Monday, April 13, 2009

Doing More with Less: Clothing

The boat teaches many lessons in conservation. This is part of an ongoing series of posts about how we boaters do more with considerably less. The tips are valid for land based life as well, though, so hopefully folks can use some of these ideas.

It Was Nothing
It Was Nothing
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I found a bag of winter clothes this week while cleaning out the master cabin lockers. I should say “another bag of winter clothes.” We lived in Seattle for so long, I begin to think I could pull fleece, flannel, and long sleeved shirts out my butt for a year before completely shedding the old life. A fellow cruiser from the same part of the country admits she carries on her boat at least a full bag of her favorites from the old life... as if a boat which for the foreseeable future will never travel north of 38 ever needs a pair of wool socks. I nearly pitched the found treasure full of jeans, sweatshirts, and two scarves overboard until my charitable self agreed to keep it until the next time we find a place to donate the stuff. Ironically, when the temperature drops to 60 in Mexico, they actually pull on these gifts from overheated Pacific Northwesterners.

But it got me to thinking about how dramatically our family has reduced the quantity of clothing we own. Granted, we don't have jobs or school driving us to enhance our wardrobe. On the other hand, I've learned so much about living with less, I can't see that I'll ever need a walk in closet again. Even my clothes-horse eldest child agrees that there are many ways to reduce the volume and cost of your garment bag. The following are our ideas on the subject of doing more with less clothing:

One Year Rule – Throw it away if you haven't worn it in one year. If you live in a location with a relatively tame climate, you can reduce the time horizon to six months. The point is that the stories you tell yourself about wearing an item are self-delusional lies. You won't wear the pants that don't fit you today. You won't need the fancy coat, the slinky dress, the heels. If you haven't had occasion to pull them out off the rack or out of the drawer in the last year, then it's time to donate the item to someone who will.

It's Gross, Destroy It – Ladies, you know what I mean. The Stain says, “Throw me out.” I'm sorry, but there is a reason my Mom keeps sending me new panties. She has a 1 for 1 rule. She sends one, I'm required to throw one out. The bra with the broken under wire, the favorite shirt with the wine stain that you're positive some magic goop somewhere will get rid of, the Led Zeppelin shirt so worn you can actually count the number of hairs on your husband's chest when he wears it... these all must go. Don't give them away. That's insulting, rude, and wasteful. Just shred them.

Create a Look
– Rather than investing in a dozen outfits to wear to work, create a look which involves interchangeable tops and bottoms but is effectively the same every day. Dressing for success doesn't mean variety unless you are in the fashion industry. For most of us, it involves cleanliness, consistency, and forgetability. Boring as it might seem, my look back in the day was clean, pressed khaki jeans, black boots, and a branded company shirt. Every day for nearly seven years. My look today is unwashed hair and a t-shirt dress that falls to my knees. Okay, it's embarrassing but it suits my current job.

Thrift Stores Are Your Friend – I can't believe I ever bought anything new. It's improbable that I will ever do so again. Panties, bras, socks, and good shoes are the only items I recommend purchasing fresh and shiny. Everything else can be had in almost new condition from your local consignment and thrift stores. For kids, you can even get the socks and shoes. Sometimes you can get good deals on second run tennis shoes, Crocs, and sandals. Always check the book and wine glass racks while you're there... if only out of sympathy for Toast who lives on a boat in Mexico with three girls who are rabid readers and destroyers of glassware.

Launder Frequently – Three messages on laundering... First, make sure that everything you own can be laundered in the same load without consideration for color, fabric, temperature, or fancy additives. You do not want to sort. It's a complete waste of time and energy. Second, make sure that everything you own can be washed in no more than two loads, three if you count the sheets and towels. Third, get a clothes basket only big enough for a single load and wash it the instant it is full. Washing frequently reduces your need for clothing volume. It's also easier. When the laundry pile is roughly the same height as that of your eldest child, the problem is not laziness, it's too many clothes. Carve the pile down.

Make Your Children Buy It Themselves
– If you're having trouble getting your kids to stop whining about the latest Hannah Montana skirt or Gap jacket, there is a very simple solution: Don't buy them clothes, give them money. Every month each of my daughters gets a small sum of money for her clothing allowance. I haven't purchased an item of clothing for any of them in over a year. Interestingly, they haven't either unless it was absolutely essential to their survival. They don't beg, they don't buy, and they no longer lose hats, sunglasses, shoes, shirts and swim suits. They love thrift stores, cheap t-shirt deals, and two for one swimsuits. Stop fighting your child's desire to be fashionable and instead make it her problem. Instead of new clothes, Aeron and Mera pooled their resources and bought an iTouch. Be still my geeky heart.

Cut Up the Cards – You need to get out a pair of scissors today and cut up all but one credit card. In particular, destroy the clothing store cards such as JCPenny's, Target, Nordstrom, or whatever you can afford. Pay for all of your clothing items using cold, hard cash. Nothing looks quite as good on your ass when you're paying real money for it.

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Chatting in the Cockpit
Chatting in the Cockpit
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Every item of clothing I own currently resides in a space smaller than a carry-on suitcase. It's still more than I carried across the country when I rode my bike. Special lives, you'll say, but I look at those two little shelves and ponder how much I'd add if I had a “real job in the real world.” Weather would probably double the volume, and a job would add at least one more shelf and a pair of boots. That still puts me in a dresser half the size of the one we used to own to corral only Mera's wardrobe.

Which gets me to another topic, doing more with less – furniture. If I don't have anything to put in it...


Singing Land Cruiser said...

Good Day my dear Toast, as we sucked down our grand Easter dinner yesterday Christi said out of the blue " I wonder how Toast is doing? I'll have to catch up on her Blog!" Ha, I thought I was the Fan. OK, Where do we send the CARE PACKAGE ie. the wine glass issue? Next, We are adopting your ! year rule asap. Last, you look content and your ship is still looks white. Thats a good thing! Stay safe, Michael & Christi

Shangrilewis said...

When we lived in California I had a rule that it had to dry fast. That way I didn't have to pay for the dryer.

I still buy the boys swim trunks to wear in the summer. They can just toss them over something and they are dry the next morning.