Reader question: Which linens stay and which ones go?

Reader Pamela sent us the following question:

I have a question/problem I think you folks might be able to help with. I have been trying for the past few months to trim down – unclutter my home – since I had a roommate move in a few months back. So, far, I have been proud of how I am doing. However, I am still struggling with a few problems spots in the house — linens and books. You recently addressed dealing with books on your site. Would you consider dealing with the linen issue? Right now I have a TON of bed sheets and various quilts and blankets. I know I need to get rid of some of it. Thanks.

Linens, which for the purposes of this post I will define as sheets, blankets, towels, and washcloths, are often concealed clutter in homes because they have a designated space (like a linen closet) where they can hide. If you’re like me, though, you have a habit of putting linens into the closet, but never taking worn-out ones out of circulation.

The following tips can help you to know which linens are good and which linens are clutter in your home.

Sheets: I live in a four-season climate, so I support having two sets of warm-weather sheets (cotton) and two sets of cool-weather sheets (flannel or jersey) for your bed. This means one set on the bed, one waiting to be switched to on laundry day, and two in a sealed storage container for the alternate season.

Good sheets should

  1. appropriately fit the bed even after many washings
  2. have properly functioning elastic
  3. be hole and stain free
  4. be made of a soft and durable single-ply cotton with a thread count between 200 and 400 (see a buying guide to sheets here)
  5. allow you to be comfortable so that you can sleep soundly.

Blankets: In addition to the comforter on your bed, I suggest that you should have at least three additional blankets — one for curling up with on the couch, one for overnight guests, and a “work” blanket in the trunk of your car for spontaneous picnics and for warmth if you have car trouble in the winter. You may find that you need more blankets for your home, especially if you have children, but three blankets are all we use.

Quilts and bedspreads: If you have a quilt that is a family heirloom or was handmade by a close friend, it will likely be difficult to get rid of it for emotional reasons. Therefore, I believe quilts are made to be loved and either used or displayed, not stored. Read more about vintage quilts and bedspreads here.

Bathroom towels and washcloths: Like sheets, I suggest having two sets of bathroom linens per person. One in use, and one to be switched to on laundry day. If you have a guest bathroom, usually one set of guest towels is appropriate. Old and unnecessary towels and washcloths should be moved to the garage to be used as rags or donated to the local animal shelter.

Good bathroom towels and washcloths should

  1. keep their shape and color after many washings
  2. be hole, snag, and stain free
  3. be made of a soft, durable cotton that look like thousands of strings (instead of loops)
  4. be good at drying you

Kitchen towels and washcloths: The rules here are similar to bath towels, except you don’t need two kitchen towels per person in your house. Most kitchens can get by on three towels and three to six dishcloths.


This post was originally published in June 2007.

13 Comments for “Reader question: Which linens stay and which ones go?”

  1. posted by Ruth on

    I only have one set of sheets. On laundry day, I take them off the bed, wash them, and put them back on. Is there an advantage to having two sets over doing this?

  2. posted by missdona on

    Sometimes it takes a lot of time to dry my sheets. They get tangled up in each other and I have to put them through extra cycles.

    I like having a spare set in case of that.

  3. posted by Debbie on

    If you air dry your sheets, it could take longer than all day if it’s very humid.

    Also, if you mess up your sheets somehow at bedtime (I remember throwing up in my bed as a kid–sorry mom!), it’s nice to throw the old sheets in the washer, and not have to wait to put new sheets on and go to sleep.

    Also I’ve heard that letting sheets “rest” between uses is helpful. I don’t, however, understand what that means. Maybe having some time to not be stretched out on the mattress lets the elastic recover and last longer?

  4. posted by Debbie on

    I would specify the number of towels per person differently: enough for one week. For those who have lots of body oils and live someplace very hot and do lots of outside work, it may take more than two towels to get through a week. Also, some people use one towel for the body and one for the hair at each shower, so two sets for them would equal four towels.

    I also like to keep one ratty towel (that you’re not afraid of ruining because it’s pre-ruined!) for big spills.

    Also note that sheets and pillow cases can be used to make other things such as curtains, quilt backing, shirts, and nightshirts. Similarly, towels can be cut up and the edges bound to make smaller towels, quilted to make potholders, used to make swimsuit cover-ups, beach totes, and all kinds of other things. Blankets can be used as quilt batting and to help block light from a window if someone is sick and trying to sleep in the daytime.

    Of course, saving stuff in case you want to make things out of it is very dangerous, too!

  5. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    I have found that living in a 4 season climate, I only have one set of jersey knit sheets per bed plus 1 spare per mattress size. We have 2 queen beds (thus, 3 sets of queen sheets) and 2 double beds (thus, 3 sets of double sheets). This always gives me a spare in case of accidents (I have kids). As for towels, I have one set (bath, hand, face) per person plus one beach towel per person.
    All this works for me but I have a washer/drier in my house and I work from home so I can laundry very easily.
    You must take into consideration your lifestyle (i.e. your ability to do laundry quickly) when you decide how many sheets/towels to have.

  6. posted by Rosemary on

    Great post. I received lots of beautiful sheets and towels as wedding presents and always kept them aside as they were the “good ones”. Now I’m using them and it is lovely to have such beautiful things to use. At the same time I got rid of the old, holey, ripped ones I had been using.

    My take on the kitchen is different. Being trained in food safety I can say that you should use a clean dishcloth each time you wash the dishes and a clean tea towel (I think that is the same as a kitchen towel??) every time you dry the dishes. Better still, don’t dry your dishes with a towel!

  7. posted by Lisa S. on

    Good post!

    Back when I had a crazy, 80-hour-weeks-at-the-dot-com job, I actually had five sets of sheets for my one bed — this way, I could change the sheets every few days as needed, but do all my laundry in one fell swoop. However, now that I’m wallowing in comparative luxury with the 50-hours-a-week job and an in-house W/D, it’s pretty much down to three sets for the bed: a set of cotton percale, a set of cotton jersey, and a set of flannel.

    I do keep extra pillowcases, though. That comes in handy when someone’s ill, or sweaty. There’s nothing like a cool, clean pillow, you know?

  8. posted by The ShoppingSherpa on

    I’d agree with three sets of sheets as well – one on the bed, one in the cupboard and one in the wash.

    Sometimes in winter I end up with two sets waiting to be washed because it’s been raining for two weeeks straight so I’m not able to get them dry…

  9. posted by Arlene on

    You guys rock!

    I have had a past tendency to “preserve” linens in quantities that exceeded most linen closets’ capacity (we move every few years for my husband’s job, so I have more than enough opportunities to compare linen closets, unfortunately).

    After the last two moves, I finally understood that it was truly absurd to keep (OK, hoard) more than three changes per bed. Two blankets (different weights) per bed is plenty, with a couch throw or two just in case.

    I have three changes of bath towels. In my last rental house I didn’t have a dishwasher, so I did use a lot of kitchen towels weekly–but no more than seven sets. I’ve since got that down to four in a dishwasher-equipped house.

    So these are the new rules for quantity, but as for quality? Easy! The best. No stains, fading, pilling, stretched out elastic, etc. It’s old, it goes to rags. And I cut them up in a convenient rag size to be SURE I’m not tempted to “preserve” them, even accidentally.

    My storage, packing, and laundry problems with linens are now zero. Something about six blankets must have made me feel “safe” or something, but enough’s enough. I’m cured.

  10. posted by David on

    Whoa, there. Your comment “in the trunk of your car” assumes the reader has a car. If you’re serious about uncluttering, you can’t honestly just assume that every single reader has a car! We’ve gone from a 3 car household to a 0 car household, and I can’t think of anything I’ve done that has uncluttered my life more. Maybe you should consider it? Regardless, you should definitely look carefully at your assumption that “everyone has a car”; that’s a lot of mental clutter to carry around!

  11. posted by Jasi on

    I keep only white 100% cotton sheets. Two fitteds per bed, two pillow cases per pillow in the house. Two duvet covers per bed. One warm weather comforter, one down cold weather comforter per bed. Sheets are from target, quilts are from Ikea (fabulously cheap). Towels are white, 8 bath, 12 hand, 24 wash cloths. All bought in a pack from Costco. Everything’s standard, comfortable, easy and quality enough to be soft and comfortable. Care includes hot water wash with occassional bleach and occassional vinegar for softness. No dryer sheets, they hinder towel absorbancy.

  12. posted by marian on

    I’m into both simple living & frugality. So if I had 6 or 8 or 10 sets of sheets per bed AND a place to store them, I certainly wouldn’t get rid of the extras. Sheets are fairly expensive. And if you dispose of a set that cost $60 today, it might cost $90 when its time for a new set. On the otherhand, if you don’t have the space, get rid of what you don’t need. I am in the process of going through my linen closet. I’m getting rid of the twin sheets – we got rid of the one twin bed five years ago – but find i need more queen & full sheets.

  13. posted by Lucy on

    What’s that about vinegar for softness?

Comments are closed.