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The 8 Rules for Re-Wearing Clothes: What’s Okay and What’s Just Gross?


image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mysza/

In college, my boyfriend and I discovered something that would forever unite us.  Besides our blinding passion for all things orange, we both had not two, but three main areas for our clothing.  Clean, dirty, and “transition.”  Transition clothes were the ones that had been worn, but could probably stand to go a few more rounds, cuz let’s face it, Mom’s not at college, quarters could be put to better use than laundry machines, and who has time to hang out with dryer lint on a Sunday afternoon?

And so we had “transition.”  What we discovered was that we both performed a sniff-test to determine which clothes could stay in the transition pile and which were relegated to the dirty bag.  He was thrilled to find a girl as gross as he was, and I was relieved to let out my disgustingness in front of the boy I liked without that annoying “girls smell nice” stigma.

Getting married, growing up, and having kids have made us no less conservative in our laundry washing, and I’m determined to teach my kids about appropriate re-wear principles, mainly because, oh friends, I am tired, oh so freaking tired, of the laundry piles filled with barely worn outfits.

Can I get an amen?

My girls like to change clothes five times a day, and if an item has barely touched them for two seconds, they put it in the hamper.  Meanwhile, I never seem to find enough undies in the wash, and sometimes they want to wear the same dress for a week, even if it has stains on it.  Maybe we need to establish some re-wear ground rules, both for and against.

So, let’s do that.  After enlisting help on social media and compiling your answers about your re-wearing practices, I give you, The 8 Rules for Re-Wearing Clothes: What’s Okay and What’s Just Gross?

1. Never, Ever Re-Wear Undies.  Ever.

It was unanimous that undies are a one-and-done item.  I’m glad to hear that we’re all in agreement about that.  I have one child who sends through exorbitant amounts of skirts, dresses, pants, and shirts, with only a couple correlating undies.  This is disturbing, so I’ve taken to reminding her every day.  Socks are also a once-only item.  What some of you said:

“Underwear is always one day, much to the disappointment of my eldest son who likes to live by the rule that he can re-wear them if “there are no marks.  Eewww!”

“Buy lots of underwear so you can go a long time between laundry loads, live efficiently, and profit!”

“Drawers, one day.  All else: smells good, looks good, is good.”

Two people advised that chonies are a one-time wear, and I had to Google “chonies” to see what that was.  Undies, so excellent, we’re all on the same page there, and yay, look at my expanding vocabulary.  Chonies chonies chonies.  If it means something else, please somebody stop me before I embarrass myself.  I trust you guys to keep me up to speed on all underwear terminology.

In college, my husband broke this rule by wearing, flipping inside out, and wearing again.  Somehow I still married him, and he eventually grew out of this practice.

2. Almost Always Re-Wear Jeans.

Jeans seem to fall at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a fairly unanimous vote for re-wearing.  The majority of you landed on an average of three wears, with some feeling more two and a few employing the sniff test (see number 7) for maximum re-wear value.  In college, I actually don’t remember washing my jeans during the semester, because the number of quarters it would take to dry them wasn’t worth it.  They got so soft that I could sleep in them like jammie pants.  Dirty hippie.

“Jeans are totally re-wearable, almost infinitely, or until they’re so stretched out and baggy that your skinnies have become cargo pants, or a child pees on them, or you wipe something that came out of a child onto them because the tissues are too far away.”

It’s reassuring when I read something like this and discover that I’m not the only one being used like a human kleenex.  I like to wear my jeans until they’re so baggy I can pull them on without unbuttoning them.  It’s energy efficient and also makes me feel really skinny.

3. Pee=Dirty.

For kids’ clothes, the big no-no factor is pee.  If you smell pee, the clothes are done, and what happens at our house is my pee offender will take her urinated-on item and stuff it into an entire basket of perfectly odorless transition clothes, thus rendering the entire basket beyond help.

“Child’s pjs: totally re-wear, until they smell of maple syrup or urine.”

In my world, urine and maple syrup have become so totally entwined inside my nostrils that I can’t smell one without thinking of the other.  This is a real problem when I go to IHOP and think everyone needs a change.

4. Make Your Kids Help.

To encourage my kids to think before they declare something dirty, I now have them fold and put away all their own clothes.  This makes them much less likely to wear a shirt for an hour then discard hastily.  Even my four-year-old is a great folder.

They’re in charge of getting all their dirty clothes into the laundry room.  If they’re missing an item, they’re also in charge of finding it and getting it into the laundry room in a timely manner.  If they don’t have something they want when they want it, they have no one to blame but themselves.

I wash and dry everything, then sort the laundry into individual piles.  When they get home from school, before they can play, they fold and put away their clothes.  We do this almost every day, to keep the piles from getting daunting.

5. The Transition Pile.

Several of you have The Chair, or at least it used to be a chair and is now just a glorified hanger where you drape your transition clothes until you can’t even see the chair underneath.  The transition pile is key for re-wearing jeans, jammies, and sweaters.  After they’ve been worn, they’re too dirty to put back in the drawer to sully the truly clean things, but too clean to put in the hamper or laundry room.  They need their own space, like a chair, the end of the bed, or on a hook.  I love this word for transition:

“My husband and I call those transition clothes “CLIRTY”…they’re not clean or dirty.”

I totally agree with this sentiment:

“Transition clothes: totally draped over bedroom chair.  The chair is never available for sitting.  In fact, clean clothes are rarely put into dressers.  We should just do away with them all together; living out of baskets is way more practical.”

My husband’s transition pile in college was his bed.  He put his clothes on his bed, slept on top of them, and donned them again in the morning.  These days, he’s slightly more evolved and has created a buffet line on the floor next to the bed, where his piles range from barely worn to almost dirty until they end up in our hamper, formerly known as the Fancy Spa Bathtub We Never Use, because who has time to take long baths?

6. Fewer Re-Wears in Sweaty Climates.

If you live in the South like me, summer basically destroys all re-wearing options, because you start sweating the second you step out of the house.  In ten minutes of play time, your kids smell like labrador retrievers after a long swim in a muddy lake.  Re-wearing really only applies from October through April.

When we lived in Latvia for three weeks at Christmas time, I was amazed how long our clothes lasted.  We smelled awesome, and I only had to do a few loads of socks, undies, and tees.  If you hate laundry, move north.  One commenter confirmed this for me with her observation about moving to Virginia from Great Britain:

“Depends on the climate – in the hot humid heat of a summer in Virginia you don’t get much more than one wear per item.  In the UK I think most things can be re-worn apart from underwear – laundry loads were a shock when I moved to the US.”

7. The Sniff Test.

Ultimately, the sniff test is the final determining factor.  If it fails the sniff test, it goes in the laundry, and if you’re too afraid to sniff it, it’s definitely too dirty to wear.  If something seems dubious but my kid is determined, I make her smell it first.

“Sniff test is the determining factor that trumps all others.”

“When your closet starts to smell like a Goodwill store, it might be time for some laundry.  BTW I do not know this from personal experience.  Or do I?”

“I do NOT sniff things.”

“I think if it doesn’t smell bad, and doesn’t have any stains or spots, it’s re-wearable until it starts getting stretched out.”

8. Get Rid of Excess.

This year, I cut down on the number of clothes in my kids’ closets.  The kids were stressed because they could never find anything and couldn’t keep up with the mounds of clothing.  Now they each have enough for about a week, and we do laundry regularly to stay on top of it.  I still manage to have those laundry freak-out moments when the pile threatens to take me down, but we’re all breathing a little easier with fewer items to manage.  We’ve given a lot away, created more space in our closets, and we’re saving a little water and energy by re-wearing what we can.  Most of us have more than we need, and it feels good to get rid of excess.  Inhale, exhale, ahhhhh.

How about you?  What are your re-wear rules?  What’s in your “transition” pile?  What are your tricks for staying on top of the laundry?

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  • Lynne

    This is my favourite line – “if you’re too afraid to sniff it, it’s definitely too dirty to wear”

    • Melanie Dale

      Ha, yes. This has happened from my actual life.

  • Amanda

    Our “transition” pile died when we moved to the Philippine Islands. Every item was washed, every time. It was just too grossly sweaty to think about we wearing anything. One of my boys started putting on fresh undies with every trip to the bathroom while we were over there. I had to put a stop to that. He could clean out his whole stash of clean underwear in one day.

    Now that we’re back in the states, my husband and I have gone back to re-wearing, BUT our kids don’t get it. I’m still trying to teach them stop eating rice with their fingers and that tap water won’t kill you. We’ll work on laundry habits soon enough.

    Oh, and I don’t sniff stuff. PJ’s and undies on the floor get washed (because PJ’s equals pull-up stink). Clothes on the floor go back in a drawer, unless I remember someone wearing it.

    • Melanie Dale

      You’re back in the States?!?? How did I not realize this? Now maybe someday we’ll meet in person!

  • Lauren Morris

    I remember the call for input on fb, but someone (She who answered with the jeans comment) answered it so perfectly and all encompassing-ly for me that I had nothing more to offer . I would like to add now, that I am so glad that my husband isn’t the only one content living out of piles. A beautiful new dresser? Apparently, it’s really supposed to be used for something else like a transition pile station, because his clothes don’t go in there unless I specifically put them there. And when I do? He never knows where any of his clothes are! lol The disorganization of his organization drives me crazy! End rant. :-)

    • Melanie Dale

      Haha, I totally agree! But when I start to point that out to my husband, he gestures at my own mess and I have to simmer down!

  • http://batman-news.com asnair

    When my boys became teenagers I taught them to do their own laundry. I now do sniff tests on the kids not the clothes. My husband also does is own laundry, so we have assigned laundry days to prevent waiting in line. Still haven’t resolved the “whose clothes are in the dryer?” Issue because no one ever removes them!

    • Melanie Dale

      Love it. Will have to remember assigned laundry days when my kids get older. My clothes sit in the dryer forever. We are always wrinkly.

  • http://www.akajanerandom.com Paula Claunch

    Oh la…I wear jeans and bras for…I mean…I’m to say a week but just between you and me and the internet it’s definitely more like two. I’m just as gross as a kid, apparently! ; )

    • Melanie Dale

      Solidarity. As I type this, I’m sitting in the jean shorts I’ve worn all week. And I’m okay with it. :)

  • Kristi@WrapsodyBaby

    Gosh, this is perfect. There are similar rules for baby carriers that I can’t quite define, too!

  • jswwrites

    Jeans and bras can go… well, a very long time. VERY long, if it’s fall/winter/spring. (And who wears jeans in the summer in the South anyway? Although I treat my denim shorts with the same asperity.) PJs can go at least a week. I mean, you’re sleeping, right? Socks can sometimes get a second go if I didn’t do anything in them that got my feet sweaty (again, doesn’t apply in the summer!). My pile is the dresser. My husband’s is by the bed. My son, a teenager who shall remain nameless, is famous for “cleaning his room” by putting still folded clean clothes into the hamper and bringing it down to the laundry. Of course, by the time they’ve been in the hamper, they smell like teenage boy gym clothes, and have to be washed again anyway. He’s going to college next month, so I suspect that’s one habit that will get broken pretty quickly!

    • Melanie Dale

      Oh my goodness, YES! My daughter does this. DRIVE. ME. CRAZY. So now she’s doing her own laundry!

  • Sara Newberry Harms

    your writing style is so fun! love this…we are a for sure ‘re-wear’ing family! especially in winter but not so much in summer =)

    • Melanie Dale

      Yes, summers can get ooky, especially for those of us who count going to the pool as showering.

  • texassa

    I almost never wash bras or sweaters.

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  • SMartelli

    I gained weight, about 20 lbs. When I tried wearing my size 32 jeans, it was just a painful and uncomfortable disaster. I joined a gym, but until I get back into shape, I got rid of the old pants, underwear, ugly shirts, etc… that I hated wearing, and will wear something my appropriate size, until I am once again able to wear a pair of jeans of decent size. Spring cleaning, purging, etc… is therapeutic. Cleanses the mind, the house, the soul.

  • SMartelli

    If a piece of clothing smells bad even after it’s been washed and dried, especially of it is cotton, it is time to either throw it out or give it to a charity, where at least you can get a tax writeoff at the end of the year.

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  • Marie

    Laundry is done every 2 weeks for us. We definitely have a transition pile, I look for stains and pay attention to smells. Socks and undies are definitely once per day, although my youngest is taking her time to catch on when it comes to the socks. Great read by the way





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