Burning Question – How Many Clothes Do we Really Need?

Our house seems to be over flowing with clothes. Clean clothes, dirty clothes, clothes that are put away, and clothes that have been left in a heap…. and yet we still never seem to have anything to wear!

I can’t decide if we have nothing to wear because we have too many clothes, the wrong clothes, or just because I hate doing the laundry so the clothes we want and need are never clean when we want and need them.

I’ve heard a whisper that if you have less clothes you actually do less laundry, but I can’t quite reconcile that. Sure you have less clothes to wash, but don’t you have to wash them more often? Which would mean you are actually doing the same amount of laundry?

Still, the idea of having less clothes to deal with in general is appealing. We have precious little storage space as it is, and it would surely be easier to find that elusive favourite shirt, or to know that we are out of clean school socks, if there was less clothing junk to wade through. It would definitely make it easier for the kids to put their own clothes away and keep them tidy.

But I’m not good at getting rid of things at the best of times. I have a ‘someone might need that at some stage’ mentality which is even harder to get over when it comes to clothes. Sure that pair of school pants are too short and she says they are scratchy and doesn’t want to wear them, but what if I have a bad washing week and we run out of school clothes, surely a scratchy too short pair of pants is better than none? So we should just keep them right??

A while back I read about Trish from Little Eco Footprints starting a clothing challenge. Trish (and others around the web and the world) challenged herself to wear only 6 items of clothing or less (with some exceptions) for a month. The idea fascinated me. I don’t think I could ever do it, especially not in winter as some days I wear six items of clothing all at once just to stay warm! But it did get me thinking about how many items of clothing do we really need??

What do you think??
Could you do what the lovely Trish did and survive on six items of clothing for a month?
How much clothing do you think you really need?
How many clothes do your kids need?
How do you get on top of the clothing clutter?
Leave me a comment and share your thoughts, or feel free to blog about it and leave a link in the comments so I can check out your post.

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Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:

  1. says

    I’m with you, Kate. I often wear more than six items at once in winter.
    Maybe Trish has central heating, or lives somewhere really warm…

    I overcome the “can’t throw it out, it’s wasteful” urges by donating to the local op shop.
    – problem is, that while I’m dropping off the bags of clothes, I’m also picking up bargains that I “need”!

    • katef says

      I know that Trish does live someone with at least more stable weather than here in good old Southern Vic, but I still admire her for giving it a go… and for looking good while doing it, the woman has style!

  2. says

    Could definitely not survive with only 6 items of clothing! – but definitely think less is better. I inherited box after box full of clothes from my sister (who, being somewhat wealthier than me, thought having 6 or 7 boxes full of clothes for each size of babyhood was a good idea!) but I soon learnt that the small boy would wear in total about half a box full for each size. I bundled up most of them and sent them off to other friends or the Good Sammy’s. Now that he’s caught up in size to my nephew and we don’t get the inherited clothes it’s kind of a blessing and we really do work from a very small number of clothes. I think you do wash less because (or maybe I’m just very slack and naughty) you know there’s not much else to wear so slightly dirty clothes get reworn more often! Occasionally we get a bit stuck and I think we need more but there is always a way round it. It may be different when he’s older and has his own opinions on what to wear but so far so good.

    • katef says

      We are blessed with loads of hand me downs too… and in a way it has been really good for me because with the shear amount of clothes I have had to learn to be really ruthless about what we’ll keep and what we’ll pass on. For some reason that is easier since I haven’t paid for the clothes!

  3. says

    Oh Im constantly having this debate too!!!
    We are moving back to Australia in two weeks and I need to sort out what we will take in our suitcases and the kids have sooo many clothes! But I cull cull cull and still they seem to have so many to leave lying around, under the bed, dirty on the floor…. eek.
    And mine are all school aged wearing uniforms so how do they have so many???? I wish I knew the answer .lol.

  4. says

    I have trouble throwing out clothes too. I inherit a lot from friends and family for both kids and myself as I hate clothes shopping. Love markets and op shop bargains though and have several items that “might be ok with a stitch here or new buttons”. Of course I don’t sew and they just hang there waiting. But read a good tip (from one of the many great blogs I read) that if you tag the items in the wardrobe with today’s date then as you wear an item throw the tag away. Then check at the end of the year and if you still have clothes that have date tags on them it’s time to get rid of them. If you can let them go (80’s fancy dress anyone?).

    • katef says

      oh I have a big mending or reusing pile too… and while I do sew I wonder if I’ll ever get around to doing any of it! LOL

  5. says

    My sister did it and I think she went okay!

    I am AMAZED at the breeding power of clothes. We have far too many. I don’t think having less would cut back on washing necessarily, but it would sure cut back on clutter. x

  6. says

    mm.. I think 6 items is just a little too few…


    I have recently done a full pregnancy with 5 shirts, a pair of jeans, 4 maternity skirts and two dresses… Which means 5 tops and 5 bottoms that mix and match for a single outfit. + jumpers and socks and undies and bras and other odds and ends.

    But basically, it worked. And I was happy as they all matched/co-ordinated ok, weren’t falling apart, fit well, and I knew I had something to pull on every day.

    That almost fits in the guidelines, right?

    I have another friend who buys 3-4 new outfits each year and just wears them continuously. Then tosses them when they are bedraggled in about 12 months. And that works too. She has a few special clothes for super special occasions, but really all the rest, including ‘good’ clothes, get worn every day. And used well before they are eventually turned into rags/donated to charity. And she always looks glam.

    And yet another friend who does a yearly wardrobe clean out, and if it hasn’t been worn in 12 months, it is in the ‘charity’ bin.

    And yet more friends who get together for a clothing swap meet / gossip once a year: bring food and the clothes you don’t fit, don’t want, can’t bear to donate yet along, and rummage through everyone else’s and take as you please, the remnants go to the charity shop. ….

    Cull cull cull….

    • katef says

      You know I managed with hardley any clothes when pregnant last time… and I was happy, but mostly because the clothes I did have I really liked. I think that is part of my problem I have a large selection of clothes that I think are ‘ok if I have nothing else to wear’, and very few I really love.
      Now if I had 6 items that I really LOVED then maybe that would be different!

  7. says

    I could not have only 6 pieces of clothing but at the same time I don’t have piles of clothing. I recently did a major cull in my wardrobe (and wrote a blog post about it too), getting rid of anything I hadn’t worn in the last 3 year (excluding maternity wear which all went out), and I was surprised by how much stuff I got rid of. It was so liberating. I sometimes think that keeping things for “what ifs” bogs us down in too much stuff. We plan so much for every possible contingency, when really we could just be innovative on the rare off chance that each contingency actually appears. I think
    What if it’s raining and the kids uniforms aren’t dry – just send them in jeans with a note explaining that it’s been raining and you have no dry ones.
    Too much stuff is just that – stuff! It doesn’t make you happy and it clutters up life. If you need any inspiration to get rid of stuff, look at those tv programs about hoarders! You may have guessed, I am a chucker, rather than a hoarder.

  8. says

    oh well – travelling always helps with that! I could and will shortly cull my travel pack and the whole family’s pack again. I guess I am like you but my boys (at least the two oldest enough to have opinions) have very clear likes and dislikes and could totally cull their clothes down to very little. Mind you that would also mean the large one would probably cull his best shirts and trousers, etc as he ‘ hasn’t worn them in ages’. so you know! I love having less but then when you just feel like ‘that one’ and you only have four outfit choices – you just have to go again. DOn’t you remember how sick you were of your pregnancy clothes by the time you popped? Nah, not me – culling is against my nature! I do find though that I am spending more per item as I get older but shop very rarely and try to get fair trade or handmade (or underwear!) I could do a really good cull of all the bits and pieces that ‘only work with those trousers because its torn here or has to be worn under a jumper as it is stretched. etc. but, yada yada – i just do something else instead. We find dressing straight off the clean washing pile works sometimes for almost a week before I totally bust a gasket! Mind you that is with the travelling clothes, at home if we try that – we lose sight of half a room!

  9. says

    I guess, if we’re ignoring underwear, six dresses is virtually one for everyday of the week, I reckon I could probably do that…. and my son would relish the thought, even without washing them between wears!

  10. says

    Hi there, we choose to have very few clothes – we have very limited space!!! Our kids have two short sleeves tops and two long sleeved tops, two short bottoms and two long bottoms and then undies. We live in a part of the world, Cape Town, where we know some really wealthy people and we know plenty more really poor people. I want my kids to know that there will always be people with more than them and there will always be people with a lot less than them. Whenever we have anything extra we select and donate. I sorted my own closet for project simplify earlier this year – you are welcome to take a look: http://www.se7en.org.za/2011/03/12/project-simplify-the-closet

  11. says

    I seem to be the odd one out here, but 6 pieces of clothing (not including undergarments) would be fine for me. I practically live in my jeans anyway, so it’d be just a change of t-shirts and a jacket.

    But then I can wear jeans to work, so I suppose that makes it a whole lot easier!

    I regularly go through our cupboard and donate clothes to charity. I tend to do one cull, wait a week or so, then do another – all those bits and pieces I found in the first cull will be at the top of my mind and I’m able to be realistic about whether I want to keep them or not. Otherwise they just stay there til I find them again in the next cull…

  12. says

    I could easily go a month on 6 items of clothing (I’m assuming this does not include undies and bras). In fact, I probably have on many occasions. I hate shopping so much that I just make do instead of buying new clothes. That is, until recently, when I started making myself some clothes. I made 3 long-sleeve tops for winter. They are nice and thick. They have made up my winter wardrobe teamed with 2 pairs of track pants and 1 pair of jeans (I am soooo classy :D) and a jumper. So 7 items of clothing. And an umbrella. And to be honest, when I am out, I often have Toby on my back so I have my own built-in heater. Does a mei tai count as clothing?

    You know, my theory is that you actually do MORE washing when you don’t have many clothes, because you need to wash just to have clean clothes. I have been guilty of throwing a not-qute-full load of washing on just because I need something clean…..

  13. says

    A few weeks ago I pulled an intervention on my own cupboard.

    Out went nearly everything. Truly. If it was maternity clothes. OUT. Needed a button or a zip fixed, had a mark, stain or small rip, if I was waiting to fit back into it. OUT all of it.

    I then had to shop, I have purchased about 15 new things and pretty much wear them and that is it.

    My kids have too many clothes, but I have also found a friend who is in tough times and I know our hand me downs are much loved, it makes it easier for me to get stuff out asap.

    Last year I also had a stall at a kids market, it was a great way to move those things you think you want to keep.

  14. says

    I’ve just donated 3 boxes of clothes to the Preschool Fete, and there’s a big bag of mine waiting to go to Sammys.

    My problem is my husband. He’s a gift giver, and every time he goes away for work (every 6 weeks or so!) he wants to buy things. I accept clothes because it’s better than toys, although I want to point him in the direction of books.

    I find I have favourites that I wear to death, so on our recent holiday to Bali I had several made up in different materials. I can just about get rid of everything else now!

  15. says

    we have way too many clothes~! I really need to downsize the kids clothing….but I dont think I could live in only 6 items for a month though…I did that when I was pregnant and it was awful.

  16. says

    For me the one upside of having so many clothes is that if I get extremely, extremely far behind in the laundry there is still stuff to wear. But I think I would be less overwhelmed if there was less of it.

    Last year I went all out and threw out every piece of clothing I had that either didn’t really fit, didn’t really look good, just wasn’t comfortable or I never wore. And while I ended up with a whole lot less clothes, whenever I did pull something out of the wardrobe I knew it was something that I would be happy to wear.

    The husband *cough* hoarder is another matter entirely.

    • Erin says

      My husband and i travelled around South America for 8 months and all the clothes i had were a pair of cargos that zipped off to be shorts too, a pair of jeans, 3 tshirts, a long sleeve thermal, a polar fleece jacket and an awesome top that could be worn different ways for going out (intimo brand, love it!) and i don’t think it ever bothered me once. ….but then again i’m not sure being a dirty backpacker really counts :o)

  17. says

    Just last weekend we had our annual clean out the closet fashion show where we tried on all of our clothes and got rid of everything that we had out grown or just knew we didn’t need to wear. I did this with the idea that I would get a shopping list together of what we needed, but then I thought, I wonder how long we could get buy with what we have? My guess is we will be able to get by for a good long while. It is summer here and we have had 71 days so far of 100+ temps(F) so we aren’t wearing a whole lot right now. I think we can get by on less if we aren’t sold on the idea that our children have to look like they just fell out of a catalog. My little ones look crazy most days, but that is fine by me! Thanks for your post.

  18. says

    Thanks for the link love :-)

    I’ve definitely found that having less clothes means less laundry. I think it’s because I become less fussy about the ‘washing’. Does it look clean? Yep? Then it is clean. Or if it’s a little dirty then I’ll consider spot cleaning rather than washing the whole thing.

    I struggle with that ‘someone might need that at some stage’ – but force myself to donate things anyway. I tell myself that if I need it I can always go and visit an op shop and buy a similar one.

    Oh, and ‘outwear’ such as jackets, jumpers and cardigans aren’t included in the six, so I’m sure you could do it ;-)

  19. says

    Laundry is without a doubt our worst chore as well. It’s gotten to the point where we have Individual ‘clean hampers’ as well as dirty. With the exception of the kids – theirs is mixed together. But then on days when I’m too busy to sort into bins – eg. end of day laundry, it goes in the corner at the end of my bed for ‘later’.

    After my second child I broke down and finally got rid of a big chunk of my clothes, but it didn’t really matter ’cause I just got more!

    When you think about it, though we may have tons of clothes my husband and I basically only wear a handful of it anyway. With the odd exception day where, for whatever reason, we’ll decide to wear something that we haven’t in months or worse – years!

    Clothes that’s too small we often rationalize keeping as ‘incentive’ to loose weight. And kids clothes – just like kids toys, there’s the famous ‘What if we have another’.

    I could and likely already do, only where six items all month, but we’ve all got a little ‘hoarder’ in us, if the rest of the home is ‘clean’ than I don’t worry about it too much. :)