How Many Clothes Should You Own

Wardrobe by Magnus D

04 Sep How Many Clothes Should You Own

If you have access to this web page, having the ability to read, and looking for information about investing, I believe you have more clothes than you need.

This is a first world problem and I admit I am guilty of having too many clothes that are overflowing from the wardrobe.

Math can determine the number of clothes you should have. I accidentally discovered it while reading Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Fisker.

Early Retirement Extreme Book Cover

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Having a Phd in Physics, Fisker is definitely strong in numbers and he proposed the use of Lanchester’s Square Law to calculate how many clothes you need. Skip the complexity of what the Law says, the key is to understand clothes’ rate of wear and tear,

[I]n our society six is typically sufficient – one for each day of the work week and one for the weekend, although if you can convince your colleagues that you still wash your clothes, you can go with fewer. If following fashion is important to you, consider that the average piece of clothing lasts about 100 wash cycles. Better clothes may last 200 cycles. If washing is the primary source of failure, the amount of clothes should be balanced to wear out by the time it becomes unfashionable. This amount is determined by Lanchester’s Square Law. For example, 10 average shirts that get washed after wearing them for a day give 1,000 washes total. They would last under 3 years given equal amount of wear. If shirt fashion changes faster than this, 10 shirts is too many.

Below are the numbers, assuming the clothes are wore equally,

  • 10 sets of clothes: each set wear 36 times a year, last for 3 years
  • 20 sets of clothes: each set wear 18 times a year, last for 5 years
  • 30 sets of clothes: each set wear 12 times a year, last for 8 years
  • 50 sets of clothes: each set wear 7 times a year, last for 13 years

The irony is that, the more you care about fashion, the less clothes you should have. This is to ensure that you can wear out the piece by wearing and washing it regularly before the fashion runs out.

  • Fashion lasts 1 year: 4 pieces of clothes
  • Fashion lasts 2 years: 8 pieces of clothes
  • Fashion lasts 5 years: 19 pieces of clothes

Let’s take a typical life expectancy of 85 years old. If we apply the principle, you should only own 311 sets of clothes in your lifetime! How many of us have actually bust this number before 40 years old?

Loss Aversion

I know what you are thinking, this is unrealistic because you have different clothes for different occasions. For example, sports gear for exercising and formal wear for dinners, etc.

But I believe you would agree with me that you and I have more clothes than we need. Of course we can blame the consumerism being inculcated by the advertisers and the modern society. But at the core of our human nature, we are subjected to loss aversion or the endowment effect.

The endowment effects said that owners value their own items higher than what the average non-owners would value. In addition, the loss aversion bias tells us that the pain of losing an item is three times emotionally charged more than gaining the same item.

This means that it is harder to dispose or give away a piece of clothing after we own them! Over time, it leads to hoarding and naturally a overcrowded wardrobe, regardless whether we wear the clothes or not.

I have witnessed others and myself, willing to give up our underutilized belongings only when the items were kept beyond their usability. Wouldn’t it be better for the items to find new owners who would have better uses for them?

What To Do With Clothes You Do Not Wear

The Camberwell Gang by Jonathan Lin

Fisker might be too strict applying the 100 wash cycles for each piece of clothing as I believe most people would not be able to accept such lifestyle.

A more practical and palatable solution is to follow the Pareto’s Principle, or simply the 80-20 rule. I believe we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. The remaining 80% of the clothes are only wore 20% of the time!

Fisker has a good set of steps to help you determine the 80% that you don’t really need:

I used this today (keep it).
I used this within the past week (keep it).
I used this within the past month (keep it).
I used this within the past six months (get rid of it).
I used this within the past year (get rid of it).
It has been more than a year since I used this (get rid of it!).
I did not even know I owned this?! (get rid of it!!).

There are numerous ways to get rid of the excess clothes that you do not wear. The best way is to sell it on second hand websites or applications. I personally use Carousell to sell my books and it is easy to use.

If you cannot convert to money, you can offer to trade it with someone for another item.

If that fails too, give it away for free.

The advantage of having lesser clothes means a smaller wardrobe is needed. A smaller wardrobe would also mean a smaller room or house is sufficient. Real estate is very expensive in Singapore. How much space do you need to pay, to keep things you do not use?

Photo credits: Magnus D and Jonathan Lin


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