What do you do with pair of jeans that you could wear a couple more times? How about a tee that you donned for only an hour? A sweatshirt that isn’t quite dirty enough to be laundered, but isn’t pristine, either? These, as it turns out, are burning questions on Ask Metafilter and people have strong opinions.
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I also have strong opinions on this topic, as I live in a small space with three other people and no washer-dryer. In our house there’s no “oh just toss it in the machine if you’re not sure” — we wash only things that are confirmed as dirty.
No clothes of any kind are tossed on the floor, as that makes them dirtier faster and therefore makes for more laundry (a cardinal sin). I’ll take you through a few of the options for storing clothes that aren’t quite dirty but aren’t totally clean, and then let you know, as a person who has tested many of these options, what I personally think is the best.
1. Everything that has touched your skin, even for an instant, gets washed.
This is for clean freaks. You tossed on a pair of jeans to run out to the store and then took them off? They get washed. A bra you wore for the ten minutes your neighbour visited? In the sink with the other delicates. This is a system for people who either really like to do laundry or who are sort of compulsive about clean clothes.
2. Everything goes back in the drawer or closet.
For these people, there is no “in-between.” These black and white thinkers divide their clothes into “wearable” and “not wearable.” Wearable goes back into the drawer or closet, not wearable goes in the hamper. There is no purgatory, just heaven or hell. The good thing about this is system, as with the first system, is that it is binary and simplicity is soothing.
The disadvantages, though, are manifold: For one, moths. If you put clothes that have been even slightly sweated in back in your closet, you are going to attract pests. Clothing moths are hard to eradicate; this system would not work for me.
Second, if the shirt you wore a couple times goes back in with the perfectly clean shirts, how are you going to remember how many times you’ve worn it? How will you know when it reaches your own personal threshold for “dirty”? Add in a busy week and a little forgetfulness and you might very well wear the same tee 12 times by accident.
3. Everything gets tossed on the chair.
The chair is only one level better than its close cousin, the floor. This is the worst possible plan if you have pets and only marginally better if you don’t. Cats and dogs have also left a lot of stuff on that chair, namely, their fur, so for the love of god don’t drape your fleece pullover or your wool scarf on an upholstered piece of furniture — you will be the person totally covered in pet hair.
Even if you don’t have pets, your clothes will get rumpled and won’t air out between wearings.
4. Everything gets tossed on a valet or other freestanding rack.
This solution is fine if you have a bedroom that will accommodate another piece of furniture. (Mine won’t.) I also don’t love it because the valet then becomes just another dumping ground, like the stationary bike or the cat-hair chair, which looks messy. Unless you also have an actual (living) valet to tend to it, this is not the most aesthetic or practical system.
5. In-between clothes get placed in a dedicated “in-between” drawer, shelf, or hamper.
This is fine. On laundry day you can just clear out that drawer or shelf, run everything through the wash, and start over. The problem of clothes moths remains. And a dedicated extra hamper is too much furniture for my room, plus things will get rumpled.
6. You can employ an arcane system of your own.
In an earlier Ask Metafilter question (this has been asked several times over the last ten years; I first encountered the question in 2007) someone said they hung up their in-between clothes in the closet, but turned the hanger around to serve as a signal that these were not perfectly clean clothes. This is not a Tom Clancy novel; I can’t deal with that much code when I’m trying to get dressed. And again, moths.
7. You can hang them over the hamper or on the dresser.
You can drape the in-between clothes over the edge of your laundry basket and put the dirty clothes inside. This is fine, but they don’t get aired out and will stay rumpled. Also it looks messy. (BTW this is also a solution for clothes that need to dry, like sports bras, before they are stuffed into the hamper. You don’t want damp things to molder for a week. Although in an ideal world you would hang them out of sight or wash them immediately.)
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8. You can hang them on hooks or a door rack.
In my experience, this is the only thing that works. Hooks on the back of the bedroom door are where we hang our jeans and things that can be worn more than once. For my kids, who used to just toss their clothes on the floor or pile them on the dresser, I bought this over-the-door rack.
The higher levels are for their costume/dress-up clothes and the lower levels are for pajamas and pants that can be worn again. They don’t yet have the knack of shaking out their clothes and hanging them on the hooks — they tend to just stuff them there in a bunch — but it’s nonetheless drastically reduced the piles of clothes on the floor and dresser. On laundry day, all clothes’ status changes to “dirty” and I clear off the whole rack and start fresh.
In the interest of fairness, I’ll point out that this system also isn’t perfect: The door hooks can get overly full, and your room won’t exactly look like a design mag. But it’s our best solution for now. In my fantasy home, I have a walk-in/walk-out closet: You walk in from the bedroom and walk out to the laundry room. All in-between clothes have their own rack, and elves come daily to run a load or two.
And I don’t have to think about a system at all.