The No Laundry Challenge

nolaundryThis isn’t about wearing dirty clothes, saving water and energy, or going nudist for a few weeks, though there’s something to be said for all of that. This is about leaning out your wardrobe and discovering the clothes you truly value.

It’s been said that we wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. Some have suggested hanging your clothes the opposite way on hangers as you wear them. At the end of 30 or 60 days, you can look at the clothes not turned backward and tell which ones you no longer need.

The No-Laundry Challenge is a faster, more powerful way to illustrate this trend. Simply see how long you can go without doing laundry. We’ll make exceptions for underwear and socks, though if you run out of either, hopefully it’s because you still want to wear all of your inventory. If not, designate those you don’t want as rags. You know you’re done with a pair of socks or piece of underwear when you’re down to your last option and cringe at the thought of wearing it.

I’ve pared my wardrobe dramatically in recent years as I dropped 20 pounds. Much of my wardrobe was oversized to begin with and by leaning out my body, little of it fits. I figured everything remaining must be stuff I actually wear.

Not true. As a freelance writer living in Florida, I live mostly in jeans or shorts, T-shirts, and short-sleeve collared shirts. I tend to work out most every day, so I have a lot of training gear and rack up a lot of laundry. Having purged so much in recent years, I have an organized closet with gaping holes; I no longer need so much space.

So I figured the No-Laundry Challenge wouldn’t produce eye-opening results. I was wrong. After 10 days, I discovered three T-shirts that still had tags on them. I had purchased them at least six months ago. They had sunk to the bottom of a pile, which was where they remained as I wore the same shirts on top, washed them, and placed them back atop the pile. Even though I haven’t bought any other shirts in the last six months, it was startling to find I didn’t need the ones I bought six months ago – which I’ve started wearing this week with everything else in my overflowing laundry bin. I liked these three shirts when I bought them and still like them. It’s as if I just found some free new clothes.

nolaundry2As I made my way to the bottom of that T-shirt pile looking for something to wear, I passed a few other shirts, well-worn wardrobe veterans. It was time to thank them for their service, as Marie Kondo recommends in her terrific book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and take them either to Goodwill or the rag bin.

As I went through the sock drawer, it was surprising to see how many orphaned and worn socks there were. There were others I didn’t particularly like but kept because they were freebies from running events and triathlons. This violates the Live Lean philosophy of not accepting free items just because they are free. When I found that I would rather wear a pair of mismatched white socks to train in rather than a pair of freebies with some cheesy sponsor logo, it was time for the freebies to go.

You can do the No-Laundry Challenge several times a year because of seasonal clothing. Plus you’re always bringing in new clothes. Even if you rarely shop, you receive gifts and freebies. Ideally, we’d adopt a one-in-one-out philosophy each time we add. In reality, we usually don’t, especially with freebies. We don’t tend to get rid of something when we get a freebie since it likely isn’t better than much of what we have and, besides, it’s free. But there’s still a cost to ownership in that it needs to be maintained and produces clutter.

At the moment, nearly two weeks into the No-Laundry Challenge, I have one pair of underwear remaining and I’m down to mismatched socks. So I’ll wash socks and drawers today. But as I wear a “new” T-shirt for the second of a three-day stretch, I plan to continue the No-Laundry Challenge. I’ll no doubt find more stuff that can go and I’ll likely discover more “new” clothes to wear.

Best of all, I’ll continue to lean out my wardrobe, retaining only the clothes I love to wear – and keeping them where they can be seen.