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.
- Odor due to bacteria from dirt and sweat that accumulate in the fabric and generate smelly molecules.
- Itchiness due to accumulation of lint and dead skin cells.
- 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.
- Put clothes in the freezer overnight. This is recommended by raw jeans enthusiasts as a way to reduce odors and stiffen fabrics. Freezing won’t kill bacteria, but it will put them in a state of suspension in which they stop producing odors. Addresses issues (1) and (3).
- Turn clothes inside out and use a lint roller to brush off lint and dead skin cells. Addresses issue (2).
- Spray clothes with Febreeze, which binds to odor molecules so they can’t bind to your nose’s odor receptors (source). Addresses issue (1).
- Expose clothes to ultraviolet radiation from a UV wand to kill 99.9% of bacteria. Reviews seem to indicate that these are very effective at killing odors if used properly, which means going very slowly. The down side is that the wand itself will take up some additional space and it might take a while to perform the exposure. Addresses issue (1).
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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