That way when I turn down the covers they are warm and waiting for me. :)

    With that said, if I didn’t use a free-standing clothing rack I like the rubber band idea over the hanger hook that someone mentioned above.

  36. posted by Peter on

    So an update.

    Since my last post I’ve been hanging the NYD stuff in the closet. They go all the way on the end on the right. That area of the closet is all button down shirts so then I put my NYD jeans and then my NYD t-shirts. I always put the NYD stuff in on the left and take them out from the right.

    I’ve been very happy with the solution. No clutter, no confusion. One extra benefit I’ve noticed is I now tend to keep my NYD queue down to two shirts and two pants, whereas it used to grow larger.

    Thanks Unclutterer community!

  37. posted by Cassie on

    I usually just put the NYD clothes back into the closet – I prefer hanging my clothes so I can “see” everything when trying to decide what to wear. Dresser drawers never worked well for me (except for underwear).

    Most of the time, I will drape the clothes over a chair or something when I get home from work and then hang it up in the closet before going to bed. So it gets a short while to air out… of course, sometimes I get lazy and don’t hang up clothes for a week or so, but I’m trying to get better at it!

  38. posted by Feli on

    I just hang them back in the closet but I hang them inside out so I know they’ve been worn. That way they can still be grouped with similar items. Like Joe, I never wear anything twice, so once I’ve worn it for the 2nd time, it goes straight to the laundry pile.

  39. posted by Kara on

    My problem is that we only have two closets in the whole house, they hold all shirts that need to be hung, a shelf above for jeans and sweatshirts and a shelf below for shoes. Our bedroom is tiny, and filled with dressers and plastic bins that hold t-shirts, his jeans, sweats, etc. There is just barely enough space to walk around the bed.
    My boyfriend works construction during the day and then puts on some jeans and a shirt and/or sweatshirt for a few hours then pjs at night, every day he wears different jeans and shirts and they get piled EVERYWHERE because they are not dirt enough to wash, but too dirty to put away. How can I store these items out of the way before I go crazy in a sea of clothes?

  40. posted by LPD on

    The easiest solution my husband and I found to ‘store’ our NYD clothes was to simply hand them behind our bathroom door on a couple of attached hooks or on a free standing clothes rack ( as Patti 11/30/09 had done). This allows the clothes to air out and also avoids contact between NYD, clean and dirty clothes and ease of selecting what to wear in the morning.

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