Clothes! We’ve all gotta wear them, but we don’t have to spend a ton doing so. While I don’t think Mr. Frugalwoods or I have any clothes quite as ancient as our venerated 19-year-old Frugalwoods-mobile (whose virtues I extolled earlier this week), we certainly have some, ahem, mature threads.
Since not consuming is a huge part of both our philosophy on lessening our environmental impact and also a key component in how we save 71%+ each year, we have a few tricks up our sleeves (hah!) for keeping the stuff we own in stellar condition.
And as I continue my now 19-months-long (and counting!) ban on all clothes buying, I’ve had to get pretty creative in how I maintain the wardrobe I do have. Clothes don’t make the frugal weirdo, but they are required in most jurisdictions, so I figure they’re worthy of frugal discussion.
Some of you probably already know all of these strategies, and some of you probably know way more. But, reexamining how we maintain our frugal possessions is a wise thing to do every once in awhile. Just as we thrust our spending under the microscope, so too do we analyze our frugal practices.
How The Frugalwoods Keep Their Old Threads So Fresh And So Clean
1) Buy high quality clothes.
Ok, I realize this is kind of a retroactive first step, but, buying decent clothes to begin with is an ideal way to future-proof your wardrobe. Plus since I’m not shopping for clothes these days, it’s cathartic to live vicariously through you all–I’m just imagining all the amazing bargains you’re finding right now! And I’m sure you’re well aware where I advocate purchasing such togs: thrift and consignment stores!
Clothes are an area where the used markets shines to its fullest, most frugalist potential. Here’s the thing–new clothes loose their value almost immediately and are rendered worth far less than their initial purchase price. They actually might be worse than new cars in terms of depreciation and that’s really saying something. This is fabulous if you’re a thrift-combing frugal weirdo… conversely, not so fabulous if you buy a brand new wardrobe every season.
Folks looking to make space for their new acquisitions will often just dump their “old” attire at the thrift store because it’s incredibly difficult to actually re-sell clothing (unless you have mad eBay skillz and serious brand name offerings). Additionally, consignment stores operate by paying clothes-donators a percentage of the anticipated sale price, so people are incentivized to off-load good looking garb.
I’ve found brand new, tags-still-on items at thrift stores from the likes of J Crew, Banana Republic, and the Gap, paid an absolute fraction of the sticker price, and waltzed away with well-made, stylish sweaters, dresses, pants, and coats.
And don’t discount Goodwill as an option either! Yes, the epic finds are buried deeper, but with thrifty perseverance we’ve excavated some choice pieces from the depths of our local shop. Mr. FW’s $5 nearly-new khaki hiking shorts spring to mind. While other inexpensive options for clothing procurement are cheap stores, their offerings are typically not of the caliber that’ll endure for years. I am admittedly a fan of Kohl’s for discount, new threads and I’ve found that their products (for the most part) stands the test of time. I’m currently wearing a stretchy dress from there that I bought a solid 10 years ago. But for my money, most cheap new stores don’t cut it in terms of quality.
2) Storage matters.
Now that you’re equipped with your second-hand styles, don’t merely heap them in a pile on the floor of your closet or doggie bed (Frugal Hound, being a hoarder, dreams of us piling all of our socks on her bed. Not gonna happen, dog).
It sounds obvious, but, hanging garments up and carefully folding them in drawers truly will extend their lifespan. Mr. FW and I share a closet and dresser in our bedroom, which is where all of our apparel for the current season resides. Everything else hangs in either the guest room closet or remains safely tucked in storage boxes.
I have cedar blocks chilling with all of our winter wool items to prevent months. Clothes don’t like being wadded up–it makes them annoyed and wrinkly. So do them a solid and let them hang with ease.
3) Don’t wear your clothes.
This sums up Frugal Hound’s opinion on the entire matter. She feels that clothes are an unnecessary and constraining imposition levied by our culture’s desire for homogeneity and order. Plus, she’s a dog and clothes are itchy. For us humans though, who probably should be wearing clothes, we can choose carefully which clothes to wear. The rule is simple: don’t wear decent attire unless you have to.
I bet you don’t lounge around your house in a tuxedo, amiright? (If you do, let me know because I’m intrigued). Well, don’t sit around in anything else you’d categorize as “good” clothes either. Here’s a simple test to see if you’re doing this right. Next time you’re at home, look down at what you’re wearing and take the following quiz:
What I am wearing around the house right now is:
B) has holes
C) is at least 10-years-old
D) all of the above
E) none of the above
If you answered E, you’re doing it wrong. For all your A-D’ers, you’re winning at life!
Mr. FW and I have a retinue of seriously grungy around-the-house outfits that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone other than each other (huge apologies to friends who unexpectedly drop by while we’re at home–we know we look terrible).
At present moment, I’m wearing a stained t-shirt dating to my halcyon high school days and frayed PJ pants that I stole from Mr. FW (I am almost 7 months pregnant after all–I needed more stretch in the ol’ waistband). And Mr. FW is wearing what could only be charitably described as a mottled undershirt and some tragically colored gym shorts.
We don’t wear nice vestments unless we’re going somewhere that requires looking presentable–such as work, greyhound parties, to visit family, frugal weirdo conventions–you get the picture. By adhering to this rule of gross at-home garb, our fancy clothes are worn infrequently and thus don’t suffer the grubbiness that our home life entails, including but not limited to: dog washing, dish washing, hair cutting, eating (I’m the messiest eater ever), circular saw use, and… you can imagine the rest.
I put my work outfit on right before I leave the house (no touching of the Frugal Hound after I’m dressed!) and I take it off the minute I get home. Since Mr. FW bikes to work everyday, he actually changes at the office, thus keeping his duds quite pristine indeed. And we rarely wear classy clothes to do mundane chores such as go to the grocery store, walk the dog, or errand about town.
4) Don’t wash your clothes.
Thanks to this judicious regimen of rarely wearing our deluxe outfits, we find we don’t have to launder them all that often. The more you wash your clothes, the more wear and tear they’ll show. I typically wear my corporate ensembles at least twice before washing them and Mr. FW generally wears the same pair of work pants all week (ok granted, he does wear jeans to work). Unless something stinks or sports a tremendous stain, we hang it back up in the closet to wear again. Rest assured, socks and underwear are only worn once before washing.
5) But when you do wash your clothes….
Do it carefully! No throwing of entire piles into the machine at once! I wash everything in cold water as this 1) costs less since the water heater doesn’t have to kick on and, 2) is gentler on fabrics. My laundry sorting method is also somewhat unusual–I sort by wash cycle. I do a gentle cycle for our finest garb (dresses, sweaters, dress shirts/pants); a regular cycle for jeans, t-shirts, socks, undies, PJs; and a heavy cycle for sheets and towels.
Since I’m washing in cold water, I don’t have to worry about colors running, so I toss black, white, and red all together in the same wash. By using the minimum viable cycle strength, I’m agitating our clothes as little as possible. My dresses aren’t dirty enough to merit a true scrubbing–they just need to slowly oscillate in soapy water for awhile.
6) Turn it inside out.
Just about every article of our clothing gets washed inside out. This helps the ‘public-facing’ side of our clothes stay fresher longer. And, since most of our body-dirt is on the interior of our clothes, that side gets washed more thoroughly.
7) On drying.
How you dry your laundry is another excellent opportunity for extending the lifespan of clothes. I hang-dry all of our gentle and regular cycle items (dresses, t-shirts, dress shirts, skirts, jeans, pants). We have two large drying racks in our basement as well as several clothes lines strung from the ceiling with eye-hooks.
While my current drying set-up is beyond luxurious (I call it my laundry castle), I used to hang-dry clothes when we lived in our tiny one-bedroom basement abode. To accomplish this feat, I had two folding drying racks I’d set up in our kitchen and I hung clothes on hangers on our shower curtain rod. It was less convenient, but it totally worked. Some folks enjoy drying out-of-doors, which is another lovely option. I look forward to having huge clothes lines in the yard on the homestead one day (hey, a girl can dream)!
Our dryer is employed in service of drying sheets, towels, socks, and undies. Yes, I certainly could hang these bits to dry, but I choose to pay for the luxury of the quick dry. Since we use the same set of sheets and towels every week, a quick turnaround is key so that we can both bathe and sleep. Protip: don’t try to make a bed with still-damp sheets. It does not end well. Same story for bath towels. Turns out, patience when drying is a virtue.
8) Avoid the iron.
Principally, I do not like to iron and so will go to great lengths to avoid it. Hence, I created a ‘shake method’ that works satisfactorily. It’s quite advanced so you might want to take notes:
step 1: I vigorously shake out anything that’s wrinkle-prone (primarily Mr. FW’s button-down shirts) while still wet.
step 2: I place said items on hangers.
step 3: I bask in all the free time I have since I shun ironing.
In addition to being a fun way to thwack yourself with wet clothing, this is a super effective wrinkle remover. Sure, Mr. FW is probably a tad rumpled, but avoiding the iron saves time, electricity, and is less harsh on our regalia.
Protip: gently shake out sweaters and lay them on top of your drying rack. This way, they’ll assume their sweater-y shape and won’t get stretched out on the hanger. Don’t hang up a wet sweater unless you want to double its length. Ask me how I know this. It’s not pretty.
9) Repairs are for winners.
Spot a hole? Sporting a tear? Then fix it, dear frugal weirdo! Many a clothes item in our possession has sprung a leak or lost a button or come unhemmed. Rather than toss it to the curb, we bust out the needle and thread. We don’t have a sewing machine (yet… ), but we’ve been able to repair our clothes just dandy by hand for years. Plus, this is just another example of how we frugal weirdos insource everything humanly possible.
If a hole extends beyond the realm of mere needle and thread solution, allow me to introduce you to the fabulousness of iron-on patches. These are wondrous sticky patches you iron onto the opening of a hole that serve to both bind your fabric and patch aforementioned hole. Patches are best deployed on heavier materials, such as jeans, but I’ve also used them to great effect on delicate sweaters where stitching would pucker the fabric.
Another marvelous tool is Fraycheck, which is basically a liquid hem. This works tremendously well on gauzy textiles (such a silk or greyhound fur) when you don’t want to risk the puncture wound of a needle wielded by inexpert hands.
Sidenote: I’ve hemmed many a curtain using Fraycheck since I didn’t want to subject my poor curtains to my uneven hand stictching. It’s not as durable as traditional sewing, but it works beautifully on things that receive little wear, such as curtains (unless of course you’re in the habit of galavanting about in your curtains, in which case you should probably use needle and thread).
10) Avoid the dry cleaners.
This is environmentally, budgetarily, and clothes friendly. Unless you have an item that explicitly demands to be dry cleaned (such as a suit or formal dress), don’t do it! There’s no earthly reason to dry clean standard clothing items. I know that many a frock contains the all caps injunction to DRY CLEAN ONLY, but use your frugal sense here. We visit the dry cleaners perhaps once a year (or once every two years) and our clothes are in splendid condition.
11) Except sometimes don’t avoid the dry cleaners.
And now in an apparent contradiction of myself (something I’m superb at doing… just ask Mr. FW), I don’t advocate for the DIY cleaning of seriously specific or frail apparel. It’s not worth the money saved to ruin your best bagpipe costume! If you have specialty clothing designed for specialty purposes, take care of it as it’s intended to be cared for.
12) Don’t wash dog stuff with human stuff.
A universal maxim we should all strive to follow. If you have a hound or other house-animal, wash their paraphernalia in a separate wash. I disobeyed this rule exactly once. There was Frugal Hound fur in every single crevice of our clothing. It was a bad scene.
And I apply this grade separation to cleaning rags as well. Sometimes it’s worth the additional water and electricity expense to ensure you’re not soiling your clothes in the process of attempting to wash them.
Though I don’t fixate on our appearances or how dapperly we’re dressed, it does pay dividends for us to keep our clothes in decent condition. Not needing to replace our wardrobes annually–or even every five years–is liberating from the perspective of reducing our dependence upon consumption and also, quite obviously, an excellent frugal hack.
In much the same vein as we continue to drive our 19-year-old car, use our 10-year-old popcorn popper, and enjoy our used furniture, wearing old clothes is just another way that we flaunt our culture’s missive to constantly buy newer and better stuff. Nope, there’s no need. We’re perfectly content with the clothes we have.