You’ve painstakingly grown your minimalist wardrobe using steps ONE, TWO, and THREE. Now you need to take care of the clothes in your limited collection. No pressure.
Before I begin, let me start by saying that I realize there’s danger of sounding like a domestic science whack job when writing about laundry. Here’s a reminder that these are just clothes that we’re talking about. Occupying too much brain space with concerns of laundry isn’t advisable. Clothes wear out. They will get torn and ripped and arm pits will yellow. I don’t think there’s a wool sweater wearer on the planet who hasn’t once accidentally washed a sweater in hot water and rendered it doll’s clothes. You can’t control all wear and tear, you can only try to stave it off. These are a few practical things I do to try to ensure that my clothes stick around for awhile. You will have bits to add, no doubt. Please do.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the great offerings of the New York City service economy is the drop and fold laundry. Without a washing machine or dryer in our building, we’ve decided that sending our laundry off to be cleaned makes sense for our family. But whether you send your clothes out to be cleaned, or have a washer and dryer to call your own, here are a few things that you can do to extend the shelf life of your clothes.
1. Wash in cold water. We wash everything in cold water, no exceptions. For the most part, none of our clothes get truly soiled, so there’s not really a need to use hot water. Cold water means less shrinkage, less fading, and less risk of setting stains. Also: it saves energy. Happily, this is the default mode of the laundromat where we bring our clothes.
2. Separate, separate, separate. We generally do two loads each week: a “lights and whites” and a dark. We separate our laundry into two piles before loading it into our laundry bag and ask the staff at the laundromat to keep them separate when washing. They charge us an extra dollar for the service and it’s a dollar a week that we don’t miss. (Note: The folks at the laundromat who wash our clothes combine the light and dark loads into just one dryer load. Save one unfortunate incident with a very linty sweater, we’ve never had an issue with taking this approach. The takeaway: Wash separately, dry together.)
3. Pre-treat. We use a stain removing bar soap on anything that looks like it might need some extra love—lately that means soiled diaper covers, soon enough it will mean strawberry dribble. (We keep our unwrapped soap in a lidded glass jar in the bathroom, just in case you wanted to know how the heck to store it.)
4. Use a gentle detergent. In keeping with the notion that most of our clothes are not truly very deeply soiled, we’ve always found that a gentle, lightly scented detergent is more than enough to get our clothes clean. We’ve been using this detergent lately. It’s free of dyes and just about every other creepy toxin and scented with 100% essential oils. We keep a bottle of our own detergent at the laundromat where our clothes get washed and a small bottle at home to tackle any hand washing projects.
5. Wash by hand. I try to choose clothes that require hand washing fairly carefully. This is mostly because I’m lazy. A wool sweater that requires hand washing, for instance, is something that I might only wash a time or two a season (especially if I always wear a cotton t-shirt underneath). A shirt that’s tight fitting and gets sweaty after one wear is something I’d probably choose not to buy because it would require much more regular care. When I do have hand-wash-only duds to wash, I save them up until there are a few that need cleaning and then do them all at once. Disclosure: I most often end end up handwashing when I realize we haven’t made it to the laundromat and I need to wear something or other that’s dirty.
6. Hang dry. We hang dry many of our clothes—whether suggested by the manufacturer or no. When we separate our laundry by color, we also include a bag of what we fondly refer to as “no dries.” We typically pick up our clothes on the same day that we drop them off and bring our wet clothes back home to finish drying on our own drying rack. When clothes specify that they be laid flat to dry, I put an old towel over the top of our rack and call that flat enough. Washing a wool sweater and rolling it dry in a towel to rid it of some extra moisture goes a long way to reducing dry time without doing the dreaded “wring dry.”
Note: If you live in a place where space is at a premium, a clothes rack can make things feel crowded, fast. Solidarity, sisters. The best way to combat that is timing and placement. Wash in the afternoon so that clothes can dry overnight and stick the rack by the window or in the middle of the room where air is circulating. As soon as they’re dry, fold ’em up and the rack. too. If you have high ceilings, let yourself indulge in the fantasy of a Sheila Maid. If you have outdoor space, consider hanging a laundry line.
7. Use a lingerie bag. I spent most of my life thinking that lingerie bags were for fancy people only. Now I realize they’re for smart people. Hand washing is an excellent idea, but when that’s not possible, corralling all of your delicates into a zipped bag will help prevent them from getting snagged or run ragged by the spin cycle.
8. Store carefully. Most everyone I know has a moth story. Mine is the beret my grandfather wore in France in the 40s, now polka-dotted with tiny holes. Natural fibers have natural predators; do what you can to fend them off with moth sachets (to make, or buy) and zipped up bags and boxes. And then develop a thick skin about ruined woollies. Alas, alack.