Organized wardrobe for men in their 40s

As 2017 begins I find myself closer to 50 than 40, and that means change. I pay closer attention to my diet, my children are becoming teenagers and words like “investments” have entered my vocabulary. Lately I’ve also been taking a good look at something else — my wardrobe.

I’ve always been a “jeans and T-shirt” kind of guy. A baseball hat and a pair of sneakers have rounded out the look that has been my unofficial uniform since I was in high school. It’s casual and comfortable, but there is one little problem — I’m not in high school anymore.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:11, it’s time to put childish things behind me. In this case, the wardrobe of my youth. In this article, I’ll describe how to organize a respectable wardrobe for a man in his 40s. I’m not an expert in the world of fashion or style (see the previous paragraph for proof), so I scoured the internet for some direction, which I’ll share with you here.

Edit

Step one is to edit the wardrobe. I suggest actually laying everything out on the bed to get a good overview of what you’ve got. First, note items that you haven’t worn regularly because of size, condition or style, and set them aside. Next, ID the items that you’ve kept around for their sentimental value but stopped wearing long ago. Finally, anything that’s simply worn out – those old sneakers, for example – go in yet another pile. With that done, it’s time to say goodbye.

You’ve got several options here. Items in good condition can be donated to local charities. Clothing that someone wouldn’t buy in their current condition should be re-purposed as rags, dress-ups for the kids or even “work clothes” for painting, gardening, engine repair, etc. Additionally, some Goodwill stores recycle these well-worn clothes to be used again, but in a different form.

As for the sentimental T-shirts, here are a few ides for dealing with those. A few years ago, my wife took several of mine and made them into a beautiful quilt that I keep on the bed each winter.

Lastly, consider handing down anything that’s still decent to your kids. My 13-year-old looks pretty cool in dad’s old Van Halen T-shirt.

Be honest about size

Well not size as the number printed on the clothing tag. I’m talking about how the item fits. I mentioned the fact that I’m not 18 anymore. Back then I played soccer and my shape was a bit different from what it is today. That said, I’ve bid goodbye to the slim-cut jeans, pants, and shirts that I wore long ago. Now, this doesn’t mean that I need to start going up in size. In some cases it means simply moving from a slim-fit to straight-leg style.

Items your closet should have

At this age, you want to be prepared for several eventualities, from a clothing perspective that is. Weekend events could bring anything from weddings to softball games. Here’s what you should have around so you’re not scrambling at the last second.

  1. A suit. One that fits and looks good.
  2. A nice hat. It might sound silly, but my wife is sick of the sweat-stained Red Sox hat that I love so much. I recently got one of those tweed caps and it looks a lot better.
  3. Decent loungewear. A 20-year-old can get away with brightly logoed boxers and a T-shirt on Saturday mornings. I have several pairs of what I call “lounge pants” (essentially flannel drawstring pants) and decent, solid-color tees. Just don’t wear your lounge pants out of the house. Ever.
  4. Dress shirts. Somewhere between three and six of them depending on your lifestyle.
  5. Shoes. Sneakers are for kids. Have a brown pair and a black pair, something casual and something dressy.
  6. Socks. Invest in a few pairs of quality black and brown dress socks that won’t slide down your legs and wrinkle up between your toes. Leave the white gym socks for the gym.
  7. Accessories. Get a brown and a black belt and a couple of good quality ties that coordinate with your dress shirts and suit.
  8. Pants. Have at least one decent pair of jeans and a few pairs of casual pants in your regular rotation.

As I said, I’m not fashion expert. But I do want to dress like an adult. With a little effort, you too can organize a respectable wardrobe. We “men of a certain age” have to stick together, and look like grown-ups while we do.

Apps to easily organize storage bins

Three years ago, I mentioned a fun trick in a post about digitizing user manuals. Basically, it works like this:

  1. Save the manual in an Evernote note.
  2. Use that note’s unique URL to create a QR Code.
  3. Print that code on adhesive-backed printer paper.
  4. Affix the code sticker to the washer, drill, etc., for instant access to its manual.

Bella Storage does a similar thing for storage totes but it reduces the number of steps and apps, and greatly enhances the result. The app, available for iPhones and Android, is the heart of the solution. When you’re putting items into a Bella storage bin, use it to note the contents, give the bin a name (“Halloween decorations,” “Summer clothes”, etc.) and give it a category, like “holiday” or “sports.” Lastly, add a location.

Later, when you’re looking for that one swimsuit, the jack-o-lantern carving tools, or the bike helmets, Bella tells you what bin it’s in and where it is located. It works in the other direction, too. Simply walk up to a bin, scan the code on the side and “see” exactly what’s inside. You don’t need to pull it down and lift the lid.

Of course, there are other solutions that offer something similar. Box Me Up works much the same, and has both a mobile-friendly, browser-based interface as well as an Android app. Another option is I.M Organized, which lets you inventory all of your stuff by simply scanning a bar code, and also generates QR Codes for you to affix to boxes or bins.

Finally, there’s the DIY method I mentioned earlier.

Good luck! Try out any of these apps for quick retrieval of your stuff. Happy storing!

Organizing dresser drawers

Last week was Intimate Apparel Week in the United States, and I want to acknowledge the event with something that’s intensely personal: your dresser drawers.

I’m a 45-year-old man but I still organize my clothes according to how I was taught as a child. There’s really no logic in place, like perhaps frequently-worn items in the top drawers, etc. Yet to me, it makes perfect sense. In fact, this system is so deeply ingrained that I can’t even entertain the idea of doing it any other way. Here’s how I organize my dresser drawers. I’d love to know what your method is.

In the top drawer I place sleepwear, socks and underwear. There’s no question about the very top drawer. It has been and forever shall be “the pajamas, socks, and underwear drawer.” I roll up each of these items like a burrito to maximize space used.

The second drawer is for t-shirts and only t-shirts. I have a lot of t-shirts, so many in fact, that my wife has issued several temporary buying freezes. I fold t-shirts in thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.

I only store short-sleeved shirts this way. Long-sleeved shirts are hung on hangers, as are my button-down shirts. I’ll admit that sweaters kind of exist in a no-man’s land for me. You can’t hang them as the hangers produce ugly “bumps” in the shoulders, and they’re too bulky to store in drawers. During sweater season, I usually place them on top of the dresser.

Drawer three is for jeans or shorts, depending on the season. Again, they’re folded up nice and small for efficient use of space. Finally, the last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Tangential items like belts and hats hang on nearby hooks.

Like I said, there’s no rhyme or reason here. I spend a lot of time organizing, uncluttering and making my systems work efficiently. But here’s an example of something that comes down to “…because I said so, that’s why.” It works for me, so why fix it?

Do you have a system for dresser drawers? Speak up.

Simple tools to help you organize a laundry room

I recently added a basic table next to our washer and dryer and it has been tremendously useful. From holding clean clothes while I find a basket to letting those “lay flat to dry” sweaters do their thing, I’ve fallen in love with this simple addition to our laundry room. Since I started experiencing the benefits of this table, I’ve become obsessed with maxing out the laundry room’s efficiency and usefulness, and I want to share the best of what I’ve found with you.

A table or shelf

I should note that when I say laundry room, I really mean a corner of our basement. That proves an important point: you don’t need a dedicated room to have a functional laundry area. Likewise, a simple table or shelf will work wonders in this space, as I’ve described. Find something inexpensive and you’ll find a hundred and one uses for it. (Just don’t let it become a place for clutter to accumulate.)

Room-specific baskets

With four people living in our home, everyone is responsible for putting their own laundry away. A simple shelving unit with labeled laundry baskets solves the issue. Fold, sort and hand them off to the right person for putting away.

A place for pocket finds

We’ve got two kids and we’re often finding odd things in their pockets. These have a tendency to get piled up on top of the dryer, but all that does is clutter up the space. Instead of the entire top of the dryer, I brought in a small container just for these objects. Now I can put the bobby pins, coins, LEGO figures, and who knows what into a nice, portable bowl for redistribution.

Designated space for air dry items

Some items can’t go in the dryer. Those that must lay flat to dry can do so on the table or shelf. For the rest, an inexpensive garment rack can do the trick (and the one I linked to and is pictured above it features two bars for hanging clothes and is fully adjustable, which is great). Plus, if you get one on wheels, you can push it out of the way when you’re done.

Organizing a hat collection

I have a lot of hats. My hair began its exodus from my head when I was in my 30s, and now that I’m pushing 45, it’s all gone except for a few hangers-on that I shave down to nothing. I like the clean look actually, but I’ve also got a new enemy: the sun.

Get a sunburn on the top of your head just once and you’ll know a fun new experience of discomfort. A shower feels like tiny pins stabbing into your skull and forget trying to sleep with you head on a pillow. An even greater and more serious threat is skin cancer. The fair skin on the top of my head is an open invitation, now that the protective hair is gone. As a result, I own a lot of hats.

The following solutions are what I’ve done to corral them, as well as a few other ides you might consider for your own chapeau collection.

A hat in the car

I keep a neutral-colored baseball cap in each car. The color ensures it’ll go with whatever I’m wearing. Also, it’s kept neat and clean, so if I have to make a public appearance, I’ll look halfway decent. When storing things in your car, try your best to keep them in the trunk so they’re out of people’s way and if in an accident the item can’t become a projectile. A simple trunk organizer is a good way to keep the trunk of your car from being a mess, as a result.

The curtain/closet rod approach

Storing baseball hats on a simple curtain/closet rod works great. We’ve got a decent-sized closet in our bedroom. So, I put up two curtain rods spanning its length, and put a couple dozen shower curtain hooks on them. One hat hangs on each hook. (See image.) I love the temporary aspect of the hooks; since they’re not affixed, I can add/remove them as necessary. Plus, all of the hats are easy to see so I can grab exactly the one I want.

Storage

I’ve got several seasonal hats, like my beloved Stormy Kromer. I consider baseball caps to be all-season, but winter hats go into a plastic bin with a lid and a label. That way they’re out of sight yet easy to find when the seasons change.

While thinking about this post, I found a few other clever ideas I wanted to share. Here they are.

You can use a shoe rack on the back of a door. This solution is very clever, accessible, and tidy.

A “clothesline” of hats is pretty clever, as long as you have the room for it.

If a curtain rod will take up too much room, you can substitute a clothes hangar.

Tech to organize each room of the house

As an unclutterer who loves technology, I’m always looking for ways to marry the two. I had this in mind as my wife and I did some light spring cleaning this weekend. Nothing too major, we just made some preparations for the school year’s end like bringing out the beach towels, organizing the shed a bit, and making sure the yard equipment is in good order.

As I moved from room to room, I asked myself, “If I could share one bit of tech from this room with the Unclutterer readers, what would it be?” Behold the answer: one example of useful tech for each room in the house.

Kitchen

There are so many options here I struggled to pick just one, but I landed on the Belkin refrigerator mount for iPad. This device is so easy to install and extremely effective: ours has been in place for years. When affixed at eye level, you get a companion that can help with recipes, run a timer, provide music, stream TV shows, and display a calendar — all without taking up a lick of counter space.

If you have a tablet that isn’t a supported iPad model, consider the Aduro U-Grip Adjustable Universal Fridge/Wall Mount, as it accommodates a variety of tablet makes and models.

Bedroom

You could make an argument that the bedroom should be a sanctuary from the devices that demand our attention all day, like smartphones and laptop computers. I can’t argue with that, because for the most part, I agree.

However, I’ve used my iPhone as an alarm clock for years, and this retro radio-style dock from Areaware has held it beautifully on my nightstand for a long time. It’s more form than function, sure, but it keeps the phone at a readable angle so I needn’t lift up my phone to read the time in the morning. The device also channels my phone’s charging cable toward the wall so I don’t have to see the cable dangling off the edge of my night stand.

Bathroom

The Withings Smart Body Analyzer (SBA) is a very cool tool indeed. When I was a kid, stepping on a scale meant standing stock still as the numbers beneath the needle settled into place. Today, the SBA can track your history and display it via beautiful apps for iOS and Andriod. It also takes your pulse and designs fitness goals for you, based on the data it records.

If that’s not enough, it can store data for multiple users and even share weather information before you leave the house. In short, it replaces a lot of other tools that would otherwise take up room.

Living Room

I feel like “living room” is an outdated concept, but when I was young the term referred to a house’s central gathering place. The room used for socializing and leisure. Since this room is often a house’s entrainment hub there are many uncluttered tech options to consider. My current favorite, though, are media streaming devices.

There are so many to choose from, including the Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku and more. Each has similarities and differences, but I’m mentioning it here for one reason: they can replace many of the DVDs and VHS tapes you might have hanging around.

Also, since they depend on your home’s WiFi network instead of IR for communication, like your TV’s remote does, you can place them completely out of sight. They’re useful, fun, and huge clutter reducers.

Closet

Not technically a room in the house, the closet still deserves attention, as they love to accumulate clutter. For those looking to add a bit of tech to a closet, I suggest an app called Closet+. It’s a database of all your clothes that keeps a record of what you have, but also lets you preview outfits with just a few swipes.

You can enter an item’s cost, the number of times you’ve worn it (which breaks down the “cost per wear” statistic. Love it.), date last worn, and more. You can even create packing lists for when you’re going away on vacation.

Storage

Finally, if you’ve got a basement, shed, or other storage area, I’ve previous shared a few ideas for those zones, too.

Organizing for aging in place

Unclutterer reader Liz recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenges:

My organizing or decluttering issue is the garden — I need to make the gardens a bit easier to manage as I get older. Some of it will be resolved by switching to services to do the work. In other places, it will be to simplify what I do.

For my home, it is also about decluttering, organizing and getting ready for “aging in place.” I want my home to be easier to handle if I get a medical problem. For example, if I am going to update my kitchen or bathroom, am I making the right changes for an elderly person?

Of course, in some cases, this advanced-age thinking does make it easier to get rid of things.

Liz, it sounds like you’ve already got a good plan in place for the garden. But I do have the following organizing-related suggestions regarding aging in place. Many of these ideas could benefit a lot of people, not just the elderly, but they become increasingly important as someone gets older.

Unclutter first

From your comments, Liz, I think you are well aware of this. But it bears repeating because this step so often gets ignored. I recently read something about aging-in-place solutions that jumped right to installing closet organizers. Yes, that can be important — but the first step is uncluttering what’s in those closets. Once that’s done, you’re ready to consider those closet organizers.

Look for accessible storage options

To make things easy to reach, you’ll want storage that’s not too high and not too close to the floor. If you’re able to remodel your kitchen, the AARP suggests that you:

  • Hang your upper cabinets 12 to 15 inches above the countertop instead of the normal 18 inches
  • Place your lower cabinets six inches above the floor.

You could also install pull-down shelving into existing upper cabinets. For lower cabinets, adding rollout shelves (or replacing the cabinets with drawers) can make things much more accessible. Anne-Marie Brunet on Next Avenue provides numerous examples of how lower cabinets can be replaced or redesigned.

When it comes to the clothes closets, storage solutions that get the shoes off the floor are generally a good idea since bending becomes harder with age. Pull-down closet rods can make clothes easier to reach in closets where the rods are fairly high.

And then there’s the bathroom. I never thought about adding a shower niche at shower-seat level until I saw that feature in one design.

Some of the fanciest products I’ve seen are the Closet Carousel and the various offerings from StorageMotion: AutoPantry, ShoeSelect, etc. Most people will be satisfied with far simpler solutions, but it’s still interesting to see the innovative storage products that are available to keep things within easy reach.

Improve the closet lighting

The Livable Design National Demonstration Home includes good lighting in both bedroom closets. In the master bedroom walk-in closet, a solar tube is used to add lighting. In the second bedroom, the website notes: “Typically, standard linear closets do not include lighting. This bedroom closet has LED lighting on a switch so it’s easier to pick an outfit in the morning.”

Consult an expert

If you’re making a significant investment in remodeling your home, you may want to work with someone who has special expertise in universal design and/or aging in place. For example, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry has a Universal Design Certified Professional Program.

Managing your wardrobe: award shows vs. real life

I’m not much into fashion, but one of my guilty pleasures is reading Tom and Lorenzo’s run-downs of the dresses and suits worn to award shows like the Grammys and the Oscars. I’ve been thinking how their comments do (or don’t) apply to non-celebrities and how those comments might be used as guidelines for creating a flattering, uncluttered wardrobe.

Choose colors and styles that work for you

Tom and Lorenzo were full of praise for David Oyelowo’s red tuxedo at the 2015 Oscars, noting that the color looked great on him. If you read through their write-ups from a number of awards shows, you’ll see plenty of comments about something being a good look (or not such a good look) for that particular person.

So feel free to ignore “what every wardrobe needs” advice, which will almost certainly include something that won’t look good on you or doesn’t fit your needs. I cringe every time I see a white blouse listed as an absolute necessity, since white is most definitely not my color. Also, given my current lifestyle, I really have zero need for a white blouse, even if it would look good on me.

Don’t worry too much about trends, either. Marsala is the color of the year, but don’t buy something in that color if it doesn’t become you.

Instead, fill your closet with clothes that are right for you, specifically — clothes with flattering colors and styles, and clothes that are appropriate for the way you live. If you’re not sure what looks good on you, ask a friend with good clothes sense or splurge on hiring a wardrobe consultant. (You might save money over the long haul by not buying clothes you wind up discarding because you discover, too late, that they’re wrong for you.) You might also consult an expert who focuses just on identifying your best colors; I did that some years ago, and it was extremely helpful.

Pay attention to the fit

Tom and Lorenzo’s commentary is filled with notes like: “The pants are too long” and “The pants need hemming.” There are also comments about clothes that are too tight or too baggy. These comments are directed equally to men and women.

This is a case where the awards show commentary applies to everyone else, too. I’m short, so I know how frustrating it can be when you need to get most of your pants hemmed, but I also know it’s a necessity. If your clothes need hemming, either do it yourself or take your clothes to a local tailor. (My dry cleaners do hemming.)

When shopping, be honest with yourself about whether or not something really fits. If you love something and it’s perfect except for a slightly wrong fit, consider whether it could be easily altered. If so, do you have the skills to do that, or are you willing to pay to have it done?

Don’t worry about repeating an outfit

In commenting on one woman’s gown for the 2015 Grammys, Tom and Lorenzo wrote, “We’d swear we’ve seen her in that exact dress dozens of times.”

That’s a reasonable comment from fashion critics writing about a celebrity. But unless you work in a fashion-conscious industry, you probably don’t need to worry about wearing the same outfit (or outfit components) fairly frequently. Either no one will notice, or no one will care. However, the more memorable the outfit, the less frequently you may want to wear it, as people will recall something like a jacket with a wild, brightly colored print.

If you have the money and space for an extensive wardrobe, and clothes are your passion, you may want to own enough of them that repeated outfits are infrequent. But those who prefer a more streamlined wardrobe can often go that route without concern. Some people even choose to own multiples of basic wardrobe items so they can wear identical outfits every day. That choice might well be noticed — think of Steve Jobs and his 501 jeans, black mock turtleneck and New Balance sneakers — but needn’t be a problem in the right environment.

And sometimes even a large degree uniformity isn’t noticed, or at least not remarked upon. A male TV presenter wore the same blue suit (but with different ties and shirts) almost every day for a year, and neither he nor the station got any comments about that.

The benefits of uniforms

When our family first moved to England in 2013, our children were concerned about wearing school uniforms –- something they didn’t have to wear in Canada. After living here for almost two years, we’ve come to love school uniforms for many reasons: they save time, help us stay organized, and save us money.

After experiencing the benefits of school uniforms with my kids, I’ve adopted a uniform-style wardrobe for myself. Keeping a few basic pieces (similar styles of slacks, shirts, etc.) and a limited range colour palette, I can mix and match fewer pieces and still have a varied wardrobe. The uniform-style wardrobe is much easier to maintain and organize and is less expensive than my previous numerous-outfit wardrobe.

The following is an explanation of how my children’s school uniforms inspired a change in my closet:

  • In the mornings, little effort is expended deciding what to wear. The children simply put on their uniforms and I select a pant and top (they fit and they all work with each other).
  • When shopping, we know exactly what to buy for school clothing and I have a specific idea of what I need. The school provides the requirements for the kids and lists a few stores that provide quality clothes that meet the dress code.
  • When doing laundry, I don’t spend nearly as much time as I did in Canada separating clothing out by fabric type and colour. Because both children wear the same uniform, we have one load of white dress shirts and one load of black trousers every week. And, since my wardrobe is in a limited colour palette, I experience similar benefits.

We have found that we are spending a lot less on clothing than we did in Canada. The quality of my kids’ school uniforms is very good. They wear like iron and wash like rags so they do not need to be replaced as often as other clothes. This reduction in our overall clothing budget has led to less packed closets that are easier to organize. The uniforms are neatly stored in one area and separated from the (much smaller) selection of non-uniform clothing.

Do you or your kids have a uniform-style wardrobe? Share your strategies for easier wardrobe maintenance with other readers in the comment section.

Breaking the organizing stalemate

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that you couldn’t organize your bedroom until the laundry room is organized, but you couldn’t organize the laundry room until the bedroom is organized? This is a deadlock or stalemate situation — one in which several actions are waiting for the other to finish, and thus none of them ever is completed.

There are two basic ways to break a stalemate, one is by diplomacy and the other is by imposing military might.

Diplomatic method

The diplomatic method creates the least amount of disruption, however it does take a lot more time to complete the organizing process. It involves working a little at a time in each space, alternating back and forth. In the above example between the laundry room and the bedroom, you may choose to spend 15 minutes in each space each day organizing. You may repeatedly need to transfer clothing between rooms. You may decide to do a few loads of laundry every day. Additionally you would cart away clothing that is no longer suited to your lifestyle. Slowly, over the course of time, both rooms would become organized.

Military might method

The military might method may cause intense disruption for a short period of time, but the end result can be achieved more quickly than with the diplomatic method. The military might strategy involves clearing a full day in your calendar to complete the entire task and clearing everything from the space all at once. In the laundry room and bedroom example, you would gather up all of the clothing from both the bedroom and the laundry room and dump it in the living room where there is enough space to do a sort and purge. Once that is completed in the living room, your clothing would be returned to its appropriate storage area and the living room would be clear.

You may have to employ a combination of strategies, using both diplomacy and military might. There are no rules in love (of a tidy home) and war (on disorganization). The important thing is to get started and choose the method that works best for you and your situation.

Uncluttering toiletries: the shelf life of shampoo, sunscreen, and more

Unclutterer has written about makeup expiration, but what about all those other toiletries that tend to accumulate? Shampoos, lotions, and other products can also clutter up a bathroom.

Expiration date labels

You may find expiration dates on beauty and body care products to help you make a keep-or-toss decision — but not all products have such requirements.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, writing in the Chicago Tribune, summarized the requirements in the U.S:

The Food and Drug Administration requires that expiration dates be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but not on cosmetics — unless the cosmetics are also considered drugs, such as toothpaste with fluoride, anything with sunscreen, anti-dandruff shampoo and antiperspirant. But even then, over-the-counter drugs without dose limitations don’t have to carry expiration dates if tests have proven they’re stable for at least three years, which is why one sunscreen may have a date while another won’t.

Things are different in the European Union, where cosmetic products with a shelf life of 30 months or more must have a Period-After-Opening symbol indicating how many months the product can be used “without any harm to the consumer” after it’s been opened. (Products with a shorter shelf life are labeled with a “best before” date.) Some American products have decided to use this same symbol, but that is voluntary.

Of course, if you’re going to rely on a PAO guideline, you’ll need to remember when you opened the product. You may want to write that date on the product with a permanent marker, or add a label with the date.

Shampoo (non-dandruff)

Real Simple reported shampoo is good for about three years; Jyl Craven Hair Design suggests “no more than three years and an opened bottle for at most 18 months.” Jyl goes on to say that some products — those that avoid using additives and preservatives — might go bad more quickly.

You can also rely on the smell and the feel of a product to alert you if it has gone bad. Amy Corbett Storch wrote:

How can you tell that shampoo is bad? Usually by the smell. An expired bottle of Pureology, for example, smells straight up like wet dog. Other signs: the shampoo appears separated or extra runny when you squirt some into your hands, and a lack of good lather.

How you store your shampoo can make a difference, too. Aubrey Organics said, discussing skin and body care products: “Long-term exposure of products to sunlight and/or heat should be avoided because the resulting oxidation may affect freshness.”

Sunscreen

Real Simple explained: The Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreens maintain their optimal strength for at least three years, but you should also check the printed expiration date on the bottom or the side of the product.

But again, you’ll want to pay attention to how the product appears. Real Simple goes on to quote Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North Carolina: “Most commonly, a foul odor indicates that the preservative has failed.”

And Dr. Lawrence Gibson wrote on the Mayo Clinic website, “Discard sunscreen that is more than 3 years old, has been exposed to high temperatures or has obvious changes in color or consistency.”

Toothpaste

Proctor and Gamble explained about the expiration date on toothpaste with fluoride:

Toothpaste past its expiration date may be less effective — some fluoride won’t bind with tooth enamel, reducing the toothpaste’s ability to strengthen teeth and defend them against cavities. Another result may be viscosity issues, such as toothpaste that is more difficult to squeeze through the tube.

Dr. Joel H. Berg, chairman of pediatric dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, explained the binding problem and a bit more in The New York Times.

He said depending how long and at what temperatures the tube was stored, the goo inside could separate, meaning less or more fluoride in each squeeze, and less or more flavoring agent, which could be mintily disconcerting.

Some toothpastes provide recommended storage temperatures. I’ve seen two — AquaFresh and Sensodyne — that say they should be stored below 86ºF, while another says below 77ºF.

Lip balm

Real Simple suggested lip balm can be kept unopened for five years, and opened for one to five years.

For more guidance, you might check with the individual company and see what information it provides. For example, Hurraw! Balm: “We recommend using your tube of Hurraw! Balm within a year of opening (fyi, stability tests place expiration at 3 years ‘on the shelf’) and storing it between 40-72F (4-22C).”

That last part is important, because a number of people indicate that lip balm will often go bad — developing clumps and texture problems — if it gets too hot or too cold, because the emulsification of the materials gets broken.

Conclusion

The more careful we are about how we store our toiletries, the longer they’ll last, and the less we’ll have to toss. But careful storage still doesn’t mean the products last forever.

Dyeing to love my clothes again

Today’s guest post is from my hometown friend Rebecca Bealmear. Lawyer by day and aspiring minimalist by night, she writes about her adventures in simple living, bicycling, and whatever captivates her attention on her personal blog Seven2seven8.com. She currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri. A big welcome to the lovely Rebecca. — Erin

For the past three years, I’ve joined up with the women on my husband’s side of the family for a once-a-year shopping trip. We often time it in the fall, to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday, and to get a head start on holiday shopping. And so, I found myself with my in-laws, at the Osage Beach outlets in Missouri this past October 26. This time, however, I didn’t feel like buying anything.

The funny thing about our tradition (and the point at which I became part of it), is that it coincides with the time I started to question all of the belongings I was holding onto in my home “just in case” they became useful or somehow morphed into what I really wanted or needed. This was especially true in my clothing closet — my tiny, circa-1939, approximately 10 square foot closet.

It was then my clothing projects began. I donated, but then I replaced more than I donated. I tried storing just a quarter of my huge wardrobe (full of inexpensive and trendy items) in my closet, with the remainder hanging on racks in my basement. And this worked, well, not at all. Then, it took a turn for the worse when I was bitten on the hip in February 2012 by a brown recluse spider that moved into a pair of pants I had been storing downstairs.

Suddenly, donating clothing I was not consistently wearing became so much easier.

Fast forward to today, and my wardrobe is easily a quarter (a sixth? an eighth?) the size it was a couple of years ago, and I have found a wardrobe system that really helps me evaluate the remaining items.

In February of 2013, I decided to try Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I tailored the challenge to the size of my current wardrobe, so I could reasonably cycle through almost all of my clothing in a year’s time (by dividing six rounds of 33 items across two months each). I have now completed four of my six rounds, and I am hooked, and I am changed.

I can no longer tolerate excess in my wardrobe or home, though I am still negotiating for myself what is “enough” and what is “excess.” I am simultaneously surprised, relieved, and horrified by the volume of items I have donated to charity organizations, and by the lack of sustainability I have learned is inherent in our fast-fashion culture. I struggle with ethical concerns raised by the toll rampant consumerism has taken on the lives of garment manufacturing factory employees in places like Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh, where the April collapse of a building (costing the lives of thousands of workers) has resulted in almost no improvement in conditions for workers — those who make the clothing we often wear just once or twice before discarding it for the next great deal.

This is how I found myself uninterested in purchasing clothing on my recent shopping trip with my in-laws, and strangely attached to some clothing in my own closet — specifically, four items that had disappointed me over various rounds of Project 333: (1) a white t-shirt, too sheer and becoming discolored; (2) a white button-up tunic, stained with bicycle-basket oil; (3) a white blouse with a lace panel, discolored from overuse; and (4) a chevron-striped blue skirt in a color I found difficult to wear and weirdly cheap-looking.

My solution? They had to dye.

Armed with one box of Rit Dye in Denim Blue, a large stockpot, and the four items to dye, I set out to improve the items in my closet. These are the items before:

And these are the items after dyeing, rinsing, washing, and drying:

I am pleased with the results. The practical life of each garment has been extended, and they each have a different personality in the new blue versus the original shade. And, if I ultimately donate a garment, it might actually find its way into another person’s closet now, instead of landing in a rag heap or landfill – a much better fate than the tops would have met, had I donated them in their stained or discolored states.

The box of Rit Dye cost about $3 and since I already owned the clothing, it was free. I’d recommend getting some rubber gloves to protect your hands. I simply followed the provided instructions, which were very well-written. I dyed the skirt first for 20 minutes, then all three shirts together for another 20. Once finished, I rinsed the clothing well, and ran them, alone, through a heavy-duty wash cycle with a generous amount of detergent, then dried them.

No shopping, no landfills, no waste. I’ve deemed it a success!