Single socks and how they can help you learn to process what-if clutter

It is rare for all our socks to have mates after we finish folding the laundry. Sometimes a sock will hide inside a fitted sheet and we won’t notice it during folding, but we discover the errant sock when we put the sheet on the bed a few days later. Other times, a sock will have been stuck inside a shirt sleeve or a pant leg. Rarely is the missing sock lost forever, though, so we keep a small basket in the laundry room for single socks and when the mate shows up we immediately know where to find its match.

Even though mates are usually found, invariably one sock will hang out in the lost-mate basket for many months, its mate gone forever. (After seeing Gnomeo and Juliet, I’ve been blaming lawn gnomes for this phenomenon.) If a sock hangs out in the lost-sock basket for more than three months, the sock is moved to the rag pile and recycled for dusting.

I explained our lost-sock basket to a room full of people at a conference recently, and a woman raised her hand and asked, “But what if you find the other sock after you start using its mate as a rag?”

I replied, “It has only happened once, and we just made the newly found sock into a rag, too.”

The woman then let out an audible gasp, almost as if my suggestion had caused her physical pain. My guess is that, like many people, she struggles with making decisions about “what if” items, and these “what if” objects likely cause her difficulty when dealing with clutter.

What if I get rid of this empty yogurt tub and then someone comes over for dinner and I want to send her home with leftovers?

What if I get rid of this piece of wood and then two months from now I need to fix something and this exact piece of wood would have been the perfect solution?

What if I give this coat to charity and then wish I hadn’t?

If you’re someone who regularly plays the “what if” scenario in your mind, try giving this simple lost-sock basket a try in your home. Recycle any sock that remains in the basket for more than three months. Since you know the worst that can happen is you might end up recycling two socks, it’s a relative inexpensive way to practice making these types of uncluttering decisions. You don’t need a single sock hanging around your house for years waiting for a mate.

The more practice you get, the easier it will become to part with things that you do not need that are cluttering up your space. You learn to trust that even if you end up needing an item that you purged that you will be able to buy a replacement or borrow one from a family member or that you will be creative enough to find an alternate solution.

And, if you do find the lost sock in less than three months, you’ll at least know quickly where to find its mate.

67 Comments for “Single socks and how they can help you learn to process what-if clutter”

  1. posted by Tillie on

    Sometimes while in the drier socks develope static electricity.
    The spark from this electricity often brings the sock to “LIFE”
    The sock then runs off to join the circus in it’s new life as a sock puppet.

  2. posted by TwoDiffSocks on

    Why wear matching socks? i dont hence the name ;p & never have a problem when i wash/wear out a sock or lose one. I do “match” the pair i put on ex, Two diff knee high or anklets

  3. posted by Alyson on

    My uncle takes safety pins and clips every pair together before washing and he says that is the trick!

  4. posted by Jenny on

    I’ve come up with two solutions to this problem over the years…
    1) I just don’t match my socks. Frankly, I’d rather spend the time I would have to spend matching socks after laundry to reading or playing piano. I buy the same brand of socks, all the same cut but different designs and leave them all in a “sock box”. I pull out at random and wear those socks whether they match or not.
    2) Since I am also a professional, I have a box of the same socks, just black. Same sock box concept – different box, of course. But I don’t have to match them since they’re already all the same. =)

  5. posted by Jo@simplybeingmum on

    One of the best pieces of advice on socks I believe I read in your book Erin. Buy socks that match. How simple is that?
    What I have learnt is that you lose one, keep the other for a short time and sure enough another will disappear! The simple ideas are always the best!

  6. posted by Marie on

    We too throw in any singles into one corner of the sock drawer, knowing that its match will come along eventually. It helps that my husband prefers all black socks, despite the “fancy” socks some of our relatives “helpfully” give him. I use the matching method for my own socks too, mostly white athletic socks – long for in the Winter and short for in the Summer. Specialized hosiery has its own rules, of course, but it’s so much easier to deal with against the monochromatic socks.

  7. posted by Nana on

    For many, many years, I bought socks for the family by the dozen. Much, much easier…and few truly lonely socks.

  8. posted by Elaine in Ark on

    “What if…” are HOARDER WORDS! When would you ever have 4 people in your kitchen wanting to peel potatoes or carrots at the same time? Right – never! So get rid of the 3 your 4 veggie peelers.

    This logic is my guiding light as I lessen the load of my possessions.

  9. posted by Sonja on

    @Elaine above: You might never have 4 pepole peeling potatoes at the same time, but I sure have gone three days without doing the dishes, I need them! ;)

    Regarding socks. I’m a sock fanatic. I carefully select my socks on a daily basis. As I have many, many socks I select two different ones every day, rather than a pair. It saves me the akwardness of having to match socks and keep them together all the time. Then again, I would know it if one of my lovelies disappeard on me. I still pine over a great sock I had but that died after over 10 years of use. /:

  10. posted by Erin on

    We have solved this for the kids at our house because it is “in” right now to wear mismatched socks! My kids both wear mismatched socks and love it (and all the kids are doing it). I actually don’t mind it at all because now even the odd socks of theirs (can’t use those little things as rags) get worn.

  11. posted by Mary Ellen on

    We just toss the clean solo sock back in the laundry. It never comes back alone.

  12. posted by CJOttawa on

    I have a solution to this: Buy only one type of sock.

    I have two actually – about a dozen pairs of thin, black business socks, and one type of crew-cut smart-wool athletics in grey.

  13. posted by Sara on

    We’ve done the sock basket/box in our house but have found that the box just got fuller and fuller. Because no one in our house wants to match them up. So seeing how mismatched socks are in style right now (for girls mostly) we dont match them up any more we just put the socks in our dressers and then grab 2 socks if they match then great if not who cares at least we are in style.

  14. posted by Kristina on

    We call our single sock basket – Socks Without Friends – it helps motivate the kids (and yes, me to!) to help reunite the lonely socks. ;)

  15. posted by dave defer on

    I only buy or wear one kind of sock
    no pairs just twelve socks
    eleven socks
    no ten socks
    when i get to seven I reorder
    I buy them on line in sets of three
    that is six socks and im back to twelve or thirteen
    who cares

  16. posted by Lori Hammer on

    I have the same system in the laundry room and once a year, usually after xmas when everyone gets some new socks, we all dump our socks together for a sock hop. We match the singles in the drawers with the bin in the laundry room if we had not done so already, make room for the new socks, and graduate the old singles, holy and stained, to the paint box or car polishing box. I cut the foot out and use them to apply stain, furniture polish, etc. I use the tube part to protect my arms while gardening or picking berries or to keep the snow out of my sleeves. It is quite the fashion statement and my kids get mad, but it works great. PS, thanks for addressing the What If issue. It is a tough one and I have been haunted by it my whole life; however, you have to be practical with what you keep and ruthless when you toss, or yes, you will become a horder.

  17. posted by Suzz on

    The dryer ate the other sock. Give it a tongue bashing. Move on!

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