By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar.
Dr. F.S. is taking a well-deserved break, so she said I could post one of my marginally helpful musings on frugality.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether I have gone over the line from frugality to psychopathology. And it doesn’t help that so many others are eager to vote for the latter, even my beloved frugal spouse, who thinks that some of my habits and routines are immoderate. But frugality is not just about saving money, it’s also a sort of mental discipline: Zen frugality.
Case in point: my work clothes. My work clothes belong to the lowest of complicated clothing cast system, and are generally culled from the third and final tier of my “general house and lounge-about” attire (not to be confused with my “go to your average store” attire). Work pants, I think we can agree, are for working, and as such I see no point in washing them—at least not until they can stand up by themselves.
Here’s my argument: when I garden, or do any other sweaty, grubby work, the pants get dirty. If I put on a new clean pair the next time I go out, they too are going to get dirty each and every time. However, pants that are already dirty will stay relatively clean—relative, that is, to their initial condition. So what’s the point of wasting time, water, electricity, and effort to wash work clothes after one, two, or more wearings when re-use contributes to the cosmic cleanliness quotient? (I just made that phrase up.) When I garden, I am the king and only subject of my domain: it’s not as if I’m going to an important meeting or can offend anyone but myself. And once I put my old clothes on they feel just fine, however disreputable they may look. And I don’t see how one can object that used work clothes are danger to one’s health. (Paradoxically, donning such clothing might even promote good health, since, as medical researchers have found, keeping children too clean prevents them from developing antibodies, and I don’t see why the same should not apply to adults.)
I have to admit that I like putting on my used clothes. As my friend Henry David Thoreau says in Walden, “Every day our garments become more assimilated to ourselves, receiving the impress of the wearer's character, until we hesitate to lay them aside without such delay and medical appliances and some such solemnity even as our bodies.” (Sometimes, after a few weeks of hard use, it does seem as I’ll need medical appliances to get them on—and off.)
So am I a fanatic? I think not, since I’m not only saving myself time and money, but I’m helping to save the world as well. An overstatement? Perhaps, but I’ve done some quick calculations, which demonstrate conclusively that if everyone reused work clothes the way I do we would save enough energy to light Tickfaw, Louisiana for 625 days. So why not be the Mother Teresa of your garden as well?
Bonus test. See if you can put the following photos in sequence. One is of my work pants after two wearings, one after ten wearings, and one after another 15 hours of very hard use (spring work: on my knees weeding and digging and grubbing happily around).
Answer (I know this part should be upside down): the first is after two wearings, the second is last, and the third is the middle. (Pretty sneaky, hunh?!) So how much longer do you think I can keep going?