How much do you need?

A while back, I had a green sweater that just up and disappeared.  I liked the sweater (a gift from H) and don’t have that many clothes, so I did a fairly through search of the house, my clothing and her clothing.  The damn thing never turned up, and I had no idea where or how it had gone missing.  The most plausible thing (in my mind) was that it had gone through the wash and dryer, shrunk, and she commandeered it, though she was adamant about the fact that she had one of a similar color.

A few weeks ago, H was poking around in the basement (we had quite a bit of rain and subsequent flooding of the basement) and happened to throw in a load of laundry.  After she did that, she (for some reason) she opened the door to our old dryer.  That dryer broke quite a while ago (based on my best guess, it was sometime in the fall of 09) and has long been forgotten.  No one has used it, no one has thought about it or even touched it since.  So when she called me back down stairs and said I would find something funny, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.  So on down I went and she was standing there, holding a few pieces of clothing with the door to the old dryer open!

There had been a load of clothes in there for almost two years – thankfully, the clothing had finished drying before the dryer broke, or else they would have been moldy and been a total loss.  This obviously was a total shock to me.  There were a few shirts, my long lost sweater, and some socks of mine, as well as some articles of H’s as well.  After my elation wore off though, it got me to thinking – How many pieces of clothing do I really need?

Even though there were quite a few shirts in there (about 4) I had not even noticed they were missing – in fact, the only thing I knew was missing was the sweater.  Before this, I always thought that I kept the amount of clothing that I had to a minimum, but what does it say that I can go for almost 2 years and not notice that over 1/2 of my polo-style shirts are missing, and worse yet, that I didnt even realize that they were gone?  I think that I may need to look at the amount of clothing that I’ve got right now and maybe pare down a bit – but to do that, I’d have to figure out some things.

Namely, how do you all handle things that you know you’re going to have to wear a few times a year, but not frequently at all.  For me, the best example of this is a suit.  I had one in high school that I grew out of, and never needed one though college.  After undergrad, I interviewed for a few jobs, but I didnt wear a suit – where I lived people would look at you a bit funny if you showed up in a suit.  It was a very laid back place.  I also had a few job interviews after grad school and most were in the western US, and I didnt really wear a suit for those either.  I did have one interview on the east coast, which I did need a suit for – so I bought one.  Since then, I’ve probably had to wear it 12 or so times – but clearly, that’s no reason to get rid of it, as I know i’ll need it again for weddings, other job interviews, etc.  So there are things like that I can, but probably shouldn’t get rid of, then there are other things that I just dont wear as often, and I need to find out where the line is on that.  So I’ll ask all of you –

How do you draw the line between things that you dont wear frequently, but want to keep, and things that you dont wear frequently but want to get rid of?  Is there a number of times per year that you wear it that acts as a cutoff, or is there something else?

Did you enjoy this article?
Share with Friends
Sustainability Tips:
About Jeff

Jeff is the founder of sustainable life blog and has been interested in sustainability for most of his life. After realizing in 2007 that his finances were a total wreck, he started reading financial blogs and quickly realized that what is best for your wallet is typically better for the earth, and is usually healthier. On sustainable life blog Jeff shares his journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. For updates, subscribe by email or like us on facebook.


  1. As a female, I have more choices than a male does. I don’t have to wear a suit anywhere. So.. I have one pair of black dress pants and 2 dressy tops that I wear for the up to 3 events a year that require dressy clothes. To change them out I use accessories. Since we live in a very casual dress area I wouldn’t keep more than this number of clothes for dress. I’ve had the pants for about 4 years, the tops for 3 years. I won’t be changing them out for at least another 2 years. By the way, I shop at a thrift store and paid $1 each for the pants and tops. Otherwise, I would figure the cost per wear and probably not go over $20 per year figuring 3 wears per year for 5 years equaling under $7 per wear – seems frugal to me.

    As for daily wear, I’m retired so don’t need work clothes – I have 6 pair of slacks, 2 pair shorts and 10 tops and 5 long sleeved shirts.
    Again purchased at $1 a piece and these I usually keep for about 18 months or so. This allows me to wear a different outfit every day for 2 weeks.

    • Thats a pretty good deal – I have an odd jacket size, so its tough to find stuff for me at the thrift store, esp suits. And because hardly anyone but bankers wear suits around here, that leaves the used stock in pretty short supply.

  2. One thing that I found that really helped me pare down my amount of clothing was that i hung everything ‘backward’ in my closet. Once I wore and washed something I’d put it back on the hanger the ‘correct’ way, after a few months (I think I went 3 months) you know which clothes you generally wear and can go through those that are still hanging backwards and evaluate them.

    I’ve also gone the method of “Pull everything out and try it on”. We all have those items that we love the idea of having, but maybe they don’t fit correctly or the color doesn’t look good on you.

    As far as those items that you don’t necessarily wear all the time but are handy to have around (ie, your suit) I stick them in the back of closet so I still see them (and remember I have them, so I don’t buy a ‘replacement’) but they aren’t mixed up with my every day clothes.

    I know that I still have plenty of items that I shouldn’t be holding on to, but as you start pulling items out, it becomes easier to get rid of those items that you hold on to, but never have an occasion to wear.

    • I think you’re right mercedes – I have been working on paring down for a while, and i’m basically at the “attrition” stage at this point. Just not replacing anything when something rips or gets ruined for whatever reason. Sometimes I save these for doing yard work or work on the car, but usually I just turn them into rags or get rid of them

  3. I generally keep items until they are worn out. I even have clothes that I can’t really fit anymore but I don’t want to get rid of them! It’s just too hard to part with them.

    • I think a lot of people are like that FSYA – stuff is just hard to get rid of. Some of my torn clothing I keep for yard work

  4. How do I decide? If I haven’t worn it for a year, it’s probably time to go. I’ll try it on and see if I still like it. If I like it, I’ll put it up front and consciously wear it more often. Usually, if I don’t wear something for a year, I find I don’t really like it much.

    • I’d have to agree with that. even though I’ve got a whole handful of clothes, I still wear the same 7 shirts all the time.

  5. I absolutely need to reduce how many clothes I have. I tell myself “oh, I wear that in the fall @ the cottage (the one time we go up in the fall)” but I really don’t NEED a lot of items. Other clothes I don’t want to part with b/c they cost a decent amount or were gifts. I need to figure out how to get past these mental blocks.

    • SPF – i’ve found that curbing your buying can really help – saves money on the front end and reduces guilt on the back end!

  6. A little bit of spending you need to do to keep your interest in life going. I do buy new things, but always try to keep it within budget. I generally donate my old clothes. For old valuables craigslist is the way to go for me.

    Another thing I should remind all frugal people is that unless you buy things, economy will stagnate and costing many jobs including perhaps yours. Law of economy..

  7. Holy crap, I’ve gotta get my wife to start reading your blog! We were thinking of moving recently and started packing up. The amount of stuff we had like old clothes, old books, old papers from when she used to teach (which she swears she’ll need again someday)… it was insane! So, we dumped some of it, but our basement’s still jammed. I like the rule that if you don’t use something for a year (with rare exceptions), you don’t need it – throw it out!

    • Yea, H is a teacher – and she’s got old papers and stuff everywhere. When we move, we are going to have some serious throw out/donate sessions. If we havent used the item since we got to the house 3 years ago, it’s getting canned.

  8. I love clothes and buying something new every season. To make myself feel better I donate clothes that I have not worn in 2 years every spring and fall. This makes room for more clothes. Its a vicious cycle.

  9. Allison says:

    As ladies it’s always hard for us to find the balance between looking good and doing something good for the environment. I think the keys for me are buying high quality things that are going to last longer, only buying things that I really love, and trying to shop with socially responsible companies. Incidentally (and I know this is a little off topic) I’ve just discovered a great skincare company for sustainable cosmetics. It’s called Benedetta and all of their products are botanicals grown on sustainable farms. Sorry again for going off the subject, I just get so excited when I find a company that’s really committed to sustainability!

  10. I have a real relaxed style which consists of jeans and tops. I don’t work outside of the home and I have a few dresses for special occasions. It is much simpler this way. My husband has more clothes than me, but he has to have different attire for his job. My kids all have more clothes than me too, but that is my fault I still buy their clothing for them.

    • yea, my wardrobe mostly consists of jeans as well – but usually with guys you can wear jeans anywhere for any reason and can get away with it.

  11. I have such a problem getting rid of clothing. I always tell myself that I’ll fit back into it one day lol. It hurts more when The Wife reminds me it is unlikely hahahhah

    • Ouch, haha. My problem is that I like to wear fairly specific things, but as long as it fits in that group, i’ll wear whatever. so sometimes people buy me things that I wouldnt normally wear, then they just sit.


  1. […] Confession Time:  I hate it when my parents ask me why I need so many clothes. I felt guilty reading Sustainable Life Blog’s post on the very same topic. […]

  2. […] the missing green sweater that was found in the laundry and was the inspiration for the post how much do you need.) H was finally vindicated in that she did not steal it and sell it, and I finally had my sweater […]