How to Decide When It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Gym Clothes



I’ve amassed quite the collection of gym clothes over the years. From crappy cotton undershirts to tights in every conceivable length to insanely expensive tech gear (for every season, of course), my gym-clothes drawer more than runneth over.

Every few months, I like to go through my stock and do a round of serious purging. This usually coincides with the day that I can no longer close my over-packed dresser drawer, so it’s more of a necessity than anything else. Because I tend to amass this stuff in weirdly huge quantities (I’m a sucker for a free t-shirt!), I have come up with a pretty scientific keep-or-toss system when it comes to my workout gear.

Below, the eight questions I ask myself when evaluating whether to hold on to my gym clothes, or not.

1. The very first question to ask: Did you even remember it was in there? 

Since I have so many t-shirts, shorts and tights, I literally never get to the bottom of the pile before laundry day. So when I do a wardrobe purge, I often start from the bottom and work up. The gear that I haven’t laid eyes on in months is probably prime for the toss pile. After all, since I didn’t know it was in there, I probably won’t miss it. Consider this your low-hanging, closet-clean-out fruit.

2. Does it still smell, even though you just washed it? 

If the answer is yes—which for me, sadly, it often is—toss it. The trickiest items are those that don’t smell too badly until you start sweating in them again, and then they stink up the entire gym. The issue with some gym clothes, if they aren’t cared for correctly or if they were low-quality to begin with, is that they can hold on to smells even after you put them through the wash. One way to extend the life of your gym clothes is to wash them immediately after wearing them, especially if they get soaked through with sweat. At the very least, don’t leave them balled up in your hamper; hang your clothes up so they can dry out, then wash them when you can.

The quality of your detergent also comes into play. In a previous post all about this topic, one expert I spoke to recommended Tide, since it’s less diluted than bargain detergents, or, if you’re going the natural route, a brand called Sun & Earth.

At the end of the day, though, all clothes have a shelf life (especially for us sweaty folks), so whether your fabric runs its course in a few months or years, the stench factor should come near the top of your list of clean-out considerations.

3. Does it have holes in it? 

I’m cool with one or two small holes, but gaping punctures the size of a naval orange just won’t do. Look for wear in the armpits and crotch, specifically. If you’re noticing just a bit too much ventilation, it’s time to let it go.

4. Did you get it for free? 

My deep-seated thriftiness has been well documented on this blog, so it should come as no surprise to you that free things are, well, sort of my jam. But a free t-shirt or sweatshirt from the annual company picnic might need to find its way to the trash can if it’s taking up precious space in your wardrobe. The only exception in my book are freebies that are more comfortable than anything else you own, like those ultra-soft t-shirts that feel like they’re spun out of puppy fur. Those, you keep.

5. Does it fit right? 

As we are talking about workout gear here, a lot of people run into this issue when they lose a few pounds. Example: The yoga leggings that used to be skin tight are now noticeably saggy, and you find yourself tugging at them awkwardly when you’re in tree pose. It’s time—toss ’em.

6. Does it have sentimental value? 

This one’s often the toughest for me. I don’t have this issue with any of my every day clothes, but workout gear—race shirts, in particular–hold a special place in my heart. I’m still hanging on a t-shirt from my high school basketball tournament, for the love of Moses. (But there are no holes, it doesn’t smell, and it fits just right!) But if I’m playing hardball with my workout clothes, I have to ask myself if the event or race is something I really need to memorialize in my dresser drawer. Like, that random charity 5K I did with my coworkers on a whim seven years ago? Yeah, that shirt can probably go. Or that time I ran a race but they ran out of my shirt size, so I had to settle for a men’s XXL? See ya. Allow your memories to live on Facebook, where they belong.

7. Do the elastic/zippers/Velcro/etc. still work?

No? Then stop questioning it—throw it away already.

8. The final test: Is it the first thing you pull out of the clean laundry pile and toss directly into your gym bag?

If the answer is yes, then it’s a keeper! I have certain favorite sports bras, socks and shirts that rarely even see the inside of my dresser drawer. As soon as they are clean, they are on my body. I’ll wear these proudly until the holes dictate otherwise.

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