10 Ways to Get More Wear, and Less Tear, Out of Your Clothing

With the average American family of four spending almost $4,000 per year on clothing, think of the money you can save by extending the life of your clothes and hanging onto them longer.

Here are some practical ways to do just that...

1. Zip up before you wash:
Metal zippers on jeans, jackets, and other apparel items are like tiny chainsaws in the washer and dryer, ripping away at other clothes the whole time unless you zip them up first.

2. Launder less often and only in cold water:
Many of us are guilty of over-laundering our clothes, which costs time and money and is usually unnecessary. Washing and drying is often actually harder on clothing fabric than wearing it! Consider wearing apparel items more than once between laundering (if it doesn't look or smell dirty, a garment doesn't need washing yet).

Then wash most clothing in cold water; this is hygienic and fine for everyday use. More and more detergents are labeled as working well in cold wash these days. Cold water costs less, is gentler on fabrics, and will get most clothes just as clean.

3. Hold the bleach:
Bleach can cause clothing to disintegrate more quickly. If you need to brighten white clothes, try using baking soda and hot water instead. Line-drying (see below) also helps keep whites whiter.

4. It pays to get hung out to dry:
Electric- and gas-powered clothes dryers not only cost a pretty penny to own and operate, but they cook and beat the life out of your clothing too. Drying your clothes on a good old-fashioned clothesline can increase the lifespan of some garments by as much as 50 percent ... plus your clothes will smell terrific.

5. Don't let small problems become big ones:
Most rips and tears start out small, so check your clothes carefully after every washing to catch and mend snags while they're still small and easy to fix.

6. Avoid soggy shoes:
The lifespan of footwear is often cut short by the effects of moisture, even more so than by pounding the pavement. To make your shoes last longer, don't wear the same pair every day. Give each pair at least a day in between to dry out from the moisture they absorb from your body and the environment.

In humid or rainy weather, crumple up a couple of pieces of newspaper and stuff them in your shoes before you go to bed at night. By morning, the paper will have wicked-up the excess moisture. Frequently shining or sealing shoe leather helps protect it from moisture as well.

7. Remodel instead of throwing away:
Even if you're challenged when it comes to needle and thread, there are a lot of simple, fun things you can do to customize and update clothes that you're bored with or that are out of fashion.

Check out the book (from the library, of course) Sew Subversive (Taunton 2006) for some easy and creative clothes remodeling ideas. [Editor's note: Get more refashioning tips from Green Picks.]

8. Think "vintage" not "used":
We're getting rid of a lot of our threads before they're threadbare. Only a small percentage of the clothing we throw away in the U.S. is truly "worn out." Fortunately, some of those duds make an encore appearance at thrift stores, yard sales, and resale/consignment shops, where you'll usually pay only 10 or 20 cents on the dollar compared to new/retail.

Also, form a clothes swapping club with friends and family members who wear similar sizes, so that when you get tired of a garment you can pass it along to someone who will wear it.

9. Organize and store what you have:
"I forgot I even had that in my closet!" How many times have we all said that? Store off-season clothes in plastic totes and add a couple cedar blocks for extra protection.

Keep a written inventory of your clothes, and make a "progressive shopping list" of new things you'll need to buy in the near future. That way you can pick them up the next time you see them on sale.

10. Buy classics, not fads:
Build a wardrobe around just a few colors that look good on you and that combine well with one another, giving you diversity without needing to buy so many clothes. Look for classic styles, well-made garments, and durable fabrics, and don't get suckered into trendy fashions and colors that will become outdated before you even get out of the store.

When it comes to paying top dollar for the latest designer fashions, remember what billionaire Warren Buffet once said: "I buy expensive suits. They just look cheap on me."