Get Clothing Clutter Under Control

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have a dilemma. I find my bedroom becoming cluttered very quickly with clothes that are “too clean to wash” yet “not clean enough to put away”. I was a single mom for many years, going to school or working, sometimes more than one job, and as a result, I didn’t want to spend more time on laundry than I had to. I’d wear clothes until they were visibly dirty, overly wrinkled, or they became… umm… odiferous.

When I was a single parent, that didn’t take as long as it does now! Now, I’m married and have one teen at home (who is responsible for his own laundry). I work at home caring for my elderly parents, and the piles of “not clean, not dirty” clothes are overwhelming. In our bedroom and my parents’! Sometimes, items in the pile have to be washed simply because they have been there so long, they’ve become wrinkled.

What do other people do with their clothes? Do they wash every item, every time they wear it? Do they wear the same thing until it needs to be washed? Do they hang up or fold and put away slacks and jeans and tops that have been worn but aren’t dirty?

Help me get out from under this heap! If you need something cleaned, I’m your girl. I’m not a very physically organized person, and “stuff” is my great foe.

Signed,
Clothes Horse

Heather says:

I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m a bit disorganized, too. Ok I struggle a lot with organization, but I do try.  I tend to be a perfectionist control freak -no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you very much- about my own space, which in a weird cruel twist of fate means stuff often piles up as I wait for the “right” time to take of something. It takes a huge amount of -wait for it, I’m about to say a dirty word- self-discipline for me to do the daily upkeep that  organization requires.

When I read your dilemma my first thought is that perhaps you have too much clothing.

Generally speaking those of us who live in relatively affluent Western cultures have too much stuff and that stuff causes misery. If we aren’t careful we tend to enter a cycle where we work to buy things and then work to take care of our things and then work to buy more things to replace the things that fell apart due to neglect. I’m tired just thinking about it.  (You all know that this is where some people are going to tell me that they live with exactly 3 pieces of clothing not including their underwear and that they have no idea what I’m talking about, right?)

So outside of those people who claim to have 3 items of clothing, what are you to do?

Don’t pile your clothing. 

Piles are the enemy.

Hang everything you possibly can, ESPECIALLY the items that have been worn but aren’t ready for washing. If you can’t hang everything, then you must find storage for out of season clothing and I don’t mean a pile in the corner of your room. Space saver bags, a box under the bed, a box in the attic, anywhere except a pile that’s going to get knocked over and them trampled on.

Hanging allows clothing to dry thoroughly, preventing that musty now I have to wash it condition.

Go into your closet(s) right now and hang everything backwards on the bar.

As you wear items and wash them, hang them the normal way on the leftmost side of the bar. Just keep shoving the stuff hanging backwards toward the right. Over six months or a year (depending on your climate) you’re going to get a better idea of the clothing you actually wear. Donate or consign the rest and do not feel guilty about it.

Just let it go. Someone else needs that item much more than you.

Don’t hang onto items for “when I lose ten pounds” and certainly don’t hang onto items “in case I gain ten pounds.”

Just let it go.

While you’re undergoing the great clothing weed out, do not buy more clothing. If there is an item you cannot pass up, something in your closet has to leave the house before that item can be introduced to your wardrobe.

This isn’t an overnight fix, but  over time you will notice a significant reduction in the amount of laundry done in your home.

Good luck!

 Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Comments

  1. bookchick says

    I am really bad about holding onto clothing I don’t wear. A few months ago I came into work wearing a pink 3/4 sleeve blouse. Everyone complimented me, oh is that a new blouse? No, it’s 3 years old but it was in the back of my closet and I’d forgotten about it. I was looking for a collared shirt to wear to work yesterday, and I pulled out a Wimbledon 1996 polo that probably hasn’t been worn since ’97. Did I put it in the Goodwill pile? Of course not, I hung it back up.

  2. CarolShiveMirek says

    In the summer I only wear my shirts once. Most pants I wear at least 2 or 3 times, depending on where I wore them to. Like on the weekend I spend most time in the pool, so I can wear the same outfit all weekend because I spend most of my time in my bathing suit. And I will wear the same outfit. If something is worn once and doesn’t need to be washed, I hang it up, or fold up the pants on the hamper for another day. I usually only have 2 pairs of pants out that I may alternate on at a time. Keeps the piles of still wearable clothes. I have enough piles of clean and dirty clothes, don’t need a third :)

  3. RobinInSeoul says

    I live in Korea, and up a couple months ago, I lived in a one-room apartment. I also had just one wardrobe to hang clothes in. I find it essential to store out-of-season items in boxes. This is handy because it forces me to go through my stuff at the turn of the weather and I can see what things I haven’t worn and get rid of a few items for the “good will” box.

    Things that have been worn once or twice, go right back in the wardrobe if they pass the sniff test. I like your “backward” hanger idea, I think I’ll try that!

  4. Kate S. says

    I have a simple (by my standards, at least) system for washing/not-washing clothing. If I wear something out shopping or to an event and it feels clean enough to wear again, I change when I get home and hang the clothes up again or put them back in my dresser, folded, but on top.

    If the clothing in question are “play clothes” or the junk I might wear around the house while cleaning or gardening or whatever and also not dirty enough that they need to be washed, then I fold them up and I have a little corner on the shelves in my closet where I keep them; I will wear them again the next day or the very next time I’m doing chores. This way, nothing sits too long and there isn’t really any danger of my “somewhat dirty” clothes being mixed back in with my clean clothes.

    For me, folding or hanging the clothes, clean or somewhat dirty, is essential. It saves the closet or drawers from looking messy, keeps the clothes in good order (i.e., not wrinkled) and also keeps me from doing laundry three times a week.

    My husband and I both use this system (although, admittedly, I fold his clothes for him and put them away, otherwise he’d leave them in a pile or toss them in the hamper) and, for a house of two adults and no children, we end the week with just one load of dark/colored clothes and one of whites; with our other laundry items, including sheets, we do no more than five loads each week.

  5. elizabethavice says

    For some crazy reason, I made my resolution to get down to 250 personally owned items. (If you think I’m crazy, go look up the folks who own 100 items.) I’m on my way but certainly not there yet. Clothing is an issue. I will say that the freedom I have now owning around 10 T-shirt (most dressy), 10 button up shirts or sweaters, 10 pants of one kind or another, and say 10 other clothing items is wonderful. Granted I’m no fashionista, but I think I always look presentable. I love not having as many clothes to worry about and keep neat.

  6. KeterMagick says

    I almost never re-wear anything without washing it. Even most of my business suits are washable; the pants get washed every time, and the jackets every other time. I have a messy husband, three dogs and a cat, so there’s usually dog hair, wood shavings, and smudges of grease or some sort of powder on my clothes if I do anything at all around the house. I also am way too paranoid about smells to risk it, particularly in the summer. So I wash. I reserve the “backwards hanger” trick for tracking items I haven’t worn in a long time.

    The exception to this, which is actually true for me today, is when I have done something extremely messy which required showering and changing clothes late in the day so that the clothes were worn for only a couple of hours after the shower and didn’t get a chance to get dirty or smelly. I just placed them on the back of the chair next to my bed and put them on again this morning. This is very definitely not something I do routinely. I have a laundry basket in the bathroom that usually gets the clothes.

    I’m in an extremely inconvenient stage of remodeling my house which was made worse yesterday when a pipe broke (possibly from the record heat?) in the downstairs bathroom and flooded the closet where all clothes were stored. This necessitated an emergency move to the last remaining upstairs closet, which, if the pipe had waited to break next week, would not have been there. (Was this luck? Or the Universe going “nyah-nyah!” at me again?) As I accomplished this move, I noted some things about how and what were are storing that I will be addressing forthwith, but I could use some suggestions.

    First, how to store corporate attire I now wear only occasionally but may wear more often if my business plans pan out: I quit using hanging garment bags as they weren’t space saving, and hanging space bags are too expensive. What’s left that is cheap? Does hanging from a vertical chain leave marks? And while the Space Bags I picked up at the dollar store saved most of my off-season stuff from getting wet, they also are very difficult to store so they were stacked in a corner on the floor, which was not as out of the way as it sounds. Any suggestions on how to store in-use space bags neatly?

  7. HeatherSolos says

    @KeterMagick Great questions, I’ll make sure they get their own post after I get home next week. I’m sorry you’re dealing with more home owner headaches. They do get old quickly.

  8. pattypitterle says

    I needed this one today. Something i need to work on in my own life, and especially in my kid’s rooms. That is a disaster area. Somehow, I just can’t manage to get everything that needs doing, done.

  9. GemmaBeads says

    @KeterMagick I saw a great tip for “garment bags” a long time ago and couldn’t tell you where. I use these to keep the shoulders of my suits/jackets and dresses from getting dusty. (I work in a tax office during that time of year and out of my house the rest of the year, my business attire just isn’t needed all year.) Okay, the trick is repurposing pillow cases. At the short end, where the seam is, just use a seam ripper or a small scissors and undo about 1″ – 2″ of the seam in the middle. Slip it over your hanger and voila!

    The upside is they are generally cotton and breathable, not to mention washable! Plus, you can keep your eye out for clearance, mis-matched, and really fun ones to liven up your closet or color coordinate for seasons or whatever. I also use pillowcases or shams to store guest blankets and quilts in. It’s just neater and if it tumbles off a shelf, I don’t have to refold it.

    P.S. I’m a thrift store fiend and love finding King size pillow cases (longer than standard).

  10. Liz says

    I love, love, love your idea with the reverse hanging trick — now if only I had a closet big enough to do that with! Any neat tricks for those who live out of drawers and said ‘space saving bags’?  In all honesty I just need a purge of clothing but it is hard to do (due to health related reasons I fluctuate in weight so often that I NEED clothing too small or too big on hand).  I try to keep a month’s worth of clothing on hand because of my hectic life (school, work, life, family, friends) and lack of laundry availability (or money to go do laundry with), but really a month’s worth just doesn’t fit anywhere.  Period.
     
    Sigh.  I need help. :(

  11. dbishop103 says

    This is also how I manage clothes that have been worn once, but need to be worn again before I wash them. It really works great! As to the clutter of clothes I don’t wear, it is UNBEARABLY hard for to get rid of good clothes. Especially as I, like Liz, struggle with my weight and tend to go up and down, though lately more up than down. I really wish I could make myself get rid of some things, but I just haven’t been able to yet. I’ve done so in the past then had to go out and buy things again.

  12. dbishop103 says

     @GemmaBeads What a great idea! I have a ton of old pillowcases because we keep several pillows on each bed and I pick up odds and ends here and there. I’m going to have to try this!

  13. Karen L says

    Our clothes that will be reworn get hung on over-the-door hooks/pegs on the back of the bathroom or bedroom doors. I even keep a few hangers on a couple for my work clothes. If “company” comes and I want to declutter, it just gets washed/put in the laundry basket. I always find that people will use pegs/hooks instead of the floor when using a hanger just seems “too much bother.”

  14. Alice says

    My system is similar to Kate S.’s – there’s a section of the closet that’s reserved for ‘in between’ clothes. I live in FL, and so generally can’t do more than 1 wear for tops, but all bottoms get multiple wears for me. Hanging them up means that they won’t get musty and wrinkled, and having a totally distinct area means that I can grab things from that section if I need to run a load of laundry and have some extra space.

    This works better than the hook trick for me, because it means that things aren’t piled on top of each other as the hook gets more and more full. That wasn’t a problem when I lived in CA, but here, anything that traps moisture is the enemy.

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