Minimalist Laundry Strategies

Written on October 29, 2010. Written by .

When I decided to become more minimalist, I got rid of a lot of my wardrobe. In accordance with Pareto’s principle, I was wearing 20% of my clothes 80% of the time, so I decided that the extra 80% wasn’t necessary, so I left it all in a box on the street corner for the homeless. However, at this point I still have a lot of clothes and I do laundry once per week. Clothes are usually one of the largest space hogs for the traveler or minimalist, so it is worth considering options for reducing the amount of required clothing.

Now obviously if you are concerned about variety and can’t wear the same thing twice in a week, that is going to set a lower bound to how much clothing you need. But if variety is not an issue, then the constraint is set by how often you will wash your clothes. To reduce the minimum amount of clothes, you can either wash more often or wear for longer periods of time.

Many travelers choose to wash more often, commonly using a sink and a clothesline. I would do this if there was no other option as may often be the case when traveling, but if there is a laundromat nearby, I would much prefer to use it. Sink washing requires more active time than using a machine and doesn’t clean as thoroughly.

I personally think that doing laundry once per week is a good balance between saving time by batching and saving space by washing frequently. Therefore, the optimizations I seek are ways to wear clothes longer between washes without being uncomfortable or dirty. Some people think wearing a pair of jeans for two days is dirty, but in reality you can hardly tell the difference. In fact, some high-quality raw denim jeans manufacturers recommend not washing the jeans for 6 months. This is possible because there are ways to “clean” clothes without washing them, which is the key to optimizing your laundry system.

First, let’s discuss the problems that arise from not washing clothes.

  1. Odor due to bacteria from dirt and sweat  that accumulate in the fabric and generate smelly molecules.
  2. Itchiness due to accumulation of lint and dead skin cells.
  3. Looseness and flimsiness (not such a big problem, but contributes to the feeling of being unwashed).

Now here are some possible solutions that I haven’t tested, but may be helpful.

Using some combination of these techniques and others once or twice a week, it may be possible to comfortably wear only one or two pairs of pants per week with minimal effort. Dress shirts and sweaters can also be used multiple times if worn over an undershirt. As for socks, underwear, and t-shirts, I will probably stick with 7 of each or one per day of travel if shorter than a week. These items don’t take up nearly as much space as pants, so it isn’t as important to reduce them.

Extending the time between washes will also make your clothes last longer as washing causes clothes to wear. And having fewer clothes makes it more convenient to do air-drying, which will make your clothes last even longer. If you do plan on doing air-drying and you need it done faster, you can put the item on a towel, roll up the towel with the item inside, and squeeze out some of the water. It also helps to have quick-drying wool or synthetic clothes. Jeans can take more than 24 hours to dry when indoors without good ventilation. Another helpful travel tip is that you can use shampoo if you don’t have any laundry detergent – I hear the results are equally good.

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4 Comments so far
  1. mspice October 30, 2010 6:25 pm

    Hmmm, I never heard about the raw denim jeans before. Have you actually tried them out? In general, I would probably not consider any kind of jeans to be part of a minimalist wardrobe as they usually are heavy, dry very slowly, and just generally inflexible. I prefer convertible pants which are good for the city as well as on hiking trips. They are typically very water resistant and dry easily. They aren’t the most stylish pants, but style, at least for me, is not a big consideration. Style might be a bit more important if you plan on going to countries in Europe or places like Japan, but for most of the world, style is a complete non-issue for me.

    Certainly, some clothing items like underwear or socks take up very little space compared to other things like pants or shirts, but they definitely do add up. For me, there is a huge difference between having 2 pairs of underwear from having 7, not just in space, but just from an organizational point of view. I would rather just count and pay attention to fewer items. It just all depends on how minimalist you want to be. I really want to “go all out” and try to find a truly minimal amount of clothing which allows me to be comfortable, clean, and look reasonable.

    Sink washing can definitely be annoying, and it is hard to imagine how I might go about it in a shared room hostel situation as theft could be an issue while hanging my clothes to dry. Washing machines are uncommon in developing parts of the world. Neither Egypt or Vietnam had these and the only way to get clothes washed was to pay someone else to do it for you. I suspect they hand wash clothes too, although they probably do a better job than I would. So far, my hand washed underwear has remained clean and comfortable. I have only had 2 pairs for the past month or so, and while I might end up getting a 3rd, I definitely do not need more than that. I would also not have any problem with wearing them for a few days in a row. Perhaps Febreeze might be good for this.

  2. cspice October 31, 2010 5:47 am

    I don’t think there is anything special about raw denim that makes them better for not washing; it is just that not-washing is better for those jeans. So the freezer idea should apply to any clothing.

    Also I disagree that jeans are inflexible. They are comfortable in a wide temperature range, are very durable, and look perfectly appropriate in a nightclub or on a hike. Weight is not really an issue if you only wear one pair of pants. The main drawback is the extremely slow drying. But if you only wash once a week and use an umbrella in the rain, at worst you will have one morning per week with slightly damp jeans if there are no driers and no windows.

  3. bspice November 1, 2010 12:57 am

    If you are spending a lot of time outdoors or carying your clothes, jeans aren’t a good option. They are bigger, heavier, and dry much slower. If you are doing camping, jeans are evil. When they get wet, they’ll provide no warmth, and they’ll stay wet for days. If I were trying to be completely minimalistic, I’d go with hiking/convertable pants over jeans.

    Hiking pants do look like they belong outdoors, so if you want to go around in a city and look fashionable, jeans would make more sense.

  4. cspice November 1, 2010 3:37 am

    Ah, that reminds me: when I was air-drying my jeans it was after using a washing machine, which doesn’t leave jeans as wet as hand washing does since it spins some water out at the end. So yeah, I agree that jeans are only a good option if you have a drier or a good way to air-dry (not in a room with poor ventilation). Generally, my current planning is much more weighted for urban environments than the wilderness or third world. That’s why jeans are still an attractive option for me.

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