The dilemma of once-worn clothes

It’s time for the ABC to stop dodging the big issues. I’m as mad as an upside-down turtle about the censorship the MSM (that’s Mainstream Media for those of you that aren’t fully hip to the Drum lexicon) applies to one of the greatest moral challenges of our time. No, not that one, the other one – the dilemma of what to do with once-worn clothes. Surely a Nobel Prize awaits the person that can solve this problem.
Now I’m not talking about undies here. Or socks. Contrary to popular belief, we of the masculine persuasion do have some rudimentary standards of hygiene. Well, there is the age old trick of resting the socks for a day or two and then wearing them inside out but, to keep things simple, let’s just rule that one out of bounds for now. Worn undies and socks go straight into the wash.
But, I’m talking about t-shirts, I’m talking about trousers. You know what I’m talking about! In winter, I’m talking about jumpers and fleecies. You’ve worn it once, ….or twice. You take it off and get ready to toddle off to bed. The garment doesn’t smell and there is no discernible evidence of mud, sweat, ink, tomato sauce or less salubrious additives. Now what do you do with the darned thing? Does it go back into the cupboard with the clean clothes, or does it go into the washing basket? In the interests of sounding knowledgeable and analytical, let’s call these the Cupboard Option and the Wash Option [memo to self. In the unlikely event of lucrative offer for syndication into the US, change the former to Closet Option].
The Cupboard Option is great: neat, tidy, and helps justify the money you outlaid and the time you spent trying to assemble that super-capacious, mega-airy, architect-designed Snonk cupboardatory system from Ikea.
Living life the Cupboard Way is just one long festival, an obsessive compulsive’s dream, until one day, maybe a few months later, you take something out of the cupboard and realise it has gone green and furry – and not in a good way. You could just wrinkle up your nose and throw it in the wash, perhaps with a prefatory detour via a bowl of bleached water. But then your heart sinks as you realise – what about the clothes it was nestled up against inside the Snonk? Has the new life form you have unwittingly created spread and maybe infected the whole drawer, maybe even the whole cupboard? What should you do? Wash the whole drawer? Wash all of your clothes? Burn all of your clothes? Burn the Snonk?
Where you went wrong of course was that you lost track of how many times the garment had been worn. By camouflaging itself cunningly amongst a bunch of clean, unworn clothes, the offending sartorial component had cunningly concealed the fact that it had been worn every other day for four months, and by now had accumulated enough microscopic life forms and general grunge to destroy the entire ALP backroom powerbroker population of New South Wales.
OK then, maybe the Wash Option is the best way to go. You know where you are with the Wash Option. There is only one rule: when you take it off, it goes in the wash. Everything you take out of the cupboard to wear will be guaranteed washed, clean and brimming with freshness.
This goes pretty swimmingly for a while. You have to buy a bigger laundry basket, but that’s a small price to pay for the twin miracles of Order and Hygiene. Then, a little later, you get called into the boss’s office at work. She wants to know why you’ve been an average of two hours late for work every day of the last fortnight – Oh and also why are you sitting in her office wearing a Kevin 07 t-shirt and a pair of (fresh, newly-washed) acid-wash jeans, very de rigeur circa 1989. As your mind races for excuses, you toy with the idea of telling her the truth – that your daily washing obligations have increased so much that you have been spending most of your waking hours loading and unloading the washing machine, hanging out the clothes, bringing them in, folding them (we’ll assume thre’s no ironing, because you’re a bloke, after all), and even so you still only manage to have a couple of pieces of dry, clean, wearable clothes available at any given time…. – but then you decide it would be less embarrassing to just resign. You’re also worried about the threatening letters from the water and electricity companies and the hand-written note from Al Gore expressing his disappointment that your personal greenhouse footprint now exceeds that of Texas.
Tragic scenarios like those above have moved some of our foremost public intellectuals to propose alternative solutions to the great once-worn dilemma.
There’s the ‘Leave It Out’ solution. Here you leave any garment that has been worn but doesn’t yet need a wash, lying on the nearest available horizontal surface, as a daily reminder of its availability. This is great if you wear the same sort of clothes every day, but otherwise you will soon get to the point of being unable to find your bed, let alone the dinner table, under all the laid-out clothes.
There’s the Cache solution, in which you have a big basket just for once-worn clothes. Neater than Leave It Out, but you soon forget what’s in there and the basket just becomes a big, overflowing eyesore, with all the best bits buried at the bottom.
The Bucketing Option (aka the Extended Cache Option). Here you use not just one but a series of buckets or baskets, numbered from one to say three (or thirteen, depending on your hygiene standards), and place each piece of clothing in the bucket numbered according to the number of times it has been worn since the last wash. The only problem with this option is that it is silly. Nobody has that much space.
There’s the Kerry Packer option. Thus named not because the aforenamed individual invented it but because this is the most popular consensus view of focus groups convened to discuss what Australian swinging voters believe mega rich people do about their washing (I’ve heard the ALP party machine conducts these to keep in practice when they don’t have a Prime Minister to dispose of). Under this one, you only ever wear new clothes. When you take them off, one of your minions spirits them away to be given to those less fortunate than yourself (you know: stockbrokers, shock jocks, managing directors of public broadcasting organisations) and another minion fetches replacements from the warehouse in the East Wing of your garden.
Regrettably, this option is currently unavailable to many, including myself, for reasons that will have to be the subject of another essay.
Lastly, there’s the Diogenes option. Under this, you give away all your clothes except one set. On wash day you borrow a towel and hope it won’t rain. Simple but effective, and available to anybody with sufficient self-belief and Sternness of Resolve.  The only trouble with this option is that it’s unpleasant, and I don’t know of anyone since Diogenes who adopted it voluntarily. For some it is forced upon them by circumstances, and there’s nothing at all funny about that.
None of these options are satisfactory. As nobody else seems willing to step forward and solve this problem, I will have a go myself, as a public service. My proposal is called the Velcro Option, and it has two parts:
Firstly, all new clothes sold in Australia would be required to have a label indicating their inter-wash wearing capacity (IWWC). The label would bear words along the lines of ‘This garment may be worn up to n times between washes by a standard adult (under laboratory conditions) without their being regarded as a schmutz.’ The value of n would be determined based on rigorous testing by a new Commonwealth Government department staffed by chemists, apparel technologists and sniffer dogs.
Each label would have a section with n rectangular orange cotton strips attached to it by velcro, bearing the numbers from 1 to n, where n is the IWWC of the garment. The instruction CD accompanying the garment would explain that, after each wear, the user should remove the highest numbered velcro strip from the label and place in a drawer (are you still with me?). When there are no strips left, the garment will be due for a wash. After the wash, the velcro strips would be re-affixed and the cycle begins again.
With this system in place, you can put your worn clothes back in the cupboard, secure in the knowledge that they won’t end up exceeding their IWWC, and won’t that be a splendid feeling!
I know what you’re thinking:
– what a great idea!
– why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?
– calloo, callay, all my problems are solved, my life will be an absolute breeze from here on in!
– will the world’s Velcro-producing nations be able to keep up with demand?
– hang on a sec, I bet this is patented and he’s planning to make a fortune by charging like a wounded Prime Minister for its use.
Well I am delighted to inform you that that is the best news of all: I shall not patent this idea. Like the human genome, this discovery is too important to the future of mankind to lock it up with patents. It’s yours, for all of you, to keep. Use it well.
Now I wonder whether I can get one more wear out of this grey cardigan.
Andrew Kirk
July 2010


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