The Results of my Essential Clothing Challenge

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Aloha everyone! Now that weʻre in a new month (and new year!) it is time to evaluate the success (or failure) of last monthʻs Essential Clothing Challenge.

As you may recall, during December 2018 I was working to find the most efficient way to keep, wear, and wash clothes. I reduced down to just 33 items of clothing and only did laundry once a week.

How did it go? Pretty good, actually. In this post Iʻm going to share the details with you. Iʻll talk about both the positive and negative results. Plus, Iʻll mention what I might have done differently.

Iʻm also going to provide a general framework that you can use to try this challenge for yourself. And finally, Iʻll wrap it up with my plans to improve and continue my clothing system in the future.

Ready? E hele kākou! (“Letʻs go!”)

Positive Results of the Essential Clothing Challenge

As I said, this was a pretty successful challenge. Here are the broad strokes:


I could only do one load of laundry a week, which worked out just fine. Usually, this was on the weekend. Since there were 5 weekends in December I did 5 loads of laundry. This means a lot less water and soap used, and it was a big saving in both time and money.

During the week I never thought “Oh, I wish I had a clean [whatever],” because I knew I had just enough clothes for the week. It was actually a relief to only have to think about washing my clothes once. Stress reduction for the win!

Weekly Evaluation

Each week I evaluated the clothes I hadnʻt worn during the week. If they were things I didnʻt need or wasnʻt using I put them in my clothing storage box. Sometimes I would keep clothes around for another week if I thought I might need them. But if they were in the “didnʻt use” category more than one week in a row then I stored them away.

I was posting up regular updates on the clothes I didnʻt use on Instagram, so you probably saw those as the month progressed.

I also checked to see if there was something I might need that I didnʻt have. In the whole month, I only needed 2 items. Not too bad! (Iʻll talk more about those in a minute.) It means I was pretty accurate with the type of things I would need during the month.

Clothes I removed

Here is a list of the clothing items I ended up putting into the storage box.

  • 1 button up shirt
  • 1 workout pants
  • 1 pair of underwear
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of casual shorts
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 jacket

I find that pretty amazing. I started with 33 items and still got rid of 7 of them! That brought me down to a total of 26 items.

Clothes I added

Here are the items of clothing I added to my closet:

  • 1 pair of shorts (workout, lounging)
  • 1 spare pajama top

Iʻll explain why these were added in a moment, but overall this isnʻt too bad. It brought me up to just 28 items.

Clothes I ended up with

So, here is a final list of the clothes that I ended up with in my closet:

  • 2 jeans
  • 1 shorts
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 7 pairs underwear
  • 7 pairs socks
  • 1 set pajamas (shorts / t-shirt)
  • 2 button-up shirts
  • 1 pair shoes
  • 1 pair house slippers
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 spare pajama top

The amount of room these take up are pretty minor. I could fit them all in a small carry-on sized bag. This is a closer step to my “Own Your Age” idea. (Maybe a future challenge?)

Negative Results of the Essential Clothing Challenge

Of course, there are some negative results. Not a lot, though. Here are a few things worth mentioning:

Naked Laundry

The challenge with having enough clothes for the week is that, when youʻre washing all those clothes, you donʻt have anything to wear. I prefer not to do my laundry while naked, so that means I needed something to wear while the rest of my clothes were in the machine.

My solution to this was to bring on another pair of shorts and another pajama t-shirt. I could cycle through the shirt once a week. One would be in the laundry basket while I was using the other.

With the pajama shorts I have, they are actually swim trunks. That means they are quick-drying. So, my solution for those is that I will hand-wash them once a week. In the future when I start doing some swimming at the YMCA, it will be even easier to keep them clean since I can wash and rinse them after a swim.

I actually did hand-wash the swim shorts once during the month and it was pretty painless.

Hand Washing FTW

I could have done more hand washing. I know that it goes against the whole “do laundry just once a week” idea. But hand washing is pretty simple. Especially for underwear and socks. I couldnʻt / wouldnʻt do it with pants and shirts, but for light, small items it is easy to do.

So, while it went against the idea of this challenge, in the future I would incorporate hand-washing into the mix. Of course, this means that I would have to swap out a few things …

Multi-Use Clothing

The clothes I have are of “okay” quality. Theyʻre sturdy enough, but theyʻre not really optimized or designed for extended, repeated use.

There are some really amazing clothes out there for minimalist digital nomads. Like, waterproof and anti-microbial t-shirts you can wear a whole week without them smelling or getting gross. Or pants that have a similar quality. Same with underwear and socks.

In the future, as each of my current items wear out, I plan to replace them with higher quality items that will be better for multiple uses and hand-washing. Naturally, those items are more expensive. But if you amortize the cost over their useful life, then it works out pretty much the same.

If I did that I could reduce my overall clothing count by a significant amount. But Iʻll share more details on that in a moment …

What I learned from my Essential Clothing Challenge

This challenge has reinforced some of my ideas about how I use clothing. Specifically …

Wearing clothes multiple times is not gross

Really, it depends on what you do during the day.

I spend most of my day in an air-conditioned office (or car), expending a minuscule amount of energy while sitting at a desk. My clothes donʻt really get smelly or worn out.

Jeans, which are the main pants I wear, can be worn multiple times. Iʻve tested the boundaries of that and I would say that 3 to 4 days of use out of one washing is about the limit. If I was more active, then maybe that goes down to 2 days. In fact, that is why I reduced my jeans from 3 to 2. I just didnʻt need that third pair.

The other important thing is to shower regularly. I usually shower every evening before I go to bed, and then I do a rinse off in the morning before getting ready. Essentially, Iʻm showering one and a half times a day.

(Plus, the bonus of showering or taking a bath at night is that it improves the quality of your sleep.)

Jackets are not necessary in Hawaiʻi

I mean, itʻs Hawaiʻi, right? I probably wore my jacket once during the whole month.

I would say the best type of jacket to have would be a light rain jacket. We do get squalls and rain flurries from time to time, so having some rain protection is handy. If you had a rain jacket with a soft, warmer lining for cold, air-conditioned rooms, that would be the best.

Hmm … is there such a thing? I might have just come up with a great Kickstarter idea! 🙂

The main thing is to know your environment. But Iʻll talk about that more in the framework below.

Quality trumps quantity

As I alluded to before, having high quality, multi-use-friendly clothing is a better solution than having a lot of cheap clothes that get torn easily or are hard to keep clean.

This is especially true with underwear and socks. And then shirts to a lesser degree. Good quality underwear and socks can be a lifesaver. Exofficio or Darn Tuffs are excellent for each of those. Merino wool, FTW.

This means you have to take care of your clothes and canʻt treat them like junk. If you are haphazard with your clothes, then shopping at Goodwill is probably a better bet. If you treat your clothes carefully then more expensive items will last long enough to make it worthwhile.

What I would do differently with the Essential Clothing Challenge

So, based on the experiences in December 2018, I would make the following specific adjustments:

I would add in every-other-day (or maybe daily) hand-washing of underwear and socks (and possibly t-shirt). It only takes a couple minutes and reduces the total number of items needed.

In fact, based on the hand-washing, I could change my list to the following:

  • 1 rain sweater (rain cover with soft insides)
  • 2 jeans/pants
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 1 button-up shirt
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair pajamas (shorts, t-shirt)
  • 1 workout shorts
  • 1 pair of shoes
  • 1 pair of slippers

That brings the total number of clothes to just 18! (Well, 19 if you count the pajamas separately.) Not too shabby. And this is actually a perfect list for someone who travels consistently, like a digital nomad. You might need a few weather-specific items like a beanie hat, gloves and a warm jacket (or long johns), but that isnʻt too bad.

A Framework for You

So, this is all fine and good, but what does it have to do with you and your overstuffed closet? (Assuming you have an overstuffed closet, of course.)

Well, I thought I would put together a quick framework that you could use to embark on your own Essential Clothing Challenge. These are five steps that I think will help with your process. Of course, this is just a general blueprint, so feel free to adjust things to match your own situation.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Laundry

That’s right. The first step doesn’t actually have to do with your clothes. We’re going to start by looking at your clothes “maintenance”. The question to ask is:

How often do you want to do your laundry?

And then the second question is:

How many loads of laundry do you want to do at one time?

The answers to these questions determine the quantity and type of clothing that you need to have on hand.

For me, I aimed to do one load of laundry a week. That means I needed 7 days worth of clothes. If your goal is to do two loads of laundry every other week, then you would need 14 days worth of clothes.

Of course, then that begs the next question about what a “day worth of clothes” means for you.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Clothing Use

This step involves taking a look at your life and the things you do each day. I tend to categorize activities based on 4 main areas:

  1. Casual: Hanging out with friends
  2. Exercise: Going to the gym
  3. Formal: Business attire or an evening at the opera
  4. Sleep: What you wear to bed

You have to determine how many of these types of activities you do each week. I have “casual” as the default. Every day requires one “casual” outfit.

If you shower before sleeping, then one sleepwear for the whole week is probably fine. If you tend to fall asleep with some grime on your body, then you might want to increase that frequency.

Then, depending on how often you need to dress up and/or how often you go workout, that will add on other types.

For example, if you are a university student who goes to the gym 3 times a week and works as a barista, then you need one casual outfit per day, along with 3 exercise outfits per week.

If you are a banker who gets a casual Friday, and you never exercise, then you’ll need the standard daily casual (for after work) and 4 days of formal outfits (which can be interchangeable, depending on how you use them).

Finally, you should ask yourself what the weather is like where you live. There Is a big difference between the clothing needs for someone in Norway than for someone in Tanzania.

Step 3: Can You Hand-Wash?

If you don’t know how to hand-wash clothes and have zero interest in it, then you can probably skip this step. But, hand-washing is actually pretty painless so I’d recommend giving it a try. It is especially handy when you are traveling. I’ve traveled to Beijing for a month with only 2 pairs of underwear and survived just fine since I was able to hand-wash them.

By the way, a pro-hack tip from my wife is, if you have a shirt that is mostly clean, you can just wash the armpits with soapy water and then have them dry overnight. You don’t’ need to wash the whole shirt if it doesn’t stink or isn’t dirty. Just wash the parts that need it and you’ll be able to squeeze out another day’s use.

So, the idea here is that, if you are okay with hand washing your underwear or delicates, then you can save a lot of washes in the machine, and reduce the number of items you need on-hand.

Step 4: Plan Out Your Wardrobe

Just like planning out what you’re going to eat during the week, you should also plan out the clothes you are going to wear.

Figure out each day ahead of time, and put your clothes out the night before. It only takes 2 minutes and it saves a lot of brain power in the morning.

Step 5: Fold Your Clothes

I know this might sound silly, but carefully folding your clothes after doing your laundry is really helpful. It sets your mental state and helps you feel connected with your plan to stay organized and efficient with your clothes.

I recommend the Konmari method of clothes folding. But, really, you can do whatever helps you out. It’s a mental hack, and I’m not totally sure why it works, but it does. I guess it is sort of like making your bed in the morning. Something about being deliberate, in the moment and taking time to be fully engaged is pretty significant.

Bonus Step: Keep Evaluating

As a last step, it is helpful to keep evaluating how you are using your clothes, how your laundry is progressing, and adjusting as you move forward. It is important to stay flexible and not get hung up on specifics or get too rigid.

My Future Essential Clothing Plan

Given how easy it was to implement this clothing challenge, I donʻt really plan to stop this method any time soon. Doing laundry once a week and keeping to a small list of essential clothing is perfect to keep my life stress-free(er).

As time goes on I will probably continue to keep reducing my clothes. Iʻll “A.B.E.” (Always Be Evaluating) my clothing needs.

For the clothes I currently have in bags and boxes, I will keep them stored for a few more months and eventually take them to Goodwill. If I donʻt look for them in the next several months then they are probably not necessary.

Eventually, Iʻm also going to swap out the items with higher quality ones. I already mentioned going for better underwear, socks, and shirts. But from now on my shopping is about quality over quantity. There is some pretty amazing travel-friendly clothing out there that I canʻt wait to try someday. I will try to do this over the next 2.5 years until the end of my current Walkabout Journey.

Of course, I will also try to get clothing at a low cost. But as I mentioned, if I can get something that lasts 4 times as long (or can be used 4 times as much) for only twice the price, then that is actually a better ROI on my money. If you look at the cost of clothes as a “dollar per use” equation, then that changes things. Would you rather pay $0.05 for each time you wear a shirt, or $0.01? Even if the shirt costs more, youʻll end up saving money in the long run.

My personal goal is to get to a TRUE 15 items by 2020. I want to have all my clothes easily fit in a small backpack. I will most likely return to this challenge at some point when I feel things are going off the rails. So stay tuned for that down the line.

To Sum Up

So, this first challenge was definitely a success. Iʻm really happy with how things turned out.

Of course, Iʻd love for this to help someone else out there too. If you end up using the five-step framework that I shared in this post then please let me know! Iʻm curious if Iʻm just a freak of nature or if this is something that could apply to someone elseʻs life. Try challenging yourself and see how it goes! 🙂

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. And be sure to follow me on my social channels at YouTube and Instagram. Iʻm also starting up a Twitter feed so you can subscribe to that as well.

Oh! And be sure to sign up for the newsletter too! Itʻs still in the initial stages but Iʻll be using it pretty soon to get the word out on my latest challenges and walkabout adventures.

Until next time … a hui hou!

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