Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The Hamper Test

Most of us live under the assumption that a decent percentage of our wardrobes are comprised of clothes that aren’t worn often. One closet expert (someone who knows closets, not someone hiding the fact she’s an expert) told the Wall Street Journal that most people only wear 20% of their wardrobes. This need not be the case. We can have wardrobes where every item is loved and worn on a regular basis, where we could reach into our closets blindly and be happy wearing whatever we pulled out.

If you want to reduce the volume of clothes you have while simultaneously increasing the overall quality of your wardrobe, consider doing the Hamper Test. Here’s how it works:

  1. Determine the normal interval between laundry loads. For some that’s five days, for others a week, for some two. For people who do laundry often, err on the side of making your interval long. It’s okay if your laundry interval is tethered to someone else’s, like a spouse; just determine your combined laundry interval.
  2. When you do laundry, look at the clothes not in the hamper (or laundry bag)–the clothes that are not in active rotation.
  3. Get rid of at least one item that didn’t make it into the hamper per laundry interval.
  4. Repeat until most of your clothes are in the hamper at the end of a laundry interval (some prudent reserve of unused, but wearable clothes can be forgiven).

There are a few notes to the Hamper Test:

  1. Don’t subject seasonal clothing to test when out-of-season. In other words, don’t ditch your shorts because they didn’t make it into the hamper in December. But do subject shorts to test in August (make appropriate hemispheric/seasonal adjustments). The test should be done for every season, i.e. conduct test in summer, then do separate test in winter.
  2. Clothes that are either infrequently or dry-cleaned won’t exactly fit into the Hamper Test. Just be honest about how often these things are worn.
  3. You can make some special clothes exempt: Formal wear and specialty clothes (ski pants, cycling shorts when not in season), for example. But do not abuse this exemption. If you haven’t worn that tux in the last twenty years, there’s a chance you won’t wear it in the next twenty.

Even people who think they have pretty pared down wardrobes (like this author) find dozens of things to give away: t-shirts at the bottom of the t-shirt stack, those “funky” neon green socks that are worn once a year (at most), cycling clothes that haven’t been worn for 12 years and so on.

Give it a shot and let us know how it works.

Washing fabric in Basket image via Shutterstock

  • Susan

    I found it simpler to bag up the things I haven’t worn in a while, mark it to be checked in 6 months and then go through it. If I haven’t missed the items, or taken them out to wear, its a clear bet I won’t.

  • Ani

    Good idea. Even though I’ve pared down my clothes to a great degree; took bag after bag to the thrift store, I think by that test there are still some clothing lurking about that I just don’t wear. I think I “might” wear them, or they’re kinda nice, so I hedge my bets and there they sit. But in truth, I wear the same items week after week (in season of course) and probably don’t wear easily half of what I still have. Funny, as I never considered myself to be into clothes or shopping, but somehow they just sort of accumulated. I think that much of it came via thrift store purchases, and so at those prices, I tended to purchase way more than I otherwise would have. So back to the thrift store they go!

  • WithheldName

    If you haven’t worn an item in a year, it’s time to get rid of it.

  • This has actually been on my mind lately. I have a minimalist wardrobe and I got here on accident when I exchanged my regular hamper with a 5 gallon pail. (I was experimenting with simplifying and using repeating items/patterns so I used 5 gallon pails for everything I could think of – I wrote about on ) Anyway, the pail was smaller, it filled up faster and so I did laundry more often. My favorites became glaringly obvious and bit by bit just like in this article I realized I didn’t use 80% of my clothes. A 5 gallon bucket might not be your first fashion choice, but I recommend cutting your hamper size in half – assuming of course clothes on the floor would bother you and motivate you to do laundry more. It worked for me.

  • PT

    Why be such a minimalist? And why feel good about it if you are? If you have already purchased the clothes, the point is to consider the environment before you purchase any more clothes. The point is to reduce consumption, not feel superior about a half-empty closet.

    • Disdain

      For many of us, being a minimalist isn’t only about the environment. Having fewer clothes makes my life easier. Your point may be to reduce consumption but that is not the only point for many of us.

      As for feeling superior, perhaps you are projecting a little?

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