Written by Doctor G

Teenage dirty laundry (actual laundry)

My teenager wears a different shirt every day but does not then put them in the laundry.  He then wears the same shirts in sequence the following week.  Usually only one shirt a week appears in the laundry.  How do I convince him that he needs to wash a shirt every day?

Betty, in Florida

A:  Betty, a few questions come to mind.  For you: Do you want him to put his shirts in the laundry after one wearing because  a) the shirts are smelly, b) the shirts are dirty, or c) just because you think it’s the right thing to do?  For him: Why does he not want to wash them?  Or, even easier for him, let you wash them for him?

If you want him to wash his shirts because they stink, I suggest putting one over his nose and saying, “Not willing to be the mom of the stinky kid, sorry.  You put it in the laundry basket or I will put it in a garbage bag in my room til you have no shirts left.”

If you want him to wash his shirts because they are dirty, you may have to wait it out. I am big believer in natural consequences. At some point chances are good that he will get some negative feedback from someone (other than his parents or his grandparents) about how dirty his shirts are, and that will give him the motivation he needs to change his behavior.

If you want him to put the clothes he wore that day into the laundry basket every night just because you have always washed his clothes after one wearing, you may want to reconsider.  Most adults do not wash clothes (hopefully socks and underwear and exercise gear are the exceptions) after one wearing.

Regarding hygiene, kids and teens need the skills, the tools and the motivation.

But all this leads me to my last question.  Why isn’t he putting them in the laundry regularly?

Maybe he forgets.  In which case, you may be able to explain your reasons for washing (motivation) and give him the tools he needs to remember (laundry basket on his pillow?). This seems least likely to me as the reason.  Any teen guy who is organized enough to wear the same shirts in the same order each week doesn’t seem to have a problem with bedroom structure.

Maybe he doesn’t want to for practical reasons.  Does the laundry detergent smell too girly?  Will his favorite shirts wear out quicker with more frequent washings?  Does he not want to have to go get them and put them away as often?  If this is the problem, find out and make reasonable accommodations – he can launder his shirts with a no-odor detergent, inside out.

Maybe he has a more compulsive reason for his behavior.  If he has some beliefs around his shirts and the order in which he wears them, he may feel that they are “lucky” and too much washing and handling can take away the luck. This one will take longer to explore (and debunk).

Whatever the reason, ask and listen.  Ask him for some solutions, talk about what is reasonable to you and why.  I know this seems like a lot of work regarding shirts, but you are teaching great life lessons and giving him the skills, tools and motivation to go to a job interview or on a date in clean clothes!

P.S.  If you haven’t already, teach him to do the laundry.  It won’t solve this problem but it is important anyway.

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